By Mel Jenkins
“There is no emotion, there is peace.”
When I first heard this line of the Jedi Code, I misunderstood it (as many people do). I couldn’t believe that I was supposed to follow the idea that there is NO emotion. That one word… NO… was intimidating. So instead as a beginner, I used the version that states it as “emotion YET peace,” because that helped me to understand and ease into things. I felt it gave me permission to accept my emotions and feel peace at the same time.
Over time I learned that the ‘no’ version of the code could very well be the more powerful statement.
I have always been a highly emotional and empathetic person. It was easy to get me activated or worked up. I would be lying if I said I am absolutely trigger-free now, as it’s a constant journey to be aware of what I’m feeling or doing in the past or present and coming back to center. I do believe that learning how to work with my emotions was the biggest turning point for me, and probably the most important part of following the Jedi path. Why? Because emotions are at the root of pretty much everything. It’s part of the human experience.
After a couple years of learning about and applying Zen meditation and mindfulness (bringing yourself to this moment by focusing on your breath and your surroundings), I looked at the Jedi Code again, and I began to understand what that first line really meant. It doesn’t mean that Jedi aren’t allowed to have emotions. Emotions are natural. If you want to use the Star Wars stories as examples, we see even the most worthy Jedi have moments of emotion welling up. The trick, however, is how you work with or deal with the emotions. Yes… even anger or hatred. If you shove those away they will keep coming back, usually worse than before.
Meditation is absolutely key. Even if you don’t want to sit and meditate, bringing yourself to the here and now (the only reality) and focusing on your breath helps you to practice working with your mind and emotions. It is most definitely a practice and you will most definitely fall off the horse sometimes. It’s also impossible to keep your mind forever empty and in this moment, as it’s natural for our minds to want to wander off into the stories of the past or the imagined future. That’s why in Buddhist traditions it’s referred to as a monkey mind. In The Dharma of Star Wars, by Matthew Bortolin, it’s referred to as Jar-Jar mind!
Practicing meditation or mindfulness is about awareness. You learn to observe your emotions and thoughts rather than act on them. It can be difficult in the moment when something intense comes up, especially if it boils over into a physical sensation. Those moments can be overwhelming. This is why practicing is important. You don’t only want to do it while experiencing an intense emotion. That’s the hardest time to do it, and you might end up feeling like you failed.
If you keep practicing as often as you can, then in those still moments you can teach yourself how to observe and fully sit with your emotions. This helps strengthen your resolve when the hard times come. You’ll find it easier to step back and observe the thoughts and feelings that are coming up… to act instead of react. Remember that certain experiences and emotions will be difficult no matter what, and that is when it’s most important to sit with your emotions rather than pushing them away.
Sitting with your emotions is powerful. We often want to ignore how we are feeling because the feelings are unpleasant. That is a temporary fix and can sometimes manifest as a physical illness or sensation as our bodies try to take over and handle it for us. The best way I can describe sitting with emotions is like sitting with a friend as they cry. You wouldn’t shove them away (at least I hope not). Instead, you might offer your shoulder and put your arms around them as they let out their tears. This is how you sit with yourself.. be in this moment, pay attention to your breath and the sensations around you, watch as thoughts roll through like clouds, and gently bring yourself back to this moment. As physical feelings come up, you observe those too. Where are they in your body? Is it hot, cold, achy, or something else? Let your body experience the sensation. As you do, it will slowly fade or move. And then you observe again until it becomes less and less.
It is a never ending practice. The most important thing to remember is that emotions are natural and useful, and yet potentially dangerous if we let them wash us away in a tidal wave. Emotions can be quite powerful and can make it hard to think clearly. However if you find yourself crying uncontrollably, let it flow. Then when you can, try to sit with yourself and help yourself heal. Don’t beat yourself up if you have a moment of emotion well up.
This is where the line of the code comes in. There is no emotion… there is peace. So ultimately, we DO have emotions, but they are caused or influenced by our thoughts and beliefs and other things we’ve learned as we’ve grown as humans. They are definitely real, but the illusion is that we are helplessly controlled by them. If we are able to step back and observe, we realize this. The end result? Peace. Another word for that is tranquility.
Imagine being in a pool of water, kicking around and not being able to see clearly because the dirt is stirred up. Trying to calm that water while kicking it around won’t work. If we step out and wait and watch, the water will slowly become still and the dirt will settle, making the water clear. That is peace.
Once we can step back from our emotions and see them for what they are–thoughts and physical sensations–we will see the tranquility on the other side.
Mel Jenkins is a child of the early 80s, and so Star Wars was a huge influence for her. She spent her summers in high school watching the original trilogy almost every day. She is now an artist and maker, and is now a married homeschooling mother to two teenagers and a handful of pets. Being a Jedi started out as a dream and has become a reality for her over the past few years as a path for healing herself and others.