May the Fourth Be with You: Mindfulness, Midi-chlorians*, and Mental Health

posted in: Mental Health 0

May 4th is internationally recognized as Star Wars Day among fantasy and science fiction fans, many of whom jump at the chance to wish our fellow nerds, “May the Fourth be with you.” For over 40 years, the epic adventures that occurred “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away” demonstrate important lessons of significant explorations not only in that galaxy far away, but also in our own universe, more specifically, inviting exploration of our human experience. Plus, it’s a great excuse to have a watching party with your buddies and debate the intricacies of whether to watch the films in order of release, chronologically, or the time-honored machete order. And don’t even get me started on how to incorporate the Clone Wars animated series into the mix…

Star Wars is a space fantasy story (not technically sci-fi – look it up!) about good and evil, and many of the greatest moments in Star Wars involve the Force. You may ask, “What exactly is the Force?” In the original Star Wars film, Obi-Wan Kenobi breaks it down for a cranky Luke Skywalker like this:

“The force is what gives a Jedi his power. It’s an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us. It binds the galaxy together.”

When Luke is training with Obi-Wan, he instructs him to “stretch out with your feelings.” One of the prevailing themes in Star Wars is focusing on the present moment, specifically, training the mind to focus on the present moment. The films also demonstrate the consequences of letting your thoughts, emotions, and urges rule you, and this dynamic is very much at play during Luke’s rise to Jedi Master as well as Anakin Skywalker’s anger- and guilt-driven transition to Dark Side poster boy, Darth Vader.

In The Phantom Menace, Qui-Gon Jinn drops to his knees and meditates during his battle with Darth Maul when they are separated by a laser shield. During this break in the duel, he is bringing himself to be one with the force, to regain focus and power, and to prepare for what was to come. Qui-Gon paused and took the chance to actively center himself using mindful meditation so as to be his most powerful and in the moment. Darth Maul, on the other hand, took this time to pace back-and-forth like a hungry panther hunting it’s prey.

A heightened awareness of the present moment – mindfulness – is the power we see time and time again throughout the Star Wars films; it’s the skill Yoda emphasizes in Jedi training, it’s how Luke destroys the Death Star, it’s what helps Darth Vader turn against Emperor Palpatine, and in the prequels, is how Obi-Wan and Yoda resolve the threat of the Sith. In psychology, the name of this skill is called Mindfulness. And lest you think we just made up this Star Wars/mindfulness in psychology connection, just check Wookiepedia for some references to excellent books on this topic including Star Wars: The Jedi Mind, Star Wars: Be More Vader, and Star Wars: Be More Yoda.

Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and accept what’s going on around us without judgment. Its where we focus on being intensely aware of what we’re sensing and feeling in the moment, without distraction, interpretation or judgment. There are literally an infinite variety of ways to practice mindfulness including walking, putting on your shoes, or even eating! A common way involves sitting comfortably, following the sensation of your breath as it goes out and in, noticing when your mind has wandered and returning your attention back to your breath, and being kind to yourself when your mind wanders.

We live in a busy world, we may rush to work, plan out our days, keep an eye on kids while washing the dishes, have heated debates with friends about the best way to celebrate May the Fourth, etc. However, in the rush of what we have going on around us or with the tasks we are trying to accomplish, we may find that we lose our connection with the present moment—missing out on what we are actually doing and how we are feeling. No matter how busy we are, just having the ability to take time to pause, to meditate, and/or to breath, can open a door to practicing mindfulness.

Practicing mindfulness can bring improvements in our well-being, physical health and mental health.  A Harvard Health article explains:

  • Mindfulness improves well-being.Increasing your capacity for mindfulness supports many attitudes that contribute to a satisfied life. Being mindful makes it easier to savor the pleasures in life as they occur, helps you become fully engaged in activities, and creates a greater capacity to deal with adverse events. By focusing on the here and now, many people who practice mindfulness find that they are less likely to get caught up in worries about the future or regrets over the past, are less preoccupied with concerns about success and self-esteem, and are better able to form deep connections with others.
  • Mindfulness improves physical health.If greater well-being isn’t enough of an incentive, scientists have discovered that mindfulness techniques help improve physical health in a number of ways. Mindfulness can: help relieve stress, treat heart disease, lower blood pressure, reduce chronic pain, improve sleep, and alleviate gastrointestinal difficulties.
  • Mindfulness improves mental health.In recent years, psychotherapists have turned to mindfulness meditation as an important element in the treatment of a number of problems, including depression, substance abuse, eating disorders, couples’ conflicts, anxiety disorders, and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

The psychologists at the Center for Men’s Excellence all work to incorporate mindfulness into our own lives and often include mindfulness-based interventions and tools designed to give our patients the ability to be more present, to manage difficult circumstances and feelings, and to help clarify core values that really give a sense of deeper meaning in life.

So, take it from the Jedi Masters, and learn to observe your mind and its non-stop activity. Invest in yourself and learn to stay in the present moment. Contact us for a FREE consultation to learn more about our Mindfulness Process group.

May the Fourth Be with You!

*Note that due to pure snobbery and adherence to rigid-yet-arbitrary standards of what should and shouldn’t be included as true Star Wars Cannon, there was absolutely no mention of midi-chlorients in this piece because, well, we just object. Same thing for Jar-Jar Binks….

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