On #Meditation: The Day I Learned To Use The Force
Growing up in Alabama, I was a certified Star Wars junkie.
I lived and breathed any and everything having to do with Star Wars. I’d collected all of the action figures they had. Every Christmas there was never any question as to what I wanted from Santa. Could’ve been a Millennium Falcon, an AT-AT Walker, or perhaps an upgraded Light Saber to replace my worn-out one.
I remember one afternoon, my brother and my neighbor and I were dangerously balancing on the bed of a pickup truck, sparring with our Light Sabers, while riding through traffic (my neighbor’s crazy Dad was driving), pretending like we were cruising on our speeders through the Endor forest in Return of the Jedi.
Those were the good-old days when a kid would tap into the Force whenever he needed something extra to defeat the evil villains of the world.
As I got into my teenage years, I realized that there isn’t any such thing as the Force – that it was only the plot line of a movie. That we can’t let go of our feelings, and why would we want to anyway?
After all, our feelings help us interpret and apply meaning to our experiences. If we were sad, that meant that something bad just happened; if we were happy, that meant something good just occurred. Seemed simple enough.
Eventually, I packed my Star Wars toys up in boxes and stored them in my mother’s attic.
Over the next 12 years, I explored all of the places where grownups search for happiness: in school, work, alcohol, the occasional hit of a joint, relationships, cars, gadgets, traveling, consumerism. And during those years, the Force remained a childhood fantasy.
When the first Star Wars prequel came out in 1999, it didn’t illicit the same feeling I had when I was 5. The Force now seemed cartoonish.
When I entered my 30’s and began meditating regularly, everything changed.
I’ll never forget, one afternoon, while sitting in meditation on my couch in West Hollywood, I felt something that I had never experienced before. Not in meditation. Not in yoga. Not in church. Not while sleeping.
There was this serene sense of inner contentedness. At the same time, I wasn’t aware of anything going on around me. I wasn’t even aware of me: the boy who grew up in Alabama watching Star Wars, who sang in the church choir, who lived in DC, Chicago, Paris, New York and LA, who worked in advertising, the board game industry and as a yoga teacher, whose favorite book was Catcher in the Rye – that individual didn’t exist in this state.
It’s not that I disappeared or astral traveled. Rather, who I knew myself to be expanded to include all things. There was nothing in existence that was not a part of me. For that moment, I had become all of it. But what shocked me even more was, when I came out of this state, my body was still sitting upright. I wasn’t sleeping, and about a half an hour flew by in what felt like 30 seconds.
The man who trained me to meditate told me this was going to happen one day when I least expect it. But let’s just say I had my doubts.
During this experience of transcendence, one of my first thoughts was, “HOLY SHIT, I just experienced what felt like… THE FORCE!”
It didn’t happen again for a few meditations. But when it did, I thought, “This is awesome!”
The more often I experienced this state, the more natural it began to feel. If I went into meditation looking for it, it would never happen. I had to allow it to occur. Something else profound started happening… this Force-like energy that was showing up in meditation began appearing in my life outside of meditation, in my waking-state experiences.
For instance, whenever I felt sad, it didn’t seem to have the same kind of grip over me as before. Sadness would still be there, but it didn’t control my mood as much. Feeling down because something didn’t go my way for 5 minutes no longer ruined my day. I also stopped interpreting negative emotions to mean that things were bad, and instead I began to experience them more as temporary reactions of my body to given (even innocent) circumstances.
I realized that while our feelings are there, helping us interpret various situations, something is also there, underlying them, as a witness to the feelings – kind of like how we can innocently witness a passing rainstorm while all the while remembering that the sun continues to shine brightly above the dark clouds. I always had a sense, deep down, that this witness state existed, but I never had a language for it, so I just ignored it. After all, people don’t usually discuss this kind of thing where I’m from – at least not openly.
The magnitude of my personal discovery reminded me of a meditation book I once read where the author told a story about a group of American Indians from the late 1800′s who lived roughly 20 miles inland from the American Northwestern coastline. They were discovered by a group of American anthropologists who were on an expedition from the Pacific Ocean. When the anthropologists made references to the ocean, they assumed the natives were very familiar with it. But to their astonishment, none of the natives had ever seen the ocean or even knew it existed.
Apparently, their ancestral territory was situated deep in a valley and there was a ridge separating their valley from the path towards the ocean. Since everything they thought they needed was found in abundance within their valley, the idea of expending the time and energy to travel beyond the ridge and into the unknown just never seemed reasonable to them. For all they knew, they would just find more of the same. As you can imagine, witnessing the ocean for the first time blew their minds.
This was how I felt when I discovered my inner consciousness through meditation.
Without knowing what was about to happen, I touched a state that felt a lot like how Obi-Wan Kenobi first described the Force to young Luke Skywalker:
“It’s an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us. It binds the galaxy together.”
It was right where he said it was – just beyond my feelings. I had to transcend my individuality in order to experience my Universality. I had to go on a journey beyond the ridge of my everyday mental experiences and the ocean of pure consciousness was right there, infinite and boundless, patiently awaiting my discovery.
In those first few years, every time I got to experience it, my faith in something bigger than my individuality got stronger. My spirit seemed to get renewed with that familiar sense of innocence, adventure, and wonder that I felt as a child watching Luke go through Jedi training with Yoda in the Degobah System. I started thinking, that’s me – doing the kind of inner work that will solidify this Force in my life and give me access to it whenever I need it.
If someone is just waking up, having coffee, checking emails and Facebook, going to work, going to lunch, working out, coming home, eating dinner, playing with the kids, watching TV, and going to bed, they could still have a great and rewarding life, but they’ll never discover the extraordinary ocean of pure creative potential residing within.
It occurred to me that this is probably why guys in India sit in this state all day long. Of course, they wouldn’t be doing this for thousands of years if there was no intrinsic value to it. As David Lynch points out in his book Catching the Big Fish, it’s not in man’s nature to waste his time; every man inherently wants happiness. These men in India discovered the source of happiness, and it feels so good that they can’t seem to tear themselves away from it!
If I’ve built this experience up too much, I honestly can’t help it.
Imagine seeing something as grand and as breathtaking as the Pacific Ocean for the first time, and being the only one in your circle who knew something like that existed. You would have no words to describe it in a way where people would understand what it truly was without experiencing it for themselves.
Nevertheless, how excited would you be to tell everyone, and to show them how to get there to see it for themselves? And to remind them that they don’t have to change anything about themselves to experience it, aside from taking time out of their normal activities to go on the journey that is required to get there?
And how perplexed would you feel if, upon sharing all of this wonderful news, people dismissed you or looked at you like you were crazy and assumed that there was no such thing – or, if there were such a thing, it’s not important enough to miss an episode of Dancing With The Stars to experience it?
Remember, Luke’s response upon first hearing about the Force was: “Look, I can’t get involved. I’ve got work to do…”
Even Han Solo quipped: “Kid, I’ve flown from one side of this galaxy to the other, and I’ve seen a lot of strange stuff, but I’ve never seen anything to make me believe that there’s one all-powerful Force controlling everything. ‘Cause no mystical energy field controls my destiny. It’s all a lot of simple tricks and nonsense.”
What if Luke decided to stay on his little farm, and kept his attention on his daily affairs? What if Han decided it was all a bunch of hippy dippy nonsense. We all would’ve been robbed of quite the epic adventure.
Luckily, more and more regular people from all walks of life and from all colors of the rainbow, are having this extraordinary daily experience, and meditation is quickly becoming a permanent fixture in our culture. Folks are tapping into the Force and using it as a catalyst for breaking the limits of human potential – just like Luke Skywalker.
Within each of us is a script for an epic adventure waiting to be unleashed. All we need to do is tap into it.
25 years after watching my first Star Wars movie, I read that George Lucas was a meditator, and that he based the concept of “using the Force” on the unbounded field of pure creative intelligence that he experienced while meditating – and that Yoda, the quintessential Jedi Knight, was based on his Indian teacher – who also happened to be my teacher’s teacher.
And then it all seemed to make perfect sense.