In October, I decided to treat myself to the lesson of learning something new: ceramics on a pottery wheel. This was mostly intended to be self-care in the middle of a challenge semester as a college professor, but I quickly realized that putting myself in the role of a student had lessons to teach that went beyond the studio and could help me become a better teacher by reflecting upon being in my students’ proverbial shoes.
Students often want to rush past the stage of beginner and develop recognizable skills quickly. No one wants to be seen as a novice, and in our (Western) society in which progress is all-consuming, I can understand the desire to move past this phase quickly, but I have come to treasure its fleeting beauty.
At the moment, I have few expectations. I am a brand new ceramics student who hated art class in high school. ANYTHING that comes off the pottery wheel as recognizably bowl-shaped is good enough. I look at my pieces as something completely new and wonderful in their existence. I have nothing to compare them to and weigh if they are “better” or “worse” than the last one I created. Imperfections are chalked up to being a learning opportunity. It is all new, and I can enjoy that liminal stage in which every piece is the first of its kind for me or is an example of improving technical skills.
After a few months, this beginner’s mindset will become harder to maintain. Even if I resist judging pieces against some internal or external standard, the moment of amazement and joy … that a lump of unformed clay has become something that I made … will fade. Probably. As much as I cultivate that discipline of approaching the wheel or the dojo or the gym as a new event and tell myself to leave the ego at the threshold, the purity of new experiences will diminish with experience. And with feedback from others.
At the moment, teachers, veteran potters, and my (non-Jedi) students are all supportive of my faltering, wonky attempts to make a pot or bowl. Eventually, however, someone’s assessment will be less supportive. For as we move out of the stage of “beginner”, both internal and external critics will surface. The role of beginner is almost delineated by the absence of judgement and criticism, and its tenure in any of our lives is therefore all too achingly brief. As I watch my students experience that wonderful “a ha!” moment in the classroom, I remind myself to celebrate with them and not move quickly to comment on what they could improve. There’s time enough for that later.
For now, I recognize the gift it is to be a real beginner and use the wheel as an unexpected opportunity to practice not only a craft and an artform but also the inner life of a Jedi.
Usually, when I bring up the topic of community service with a member of the Jedi community, I am treated to a list of reasons why that person cannot engage in service activities. Granted, most of us have some physical limitations and limited amounts of time and money. But I am surprised and a bit dismayed to realize that people immediately think of large efforts as the only way to do service. Or that it is the only type of service that “counts” among the Jedi organizations.
Early in the history of the Jedi Temple, we had a discussion thread devoted to documenting service activities. We encouraged any and every volunteer activity to be recorded as inspiration to others and to celebrate that we were as much devoted to offline community improvement as to online self-development.
In many ways, it was wildly successful. It was a very active thread, where people logged actions as small as returning a shopping cart to its corral and as large as volunteering to building a house for Habitat for Humanity. Most of the actions were in the vein of a “random act of kindness” … but I think it did inspire people to be aware of the many, daily opportunities that present themselves to us constantly. It encouraged students and visitors to be mindful and see what was around them all day, every day. The chance to brighten someone’s day with a small action.
For those of us who are returning to the community and our training, I would like to recommend that you pick up the practice again of doing something, anything, no matter how small, whenever you see the opportunity.
I do not think that there is anything that is too small to count. And I do not think that any of us cannot contribute in some way. My late grandmother, bedridden and on dialysis, crocheted toys for children until her dying day. You, reading this, have something that you can do for another. Find it and do it. Today.
Lucy: You give up your seat every day in the train.
Peter: Well… But that’s not heroic.
Lucy: It is to the person who sits in it.
Turteltaub, J. (1995). While You Were Sleeping. Buena Vista Pictures.
Last summer, after Michael Bark located me on social media and invited me back into the online Jedi community, I found myself musing on the question of Jedi Knight as a vocation.
It takes time to determine if one has a vocation. In monastic orders – or ministry – there is a testing period of at least a year, if not more. Sometimes, before you’re even allowed to enter the novice stage, there is a period of frustrated waiting before you are even allowed through the gate.
Why? Because this level of commitment — usually to a community and to service — is difficult. The trial period is used to determine if this calling is something so much a part of who you are that you can’t be anything else and yet be truly yourself. In a sense, it can be the lesser struggle at times; at other times, it is the greatest joy. You only have to read an autobiography of a nun or monk in order to get a sense of this. Or realize that you told yourself you were going to train as friends go out for an evening without you.
Yes, the training can be wonderful too, once you get there and get started working with your other group of friends. Or it can be one of those nights where you are all left feet and frustrated at the end … wondering why you gave up a nice night in the name of maintaining discipline.
There are few jobs anymore that are considered vocations. Medicine is one. Teaching is another. Like Jedi knights, both can come with a title. But, from experience, I can tell you that the thrill of being called “Professor” wore off early in my first semester of teaching. After that point, you really do fall back on something else to keep you going and living up to your principles as best you can. The vocation – the calling – carries you …. not the title.
Ultimately, I keep on being a Jedi Knight because I cannot do otherwise. As a student of mine student put it some years ago:
… is there any other way? To the true Jedi, his own way is so obvious, so natural, that he cannot comprehend any other possibility … and for yourself, you live the Jedi Way, the Only Way.
Mark Lipovrovsky, Blue Group, Jedi Temple
So, this month … what there is left of it …. I am considering an aspect of living as a Jedi: service.
As I wander around the various sites and schools, I hope that there is more service activity than meets the casual eye. For, while training and self-improvement is an important part of being a Jedi, using our knowledge and skills for others is – in my opinion – an important aspect of being a Knight.
I think one of the problems is that most people see “Jedi” as a title. Being a Jedi means putting other people’s problems before your own. It means sacrificing getting things you “want” in order to give someone else something they “need”. It’s knowing that you are not perfect and knowing that you will make mistakes, but taking responsibility for your actions and being accountable for everything you do. It means helping everyone, even those you don’t like, when they are in need (a doctor would save the life of his worst enemy because he has sworn to do so).
I have posted a few more lessons from the Second Life Jedi curriculum, including one on lightsaber combat as practiced in the virtual world around 2006. As with most of our lessons, I do not know who the authors of the lesson were, and I welcome any information readers may have.
At the time, taking lightsaber combat practice seriously (in the “real world”) was the questionable practice of someone who was “just a roleplayer” … like those of us who wrote fanfiction and developed the Second Life Jedi organizations.
In current practice, however, lightsaber training has gone mainstream, with a variety of in-person trainers and YouTube videos to show you how to get started. While I often flinch at the idea, I have to admit that it is no stranger than practicing karate kata or playing pickleball. Anything that gets people way from large and small electronic screens to work up a sweat is a certifiable good thing.
Long ago and far, far away ….. we used the virtual world of Second Life as a platform for developing and practicing desirable, pro-social personal traits.
At first, I created a sister site, the Temple of the Jedi, in the virtual world. Members of the online Jedi site of the same name would meet synchronously to practice skills such as listening and conflict resolution. Practicing hospitality and coalition building and having synchronous communication removed some of the advantages of asynchronous communication, which allows a person to walk away, reflect, and pick words very carefully. The aim was to help prepare students to deal with real-life conflict, which often happens in a moment without time to prepare a careful response.
Later, groups merged and became the New Order of the Jedi, sharing a common training program unique to the group and to the ways in which people can interact in a synchronous, virtual environment.
Fast-forward a decade or more to the International Jedi Federation’s trials at the annual, in-person gatherings. While that sort of in-person Jedi Trials is a wonderful idea, many people are excluded because of limitations of travel, particularly by air.
Hence, I am tossing out an old solution that may be of use again: Jedi training and testing via virtual world. I am posting our old Second Life curriculum with notes about how the virtual was meant to reflect the “real” and provide not only the opportunity to practice and grow …. but also for assessment purposes.
Keep in mind that Second Life turned out not be ideal, but possibly nothing ever will be. There is also potential for using other virtual or augmented reality platforms for a similar purpose, especially as these tools improve and become more accessible to a broader user base.
I continue to bike to work … occasionally, and I am continuing to look for daily adjustments that I can make to improve myself and to help others around me.
These changes do not need to be radical adjustments!! Rather, as Dana O’Driscoll mentions in her book Sacred Actions, you should look for small changes that you can sustain for long periods. Ideally, you should adopt changes you can make permanent habits. In my household, we are starting to consider our use of plastics and how we can reduce at least some of the plastic packaging that seems endemic.
For an example of something small, we love to feed the local birds, but wild bird seed comes in plastic bags that are not recyclable. Holding the intention of replacing the plastic bags, although not knowing how, we have been keeping our eyes open for solutions, assuming we would need to go to a specialty store in a nearby, large city. Much to our surprise, we found that the local farm supplier has wild bird food in bulk and will let us blend the mixes we want to haul away in our – reusable! – buckets. If we hadn’t had the intention/goal, we probably would never have noticed something that has been in front of us all of the time. As Qui-Gon Jinn said … “your focus determines your reality …. “
This week, if you want to deepen your living with intentionality, take a look at this article originally published in 2006 in the Jedi Temple forum: Living with Intention. Make sure that you not only do the reading but engage in some of the exercises at the end as well.
This month, the study theme is Philosophy. The practice focus is Living with Intention.
For me, these two are the core of taking the inspiration of Star Wars to living a “good life” in the sense of living in a principle-centered manner. In other words, to living as a Jedi Knight, when all of the myth and fictional gloss is removed.
There is no end to the reading you can do on the intersection of philosophy and Star Wars, but I commend to you two starting points: our growing collection of articles on philosophical topics and a collection of essays by modern philosophers relating to Star Wars: Decker, K. S. (2010). Star wars and philosophy: more powerful than you can possibly imagine. Some of the essays are available as PDFs, and I will link them for you as the month rolls by.
Living with Intention
I was pleasantly surprised to find articles and musings in the archives of the temple as I was investigating this idea. And I will gradually add them to our accessible collection.
In the meantime, I have made a small adjustment to my daily life that reminded me of how unfocused daily life can be …. and how to challenge ourselves to get out of our comfort zones.
Biking to Work
With gasoline prices rising and the continued rising of temperatures due to climate change, I recently decided to bicycle to work whenever I can.
Now, understand that this is not a long distance … merely 1.5 miles. I should walk or bike this route every day, but as with most Americans, I have become complacent and rely on my car too much. On the other hand, two friends have been clipped or hit by careless drivers while biking recently … we do not know how to share the road in most areas of the United States, and our roadways are not designed – or maintained – to make bicycle commuting safe or easy. But having realized that this was one small change I could make, I decided to go for it.
The first thing that I noticed is that …. I notice many details that were previously hidden. Areas that I considered fairly flat, I now realize have rolling hills. Sections of roadway in the poorer sections of town are significantly more broken, dirty, and treeless than higher cost neighborhoods (where I live, mea culpa). I pay much more attention too to the direction and strength of the wind, because it can actually push me into traffic if I am not (ahem) paying attention.
I am also much more careful at intersections and while passing parked or stopped cars. Whereas a low-speed collision while I’m driving and listening to music would be annoying and mildly disruptive, the same collision between a bicycle and a car could be catastrophic. A new sense of risk sharpens the focus considerably!!!
Finally, ending on a high note here, I notice my body and appreciate it in new ways. I did become reacquainted with muscle groups that running and CrossFit somehow ignored. But after the muscle aches subsided, I noticed the wonderful, heightened sensations of the breeze, bird song, and smells of summer. I was amazed at how powerful and free … childlike really …. I felt when not surrounded in my metal (ok, mostly plastic ….) cocoon. I feel like I have woken up to a new world that is the old world without a coating of dust and grime.
So, if you cannot bike to work, and most of us cannot, I suggest to you to find something from your daily routine that you can shake up and change. See what you can do to change, and possibly enhance, your focus.
I am finally coming back around to an idea that was shared by an anonymous Jedi during the 2022 Virtual Life Reflection Day on January 1st: of having a regular cycle of focused study, reflection, and renewal of practice. As he noted in the presentation, this idea exists as part of continuing spiritual development in mainstream religions, such as the common Protestant Christian liturgical calendar that is used to define a three-year cycle of readings and an annual cycle of celebrations and rituals.
While this site is a Jedi Realism (vs. Jediism) site, the idea of continuing spiritual formation is appealing … especially since we have not, as a loose community, figured out what life after elevation to knighthood should entail.
I am also putting out this idea … I can’t even call it a draft … for those of us who have returned to the Jedi community recently. As a loose community, we could pick a topic per month on which to focus, picking up what we remember, polishing off skills, growing a bit, and sharing what we know with the next generation.
This list is a loose collection, conveniently 12 in number. I do propose that we think about behavior change theory and practice in January, since that is the traditional time for “New Years Resolutions” in many cultures. But for the rest, I am wide open as to what month could be their focus period. Or if there are others that we might propose instead.
January – Behavior Change Theory and Practice
First Aid and Emergency Management
Teaching and Learning Theory and Practice
Collective Action and Forming Community
Place ideas in the comments or find me at one of the many Jedi sites …..
“Building a Real Jedi” by Outback Jedi, presented as part of the 2022 Virtual Life Reflection Day available at the Jedi’s Lighthouse YouTube channel: https://youtu.be/WGHqr_a5dtw
This morning, we woke up to no water. I went down and got a reserve jug of drinking water from my emergency supplies.
Shortly thereafter, we were informed that our local water treatment plant had failed, and, although flow had been restored, we would have to boil our drinking water for several days.
You never know when you’ll need your disaster preparation materials. In this case, it’s not a bad situation. For us, it is mostly an inconvenience for a few days. I won’t need to use my water purification tablets or purifying drinking straw … but do have them if the situation gets worse.
Be prepared. Even in the middle of of city in one of the the wealthiest countries in the world, infrastructure can fail unexpectedly.
If you are new to the online Jedi community, I want to greet you as well and offer best wishes for your growth as a person and possibly as a Jedi.
While I recognize that you are here, at a Jedi website, I am not assuming that you are ready to commit to becoming a Jedi. In fact, I think you should look around the various organizations, join in some of the discussions, and consider if this is the right path for you. It can be difficult. It is often lonely. And, in the end, it is what you make it.
As you begin your exploration, there are a few things that I would like to mention. I will note that some of these may not be popular with leaders and teachers of current sites.
Online Jedi are a Motley Crew
While there is some attempt at collaboration and even establishment of standards of training and conduct across sites, the Jedi organizations are all independent and sometimes have little in common with one another other than the interest in the Star Wars mythos and in drawing inspiration from it.
I highly recommend that you explore as many as you can before settling down and picking one as home base. Talk to the teachers and leaders if you can, but don’t be surprised if you do not receive answers. Pay attention to the rank and file community members and see how they treat each other, especially when they don’t understand or disagree with someone.
Religion or Philosophy?
Jediism sites consider Jedi a religion. Some even have published dogma and engage in some practices normally associated with religions, although many governments do not grant them the legal status of religion.
Jedi Realist sites mostly view Jedi as a philosophy that may influence a particular lifestyle. While they hold some writings as common ground, such as the Jedi Code and the Jedi Compass, these are not sacred writings.
I am currently writing down a sort of census of the organizations I can locate and explore and will publish drafts as I go. Again, I encourage you to visit different types of sites, and also remember that many Jedi hang out in discussion forums that may not fully represent their views on the subject.
Training to Be a Jedi
Training programs vary greatly in length and depth. Some can easily be completed in a couple of months. Some may take years. Ultimately, none of them will teach you everything. To begin studying to be a Jedi is to embark on a different type of learning than you experienced in formal schooling in the past. You will need to be an adult, self-directed learner. The fact that you are here is indication that you are ready for this responsibility.
While you may take direction and learn some content from online or (if you are really lucky) offline programs, most of what you will learn is through your own exploration and experimentation. At many sites, you will receive little to no feedback from teachers even if you attain the coveted status of apprentice.
Online learning also is done in a variety of formats and using various online tools. For many lessons and assessments, online education not the best way to learn. You will need to supplement with local, in-person classes and practice sessions.
At the end of a course, you may be awarded the accolade of Jedi Knight, but if you are serious about living a life worthy of the title and in the inspiration, you will always be learning and practicing. You will decide what you need to learn and when you have reached a milestone. If you are lucky, you may find a group of like-minded people who will continue to serve as fellow explorers and an accountability/support group.
Jedi Teachers are Volunteers
We also have to remember that Jedi teachers are all volunteers who have limited time and attention. From formal schooling, we assume that teachers will be attentive to a small number of people that are their students for the duration of their study. It is a particular relationship that is established and reinforced by daily interactions. This is often not the case with online Jedi education. Mea culpa.
The ideal type of student/apprentice relationship may take a long time for you to find. It is possible that you will never find it. I am not writing this to dissuade you from making the attempt, but you should know that it is not unusual to see perplexing choices made while you, feeling like an ideal candidate, are not chosen. If or when this happens, take comfort in the fact that you are not lacking in some essential quality!!! This educational system is strained and severely lacking. Go back to being an adult learner and find something that you can learn from someone, even if they don’t call themselves a Jedi.
There are many books, some are listed on my recommended books page. Frequently, there are also local workshops on everything from meditation to first aid, mediation, and emergency response. Take advantage of what you have where you are.
Finally, remember that most Jedi teachers are not trained as teachers. They are creating curriculum and teaching environments based on what worked for them when they were in school or went through Jedi training themselves. Most of their approaches are more suited for children or college students (who are considered “transitional adult” learners) than for you. The discomfort of the poor fit can be significant … don’t blame yourself that you don’t fit into their schema. You may have to decide what you can endure on the way to your goals.
Finally, Consider Your Goals
What is it that draws you to the Jedi? It’s OK in the privacy of your mind and your computer to brainstorm. Go ahead and do so. Write down the list without self-censorship. Just write for maybe 15 minutes.
Then, once that is written down, look it over for feasibility.
You won’t be using telekinesis or Jedi mind tricks. But maybe you want to discuss philosophy with like-minded people. Maybe you want to develop skills to be of service in your community. Maybe some of both. Whatever it is, keep in in mind as you start looking around at organizations. Ask questions. See how people are treated. Ask yourself if you feel comfortable there …. if you want to keep coming back and holding conversations. Find that place where you fit, where you feel both challenged and supported.