Community Service: Start Small, but Start

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.

A Jedi’s Life

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).

Naya

Practicing Intentional Living

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.

July: Philosophy & Living with Intention

Welcome to July!!

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.

Philosophy

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.

Be Prepared

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.  

Personal Mantra Chanting: Day 4

Today, I decided to try a different approach to being comfortable with chanting aloud: chanting to the frequencies of recorded Tibetan singing bowls.

I first tried finding a Tibetan Bowls channel on Spotify, which worked well until the ads interrupted the music. For about a minute each, at different pitches, I was able to harmonize and chant along with the bowl, forgetting to be embarrassed by the sound of my own voice. Of course, once the ads started, it was game over.

So, I started looking at YouTube, although many of the top tracks included other music or guided meditations as well. So, a more general search landed me at Shanti Bowl and their list of 11 best recordings, along with the reminder that the best way to really hear the bowls is in person.

However, with a good headset — and the house to myself for a while — I enjoyed chanting along with the pitch of various bowls quite a lot more than just chanting (whispering, really) to myself in a quiet room.

Personal Mantra Chanting: Day 3

Today, I gave a mid-term exam in two of my class sections. The classes are an hour and a half long … so that is three hours of the day spent mostly watching students write.

I used to resent proctoring exams as a waste of my time in a busy life. I can’t do any another work because of the potential interruption of a question. I need to be present and (to some extent) paying attention to what students are doing (yes, I have caught students cheating, unfortunately).

So, I decided to experiment with using it as a time for meditation via mantra chanting.

It was not a complete experiment with chanting because I could only subvocalize as I walked sedately through the room, counting the repetitions on my mala. Other than the buzz of electrical devices and the sound of pencils on paper, the room was utterly quiet. But, I was pleasantly surprised by the difference it made in my attitude!!

Instead of resenting the time “waste”, I felt that being present, aware, and caring for my students in that moment was important. I was doing something that was valued and valuable – not a useless black hole in my calendar.

In the second period of the day, I switched up the content of my chant and focused on the traditional metta prayer. I almost stopped this prayer because as I walked around the room, when I prayed for all beings to be safe, I couldn’t help thinking about Ukraine. But since I do have international students from that region, I pulled it together and blinked away the threatening tears.

I am not sure if I will keep chanting in my daily practice, but it certainly has earned a place in my life.

Personal Mantra Chanting: Day 2

So, I’m experimenting with using a personal mantra in various contexts. The aim is to disrupt the rather snippy person I’ve become lately and be more relaxed, open, confident, and compassionate.

Day 2 found me busily grading one exam while writing a second one. Answering questions as usual . Figuring out how to manage students who missing classes, assignments, and tests because they are ill with the usual variety of viruses plus those who are isolation because of the big one. Oh … and don’t forget Spring sports. A bigger batch of special cases that need to be handled consistently but kindly.

Truth is that none of this is all that hard, although it does mean that I need to make a lot of unexpected decisions and record them while trying to adjudicate fairly and speak compassionately. We’re all stressed for various reasons right now, however, and my temper flares more quickly than I would like. Which is what lead me to try something new in the realm of meditation.

And today, I used the personal mantra when I started to find myself frazzled and snappish, using it as a way to interrupt negative thoughts and self talk. I decided to try this based on work by Jack Canfield (2022) and his practice of stopping negative thoughts with a phrase. In his seminars, he advises people to stop and tell themselves “Cancel, cancel” when they find themselves engaging in negative self talk or thoughts. I decided to try my mantra (“Head up, heart open”) instead.

And I was pleased that, no surprise, it works quite well. Not only does it stop the downward spiral, but it reminds me of my aspirations and goals as a knight. I didn’t get a long meditation session in, but the brief reminders seem to have helped overall. And a good workout at CrossFit worked out the rest of the day’s tensions. I am not sure that I’ll keep the long form of chanting as a daily practice, but the short positive interruption is a new tool in the collection for sure.

References and Resources

Canfield, Jack. (2022) Negative Self-Talk: 5 Ways to Stop Negative Self-Talk Once and For All. Retrieved from: https://www.jackcanfield.com/blog/negative-self-talk/

Personal Mantra Chanting

I became interested in meditation and yoga in my early teens, but I generally stayed clear of mantra chanting and transcendental meditation at the time, preferring to stick with the “following the breath” meditation practices. Personal mantra chanting was a practice that was esoteric enough in the 1970’s that some caution was advised in entering the practice without a teacher.  Stories such as this one Gayathri Mantra Greatness – Lost voice is back inspired some trepidation about trying to learn and practice on your own or with only a book or tape as a guide.  

Also, we were told at the time that one should not pick one’s own mantra – it should be given by a teacher to the student.  Possibly, this was because transcendental meditation was popular and the “best” mantras were passed from teacher to student after training (Luenendonk, 2019).  

Additionally, it was “common knowledge” that each person’s mantra should not be shared with anyone.  I suppose that was part of maintaining the mystery and sense of sacredness of meditation.  But it also would circumvent the vexing question of “what should my mantra be?” and the temptation to keep switching it rather than picking something to stick with for long enough to have some impact on one’s spiritual development.  

Previous History with the Practice

I have, despite the early warnings and a sense of awkwardness, occasionally tried meditation with a mantra.  During my studies at the Temple of the Jedi, I used “peace” as my mantra.  It is positive, but a single syllable word does not suit itself well to synchronize with the flow of the breath.  

While studying with the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids, I’ve been encouraged to use “Awen” as my meditation focus.  It has the benefit of being multisyllabic as well as meaningful.  Most often, it is translated as “poetic inspiration” ….. which is appropriate for Bard training.  Arguably, it is something that I need as a professor, but it does not resonate with patience and compassion for me.  

So, when a gentle nudge to try it resurfaced, I realized that I would need to find a mantra that I’d be willing to stick with for at least a week, if not longer.

How to Pick a Mantra

One of the things that tends to turn me away from this practice is the question of “what mantra should I choose?”.   I always felt awkward and worried that I would not pick the right one.  This is where a teacher would certainly come in handy.

A problem is that finding a teacher can be a real challenge.  You might try an internet search for meditation centers, religious centers, yoga studios, or even unaffiliated teachers.  When I search, I find a few opportunities about an hour away in one of two large cities, although it is hard to determine if they are offering instruction and practice in mantra chanting.

So, that leaves me (and you, Dear Reader) with the task of learning the method and picking a mantra on my own.  The internet is a wonderful place to find general guidance and a wealth of potential mantras.  Reading through quite a few, I relaxed regarding picking the “right” mantra and just started looking for something that invoked a feeling of both confidence and compassion …. two qualities I am in great need of cultivating right now.  That was a bit of a deep dive that took about two hours of internet surfing while we watched television.  

Ultimately, I spent some time browsing at the Zox website: https://zox.la/. It is full of short, mostly positive, phrases intended to be used as personal motivations and reminders of intentions.  I hit upon “Head up heart open” which inspires self-confidence, compassion, and openness when I repeat it to myself.  I even bought a wrist band in gratitude for their excellent copywriters and designers.  

Experimentation

So, I decided to give the new method a try starting this afternoon.  After a walk, while I finally had the house to myself, I thought I could try repeating my new mantra aloud.  

With a sandalwood mala in hand, I started.

Oddly, I found myself sitting up straighter than usual.  I credit this to the mental image of “head up” to lift me up … and “heart open” which opens up the chest.  A surprising and healthy result immediately.

But secondly, I found that my voice seemed shockingly loud.  So, quickly I adjusted volume to just barely over a whisper.  I wonder if I will gradually get louder with practice and time to acclimate to something new??

Resources

Luenendonk, Martin (2019) These are the 10 Most Exciting Mantras for Meditation. Retrieved from https://www.cleverism.com/mantras-for-meditation/

Musings on Chivalry

Reading through the Lecture section of the old Jedi Temple discussion forums, I found a submission in 2001 by Ainar of the Chivalric Code, attributed to the author Arinaga Yoshiakira. I have not been able to trace this writing back to that author, but I did find mention of something similar at an English teacher’s website … along with homework questions: The Code of Chivalry.

Many years later, it has found its way into the doctrines of the Temple of the Jedi Order as part of the 21 Maxims there.

I find it particularly interesting that the teacher mentions in her lesson that the chivalric code would have no real bearing on modern society. As I read through the knightly virtues listed, I can see only one that might need some revision to be appropriate for people of good will today, since few of us owe fealty to a lord … although most have some obligations to other forms of authority.