Using Fiction to Develop and Assess “Real Life” Character

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.

MTFBWY

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/

Self-Discipline

At the beginning of the year, it is customary for us to sit down and create New Year’s Resolutions, even as we know that most people will have abandoned them before February 1st. In fact, a study from 2019 suggests that most Americans won’t last beyond January 19th … that’s only 10 days away!!!

Since, as Jedi and knights, we are often on a path of self-improvement, how do we beat the odds and maintain our momentum during the coming year?

As noted in the linked article, one of the most important factors is to make the resolution a specific, measurable goal. Rather than resolving to “meditate more”, be specific and frame the resolution as a goal such as “meditate for 20 minutes 5 times per week”. I would further add that intermediate milestones also help in keeping the big picture in mind while making smaller, achievable goals that are more easily reachable.

There are many good ideas in the article, and I would like to add to their suggestion that you engineer your environment to help you … enlist one or more people to join you in pursuing the goal and helping you remain accountable. While the Jedi community has not always been the most supportive group or safe space in which to admit your growth areas, see if there are people who you can trust to walk the path with you. Or check out a group such as Nerd Fitness, where you can always find supportive, friendly folks who are embracing changes as well as various fandoms in short, time-boxed challenges.

Finally, I encourage you to read this article On Self Discipline by Morken, from 2000. The advice doesn’t change much. And we know what to do. The challenge is … to do it!!

Make this a great year!!