Raising a Mindful Jedi: 5 Mental Health Lessons from a Galaxy Far, Far Away

Our kids love Star Wars.

Wait, let’s be honest. WE love Star Wars.

In the summer of 1977, we were first introduced to Luke, Leia, Han, Obi Wan, and Vader. Maybe you were a kid yourself when the original films hit theaters. Maybe you saw Star Wars for the first time on VHS. Maybe your first love was one of the prequels: Episode I, II, or III (okay, we all know that’s not true). Or maybe it was Rey who captured your heart.

Regardless, more than forty years after that first glorious film, we stand now on the verge of Episode VIII, and we’re all concerned about Luke Skywalker’s ominous warning in the trailer: “I only know one truth. It’s time for the Jedi to end.”

Nooooooooooooo!

What could this possibly mean? You probably have your own theories. I sure have mine. However, all guessing aside, I know another truth. We have the knowledge and the power to teach our own kids Jedi abilities. That’s right! With our help, our children can become one with the Force and, regardless of Luke’s words, the Jedi will never end.

Obviously, our ten-year-olds will not be Force-lifting the family minivan out of a smokey swamp, nor jumping twenty feet in the air, flipping, and landing on a catwalk. I’m guessing you also don’t want them using lightsabers. Still, the tools and philosophies of the Jedi (and the Sith, as well) can be explained and practiced in ways that can help children battle anxiety, negative thoughts, perfectionism, anger, fear, loneliness, and so many other emotional enemies.

Movies help shape us. They can inspire and motivate us, and our kids, as well. So many of us have been especially touched by Star Wars, and one of the reasons is that we already feel drawn to the power of the Force. We feel the allure of the personal peace and emotional balance it offers. Your kids feel it, too.

What follows are five very real Jedi powers we can all possess, and that we can give our kids. With each power is a description and some conversation starters to use while you watch the films together.  We can use the special influence of the Star Wars films to teach kids to harness their emotional strengths, become one with The Force, and carry on the legacy of the Jedi Order.

1 – Mindfulness and Meditation

“All his life he looked away. To the future. To the horizon. Never his mind on where he was. What he was doing.” -Yoda

“Don’t center on your anxieties … keep your concentration here and now, where it belongs…. Be mindful of the future, but not at the expense of the moment.” -Qui-Gon Jinn

Anxiety can be especially confusing for kids, and one of the hardest things for parents to help their kids overcome. Anxiety is a fear response brought by our thoughts. It hijacks our memories, using our past experiences to make us feel afraid of things that are behind us. It uses our ability to anticipate future events, colors those events in negative ways, and makes us afraid of things that may never happen. More often than not, anxiety does not take place in the present, which is why a Jedi works so hard to live in the now. They strive to be mindful.

One of the Jedi tools for overcoming anxiety and achieving mindfulness is meditation. In A Phantom Menace, notice how Qui-Gon takes a break from battling Darth Maul so that he can meditate and calm his anxiety and fear. Rey does the same when she and Kylo Ren lock sabers at the end of The Force Awakens. In the pilot episode of The Clone Wars, an army of battle droids finds Yoda meditating in a canyon. And in The Empire Strikes Back, we learn that even Darth Vader meditates (the big black pod he sits in is called the Meditation Chamber).

When you watch the films with your kids, make note of those meditation moments and talk through them. Describe how the Jedi are focusing on their breathing and getting in touch with their true emotions.

Once your child buys into the idea of meditation as a Jedi power, you might discuss with them these other ways to be more mindful.

2 – Feeling the Force

“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.” -Obi Wan Kenobi

“You must feel the Force around you. Here. Between you, me, the tree, the rock, everywhere, yes.” -Yoda

The Force is similar to the concept of common humanity, which is the idea that all humans are part of a collective experience. We are bound together by our flaws, by the highs and lows of life, by our wide range of emotions. We are connected by our joys and pains. In those ways, we are never alone.

Our experience is not just tied to other humans, but all living things. Trees give us air to breathe. Plants and animals give us sustenance. And we, if only as a byproduct of our life cycles, help nurture other living things. We all share a living energy. We’re all bound together as part of a living network, a “symbiotic circle,” as Obi Wan explained to the Gungans.

What does that mean for our kids? According to Dr. Kristin Neff, common humanity is one of the key components of self-compassion. Do you have a child prone to negative self-talk? Does he or she have unhealthy perfectionist habits? Understanding that people, as a whole, are not perfect, and that we are all a part of that imperfect human experience, might help relieve some of that self-inflicted pressure.

Furthermore, Dr. Kelly McGonigal explains that when people feel alone with their stress, when they internalize it and don’t see it as part of the collective human experience, they are less likely to seek support, and more likely to become depressed and engage in avoidance tactics.

When watching the films, pay attention to how Jedi can sense each other’s presence, even when they are not close; they are aware of the common abilities that that connect them. Find examples of how the Jedi, too, are flawed, imperfect, and how they support each other and depend on each other when they make mistakes. They, too, are a network.

When your child is emotional, show them that you understand their pain and explain that you’ve felt the same way. When kids learn how the Force binds them to others, they may feel less pressure to be perfect, less alone with their emotions, and more at one with humanity.

3 – Sensing Disturbances in the Force

“I felt a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced. I fear something terrible has happened.” -Obi Wan Kenobi

“I sense great fear in you, Skywalker. You have hate. You have anger.” -Count Dooku

A Jedi can sense emotion in others. They know when their friends are hurting. When Luke is training with Yoda on Dagobah, he loses all his focus when he suddenly senses the emotions of his friends, Han and Leia. “They were in pain,” he tells Yoda. Point out to your kids how recognizing feelings and emotions in others makes a Jedi more responsive, better able to help.

And what is understanding the emotions of others if not empathy?

There are lots of reasons to value empathy. A child who possess empathy is more grateful, more compassionate, more polite, is a better listener, and is more generous. Amy McCready suggests in her book The “Me, Me, Me” Epidemic, empathy can be taught, or, at the very least, “nurtured.” And being in possession of a Jedi power might just be the motivation a child needs to be more sensitive to what others are feeling.

There are games we can play with our kids to help them develop a stronger sense of empathy. Next time you’re out shopping or stuck in a waiting room, have them try to quietly guess what strangers are thinking or feeling. Are they in a good mood or a bad mood? Are they feeling rushed or are the patient?

You can also make other people’s perspectives and emotions a regular dinner table topic. “Who did you notice was happy at school today? Why was that?” “Who did you notice was sad at school? Is there anything we can do to help?” Just make sure they don’t feel they always need to be heroes and fix people’s problems. Often a Jedi’s greatest power is simply knowing, understanding, and giving people the right amount of space.

4 – Jedi Mind Tricks

“The Force can have a strong influence on the weak-minded.” -Obi Wan Kenobi

The notion that the Force only influences the weak-minded is an unfortunate characterization of a Jedi’s persuasive powers. Nonetheless, a Jedi can use his or her Force abilities to have a quiet influence, to make people believe things, or say things, they otherwise wouldn’t. Jedi do it by understanding the minds of others, seeing people’s (or aliens’) thoughts, and asserting their quiet, subtle powers.

Susan Cain, in her book Quiet, explores the myth that leaders need to be loud and charismatic to be effective. In contrast, she, and the research she cites, suggests that the most effective leaders are often the quietest. They are introverts. They spend most of their time listening and thinking, gathering information about those they are leading, and making thoughtful, respectful decisions based on their findings. It’s a quiet influence. Studies found that people were much more likely to follow to a leader when they thought their own voice was being heard: introverts are most likely to do that. There is real potential for the quiet and the thoughtful to affect the minds of others.

If you have an introvert that could use some help tapping into their leadership abilities and other hidden powers, check out this series of short stories for middle and high schoolers.

5 – Facing the Dark Side

“That place … is strong with the dark side of the Force. A domain of evil it is. In you must go.” -Yoda

“Be mindful of your feelings.” -Mace Windu

“How will I know the good side from the bad?”

“You will know when you are calm. At peace. Passive.” -Luke Skywalker & Yoda

Yoda instructs his pupils that anger, fear, and aggression are the dark side of the force. But he does not say to run from them. Instead, a Jedi is to face those emotions, not in order to fight them (a Jedi does not seek conflict), nor embrace them (Vader embraced his anger and never let go) but only to understand them. A Jedi spends time with with all emotions, listens to them, learns from them, and is always mindful of what he or she is feeling. They lean in.

It’s often said that suffering = pain x resistance. Pain, as we discussed, is a part of our common humanity. It’s a part of life. Suffering only happens as a result of battling pain. The same might be said of anger. Or fear. Or anxiety. Denying, avoiding, or fighting those emotions will only make a young Jedi hurt more. And THAT is the path to the dark side. Yoda tells us, “Named your fear must be before banish it, you can.” A Jedi doesn’t fight, nor run from emotions. They get to know them.

At the end of Return of the Jedi, watch how Luke handles his emotions while fighting Darth Vader. Luke is afraid. He is angry. But he doesn’t run away. At certain moments during the lightsaber duel, you can see how those emotions influence him. Point out those moments to your child. See how the messages Luke receives from his fear and anger influence his decisions? Still, he rarely loses composure. He stops and reflects on what he is feeling, and he stays mindful. In the end, the most dominant emotion is his compassion for his father.

For more tips on teaching kids to lean into the dark side, check out this article.

References

References

Bortolin, B. (2005). The Dharma of Star Wars. Somerville: Wisdom Publications

McCready, A. (2015). The “Me, Me, Me” Epidemic: A Step-by-Step Guide to Raising Capable, Grateful Kids in an Over-Entitles World. New York City: Penguin Random House LLC

Cain, S. (2012). Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking: New York City: Random House, Inc.

4 thoughts on “Raising a Mindful Jedi: 5 Mental Health Lessons from a Galaxy Far, Far Away

  1. great, great article! fun to re-live quotes from across the Star Wars saga, and good life lessons too. I really enjoyed this piece. Thank you!

    • So glad you liked it, Drew! We hope it helps people see the movies in a new light. Thank you for taking the time to read, and for the feedback.

  2. Thank you for this article! It is insightful for my mindfulness study and I look forward to sharing these lessons with my kids who are huge Star Wars fans.

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