Refocus

I’ve come into 2019 with a different focus to that which I left behind in 2018. I’m getting married this year, and hoping to get healthy, lose weight, eat a better and more mindful diet. To spend more quality time with my kids, to focus more fully on my job when I’m there and not when I’m not.

I find that, right now, my mind is not on maintaining this blog. I am glad for the work I put in and the content I have provided here. If it is useful to just one curious soul, it was time well spent – and I have referred back to some things posted here since posting.

I am also glad to return to the Jedi path, something which is taking on new and deeper meaning to me each day. My practice is becoming ever more personal, not relying on the old methods of my former Temple or, honestly, other Jedi at all. I am very much “in the field”, doing what I must to build balance and harmony. I see now that at this point in my life, that doesn’t mean joining or forming communities. It means working within the immediate communities around me, even when that’s hard, dull or painful.

For now, this is my last post; but nothing is forever. I suppose a better way to out it would be: this is my last post until I have something to say.

I am a Jedi. The Force is with me.

May it be with you also… always.

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The Fox – Death in the Midst of Life

Written on 18th April 2016

I’ve written recently about my studies of death and dying. Today it was rather driven home when I had to dispose of a dead fox. I don’t frequently encounter dead animals of any kind, particularly not ones as large as an adult fox. I have a real affection for the canids and this animal was around the size and weight of the dog I had growing up, my most beloved childhood pet. But this was no dog, nothing domesticated or wild.

Returning from lunch I noticed it. lying in full view on the grass beside my car park at work. Its perfect triangular ears and white-tipped tail made it unmistakable as a red fox, a common predator (often termed a pest) frequently present but infrequently seen around Milton Keynes, my town. Yet, clear and orange as it was against the dull green grass of a wet Spring, it had been ignored. The 160+ people in my office had passed it, but no-one had taken steps to do anything about it. I had my hands full and decided to speak to Reception, who told me there was no-one willing to dispose of it.

Lunch dropped off at my desk, I returned a short while later with some garbage bags and a shrill warning not to touch it with my hands (foxes are known for harbouring ticks and parasites). I know for hunters and farmers, disposing of dead animals is no big deal, but for me, here in relatively suburban Milton Keynes, I found myself doing something I’ve never had to do before. The only dead animals I’ve ever encountered were pets (or already chopped up in a supermarket). This was the first wild animal’s corpse I’d experienced up close, apart from a few dead birds I’d poked with a stick as a child.

I looked down on the noble little thing, first being certain to check it was dead. I laid a hand on it (through the bag) – it was cold, certainly not moving, even to breathe. I was reminded of the times when, in the early hours of the morning I would stagger drunkenly home through Brighton, often seeing a skinny fox crossing my path as it threaded through the sloping streets and back gardens of the city. Its eyes were closed, lips slightly drawn back. An image of peace. Above the fruit trees were in blossom, and I caught myself thinking of the animal’s few years of life, of how those blossoms would have been in its nostrils as it closed its eyes for the final time. Its final spring.

As I slipped the black bags over the animal (tail first – stiff, it had obviously died over the weekend) something bubbled up within me, and I found myself muttering a quiet “may your soul find your fathers”. I’m not a believer in souls as such, at least, I didn’t believe I was. But where it comes to wild things… there is a certain “soul” there, is there not? A ferocity, an authenticity which can’t be denied. It was apt that I gave this little involuntary blessing to this beautiful animal.

Bagged, the fox was taken to a nearby dumpster to await collection by the town council and, presumably, incineration (a horribly unceremonious end for this strangely beautiful creature). As I carried it across I had the mental image of a little blue shape trotting a few paces behind me, a little like the ghost from Coda – but vulpine.

A strangely profound experience in the middle of my working day.

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A New Year, A New Day – A Jedi View on the passage of time

2018 is behind us, and 2019 is ahead. The calendar comes down and a new one goes up, but is that all there is to time passing? Is a new year really just a new day in disguise, and what does the ongoing flow of time mean in a Forcely universe?

First, let me say – Happy New Year! There is no right or wrong time to wish someone happiness and joy and this is a good excuse to do so. The question of the passage of time is an interesting one for Jedi, as we fundamentally believe in the unity of all things – this surely encompasses the unity of time, too. But all things being one doesn’t make everything a homogeneous grey gloop, and so it is with certain days – the day is yours to make of it what you will, and why not make this day one for reflection, intention-setting and an appraisal of one’s own “place” within the wider Force?

Think of time as the endlessly wide chain of cause and effect. The seconds tick by, and the universe changes. Plants grow. Stars die. We breathe in, and we breathe out. We can’t really contain the “Whole” of the Force because it’s beyond human comprehension to do so, but we can visualise the tremendous vastness and huge number of ongoing processes happening right now across the little bit of the universe we know about. This change, this growth and flow of one thing into the next, these are the actions of the Force. Cars drive along the street, birds fly overhead. That old metaphor of the wind in the leaves comes to mind again. Each one of these is a huge sequence of cause and effect in itself, and has an astronomically huge sequence of causes and effects leading to it. Combustion of fuel. Metabolism of food into wing motion. But invention, too. Evolution. The existence of the planet at all, the coalescence of cosmic dust into a solar system. The birth of the universe. All of this is cause and effect, all of it the action of the magnificent Force.

So where does that leave something as seemingly humble as the passing of one year into the next? Well, we are humans, and humans keep calendars. A thing is not meaningless just because it has no mirror in nature, but the calendar surely does. Seasons flow one into the next. We may be in the depths of dark, cold Winter, but soon Spring will be here, with new growth, sticky buds and shoots rising from the forest floor. Summer will follow, full growth, the year stretching its back, heat haze rising off the grass in the fields and a warm breeze on the skin. Autumn comes, that new growth now old, bark and leaf dry and cool – and then Winter again, a period of darkness, snow and cold which blankets the players of this eternal game in night, daring Spring to come again. The calendar is our closest reflection of this beautiful natural cycle, a compartmentalisation of each phase into multiple phases of months. It invites a great opportunity to reflect on the past year and a new opportunity to set the tone for what comes next.

Reflection is core to the Jedi path, something we need to do regularly to check our step, our intent and our approach. The year changing is a direct invitation to reflect, to take stock of the past 12 months. Where were you 12 months ago? What are the events which changed your year, or your life even? Who saw the last year in, vs the person greeting the new one? What do you regret, what did you learn, how did you grow? What brought you joy, encouragement, or light? Also, think of the things which caused the most pain, discomfort or suffering in the last year. What did you learn? What was the lesson? And what can you leave behind?

Think also of the place you are in today, the things still “going on”, for good or for bad. You are only ever in the “right now”. You are in the moment, here, and cannot be anywhere else. In a very real sense, today is the only day that matters. But that shouldn’t stop you from considering what comes next – from taking the action which sets the new chain of events in motion, the new cause which generates a desired effect. If you plant a seed today (indoors, at this time of year!), you will grow a tree sooner than if you plant one in a week, or a month, or not at all. Where do you want to be at the end of this year, changing calendars and reflecting? Who do you want to be? And what are you prepared to do to get there?

I’m not much for setting New Years Resolutions. In my opinion, Jedi should be in a constant process of evaluation, learning and growth. What seems like the right goal today, may reveal itself to be the wrong goal tomorrow, and too much rigidity or inflexibility makes us brittle. Be open, be aware, and keep reflecting. But do also take this day in hand; take stock, reflect, and set your intent for the year ahead. Sure, today is “just another day” – but examine that “just”. “Just”?! Each new day is an enormous gift! There is a huge opportunity every time the sun rises. Every day could be the one you look back on as the day your life changed – for better or worse! The new day is your opportunity to change everything: who you are, what you do, the things you believe, the life you lead.

And the good news is, you’ve been dealing with “new days” your whole life. Yes, this is another one.

You’ve got this.


May the new year bring you wisdom, adventure and peace
May you find abundance in times of scarcity,
Solace in times of turmoil,
Faith in times of doubt.
The Force will guide you – may you follow where it leads.

See you in 2019

Forest Jedi will be taking a short break over the holidays to give me time to get new content written and queued up for your perusal and discussion in 2019.

Meanwhile, you can keep the conversation going in our forum – Force Fellowship.

You can also enjoy a few highlights of what I’ve published over the last month:

The Way of the Force – A Jedi Reading of the Tao Te Ching
The Forceless Force – A Jedi Reading of the Mumonkan
Building Awareness – Jedi Mind(ful) Tricks
Shinrin-Yoku, or Forest Bathing
Greyness and Heuristics
Passive Jediism

May the rest of your year be peaceful, restorative and kind.

See you in the woods.

The Shell – Layers of Being

Written on 17th August 2015

As humans we are used to compartmentalising. We are used to seeing a certain collection of things as a chair. A certain collection of furniture as a room. A certain collection of rooms as a house. Our entire life is about compartmentalising, subdividing and grouping. Two people are a couple, a group is a family, enough families become a nation, or a species.

The further “out” we cast our net, the more it encompasses, the smaller our individual influence. We go from being all-powerful individuals, to compromising couples, to one voice in three, four, five as a family member. By the time we’re thinking as a nation, our influence can be extremely diluted. And as a species? We barely make a ripple.

Perhaps this is why people are so attached to their compartmentalisation. They are happier as a “big fish in a small pond” than as a single cell of plankton in the wide ocean. But that doesn’t mean the ocean isn’t there.

Think of it like a beautiful, spiral shell. The shell is chambered into camerae (yes I looked it up):

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Each is a single element of “shell”, but on its own, we would consider it “shell” rather than “A Shell”. We require all these many parts to be considered together for the whole to be revealed; taken as individual components, these elements serve no useful purpose.

This is also the truth when we think of elements within the wider Force. It is beyond our comprehension to take all things into account at all times: all history, all space, all futures. Only a mind as wide as the Force itself could hold all that information. Yet all of that, all of everything, is relevant to any part of our existence. And decision, any action. The whole Force in its entirety plays on every subdivided moment, every smaller, component part. All of it is necessary. All of it is relevant.

As Jedi we consider our place within the wider Force, our influence and the consequences of our actions. We are, as elements of the vast Force, insignificant. Yet each moment of our lives is also, genuinely, incredibly significant. A shell with a missing chamber, sinks. It doesn’t work. It is a fact of how the shell is formed that every part of is is necessary. It is beautiful for this reason; every part “fits together” (not that it’s built part by part, like a lego model, but the symbolism is the same), perfectly.

As Jedi we are elements of the Force. We are necessary, if tiny, components. But just as the chambers of a shell can be considered individually, we are also simply parts of the wider entity. We are not just the chambers, and not just the shell. We are the ocean, the planet, the cosmos.

It’s only a matter of perspective.

The Belief in Oneness Scale

What Would Happen If Everyone Truly Believed Everything Is One?

A fascinating article I read recently asked this very Jedi question, and drew some interesting and scientific conclusions. I encourage you to read the whole article, published on Scientific American, but one particular point to highlight was the “Belief in Oneness Scale”:

1. Beyond surface appearances, everything is fundamentally one.

2. Although many seemingly separate things exist, they all are part of the same whole.

3. At the most basic level of reality, everything is one.

4. The separation among individual things is an illusion; in reality everything is one.

5. Everything is composed of the same basic substance, whether one thinks of it as spirit, consciousness, quantum processes, or whatever.

6. The same basic essence permeates everything that exists.

Research shows the higher on this scale your belief is, the more likely you are to make decisions which reflect a “wide identity” – that is, more than just an individual, but a reflection of nature, humanity and the cosmos as a whole.

I found this kind of interesting to read. For me, all 6 are undeniably true! Im not sure where that leaves me on the scale (I guess a 6?) but I’m fascinated by both the research going into this understanding of the underlying Oneness of reality.

Another amazing insight this article offers, according to the study, only 12.5% of people have “never considered” that beneath appearances, everything is one. That means an amazingly high percentage of 87.5% have! I found this revelatory. We have so many people who “get” that beneath the everyday appearance of things, there is in reality just one essence, one “thing”.

Perhaps more of us believe in the Force than we realise? And if so… the Jedi path offers time-honoured wisdom for living in greater harmony with the unity of all that is.

Read the full article here: https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/beautiful-minds/what-would-happen-if-everyone-truly-believed-everything-is-one/

Greyness and Heuristics

Written on 15th August 2015

Fictional Jedi are, ordinarily, divided into two major factions: the light side and the dark side. We are told that this dichotomy is also present in all things, up vs down, left vs right. But the more I learn, the less realistic I find this view. True, in isolation elements of reality may appear one thing or its opposite. That is a function of our heuristic ability to quickly conceptually interpret things – one is up, so the other is down.

Heuristics are ways of learning which enable us to quickly (another word would be “dismissively”) learn or approach problems by making certain assumptions. Whilst I haven’t consciously monitored the trajectory and rotation of the earth today, given the likelihood of it’s happening, I predict without additional computation that there will be a sunrise tomorrow. Given my understanding of human biology and neurology, and my experience of life so far, I assume it’s sensible to take a pen into my right hand rather than my left hand when I hope to write something. Heuristics are often sensible.

But reality, whilst composed of such heuristic dichotomies as “light and dark”, is not really about blackness or whiteness. If I take one black dot and one white dot, and repeat them in sequence over an area then stand back, they appear as something else: grey.

This is, in my opinion, the true nature of the Force. Reality is never exclusively one thing or another, and whilst we acknowledge the interdependence, the insinuation one thing brings of its opposite, we are wrong to interpret this as a fundamental split-into-camps. Reality is blended, merged, mixed. In my own life I’ve worked with the darker parts of my nature, my alcoholism, my anger issues, and a number of other large “dark” issues. And what I’ve learned is that the wrong way to approach them is to try to “extract” them from myself. It doesn’t work – taking something out of your life creates a void, a void which begs to be filled until it is.

Better is the more harmonious, more Forcely, more “grey” path of accepting some things about ourselves which we don’t like, from a purely white perspective. We can learn to channel the energies and impulses which give rise to “dark” elements within our nature without submitting to ferocious anger or substance dependency. We can learn moderation, compromise, harmony. We can learn that it’s better to be grey, than always to fluctuate between black and white.

It’s a common feature of all philosophies that they look to answer questions in isolation. To pull out a single thing, look at it “objectively” outside of its regular context, and then to put it back in place as though we now understand how it works. Whilst that works well for relatively simple systems like a car engine, where we can pull out a single cog, inspect it and then replace it, in our lives, in the world, in the wider system of the Force such an approach is, frankly, useless. To give a comparison it would be like extracting a cog from a car engine and trying to infer from it the meaning and purpose of all life in the universe.

The Force is “more than the sum of its parts”. Necessarily so. It is not just about one part interacting with another, but all parts interacting with all other parts, across all time and space. It seems wiser, therefore, to investigate the currents, eddies and patterns we find within the Force, the small ecosystems within the wider system, to infer things about the system as a whole: as above, so below.

And as we only ever find objects or concepts “in situ”, we never once have found a free-floating idea simply waiting for us in space, we must examine things with a true phenomenological rigour; instead of imagining things in isolation, we must choose to see them as they are, situated, contextualised. The Force is nothing if not the sum of contexts! And where we find ideas is with other ideas. Where we find objects is with other objects. For every “light” there is a “dark”. The sum total of that arrangement is the most perfect grey possible – literally all the white and all the black ever, entwined at the deepest and most subtle levels.

It isn’t black and white. It’s grey, and must always be grey.

And so are we; as expressions of the wider Force we are simply subsystems, the “below” to the overarching “above” of the whole. We reflect an aspect of that great system and we are, universally, flawed. We are imperfect. We are complex and changeable and difficult to define. We are not cogs! We are systems, systems many trillions of “black and white”s deep. We are grey to our very core.

So why does this matter? Some describe Jediism as rather grey, not defined by any particular requirement that Jedi or even Knights at perform or maintain great acts of “light” virtue. I think the challenge of greyness comes when considering our doctrine. We ask followers of this faith to speak in favour of one side of a dichotomy, in contrast to the necessary opposite. I don’t find a strong philosophical basis for this; we trust in the Force, in greyness, in both the positive and negative, or we betray it.

Perhaps the idea is that we are seeking to be light to counter an overabundance of darkness. That is certainly how I used to see the role of the Jedi, which drove me to ministry and to taking apprentices of my own. But the truth is we’re all of us imperfect. No Knight of  goes a single day doing something which isn’t at least grey. It’s an ideal, something to aim for an not to achieve – I know that. But it’s not true of the Force. It’s not embodying that which, as jedi (small J intentional) we have faith in, put our trust in, seek to embody.

I’m not advocating going out and harming as many people as we help. I am perhaps questioning the idea of virtue as held up in Jedi circles. I recognise that the more senior Jedi have approached, accepted, integrated the very challenge of purpose I describe here. They have answers which are complex, grey. I respect them.

But to the wide community of curious visitors, guests, and Jedi of all stripes, this distinction is lost. We talk of embodying the Force whilst doctrinally misinterpreting it.

I’m reminded of Wittgenstein’s oddly chilling conclusion to the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus:


6.54
My propositions are elucidatory in this way: he who understands me finally recognizes them as senseless, when he has climbed out through them, on them, over them. (He must so to speak throw away the ladder, after he has climbed up on it.)
He must surmount these propositions; then he sees the world rightly.
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Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.

Perhaps our beliefs about “light” and “dark” are there as a similar heuristic to seeing the world in black and white. It’s not the truth of what we find, at least not the whole truth, but it is elucidatory of some key underlying principles of reality. It’s a ladder for the new guys to understand concepts and ideas we can’t yet speak to them about directly, not a working functional model of the Force. And, naturally, as our understanding of the Force deepens, so too does our appreciation of its underlying – and desirable – greyness.