“Use the Force, Luke”
Skiers are familiar with the sensation of having the light suddenly go flat leaving you no longer able to see terrain changes. You lose depth perception and vertigo sets in. If you can’t see the trees, you can completely lose the sensation of whether you are going uphill or downhill – or if you are even moving at all. It is disorienting and can be dangerous, but which depends on how you react to this loss of perception.
As person who not only likes to be in control, but plans ahead several steps for every possible outcome, learning to ski has been fraught with personal challenges. Good skiers pick a line and go with it, absorbing terrain changes and variations in snow with flexibility and grace. I however, plotted my line carefully to maximize safety, scooting my way down the mountain, weaving through challenging areas like a drunk. I didn’t shy away from difficulty — in fact, the more difficult the slope, the better…as long as I could anticipate potential issues and had multiple bailout options. But variations in visibility, snow conditions, my skiing companions and new locations all caused regressions in my form and shook my confidence. In the early years of learning, lacking confidence in my ability to deal with difficulty resulted in an end to my progression towards being an expert skier.
My challenges on the ski slope mirrored my life as well. Never one to shy away from a challenge, I nevertheless lacked the confidence and commitment to stick to the path I had chosen. I required lots of bailout options, got nervous when I couldn’t predict the outcome, and new situations made me skittish. I had made so many bad choices over the years, that lacking a clear line of sight, I didn’t want to make ANY decision, preferring the known over the unknown. As I have gained skill, strength and confidence over the years, both in life and skiing, during those times when visibility, speed, slope or technique has resulted in a complete white-wash of my planning, I have learned to Jedi ski and use the Force.
Even though the Star Wars saga began more than 30 years ago everyone understands the basic concept of the Force – a universal energy that can be put to good or evil use. Obi-Wan describes it as “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”. When we stop flailing around in our humanness we have the ability to tap into a power that is much greater than ourselves. The Force is about trust, using intuition, listening to your heart, being brave and anticipating a positive outcome. The Force is about harnessing our connection to all that is in order to manifest what we choose for good or evil.
When undergoing cancer treatment I, like many people, rested deeply in my faith that there is a reason for all that happens and that in the end it would all be okay. I believed firmly in the best possible outcome (whatever that was) and I took things one step at a time. Unlike in my pre-cancer life or when I was on the ski slope, cancer scared me so badly that I could only cope with what was in front of me and there was no looking at anything other than health. I let go of all planning, let go of anticipating, and let go of needing to be in control. The shock of having such a completely random event occur to me derailed all that I had been and put me directly in touch with the Force. In order to get through the trauma, to do what needed to be done and to carry on, I connected deeply with the fact that I am a part of all that is, and could draw power and strength to do amazing things from that connection.
In the “real world” of post cancer survivorship, this is a challenging concept to apply. We are taught that our survival and success in the modern, physical world is dependent on our ability to plan, prepare and anticipate potentials. We start believing that WE are the process, not that we are PART of the process. We believe that we are in control, not that we need to open ourselves to being a channel that allows for opportunities we didn’t even know existed to enter. We lack flow and flexibility to maximize our experience, we are looking too far in front of us anticipating difficulty and spend too much time out of the moment.
I admire the ability of my Assistant Manager Steven to look so comfortable on his skis – absorbing impact, flying off jumps and doing tricks with the loose limbs of a rag doll. He told me one day that I just needed to loosen up – relax and don’t hold myself so tightly. REALLY? A deeply cosmic statement from such a young Jedi Master — as if he knew how tightly I hold onto my perception of control! I’d like to say that the difference in his relaxed nonchalance and my ever-anticipating-danger mental state is one of the large gap in our ages, but that is not totally it. Stevens’ laid back style, both on and off the slope and “let’s just huck it and see what happens” attitude is in complete opposition to my life lesson of “the shit IS going to hit the fan so you better put on the hazmat suit ahead of time and duck”. But post-cancer I am re-evaluating whether planning for every potential disaster is even possible, much less if it is effective. Obviously my over planning in life did nothing to prevent me from having had a life threatening disease. And, it is clear that when I did stop “holding myself so tightly” during cancer, that the world didn’t end and I found strength and resilience I didn’t know I possessed.
As my young friend encourages me take more risks while staying loose, I am learning to accept the idea that my fear may make me more likely to get into trouble instead of less. And along with a youthful lack of fear of negative consequences, Steven possesses the ancient Jedi wisdom of Yoda who says to “do or do not…there is no try”. Relaxing into the actions required in skiing or life, and believing in the positive outcome we choose, we can create our own reality.
One of my favorite scenes in Star Wars is when Obi-wan and Luke are stopped at a check point and have the following interaction with Stormtroopers who are looking for Luke and the droids:
Stormtrooper: Let me see your identification.
Obi-Wan: [with a small wave of his hand] You don’t need to see his identification.
Stormtrooper: We don’t need to see his identification.
Obi-Wan: These aren’t the droids you’re looking for.
Stormtrooper: These aren’t the droids we’re looking for.
Obi-Wan: He can go about his business.
Stormtrooper: You can go about your business.
Obi-Wan: Move along.
Stormtrooper: Move along… move along.
What if we believed in the potential for the outcome we wanted instead of preparing for the one we don’t? What if, like Obi-wan, we just stated exactly what we expected and knew there was no chance of it not happening? Unfortunately we all pay far more attention to what we DON’T want instead of to what we DO. One of the rules in skiing (and in golf for that matter: see post titled “I am Committed to this….I think“) is “don’t look at the trees – look at the space between them”. We automatically move towards what we are focused on – good or bad. If we chose to focus on what we desire, imagine how amazing it would be when everything around us shifted into place to make it happen.
Like Luke trying to lift the X-Wing fighter out of the swamp with only the power of his mind, we have the capacity to move mountains when we believe in what we have chosen to take on. It is about believing in ourselves, believing in the outcome we choose and preparing for that reality instead of any other. As Luke argues with Yoda about the impossibility of moving such a large object from the swamp, Yoda says to him: “Size matters not. Look at me. Judge me by my size do you? Hmmm? Hmm…And well you should not. For my ally is the Force, and a powerful Ally it is. Life creates it, makes it grow. Its energy surrounds us and binds us. Luminous beings we are, not this crude matter. You must feel the Force around you: here, between you and me, the tree the rock everywhere. Even between the land and the ship.”
We do not have to be alone in the challenges we face. As we try to move our own personal X-Wing fighter out of the swap we have the ability to tap into something far greater than us alone. We have power beyond measure. We are, as Yoda says, beings of light, and as such we can accomplish anything.
We all face times when we cannot see the ground under our feet, when the world seems to be spinning in a direction we cannot control and when we don’t know which way is up. In these times we tend to grasp at straws and hold on tighter to what we think we know instead of staying loose and ready for anything. We deny ourselves the joy of overcoming challenges and gain the strength in self-confidence when we don’t hold our line as we move towards our goal. We put too much faith in what we fear will happen instead of what we actually want to create for ourselves. Learning to ski – and to live – blinded by light, or by the lack thereof, teaches us to feel the ground under our feet, to move slowly so that we don’t miss an opportunity, but nevertheless to stay relaxed so that we are free to react to challenges and to enjoy our successes.
Each day on and off the hill, I am taking the advice of both old and young Jedi masters to use the Force. I am challenging myself to take on new and more difficult goals; to believe in the outcome of my choosing and to trust that I can handle whatever comes my way. I am reminded that approaching each new challenge or task with less rigidity allows me to be flexible enough to take on anything. And mostly, I remember that my ability to be successful may not have as much to do with what I can see ahead of me as what I can see inside of me.
(All Star Wars quotes courtesy of imdb.com)