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A Wasteland of Dry Stones

October 8, 2009

With time comes change. We get older; our family and friends die; our skin loses its elasticity; our eyes become weak; our hair becomes grey.

Depressing, isn’t it?

Buddhism recognises this as a fact of life, and it is — it is “the first noble truth”. The second noble truth is that the reason all of this is depressing to us is because we wish things to be otherwise.

Now, in a moment of great joy, you might exclaim, “I want this moment to last forever!” But it never does.

Perhaps you’ve had great friendships that have eroded with the passage of time. Maybe the area where you grew up is now unrecognisable. Or is it just that you can’t physically do what you could 20 years ago?

In any case, it’s only by fighting this very fundamental aspect of life that you find the experience depressing, frustrating, maddening. Embracing life means, necessarily, embracing change — embracing death: the death of people, the end of relationships, the falling away of things we hold near and dear at this moment. But it also means simply enjoying the promise of new possibilities on the horizon.

This is an active choice that we must all make in our own lives: enjoy the moment, but free yourself of attachment to that which can never last.

On Mustafar, Anakin fully refuses the call to adventure.

On Mustafar, Anakin fully refuses the call to adventure.

In Campbell’s monomyth framework, this choice appears as the first stage of the hero’s journey: “the call to adventure”. The hero or heroine who embraces life accepts the call to adventure, for better or worse. He or she is lifted out of the ordinary world and placed beyond the boundaries of rationality, ready to be transformed and renewed. A refusal of the call, however, is a clear rejection of the essence of life itself and its endless cycles; to quote Campbell himself, the end result of this refusal is that the hero’s own “flowering world becomes a wasteland of dry stones”. The lifeblood has been drained from the earth, leaving only barren plains.

Enter Anakin Skywalker.

Despite his mother emphasising to him upon his initial departure, “Don’t look back,” Anakin indeed does look back. Superficially, he accepts the call to adventure, but his heart is never truly in it. Throughout Attack of the Clones in particular, he acts as Anakin first and as a Jedi second. This is what the refusal of the call actually looks like in everyday life, be it a married man who continues to act as if he were single, or a political leader who places personal loyalties above the duties of the office: the choice made is to hold onto the old ways of being. Like Peter Pan, they refuse to “grow up” — to grown into their new roles and accept the call to adventure.

This is Anakin’s weakness, and he pays dearly for his mistake. He is possessive, jealous and greedy, craving control over life, love and nature itself. He doesn’t accept life on its own terms, instead insisting that it bends to his will. The cost for this attitude is nothing less than his humanity — his soul.

Anakin transformed into Darth Vader: more machine than man

Anakin transformed into Darth Vader: Dark Lord of the Sith

Of course we should try to help others and continue to make the world a better place, but the choice is not between passive acceptance and active betterment; the choice is between living in accord with nature and merely treating life itself as a commodity.

Once we stop respecting life, we lose that which makes us human. That is they way of the Sith. That is the Dark Side of the Force.

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