Turning away from the dark side of the force

by Stephen Ruppenthal, Health and Wellness, June 20, 2005

Four obstacles that prevent us from living our best lives

San Francisco, USA -- More than one generation was captivated by George Lucas' Star Wars trilogy, one of the great epics of modern times. The question always asked was, why does such a good man such as Anakin Skywalker turn to evil, "the dark side of the Force," and become its archetype Darth Vader?

<< Anakin to Darth Vader: Archetype of good turning into evil

While the latest movie puts to rest such questions, we may ask ourselves, how do we deal with our own dark side, which can erupt in anger or burn relationships before we even know what hit us? Let?s first look at how the dark side of us can sneak up and transform us into a person who does very destructive things, even perhaps criminal acts, and then look at how to deal with four hot spots?anger, fear, self-loathing, and victimization?to turn from the darkness and instead be nourished and led by the positive energy of the Force.

Star Wars is psychologically correct: Anakin was a decent, even selfless lad, but he was sold into an abusive slavery. The very noble Qui Gon saved him, but the damage of permanently unequal position--not unlike what most of us endure as children from more powerful older children, even from our parents and teachers?created a huge arsenal of pent-up rage he carried always with him. This rage was invisible on the outside, invisible for himself, lurking deep down within, but unmistakably dangerous. According to the psychologist Alice Miller, when we suddenly and unexplainably do something that injures our partner, our children, those we deeply love, and most of all ourselves, such action has its origins in childhood, when like Anakin we may have been forced to suffer in silence and put up with the cruelty inflicted on us in the name of upbringing. We can save ourselves and others incalculable harm by a program of honest self-reflection and spiritual uplift. Here is how I recommend handling the darker side or our emotions.

Psychologists rightly caution that suppression of anger can have disastrous physical and
emotional consequences. If we are the type of person who stuffs down anger, or finds passive ways of lobbing it into another person's court stealthily like a cruise missile, it is better to express it openly. For the kind of person who gets a sense of honor and one-upmanship by indulging a hot temper, the pleasure will be short lived and the damage permanent. That is why the spiritual path counsels not to repress anger, but to channel its raw power before it explodes in such outbursts of destructive behavior. When someone irritates you to that crazy-making point that you feel like screaming the whole building down, start breathing deeply and calmly. If you have a mantram from a spiritual practice, try to break from the situation and go out on a fast, brisk walk repeating it silently in the mind.

Gradually, its rhythm will blend with that of your breathing and your footstep in a healing harmony, transforming the anger into lasting peace.

The greatest enemy of inner peace is fear. Anger, whether hidden or erupting in rage, can be
located and dealt with. Fear is down under, seemingly nowhere, but when it strikes it paralyzes us or makes us do reckless things. I learned, for example, when I was training my pit bull as a pup that most vicious dogs bite and attack not out of aggression, but out of fear.

The same can be said when we do hurtful things to someone we fear may do better than us or abandon us. I recommend keeping a personal journal and, through free writing about the trials of our day, make fears come out in the open, so that the next time they try to masquerade in our mind, we can tell them no and act with wisdom rather than compulsion.

We all make mistakes. But they are due to wrong, incorrect thoughts, based on a faulty
perception of reality, not on who we really are. Sometimes we beat ourselves up so badly that we become an object of scorn to ourselves, with "a hole in our soul." This happens to me all too often, so what I do is to get the self-loathing out in journal writing. It is possible then to look underneath our mask of adult behavior at the needy child that was neglected early in life, staring us right in the face. The more we can realize that certain facts and events of childhood made us feel bad and small, the sooner we can truly mourn those unfortunate experiences and see that we aren't a child now; we are a bright, competent adult, ready to move on and go forward. We do not need to let ourselves be led by dark, covered over forces that date back to a person and time we no longer answer to in our actions.

Probably fifty percent of adults alive today have been victimized as children, either sexually
or through other kinds of abuse. Unfortunately, human experience is not a container that can be emptied from time to time. Traumatic things we experienced as children are sealed over and taken with us into adulthood. Many people go through life sure that the most innocent actions by their partner or good friend are meant to victimize or even humiliate them, when in fact they may just have had a bad day themselves and mean nothing but the best. But the truth is, it is within our power every minute how to respond. We can choose to react emotionally or not to every single event in our lives. So when you feel shut in the victim box, realize that you are not a helpless child anymore, but a capable adult, with many options.

I would recommend a spiritual practice, such as meditating on the words of sages and poets who have known emotional security and spiritual peace, slowly in the mind. In this mode of meditation, concentration on the passage, word by word, seeds the mind with the higher reality present in the passages. Eventually, passage meditation slows and even stills the mind, and one perceives then what lies in the space between thoughts. When our mind becomes thus stilled, abiding in this interstice between thoughts, a sudden flash can light up our real nature and show us who we really are and have always been. Thus you can defeat victimization forever and, in the words of a famous Buddhist, "awaken to this dharma of no-thought: you will penetrate all things thoroughly and come into the realm of Buddha." We can all turn away from the negative, dark side Darth Vader drowned in and instead find the positive energy of the force and have abundant use of it in loving, working, and living to our fullest.