In The Cave
Dear One, know that if you have at times been turned back by the darkness within, that you are not alone, and that the light is the truth of who you are.
This past week, I have been focusing on the practice of meditation, and in addition to some of the challenges we talk about frequently, like the “monkey mind”, the simple physical ability to sit still, and the issue of finding time in a hectic life, there is another, deeper issue we rarely speak of: the fear of being forced to confront our selves, and our inability to do so with the kind of grace we hope to show to others.
In the brilliantly metaphysical sequence in the second of the original “Star Wars” films, “The Empire Strikes Back”, aspiring young Jedi Knight Luke Skywalker is challenged to go into a dark and forbidding cave. “That place is strong with the Dark Side of the Force. A domain of evil, it is,”, says Master Yoda. “In you must go.” A hesitant Luke asks, “What’s in there?” “Only what you take with you,” Yoda replies quietly. As Luke moves to go, he begins to strap on his weapon belt. “Your weapons – you will not need them,” Yoda corrects, but Luke chooses to take them anyway.
What follows is classic: Luke enters the cave, is confronted with his greatest fear, Darth Vader, and draws his light saber. They fight, and Luke “wins” by cutting off his enemy’s head. But when the head rolls over at his feet, and the mask explodes, it is his own face inside the helmet – he is the evil that he has slain. How like our own first adventures into the “cave”, that place within where we are “strong with the Dark Side of the Force” this is! Truly, when you turn within to meditate, you will find “only what you take with you”. And you do not need your “weapons”, but how many times have we brought them, anyway? The weapon of anger; the weapon of judgement; the weapon of loathing – how many times have we taken them into our dark places, and turned them on ourselves? “When you are calm – at peace – passive; a Jedi uses the Force for knowledge and defense, never attack,” Master Yoda instructed. And so it is with us.
When we go into meditation, when we turn within and open the deepest parts of ourselves up to the light of Consciousness, what do we bring with us? When we see our darker selves, or even just the bits of us that we are most embarrassed about or ashamed of, can we remain calm, at peace? Can we use what we find there to increase our self-knowledge, learn to defend ourselves from dark impulses and unhealthy, egoic desires? Or do we choose instead to embrace the Dark Path, and bring our anger, guilt, shame, and judgment to bear? Do we, like Luke, become both condemned and executioner?
At times, as we practice the discipline of meditation, we will be confronted with those things we love least about ourselves: our deepest fears, our greatest failures, our darkest secrets, our sickest thoughts – the things we might not even admit to a close friend. The temptation to use the “weapons” of the dark side of the mind can be overwhelming at times. But we can prevail. When we make the conscious choice not to enter that time “in the cave” with our “weapons”, when we choose to go calmly, peacefully, compassionately, then we can turn the darkness to the light. Hold the parts of you that you are most ashamed of with the same tender compassion and love you would offer to a hurting child. When you are the most tender, vulnerable, and hurting – that is when you most need generosity and abundant love from yourself.
In “The Return of the Jedi”, Luke defeats Darth Vader, but as the evil Emperor taunts him, saying, “Your hate has made you powerful. Now, fulfill your destiny and take your father’s place at my side” (metaphysically, complete submission to the ego), Luke remembers the lesson of the cave, and says, “Never.” He tosses aside his weapon, and positively declares, “I’ll never turn to the Dark Side.” And while disarming himself seemingly is his undoing, it is the crucial choice that saves not only him, but redeems Darth Vader, as well. This is the power of love, not hate, and when we can apply it to ourselves, it can redeem us, as well.
Dear friends, if you have been tempted to “weaponize” your meditation – if you have gone within, seen darkness, and been more conflicted when you got up than when you sat down, do not despair, and do not give up! When you go to sit in silence, and turn within, make sure to leave your weapons behind, and to take with you the peace and calm of the Jedi, but also the love, grace, kindness, and compassion of the Christ. Meet the darkness with vulnerability, trust, hope, and love, and you will be vindicated by the redemption of the parts of you that you may have felt were beyond reclaiming. Love your Dark Side back into the Light, and
May the Force be with you! Rev. Charles