Only What You Take With You
A short time ago, in the back of my own brain…
I hope I have some Star Wars fans among my readers, because today is a total nerd out on one of the least talked about character growth scenes and how you and I can learn from it.
There are times when we put ourselves in a difficult situation on purpose. Maybe you volunteered to lead a project or give a presentation and you have difficulty with the added responsibilities. Maybe you decided to join your co-worker at a social event and are unsure how to behave. Maybe you signed yourself up for a 5k in a month and you are terribly out of shape. Whether we are doing it for career aspirations, social status, or personal challenge, we will find ourselves at the end of it. We will mature and understand our motivations, passions, and emotions better once we emerge from… The Cave.
From Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, Luke Skywalker is jogging through the swamps of Dagobah with Jedi Master Yoda on his back as part of his Jedi training. Unknowingly to Luke, they reach Yoda’s intended destination. They stop to rest for a moment. Standing in the swamp, through the Force, Luke feels something:
Luke: There's something not right here... I feel cold. Death.
Yoda: [points to a cave opening beneath a large tree] That place... is strong with the dark side of the Force. A domain of evil it is. In you must go.
Luke: What's in there?
Yoda: Only what you take with you.
Luke enters the cave with his lightsaber as he is afraid that he may need to defend himself. He encounters Darth Vader. Igniting their lightsabers, they duel. Luke ends the confrontation quickly by beheading Darth Vader. Vader’s head still in the helmet rolls on the ground to stop with the mask facing Luke. The mask explodes. As the smoke clears, it reveals Luke's face under the helmet. It was all just a vision through the Force.
There are several lessons inside the cave for Luke to learn. The most obvious is that his fear and anger will lead him directly to the same fate as his father, Anakin Skywalker, who fell to the dark side and became Darth Vader. Of course, Luke can only figure out the "fear and anger can lead to the dark side" part at the time. He'd later learn the other parts from Vader himself.
Yoda says, "Only what you take with you." Luke carries with him quite a bit. He carries love for his friends, which later in the film feeds his fear over them being killed at the hands of Empire. He carries history of his father as a Jedi, where he wishes to follow in his footsteps, not realizing the heavy burden that the history and path carries. Luke also carries his lightsaber and blaster to defend himself from danger, but it is the fear of needing to defend himself that triggers the Force vision to demonstrate where his fear will lead. This scene is beautifully executed. If only humans could receive a Force vision to forecast just where their behavior could lead them…
But each of us has our own Cave to enter and learn huge lessons.
We humans carry fear, anger, and hate around just as Luke carries his lightsaber into the cave, but it is a lot more difficult to leave these emotions behind. Courage, forgiveness, and knowledge are the ways to leave fear, anger, and hate in the past where they cannot effect the future. Identify fears and find the courage to conquer them. Quell anger with forgiveness. Alleviate hate and ignorance by acquiring knowledge of the situation and circumstances.
Whenever I get in front of an audience to speak, to share my ideas, passions, or thoughts, I enter my Cave. I carry with me my fear of judgement and being shamed. I carry with me lack of confidence in myself to perform or to impress. I carry with me many past experiences of embarrassment and failure with public speaking. Every time, I enter the Cave, I have to check my pockets for what I am carrying. I have to empty them with courage, forgiveness, and knowledge. Every time, the load gets lighter.
Check your pockets. What are you carrying with you? Do you have heavy burdens? Are you collecting and bottling emotions? Do you have fears? Do you know how to empty your pockets and lighten your load? Think about what you are taking with you into the unknown.