Saturday, March 9, 2013

Zen and the Art of Sci-Fi

“I should focus on some inner, spiritual work,” I said.

Except, no, I’ve never said that.

I often say things like
“I wonder if I can read this entire book in one sitting?”
Or “I will play video games until I pass out from hunger, then I will eat and play some more.”
And just recently I said to myself, “If I only watch one episode per month, I can make Merlin last until Netflix puts up the next season.”

But I’ve never actually said, “Let’s meditate today.”

When I think about it, Zen philosophy’s focus on living in the present moment and striving to be at one with everything sounds nice, but the problem is that I really have no desire to give up movies and video games to become an austere hermit on a frozen Himalayan mountaintop.

Fortunately for me, austerity is not, in fact, a requirement for a life of enlightenment and spiritual peace. I once heard that the key to becoming a Zen master is to find Zen in the everyday, to distill fundamental truths from the stuff of life.

And, friends, we can do that sort of thing from home! Tibet doesn’t have a monopoly on meditation!

As a meditative exercise, I’ve done some inner, spiritual work (see what I did there?) to distill fundamental truths from sci-fi stuff. Perhaps you will gain some enlightenment from it?

So, come on, say it with me:
“Let’s meditate today.”


“Do or do not. There is no try.” – Yoda, Star Wars
This first one’s easy to meditate on, because a Jedi master is practically a Buddhist monk already, right? Anyway, this quote used to bother me. While Luke is whining that he “tried” to do something he’s failed to do, Yoda lays the little green smack-down on him: there is no try. Ouch, Yoda. Just rub it in his face, why don’t you?

But I recently had an epiphany while I was “trying” to maintain a faster-than-my-normal running speed and “failing” to do so. “Do or do not,” he says. “There is no try.” Failure doesn’t come into it.

Instead of focusing on the things you “do not,” give yourself more credit for the things you “do.” Sure, I did not maintain the killer running speed, but I did run faster than usual. I did not perfect the impossible yoga pose, but I did practice. I did not achieve spiritual enlightenment in a single day, but I did make today count.


“No grenades.” - Capt. Malcolm Reynolds, Serenity
Most would say that of all the sci-fi characters I resemble, the Hero of Canton is not one of them. Aside from a shared proclivity to name our weapons (“I call her Vera.”), Jayne Cobb and I have next to nothing in common. However, Jayne and I do share a tendency to overpack.

Like Jayne, I “get excitable as to choice, like to keep my options open,” and I worry over even the simplest overnight trips. What should I pack? Have I got everything?

But the fact is I never need everything I pack, and if I forget something it’s not as if I can’t pick up another one when I dock planet-side. This isn’t the infinite blackness of space, people; there will be a Wal-mart when you get there. Save yourself the stress and listen to your inner Zen master (or space pirate) when he tells you to pack less: No grenades.


“Frak!” - Practically everyone, Battlestar Galactica
One of my elderly relatives likes to say that “cussing is what people do when they've run out of intelligent things to say.” He gets bent up about bad words in what he views as otherwise perfectly acceptable media: a single F-bomb can blow up all his inner peace.

However, a mentor of mine once countered with, “The time and place for foul language is when I stub my toe at two in the morning.”

Of course! I’m never intelligent at two in the morning, no matter what my toes are doing! If ever there is a time when I’ve run out of intelligent things to say, it is then.

Not every problem is small or simple enough to be put out the airlock. Sometimes, bad things happen and there’s nothing you can do about it. At times like these, there’s no need to be articulate. Revel in the cathartic release of a good swear and save the stirring speeches for when the Cylons aren’t attacking.


There are many more sci-fi examples out there that can be used to further your spiritual practices. Should you happen to achieve enlightenment, you can reconsider becoming a hermit in the Himalayas, if that’s your thing.

For myself, I’ll mark “spiritual, inner work” off my to do list and reward myself with a movie and some video games.

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