Luke Skywalker looks into a dark forest.
Luke: “There’s something not right. I feel cold...death.”
Yoda: “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.”
Of all the Star Wars movies, one rises above the rest. The Empire Strikes Back is a departure from the one-dimensional theme of good overcoming evil. Instead we must watch our beloved heroes’ defeat at the hands of an evil Empire. The beatdown is a reality check for the young Skywalker and Rebellion. It shows us once again that, “Youth and exuberance is no match for old age and treachery.”
Possibly the most important scene of the entire Star Wars saga is when Luke enters a cave deep in the jungle. His mystic guide Yoda instructs him to go into the dark forest. Venturing deeper and deeper into the dark woods, passing reptiles along the way, Luke finds his father, Darth Vader.
The Empire Strikes Back is a song that has been sung at least as far back as ancient Egypt. We can see the same theme play out in Disney’s Lion King, where young Simba is led deep into a jungle by a shaman, only to see his father’s face looking back at him in the reflection of dark water. And yet again in Pinocchio who, under the counsel of his guide Jiminy Cricket, journeys out to sea to rescue his father from the belly of the whale.
If we look even further back beyond old Disney movies and into mythology, we can find this same theme playing out. The Egyptian god Horace travels into the underworld to retrieve his dead father. The knights of the round table enter the forest where it is darkest in their search for the Holy Grail.
These stories all share this theme: The young hero, advised by a mystic guide, ventures into the dark only to find their own father. So what does this mean for us? Well the hero is you; that’s the easy part.
Underground caves, dark jungles, and deep oceans are all metaphors for the Abyss. The Abyss is both the unknown and the unconscious. It is both everything we don’t know about ourselves, and everything we don’t know about the world.
Let’s start with what the father represents. Father is the archetypal symbol of responsibility, ancestral inheritance, and individual potential. “When I grow up, I want to be like dad”. It is a symbol of what we could become if we were to accept responsibility for the world. The world we have inherited from those who have come before us.
The abyss is speaking for the dark side of reality. The dark side of reality is suffering. At first glance, this is really bad news. Until this point, we’ve been enjoying the hopeful naiveté of youth. But the weight of suffering, be it the world’s or our own, can turn us to stone. It can be too much for us to handle. It seems hopeless, and hopelessness turns you to stone.
As Nietzsche said, “If you gaze long into the abyss, the abyss gazes into you”. If that phrase doesn't give you chills, then you're not paying attention. If you take a good hard look at reality it can petrify you. Why? Because at first glance we get the impression that the suffering in the world is so much bigger than we are.
However, there’s a hidden upside for those courageous enough to WILLINGLY look. When we see how bad things are, we also see that things could be better. We see that we could do something GREAT with our smallness. We could do something that is much bigger than ourselves.
When we stop with our little self-centeredness, and take a good hard look at the world we have inherited, we see that the world is our responsibility. Responsibility is an antidote to the meaninglessness of our personal agendas of power and pleasure. By shouldering the responsibility we can become greater than who we currently are. The meaning we get from taking on suffering is fulfilling in itself.
Of all the beautiful ideas in this myth, this is most empowering: That you can find meaningful fulfillment if you choose to face suffering head on.
“In Sterquiliniis Invenitur” is an alchemical dictum that means, “In the filth It Shall Be Found”. If we can face our darkest parts and work with them, then we can transform into something greater. We can transmute our lead into gold.
You can learn how to do this by reading Taking Ownership of Your Shadow and Becoming Whole. These are simple principles that are easy to implement anywhere, anytime.
What pain are you holding that is still lurking in the dark? How much better off would you be if you were to take that on? How much better off would the world be if you were to take that on?