Jedi do not make to-do lists.
On living in the moment.
For the record, I do not actually think I am a Jedi. But I find in times of difficulty that myths and metaphors can lift me out of despair or fear. That’s certainly not a new idea, but perhaps those of us with more narrative minds find these stories more powerful.
I grew up on Star Wars, and was pretty convinced I was Princess Leia for most of my young life. Han Solo was never my type - I’ve always gone for the good guys, not the scoundrels, but her example as a powerful woman in a dangerous world was a role model.
Later in life, during probably my hardest years, hundreds of hours of Game of Thrones videos watched on YouTube because I didn’t have HBO lifted me out of extreme depression. I’m not sure how I would have made it through those times without the strong female characters who rose from trauma reminding me of who I was. (I hated the ending, btw. That doesn’t count.)
Recently I was very sick, as it seems were half or more of the people I know. When unable to do anything productive, I watched - count them - 39 episodes of Star Wars Rebels. I am now able to discuss Star Wars at a higher - or more painful, depending on your perspective - level.
Change Anything with April Wilson Smith, MPH is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
One of the things I like most about the newer series is that the Jedi are seen meditating. Yoda is based on a Zen master, and to some extent the Jedi order is based on Zen. As I watch the new Jedi, especially the women, develop, I notice something very important.
Jedi do not spend much time making their to-do lists.
They are completely in the moment, and therefore ready to take on whatever happens, even when it is a surprise.
As an at times problematically anxious person and a former Yale supergirl, I have spent a lot of time making to-do lists. When I was a kid I had this creepy habit of making schedules of my day, with every minute planned out. My childhood was… eventful… and it left me feeling like I had to always be in absolute control or else the world would fall apart.
Since I started Zen, I’ve learned to focus on being much more in the moment. Things change so fast anyway, what’s the point in making too many plans? Constantly making plans can keep you from experiencing life. My Zen teacher says, “Yeah, and then you miss your life.”
I never would have seen ninety percent of what happened in my life coming. The Yale strike of 1996 that set the course for twenty years of organizing, getting death threats on a blog I wrote for ten years about food (yes, some people get very up in arms about Swedish fish… a story for another day.) Certainly never saw myself in public health, or harm reduction.
I just made two friends in Jerusalem. Didn’t see that coming two months ago. I’ve always wanted to go to Israel. While this may not be the week for it, when it’s safe, I’m finally going to go. I think I may have places to stay.
We are all going through a very hard time, if we are awake, and I’ll write some funny stuff soon. I owe some Billy Joel to relieve the non-Star Wars people of their pain. I’m doing some very serious writing for public publications, and I try to keep this blog a bit lighthearted. It relieves my stress and hopefully it entertains you. If not, I’m not sure why you’re reading!
To-do lists are of course necessary. But I’m letting go of my obsession with them. This year has had a lot of ups and downs, and a ton of surprises. I often feel like Han Solo when he said, “This day is not going the way I thought it would.”
My mom and my late friend Jean used to say, “Cancel one thing each week.” I hate what I used to think cancel culture is, that is people canceling things all the time. If I cancel something, I am not well. But taking something off the to-do list and spending that time in meditation, or listening to music, or walking, has been one of the most helpful habits I’ve adopted lately.
Instead of obsessing about schedule and to-do as much as I used to (and that was extremely serious obsessing!) I’m attempting to start each day open the the possibilities. Of course I have my to-dos, as the work and the laundry must get done. I don’t live in a Zen monastery (largely because they don’t take cats) and even Zen monks have to-do lists. We must make the rice, carry the water, make a living, clean the cat box.
But I don’t want to miss my life.
[I identify much more with the Jedi, but I’d date a Mandalorian. I may be pretty good with the Force, but I can’t fix a damn thing. I bet a Mandalorian could put together a piece of Ikea furniture in no time flat.]
We must clean the cat box. But must we stand in it? At the cat shelter where I volunteer last night. These sweeties are ready for adoption. Need some cats?