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Holes In The Fence

Emotion, yet peace.  Passion, yet serenity.  So often as Jedi we speak of controlling our emotions so as not to react in a way unbecoming of our Temple, our Doctrine, our community and our teachers.  At any given moment, both past and present, we can see examples here in our Temple of emotion taking precedent over peace.  These instances are not failures, they are opportunities.

Today I’d like to focus on one emotion in particular.  It is one that, thankfully as I have grown older, has had less occasion to disrupt my own sense of peace.  But it is always there, waiting.

Anger, for me anyway, is the most difficult emotion to wrangle.  It arrives quickly and it demands my attention.  It is a dragon not easily tamed; an enemy not to be left unwatched.  Anger does not come with a desire to meditate; to contemplate.  Anger demands immediate action!

But what makes anger stand out in the wide spectrum of human emotion?  In my experience, it is the volatility.  Anger can smolder unnoticed for minutes, hours, even days… or it can rise quickly from our very core and erupt violently.  It can make us unpredictable; cause us to act in ways out of our ordinary temperament.

Temperament… there’s an interesting word.  It isn’t something we think about often, but we certainly notice it in others.  We hear people described as “ill tempered” or having a “bad temper”.  What does this really mean?  How does our temperament impact our lives as individual Jedi and Jediism as a lifestyle or faith?

I’d like to share a story that has helped me to better understand how anger can affect others as well as ourselves.  Forgive me if you have heard it before, as it is a common one.

There once was a boy who was rather ill tempered. He would lash out whenever life did not go his way.  He was quick to attack; slow to forgive. 

Becoming exasperated with his boy’s constant outbursts, the boy’s father gave him a bag of nails and told him that every time he lost his temper, he must hammer a nail into the wooden fence out back. 

The first day alone the boy had driven fifteen nails into the fence. Over the next few weeks, as he learned to control his anger, the number of nails hammered daily gradually dwindled down. He discovered it was easier to hold his temper than to lift the hammer and drive those nails into the fence. 

Finally, the day came when the boy didn't lose his temper at all. He beamed with pride and told his father about it, but was surprised by his father’s reaction.  He suggested that the boy now pull out one nail for each day that he was able to hold his temper. The days and weeks passed and the young boy was finally able to tell his father that all of the nails were gone. 

The father took his son by the hand and led him to the fence. He said, "You have done well, my son, but look at the holes in the fence. The fence will never be the same. When you act out in anger, it leaves a scar on you and a scar on others just like these holes."

You see, it is not so much the anger itself we need to be wary of.  We are human, and even the best of Jedi will be angry now and then.  I would argue that it would be unhealthy not to be from time to time.  It is not how we defeat our anger or prevent our anger, but where we direct this anger that becomes paramount. 

So, what do we do with our anger as Jedi?  Our Doctrine has something to say about this, specifically the 12th Maxim:

Discipline: To let the self be sole master of the self.

A Jedi’s mind is structured, peaceful, unencumbered by emotions, physical state or external stimuli.

We train so that we can maintain a clear mind, even when we are angered.  We practice meditation and contemplation in order to better understand why we are angry.  We work to overcome our bad temper through training and diligence.  We also accept that we are human and we are not perfect.

Next time you find yourself in the grips of anger (and we all will), try to reflect back on the story above.  Will you aimlessly pound nails into the fence leaving useless holes in the process, or will you take your hammer and nails and do something constructive with them?  Build something.  Build yourself.  Take the opportunity to practice discipline.  Be angry, but do not allow yourself to forget to be Jedi.

Thank you for listening, and may the Force be with you all.