During the final pages of his 2005 NYT Best Selling novel, Looking for Alaska, John Green poses a question philosophers and religions have wrestled with for millennia.
Why do we suffer? And, somewhat more importantly, how do we embrace our suffering to live a great life?
Human suffering is best summed up by the enlightened and gilted philosopher known as C-3PO:
“We seem to be made to suffer; it’s our lot in life.”
You may not consider C-3PO a philosopher, but his line from A New Hope is the first in a long line of Buddhist philosophical principles that Lucas sprinkled throughout the original trilogy. Pain and suffering are constant themes throughout Star Wars: Luke watches Obi-Wan die, Vader tortures Han, and both Skywalkers suffer the loss of a limb.
If suffering is our lot in life, then how does any human, no matter the galaxy they reside in, deal with their suffering?
Humanity’s largest religions have attempted to teach us how to circumvent our suffering by giving us tools to endure — promising a paradise in a life you can only reach through complete sacrifice or death. The mythology of Star Wars does the same.
After the Rebellion and their group of mumbling teddy bears celebrated the fall of the Empire, the Star Wars universe expanded first in books, then comics, and later video games. And it’s in this Extended Universe where the history of the Jedi and Sith became canon.
It’s in these hokey religions that conscious beings from a galaxy far far away attempt to reconcile their suffering.
The ethics of Star Wars as we know it are simple: The Jedi are true and proper, while the Sith are corrupt and evil. But is this truly the case? What if I told you that the dark side of the Star Wars universe, the Sith, held within their code a powerful roadmap to self-improvement?
As with all things that involve duality — in this case the Jedi and Sith — it would be easy to pit one code against the other. The first iteration of this essay started that way. But I have no desire to engage in schoolyard “my team is better than your team” arguments. Rather, my goal in this essay series is to make the argument(s) that The Sith Code encourages you to embrace your suffering to live a more consequential life.
But, in its current form, the Sith Code isn’t enough. It only scratches the surface of its true meaning. Redefining that code is the crux of what The Sithssays are about.
Peace is a lie. There is only passion.
That’s the first line of the Sith Code. It’s the antithesis of the Jedi code (There is no emotion. There is peace). But there’s a directness in its pithiness. A boldness that hits like a punch to the solar plexus. The phoneme of the two esses in passion give the word a sinister and insidious snake-like hiss. (Say passion by holding out the s-sound as long as possible and see how it feels coming off your tongue.)
But what is passion?
The dictionary defines passion as:
a strong or powerful compelling emotion or feeling; a strong or extravagant fondness, enthusiasm, or desire for anything; strong sexual desire (lust).
If you type passion into Google, the first two definitions you’ll see are “a strong and barely controllable emotion; a state or outburst of strong emotion.” Often, over time, words take on new meanings. And that’s what happened in the last few hundred years with the word passion. A few thousand years ago, passion meant something very different.
Passion comes from the Latin word, “pati“, which means to suffer. We use it today to describe an irrational, irresistible force that seems to overtake or consume a person. Nowhere in our modern usage does this word allude to suffering.
“I’m passionate for my work.”
“That guy plays football with passion.”
“She gave a passionate speech.”
Today, passion is used as a noun. But the Romans used passion as both a noun and a verb. Here’s why this matters: Ancient Romans believed passion was something that could be excited. They could bring forth the passions of desire, fear, hope, grief, joy, love, or hatred. For them, there was the idea that stoking passion moved you to take action. So to achieve happiness, hate, or love meant that you had to embrace your suffering.
“To love is to suffer. To avoid suffering one must not love. But then one suffers from not loving. Therefore, to love is to suffer; not to love is to suffer; to suffer is to suffer. To be happy is to love. To be happy, then, is to suffer, but suffering makes one unhappy. Therefore, to be happy one must love or love to suffer or suffer from too much happiness.” – Woody Allen
Though the meaning of passion has changed over the years, I’m more focused on the ancient meaning of the word going forward. View passion not as something that you have an intense desire for, instead, view it as a force that moves you toward action. Here’s an example of what I mean.
Passion Leads to Action
Let’s say you’re driving home from work one day, and you hit the umpteenth pothole in the road. These aren’t new potholes mind you. They’ve been there for months. Do you get mad? Well, if you’re human, probably. But what if you got so pissed off that it leads you to do something about it?
Your local government isn’t doing anything to rectify the situation. So you decide to run for office. So you start your campaign. And you wind up getting elected. Then, months after pothole 37 pissed you off to high heaven, you’re now in a position where something can be done. You have the power to make a change. And you do just that. You fix the roads.
Did your emotions lead you to a dark place?
Fuck no. Your emotions stoked a fire inside of you that led you to action. The Latin word ēmoveō, which is where we get “emotion,” means “to move out, move away, remove, stir up, agitate.”
Emotions are a road sign that tells you something needs to be done. And emotions will always come with some degree of pleasure or displeasure. And though I really wanted to avoid dragging the Jedi into this, if I’m going to make my point about the Sith Code, I can’t ignore the Jedi Code.
The Jedi we know from the trilogy are presented as a lovechild of Buddhist and Stoic monks — unemotional, detached from worldly pleasures, and believers in an interconnected ephemeral force. Qui-Gon Jinn is often described as “stoic.” When we first meet Yoda in Empire, he displays a stoic-level of composure in his interaction with Luke. And the first line of the Jedi Code — There is no emotion. There is peace — can you get more Stoic than that?
Greek Stoics believed in the concept of “apatheia” — a state of mind that was undisturbed by the passions (the instinctive, emotional, and primitive drives we experience as human beings). Roman Stoics did what Rome did with everything Greece ever established: they took it as their own, and changed “apatheia” to equanimity — from the Latin æquanimitas, meaning having an even mind; aequus even; animus mind/soul.
Of course, this is how the Jedi are painted: the patient, clear-minded Stoic sages, while the Sith are emotional, reacting without restraint or equanimity. But what if a Jedi hit potholes on his way home from training younglings all day? Would he be pissed that no one had taken action to fix the roads? Or would he ignore his emotional response to “do something” because it would be better for him to find peace with the road conditions?
This is where the Jedi Code is flawed: emotions are intertwined with the human mind. You can’t go around ignoring them. Avoidance leads to ignorance, ignorance leads to denial, and denial leads to terrible shit happening. What good does avoiding whatever your emotions bring forward do for you?
And it’s here where the Sith Code gets it right. Conflict breeds adaptation. And adaptation leads to growth. The Sith understand that you can’t escape suffering. Life will test you in unimaginable ways. But it’s what you do despite your suffering that matters most.
What Dreams May Come
Follow your dreams; do what you love; pursue your passion. To starry-eyed children, this advice tells us that the sky’s the limit; you can accomplish anything you dream of. It’s the crux of the American Dream: do what you love, and be happy.
And this is where our modern definition of passion makes things a little wonky. “Follow your passion” is interpreted as “do what you love.” But something interesting happens if you switch the word “passion” with its original Latin meaning of suffering.
“In the heat of passion” becomes “in the heat of suffering.”
“Crimes of passion” becomes “crimes of suffering.”
“Follow your passion” becomes “follow your suffering.”
Joseph Campbell, the author of The Hero of 1,000 Faces — the book that largely influenced George Lucas and the mythology he created with Star Wars — wrote this in his book, The Power of Myth:
If you follow your bliss, you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living. Wherever you are—if you are following your bliss, you are enjoying that refreshment, that life within you, all the time.
Campbell’s students and fans misinterpreted the intent of his words. And I’d assume that it was due to the meaning of the word bliss. Bliss comes to us from the Old English word, blis, which means, “merriment, happiness.” For decades, Campbell’s words were interrupted to mean, “follow what makes you happy.” But late in his life, Joe realized his original intent had been misinterpreted. And he clarified his point by saying that he should have said, “Follow your blisters.”
The Hero’s Journey — also known as the Monomyth, Campbell’s lasting legacy on the world — isn’t about a hero pursuing his love of raising sheep or building furniture. The heroes of the ancient world (and their modern counterparts) were called on great adventures to destroy evil and save humanity. Every Hero must bear great suffering during the trials and tribulations of their journey.
What Lies Beneath
Suffering comes from the Latin, sufferō, which means, “to offer, hold up, bear.” But sufferō is a combination of two other Latin words: sub, meaning under, and ferō, which means “to bear or carry.” So suffering means “to bear from under.”
And what is under you? Hades. Hell. Your subconscious.
Where do you hide your biggest problems that terrify you at night and cause anxiety during the day? You hide them underneath things; sweep them under the rug of your mind, and place them in the darkness and the void.
And it’s in this abyss — in the caverns of our minds, the belly of the whale — that you believe what terrifies you should stay hidden. But every Hero in history has had to descend into Hell, it’s arguably the most important part of the Hero’s Journey because the darkness holds the treasure that makes life better.
Hell is where The Hero must go to save The World. To save the galaxy, Luke had to “go to Hell” and board the Death Star to save the princess so they could save the day. Frodo had to trek to Mordor to save Middle Earth. Link had to face numerous bosses, including fighting in the belly of a great “fish,” to save Hyrule.
The Hero must bear the demons that come from underneath. He must suffer through trials and tribulations to achieve victory. The Hero must always suffer. And since you’re the Hero of your life, you will “suffer.” There will be great trials and tribulations on your journey.
We all have painful and deeply buried secrets. Secrets you don’t want to face. But as the Hero of your story, the only way for this story to end the way you want it to is to face the things that terrify you the most.
Learn to sustain the pain you’ve chosen. When you choose a new value, you are choosing to introduce a new form of pain into your life. Relish it. Savor it. Welcome it with open arms. Then act despite it. – Mark Manson
What are you willing to struggle for?
That’s a question Mark Manson poses in his 2016 NYT Best Selling book, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck. And it’s a question that I’ve thought about often since reading the book. But let’s rephrase that question and ask instead: what are you willing to suffer for?
I’m often asked by readers how can they get motivated to improve their health. Motivated to what? To choose salad over deep fried chicken legs when you go out? Motivated to skip “Happy Hour” with the people you work with so that you can go to the gym?
Here’s what no one wants to tell you about “motivation.” You will never be motivated to do anything in life until the pain of changing outweighs the pain of not changing.
It sucks to watch all your friends pound cheese fries and craft beers when you’re out while you eat a salad and drink water. But does that moment of feeling like a social pariah cause you less suffering than the moment you realize you can’t walk up stairs without wheezing like a punctured tire?
No one is motivated to eat a goddamn salad — not when it’s stacked next to a double bacon cheeseburger that uses two grilled cheese sandwiches as a bun. You’re always going to want the burger. Choosing the salad means you’re going to have to deal with suffering the emotions of not having chosen the burger. And that burger could be the greatest thing you’ve ever eaten in your life. But after years of choosing the burger, you’ll (likely) suffer from high blood pressure, increased risk of diabetes and heart disease, and dealing with all the health and life complications that come from that.
So what are you willing to suffer for?
The Jedi present suffering as if it’s a one-way ticket to Hell. But why does suffering have to be viewed as a bad thing? What if you took your suffering upon your shoulders and used it to give yourself meaning? William Penn, the father of Pennsylvania and the leader of Quakerism, said as much in a discourse he wrote titled, “No Cross, No Crown.”
“they that cannot endure the cross must never have the crown. To reign, it is necessary first to suffer.” – William Penn
Pick Up a Heavy Load and Bear It
To reign is to rule. And to rule your life, to be the Hero of your story, means you will endure great suffering. And whatever your goal may be — losing 50 pounds, financial freedom, building a business, climbing the ladder of success — there’s one truth that you cannot escape: there will be suffering.
Everything worthwhile in life is won through surmounting the associated negative experiences. – Mark Manson
Suffering causes pain, and pain is the harbinger of truth. To avoid it, to deny it as the Jedi would suggest is to blind yourself from what you can use to become your greatest self. Real freedom comes from when you take your heavy burden — when you endure suffering — and let it force you to grow into something stronger and better than before.
Suffering inspires change. But avoiding suffering creates more suffering. The only way to discover your truth and to make lasting change is to take your pain head-on; to pick up your cross and bear it. This is what the Sith Code teaches: embrace what you’re suffering, bear it, and rise above it.
There is no ease. Embrace your suffering.
Make your 30s BETTER than your 20s
Leave your email below and I'll show you the steps you can take to lose body fat, increase strength, reignite your vitality and make your 30s the best decade of your life.