Consider the Force as the tao, the light and dark swirled around each other, a spot of the opposite in the center of greatest strength.
The light is about interconnectedness. As one flame touches another, light spreads and grows, and one light is not diminished as it lights another. The light of the stars pours out in all directions and lays upon anything in its path, not judging it or focusing on preferences but shining and radiating life energy.
The dark is about individuality. An individual withdraws to protect possessions, status, or luxury. The whole is diminished as the individual creates barriers. Each barrier light penetrates lessens the light, until behind all barriers lies darkness.
The Truth of the False Center
Still, at the center of each extreme is the pure expression of the other end of the spectrum.
At the center of the darkness is an intense and selfish need for relationship. Pleasure flows from being connected, and the most intense selfish desire is to see something outside the self realized. Sometimes this need for something beyond self can draw the darkest disciple back to the light.
At the center of the light is a desperate pain of connection. The individual is part of all things, invested in living beings that suffer and face destruction. That connection pours agony and loss inward that is impossible for an individual to balance. If the individual loses touch with a supporting network that can balance the death and destruction and loss, then the weight is too much to bear. The disciple seeks self-protection and exorcism of pain by focusing on individual needs.
Jedi are trained to understand that danger looms both within and without. They must regulate their connection to others and to their plans so they are connected, but not so identified with the other that its loss destroys them. They must also pay intense attention to the self, to keep balance and monitor the flow of intensity so they remain open to being vulnerable, and do not close themselves off for self-defense.
A balanced jedi manages this through meditation and constant awareness of the Force and its balance, independent of their orders and attachments and emotions. Pain is accepted, then stripped of energy and left in the past. Guilt is accepted as a natural consequence of acting in an unfair reality. Desire is contained in a time and place and has no power over the future, only the now. Betrayal, loss, and fear are unwelcome but accepted. A balanced jedi tends to be unreliable when it comes to following orders, but trustworthy when it comes to seeking balance.
A struggling jedi manages balance through periods of intense and needful activity, followed by thorough self-examination and meditation in isolated settings. Over-thinking it is a very real danger to jedi, for the door opens to rationalization, and intellectual justification overriding instinctive sense of balance. The goal for a struggling jedi is to rebalance interior loads of memory, commitment, desire, and fear so the jedi’s balance is aligned and does not need constant adjustment.
An endangered jedi has made a new balance focused on pragmatism or coping mechanisms instead of open and instinctive reliance on the living Force. Pain has suffused the jedi to the point that coping with it and avoiding more has become the focus, an interior need rather than a responsiveness to the flow of surrounding life energy.
A fallen jedi acts out of pain. Either inflicting it or attempting to mask or escape it, pain suffuses everything the jedi touches through the jedi’s connection to the living Force. Even numbing despair is out of reach. Contained as an individual, balance is impossible. The past is sodden with emotional energy, the future is a mass of lust, fear, and loss. There is no relief.
The Path to the Dark Side
It starts with manipulating the truth, favoring one above others, and needless killing. Then the path to corruption escalates. Manipulating the truth escalates to indulging in falsehood. Favoring one above others escalates to preference for personal gain. Needless killing escalate to killing in anger. Some of this is needful and expected in the course of doing impossible work; the question is whether the jedi can stay balanced.
If not, the territory grows dark and dangerous. The jedi is willing to conspire and create a net of deceit to conceal truth. The jedi is willing to harm innocents to protect those who are preferred. The jedi wants to kill, and plans to kill.
Individual actions cannot be evaluated independently of the state of the jedi who acts. The way jedi monitor each other for signs of darkness is by listening for pain, touching it, and seeing how the other jedi respond. If they close up and pull away (or attack), then it is time to recommend taking a break and rebalancing. If they acknowledge the pain and share it, then they are coping and standing firm against the darkness.
The jedi have no interest in eliminating all vulnerability, because connection is inherently vulnerable and they need to remain connected. Still, romance is intensely dangerous for jedi. Their connection concentrates into preferred individuals, which is inevitable to a point, but there are few individuals who don’t mind being second priority to the cosmic balance. Love draws people to put the other first in all things, and that precludes balance.
Loving a balanced jedi is infuriating. The jedi resists emotional manipulation and commitment to the future, preferring to stay open to the leanings of the whimsical Force. A balanced jedi is often fully present and yet somehow beyond reach, lacking a vulnerability that reassures insecure partners. It is difficult for partners not to grow bitter, feeling like a fond master’s pet instead of the object of motivating and defining love.
Many jedi choose (or suffer) a loss of balance for more intense attachment. The closeness of a specific relationship opens a vulnerability to unprecedented pain. Whether the pain is through the disintegration of the relationship over time, or the suffering and death of the loved one, pain is inevitable.
This danger is compounded and intensified by the likelihood of children. Few things can pull a person out of balance, driven to do anything and consequences be damned, like a threat to a person’s child. The specific child’s safety and success becomes crucial.
Jedi are not forbidden to have romances, or to marry, or to have children. However, any jedi in such a relationship cannot be on the Council, and will not be trusted with the most important business of the Order. They are simply too vulnerable, too invested in specific outcomes, to be entrusted with the balance of the galaxy.
The Jedi Council allows jedi to retire, and they become Unaligned. They no longer work with other jedi, but they have not fallen to the Dark Side. They keep their lightsabers, but no longer answer to the Council. Most try to keep a low profile, because if they cross paths with active jedi they risk being reevaluated as a threat, or coaxed back into the Order.
The two most common reasons for the Unaligned to leave are burnout (though most find emotional exhaustion to be fatal in the high-risk lifestyle of the jedi) and relationships. Some jedi also become disillusioned with the Council, and take tests to demonstrate they still have balance though they no longer wish to serve. They are released, but monitored. If they resist being monitored, they are counted as enemies.
If a jedi finds individuals or cultures that become preferred, and does not wish to lessen attachment to them, the jedi can become Unaligned and stay with those preferred people. Jedi culture considers this a lesser path, just short of failure, and distrusts those who choose it. If anything happens to the preferred, then the Dark Side gapes ever-near.
Those who desire to work against the Jedi Council and Republic government are tracked and imprisoned or slain on principle. These few are considered failures ideologically, if not emotionally, and their continued existence is one of the greatest threats to the jedi.
In the Republic, the jedi are impossibly few given the scale of the work for them to do. Individuals or pairs are routinely sent out to deal with impossible situations.
Missions include investigation of the situation to determine the need for military force, offering diplomatic mediation, looking for lost people or things, mounting rescues, aggressive negotiations with warlords, dealing with a pirate threat conventional forces cannot stop, and spy work.
Both individual jedi and the Council as a whole make unpalatable decisions all the time. One system descends into civil war, and jedi intervention could have prevented that. But instead a jedi is allowed time to heal before going on the next mission. Without that time to heal, you could lose the jedi AND the system could go to war.
The jedi often fail, so they must interpret their orders and the situation to salvage what good they can. They must seek balance over victory, or they would go insane. They cannot save everyone. Innocents will always suffer and die.
The main advantage that comes with the jedi entering a situation is attunement to the Living Force. There are opportunities that have simmered over time that are now ready for the jedi’s intervention. People who have lost hope will find it again when the jedi appear. Long-buried conflicts between the strong faction’s leaders emerge. The Force is about timing and rhythm more than it is about parlor tricks, and the jedi follow the flow of balance to have a vastly disproportionate impact on situations because they are catalysts for reactions, triggering the energy of the reaction rather than providing it.
A lone jedi can turn the tide. Experienced warriors and schemers grow wary when jedi enter the scene.
A jedi is wary of expedient solutions, and open to instinct. Sometimes the person you go out of your way to save, when that person has no tactical value and endangers your mission, turns out to be crucial in twenty years. Sometimes an act of compassion towards an alien monster opens new possibilities that would otherwise have been missed. Openness is key.
Working with jedi is frustrating and unpredictable, but if you need to do the impossible than jedi are your best bet.
Serving the Balance
The Force serves the jedi, giving the jedi great ability. The jedi serve the Force, bringing balance to places the balance is lost. A balanced jedi calls on the Force to act, but chooses actions based on the needs of the Force.