Recently I sat to contemplate which Star Trek character interested me for my next painting. Of the original crew, I had not yet explored the character of Chekov so he was a natural choice. I did not however, yet feel a spark there, so I continued to search. Nurse Chapel and Ricardo Montalban’s Khan were both of definite interest to me, so I mulled them over. Still, I remained unsure of where to settle. Then, suddenly, into my mind came Sarek… Spock’s father! At the moment I thought of him, I felt excitement! It was then that I knew he was to be the subject of my next piece!
To me, Sarek has always been, and likely will always be, the character played by Mark Lenard throughout Star Trek: The Original Series, the subsequent Star Trek Movies (3, 4, & 6), as well as Star Trek: The Next Generation. With this knowledge, it is Mark Lenard’s character story that I have chosen to explore.
The character of Sarek has certainly roused both fans and detractors. Those that are critical of him often base their response upon his aloof treatment of his son (Spock). From a commonly accepted view of love and parental roles, I can understand why this would be the case. I also understand how this is particularly exacerbated because Spock is such a beloved character that many find Sarek’s perceived mistreatment of him as indefensible. But I don’t quite see things the same way, even though I, as you may likely already know, have all the love in the world for Spock.
It is here I should probably note that I am a yogi, and I am the child of a yogi (my father). For all intents and purposes, my father is a monk… right down to the oath of celibacy (which was obviously taken after I was born). He has been a monk since I was about 3 years old, and so I have lived a lifetime under the guidance of yoga philosophy. This philosophy holds remarkable similarities to the stoic vulcan philosophy espoused by Leonard Nimoy’s character, Spock, and which is attributed to the Vulcan people as a whole.
Yoga philosophy is based upon the scientifically supported idea that all things are one and the same. Everything is just energy (called “prana” in yoga, “chi” in zen, and “the force” in Star Wars). And because the ultimate nature of everything is exactly the same, the idea that there is a hierarchy wherein some things or people are more valuable than others, is seen simply an illusion perpetuated by the personal ego.
My father taught me this at a young age, making it clear that my position as his child afforded me no special treatment in relation to others. I did not then, nor do I now, resent this. Rather, I find it philosophically sound and ultimately logical, as well as an incredibly helpful lesson to have learnt early on.
Yoga philosophy teaches that each person must take responsibility for their emotional responses. It recognizes emotions as reflections not of an ultimate truth, but rather revealing of the ego’s attachments and aversions to the comforts and discomforts it perceives in experiences. While having these emotions feed or soothed may feel ‘good’, yoga philosophy recognizes that we ultimately strengthen our own suffering and the suffering of others when we bend to these emotional responses.
I explain the above because it is through this lens that I view Sarek. Because of this philosophy I find myself less derisive and more appreciative of his character. Consider, if you will:
Sarek is honest about his views. Like my own father, Sarek has no trouble letting his child know when he disagrees with a choice that his child has made. I personally appreciate knowing that someone will always be truthful with me, whether my ego desires that truth or not. Another person’s dissent does not make them right or wrong, but brings something to the table for me to consider.
Sarek respects autonomy. Once Sarek has expressed his dissent, he leaves Spock to decide whether or not to continue with his choice (which he does). Sarek does not work to undermine Spock’s position in Starfleet despite his disagreement with his choice. In fact, he admonishes Spock’s mother, Amanda, for doing so when he perceives that her revelation of Spock’s childhood pet undermines his authority with his colleagues. Respecting another’s autonomy does not require agreement with another’s choice.
Sarek does not feed Spock’s ego. Sarek does not attempt to soothe or feed Spock’s possible emotional responses. To do so would bolster the strength of Spock’s ego, clouding his ability to see and deal with the truth of his own experience. Rather, Sarek allows Spock to master himself and his emotional responses. He trusts Spock to see through his emotions and find his own truth.
Sarek is willing to admit his emotional struggle. In Star Trek III, when asked by T’Lar what he wished her to do, Sarek asks for the re-fusion for Spock. T’lae states, “What you seek has not been done in ages past and then, only in legend. Your request is not logical.”
To which Sarek responds, “Forgive me, T’Lar. My logic is uncertain where my son is concerned.”
All of us must contend with our ego to find our way to truth. Our success at this will vary from one moment to the next, and the ability to admit our struggle is in itself noble and helps us to find our way.
Sarek is willing to admit that he may be wrong. If one is unable to admit one’s missteps, one cannot correct them. We are here to evolve, and evolution requires that we change our views on things we once felt certain about. In Star Trek IV, Sarek says to Spock, “As I recall, I opposed your enlistment in Starfleet. It is possible that judgement was incorrect. Your associates are people of good character.”
I wholly agree that Sarek is not perfect. Neither is Spock and he is beloved the world over! I don’t believe that any of us achieve perfection, but for a moment. And while we should not expect perfection, we should strive for it. For it is in the striving that our better natures are revealed. It is in the striving that we rise.
And so it is that I, for one, find the character of Sarek to be inspiring in so many ways. But I am a yogi, and I am open to dissent.