“In a dark place we find ourselves, and a little more knowledge lights our way” – Yoda
Why are you here? What do you want from life? Where do you want to go? How do you plan to get there? These are often the questions we ask ourselves as we face a New Year. We reflect upon the last year. Some of us take time to count our blessings and successes as well as failures. We assess what went well and identify where improvements can be made. We take inventory.
“What will I find?” – Luke Skywalker
As you begin to start the new year the chances are you are seeking to change. That change may be specific to your relationships, career, health, or finances. You may be unhappy where your life is currently at and you want to make broad and sweeping changes. Perhaps things are generally going well but you want to do better in some or all areas of your life.
“Only what you take with you” – Yoda
Self-reflection and introspection are a powerful act which can guide us on a path to enlightenment. The exercise is not meant to be self-absorption. We are not using it to think of ourselves only in a selfish or self-centred way. The goal is not to garner a spirit of self will or to blame others. Self-reflection is to realize our goals and understand where we are in relation to those goals. This leads to self-knowledge. With self-knowledge comes the freedom to change once we decide to act.
“It’s a chance for you to make a fresh start.” – Mon Mothma
Take some time to reflect on your life. Consider the past year and go back as far as you want to. List your achievements for the last 12 months. Highlight your successes. Now do the same for the last 5 years and if you dare go back as far as a decade.
The milestones of your life may be anything you consider significant. It may include finishing school and university, academic achievements, career highlights, military or community service, business achievements and financial growth. List the things that make you proud. Include your family milestones and relationships with partners, family, friends, and associates.
“Search your Feelings” – Luke Skywalker
List all your key attributes that you feel describe you in a positive way. Words might include trustworthy, humble, funny, determined, intelligent, kind, considerate and compassionate.
Now list where things have not gone so well in your life. List the areas you regret, or wish could be improved. Inventory your faults to others as well as your flaws and failures. Be honest but do not self-deprecate yourself in the process. Confronting our mistakes and failures are essential if we want to move on and improve our lives.
“To be Jedi is to face the truth, and choose” – Yoda
List your character flaws and faults which you identify as negative or unproductive. These might be impatient, compulsive, obsessive, aggressive, resentful, demanding, inflexible, bigoted, and dishonest.
Take the time to meditate on this exercise. Self-reflection can be a confronting as well as a rewarding experience. Unless we know who, we are and come to terms with it, we cannot hope to move forward.
“A Jedi uses the Force for knowledge and defence, never for attack” – Yoda
Self-reflection requires a lot of honesty and introspection. We must be completely honest with ourselves and realistic in the way we look at ourselves. A mirror must be held up and we must confront who we are and where we have come from. We must face the good with the bad to make the change we want to be. This can be hard but persevere we must.
“Use your time. You’ll find one day that you have too little of it.” – Qui-Gon Jinn
I have been thinking a lot about the Jedi Trials. I am at that part of the Daily Jedi Journal where I have had to take a hard look in the mirror and recognise my failings and faults and try to overcome them.
In your training how do you put yourself through trials to test your training as Jedi?
The last two months have been difficult due to things going on in my life. On looking back I realized that I handled them pretty well considering and managed to apply Jedi philosophy, simply put the Jedi Code, in dealing with each of them.
This is what has been happening:
In late October my younger sister was diagnosed with late stage breast cancer out of the blue. It was identified during treatment for an infection. It turned out to be Stage 4, multisystem and aggressive and she was given a very poor prognosis and told perhaps 6 weeks to 3 months to live. This was a bit of a shock. To add to the pain, the public health system in this country is not great and the bureaucracy is insane. Her treatment (chemo) was delayed by a month and with Stage 4 cancer it is vital that you act quickly and aggressively.
On the same day I visited the hospital to learn of the diagnosis my car was stolen from the parking lot outside…
A few days later I returned to work at a mining concern . I found in my absence some people had undertaken work without authority and broken several environmental and safety requirements. There was a massive investigation, finger pointing, blame game and anger. People were fired, lawyers were called in. Statements were read. People lied and betrayed others to keep their jobs. I was not even there when it happened, and I got mauled. It was a bad experience and left me to question my loyalty to the company I have worked for 10 years.
Soon after there was a restructuring, and I was moved from operations to corporate services within the company. The trouble of course is that my boss, the corporate general manager, is located 2000km away, is a micromanager and reminds me of Sheev Palpatine.
The difference between I and Anakin is I recognise the corporate general manager for what he is; an incompetent bureaucrat and power seeker that takes credit for other peoples work while undermining them and manipulating the hierarchy to elevate his power and position. Naturally I have clashed with this “Palpatine” character more than twice. Not a wise career move apparently.
The implication of course is that as my new boss he would find a way to restructure me out and now he has. On Christmas Eve I was told that after 10 years service my position was no longer required and was being purged. They have another person, a friend of the general manager, waiting to take my office. Rather than get angry I thanked the company COO and HR manager for my service and left without regret.
After all that, here I sit at home on Christmas Day, and I am a happy Jedi. I asked, “what trials can I put myself through to test my training”? I thought about things like running and hiking for miles, fasting for days, cold showers and various self-inflicted discomforts. In the end the Force answered and gave me a string of trials to navigate and use my Jedi training. It reminded me the real point of Jedi philosophy is not to create a fictional Jedi with physical and mental super powers but someone with the emotional intelligence and mental resilience to deal with life’s struggles and come away helping others. Its about training the mind, body and spirit to live as everyday people.
My sister’s treatment is going OK and she is responding well and feeling better. Living with cancer is a day to day thing. I realized I did not need a car and gave the insurance pay-out to my wife to spend on Christmas. The government sent a letter back to the company about the incident and said it was no big deal, so a lot of people got upset over nothing. I have come to accept my severance as an opportunity. I am better off working elsewhere and new opportunities have started coming in. I am still sober and did not think about drinking once.
The moral of the story is life is a training ground. We all go through our own personal Dagobah. We all go through our own trials in life. The difference is, we are never told necessarily when that will happen, the Force decides, and we answer the call.
“In order to ensure our security and continuing stability, the Republic will be reorganized into the first Galactic Empire, for a safe and secure society, which I assure you will last for ten thousand years” – Supreme Chancellor Palpatine
“So this is how liberty dies… with thunderous applause.” – Padmé Amidala
The fall of the Republic did not happen overnight. The decline started years before Chancellor Palpatine declared emergency powers and dissolved the senate. Changes were incremental and subtle. The Clone Wars started as the result of a number of planetary systems demanding greater independence from the Republic. The war then justified new mandates and laws to be imposed by both the Republic and the Confederation.
The slow creep of authoritarianism began to spread like a cancer corrupting people and institutions as it advanced. Changes were accepted universally. The Jedi Order was not immune to the rot. Eventually it was the steady slide into authoritarianism that led to the collapse of the Republic, the demise of the Jedi Order and the rise of Darth Vader.
The Emperor believed in absolutes. Mandates and lies were the tools he used to enforce his will. Let that be a warning.
“Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.” – Benjamin Franklin
There is only one requirement for entry into a 12 step program of recovery. We are told that all are welcome and require only a desire to stop drinking. The 12 Steps are a recommended guide that promises contented and sustained sobriety for those that work the program honestly and with effort. No dogma exists, there are no rules, there are only steps and traditions that each person is expected, not mandated, to follow. There are no absolutes. The individual chooses either way and takes ownership of that choice and accepts the outcomes it brings them.
There is a line in 12 step literature which reads “we have true democracy and true brotherhood”. The founders of the 12 steps believed in the freedom and rights of the individual while placing great value on the strength of the group to support the individual in his or her recovery. The attraction of the 12 Steps was its appeal to the individual. An alcoholic saw that hope resided for him if he was honest enough to admit his disease and flaws. The alcoholic gained purpose by being willing to surrender their lives to the idea of a Higher Power as they understood it. No one could help the alcoholic but himself. While others could share in their struggles and support them they were not responsible for the recovery of anyone but their own.
“That it is better 100 guilty Persons should escape than that one innocent Person should suffer, is a Maxim that has been long and generally approved.” – Benjamin Franklin
Unlike many recovery programs that require a strict adherence to rules and requirement though reward and punishment incentives, the 12 Steps brings about recovery only through commitment and hard work. There is no punishment for not following the program. There is no segregation from the group, no expulsion or removal of rights. The desire to stay sober and avoid the return to the hell of active alcoholism is incentive enough. No one is forcing you to make that choice. It is your choice alone.
Recovery gives us freedom and the sovereignty to decide what goes into our bodies. We decide how to respond to the world using reasoned and rational thought. When we were in abuse, we had no choice. If we pick up again, we lose that choice and once again become victims to the absolutism and nihilism of alcoholism. Without choice we are at the mercy of the Dark Side and subject to its will.
“Only a Sith deals in absolutes. I will do what I must.” – Obi-wan Kenobi
The Jedi Path is a choice not a mandate. The Jedi did not believe in absolutes. They believed in free choice and individual rights. Those that walk the Jedi Path do so at their own volition. They can step off the path at any time. There is no dogma or rules which a Jedi must follow. A Jedi is not mandated to do anything and is free to act in accordance with the Jedi Code. The Jedi has ownership of their physical self, spiritual beliefs, principles and whatever value system they embrace.
Being Jedi is accepting the diversity and uniqueness of each individual and allowing them the choice to live as they will. It means respecting the decisions of others. While you may not agree with the choices of others, it is their right. You do not have moral superiority over others through the choices you make. No one has the right to enforce their will on others. Mandates and forced compliance are the tools by which tyrants gradually increase their power and enforce it upon others. Being Jedi is protecting individual rights as well as the community. We do not deal in absolutes.
“I ‘am the Senate” – Chancellor Palpatine
The fictional Jedi were Free Thinkers. The Jedi opposed authoritarianism and advocated for democracy and individual rights. They avoided dogma and did not like mandates that were pushed through for the “collective good” at the expense of individual liberty. They followed a code and accepted vows but they did so freely. A Jedi was free to leave the order anytime. Jedi used reason and objective rational thought in making their own decisions. It was for this reason that the Jedi and Sith were diametrically and ideologically opposed.
Do you rely on authority to make decisions for you? Do undemocratic mandates truly keep you safe and secure? Can you think freely and stand as an individual with reasoned choice?
“I will not forsake all I have honoured and worked for and betray the Republic.” – Padmé Amidala
“War is intolerable. We have been deceived into thinking that we must be a part of it. I say the moment we committed to fighting, we already lost.” ― Duchess Satine Kryze
New Mandalore was a world of hope and prosperity. The planet had cast off the violent and extremist past of the Old Mandalorians and embraced change. The planet had become a centre of learning. Peace and reconciliation were at the centre of its neutral stance on interplanetary diplomacy. Tolerance, pacifism, neutrality, and democracy were its pillars. The Duchess Satine Kryze was a popular leader who sacrificed her life for her people and for peace. She was loved by her people but also by Obi-wan Kenobi, who came to regret choosing the Jedi Order over her.
The fall of Mandalore was a story of betrayal. For years, the Mandalorians had engaged in a civil war between the warriors of the extremist terrorist group, the Death Watch. The group wanted a return to the old warrior ways of the Mandalorians. Their leader of the group Pre Vizsla sought to overthrow the legitimate democratically elected government of New Mandalore through terrorism and targeted assassinations. They appealed to Count Dooku to drag Mandalore into the Clone Wars while at the same time planning to betray the separatists. Members of Satines’s government were corrupted through promises of power in the new regime as well as wealth.
The cost of maintaining neutrality came at a price for Mandalore during their civil war. The Republic would not support the Mandalorians. The Trade Federation manipulated and restricted trade with Mandalore favouring the Separatists while creating a black market and encouraging further corruption within the government lead by the Prime Minister Almec.
“Our combined strength will be rewarded. Mandalore will be yours, and Kenobi, this Sith pretender Dooku and all our enemies… will fall.” ― Maul, to Pre Vizsla
The entry of Darth Maul into the fray sealed the fate of Mandalore. Darth Maul knew his path to revenge against Ob-wan Kenobi lay in holding Satine as a hostage. Mandalore was the key. The former Sith gone rogue had taken his brother Savage Oppress as an apprentice and allied himself with the Death Watch combining his small army of mercenaries and criminal thugs into the Shadow Collective. Renewed terror attacks and false flags were launched on the capital city Sundari. The defence forces crumbled in the face of the attack. The Death Watch leader convinced the terrorised population to support him and in fear they did. Wresting control of the government Pre Vizsla arrested Satine and turned on his new ally, Darth Maul placing him in prison.
Further betrayal allowed Maul to form an alliance with the disgraced former Prime Minister in prison and escape. Once free he confronted Pre Vizsla and defeated him in Lightsaber combat. The victory placed Maul in charge of loyal members of the Death Watch. Darth Maul now at the position of power appointed Almec as a puppet to impose his decrees.
“Listen, Duchess. Do you hear the people? They cry out for change. Your weak-minded rule of Mandalore is at an end. The resurrection of our warrior past is about to begin!” ― Pre Vizsla to Satine Kryze
News of the fall of Mandalore reached Coruscant but the senate and the Jedi Council refused to intervene despite the desperate pleas of the Duchess. The senate was prevented by politics and the influence of Palpatine. Those on Mandalore who could resist fled into exile and formed a resistance. Mandalore awoke to a new ruler and a new way of life.
Obi-wan Kenobi ignored the Jedi Council and travelled to Mandalore in secret to rescue Satine. Maul had laid his trap and capturing Kenobi forced the Jedi Master to watch Satine be tortured and then murdered. Anguish and despair overcame Kenobi as she died in his arms professing her love for him. Through the efforts of the resistance, Kenobi was able to escape.
The betrayal did not end there. Darth Sidious furious at the meddling of Darth Maul in the affairs of Mandalore personally visited the planet to punish Maul for daring to challenge the rule of two. Sidious easily killed Maul’s apprentice and imprisoned Maul before forcing Almec to swear his allegiance. Even when the Republic returned to depose Maul who had returned, Order 66 proved the effort futile as the planet quickly fell to the Empire as the Jedi were purged.
The following years bought further war and tragedy to Mandalore as the world constantly changed hands. The Empire could not control it and found a final solution in the “Great Purge” which led to the mass genocide of the Mandalorian people and their expulsion from the planet.
“That planet is cursed. Anyone who goes there dies. Once the Empire knew they couldn’t control it, they made sure no one else could either.” – Din Djarin
The story of Mandalore sounds depressingly familiar to the recent history of Afghanistan. That country has suffered a continuous civil war which has all the conspiracy, intrigue, and tragedy of the Mandalorians. They call Afghanistan the “Graveyard of Empires” for a reason. The mountainous country is soaked in blood and tears.
As I watch on the news the last plane depart Hamid Karzai airport in Kabul I feel sad for the people abandoned to endure an unknown fate in Afghanistan. I remember the promises that were made to those that laid their hopes in peace and a fledgling democracy, the young women who dreamed of having choices previously denied them, artists and intellectuals that were free to express themselves, students who could openly mix and enjoy the freedoms we so take for granted in the west. I fear for the life and safety of the US citizens, green card holders and Afghans who worked with the US and her allies.
The New Afghanistan is gone now. The old Afghanistan of the Taliban is back. Al Qaeda and other terror groups have returned in strength. The people of Afghanistan were betrayed and abandoned by their allies in the west as much as the New Mandalorians were betrayed and abandoned by the Republic. Left to the mercy of people who are as despotic as the Sith. Worst of all is the citizens of the US left stranded in a hostile land as remote now as if it were a distant planet. The civil war will continue as the opposing factions turn on each other slowly drawing outside powers back in to the abyss of the endless war.
An act of betrayal not only harms the betrayed but also the betrayer. The act of abandonment hurts both. The moral injury that remains far outlasts the act itself. The consequences of betrayal and abandonment can last for decades if not for life. I have a personal experience with both. One parent died when I was seven and the other, an alcoholic, soon abandoned his responsibilities. I felt as if I had been betrayed by both and abandoned by God. Later I also, betrayed those close to me and abandoned those that deserve better. Some I have made amends with, and others died before I had the chance to. Most of all I betrayed myself and abandoned my own principles. I now make amends through my actions.
Remember those betrayed, abandoned and stranded in Afghanistan. Remember the dead and the wounded. Never forget those that sacrificed their lives for a greater good and those that still carry the wounds and scars be they physical, mental or spiritual. They too were betrayed and abandoned by their leaders. Never forget the victims of 9/11, an event that changed everything for us that remember, twenty years ago. Many brave souls answered the call then to answer the atrocity. Obi-wan Kenobi answered the call and returned to Mandalore when no one else would. Who will answer the call of the Afghan people now?
Recovery has taught me to never betray those that rely on you and to ever abandon responsibilities that you have taken upon yourself to see to the end, no matter how painful that end might be. This is the way.
“Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger; anger leads to hate; hate leads to suffering” – Yoda
Fear, anger, hate, and suffering were the Four Horsemen of the Dark Side that lead Anakin to his fate. They followed him like a shadow growing in strength with the years. Yoda’s prophetic warning to the child Anakin in “The Phantom Menace” was one of the most iconic lines in the Star Wars saga. In a few words Yoda revealed not only the path to the Dark Side but also the way out of suffering.
Yoda saw much fear in the young Anakin and saw the potential for that fear to transmute itself in to anger and hate. The raw untapped Force that resided in Anakin was obvious to Yoda and it troubled him because the Force has a light side and a dark side. The one who wields the Force decides which of the two sides to wield. Yoda’s misgivings were justified and for that reason he entrusted the training and care of Anakin to Qui Gon-Jinn and then Obi-wan Kenobi.
Fear, resentment, and anger is poison for the alcoholic in recovery leading to confusion, frustration, and despair. All stem from grasping attachment. What are they?
Resentment is when you don’t get your way yesterday.
Anger is when you don’t get your way today.
Fear is that you won’t get your way tomorrow.
Hate is an extreme expression of resentment, anger and fear stemming from a perceived injustice or threat. Alcoholics know hate. They start by hating the limits imposed on their drinking, that hate extends to all around them and finally they hate themselves and alcohol. The irony is that hate always does more harm on the vessel that contains it than on which it is poured. It can only lead to suffering.
The child Anakin had been born into slavery and raised in Fear. The adolescent took that fear and turned it in to anger over the death his mother. Death and injustice became the subject of his hate. Now a Jedi, Anakin practiced controlled anger in war but he learned to hate the Separatists. War showed him the failings of democracy and the hypocrisy of the Jedi Order and it made him angry and resentful. Anakin believed his destiny was to rule the galaxy with Padmé at his side, not for power but for the sake of he and his beloved. Given power over mortality Anakin could defeat death and bring “peace, justice, freedom and security” to all.
Anakin was a victim of the Four Horsemen. Any modern psychologist would say he was suffering from mild paranoid schizophrenia and borderline psychosis stemming from post-traumatic stress disorder, an understandable outcome of slavery and then decades of service as a “Janissary” in the Jedi Order. A lifetime of unresolved inner conflict and emotional baggage built up and climaxed into hate when he perceived that Padmé and Obiwan-Kenobi had betrayed his love and trust. Anakin succumbed to rage and fell to the suffering of the Dark Side. The Horseman carried him away like a bride to the grave.
It need not be for us like that. We who have suffered for years and decades under fear and allowed it to breed resentment, anger and even hate come to realize that these things are merely the ego trying to keep us in the illusion of separation from our true selves, which is the Force. The ego wants us to be subject to its control and if that means alcoholism and lifetime of suffering, even at the risk of ego death, it is better than self-realization. Once we realize that we are above the base emotions of fear, anger and hate we can rise above them and in doing so completely overcome the ego and exorcise the Four Horsemen from our lives, for good.
“Observing the world around them, they saw two moons in the one sky—light Ashla and dark Bogan—and they understood the dual aspects to the Force, light and dark.” – Ketu
The “Reality principle” proposes that each person acting out the desires of the ego will do so without consideration of consequence. These impulses are held in check by societal norms and the boundaries imposed by acceptable behaviour. Most well-adjusted, normal people do not indulge their vices whenever the impulse strikes. They inherently understand the need for restraint under most circumstances because it has been conditioned into them since childhood.
The inverse is true for alcoholics. We maintain a different and distorted view of reality. Self-restraint is sometimes necessary to avoid trouble which may remove or inhibit access to alcohol but not for long. No amount of reason or rational thought will prevent the alcoholic from abuse. We will rationalize our insane behaviour to reflect a distorted view of reality. For alcoholics, the reality principle is cast aside as the need to satisfy addiction overrides everything else. This self-defeating strategy stems from the need to become whole and avoid feeling powerless.
The Sith encouraged immediate and unfettered gratification of desires, particularly the lust for power and control. The only reality which they saw was the reality of the ego run riot. Any constraint to that was seen as a threat that had to be destroyed. If societal norms were contrary to their own, it had to be forced to conform with their own. The natural order had to be bent to the will of the Sith. By their definition, the unfettered and relentless pursuit of power, the dominance of the Dark Side of the Force, was natural and imperative.
The lust for power, the need to overcome powerlessness drove the Sith. The very nature of the Sith was synonymous with desire and addiction. There was a Master and an Apprentice who was enslaved to the Master. The Apprentice desired to usurp the Master and take power from him. This is the nature of grasping attachment and desire, whether it is alcohol, drugs, fame, power, or wealth. One is the Master and one is the Slave. One becomes the other. The ego runs rampant and ultimately controls the self in a struggle for dominance in the attainment of what is desired.
Light is synonymous with truth and truth is reality. Darkness hides the truth and conceals reality. The Light is an expression of the divine and its expression as life. Darkness is an expression of death, destruction, and despair. One symbolizes recovery and the other is a slow death through abuse and addiction. Reality resides within a balance between the two.
“In light, there is a darkness and, in the darkness, a light. It is the way of us all. Be a prisoner of neither Bogan nor Ashla. Strive to live in balance.” ―Ketu
To recover is to strive to live in balance. Recovery is a rejection of what is unreal in our lives. Recovery is the embrace of reality over time. Sometimes the fog clears quickly, and the shroud of illusion is removed revealing the truth or who we are. Sometimes it takes years and decades. The ego is deflated in the process. The reality principle now becomes a guiding principle in our life not because of social pressure or acceptable behaviour but because our sanity and survival, both physical and spiritual, depend on it. We become aware that our sobriety is contingent on the daily maintenance of our spiritual condition.
The journey of Luke Skywalker is a story of recovery while the fall of Anakin is a story of descent into drunken lust for power. On his journey Luke learned to face the truth of who he was. Luke made choices that ultimately led to his own redemption and the redemption of the father. Doubts, fears, biases, and ignorance was cast aside as he chose the path of Light. Luke understood that true power resides in powerlessness and surrender when turned over to the Force. Through his struggles Luke was able to find balance in the Force between his own light and dark sides.
Anakin in comparison chose the path of the Dark Side even before he knew it and became blind to the truth. The years that led to his final fall were laden with the milestones of that slow but steady descent into darkness as he sought power to control others and life itself. Darth Vader had power and he wielded it at the will of the Emperor, but he was powerless and a slave to his master. In finally facing the truth laid before him by Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader was able to cast away his illusions and free himself from the cage he had made for himself.
Carl Jung wrote that “Every form of addiction is bad, no matter whether the narcotic be alcohol or morphine or idealism”. Sobriety requires that we maintain a healthy grasp on reality. That we do not unwittingly replace one addiction for another. Jung also wrote that “we stand in need of a reorientation, a metanoia”. This means a spiritual and a practical realignment of ideas. To succumb to evil results in evil but a desire to do good can also bring unforeseen and evil consequences. We should attach to neither. Recovery means recognizing that the Force exists in a perfect balance between light (Ashla) and dark (Bogan).
Being Jedi is facing the truth, accepting reality, and ultimately finding balance in our lives between our own inner Ashla and Bogan. Reality is immutable and tied to the truth. Illusions and misconceptions need to be removed to reveal what is real. Reality is impossible to ignore we can only choose to. For more than half of my life I walked a similar path as Anakin as I slowly descended into the despair of alcohol, wanting to be the master but only a slave to the addiction. In recovery I try to walk in the footsteps of Luke Skywalker, seeking only to bring balance to the Force that resides within. The road is long and hard, mistakes are made but it is the path to freedom and knowledge and therefore a life worth living.
Yoda was 900 years old when he met Luke Skywalker on Dagobah. That would have made him a Master by any definition. Despite his age and experience, Yoda was humble enough to be reminded by the younglings he taught in the Temple on Coruscant the value of having a beginners mind. On Dagobah he also admonished Luke to put aside what he thought he knew and empty himself of prior experience so that he could be open and receptive to learning, like a beginner.
You can’t learn what you think you already know. There is a reason beginners in karate and other martial arts are given a white belt. White is the color that represents Shoshin, the Zen concept of a mind that is fresh and new, waiting to be taught and filled with knowledge. In martial arts having a beginners mind keeps one humble and always open to learning. Soshin is the beginners mind of a white belt, however even a black belt is just a white who never quit. In a Dojo you will often find the Sensei wearing a white belt in recognition of the unlimited potential of the “beginners mind”.
Despite his age and mastery as a Jedi, Yoda demonstrated a purer form of Shoshin. That state of mind opened him to the power of the Force and led Yoda to enlightenment.
“Observe… without preconceptions and with a blank mind.” – Taiichi Ohno
Al Kavadlo is a well-known personality in the calisthenics community with over 20 years as a personal trainer in New York, a string of books and a growing YouTube channel. Other than being exceptional in the art of calisthenics Kavadlo is also respected for being a warm, humble and positive guy who works to motivate people to reach their goals. In his book “Zen Mind, Strong Body: How To Cultivate Advanced Calisthenic Strength – Using The Power Of “Beginner’s Mind“, Cavadlo states that the path to excellence is often a simple one. We tend to waste a lot of time complicating things and making them harder instead of “keeping it simple” and doing the basics well even when reaching mastery. We should always adopt a beginners mind and view our training with a fresh set of eyes like any novice.
Kavadlo’s Zen like approach to training resonates with me because I have also practice calisthenics. It is a simple but humbling form of exercise which trains complete control of the body through strength and agility. Body and mind work as one. Progress can be very slow. After many years of training it is not unusual to be humbled over and over again by a move that eludes you but others find easy to master. It is also an easy practice to become arrogant and conceited as you progress only to have that progress cut by months or years through a simple injury caused by over-confidence. Many people quit after months of effort because they failed to realize calisthenics is as much a mental journey as a physical one. It require a beginners mind to master.
“You want to know the difference between a master and a beginner? The master has failed more times than the beginner has ever tried.” – Unknown (sometimes attributed to Yoda).
The 12 Steps is about “keeping it simple” and never becoming so conceited that you no longer see the blind spots in front of you. Its about having a “beginners mind” and being humble enough to admit that alcohol is a cunning opponent that exploits arrogance and complacency. Years of abstinence helps but it does not guarantee we will never relapse back into old habits. Having a beginners mind reminds us that we are only one drink away from total relapse.
The 12 Steps also reinforces the need to getting back to basics. Instead of telling ourselves that we know it all already we have to be prepared to adopt a beginners mind in our recovery. After many years of recovery we can still lack emotional sobriety. Over the years we can hit a spiritual plateau and began to stagnate. Some of us are headed for trouble unless we take notice and arrest the slide. We must put aside any perception of mastery and become a humble beginner again and re-learn the basics from scratch. We take on a “beginners mind”. The 12 Steps is a circle it is not a linear path with an end point. In recovery we must often revisit the foundation steps in order to maintain our sobriety.
“Truly wonderful, the mind of a child is.” – Yoda
Recently I have been experiencing a type of mental, physical and spiritual low which left me in a rut. During this time I felt myself often angry and frustrated over little things. I no longer cared about what I was doing or the people around me. “Stinking thinking” started to pervade my thoughts and as they did my behaviour began to change. It was affecting my relationships, my job and my health. I began to lose progress in my training, I stopped writing and in self-pity I began to consider whether I should leave the Jedi Path. Then I picked up and read “Zen Mind, Strong Body” and found that having a beginners mind is very much a part of being Jedi.
I got back to work with a beginners mind. Ideas and possibilities began to reveal themselves. Where before I refused to see past my own problems I now started seeing solutions. The Force started to work for me through an attitude of Shoshin.
So pick yourself up and shake yourself off. Pick up the basic text and read as if it were the first time. Train, meditate, read, pray, eat, sleep and repeat. Treat each day with the respect it deserves as a chance to start afresh and discover new opportunities and experiences. Do what you have to do but keep it simple and get back to basics. Do it with a “beginners mind”.
“If your mind is empty, it is always ready for anything, it is open to everything. In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s mind there are few. ” – Shunryu Suzuki.
Zen Mind, Strong Body: How to Cultivate Advanced Calisthenic Strength—Using the Power of “Beginner’s Mind” by Al Kavadlo (paperback or e-book from Amazon or Dragon Door publications https://www.dragondoor.com/b81/
Article first posted 4 May 2020 under the Title “Justice”.
“For over a thousand generations, the Jedi Knights were the guardians of peace and justice in the Old Republic” – Obi-wan Kenobi
“I have brought peace, freedom, justice, and security to my new empire”- Anakin
The Jedi were Guardians of Justice. As representatives of the senate they avoided political affiliations and were dedicated to promoting justice and peace in the galaxy. The Jedi did this by applying a code that was ethical, moral and balanced. In other words, they used the “Jedi Method” for dispensing Justice.
Despite their best intentions the Jedi ultimately failed in their mission and were at times a source of injustice in the galaxy. The Jedi were not loved everywhere they went, far from it. As the Republic began to unravel to its end the Jedi found themselves making difficult choices which conflicted with the Jedi Code. The Jedi were complicit in the erosion of the democratic rights of citizens. Their action betrayed the very principles they stood for hastening their final demise. The foundations of justice on which the republic was built were compromised. The failure of Justice led to the rise of Palpatine and the final fall of the Republic.
The Jedi lost sense of who they were. Along the way they compromised their principles for power, prestige and influence. The Jedi became political pawns and were eventually eliminated by Palpatine under Order 66. It was an ignominious end to a shining beacon of freedom and justice in a chaotic galaxy. With the fall of the Jedi came the end of Justice.
“Justice is conscience, not a personal conscience but the conscience of the whole of humanity” – Alexander Solzhenitsyn
A Complex Moral Virtue
Justice is a moral virtue that is as hard to define as it is to achieve. Justice is rarely universal or perfect. For every Justice there is always a grievance left in its shadow. The scales will tip in favour for one party at the expense for another.
In a perfect world, every decision made in the name of Justice would serve everyone equally and no harm would result. We know this is rarely the case and one person’s gain will be another person’s loss. As hard as it can be to grapple with the outcomes, we should all strive toward “Justice for all” but be aware that mistakes can and will be made. Spend a day in the criminal or family courts to see this how Justice often plays out.
Humans are born with a sense of justice and become conscious of it at an early age. Children know intrinsically when something is unfair. They recognise compassion and empathy and carry an innate natural wisdom. As children age, they are influenced by parents, peers, teachers and the environment. Personal prejudices and biases creep in as the ego flowers. We never lose our divine sense of Justice; it only becomes shrouded.
“Truth never damages a cause that is just” – Mahatma Gandhi
No two people will have the same answers because everyone holds a different set of values which they define as stated principles. Each person has a varying outlook and idea on how Justice should be dispensed and appear at any given time for any issue. Every person has their unique set of preferences, bias and prejudices known and unknown. These vary and change over time with knowledge and experience. The exception is those that are told what to think. Without further thought or reasoning they blindly accept dogma and dare not stray from it.
Jedi used their sound judgement and reason. They were flexible enough in their thinking to not fall into traps or follow orders without question. Dogma was avoided. Jedi would at times question the sanity or the morality of decisions made. At the same time the Jedi were sworn to the order and were expected to follow orders. This conflict between personal judgement of what was right versus duty would plague many Jedi.
A real-world Jedi must confront the same questions and grapple with the same inner conflicts. Real-world Jedi are diverse, they are every race, colour, creed, gender, political leaning, sexual orientation and opinion. There is no die-cast Jedi with a “typical” appearance, character or set of ideas. People in general are no different. Regardless of who you vote for, the causes and issues you follow be they social or environmental how you define “Justice” in every instance may differ from that of others.
“The foundation of justice is good faith” – Cicero
Alcoholism distorts ones sense of right and wrong. I had a very skewed sense of justice as it applied to me. Despite clear evidence to the contrary, I was never at fault for any of the harm I caused. Restitution was for others, not me. Blame for my own faults could be assigned to others. I was never at fault. Even when deep inside I knew I had overstepped the mark I was able to rationalise my way out of it. I was the victim in all of this.
Recovery forces us to get honest with ourselves. We look back in to the past and list all of the people we have harmed. Character flaws are exposed for what they are. Mistakes and injustices are admitted. Seeking to put things right we seek to make amends as far as we can without causing harm to others. Our pride, ego and security is no longer important, we have to put justice first. Our sobriety depends on it.
Justice takes courage. It also takes a commitment to rigorous honesty and humility. Selfishness, pride and ego need to be put aside. It is not a case of saying “I am right therefore you must be wrong“. It is about looking beyond appearances and courageously seeking the truth.
“Justice is truth in action.” – Benjamin Disraeli
So be careful when you demand “Justice”. Things may not be as black and white as they appear. Bias and prejudice will only further cloud judgement. Be mindful of hidden agendas, ulterior motives and a natural desire for restitution or revenge. Be wary of the mob demanding retribution at all costs. Justice should contain none of these things. Justice should be Aequitas.
You must ask if your sense of justice correct? You can seek advice but decide you must, what is right. It may help to ask three important questions before you dispense Justice:
Is it ethical? Ask yourself “would you do something that you would consider wrong or questionable if it were done by someone else?”. If you cannot satisfy this test, then the thing should not be done.
Is it moral? Ask yourself before making a decision “Will I be able to sleep soundly tonight? How would I react if I were on the receiving end? Will I be judged harshly?”. Remember that each judgement that you pass carries consequences, for others and for yourself. Accept that.
Is it balanced? You must determine if something is fair. Does it respect the rights of others? Is it equitable (equity)? Is there also a degree of impartiality? Does it recognise the arguments and grievances of all sides equally (equality)? Is it fair?
Justice only holds if it is based on truth. Honesty is paramount. Lies, half truths and falsehoods negate justice. The truth is not predicated on the views of the mob and prevailing attitudes. Justice is predicated on truth which is immutable.
So, the question you have to ask is “what do you value? What are your principles and finally, how do you define Justice? What is your blind side, and do you know your own biases?” Are your decisions around Justice based on truth, fairness, equity, compassion and wisdom? Are you like the Goddess Aequitas, blind in serving justice to others?
“I want to learn the ways of the Force and become a Jedi like my father” – Luke Skywalker
Carl Jung wrote that the archetype of the Father was in constant struggle with the son. That struggle exists because the son is born to outlive and surpass the Father. The Father places himself between the child man and the mother, rendering the sacred bond. The son in his presence also threatens the Fathers position, he makes him redundant and replaces him. The son is the symbol of the new. The power of the Father reaches its zenith and begins to wane as he ages. The Father is the past. The old is replaced by the new and the circle continues. The story continues to be written, wisdom is passed down and the son eventually becomes the Father. The passing of the mantle from Father to son has continued since the dawn of humans and continues to this day.
In the “The Hero with a thousand faces” by Joseph Campbell, the son on his perilous quest must come to an atonement with the Father. Through his struggles the boy becomes the man that he is meant to be. To complete the journey of becoming fully integrated the man must confront and overcome the Father or reconcile with him. Atonement with the Father is necessary for individuation to occur.
“Why do I get the feeling you’re going to be the death of me?” – Obi-Wan Kenobi
“Don’t say that Master… You’re the closest thing I have to a father… I love you. I don’t want to cause you pain.” – Anakin
Star Wars is a fictional portrayal of the Heroes Journey which follows the same stages of all great myths. The archetype of the Father and the conflict with the son looms large in the mythology both in the canon and in the expanded universe stories. The story is played out between Anakin and Obi-wan Kenobi, Luke Skywalker and Anakin and finally Han Solo and his estranged son, Ben.
Anakin was the divine child in the Star Wars mythology. A child with no Father. Anakin was a product of the Force and he was said to be the chosen one. The coming of the chosen one was prophesized since ancient times and promised a return of balance to the Force. Without a biological Father, Anakin found a surrogate in Ob-wan Kenobi. Over the years that Obi-wan trained Anakin and mentored him on missions the Padawan and then the Jedi felt a need to better his Master and challenge him at every turn. The relationship soured as Anakin fell under the influence of Palpatine and this led to confrontation. Obi-wan Kenobi prevailed against Anakin on Mustafar condemning him to a life of regret and Anakin a life of hell. Decades later on the Death Star, Obi-wan surrendered to his fate and became atoned.
“Now I am the Master” – Darth Vader
Luke Skywalker never knew his father. The identity was only revealed to him after he had already embraced the call to adventure. The second half of the original trilogy was the unfolding of the conflict between Father and son and the eventual redeeming of Anakin by his son on the second Death Star. Love reconciled and reunited them.
“Luke, I am your Father” – Darth Vader
Ben Solo had a troubled life. He was the child of two of the most famous people in the galaxy and watched his mother and father fight and go separate ways. Luke taking Ben as his apprentice also failed and betrayed his nephew. In his confusion and anger he eventually turned to the dark side believing that it bought him closer to his Great Uncle while not understanding that Anakin had been atoned and returned to the light side of the Force. Han Solo sought to reconcile with his son and return him to the mother and in doing so gave up his life. Much later Ben was atoned and reunited with his Father and the Force through self-sacrifice. The prodigal son returned forgiven to the Father with one word he had never uttered before “Dad”.
“Your Son Is Gone. He Was Weak, And Foolish Like His Father.” – Kylo Ren
I walked out of home days after finishing High School and made my way to an Army Recruiters office where I took the first steps in to the life of an adult. I never saw or spoke to my father again. Our relationship had been difficult. I wanted to have a good father-son relationship but I despised him for the harm he had done over the years. I also feared him and could never hope to confront him to resolve the conflict that existed. It was easier to run and never have to deal with it. To this day I still dream of a meeting between us where we can reconcile and atone for the past.
My Father was from a remote place in the Balkans. That region had suffered centuries of war and occupation by foreign powers. It had experienced ethnic and religious conflict and genocide before the oppression of communism. The mountains were soaked with blood and tears. Fleeing that country he sought a better life in the west as a refugee and married, settled in a new country and became alcoholic.
Then there were the years I remember of turmoil, grief, anxiety and fear living in poverty with a man who had no control of his behaviours or emotions. Always the ever present alcoholism that bought utter despair. I moved out as soon as I could and went as far away as I could.
“Remember, a Jedi’s strength flows from the Force. But beware anger, fear, and aggression. The dark side are they. Once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny. Luke… do not underestimate the powers of the Emperor or suffer your father’s fate you will.” – Yoda
A decade ago I awoke one night and had the strangest sense that my Father had passed away. I could feel his essence passing from this world to the next. Awake with that I felt nothing but a twinge of regret that whatever I had to say to him would now never be said in person. I also realised that my journey would never be really completed because I was unable to meet my Father again before he passed away.
Not long after I learned through an anonymous phone call that he had indeed passed away as a destitute alcoholic on the other side of the country. I still have no idea how I was tracked down. After the call things got worse. I felt as if I had failed in an important endeavour. Regret of a missed reconciliation turned to bitterness. I felt creeping anxiety of my own mortality and the passing of time. Shadows seemed to crowd in. I became bitter and resentful. This of course fed the final year of my drinking which became uncontrollable. I no longer enjoyed it. The taste of alcohol was revolting and my hangovers grew worse and worse. Soon I could barely support a single drink but it did not matter. I had no choice but to drink.
“One thing remains. Vader. You must confront Vader. Then, only then, a Jedi will you be. And confront him you will.” – Yoda
The figure of my Father loomed large with every drunk. At times I felt as if I was becoming him. I feared to become the man that he was but I looked in the mirror and saw him looking back. The spiral downwards continued and so did the despair. The shadows grew darker and enclosed around me. I felt my insanity beginning to slip. Thoughts of suicide pervaded my drunken thoughts and haunted me during hangovers and short periods of sobriety.
I will never forget seeing my Father when he visited I and my brother in a state orphanage. The state had intervened and removed us from his care when I was 10. My mother had died partly from his ineptitude and was in the grave three years already. He arrived at the orphanage in a dishevelled state and very drunk. I and my brother were kept indoors, away from him. Outside my father stumbled and fell while a few boys poked fun at him and threw stones, one of the boys tried to steal his bottle as the others distracted him. It was pathetic and sad to watch. I was beyond ashamed. My father was a shadow of the man he had once been and was extremely thin and pale. A counsellor from the orphanage called the police and they came and took him away. The authorities placed him in an asylum. The memory burned itself in my mind. Decades later I could see myself becoming that person.
“Dad” – Kylo Ren’s (Ben Solo) last words in the Star Wars saga.
In recovery we seek to make amends where possible. Admitting our faults, making inventory and amends brings us atonement. This often includes seeking to make amends and reconciling with family members. Parents reconcile with children. Sons and daughters reconcile with parents. It is not possible to make amends with the dead in person like Ben Solo did with Han Solo. We know that there is no way we can turn the clock back and we accept that the person is beyond our reach and amends in the physical sense are impossible. Despite that we cannot fall into self-condemnation and remorse. Amends are made daily by living in virtue and practicing principles. You can make peace with the departed through your actions. You can speak to them through prayer if you want. I eventually forgave my Father and asked for his forgiveness in return.
One of the greatest responsibilities and roles is to be a Father. Sadly we see the absence of Fathers emotionally and physically in many families. Despite what many social commentators say, a child needs the presence of the Father. Boys especially need their Father, or at the very least a male role model who can guide and mentor them into life and help them reach their potential. To those in recovery that are estranged from their parents and especially men who are estranged from their sons or fathers, seek to make amends and reconcile. Atone for the past. As hard and painful as that may be do not leave it until it is too late.
Go with the Force, always it will give you strength.
Darth Sidious epitomizes a character who is intoxicated with power and is consumed by his lust for it. That lust allowed Palpatine to spend decades plotting and planning his revenge against the Jedi. The lust for power led to his supremacy. Palpatine’s addiction to power grew until it consumed the galaxy. That unlimited power disfigured Palpatine such was its corruption on the body and mind. All power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.
The Emperor ruled over the galaxy with a cruel intent masquerading as benevolent but firm order. The worlds controlled by the Empire were kept under the boot of the Imperial Troops commanded by Darth Vader. Nothing less than total obedience and complete submission was tolerated. Any resistance was met with brutal force. The power of the Empire was relentless and ever expanding, omniscient and omnipresent, consuming everything in its reach.
Darth Sidious was able to rise at the height of the Republic because the Jedi had become obsessed with power. The Jedi had become a political and military apparatus that accumulated influence, prestige and power. In their hubris, Palpatine was able to blind the senate and the Jedi and lead Anakin into his confidence.
“At the height of their powers, they allowed Darth Sidious to rise, create the Empire, and wipe them out.” – Luke Skywalker
Anakin was the chosen one destined to become the most powerful Jedi who had ever lived. Anakin was meant to bring order to the Force, not leave it in darkness but that is exactly what happened. The promise of redemption through the Dark Side of the Force offered by Palpatine led Anakin down a path of no return. Palpatine had told him “I have the power to save the one you love”. It was a lie but in the desire of that power to overcome death, Anakin destroyed everything that was dear to him.
Power is the ultimate drug. Those that seek and wield power are reluctant to let it go once it is obtained and harnessed. Even the allure of vast wealth pales in comparison to the intoxication of power. Being able to control the lives of others and direct the course of events leads to a desire for power that is addictive. Power yields a high far more intoxicating than any drug. Those that become drunk with power will seek absolute power the same way a junkie seeks the ultimate hit. Absolute power knows no limits. The goal of unlimited power is to usurp and replace God.
“He won’t give up his power. I’ve just learned a terrible truth. I think Chancellor Palpatine is a Sith Lord.” – Anakin
We often hear of politicians and public figures who let hubris and power lead them to over reach their limits and abuse their authority and become corrupt. Without any fetters to control them they spiral out of control and fall to their demise. Dictators, autocrats, corrupt politicians and crooked businessmen eventually fail because they can no longer hold the power they have amassed. The power they have is coveted by others. It attracts the deceit, disloyalty and betrayal of others who desire it. Eventually the powerful fall but they never go easily. They are finally replaced and the cycle repeats.
“All who gain power are afraid to lose it. Even the Jedi.” – Palpatine
Alcohol held me in the grip of its power for decades. I imagined that power was transferred to me. My ego was so inflated that it was intoxicated with a overwhelming sense of self. My immediate needs and desires far outweighed any others. Every decision made was done to benefit the addiction. Anyone or anything that I perceived as an obstacle to that desire was a threat. Any opinions or ideas contrary to my own and the people who made them, were dismissed with contempt. I was smarter than everyone else and could not see beyond the narrow view of a sick ego.
Intoxicated, I was literally drunk on power when in fact I was just drunk and powerless to alcohol. Drunk, I had no control over my thoughts, words or actions. They were erratic and chaotic. My inhibitions were dismantled and any behaviour no matter how deviant, perverse or salacious was possible.
I was stuck on a hedonistic merry-go round until it became a cage and the pleasure was long gone. The line between pleasure and pain was blurred. People were friend, then foe, then friend again. People were to be used and discarded and then used again. I had no control of my emotions, responses or body. I was powerless, not powerful.
Deep within I knew it but I was afraid to lose the illusion of power. I was afraid to confront my own fear.
“Confronting fear is the destiny of a Jedi.” – Yoda
True power resides in recognizing that we are powerless over alcohol. The illusion of power in addiction reveals itself to be false. Alcohol is a subtle, cunning and powerful foe, much like the Dark Side of the Sith. It brings you into its confidence, seduces and then overwhelms and corrupts you. The idea of power comes from addiction. Alcohol dulls the higher centers of the brain and removes inhibitions replacing them with a feeling of confidence, superiority and power.
True power resides in sanity. In recovery we say that our sobriety is a daily reprieve from the insanity of alcoholism contingent on the maintenance of our spiritual condition. Everyday it behoves us to:
Recognize that we are powerless over alcohol but not in our own recovery.
Affirm a faith in a personal Higher Power. Surrender to that Higher Power by letting go of a need to control everything.
Be active in our own recovery by being active not passive. By seeking to become powerfully recovered.
“To answer power with power, the Jedi way, this is not. In this war, a danger there is, of losing who we are.” – Yoda
Obi-wan Kenobi showed Darth Vader that raw power is a mere illusion and one that often turns in on itself. Darth Vader cut Obi-wan Kenobi down with one fell stroke of a Lightsaber. In that act of submission and self-sacrifice, Obi-wan showed Darth Vader he had the true power. Kenobi found power in surrender to the Force. There was no need to fight, dominate or impose his will on another. Kenobi simply let go of his attachments and gave himself up completely to the Force and became more powerful.
In “Return of the Jedi”, Luke Skywalker refused to fight Darth Vader on the second Death Star. Victory over the Dark Side could not be won through the exercise of raw power. Darth Sidious could not be defeated in combat. Darth Vader could not be redeemed through force. To wield a Lightsaber in anger would have only played in to the hands of Sidious. Luke recognized that non-violence and surrender was the only way. Luke was not powerless without a Lightsaber and armed with only his faith and a love for a Father he never knew, he had become more powerful than Darth Sidious.
“The Force is not a power you have. It’s not about lifting rocks. It’s the energy between all things, a tension, a balance, that binds the universe together.” – Luke Skywalker
Decades later on Ach-To, Luke reflected on his life and failures. In his own hubris and desire for power Luke had made terrible and tragic mistakes with consequences he could not fathom or control. The old Jedi Master had betrayed the man who had once stepped in to the liar of Darth Sidious and casting aside his Lightsaber had bought his father back from the darkness. Now alone on an island far removed from danger he at last saw that he still had a chance to once again answer power with an empty hand. Luke surrendered to the power of the living Force.
We say we are powerless against alcohol because it is the truth. There is no shame in that. But we are not powerless in recovery. We find power in admitting it and in surrender to a higher power. By working the steps we learn that we are empowered in our own recovery. The ego is deflated. Anger, fear, hate, dishonesty, hubris, selfishness and resentment are overcome through temperance, courage, honesty, humility, compassion, faith and sacrifice. An inner power is found that was always there, it was only hidden behind the illusion of self and the layers of the false ego.