Victim

“It’s not my fault!” – Han Solo

 

The famous line “It’s not my fault” was said four times in the original trilogy of Star Wars. The quote is used by Han Solo and Lando Calrissian to dismiss any blame for screwing up at precisely the wrong moment. For example when being chased by Imperial Star Destroyers or making excuses to Jabba the Hutt. Rogues and smugglers do not easily admit their mistakes even when the odds are that everyone is about to be killed because of them.

 

Pulling Hair and Eating Dirt*

Growing up I always felt the victim. It felt as if I was born to suffer injustices. The blame for every problem that I ever had could be placed squarely at the feet of others. With the years that attitude solidified. I was arrested for shop lifting as a child and blamed those who were with me, my home and an alcoholic Father. My troubles at school were due to a broken home, a dead mother and being taken into state care.

I fought a lot because other kids provoked me. I was the “same old backside again” for the Head Masters cane. I didn’t do well in School because of a disruptive home. My grades were poor because we had moved around a lot. We were poor migrant working class. None of it was my fault. I was a Victim.

Being a skinny and awkward kid who lacked confidence I was never popular with girls. I was one of those kids that sat on the sidelines at school dances waiting and wanting someone to ask me but dreading it at the same time. Being like that, the sullen pale skinny kid, inevitably attracting bullies and trouble at the same time. I was miserable and for every slight, insult, slap across the head and wedgie my self-pity and indignation grew. Every screw up that happened seemed to be blamed on me. I hated the world and wanted to fight everyone and everything.

 

Baseless victimhood is usually the last stage before outright aggression.” ― Stefan Molyneux

 

Baggy Trousers, Dirty Shirt

I was shocked when the Captain signed a document committing me to five years in the Army. I barely notice he did so with a perceptible sigh of resignation as if he had suffered a slow day and needed to fill a quota before he could leave for the Officers mess. The Captain passed over a contract which I signed. I thanked him for the opportunity and he looked at me with mix of humor and pity and said with a grin “Good Luck Son”! My lack of self-confidence and self-esteem was obvious. Perhaps he thought the military might save me from something worse than death.

Getting in to the army felt like I had finally been accepted in to a family that mattered something. Even as my scalp still burned from being roughly shaved clean and I stood shorter than everyone else in my over-sized new fatigues, I felt like a man at last. A Corporal said I looked like a “bag of shit tied in the middle”.

They called me “Sprog”, “Grommet” and “Cluster”. For the first year I was the guy who got the worst jobs and suffered the most offerings of Punishment. My Team harangued me for every fault in barracks, field or range. They were also getting “beasted” for my mistakes. I could do nothing right and when I tried my best it was rejected and ridiculed. Soon on overseas on deployment I sometimes contemplated deserting in to the night or turning my rifle on myself. None of this was my fault. This is not what I wanted. Why couldn’t I fit in?

 

Stop validating your victim mentality. Shake off your self-defeating drama and embrace your innate ability to recover and achieve.” – Dr. Steve Maraboli

 

Bend not Break the Rules

Propped up at a bar nursing a whiskey and chasing that with beer I suddenly felt like I belonged. My “Muckers” were around me buying rounds of tequila. I slammed a few and staggered outside to throw up. Everyone howled with laughter but I came back for more. At last I could do something right! A face blurred came in to view. I smelt perfume and felt a hand between my thighs. She whispered something in my ear and I nodded. Next a cab ride to a hotel with a prostitute.

Waking up with a hangover and realizing that I had missed parade and was officially AWOL. Still drunk stopping at a bar for a drink to steady nerves before grabbing a cab ride to Base. My gut churning from booze, lack of food and fear I face the OC. There is the mandatory reprimand and smack broadside across the head from the CSM then a week in the guard house. In jail there are slaps, yelling, drill and ruck runs and digging holes under a burning sun. It’s a chance to sober up a bit. I’ll do it again, probably next week.

Rinse and repeat many times as my career went down the toilet. Each time it gets easier, not caring because it was never my fault. I started enjoying the Army. My attitude stunk.

They throw me out saying I’d had too many chances. I can’t accept its anything I did. The years pass by. I wander from place to place and job to job. I can’t hold down a job for long. Relationships never last more than a few days or weeks. But none of that was my fault. I’m the victim in that story, right?

 

Self-pity is spiritual suicide. It is an indefensible self-mutilation of the soul.” ― Anthon St. Maarten

 

Dark Legacies

Anakin fell to the dark side because he was primed for the fall not by Palpatine but by his own set of beliefs. Anakin believed that he was a victim of circumstance. Born in to slavery, never knowing his Father. Taken from his mother to become a Jedi. Finding his mother years later on her death bed. The horror of war and losing friends and allies. Building anger and hatred over the years. Anakin never learned to accept things as they are. None of it was his fault but he did have a choice in how he allowed these events to shape his character and destiny. The choices he made and the suffering they bought to him and others were on him. Becoming Darth Vader was his fault not Obi-wan’s, Yoda’s or Padme’s.

Ben Solo is another complex character who wallows in the self pity and aggression of the victim. Being force sensitive from his mother Leia, Ben also had the darker traits of his grandfather Anakin. Eventually it was Ben’s feelings of abandonment that made him ripe for grooming to the Dark Side by Snoke. Both of Ben’s parents failed to provide him with the attention he needed as a child.

Han Solo was unable to settle and be a good Father. Leia had enormous responsibilities as a civil and military leader and was often absent. The marital problems and clashes between his parents left Ben Solo feeling further abandoned. As an adult Ben was finally told of the truth of his grandfather Anakin and it affected him deeply. In the end it was his revered Uncle, Luke Skywalker, betrayal of his trust that finally pushed Ben Solo to the Dark Side. As a servant to Snoke he became Kylo Ren. Blaming his parents, the Jedi and the New Republic for his pain, Kylo Ren set out to destroy them all.

A Victim Mentality seems to span generations of the same family. While a victim mentality is a learned and acquired behavior It seemed to run in the Skywalker family like some mental illness. As children we learn from the example of our parents and peers and form beliefs. Later we surround ourselves with like minded people which reinforces those beliefs. If we allow ourselves to fall to the narrative and act out we become Victims. The only way to break free of it is to reject the narrative as false and retrain the mind to let go of the negative mind set that Victimhood perpetuates.

 

Wet the Bed

Alcoholics act the perennial victim. So it was with me. We have a tendency to make a mess of our lives and blame others. We wet the bed and blame the sheets. Alcohol blinds us to the truth that most of our problems are of our own making. We blame our parents, teachers, friends, partners, the system, the government or “God” for our problems. Ultimately we fail to take responsibility and do what is within our power to make things right.

My own set of beliefs kept me in denial and victimhood for decades. It’s easier that way, to blame others for our problems. Blaming others absolves us of responsibility to take action. If anyone should take action, we believe, it should be others. After all it is not our fault.

 

“Your life is the fruit of your own doing. You have no one to blame but yourself.” – Joseph Campbell

 

The Victim

Victimhood culture is a scourge of the modern era. So many people today embrace the idea that being the victim gives them the justification to blame their misery on others. “Victims” carry an attitude that life is against them and that society is somehow bent on pushing them down and holding them there. They and only they have a monopoly on injustice. Believing they are being denied the tools to help themselves they refuse to take steps to analyse their beliefs or change in any positive way. Without realizing it they hold themselves down and attack others for it. Even when things do improve it is never enough. There is always fault to be found and someone to blame.

Victims will always complain, criticize, blame, gossip. They can’t take a joke and find attitudes or opinions that differ from theirs offensive. Victims are easily triggered and emotionally incontinent. Society and its institutions seem to encourage and facilitate this perpetual sense of entitlement and victimhood. Victims tend to draw upon each other in order to validate their status as victims. This culture creates a mindset of powerlessness. Rather than being empowered to create the change needed the victim is disarmed by a sense of self-pity, frustration, anger and unfulfilled entitlement and potential.

 

I am not what has happened to me. I am what I choose to become” – Carl Jung

“I can fix this” – Poe Damerone

 

Victim to Victor in 12 Steps

In the 12 Steps, the first step addresses the mental chains of a “Victim Mentality”. While Victimhood taught me I was powerless in all aspects of my life, Step 1 showed me I was only powerless where alcohol was concerned. I had the power and only needed to claim it fully to overcome my addiction and become the person I wanted to be. Instead of being a Victim I could be a Victor by committing to some principles and practices;

  1. Turning problems over to a Higher Power I call the “Force”;
  2. Framing “obstacles” in a rational manner rather than with emotions such as anger and fear. Learning that it is only our perceptions that matter to us, not the thing itself.
  3. Identifying those things that are in my control and those that are outside of it. Focusing energy on those that reside within my locus of control without investing emotional energy to the outcomes.
  4. Using “negative visualization” and “voluntary discomfort” to remind me that things can always be worse and to be prepared physically, mentally and spiritually.
  5. Having the courage and resolve to make amends where appropriate.
  6. Accepting that mistakes will be made and being prepared to admit them and make amends.
  7. Accepting that things do not always turn out as planned. Being grateful for what does.
  8. Entertaining thoughts, feelings and impressions but choose which to accept as valid and useful.
  9. Using mindfulness to remain in the present while avoiding projecting in to the future or ruminating on the past needlessly.
  10. Removing focus from self by helping others within means and where that help is welcome.
  11. Daily review. Identifying what went well and where improvements can be made.
  12. Striving for continuous self-improvement and learning.

Han Solo loved to deny fault especially at the worst possible times. Blaming a failed Hyperdrive systems error on someone else while an Imperial Star Destroyer is bearing down is not going to fix the situation. Han knew that. In the end Han does what Han does best, he takes decisive action and gets out of his predicament by the skin of his teeth and with panache. Han was a Rogue but also a Victor after all, not a Victim. Be like Han…

 

Leia –

What did you have in mind for

your next move?

Han –

Well, if they follow standard

Imperial procedure, they’ll dump

their garbage before they go to

light-speed, then we just float

away.

Leia –

With the rest of the garbage.

Then what?

 

*Acknowledgement to “Baggy Trousers” by Madness – the anthem of my childhood.

The Master

… for the dark side looks back.’ – Yoda

 

Two there should be; no more, no less. One to embody power, the other to crave it.”  – Darth Bane

 

The Sith were the antithesis of the Jedi. Serving the Dark side of the Force the Sith were diametrically opposed to the Jedi. The Sith sought to dominate the galaxy and impose their will on all life. The story is one of the struggles between the dualistic nature of the Force. The conflict between the Sith and Jedi is a struggle were the Light Side attempts to negate the Dark Side and the Darkness seeks to extinguish the Light. One must dominate the other. One must be Master.

Within each person it can be argued is a similar struggle. What Lincoln called the better angel of our natures does not always prevail against the dark side. Within all of us lurks the shadow of the Dark Side, our own inner “Sith”. Throughout our life we face an internal struggle with that duality of our nature. We are torn between virtues and vice. Virtue does not always take precedence. Good does not always prevail.

 

Remember, the first and only reality of the Sith… there can only be two. And you are no longer my apprentice. You have been replaced.

―Darth Sidious, to Darth Maul

 

The Headmaster

Believe it or not, our personal Dark Side is a teacher. I refer to it as my inner “Sith Lord”. I attribute selfishness, belligerence, arrogance, self-will and a rampant or an over inflated ego to my inner “Sith Master”. Emotions such as anger, resentment, hatred and especially fear are the outcomes of an effective education in the Dark Side of the Force. For more than two decades, alcohol was my Master and I was its willing apprentice.

Among the Sith there was a constant struggle for supremacy between the Master and Apprentice called the “Rule of Two”. The Master sought to keep the Apprentice in servitude. The Apprentice served the will of the Master and at the same time learnt from him through the suffering of training. Through pain, fear and loathing the Master kept the Apprentice in check and bent him further to his will.

 

Now I am the Master” – Darth Vader

 

Rule of Two

The Master also knew that the Apprentice sought the power to eventually usurp him and become the Master. While the Apprentice continued to learn and submit to the Master and serve him, he was of use. The Apprentice sought to learn all he could from the Master. Once the Apprentice was ready to overthrow the Master, he was killed and replaced. The Apprentice however demonstrated his superiority by killing his Master and assuming the role and seeking out a new Apprentice. Thus the Sith grew stronger and stronger with every generation through the natural selection of the “Rule of Two”.

Darth Sidious served Darth Plageuis and killed him. Darth Sidious at first drafted Darth Maul as a servant and then betrayed him choosing Count Dooku as a suitable Apprentice. Dooku became Darth Tyranus until the Sith Lord in the guise of Palpatine recognised Anakin as his chosen disciple. Once he had corrupted the Jedi Anakin to the Dark Side, Palpatine had his new protégé kill Count Dooku in cold blood. Anakin soon became Darth Vader and served Darth Sidious until the Sith line was ended in the Return of the Jedi. The history of the Sith was one of domination, submission, betrayal and death.

 

“(Darth Plagueis)  became so powerful … the only thing he was afraid of was losing his power, which eventually, of course, he did. Unfortunately, he taught his apprentice everything he knew, then his apprentice killed him in his sleep. never saw it coming. It’s ironic he could save others from death but not himself.” – Palpatine (Darth Sidious) to Anakin

 

Natural Selection

The analogy of the relationship between Sith Master and Apprentice accurately describes the alcoholic’s relationship with booze. The relationship is far deeper than shallow desire. It is a mental, physical, emotional and spiritual “craving” to something which is at once endearing, warm and inviting while at the same time cunning, devious, cruel and unforgiving. Alcohol becomes the unwavering and unforgiving Master that dominates every aspect of life, even to the grave.

Alcohol embodies the power and the Alcoholic craves it. A “Rule of Two” resides within that relationship. The only thing that matters is the relationship between the Addict and the substance of Addiction. There is nothing else. A struggle evolves over time in which the Addict attempts to seek control in the relationship. Through resistance and failure the Addict is constantly reminded of the futility of her attempts to overpower her addiction by self will alone. Every attempt leaves her weaker.  Only one victor can emerge from the throes of that struggle. There can be only one Master.

In time the Master takes everything and leaves nothing but despair, anger and fear.

 

The Sith took everything from me. Ripped me from my mother’s arms, murdered my brother, used me as a weapon, and then cast me aside. Abandoned me. Once, I had power — now I have nothing.” — Maul (Clone Wars: “Twilight of the Apprentice”)

 

 

Harsh Lessons

In my early recovery I imagined my addiction to be some dark beast that dwelt within me. That beast had me on a short leash. Attempts to leave were cruelly punished. My confidence was shaken with every failed attempt to escape. As I fell deeper in to despair my addiction mocked and tormented me and I grew more dependent on it. The Dark Side closed in all around. I found the harder I fought the deeper was the decent in to the Dark Side and ultimately my personal Rock Bottom.

Finding a Higher Power and rejecting my addiction by turning it over was the act of overthrowing that insidious Master. In the end there could only be one. Alcohol would take me to the grave or I would usurp it somehow and reclaim life. In the end all it took was a willingness to believe and the act of surrender. In order to over throw the Master I had to face myself and stop fighting. I came to realize that when I looked at the face of the beast I stared squarely at myself. I and the Master that I feared and reviled were one and the same. We were two sides of the Force that Lincoln described; the better angel facing the dark side. By ending that struggle I was able to walk free again.

 

When you look at the dark side, careful you must be … for the dark side looks back.’ – Yoda

 

The Apprentice

I never forget that every person has a dark side although not all are slave to it. That is the Tao, the duality residing within the whole. My Dark Side remains but I choose not to give it license. I can’t afford to. I never forget that once it was the Master and it seeks to return. Like a prisoner condemned to a dark and deep cell it hides in the shadows brooding. It patiently waits. It believes the day may come when it will kill its old Apprentice. And when I peer deep in to my soul I see that Dark Side it is watching and it waits.

Keep fear at bay and be touched by Better Angels.

Exile

In to Exile I must go. Failed I have.” – Yoda

Exile is a harsh punishment often inflicted on people who have been forced to leave their homes. The choice to remain can be fraught with danger. Stay and face persecution or death or be uprooted and cast in to the Diaspora.

In recent years we have seen a surge in the number of people fleeing war, oppression, cultural upheaval, environmental degradation and poverty. There is a gravitational pull towards the west and the north as those places offer a measure of safety, financial security and welfare lacking in poorer countries. Many immigrants and refugees arrive in the new lands and many become disillusioned. The promise of a better life often fails to materialize. The tug of home conflicts with the desire to stay.

Our native soil draws all of us, by I know not what sweetness, and never allows us to forget.” – Publius Ovidius Naso

 

Land Lost

Exile has always been a part of the world. It follows on the heels of any sweeping change that befalls a country where events favor one group over another. Refugees are the living and desperate flotsam of war. Waves of peoples fleeing death and destruction in their homelands and seeking safe haven in a strange land is one of the faces of war.

The goal of the refugee has always been to return home and rebuild. In the past people held a strong bond to their homeland. The land that nurtured them was a part of who they were. A person’s identity was their culture, language, history, the land that carried their buried ancestors. The land was the mother that nurtured the people.

Identity creates an emotional and spiritual link to the ancestral land. This connection endures even to those born in the Diaspora who struggle with their identity. The desire to return and find home is an intangible tug for exiles.

“All writers–all beings–are exiles as a matter of course. The certainty about living is that it is a succession of expulsions of whatever carries the life force…All writers are exiles wherever they live and their work is a lifelong journey towards the lost land..” – Janet Frame

 

The Damned

The Stoic Philosophers Epictetus and Seneca were exiled by Roman Emperors. The Emperor Domitian banished all Philosophers from Rome. Nero massacred many. The rise of Christianity saw the banishment of classical Philosophers. Through the centuries exile was used as means to silence opposing and dissenting views. Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany forced many Philosophers to flee in to exile or forced in to concentration camps.

Exile can shape and define a person in different ways. For some it is a calamity to great to recovery from. For others it is a catalyst for growth. It was in exile that the ideas and talents of many Philosophers, Writers and Poets begin to blossom.

Socrates was never an exile but lived as one in his native Athens. The father of Western Philosophy held that all Philosophers should suffer exile at least once in their life. The existential catharsis that comes from being uprooted and foreign in a strange land would do the Philosopher good.

“Copper sun sinking low
Scatterlings and fugitives
Hooded eyes and weary brows
Seek refuge in the night”

 – Juluka “Scatterlings of Africa”.

 

Scatterlings

Exile is a recurring theme in Star Wars. After Palpatine released Order 66 resulting in the great purge of the Jedi Order and the rise of the Empire, those who survived the onslaught fled in to exile. Kenobi fled in to obscurity in the outer rim. Yoda waited on Dagobah for prophesy to be realized. The few Jedi and fledgling rebellion were scattered to all corners of the galaxy, relentlessly hunted by Darth Vader.

Exile grounded Obi-Wan Kenobi. In exile Kenobi found a new purpose and honed his skills in the Force. Yoda also became stronger and wiser in seclusion on Dagobah. The decades that passed were to their advantage. The day would come when they would have a sweeping impact on events and in their own way finally return home.

Luke Skywalker exiled himself to the remote planet of Ahch-To, The Last Jedi abandoned his family and friends vanishing as a new dark force arose in the galaxy. Fleeing his responsibilities he still chose an ancient Jedi temple to hide out as a recluse. This seems at odds with someone who wants to run away from his past and severe all ties. Why run to something familiar unless there is aching regret?

Unlike the Jedi who fled the power of the Empire, Luke was trying to flee himself. The guilt and remorse he felt for past mistakes effectively crippled his spirit and extinguished his flame. Luke was unable to function as a Jedi Master so he chose self exile as a punishment for his failures rather than rising above them.

“This is the most immediate fruit of exile, of uprooting: the prevalence of the unreal over the real. Everyone dreamed past and future dreams, of slavery and redemption, of improbable paradises, of equally mythical and improbable enemies; cosmic enemies, perverse and subtle, who pervade everything like the air.” – Primo Levi

 

Geography

In the recovery community you will sometimes hear the term “geographic solution”. Alcoholics have a habit of running away (literally) from their problems rather than facing up to them. They will isolate themselves from the people in their lives, change jobs suddenly, start and quit projects and sometimes vanish in a form of self exile.

My Father was such an alcoholic and addicted to the “geographic solution”. The next town or place will be better. A fresh start is all that was needed. Moving to a new place may work for a short time but eventually an immutable fact remains; wherever you go, there you are. If you are fleeing yourself you will find that no running away will solve that until the day you change yourself.

Luke may have sought to somehow redeem himself on Ahch-To. Perhaps he felt that his presence at home was so toxic that he needed to be away from everyone and everything in order not to ruin their lives. How often do we see alcoholic parents abandon their children for exactly the same reason? Out of some desperate need they think that removing themselves will save others. They fail to see the real way out.

The arrival of Rey was the spark that ignited a fire. Luke was forced to confront his past and deal with it. The truth of his actions was laid bare and he had to admit it at last. The final confrontation with his past was the shove that Luke needed to get past the rut he had found himself in. Once free of that burden Luke was able to transcend to a new level. Luke was able to be his true self and become one with the Force. Luke finally came home.

“Happiness is not only a hope, but also in some strange manner a memory … we are all kings in exile.” – GK Chesterton

 

Shallow Roots

I would not know what it is like to be an Exile in the classical sense as I never had roots to begin with thanks to an itinerant drunken Father. As long as I was aware of place I was always on the move. It was with this sense of having no “home” that I left the confines of childhood and set myself adrift in the world for many years. There were no roots to rip up. “Walking away” was easy.

Despite forever feeling the “stranger”, the “outsider” and the “other” my entire childhood and much of my adult life I always felt there was a place I belonged. Not knowing where felt like a gaping hole in my soul. I spent years searching. My travels took me across continents.

I sought a place I could call “home” and at last put down roots. What I was actually seeking was my own identity. I did not know who I was, what I was meant for or where my place was. I was Lost and tried to fill that hole with booze.

What I found on the road was frustration, anger, hate and suffering. Eventually I found that exile and separation is a state of being not a place. A personal catharsis is needed in that vital experience of exile to come home.

“Exile is not a time frame. Exile is an experience. It’s a sentiment.” – Marco Rubio

 

The Road to Damascus

The Bible tells the story of Paul. On the road to Damascus he is confronted by a vision of Jesus and “blinded”. Later as a newly converted Christian, Paul’s sight was restored. Forced in to exile he began the work of spreading the gospel until he was eventually martyred by the Romans like so many other Philosophers Christian and Pagan before and after.

I don’t know if the character named Saul existed or whether his catharsis on the road to Damascus and conversion as Paul was an illustrative parable of the power of epiphany leading to a radical shift in perception and character.  Saul led a selfish life that was blind to the suffering of others.

Saul was also blind to the hate and anger in his own heart and his spiritual void. Something huge happened on the road to Damascus that led to a blinding revelation and a deflation of ego. Paul emerged, a new man entirely devoid of his old character. With the hate, anger and fear stripped away Paul found “God” was there all along within him. Free of separation, Paul had found home.

Everyone must come out of his Exile in his own way.” – Martin Buber

 

Finding Home

My lack of identity of course was never the want for a physical location to call “home”. Like Paul I simply needed to find my own inner truth. I needed to learn who I truly was. I did not find it on some road in a physical sense but by facing myself, overcoming denial and surrendering my problems to a Higher Power. After decades lost I finally found home. Had I never experienced a type of personal and spiritual exile I would never had become that person. Socrates was right.

Exile need not be seen as a negative experience. Being driven from home can be traumatic but also cathartic. In exile one can sink in to despair or rise above the experience and become a better person. Philosophers like Epictetus and Seneca thrived in exile. Like the protagonist in Campbell’s “A Heroes Journey” the Exile is also on a journey that ends with the final and victorious return home.

“Exile is a dream of a glorious return. Exile is a vision of revolution: Elba, not St Helena. It is an endless paradox: looking forward by always looking back. The exile is a ball hurled high into the air. ” – Salman Rushdie

The Good Man

Who am I?

 

We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.” —C.S. Lewis

“I’m nice men”. – Han Solo

“Good Man that Cody” – Obi-Wan Kenobi

 

The Jedi Model

The Jedi can be described as a model of chivalry and dare I say it, manliness. They were after all inspired partly by the Samurai and the Arthurian Knights. The Jedi were not Warrior Monks in the classic sense. The primary role of the Jedi were to act as peacekeepers in the Galaxy. They represented the Senate on important diplomatic affairs and assumed senior military rank during conflict. They were a combination of Soldier, Diplomat, Mediator, Academic, Adviser and Teacher whose purpose was to serve the greater good. The traits and code of the Jedi is what set them apart. On this Earth there is no contemporary or historical comparison to the Jedi.

What interests those who look to the fictional model of the Jedi for inspiration is their character traits and virtues. Jedi had decorum, measure, tact and an ease in the way they carried themselves. A Jedi appeared to be as solid as a rock yet free of any great mental burden. The Jedi responded rather than reacted to the world around them, living in the present moment. Weighing each word and action carefully but without strain or hesitation. They were objective and rarely judgmental. Decisive and resolute without being rash. The Jedi also demonstrated etiquette in how they carried themselves and interacted with others. In many ways, Jedi were and remain ideal fictional role models for men; refined and Stoic. They had a sort of real world chivalry which was once valued but has now all but been lost in our world.

Why am I focusing on the male Jedi as opposed to all Jedi? Certainly there were many inspiring female Jedi. Ahsoka Tano was an exemplary Jedi though she never reached that rank.  Jedi Master Luminara Unduli  heroically commanded the 41st Elite Corps in many battles before she was executed under Order 66 by Palpatine. There were very many brave Jedi females among their male counterparts so why is it important to single out males?

 

Boys in Crisis

Males today are in crisis. Boys are falling well behind females in areas of academia and have less direction and are less driven to achieve on average than girls. Many boys are repressed of their natural propensity to be boys by the education system. Being “boyish”, competitive, boisterous and curious is frowned upon . With an absence of enough male mentors and good role models there is a generation of boys who are confused about how to behave in society, interact with peers and how to engage with and treat females. Many of the role models of today in politics, popular culture and sports seem to foster the worst type of attributes in boys today.

Traditional male roles have become blurred or expunged. To express a desire to be a warrior, protector or provider, something inherently masculine, is increasingly being scorned by a society that is beginning to treat young boys as merely “defective girls”.

The result of this “masculinity crisis” is a generation of boys who  are less likely to enter into higher education or gain meaningful employment than girls. Who are less likely to succeed in life. Technology has also provided a surrogate reality which promotes disengagement through instant access to online porn and round the clock computer games. Social media, smart phones and the instant random “hook up” culture has eroded the essential  social skills boys need to build meaningful relationships. Boys are conditioned to shirk responsibility and have become apathetic to the world they live in. Men are becoming a type of “Post-Modern Man-Child” obsessed with instant gratification and riding the mindless hedonistic carousel.

 

Initiation

In pre-modern cultures boys were initiated. The tradition provided a ritual for boys to enter into the world as a man with an inner moral compass and a heritage to pass on to the next generation. In my travels I have seen forms of this tradition in South America, the Middle East, Africa and Aboriginal Australia. I went through my own rite of passage through the misery of six months of Infantry basic training. In Star Wars, Luke Skywalker entered into manhood through the rite of training and initiation under the guidance of Yoda and the crucible of combat. The ritual of initiation is absent in our postmodern world. In its place is a growing number of confused uninitiated young men who are more likely to be depressed, angry and alienated than their forefathers were.

The emergence of the “Post Modern Man-Child” threatens the biological imperative of gene preservation. A larger proportion of millennial males will fail to meet a suitable long-term mate and become husbands and fathers. Those who do are less likely now more than ever to remain in that relationship and have access and provide paternal care to their children. A generation of boys are growing up without a paternal figure in the household. This is where the decline starts as the cycle will perpetuate. Society will eventually begin to unravel.

 

The Lost Boys

Boys eventually grow in to men. A man today is twice as likely to fall into drugs or alcohol  addiction, four times more likely to die a violent death or commit suicide than a female. Men are ten times more likely to be incarcerated. Men are still being sent to fight and die in wars at rates far higher than women. High risk, physically debilitating or dangerous occupations are still largely taken up by men. Although women have higher rates of mental illness, men are far less likely to seek help.  Funding for governmental support services for men’s health is also far lower than it is for women. The value of a man’s word has become diminished. Men are guilty of being afflicted with being born male.

The crisis facing males is largely ignored or glossed over by society. The problem is no longer a gender issue but an identity one. Women are largely empowered in our society and know who they are and what they want while men are increasingly finding themselves less sure about their place in this “Brave New World”. Struggling to navigate in an increasingly hostile world, males face an existential identity crisis. Boys are hurting. I see it every day.

I have a teenage son and like any parent want to see him thrive, grow, prosper and succeed. Boys have it a lot harder now than in my generation. I get the sense that Boys are wandering half lost through a world that looks down at them for who they are and what they are and represent; “The Patriarchy”. As a society we cannot afford to lose our boys to a notion of gender politics and victim-hood culture.

 

The Other Side

None of this is to intended to point an accusing finger at women. Women also have their own challenges. For example, the rate of anxiety, depression and PTSD is far higher in women than in men. Women endure far higher rates of domestic and sexual abuse than men. Fortunately society is not blind to this.

In progressive countries women’s rights have become largely  enshrined in law and cultural mindset. In many parts of the world, however, women still face horrendous abuse sanctioned by religion and culture. During a tour of duty in East Africa I witnessed the impact of slavery, genital mutilation, kidnapping and the forced arranged marriages of young girls to violent men. I saw the horrific consequences of systemic mutilation, torture and rape on women because of ethnic war and religion and the impact that had on the community. These injustices are widely recognized and condemned around the world but remain reality for millions of women and girls.

The point is that no one side has a monopoly on hurt and injustice;  everyone suffers. Men and women both.

 

Gender Wars

There appears to be a subtle war going on between the predominate genders, male and female. This is of course a struggle for domination that cannot be won by either side. We no longer live in a “Man’s World”. In my view the “Patriarchy” is already dead or at the very least dying in the west. Even the latest Star Wars movies alludes to this fact and infers the struggle between the masculine and feminine. We are reminded of destructiveness of male toxicity through the desperate and childish antics of Kylo Ren. The reckless and churlish nature of male expression in Poe Dameron is laid bare. Even when Poe’s intentions are noble they are still portrayed as wrong and incompetent. In “The Force Awakens” we find Han Solo turned out to be the “Dead Beat Dad”.

In “The Last Jedi”, my childhood hero and role model, Luke Skywalker struggles to “man up” as he trips over himself on Ahch-To. Luke constantly appears the cantankerous old man before self-sacrificing and finally redeeming himself as worthy.

The fictional Star Wars Universe used to remind me that males and females are strongest when they work together and complement each other. Princess Leia could keep up with the boys and fight her way out of a jam without needing a “White Knight” to rescue her or by losing her femininity. We adored her indomitable spirit. Luke and Han could put on a show of strength, determination and be the leaders they were meant to be while still revealing a chink in their armor and a weakness for friends. They had vulnerable compassion and a raw grit, a type of heroic chivalry born of self reliance and sacrifice that is all but dead today.

In the Clone Wars series, Ahsoka tempers Anakin’s darker emotions and he loves and respects her in return and watches over her. They made a formidable, unstoppable team.

When the feminine and the masculine are acknowledged and celebrated as different but essential parts of the whole we are enriched and bought closer to together. We should be encouraging boys to be men and ask men to step up once again and be good “manly” men.

 

Return to Chivalry

Perhaps we should be encouraging a return to chivalry and some old fashion values such as courtesy, civility and decorum. A Man should not be afraid to hold open a door for a lady, to offer to carry her burden or to court her with sincere charm, decency and respect. Even, if I dare suggest, to offer to pay for dinner. To be the Gentlemen. But chivalry is more than these things. It is the way a person lives and abides by a code of ethics, a personal philosophy for life.

Although I had a poor father role model and eventually took to alcoholism myself I still had a clear image of what a good man ought to be or should be. That image was partly inspired during my childhood by fictional characters like Luke Skywalker, Han Solo and Obi-wan Kenobi. I was lacking in real role models so I looked to fiction, the Star Wars mythology to provide a standard. Luke, Han and Kenobi were my role models of chivalry and manliness. My problem was that although I aspired to be that “ideal man” I failed largely through lack of self-awareness, confidence, knowledge and discipline.

Alcohol can possess a man and literally take his manhood. He becomes a shell of the person he once was. In recovery you start to reclaim more than your sobriety. You begin to discover what a Good Man is meant to be and you strive to become that.

 

The Good Man

So what is chivalry and manliness in these times? No two people will provide the same answer that would be accepted by everyone. I would argue that George Lucas can still provide a good role model through his beloved male characters in the Star War mythology. Let the words and actions of those characters be a guide for young men today.

 

Resolution

” No! Try not! Do or do not. There is no try.” – Yoda

 

It is OK to try and fail but to never try in the first place what you want to achieve is real failure. Having an Indomitable Spirit in every attempt to achieve a goal is a virtue that men have always admired. Finishing what you started, being true to your word and more importantly keeping your word shows resolution and true grit.

 

Compassion

 

“Compassion, which I would define as unconditional love, is essential to a Jedi’s life. So you might say, that we are encouraged to love” – Anakin Skywalker

“To answer power with power, the Jedi way this is not. In this war, a danger there is, of losing who we are.” – Yoda

 

A man shows compassion to all living things. Resisting passion and grasping attachment. The jealous possession of Love suffocates it. Love is given freely rather than taken being the gift that it is. Having compassion means that even in the darkest of times never lose your humanity.

 

 

Humility

 

“We can learn from others, but we must also learn from our own experiences and our own mistakes” – Luke Skywalker

“Suspend your judgment, and every being has something to teach you.” – Qui-Gon Jinn

 

Never confuse humility with lack of self-esteem or decorum. Humility is both. A man always admits when he is wrong and seeks to learn from his mistakes. A man knows he always has more to learn and never stops growing. The “silent type” who does not feel the need to be heard every minute and who measures his words and actions exercises humility as well as self-control. A humble man esteems and respects himself but neither puts himself beneath or above others. Humility means accepting there are lesser and greater men in the world.

 

 

Responsibility

“Every generation has its challenges to face, its own battles to win. Why should yours be any different? Running away from your responsibilities won’t solve anything” – Luke Skywalker

“Who’s more foolish, the fool or the fool who follows him?” – Obi-Wan Kenobi

 

Being a Man is taking responsibility for your actions and words. Allowing emotions to exist but not being owned by them. Accepting the responsibilities in your life as duty and sticking to them despite the inevitable doubts and hardships that come.

 

 

Self-Discipline

“The Force may not have a Light or Dark Side, but we do… and we must choose.” – Luke Skywalker

“No! Unfortunate that you rushed to face him… that incomplete was your training. Not ready for the burden were you.” – Yoda

 

Life is essentially about choices, the choices we are confronted with and what we do with them. The choices you make are entirely up to you. The challenge is to make the correct choices armed with the information, experience and knowledge that you have. Sometimes there is little more than intuition and a moral compass to help you in making that decision. This includes exercising temperance and moderation in all facets of your life. Being in control of your actions despite the tug of emotions. Having the self-discipline to make that correct choice and sticking to it is the hall mark of a man. Self ownership and self discipline is the mark of a man.

 

So what are you waiting for? Go out and Be Jedi, Be a Good Man.

 

Further Reading on Modern Chivalry:

https://www.theatlantic.com/sexes/archive/2012/12/lets-give-chivalry-another-chance/266085/

What If?

Brother’s Keeper

ANAKIN follows, and OBI-WAN cuts his young apprentice at the knees, then cuts off his left arm in the blink of an eye. ANAKIN tumbles down the embankment and rolls to a stop near the edge of the lava. 

ANAKIN struggles to pull himself up the embankment with his mechanical hand. His thin leather glove has been burned off. He keeps sliding down in the black sand. 

ANAKIN groans as he writhes in agony on the lava shore. Anakin stretches out his hand to Obi-Wan Kenobi. With an imploring face he whispers to Obi-Wan Kenobi;

ANAKIN: Help me, Master.

With a mix of grief and fury in his voice Obi-Wan replies softly

OBI-WAN: I will not..

ANAKIN’S eyes turn from blue to sith red. His grimace of pain recedes and his face takes on an expression of hate and fury;

ANAKIN : I hate you!

OBI-WAN: (continuing) . . . You were the Chosen One Anakin! It was said that you would, destroy the Sith, not join them. It was you who would bring balance to the Force, not leave it in Darkness. 

OBI-WAN picks up Anakin’s light saber and begins to walk away. He stops and looks back. 

OBI-WAN: You were my brother, Anakin. 

OBI-WAN (continuing): I love you but I cannot save you.

ANAKIN screams in rage

ANAKIN’S clothing blows into the lava river and ignites. Suddenly ANAKIN bursts into flames and starts SCREAMING. 

OBI-WAN looks in horror as ANAKIN becomes engulfed in flames. OBI-WAN can’t watch him as he struggles to climb the embankment, covered in flames. 

He runs back to Padme’s ship as ANAKIN drops, smoldering, near the top of the lava pit. 

–  Deleted, alternate scene “Revenge of the Sith” on Mustafar

 

“Do all things with love.” – Og Mandino

 

I often question myself. Some people say I think too much. Indeed I tend to think my way in to “What if” Land a fair bit.  That is the hall mark of a true alcoholic. “What If” is a proposition I often put to myself. I construct hypothetical scenarios and fantasies. Alternate lives and endings are imagined. “What if” my mother had not died when I was a child, what if my childhood had been “normal”, what if I had never started drinking, what if I’d stayed in the army, what if I’d chosen another partner, settled in another country or chosen another career, another path in life? What if I had kept drinking past my rock bottom and found it was only the first of the 9 circles of Hell?

 

Your only limitations are those you set up in your mind, or permit others to set up for you.” – Og Mandino

Edits

“What if” Lucas had followed a twisted idea he had for a dark ending and handed the final victory to the Sith in “Return of the Jedi”. At the final scene Luke stands over the body of Darth Vader. We see the face of Luke a mask of confusion and grief instead of compassion and empathy. A shadow passes over him and his demeanor changes and his face hardens. Stooping down he removes his Fathers helmet and places it on his head. Finally embracing the Dark Side that resides within, Luke proclaims himself the Master, the new Darth Vader. The “Imperial March” plays, the scene fades, credits roll….People stagger out the theater shocked, dazed and confused. What just happened?

The idea was quickly rejected. Lucas went on to produce a “Happy Ending” finale. Kids everywhere loved the Ewoks and the movie became a family classic instead of a dark tale of revenge and betrayal. We would have to wait twenty years to see the adorable child Anakin grow to become a mass murdering monster. More than a decade after “Revenge of the Sith” and we meet the deranged yet awkward son of Han Solo and Leia Organa; Kylo Ren.

 

Cuts

Everyone knows how the battle between Anakin and Obi-Wan played out on Mustafar in “Revenge of the Sith”. Anakin had his legs and arm cut off and was left to die, a lost cause, by his Master. In the deleted and alternate scene on Mustafar, Anakin comes to his senses momentarily and pleads for help. The voice was edited out of the final cut but you can still see Anakin voice “Help me, Master” with pleading eyes. Obi-Wan refuses and Anakin’s face contorts in to rage and hatred as his eyes turn yellow and red. Obi-Wan abandoned Anakin to his fate at his moment of need.

Despite everything that Anakin had done, the atrocities he had committed, there was still a spark of humanity in him. There was still a chance he could be saved. Anakin had called to his Master to help him come back from the brink. Lost in his own emotions of anguish, fear, disgust and righteousness, Obi-Wan failed a test of character thus condemning Anakin to his personal hell and the Galaxy to the Sith. Obi-Wan’s failure as a Jedi Master and his betrayal as a friend and mentor proved Anakin right about the Jedi.  I will never view the scene the same way ever again. It will play in my mind “As if” it happened not  as a”What If”.

Help me, Master” makes “Revenge of the Sith” so much more a tragedy than it already was. Lucas was wise not to include such a final and tragic twist in the movie. It would have been too dark and left the world in a worse place. But “What if” he had?

The revelation of the deleted line explained a lot of things in my mind; Darth Vader’s thirst for revenge, his quest to find Obi-Wan Kenobi. The cover up of Kenobi’s failure and betrayal of Anakin from Luke Skywalker. Perhaps it even spurned Obi-Wan’s willingness to finally face Darth Vader and free himself from physical existence by leaving himself open to Vader’s fatal blow. Perhaps his final act on the Death Star was a form of self redemption and reconciliation with a past that haunted Kenobi over the decades he waited in exile for an unknown fate. When it came, he embraced it with open arms.

 

Every defeat, every heartbreak, every loss, contains its own seed, its own lesson on how to improve your performance the next time.” – Og Mandino

 

Arcs

Star Wars is a constant reminder that the most unexpected twists in fate do happen. The possible alternate endings Lucas could have chosen for the stories are limitless. “What If” Anakin had come back from the brink and called to Kenobi to save him as he lay burning in anguish on Mustafar? “What if” Obi-wan had returned and lifted his friend up and saved him from the final fall? Carrying him on his shoulders, redeeming himself and Anakin.  In the end, Luke Skywalker did exactly that in “Return of the Jedi” redeeming Darth Vader instead of killing him and claiming his helmet, embracing evil and assuming the title of Sith Master.

Luke not only saved his Father he saved himself. That was his destiny. “What if” Obi-Wan ignored a desperate cry for help and it created Darth Vader? That his action sealed the fate of billions of lives across the Galaxy?

If you also include the stories from the Expanded Universe series one only scratches the surface of the realms of “What If” possibilities. It is fiction, a modern mythology but it is also the nature of reality. Our pasts are made up of “What Ifs”.

 

Let the past die” – Kylo Ren

 


Credit: Aquila–Audax Source: Deviant Art

Binds and Wings

“What If” can be a bind that tethers us to the past in remorse and regret. We become mired in the “What If’s” of our lives. Instead of learning from mistakes we define ourselves by them and ruminate endlessly on doors that opened and closed long ago. We pine over lost opportunities and the “one that got away”. It is the “What If” questions that challenges our assumptions or puts doubt to our life choices and beliefs. Your entire life is then up for revision, judgement and possible rejection.

“What If” can however also be a powerful tool for change as it opens up an infinite array of possibilities if we are prepared to free ourselves now. “What if” can be the vehicle with which you inspire and drive change in your life. By putting the question “What If” in to the present context we challenge ourselves and spur action. Instead of digging up lost opportunities we suddenly create new ones.

“What if” you take that job? Start training, eat better, get in touch with an old friend, go back to school, stop taking drugs, stop drinking, start meditating, learn a language, read more, spend more time outdoors, travel the world, be nicer to people, take a different view on life, love yourself more, take risks, live life…The list goes on. Only a decision to act on that “What If” is needed. The past is gone and no “What ifs” can change that.

Today will never happen again. Don’t waste it with a false start or no start at all.” – Og Mandino

 

If

Do you choose to waste time and energy in regret or do you use the past to empower the present and build a better future? Instead of asking “What If, I had done things differently” ask “What If I start to turn things around now“? What “if” I change right now?

How do you change?

“If I feel depressed I will sing.

If I feel sad I will laugh.

If I feel ill I will double my labor.

If I feel fear I will plunge ahead.

If I feel inferior I will wear new garments.

If I feel uncertain I will raise my voice.

If I feel poverty I will think of wealth to come.

If I feel incompetent I will think of past success.

If I feel insignificant I will remember my goals.

Today I will be the master of my emotions.”

– Og Mandino

The Lightsaber

What is it?
It’s your father’s Lightsaber. This is the weapon of a Jedi Knight. Not as clumsy or random as a blaster. An elegant weapon, for a more civilized age.

―Luke Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi

On the road to becoming a Jedi a Padawan is expected to build their own Lightsaber. The Lightsaber is more than a weapon it is an extension of the Jedi. The form, color and design of the Lightsaber reflects the character, persona and qualities of the Jedi wielding it. The Kyber crystals that provide the heart and power of the Lightsaber are earned through the ingenuity and resolve of the Padawan. The crystal chooses the Padawan through attraction. In many ways the Lightsaber is the Jedi and the Jedi is her Lightsaber. The Jedi wields the Force through the blade of the Lightsaber.

In “The Force Awakens”, Rey finds Luke Skywalker’s long lost Lightsaber. The same Lightsaber wielded by Anakin. Learning the location of the missing Jedi Master she finds him at the ancient Jedi Temple on the planet Ahch-To. In the last scene of the movie Luke is looking out over the ocean and turns to face Rey. The Jedi Master has aged and his eyes are wise but it is still the Luke Skywalker of old. Rey holds out the Lightsaber in front of her and he looks at it and then at her. The scene fades and the movie ends. The moment was memorable and spell binding. Luke is found and reunited with his Lightsaber, an indelible part of his history. The hero’s Journey begins to blossom once again.

 

The WTF moment

Fast forward to “The Last Jedi” and we find Luke and Rey still standing on the rock overlooking the windswept cliffs. They face each other. Luke takes the Lightsaber from Rey’s hand looks at it and then tosses it behind his back without a saying word. Rey stands speechless and watches the Jedi Master she has heard so much about, the Legend, storm off. I watched the scene unfold completely stunned as millions of others around the world did. Why would Luke do something like that? Was he mad?

I began to ponder that question over the months after I watched “The Last Jedi”. There have been many theories that have been raised online as to the cause of Luke’s actions. Some said that he was disillusioned with the Jedi Path and had turned in to a grumpy old crank and shut out the Force. Others thought that he had embraced a philosophy of non-violence and no longer required a Lightsaber.

I then began to explore the personal relationship between Luke and the Lightsaber in an attempt to understand the scene. If my personal conclusions satisfied me, then perhaps I could derive some philosophical meaning that could be applied in my life as a Real World Jedi. The story arc would have then served a purpose as Mythology should; to use story telling in explaining the world and passing on life lessons.

Luke Skywalker never built his first Lightsaber as Jedi normally do. He inherited his father’s, Anakin’s Lightsaber. In “A New Hope” Obi-Wan Kenobi presented Luke Skywalker with the Lightsaber. In the same scene he revealed to Luke that his father was a great Jedi who had been killed by Darth Vader. It was a defining moment in the entire Star Wars saga but the significance was barely noted. By handing Luke his father’s Lightsaber, Obi-Wan handed over a legacy and ignited a flame that would eventually grow in to an inferno that was ultimately felt across the Galaxy.

 

No, I’m your Father

Luke carried the Lightsaber in many battles and trained with it on Dagobah. The Lightsaber eventually had an unexpected ending. Luke lost it when his hand was removed during the infamous Lightsaber duel with Darth Vader on Bespin in “The Empire Strikes Back”. As Luke grappled with the grief of losing his treasured heirloom and the pain of losing his hand his world was further shattered. With impeccable style and timing, Darth Vader put some important untruths to end. Obi-Wan and Yoda had been lying along along and the man Luke thought had killed his beloved Father was in fact Darth Vader.

What a way to end a very bad day.

The heirloom was Luke’s destiny but it was not his Lightsaber. Luke did not find the Kyber crystal through his own trial. The Lightsaber had not been forged, built and wielded solely by him. In essence the Lightsaber still belonged to Anakin. It was an orphan. Obi-Wan had given him the Lightsaber and perhaps that was the Force at play or pure emotional manipulation. The heart of the Lightsaber still belonged to Anakin as much as Excalibur belonged to King Arthur and  the sword Anduril belonged to Aragorn in the “Lord of the Rings”.

The loss of the Lightsaber on Bespin was undoubtedly a good thing. Luke was better off without it. The Lightsaber held within it the essence of the fallen Jedi, his Father. Every stroke and battle, every emotion of loss, pain, anger, hate and fear which Anakin had been through was tied to the Lightsaber. Luke could pick up the Lightsaber and use it. But ultimately he was wielding a tool that had inflicted suffering. The blade been used to massacre innocents including the Younglings at the Jedi Temple when Anakin was turned by Palpatine. Had Darth Vader said his famous “I’m your Father” line while Luke still had his hand I have no doubt the Lightsaber would have been tossed in to the void in a reaction of revulsion and horror.

 

Where is your lightsaber, Lord Vader? Use its power! Defend yourself!
Lost in the fight with… Obi-Wan. He…took it.
That blade belonged to another. A Jedi. You are a Sith.

―Darth Sidious and Darth Vader

 

The Baton of Guilt

This makes me wonder if Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda were not a little irresponsible if unethical for withholding intimate truths from Luke and not disclosing the dark past of the Lightsaber he wielded. No doubt the truth would have been too great for Luke to bear. Perhaps both Jedi Masters were terrified that the chosen one would fall like his Father if he knew. They did what they had to do.

Luke did build a Lightsaber and it first appeared in “Return of the Jedi”. The Lightsaber would ultimately bring Darth Vader to his knees. The weapon became an extension of Luke. It carried his very essence but like his Father’s before him it also carried his fear and doubts.

Many years later in a moment of insanity Luke ignited his Lightsaber over his sleeping nephew Ben Solo. Luke had sensed a dark evil in his apprentice and in revulsion reacted with anger. Ben awoke and in his rage joined the Knights of Ren and became Kylo Ren. Later he destroyed the second Jedi Temple. Racked with guilt, Luke fled in to self-imposed exile deserting his family and friends.

Anakin’s long lost Lightsaber was found again decades after it had been lost in the Cloud City. The vision of it had appeared to Rey in her dreams. There was a connection. On the Planet of Takodana it hid and when by fortune or fate Rey found herself there in the very castle it lay hidden, it called to her and she took it up.

Later Rey used the blade in battle against Kylo Ren. The Force awakened, she wielded the Lightsaber with the skill of an experienced Jedi during the assault on Star Killer Base. Learning the location of Luke she traveled to Ahch-To and there returned the long lost Lightsaber to Luke. This was the very moment millions of fans had waited decades to see. Luke would at last take his Lightsaber like Aragorn took up Anduril and reclaim his destiny.

Wouldn’t he?

 

Credit: SW-daydreamer.tumbler.com 

No he would not.

 

When I left you, I was but the learner; now I am the master” – Darth Vader to Obi-Wan

Letting Go

Luke tossed the treasured heirloom off a cliff.…As shocking as that appears who can blame him? I can’t. Luke by now would have learned the full tragic story of his Father and Mother. The Lightsaber had its own story. It had been wielded for good and evil but ultimately it was tainted. I would not want such a reminder of a dark and painful past in my possession. Although an object can neither be viewed as “good” or “evil” on its own there is no denying that as humans we do attach associations, memories and stories to objects that give them a tone of “light” or “dark” and “good” or “evil”.

Alcoholics carry such a legacy of guilt. This is why making an inventory of faults and wrongs is so important. By confronting our dark past we can acknowledge the harm we have done to self and others. Sharing that burden with those we trust and a Higher Power gives us the strength to let go of those faults and finally “turn them over”. The guilt and shame dissipates. Forgiveness and amends sets the past right and allows us to move on with our lives free from past mistakes. We are no longer hostages to our past and tethered there emotionally and spiritually.

Given a few years of recovery you look back and no longer recognize the person you once were. The selfish Drunk of the past becomes as complete stranger. We would not go back even if we were promised heaven on Earth. That person, that past is nothing to us now. We have tossed that part of us over the proverbial cliff.

 

This one is mine. I no longer use yours.

―Luke Skywalker, to Darth Vader

 

The Unwanted

There is the possibility that Luke discarded the Lightsaber because he no longer attached any value to it. The Lightsaber was now simply a tool that provided no use to him. Given his utter indifference on seeing the Lightsaber held up to him it may have been possible that he simply rejected the return of his Lightsaber for no other reason than it was mere junk to him. Luke felt nothing for dusty heirlooms. The past was dead to him. It was nothing to him.

People evolve and grow and the things that were important to us in the past might not hold any value in the future. No matter what significance or meaning we attach to things, they are still things and nothing more. It is the perception in our mind of the thing which elicits attraction or revulsion. People fall out of love with things as often as they fall out of love with other people. Ideas and beliefs are no different. We are not tied to them and compelled never to challenge, revise or dismiss our ideas, biases and beliefs.

There is the final possibility that Luke recognized Rey as his pupil although he resisted it. Luke may have sensed that the Lightsaber was no longer his, but now hers. Rey was exasperated by Luke’s cantankerous and dysfunctional antics on Ahch-To.  What if Luke’s antics were nothing of the sort and simply intended to throw Rey completely and test her? After all did Yoda not play “games” with Luke on Dagobah? Anything is possible.

The Jedi Master reminded me of an Alcoholic who had been sent to rehab on a desert Island where there was no possibility of him getting any access to booze. Rey hands him his Lightsaber in the scene in “The Last Jedi” and there is a brief flicker of hope as if a stranger has bought him a bottle of Chivaz. When Luke looks down and sees its no malt whiskey in his hand but a Lightsaber he throws it behind his back in disgust and disappointment and skulks away to his hut to cry. That’s what I would have done back in the day.

Rey’s first reaction was to retrieve the Lightsaber and begin training with it. It may have been rejected by Luke but she saw purpose in it. Unbeknownst to her she had claimed a legacy which spanned more than half a century. Rey held in her hands a weapon which carried immense history and no doubt carries a purpose in the final conclusion of the Third Trilogy. There is the real possibility that she was meant to have it. The Lightsaber had become her destiny.

Luke, we are what they grow beyond. That is the true burden of all masters.” – Yoda

 

Memories

The relationship between Luke and his father’s Lightsaber is in many way an analogy of the relationships that people have with their past including people. If someone walked up to me and handed me my alcoholic past I would probably recoil and cast it aside as readily as I would reject the offer of a drink. For decades I tried to forget the first 18 years of my life and used booze to help. I own nothing from my childhood, not even a photo as a result. I threw away all mementos of that past away.

I don’t know if I could have faced my  Father again when he was alive because of those painful memories. For more than 25 years we never spoke or saw each other again. I had shut him out utterly. I’ve since made amends and forgiven him although he died before I had the chance to do it in person. That’s all I can do.

I know my past and at times I glance there when it serves to remind me of what I was but I avoid staring too long. Memories can be painful and sometimes we want to be rid of not only the memories in our minds but also the physical reminders of them. At some point we have to accept and move on.

Heirlooms are there to remind us of where we come from. They are passed from generation to generation and as long as they hold significance they are kept and treasured. Once things lose their meaning, they lose significance and they are thrown in the attic or end up in a garage sale. Luke simply rejected that symbol of his past by tossing it off a cliff. So it is with versions of ourselves. As humans we are made to shed older versions of ourselves, let go of old ideas and grow. Growth can be painful. When we were little children our bones lengthened and we ached and cried in pain. As we grow older it is the shedding of old ideas and habits for the new which is sometimes painful. It means the treatment is working, we are growing as a person.

I never forget where I came from and how I got to where I am. By confronting the past rather than ruminating on it I never forget what I need to do. I remind myself of the consequences should I fail. By learning rather than regretting we train ourselves to stand strong and resilient rather than being passive in self-pity and remorse. I have tossed the old Lightsaber of an alcoholic past over a cliff in the journey to be a better version of myself.

 

I see you have constructed a new Lightsaber. Your skills are complete. Indeed you are powerful, as the Emperor has foreseen.

―Darth Vader examining Luke Skywalker’s Lightsaber.

 

The Lightsaber Project

When I got sober I began building my new Lightsaber. It remains a lifelong project and is a metaphor for a Good Life. The goal is to continuously improve upon the old design to make something better. Aiming for but never reaching perfection.

The component parts of the Lightsaber are values and principles I have collected over time. Some of those parts have been upgraded and replaced as they wore out or were no longer in harmony with the rest. The assembled Lightsaber represents the combination of virtues I demonstrate. The Kyber crystal holds in its core the spiritual heart and soul of my Lightsaber. The form of the Lightsaber is the product of martial and physical training.  The weapon within my hands feels light, agile, confident and strong. I know it is my own Lightsaber, a reflection of me. I have built from the wreckage of the past and the trials of my own life.

In “The Last Jedi” Rey carries the broken Lightsaber on to the Millennium Falcon. The weapon was broken in two halves as Kylo Ren and Rey used the force to each claim it. As the Lightsaber split exposing the Kyber crystals the it exploded as the Force held within was released. Rey managed to grab the weapon and flee.

We don’t know yet whether we have seen the last of Anakin’s Lightsaber but my guess is that Rey will rebuild it in to something new and more powerful.

Each of us struggle with our own “Light” and “Dark” sides. Those two halves that perpetually struggle for ascendancy within our ego. Many who suffer from addiction fight a daily struggle between attraction and aversion, light and dark. Over time one side eclipses the other and the result is either recovery or relapse. We ultimately choose which path to take. A broken Lightsaber can be repaired and a lost Lightsaber can be replaced with one that is better. Life is no different, wear it like a loose cloak and be prepared to toss out the old for the new, pick up the pieces, rebuild, replace, learn and finally move on.

Heart

You are the Chosen One. You have brought balance to this world. Stay on this path and you will do it again… for the galaxy. But beware… your Heart…” – The Father (Future) “Ghosts of Mortis”

Anakin and Ahsoka Tano were a great team during the Clone Wars. Both had an immense amount of “Heart”. Two very different beings pushed together by a sage Yoda. The wise old Jedi Master saw the potential for perfect synergy between Ahsoka and Anakin when he paired them.  Both Jedi were head strong, loyal, dynamic, extroverted and mission orientated. They had a deep and intangible connection and were a perfect match.

Ahsoka Tano could bring Anakin down a rung and temper his wild emotions with her caring attitude. When Anakin wanted to charge in with Lightsaber flashing, only Ahsoka could hold him back. At the same time Anakin could mentor Ahsoka and get the very best out of her. The relationship was one of the most endearing partnerships in the Star Wars saga. The bond that existed between them even lingered after Anakin had fallen to the dark side.

Anakin was meant to bring balance to the Force. A shadow lay over Anakin since he was a child. Fear and anger turned to hate. Darth Sidious used that to lure Anakin to the dark side. In doing so he took whatever Heart Anakin had within him and snuffed the life out of it.

 

The Heart

“The heart will break, but broken live on” – Lord Byron

The Heart is an important and powerful symbol in all human cultures. The shape of the heart universally symbolizes love but also life and what the Greeks called “Eudaimonia”. Feelings of belonging, happiness and well-being. The bond which exists between members of a family, tribe and people. All of these things are represented by a Heart. Forms of the heart are seen on religious icons, medical and academic symbols and spiritual texts. It is a powerful and universal symbol. We express our love and affection for others, our pets and the planet through the shape of a heart.

In short, the Heart symbolizes love, life, strength, courage, compassion, forgiveness and hope. It is a strong and powerful symbol.

 

The Warriors Virtue

A good head and a good heart are always a formidable combination.” – Nelson Mandela

The word “Heart” is also a virtue. One of the first times I heard the word “Heart” used in the context of virtue was in the Army. During basic training we were taught the “code of the soldier”. We were told that the virtues of sacrifice, self-discipline, integrity, honor and heart were essential. All the other terms I was vaguely familiar. “Heart”? What was that? I imagined it meant being nice to people and kind to kittens. What sort of army was this?

I soon realized that “Heart” did not mean a rose coloured world of love hearts, kittens and unicorns. In fact the word “Love” was generally replaced by “Pain” and “Fear” at least in my experience. If you weren’t thrusting a bayonet in to a rubber and hessian bag hard enough and without a convincing blood curdling scream you weren’t showing “Heart”.  Showing a lack of commitment, courage and determination was having a lack of “Heart”.

 

Soldiers Heart

Your heart is free, have the courage to follow it.” –  Braveheart

The image of a Warrior was imprinted in to our minds. With complete acceptance and surrender to the system all you needed to bring was “Heart” and display the requisite virtues. This meant giving 110% and displaying self-discipline and obedience. Whatever you were doing whether it was in training or combat or ironing your parade kit and polishing brass and boots you showed “Heart”.  Never quitting. The standard, if achieved, ensured a successful career or at least a trouble free one.

A type of military “Eudaimonia” that came from full physical, mental and emotional integration to the corps was assured for those that toed the line. Divergence from the preferred model ensured a steady and spiralling decline in one’s prospects and a proportionate amount of grief. I soon found out that the military spoke about “Heart” but were heartless with those that did not assimilate.

 

 

Heart on a Sleeve

“Your vision will become clear only when you look into your heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakens.” – Carl Jung

My pursuit of a personal type of “Eudaimonia” led me to booze. Throughout my life I had been trying to find belonging and a place to call home. I wanted to be surrounded by people I cared for an who cared for me in return. The Army had seemed to offer this type of refuge. I found that it was a superficial illusion.

Disillusioned I sought “fellowship and happiness” through alcohol. I was trying to fill a hole that could not be filled by relying on things external to myself. It did not matter; being drunk at least filled a hole in my soul for a transitory period of time. The consequences of this error seemed worth it at the time.

 

Losing Heart

The less you open your heart to others, the more your heart suffers.” –  Deepak Chopra

Being an alcoholic in the real world is relatively easy. One can still function to a point. An alcoholic can still reasonably juggle drinking with work, family and other commitments. Eventually it catches up with her as the drinking gets worse and the hangovers more severe. People start seeing through the lies and deception. Employers start to offer counselling or support services, friends provide advice and family try to intervene. Sometimes it wakes the alcoholic up and they begin to recover. At other times nothing avails and she continues down the path to oblivion. At the end they sometimes find themselves alone in their misery. The “Heart” seems to die and we sense its loss.

The Army had many functioning alcoholics. The longer the service and higher the rank the easier it was to juggle booze. The consequence messing up and being exposed could lead to an end of career and public shaming that was spectacular as it was final.

My service was a paltry few years and I was lucky to have any rank at all. The support was non-existent. There were no counsellors or help offered. Alcoholics who had crossed the Rubicon were branded “defective, for disposal”. That is exactly what happened to me. If I had “Heart” at the time, I would not know. It had been replaced with anger, resentment and delusion. I felt completely dead inside. I stayed that way for a long time after.

 

The Fall

Ahsoka and Darth Vader battled. She the Rebel now fighting the Monster that was once her beloved master. A small flame still burned in Darth Vader, a memory of the man he had once been. A flicker of emotion and possibly regret and sadness came upon him as he faced Ahsoka. It was a shadow of Anakin. Like an autumn leaf it was swept away and Anakin was dead again. All that remained was a Sith Lord about to extinguish the life of a pathetic Rebel. If Darth Vader had a heart it must have been as cold and hard as a lump of coal.

 

I won’t leave you! Not this time.” – Ahsoka Tano

“Then you will die” – Darth Vader

 

The Redeemed

In the end it was only love and compassion that bought Anakin back to life. Heart rekindled, the Sith Lord receded and Anakin was redeemed. Love conquered the Dark Side.

 

The Flame

“Wherever you go, go with all your heart.” – Confucius

Losing “Heart” is like falling to the Dark Side. By being alcoholic I had lost whatever “Heart” I had. In recovery I discovered that it still existed if all but extinguished. Like a flimsy plant in shallow soil all it needed was to be tended with care and compassion.

Through compassion, love and self-honesty the “Heart” has grown over time. At times it has been buffered and stalled in its growth. Delicate flowers have reluctantly emerged from buds and occasionally bloomed. Fruits have grown, ripened and fallen sprouting new seedlings. The sun has encouraged growth, interrupted at times by passing clouds.

“Heart” may whither but it never really dies. Like coal is has the potential to take flame and burn fiercely. The Heart is perennial and we only need to look there to achieve our own “Eudaimonia”.

Never lose Heart. Whatever you conceive of the word hold it close to you and never surrender it.

 

Further Reading

“A Fighter’s Heart” by Sam Sheridan

Jedi Resilience

“Adventure. Excitement. A Jedi craves not these things,” – Yoda

Over the last few weeks we have been looking at resilience. Ways in which we can build on our resilience have been explored. Strategies aimed at maintaining a level of emotional and spiritual resilience have been suggested. We have considered where we can help others achieve resilience in their own lives.

Anyone with a sustained level of sobriety after years of abuse and addiction has a high degree of resilience. Survivors by nature are resilient beings. They have endured life’s hardships and trials and grown because of it. Rather than allowing harsh experience and tragedy drag them down in to self-pity and despair they have emerged as stronger human beings.

Jedi are resilient. Like warriors they train themselves physically and mentally for combat. Jedi undergo trials that test them to the limits of their emotional, psychological and spiritual endurance. Strong in the Force they become resilient enough to serve others and fulfill their purpose in life. I have seen professional soldiers, paramedics and law enforcement officers who show a high degree of resilience for the same reason. Rigorous training, sacrifice, self-discipline and dedicated commitment to purpose.

 

Resilience Virtues

What are the marks of a resilient person? They are the same as someone with a high degree of emotional sobriety. Resilient people don’t pursue hardship but they are prepared for it. When faced with adversity they use the opportunity to improve themselves. Fear is conquered and transmuted to purpose and outcome. The resilient are not afraid of change and seek the “road less travelled” in their journeys.

Resilient people are realistic with themselves and with others. Self-honesty is seen as a high virtue. Resilient people understand and accept that the world owes them no favours. They make their own opportunities. As a result the resilient achieve a high degree of equanimity in life and a high level of awareness. They are prepared for almost anything and rarely taken by surprise. The resilient are equipped to help themselves and are prepared to help others where needed.

 

Practice make Progress

Patient practice leads to progress. Being aware that you only have what is within your control. You have reasoned choice and command of your rational mind. All is else that reside external to you may be your and then be taken away at any point. Use the tools provided. You will know you have made progress when all choices in life become either the preferred or the non-preferred indifferent. You accept what comes and goes with equanimity and grace.

The “eight worldly concerns” of desire and aversion no longer hold you. Material possessions no longer become a priority. The loss of wealth and possessions no longer upsets or angers. There is no delight in the praise of others or misery in their criticisms or condemnation. Reputation either good or bad is largely outside of your control as are your status and position. Fame and adulation do not concern us.

Happiness and sadness are transitory emotions that we accept as part of life. To fear the loss of happiness brings anxiety and suffering.  No amount of wishful thinking makes suffering go away. Practicing principles is the path to freedom from suffering. From principle springs virtue. The goals of the Jedi Code are realized; Serenity, peace, harmony, knowledge and the Force.

 

False Peaks

It’s not hard to imagine Jedi showing these traits.  Being Jedi is in fact all of these things. It is that simple. The example of the Jedi can provide an azimuth for us to follow. We can see the destination in the distance and move towards it.

Self-improvement however is like a mountain with many false peaks. We struggle up the slope, slipping backwards and stumbling forward sometimes. The peak appears before us and we haul ourselves toward it arriving in relief. With exasperation we realize that we have landed on a false peak and the slope continues before us climbing in to mist and the unknown.

I have climbed many mountains like that, literally and figuratively. The difference is that we only reach the summit of our mountain when we die. Self-improvement is a lifelong climb and at times a great struggle. Sometimes the path is easy and the sun shines through the clouds. At times the road is difficult with many slips, trips and falls.  Always be prepared for false peaks and never forget that life can sometimes resemble a game of chutes and ladders. We only truly arrive at the end of our life.

 

The Promises

When I first read the “Big Book” of AA I found a passage that spoke so loudly to me that I re-read it many times. The paragraph provides an image of what could be accomplished through living the 12 Steps and applying spiritual principles. I visualized myself being that person which the passage described. The description resembled something close to enlightenment. I searched further and found out that the passage is famous in the recovery community and is called the “12 Promises”.

  1. We are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness.
  2. We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it.
  3. We will comprehend the word “serenity”.
  4. We will know peace.
  5. No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others.
  6. That feeling of uselessness and self-pity will disappear.
  7. We will lose interest in selfish things and gain interest in our fellows.
  8. Self-seeking shall slip away.
  9. Our whole attitude and outlook on life will change.
  10. Fear of people and economic insecurity will leave us.
  11. We will intuitively know how to handle situations which used to baffle us.
  12. We will suddenly realize that God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves.

Are these extravagant promises? We think not. They are being fulfilled among us – sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly. They will always materialize if we work for them.

(Alcoholics Anonymous pg83-84)

Build Resilience: Pay it Forward

Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi. You’re my only hope.” – Princess Leia

In the opening act of Star Wars we see the Corvette “Tantive IV” under attack by an Imperial Star Destroyer. On board the Tantive IV is Senator Leia on a diplomatic mission from the Imperial Senate to her home planet Alderaan. Moments before the Tantive IV is seized by Imperial Storm Troopers Leia hides a desperate call for help inside the Droid R2D2. The message, along with information crucial to the survival of the rebellion, would find itself to Luke Skywalker on Tatooine and to Obi-wan Kenobi. It was a call for aid that would trigger a series of events that would change countless lives and ultimately the destiny of an entire Galaxy. One call for help would ultimately prove an ancient prophecy true and bring balance to the Force.

 

Comrades

A common perception is that we must tough life out by ourselves. This is a common view among men. The “suck it up Princess” mentality is something I see every day in my line of work. In the Army we were expected to rely on each other as a team to get the job done. There was no shame in asking for help from the man beside you when you could not help yourself. We had each other’s back.

There were caveats. If a guy in the Platoon was having personal issues or going through an emotional crisis it was different. Showing weaker emotions was not accepted and everyone was expected to sort themselves out. If a guy had had a bust up with a girlfriend for example we took him out and got him drunk. That was the protocol for a broken heart or other emotional issues. Booze was the ultimate remedy. If a person could not carry their emotional baggage on the job, they were a liability.

Emotions not expressed as aggression, pride, competitiveness and other Alpha Male qualities were not welcome in our midst. It was the overpowering and addictive pull of masculine toxicity which defined us.

Don’t be ashamed to need help. Like a soldier storming a wall, you have a mission to accomplish. And if you’ve been wounded and you need a comrade to pull you up? So what?” – Marcus Aurelius

 

The Wounded

The fact that so many wounded warriors are now struggling with PTSD and depression is no surprise. Around 22 veterans in the United States commit suicide every day. Even invincible heroes have scars that lie hidden and run deep. “Suck it up Princess” no longer cuts it and it probably never did.

Suicide is one of those topics we don’t like to talk about. Even today it is still a taboo subject among many. Most of us know of someone who has lost a battle with depression and taken their own life. It goes without saying that we are only human. People are vulnerable and fragile even beneath the physical and mental armor.

Suicide was one of those “options” that tugged at my sleeve. The “Black Dog” would visit and suicidal thoughts would pass like a dark cloud. The truth was I enjoyed wallowing in self-pity and imagining how I could hurt others. I had the insane notion that I would gloat in self-satisfaction after expunging myself from existence. The reality was that I was far too much of a morally bankrupted coward to take the idea past depraved mental masturbation.

Accepting things as they are. Surrendering to a Higher Power. Recognizing the harms done to self and others. Taking steps daily to improve one’s self. Helping others. Who has time for self-pity with all of that? With recovery, thoughts of suicide dissipated along with the depression and anxiety.

Sometimes, accepting help is harder than offering it.” – The Clone Wars “Legacy of Terror”

 

Ask and Give

Recently on “Temple of the Jedi Order” I saw a thread about suicide. A number of people related how people known to them had committed suicide. They had “felt” something was wrong and now regretted not saying anything or doing anything. In many cases they had simply failed to recognize the signs and warnings. Most people aren’t trained to identify warning signs. Many times they may be subtle or absent.

Many people also don’t like to ask for help. They want to work it out alone. Speaking to others is a last resort. There could be a large number of reasons for this social, cultural or personal. Once help is sought it can turn everything around. Being alcoholic I shunned any offer of assistance and resented it. If I needed help then I had a problem. If there was a problem, change was needed. The problem was admitting to a problem in the first place. So we stay in a hole until life becomes so uncomfortable we are forced to seek help. Finding it we start to see the doors in our mind open and we begin to help ourselves.

Compassion and empathy are Jedi virtues. Jedi are expected to be willing to render aid and provide support where they can  and where it is needed. We listen with an open heart and without judgement. We can give our undivided attention without imposing conditions. It may not seem much but it might be all that’s needed to make all the difference.

Being Jedi is not forcing help on others. We help those willing to listen. In the 12 Steps we only “carry the message”. We listen and offer what assistance we can. Whether or not it is accepted or if our aid helps is out of our control. Be mindful that an offer of help does not mean “I will carry your burdens for you”.

Never forget that It is not unusual for us to neglect our own needs in meeting the needs of others. Be prepared to ask for help as well. By speaking to someone, a family member, a friend, a counselor or a sponsor it could make all the difference.

Remember. In Star Wars it was a lonely plea for help from a stranger that pushed Luke Skywalker in to action and ultimately into a journey of self-discovery, redemption and triumph.

I know God will not give me anything I can’t handle. I just wish that God didn’t trust me so much.” – Mother Teresa

 

Pay if Forward

The book “Pay it Forward” by Catherine Ryan Hyde and the movie adaptation inspired many people when they came out in 1999. The story tells of a twelve year old boy who’s simple and brave actions in helping a stranger starts a movement that changes the world. It starts with an idea and then a simple gesture of kindness to a fellow human being. By “paying it forward” the flow of energy expands outwards, snow balling in to something that captures the world’s imagination.

“Pay if Forward” is a work of fiction as much as “Star Wars: A New Hope” is. The message is that every person has the power to help another. We are all on this rock together and have more in common than we know. Help, selfless altruism is a universal virtue. The power of help is universal.

Listening to others share their troubled and sharing our own is the basis of group therapy as used in the fellowship of AA.  Likewise being Jedi is being receptive to others and providing support where we are able. We know what goes around comes around. “Paying it Forward” is more than a catch term, it is the ballast that keeps society afloat. It also keeps many Alcoholics from sinking back into abuse.

Helping others without expecting anything in return keeps the energy flowing. Being of service, small acts of kindness replaces anger and fear with empathy and a sense of purpose. Those acts then take a life of their own. When help is offered to those that need it we are making a positive change, if only for a short time. By helping others we help ourselves. We pay it forward but we get to keep it too.

Because it proves that you don’t need much to change the entire world for the better. You can start with the most ordinary ingredients. You can start with the world you’ve got.”  – Catherine Ryan Hyde

 

Self Help Exercise: Storming the Wall

We are conscious of our own thoughts and emotions. Some of us have trouble responding to extremes of emotions or unruly and chaotic thoughts. Emotions are meant to tell us how our internal world is coping with life. The mind is meant to help us to make choices congruent with our values. The trick is not acting on impulse or allowing emotions to rule our judgement and decisions.

I sometimes take a moment to shine a light on my thoughts and feelings. It’s a method I learned from Eckhart Tolle’s “Power of Now”. Especially when troubled I will pause and ask myself “what am I thinking?” and “what am I feeling? I become an impartial observer to my own thoughts and feelings. A light is thrown on my inner world and any negative thoughts are reasoned with and let go. Negative emotions exposed by the light are transmuted and dispersed through a simple act of mindfulness. There is no struggle. I have helped myself over the wall. I am returned to the power of the moment.

We may be resilient but like the soldier storming the wall we could use the occasional hand to help us up.

 

 

Build Resilience: Be Prepared

“Han Shot First” – The Jury

“Last Resort” is a word I often hear in martial arts and in everyday life. Simply put it is to use martial arts when unable to defuse or deescalate a situation or when evasion is no longer an option. If the situation deteriorates further you may need to then resort to whatever means are available to take an opponent out of a fight. It has become a fight for survival, the last place you last wanted to go. Playing by the rules no longer applies. Are you prepared to do whatever it takes?

You sometimes have to be prepared to resort to actions that might shock or appall you and others. The alternative might be serious injury or death. Are we trained and ready to handle  emergency situations in life?

Police Officers, Paramedics and Soldiers get training in dealing with situations that would leave most people unable to act mindfully. Most people faced with a crisis will go into an automatic fight, flight or freeze response none of which may serve. Most of the time its because they are unprepared.

 

The Cantina

That’s the idea. I’ve been looking forward to this for a long time” – Greedo
“Yes, I’ll bet you have”. – Han Solo

When Han Solo faced Greedo in the Mos Eisley Cantina he did not hesitate to shoot the Bounty Hunter first. It was a casual and cold blooded act at odds with the Solo we are presented with in the backstory movie “Solo”.

Han knew that Greedo would have just as easily killed him. Instead of waiting he put a blaster laser bolt in to the Rodian and casually walked out of the Cantina tossing a coin to the Bar Keep.

Earlier, Obi-wan Kenobi had not hesitated to take off the arm of an aggressor with his Lightsabre when the trouble maker was trying to start a fight with Luke. The Master Jedi realized that it was pointless trying to talk down the Alien Pirate when Ponda Baba reached for his blaster.

 

Ready and Able

Sorry for the mess” – Han Solo

Han Solo did not react in panic. When he reached for his blaster and shot Greedo it was an instinctive reaction that had been drilled in to him after years of living the life of a smuggler. Dealing with scum bags like Greedo came with the territory.

Obi-wan was also acting out a trained response to a threat. The only difference between Obi-wan Kenobi and Han Solo was the intent and the outcome when faced with a crisis. Ponda Baba lost his arm, Greedo lost his life. Violence for Jedi was a last resort while for Han it was a simple case of “kill or be killed” and worry about the consequences later.

Whatever the difference Jedi and Smugglers had to keep a cool head in a Galaxy where a multitude of enemies were out to get them.

Han was never not ready and able. Neither was Obi-wan. Alone in the desert Kenobi came face to face with his old foe, Darth Maul who had come seeking final revenge. Decades had passed. As Lightsabres flashed, Darth Maul was cut down by the old Jedi in three short moves. Kenobi was more prepared than the angry and hateful Dathomirian.

Han Solo  decades later faced his son Kylo Ren ready for whatever might happen but seeking forgiveness. Obi-wan sought out his old friend and apprentice and was cut down by Darth Vader. The Jedi Master was prepared for the final act and perhaps planned it.

 

Ill-Prepared

If you define yourself by your power to take life, to desire to dominate, to possess, then you have nothing” – Ob-wan Kenobi

I have been in fair number of fights, none of which I’m proud of. Most of them I was drunk and the scene was never pretty. My last punch up was probably 25 years ago. Fortunately even as a heavy drinker I eventually learned that fighting was a last resort activity. It was something that could ruin a good night and disrupt a night of drinking.

Anger and frustration played at a world in which I could not find peace. Without calm I was ill prepared for life so I fought against the tide.

I also scared myself. If I lost it I could do something that was beyond a last resort but a primal and mindless act I would wake up to and regret forever. Knowing my inner Demons helped in many ways to keep them on a chain if not completely at bay. Unfortunately this meant largely isolating myself from others and getting drunk alone in exile with my Demons, the greatest of all was Fear.

Fear of the present, fear of the future and fear of not knowing what I would do when “it” happened.

 

Get a Grip

One way to build enough resilience to remain calm in a crisis is to rehearse and play out possible scenarios in your mind before they happen. Imagine how you might react in a situation. Observe yourself remaining calm and focused. Be prepared.

Decide what you would do in the situation. See that playing out in your mind’s eye. It might be any type of scenario. You may have a difficult meeting to attend at work, disagreement with a co-worker which has the potential to explode, a run in with an aggressive drunk in a Bar, an altercation in traffic, a medical emergency on the street, being a bystander (or a victim) of a robbery, getting dumped by your girlfriend or boyfriend, news of a personal loss and so forth. There are countless scenarios that could play out. We cannot rehearse them all but we can work on being prepared for the worst case scenario and respond in a way that does not make it worse.

 

Wrestling Demons

“The art of living is more like wrestling than dancing, in so far as it stands ready against the accidental and the unforeseen, and is not apt to fall.”  – Marcus Aurelius

Being able to deal with “scenarios” by keeping a cool head is essential in recovery. Most alcoholics know what their triggers are. The difference between someone in abuse and someone in recovery is how they handle those triggers. Everyday we wrestle with Demons that clamor to rise to the surface.

If I didn’t run into issues that provided me with an excuse to get drunk I created them out of my own design. I would start a disagreement or act in a way that attracted drama and controversy. It was partly attention seeking and partly contempt for those around me. I could manipulate people well enough to achieve the desired outcome. Being selfish, disagreeable, offensive and belligerent, it wasn’t hard! Soon enough I had the opportunity and the excuse to get drunk.

Recovery is an exercise in self-discipline, crisis management, conflict resolution and finally impact mitigation. We do not try to hide from life in order to avoid scenarios where our virtues may be tested to their limits. Instead we engage with life head on expecting that daily we will encounter difficulties.

Never forget that we are only human. We may be able to convince ourselves that we are ready for the “accidental and the unforeseen” and then get blindsided by something we weren’t prepared for. It could be a snide remark at the wrong moment or a major catastrophe. Adding to the drama only makes it worse. Being sensitive people it might be enough to tip us over in to relapse.

 

One Day at a Time

When you wake up in the morning, tell yourself: the people I deal with today will be meddling, ungrateful, arrogant, dishonest, jealous and surly .” – Marcus Aurelius

Marcus Aurelius had a way of dealing with difficult people and the constant challenges of being Emperor. Being a realist Marcus realized that he could not avoid them and that the best way to deal with it was to fully accept his day would be beset by difficulties. This does not mean he was an eternal pessimist who was resigned to every day being as bad as the last. In fact he welcomed the day because he realized it for the gift it is, another day to improve and hopefully make a difference not in spite of the inevitable challenges and difficulties but because of them.

Ancient Rome was a complex and treacherous place to be a ruler. Rome would devour those that were not ruthless enough or wise enough to navigate it safely. The Star Wars universe was no different. The world today can be that way too. The lesson that I take from the Star Wars mythology is to be constantly aware and to expect the unexpected especially when everything seems to be going well and as planned.

 

Stay Calm, Be Ready

When you arise in the morning, think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive – to breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love.” – Marcus Aurelius

Being prepared is not only being switched on to what is happening around you, but also what is happening within you. It is also being conscious of the present moment. Being attuned to change and being able to anticipate what it going to happen next. It is about allowing our intuition to do its work and being one step ahead of Jabba the Hutt or the “accidental and the unforeseen” of the Stoics.

Hopefully we never find ourselves in a situation where our resolve is put to the test beyond our known limits. I for one sometimes wonder how I might deal with an immediate threat and use self talk and visualization to rehearse a mindful response.

We can also rehearse scenarios through practice. Practicing poverty through self denial and voluntary hardship is one way. Negative visualization is another daily practice. Taking up martial arts which uses reality based scenarios is another way to prepare for the unthinkable. Any form of mental or skills training which prepares us for the worst case scenario is never wasted.

None of us can truly know our selves inside out. We don’t know what we might do as a “last resort”. What we can do is be ready for the “accidental and the unforeseen”. The world is chaotic and the Greedo’s and Ponda Baba’s sometimes impose themselves in to our lives if we are ready or not. It can be a predator or it can be getting blindsided by life. Be ready to reach for you light saber or blaster if you can’t avoid or defuse. Keep your cool and most of all your humanity but be ready to leap in to action.

Always be prepared.