Living like a Stoic Jedi

Stoic Week

For the last seven days I have been living like a Stoic. For those that are not aware the international group called “Modern Stoicism” hold an annual conference in one major city to discuss Stoicism and how the philosophy can be applied in modern times. After the conference invitees and the global community are invited to try living like a Stoic for a week. This year several thousand people signed on to the free event and put the Stoic practices to work in their own lives. Following a week participants were invited to complete a life satisfaction survey and compare results with the same survey taken the week before. Given that the exercise only went for a week it is unlikely that people new to Stoicism would find much difference in their lives however we can agree that the philosophy does has a lot to offer.

So why is someone who promotes and advocates Jedi philosophy so inclined towards Stoicism? What are the similarities between Stoicism and Jedi philosophy? Why should we care?

 

The use of Philosophy

Well the goal of Jedi Philosophy is to achieve “world betterment through self betterment”. Stoicism is pretty much the same. Many people out there are in to self improvement and there is nothing wrong with that. I have been embarking on self improvement campaigns of one sort of another most of my life. The problem that I and many other people had was the underlying motivation and intent that went in to our efforts to improve. We wanted to be “better” but not necessarily better people. Practical philosophies help us to identify our values, define our goals and keep us motivated in our efforts to be a better person and live a better life.

 

Motivation

We can decide to do something about our weight and fitness. Getting ripped at the gym to look better is great but if we are doing it only to impress other people with our physique then it’s actually a little pretentious and fake. If your motivation and goal is to be fitter and healthier so that you can improve your quality of life and be a better partner, friend, father, mother and so on then you are trying to be a better person. Studying philosophy simply for the purpose of being able to quote dead people in front of your friends might be impressive for a while but unless there is genuine application of the philosophy in your life then it’s shallow and not going to impress anyone for long.

Having a personal philosophy for life helps us to align our values with our goals in life. We find that having a goal to be rich and famous and own lots of stuff no longer has the appeal it once had. Being a better person and living with virtue becomes more important than superficial goals. What’s your motivation?

 

Appearances

I’ll share a secret; I’m an alcoholic but I won’t tell anyone unless it serves to help them in their own pursuit of sobriety. I don’t look like an alcoholic, few people do and how would we imagine an alcoholic to look like anyway? I’m also Jedi, not a light sabre wielding, cloak wearing Jedi Knight who can move objects using the Force but a person who applies the virtues and principles that are common to the Jedi fictional archetypes. That does not mean I go around telling people that I’m a Jedi. There is no such a title in our universe and to go about claiming to be one is not sane behavior. I can treat the noun Jedi as a verb and be Jedi. If you saw me walking down the street you would not be able to pick me for a Jedi. Even if you got to know me you would never think to ask “Are you a Jedi?” anymore than you might guess that I am an alcoholic who has been sober for a long time. I would hope that my actions and words demonstrate the virtues I imagine to be common to Jedi. If they do, then the philosophy has served me.

 

Just People

The Stoics were no different. In ancient times Stoics were very much a part of mainstream society. They had received their training and mentoring through schools of Stoicism and then moved in to jobs and careers pretty much the way people do these days after receiving an education. The Stoics were taught a formula for living that would help them get through life on life’s terms. They were given the psychological tools to master their response to emotions and better handle the challenges they were presented with. The Stoics were not a grim bunch of men who were flaccid about life and completely void of emotions because they felt life was not worth getting worked up about. On the contrary the Stoics were fully engaged in life. They were leaders in commerce and  civil, military and political spheres. The Stoics included artists and musicians, military strategists and politicians, emperors and slaves as well as ordinary people on the streets of Athens and Rome. For the most part they were indistinguishable from other citizens except in their unique and pragmatic approach to life. People who practice Stoicism today are no different, they are military, academic, business leaders in our society and every day people like you and me.

 

Shared and Common

Jedi Philosophy shares a lot of similarities with Stoicism. The Stoic concept of God as being the all matter in existence and a universal reason or primordial fire is similar to the concept of the Force. We are all luminous beings but we are also crude matter as well.

The Stoic ethics and virtues of wisdom, courage, justice and temperance are similar to the core Jedi virtues and states of peace, serenity, harmony, knowledge and the Force as cited in the Jedi Code. The Jedi Code is the basic point of reference for all Jedi. The code being underpinned by principles of objectivity, reason, self discipline and justice. Passion and dark emotions such as anger, fear and hate are seen as a sure path to suffering. The Dark Side is to turn over to these dark emotions, a personal rock bottom. The Stoic branches of Logic, Physics and Ethics find common ground in Jedi philosophy.

None of this means that Jedi Philosophy is Stoicism. Jedi also share similarities with Buddhism, Taoism, Humanism and other traditions. Jedi Philosophy puts a great deal of importance on meditation and physical fitness while Stoicism does not. To be Jedi is to be prepared to practice both, daily if possible. The philosophy puts a great deal of emphasis on balance between our mental, emotional, physical and spiritual needs.

Stoicism and Jedi Philosophy both place a great deal of emphasis on duty and self discipline. Daily spiritual practices are also encouraged by both. Jedi Philosophy urges physical fitness, meditation, etiquette and service to others, Stoicism teaches daily reflective practice such as self dialogue, negative visualization, mindfulness, contemplation and self reflection. Stoicism places a great deal of importance on duty and integrity. Many of the Stoic practices have been borrowed and modified in modern Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. We also believe that Jedi Philosophy can help people achieve a sense of calm, serenity, peace and purpose in their lives. It helped me stay sober.

 

Keep Practicing

So this week we covered seven major themes as we explored Stoicism. I would argue that each can be regularly visited and practiced to get real benefit. Any practical philosophy requires consistent application and practice. Self discipline is required if we are to make an honest go of it.

 

  1. Taking Stock: Sit down and contemplate where you are currently at in life. What are your goals? Are your actions consistent with achieving those goals? What are your values and are you living in accordance with them? Daily self reflections is a great tool we can use to keep us on track. Start the day with a morning meditation and end the day with an evening review.
  2. Commit to Change: If we want something out of life that requires change on our part then we must be prepared to change. Firm commitment is required. We cannot expect things to improve for us on their own. Focussing on the things what we can change we take action. We have to accept that things may not work out the way we want despite our efforts. Doing what we can do is up to us the outcomes are largely out of our hands and we must be prepared to accept them.
  3. Virtue: Clarify your core values, they are all you truly have. When we know what our core values are and commit to them we are more likely to stand by our principles. Our life becomes consistent with our stated values and guide our decisions.
  4. Relationships: Be mindful in your relationships with others. Are your relationships productive and mutually beneficial? Are they co-dependent or interdependent? Be prepared to apply your values and principles in to your relationships. Be a better partner, father, mother, sibling, friend or co-worker but be prepared to never compromise on your own core values.
  5. Community: We are part of a global community, a member of a big family. Be prepared to look past the differences, look for the similarities between you and others.
  6. Perspective: Be willing to take a “step back” to appreciate the “Big Picture” while never losing sight of the finer details. Learning to be able to look at life from different angles, close up and from a distance helps us get a better appreciation of our place in the world and the interrelationships between us and others and our environment. We are strands in the rich tapestry of creation.
  7. Resilience: Being realistic and pragmatic is accepting that life is also suffering. Loss is inevitable. Sometimes it pays to contemplate the impermanent nature of things and realize their loss. Negative visualisation helps us fortify ourselves for that inevitability by contemplating it beforehand. By practicing poverty we can also harden ourselves for leaner times and better appreciate what we have over what we want.

 

MTFBWY

Perspective

The Forest for the Trees

Have you ever looked at an image and then zoomed right in? As the image is magnified focus is shifted to the part of the image being magnified. We magnify further and the periphery of the image moves out of view. Eventually the image becomes a single pixel of either red, blue or green in a sea of similar pixels that differ only in color and tone. Zoom out and the image starts to reveal itself until it’s full extent is revealed in complete clarity.

 

“Whenever you want to talk about people, it’s best to take a bird’s eye view” – Marcus Aurelius

 

We all know that digital images are comprised of millions of pixels. Likewise a view of the Earth from our level on the surface is far different from a view from space. Down here we can discern individual trees in a forest. Looking down from the international space station we would see a patch of green that would indicate a forest. From orbit the world looks peaceful and serene and at ground it is chaos. A sense of perspective is important if we want to get the detail as well as the big picture.

 

Attention to Detail

Our lives also require perspective. We need to be able to see the big picture outside of ourselves as well as our immediate view and inner self (intuition). Often we are satisfied with what we see and we don’t dig any deeper and we don’t take an overview of all aspects of a particular issue. The result is we end up missing vital information and we fail to see the interrelationships between one thing to another. We miss out on important facts and lose perspective. Decisions are made on incomplete information and conclusions are drawn on inaccurate or false information. We think we have all the answers but in fact we don’t. This can lead to trouble.

One of the jobs of a leader is to take a broad as well as narrow view. As an Infantry Grunt I was often oblivious of the “big picture”. When decisions were made at the higher echelons and passed down they rarely, if ever, came with a rationale or a detailed explanation. The expectation was that we followed orders and did not question them. Information was “need to know”. Most people are happy with a narrow perspective and being given screened, drip fed information that is limited in nature. I resented it and failed to understand that I was only told what I needed to know and for my own good. My job was to do my job and pay attention to detail. The brass had their job cut out trying to coordinate their responsibilities within a far bigger picture than I was aware of. As I learned my job and gained responsibility the “unknown, unknowns” became smaller.

 

 

Story lines

The “Big Picture” is the tool George Lucas used in his construction of the Star Wars saga. Each of the movies offers pieces of a jigsaw puzzle that only provide a glimpse of the whole story. As the saga unfolds, more pieces are added to the puzzle and a picture begins to emerge.

The story of how and why Anakin became Darth Vader became apparent slowly over the prequels. The insidious corruption of the Republic from within and the rise of the Sith and the fall of the Jedi at the end of the Clone Wars was also fully revealed in the prequels and the “Clone Wars” series. The truth of Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia became apparent over a period of 8 years that the original trilogy took to run from the opening scene to the final credits.

The whole story is a series of fragments told from different perspectives stitched together. The story continues to unfold; who is Rey? What’s with Luke? Kylo Ren? When all the fragments have been gathered the Big Picture will come in to view. Hidden answer will be revealed.

 

 

Bad Decisions

The problem with many people, including alcoholics, is they lack perspective and are incapable of appreciating the “Big Picture” and they often miss the detail too. Being selfish and self indulgent creates a narrow egocentric view of life. Everything is about “me, me and me” and what is good for “me”. We fail to consider the consequences of our actions, words and thoughts and only see the immediate benefit that is imagined but often fails to materialize. For example, a person can decide to stop at a bar after work in order to unwind, a drink is ordered and then another. Eventually the person staggers out of the bar and steps in to his car. Driving home he fails to see a Stop sign and drives through it hitting another car.

The consequence of this event are lives destroyed, homes up turned, years in jail and decades of sadness and regret. The sequence of events leading to that point are the detail, the “Big Picture” is the outcome; the dozens of people affected and the lives ruined by one stupid mistake. There is no turning the clock back.

What’s the excuse, the reason for this tragedy? For addicts, where there is a compelling need everything else fades in to the background and all focus is placed on that one thing. The main focus when urges occur is satisfying that craving. Nothing else matters. Things like personal safety and the safety of others no longer matter. We lose our inner compass and perspective. There is no excuse, just bad decisions.

 

No body does wrong willingly” – Socrates

 

Putting it into Perspective

Alcoholics are sensitive people and our egos are easily hurt. If there is a problem at work or at home we obsess about it and let it ruin our day and possibly the week. It might have been a minor slight or a misunderstanding but the immediate reaction was to narrow everything in life to that one thing. Anger, resentment and bitterness would cloud our view. The solution may have been in front of us or the whole thing may have been a product of imagination, but it did not matter. Being able to put things in to perspective would have spared a lot of heart break.

These days I have the benefit of perspective and a rational mind. Getting an appreciation of the finer details within the context of a bigger picture allows better informed decisions and opinions to be made. Sometimes it takes the ability to look at things from above and outside of one’s self as well as using one’s inner compass to guide us. Consider the world without a lens filter on. Once we remove the ego and our personal biases from a view the perspective changes and we start to see things clearly and more in focus. Being able to be a “Big Picture” thinker is  a skill and an asset but we should also be able to be detail orientated as well. It really is just applying mindfulness in to our lives.

 

“Let us, to the end, dare to do our duty as we understand it” – Lincoln

A Loose Garment

Seeing the Big Picture allows us to see what is really at stake and to understand the interrelationships between us and the rest of the world. Having an expanded perspective helps us to understand other people better and empathize with their problems. A global view makes us more aware of the environment and concerned for nature. We become more aware of the world and can take the view that when things don’t go well for us we still have a lot to be grateful for. Being able to switch our focus to the detail when needed allows us to gather facts and information we need to be able to live skillfully. We insist on facts but we don’t lose the ability to use our intuition when it is required.

 

And the whole world is a mere speck” – Marcus Aurelius

We should always ask ourselves to look inward, outward and above when we deal with life’s challenges. Looking at it from different angles. Put yourself above the issue. Ask yourself what is the real issue here? Why do I feel this way? Will it matter in an hour or day from now? Is it that important or worth stressing over? What if I just accept that? Rather than being swept away by drama, life can be worn like a loose garment. We can view each moment mindfully by taking the time to notice the finer details while also being able to look down on our own lives from a high vantage point. The Big Picture often reveals life as it really is, we just need to be able to allow ourselves to shift our perspective to bring it in to focus.

Community

One World

The Jedi believed that the Force was a kind of universal consciousness that manifested itself in life. Obi-wan Kenobi in a “New Hope” described it as  “an energy field that is created by all living things. It surrounds us; it binds the galaxy together”. In Star Wars, the idea of a unitary system is often imagined. The Force was seen as the spiritual and natural balance regulating the order of all existence in the Universe and beyond. The reach of the Force transcended the physical plane in to the spiritual spheres, creating a bridge between life and the afterlife. The Force binds life together as a community.

Star Wars is obviously a work of fiction but does offer a parable to the real world. If we look at the Star Wars mythology we see how the Force, the fictional archetypes and the greater community of life interacted as a whole. The struggle depicted in the Star Wars saga is one between unity and disunity, balance and imbalance, light and darkness.

 

“The Force is an energy field that is created by all living things. It surrounds us; it binds the galaxy together” – Obi-wan Kenobi

Reach

Our physical form is limited. We live but a few decades and most of us never travel far. In our generation at least few people will venture outside of Earth’s orbit. Our reach with people is also limited despite the advances in technology. We might be able to reach the masses through social media but we actually only ever meet and get to know so many people. We will only ever get to reach a minuscule fraction of those that live. Most of us will also realize that we only have a few intimate friends while the rest are acquaintances whom come and go.

Despite our limited reach we have a natural sense of belonging to something far greater than ourselves. We look at the stars in the milky way galaxy and feel a deep connection as if we are looking back in time to our own past and destiny. A sense of the spiritual can be felt when we consider the enormity of the cosmos and the span of time. We are conscious and alive and the mystery and purpose of life pulls something deep within us. We also feel part of the global community, a unique member of humanity.

In our lives we are constantly reminded of our identity. We are given labels that assign us to a race, a country, an ethnic group, a sexual orientation and a religion. We are tuaght to seek out and identify with our tribe and we build walls around us to protect what it safe and familiar. All of these labels are human constructs that have evolved over time to enable the survival of one group over the other. The division that boundaries create lead to the separation and estrangement of  one human from another. In fact all of the differences that exist are mere illusions. All people essentially have the same hopes and aspirations and all people feel the same pain and suffer the same fate. We are all part of an indivisible humanity.

Cosmopolitan

The Star Wars universe represents a “Galactic Cosmopolitan”. The sentient beings that resided within the reaches of the Galaxy were seen as citizens of one large community. The same constructs and problems that plague our world also plagued the Star Wars Universe. There was conflict and hatred between different star systems and confederate groupings of planets.

The role of the Jedi was to bring a resolution to conflict and peace to the Galaxy. The Jedi wanted to restore balance to the Force. Each of the myriad of intelligent life forms represented were seen as part of a whole. While seeking unity, the Jedi also sought to preserve the identity and freedom of self expression of the individual. Perhaps George Lucas was trying to hold a mirror to the world through his work. Through the parable of Star Wars we can see vestiges of our own society, how we are and how we could be.

The word “cosmopolitan” comes from the Greek literal meaning “citizen of the world”. The Ancient Greeks did not have the same level of understanding of the cosmos as we did but they understood the concept of a universal citizen. The Stoics took this further and while they understood that a person could be patriotic and loyal to their tribe they could also welcome all people as fellow humans sharing the same nature. City States and Empires went to war and the Stoics fought in these wars but they never saw their enemy as less than human. The Stoics looked past the apparent shallow differences between people and saw the common rationality and humanity that still exists in all people.

The United Nations was originally built on the premise of unity among people and nations for the betterment of all. In many ways the UN has failed in its mandate and continues to fail being a victim of old bureaucracy and pulled by vested interests. So have our leaders. As individuals, as Jedi, we can still do our part to foster unity and partnership between people. To do so is to express the Force and our own humanity.

 

One Family

The 12 Step program is a good example of grass roots unity between people. We are all seen as sufferers of the same disease. Political opinions are absent, in fact the traditions exempt the fellowship from siding with one opinion or another outside of the fellowship in order to avoid controversy and conflict. In the fellowship we are all the same regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, religion or sexuality. We all have a shared experience and a common history and we all desire the same thing. In a way we are members of the same family. We are made to help each other.

Imagine if the world was like that; a true global community? If all nations could put aside their differences and embrace our common and shared humanity war and poverty would be rare. If all people began to work together and truly care for one another the world would be a far better place.

 

Reach Out

Most of us live in a bubble. We are surrounded by family and friends that are familiar to us. We keep close to home. Some of us get wander lust and break out of the bubble deciding to travel and open ourselves to new experiences. Those that reach out in to the community and volunteer or work with people can also appreciate the idea of “one humanity”. This is all it takes; a willingness to step outside your comfort zone and to get to see and understand how others live. Be willing to help the person who comes seeking help. Act in small ways to make the world a better place through gestures of kindness and compassion.

There is less of a difference between people than we are sometimes led to believe. Fear keeps people apart and drives a wedge between them. It should not be that way and it does not have to be. Look past your current horizons and reach past your boundaries, be ready to help your fellow human. We are all in this together and our survival as a species depends on it.

Mindful Relationships

Have you ever thought about your relationships? I mean really sat down and thought long and hard about what your relationships mean to you, where they are at and where they are going. Have you ever considered the part that you play in the success or failure of past and present relationships and how they played out?

The Garden of Love

The Stoics believed that a rational and reasoned human being sought to derive the best possible outcomes in a mutually beneficial relationship. People do not exist for our own sake, we exist for the sake of each other. We are meant to be interdependent units that live in a system that depends on cooperation and collaboration between us and others; between human beings.

One could argue that the Stoics advocated “mindful relationships”. They believed that relationships were cultivated like a garden. With mindful effort and the correct amount of attention, sunlight, water and nutrients the garden will grow and prosper while the garden that is neglected will wither and die.

 

Mindfulness and People

Relationships can be challenging but also very rewarding. People that actually take time to reflect on their relationships and the way in which they manage them are more likely to create positive partnerships. One of the ways which we can recover a failing relationship or improve an existing one is through mindfulness. First we need to consider what kind of relationship we are in and where improvements are required before we can take meaningful action to improve them.

There are three types of relationships which exist and each is directly correlated to the degree of mindfulness generally applied:

1. Co-dependent relationships

Co-dependent relationships are based on an imbalance between two people that results in a dysfunctional dynamic. Usually this manifests as one person being over reliant on the approval of another. Without that recognition and approval the person feels invalidated, unloved or unwanted. Often these relationships are prone to subtle or open abuse by one party on the other usually without much resistance. The abuse is tolerated for the sake of the relationship. Because the person feels trapped in it they are unwilling or unable to demand change or leave. Mindfulness is not a factor in these relationships.

 

2. Independent relationships

Independent relationships are those in which both parties in a relationship are happily going about their own business without requiring the consent or support of the other. Often people in an independent relationship will appear to be living “separate lives”. They are on different wave lengths in their respective professional lives, personal interests and even family activities. A stable medium may exist for years but such couples generally drift apart after a while and find that they have little to nothing in common when they are forced to confront their relationship and face each other.

Married couples who dedicate all of their time and effort to raising kids and pursuing career and financial goals for example fit in to this category. When the kids flight the nest and retirement looms they are virtual strangers as they have failed to nurture their own relationship over the years. The degree of mindfulness in this relationship is low and based on ensuring that the other person is there and capable of functioning in their “role”. Life is purely one of routine and rushing from one thing to the next.

 

3. Interdependent relationships

Interdependent relationships are mindful relationships because partners understand, know and appreciate each other for who they are and what they bring to the relationship. Each is free to be their own person but at the same time they are there to support, validate and nurture the other in their own aspirations. Communication is the key foundation in the interdependent relationship as is the acknowledgement of the others views and needs. An open team approach resides over the relationship where each works with, not against the other. A dominant party does not exist as each are equal partners. Mutual trust and respect is a natural outcome. Such relationships are compassionate and honest and built to last.

Mindfulness for Life

In 2004 a study conducted by the University of North Carolina found that couples who practiced mindfulness saw real improvements in their relationships. The practice of mindfulness meditation also resulted in significant reduction in levels of stress and interpersonal conflict within the relationship. It could be argued that mindfulness could be the relationship therapy that many of us need.

A book was published in 2016 on the subject called “Mindful Relationships” (Exisle Publishing) by Dr Richard Chambers and Margie Ulbrick. The book explores “how we can use mindfulness to:

  • develop a more compassionate, friendly relationship with ourselves and others
  • increase awareness of our own and others’ relational patterns
  • calm and soothe our emotions and be there for others
  • communicate more effectively
  • enhance connection and empathy
  • reduce defensive patterns, allowing for more authenticity, and
  • work effectively within families and larger systems such as workplaces.

Case studies are included throughout to highlight key principles, as well as practical exercises to enable the reader to develop their mindfulness skills”.*

 

ACT

Mindfulness meditation** and recent modalities like Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) ***are two easy and practical ways to improve quality of life.  Mindfulness techniques can be applied to help with physical, emotional, mental and spiritual well being and personal development. To draw a Star Wars parallel, Yoda would have been an expert in mindfulness and given his age and general happy disposition and vitality the benefits of the practice clearly paid off!

By practicing mindfulness we are more likely to be in tune with our own feelings and the feelings of others. This opens the way for understanding and empathy. We begin to appreciate the needs of the other person and focus less on our own needs. As we start to pay more attention to our partner we find that it is reciprocated in return. Emotions can be played out in constructive ways. Rather than getting angry and resentful about our partner we can actually express ourselves in an open and transparent way. Through effective communication and active listening we engage in dialogue and come to mutual understanding. No one likes to be shut down or blocked out by their loved one. Mindfulness encourages us to engage with our emotions and with people in a calm and measured way without compromising our values.

 

Meditate

Meditation is the most effective approach to cultivate mindfulness. The beauty about meditation is that it can be done alone or in group or as a couple. The intimacy and shared experience of meditation can build a stronger bond between people. The practice allows us to pay attention to our thoughts and remove the noise from our mind allowing us to be more open to others. We achieve a greater sense of inner peace and tranquillity. If those around us also meditate and practice mindfulness we begin to reside on similar mental wavelengths. Harmony is created. I believe that partners who meditate together are more likely to stay together. So if your partner is up for it, meditate and tend to your garden

 

You will know (the good from the bad) when you are calm, at peace, passive” – Yoda

 

* https://www.exislepublishing.com.au/Mindful-Relationships.html

** https://www.exislepublishing.com.au/Mindfulness-for-Life.html

***https://thehappinesstrap.com/ (The Happiness Trap Book)

Virtue

The Stoics believed that the only thing of real worth in life was to live with virtue. Everything else was secondary and ultimately decided by the consistent application of virtue. Family and friends could be of high importance as well as career, position and standing among peers but these things were seen as a consequence of one’s virtues and not mutually exclusive. Material possessions, property, fame and money were also seen as “indifferent preferred” meaning that while they can be pursued and enjoyed they should never compromise one’s integrity or goal to live a virtuous life.

 

The Primary Purpose

The primary virtues  valued by the Stoics were wisdom, courage, justice temperance and discipline. All virtues were seen as stemming from wisdom, the root of virtue. The very nature of humanity was to reconcile a person’s words, thoughts and actions with the virtues that were inherent within their nature. To live contrary to virtue led to a mismatch between a person and her nature. To live in accordance with virtue was to live in accordance with one’s nature. The purpose of virtue in the human condition is to allow people to live and work together for the common good. Without virtue there is no civilisation and society cannot exist. According to the Stoics people are made and intended to work together for mutual benefit. That is our primary purpose as citizens of the world.

 

The Path to Virtue

The Stoics understood that people could be swayed and corrupted. While virtue is part of nature forces act against it and free will can pull a person away from virtue. The outcome is selfishness and greed, violence and war and wholesale suffering and a dysfunctional society. Training and application in philosophy was seen as the way to guide people to a path of virtue.

The Jedi trained hard. The Jedi Code provided a moral and ethical compass which the Jedi followed. This training and lifestyle committed them to the same virtues that the Stoics valued. Take the Jedi Masters Yoda, Obi-Wan Kenobi and Mace Windu for example each clearly demonstrated time and again the virtues of wisdom, temperance, Justice, courage and self discipline.

The Jedi Master were like Stoic sages. They had mastered these virtues through a lifetime of rigorous practice and dedication. The Jedi existed in a structured and monastic order that that took these values beyond the limits of what we might consider practical for ourselves. Likewise the Stoics lived in ancient times in a very different world to our own and were committed to their school of philosophy as a chosen life path. Nevertheless there is no reason why we cannot emulate both Jedi and Stoic in the pursuit of a virtuous life. In our own individual ways we can decide what our core values are and determine how to commit to them in our daily lives. We can all demonstrate virtues that are consistent with our values.

 

Consistent and True

To be Jedi is to demonstrate all typical virtues consistently. If we decide to practice justice as a virtue but fail to be fair and reasonable in the treatment of others, we would fail to be Jedi. We may demonstrate temperance and courage in our daily lives, all being virtues consistent with Jedi practice but our failure to demonstrate justice puts us at odds with our stated values.

Sustained and powerful recovery and ultimately contended sobriety is built on a foundation of virtues. The virtues we apply demonstrate our own internal values. Many of us learn that honesty, humility, gratitude, selflessness and faith are fundamental to the 12 steps but at the outset many of these concepts are foreign to us. Alcoholism is a disease which undermines and then extinguishes honesty, humility and selflessness. We actually believe in nothing and don’t know the meaning of moderation. Our behaviors are consistently dishonest and selfish where alcohol is concerned.

 

The Force of Faith

Through deflation of the ego during the early stages of recovery we begin to learn the meaning of Faith. Many people scoff at this word but when we have lost all dignity and self respect and are facing the loss of everything that matters including our home, livelihood, family and friends not to mention our health and possibly our life, Faith is all that’s left.

Through Faith we turn our problems and our lives over to a Higher Power. That Higher Power can be anything we choose. We just accept that we are powerless on our own and need help to overcome our addiction. Being a skeptical agnostic this was hard but I managed to conceive of a power greater than myself which I now call the Force. The effect was all encompassing. I no longer considered myself the center of the universe and started to learn the meaning of the words honesty, humility, gratitude and selflessness. People and their problems started to become more important than my own. Temperance became a constant in all aspects of my life not just alcohol. Resentment, anger, self pity, fear and depression started to fade and my character changed. Problems started to vanish.

 

Clarify Values

Getting sober and staying that way was the most important thing for me. Sobriety was the foundation upon which the rest of my life was built. Having a concept of the person we want to be and what we want to stand for helps shape our values and guiding principles. If we decide to be a better person we choose the values and act on the virtues that best represent that. First we need to clarify what those personal values are. Only you can do that.

Identifying and committing to our personal system of values leads to a virtuous life as we feel more authentic and in touch with who we truly are. We can accept that life can be complicated and difficult. Some things are out of our control and we must let go. We learn to confront our fears and overcome challenges as they arise. Virtue becomes second nature and define our lives and relationships. Every day we can ask “have I been true to my values?” If we know what matters to us most, we should be easily able to answer that question.

Change

Change is never easy. For some of us it is traumatic and frightening. Most people are creatures of habit and want life to be static. The person that we are today was not constructed over night but over a life time. We get used to who we think we are and what we have. Our thoughts, words and actions are usually the product of established patterns. Many of us don’t realize it but we are actually predictable. People correctly anticipate our reactions once they get to know us. Yet at the same time we act as if we are dynamic and mysterious or spontaneous in some special way. Usually the opposite is true. We don’t like surprises and we don’t want to change unless we absolutely have to.

 

The secret of change is to focus all your energy, not fighting the old, but on building the new.” – Socrates

Despite our reticence to change the world changes around us. Sometimes it changes faster than we can keep up. The older I get the less familiar the world seems to be and the more set in my ways I become. Yet there is no denying it, the world constantly changes and we must change with it. Old ideas and beliefs must be questioned and possibly put aside and replaced with new ones.

The 12 Steps is a program of change. Sometimes it is like ripping a band-aid off an old wound. We don’t want to do it but we know we must and with courage and fortitude we do. It hurts but the pain and the immediate relief felt when it’s done is worth it. With every change we make in or lives we evolve. With small and incremental changes made over time the people around is start to notice a difference and then after some self reflection we notice it too. We have grown and become a better person. No change worth having was ever easy. Remember that.

 

What we achieve inwardly will change outer reality.” – Plutarch

Drop the Rock

In the program they say we have to “drop the rock”. At first we are left wondering what this means. We inventory our faults and flaws and reveal to ourselves, to another and our Higher Power the full extent of the mess we have created. By bringing up what we would rather leave buried we come face to face with who we are and what we have done. Our true reflection stares back at us in the mirror. Illusions are dispelled; the fog has lifted from our eyes.

Knowing who we are gives us the opportunity to change. There can be no rectification of a problem if we don’t know what it is. In our case self honesty is the key to the change process. We can try to lie to other people but we find it is hard, lying to ourselves on the other hand becomes almost impossible when we know who we are. Once we have a “hit list” of changes that are needed to be made to support our recovery and demonstrate our new found principles we must find the courage and the strength to “drop the rock” that is holding us back.

 

Sometimes letting go is an act of far greater power than defending or hanging on” – Eckhart Tolle

To “drop the rock” means to “Let Go” of our old habits, negative patterns of thoughts and self defeating attitudes. This means that if there is something about ourselves that we want to change, we simply stop doing it. Whatever the flaw we simply drop it from our lives. This can seem hard at times. For example if we are in the habit of getting angry every time we don’t get our way, it may take some time before we go some time without acting out that anger. I had the habit of quickly jumping to conclusions about people and always expecting the worst. My pessimism was holding me back from growing in recovery. By being able to identify the habit and resolving to stop it, I have become more mindful about my “instincts” and less likely to make up my mind before I have all the facts.  The trick is to simply decide to make the change and “act as if”. We can  “fake it till we make it”; often this is enough to eventually get there.

 

Reflect

We never reflect how pleasant it is to ask for nothing.” – Seneca

 

Self reflection is an important part of this process and the evening review helps us in assessing our conduct during the day. We can visualize out interactions with people and our thought patterns and behaviors. Did we allow emotions to cloud our judgement or influence our decisions and actions? How did we handle difficult situations? Did stress make us do or say things we regretted? Was the source of much of our frustration other people? Did they do or say things that upset us? Why? What was our part in all of this?

Every day is an opportunity to learn new lessons and the evening review is that time when we can convert those lessons in to experience and wisdom. If something did not work today and we made an idiot of ourselves or messed things up, that’s OK. The trick is to realize where we went wrong and figure out what to do about it. Where we identify change is required we consider where and how to make the necessary adjustments and resolve to try again.

We should always remember that life does not happen to us. Generally most things that we perceive as “bad” are in fact “indifferences”. We simply judge them as “bad” because they are least preferred. Knowing that it is our impression and not the thing, we could just as easily be indifferent about whatever vexes us. The important thing to consider is what resides within our control and what is outside out our control. There are also those things which are partially in our control to act upon and influence to some degree.

 

Change yourself

The change that we affect in our lives is predominately in the area that we have control. This includes our behaviors and conduct, our thoughts and reactions to emotions. The attitude that we bring to any situation and our own resolve. We are responsible for these things as they are within our control. This is where we can make our changes.

 

Change your thoughts, transform your life

Strangely enough we tend to invest more energy in trying to exert our control where it is limited. We lose our minds when people, places and things do not change and conform to our expectations. Consider that the President of the United States appears to wield an incredible amount of control and power. The reality is he is dependent on others.

Like the rest of us, the President does not always get his way and planned policies never see the light of day because they get voted down or his supporters drop support. For someone who is used to being in control of others all of the time and being able to effect rapid and sweeping changes with the snap of his fingers, being POTUS must be a very limiting and very frustrating job.

 

You have power over your mind – not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.” – Marcus Aurelius

Slave not Master

The Sith were dedicated in forcing change not only on others but on natural and metaphysical laws. Forcing others to conform rather than adapting and changing to their environment was the Sith approach. The Jedi on the other hand had a code which they followed as a guiding principle and otherwise sought to change their selves first. They used logic and reasoning through negotiation and consensus to change others and influence an outcome.

The Jedi focused on what they were able to achieve rather than trying to force a solution that was inconsistent with their principles. Anakin Skywalker on the other hand felt that it was his duty to make the changes he believed were needed even if he had to use force. When others failed to conform to his plans he would grow resentful and resort to any means necessary.

 

“Always remember, your focus determines your reality” – Yoda

 

The Sith took advantage of Anakin’s desire to change the laws of nature. Darth Sidious realized that they could control Anakin by giving him the illusion of control. By becoming Darth Vader, Anakin became nothing but a servant. Worse he was demented and existed in an illusion of power believing that the fate of the Galaxy resided within his hands while doing little more than a pawn in his Master’s bidding.

Being alcoholic is like being a slave. We believe we have mastery over our own lives and control over others. We elevate ourselves to “big shots”. When reality bites and it always does we find don’t even have control over ourselves. We barely function as human beings. Alcohol is our Master. At this point we must first change ourselves before we can get control of our own lives back.

 

Do or do not, there is no try” – Yoda

 

Rule of Fives

Five approaches to making changes in your life:

    1. Break it down: A major overhaul is done in small and incremental steps. Change takes time. By making small changes successfully you increase your confidence and minor failures and disappointments are less likely to unhinge you.
    2. Weigh it up: Some desired changes produce beneficial outcomes. Others are less beneficial. Decide whether the change you want is worth it the consequences. In the Army I one day decided to stop being the “reserved grey man” and changed my behaviour to “big mouthed trouble maker” in order to be assertive, not a smart move. Not all change is wise.
    3. Keep it Positive: Carries on from the last point. Being polite and courteous instead of arrogant and rude would be a positive change in almost every circumstance.
    4. Keep it Simple: Try not to complicate things or make it hard. Be very clear about the changes you want to make it your life. You may decide you need to a change of scenery and decide to move to the mountains to achieve a calm and passive mind. In reality you can achieve this almost anywhere.
    5. Practice and Protect: If you don’t use it you lose it. If we want to be more mindful we need to practice mindfulness. It is a skill that becomes a habit with time and practice. If we never apply the change that we seek we will never own it. Saying, I want to be more self aware and calm is fine but you have to start being it.

Take Stock

One of the burdens of being Alcoholic and being prone to depression is sometimes being over critical of one’s self. While it is important to recognize our character flaws and correct them sometimes we can also be over hard on our selves. Being sober we now expect excellence from our selves all of the time. Where as before we demanded standards and qualities of others that we were not prepared to display . We need to learn to be easy on ourselves and take it slow. Persistence and consistency is the key in our journey of self improvement. As Epictetus suggested, we endure and renounce. Along the way we need to remember to pause and reflect on how far we have come on the journey. We should at intervals look back at the distance traveled and take stock of our lives.

When I made one year sobriety I paused to reflect on a year without alcohol. I was still new at recovery and the foundation I had built was unsteady. My emotions were still raw and I was still quick to anger and prone to panic. I had completed many of the steps and was almost zealous in my pursuit of spiritual knowledge. By the third year I had calmed down and become more settled but still lacked a great deal of emotional maturity. Along the way I had discovered the Jedi Path and it helped me approach recovery as a spiritual, mental, emotional and physical pursuit. This allowed me to grow as a complete human being rather than just focusing on one or two elements.

Recently I achieved five years sobriety. Despite the many congratulations I received from people in the recovery community I see no reason to celebrate. It is however a milestone and an opportunity to pause for reflection. Along the way I have learned not to think of life in terms of a projected future. Those “where do you see yourself in five years” questions asked at professional development interviews always throw me. My goal is only to be sober today and “God willing” sober tomorrow (do not say this at an interview). I take nothing for granted and remember that everything I have today may be gone tomorrow. For this I remember to be grateful for what I have. I do not waste time living for the sake of trying to get to a desired outcome. Life is not about amassing material wealth that soon gathers dust. If we wait for life to provide our definition of happiness before we are content then we are sure to be disappointed or at the very least contented only for a brief time. In my case I will probably be well over 70 before I retire!

I took the Stoic Week questionnaire and my “Life Satisfaction” score was relatively low. Perhaps I was being a little too “stoic” in my answers*. The truth is that despite the low score I am in a far better place than I was five years ago. We need not be unhappy about being unhappy. People believe that to have a life worth living we must be happy all the time and to be otherwise is to be a candidate for anti-depressants. Life of course is far more complex than that and emotions are a part of being human and to be embraced. We cannot control our emotions nor can we control much of what life throws at us but we can decide how to respond to both as they arise. Despite the moments of self doubt and the fear of uncertainty and the sense that life is accelerating to an end point there is always another day to get things right. Life is to be lived and lived “one day at a time”.

 

Lists

In the 12 Steps we write an inventory twice; once for all the faults and flaws in our character and another list of all the people we have harmed along the way. The lists prime us for action; we determine to give up our faults and become better people and we resolve to make amends to those we have listed as far as it causes no harm to them or others. We get out of ourselves and we get to work. Steps, 4-9 are the hardest and also the most rewarding.

So how do we take Stock of our lives? The Stoics were not big on writing out inventories and lists however both can help.

 

  1. What are you grateful for? List the top five things in your life that matter to you.
  2. What are your strengths? List five virtues and qualities that you have in abundance.
  3. What are your areas for improvement? This can be anything including communication skills, honesty, diet, self discipline.
  4. List your achievements; categorize them in to the last year, five years and ten years. This will reveal what you have achieved.
  5. List your personal goals; set rough targets and be realistic, if you want to learn French in the next 2 years, write it down. If you want to train for and run a Marathon in six months, right it down. You consider yourself an angry person and want to change. Now that you have goals consider how you plan achieve them.
  6. Ask yourself: Am I living the life that I want? List the reasons for and against the statement. Some aspects of your life may be exactly where you want it to be while other areas may be holding you back. For example you may be excelling in your career but are frustrated by your personal life. Explore the reasons for this. Consider yours answers to questions 1 to 5 when considering this.

 

Daily reflection is an ancient Stoic practice. These are practices that can be incorporated in to your daily routine:

 

  1. Every day on waking up pause to welcome the day. Acknowledge the sanctity of the day as it is a gift. Most people are already in their heads as soon as their eyes open. They imagine all the things that might go wrong and stumble from one day to the next on some mindless trajectory in to the future. One day blends in to the next.
  2. Pause to reflect on your state of mind. Are you grumpy? Up beat or just desperate for a coffee? I find that how I start the day usually sets the tone for the rest of it. If I stumble out of bed with a negative attitude, it sticks with me all day.
  3. Appreciate three things, this is gratitude. It might be the blue sky and sun shining through the windows, the smile of your partner offering you coffee or a hug from your child. Breathe in that moment.
  4. Plan your day and consider how you will respond to it. Marcus Aurelius would remind himself that he would have to contend with the arrogant, the disagreeable and the obtuse through the day and would set himself not to react adversely but to accept them as fellow humans. If you are expecting a tough day, get your game face on and your head in order.
  5. Fortify your mind. Every day I step outside my door with a theme that I take from the 12 Step slogans. They include “Easy does it”, “Live and Let Live”. “Let Go and Let God”, “Think, Think, Think”, “One day a Time”, “Keep it Simple”, “Progress not Perfection” and “First things First”. I might also use a quote from Star Wars like “Do or do not, there is no try” or “Calm, at Peace, Passive”. During the day I return to these slogans and quotes.
  6. Apply mindfulness through the day. At intervals pause to ask “what am I thinking” and “what am I feeling”. Negative trains of thought and emotions will be exposed and you will have the opportunity to reset.
  7. In the evening pause to reflect on the day. Consider what went well and what didn’t. Meditate on it and contemplate how you might respond better in the future. Resist the urge to beat yourself up. There is always tomorrow.

 

* Never confuse “stoic” with “Stoic”.

Stoic Week

“At every hour, give your full concentration… to carrying out the task in hand with a scrupulous and unaffected dignity and affectionate concern for others and freedom and justice, and give yourself space from other concerns… You see how few things you need to be able to live a smoothly flowing life.” – Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 2.5

Self Renewal

For the next seven days we will draw our attention to Stoicism. For over a year I have been a practicing Stoic incorporating the fundamental practices and principles of Stoicism in to my Jedi training as well as my 12 Step journey. The Jedi path itself carries many elements of Stoicism as does the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. Many of the entries on “The Daily Jedi” have attempted to capture the essence of Stoicism in the context of both. I hope that over the next seven days I can summarize how applying the practical philosophy of the Stoics can bring many benefits.

This year the theme of Stoic Week is “Self Renewal”. For me the last five years has been a daily journey of “Self Renewal”. My sobriety is a daily reprieve contingent on the maintenance of my spiritual condition; therefore recovery is a “one day a time” process. We get up in the morning and we face the new day.

The sun may rise in all its splendor or behind a blanket of clouds. There has never been a day like this one and there will never be another like it again. We each have the choice how we arise to the day and what we do with it. Yesterday has passed with its mistakes and blunders or achievements and victories, it is gone beyond recall and remains but a memory. Tomorrow is but a promise and one that is neither granted nor guaranteed. The present moment, this day, is all we really have.

So begins Day 1 of living like a Stoic. Click here to learn more.

Abandoned

Image Source: http://afisher.com.au/

Asajj

You’ve told me your existence has been nothing but pain and loss. Never feeling secure. Never having a home. You deserve so much, and I can get it for us. The life we’ll be able to have together” – Quinlan Vos

What kind of life will that be, Quinlan? The kind where we’re slaves to our hatred? Our rage? That’s what the dark side made me. That’s what it does. Nothing is ever enough. You get more, and more, but you’re never happy. It’s a trap baited with all the things you want most in life—and it’s not worth living. I already left that behind.“― Asajj Ventress “Star Wars: Dark Disciple”

 

Padawan

Asajj Ventress was a Bounty Hunter, an Assassin and a Sith Apprentice. Before all of that she was a Jedi. As an infant she was taken from her home planet Dathomir by a Bounty Hunter and enslaved. During a raid by Pirates her owner was killed and using Force powers to defend herself she attracted the attention of a Jedi. The Jedi Ky Narec took Ventress to the temple and she began her apprenticeship as a Jedi. The training helped awaken her force powers which were very powerful.

The Jedi Narec was like a father to her as well as a mentor and she loved him.  Years later during a battle with Pirates the Jedi was killed and Ventress deserted the Jedi Order feeling that it had betrayed her Master. Filled with grief and anger she began to turn towards the dark side.  Eventually she caught the attention of Count Dooku and was trained and indoctrinated in to the Sith. Due to her powers and hatred for the Jedi, Ventress became Count Dooku’s favored apprentice.

 

The Apprentice

Asajj felt at last she was home and she served her Master well. Her powers and skills grew and she became an accomplished Assassin. Many times she came close to killing both Obi-wan Kenobi and Anakin Sywalker under the orders of Count Dooku. The time came when Darth Sidious began to notice Asajj Ventris and the bond that existed between Master and Apprentice. Testing the loyalty of Count Dooku, Darth Sidious ordered Asajj Ventriss be killed. Reluctantly Dooku agreed and he ordered her execution however Asajj managed to escape and returned to her home world of Dathomir where the Witch Order of the Night Sisters reigned.

 

The Witch

Deeply enraged by her betrayal, Asajj attempted to extract her revenge by infiltrating Count Dooku’s fortress and attempting to assassinate him. She was aided by the Night Sisters magic and the help of a slave assassin Savage Oppress, a monster created by the Night Sisters spiritual leader. During the battle Savage Oppress turned on them both forcing Asajj to flee in to hiding.

Sought by Dooku, Ventress was eventually traced back to her home planet on Dathomir. A retaliatory strike was launched on the Dathomir Fortress killing all of the Night Sisters in the ensuing battle. Once again Asajj survived and found her self alone.

 

The Redeemed

In the following years Assaj changed. Becoming a Bounty Hunter and Mercenary she found herself forming alliances with the Jedi as they fought a common enemy. Ventress saved Obi-wan Kenobi and helped Ahsako Tano after she was framed for bombing the Jedi Temple. It was Quinlan Vos the maverick Jedi Master who ultimately redeemed Ventress through love. Forming a team in a quest to finally destroy Count Dooku the Jedi and the Mercenary became lovers.

During an attempt on Dooku, Vos was captured by the separatists and brutally tortured and brainwashed, he fell to the Dark Side. Finally it was Asajj who saved Quinlan Vos as she sacrificed her own life to save him. Vos returned from the Dark Side renouncing the Sith. The Jedi honored Assaj Ventris and she was buried on Dathomir.

 

Dependency

The tragic story of Assaj Ventress follows a familiar pattern of an orphan who is forced to live a life of codependency and abuse. Things could easily have been different but fate played her a cruel hand. In the end her true hidden spirit shined through and redeemed her. For many, Asajj Ventress is a “villain” in the Star Wars saga. I view her as an enigma and a largely misunderstood character. Asajj serves as a reminder that we should never give up on people, they can come back. I know I did.

 

Orphaned

Separated from her family and bereft of a heritage and parents all Asajj knew was the hard and cruel life of a slave. Nevertheless she was dependent on her owner and when he was killed in a Pirate raid she lost the only carer she had ever known. Adopted by the Jedi she found happiness and purpose at last and with it her Force powers blossomed. Tragically her Jedi Master was killed and once again she was left an Orphan.

Alone Assaj became bitter and angry. She blamed the Jedi Order for the death of her Master. That anger and hatred was exploited by Count Dooku. In the same way that extremist organizations and gangs attract young and vulnerable people to their ranks, the Sith found a prime candidate in Asajj to do their bidding.

 

Abandoned

Eventually Ventress was betrayed by the Sith. This is also common in extremist organizations and cults. People are brainwashed and used until they are killed or betrayed. The fall was a shock to Assaj and she returned to her home world of Dathomir, a place she had never known and met her mother, the Night Sister leader Mother Talzin. Among her sisters on Dathomir she at last found a home where she was valued and belonged. This home was soon also taken away.

Drifting in the grey world of the Bounty Hunter and loyal to none Asajj began to realize that the absolutes she had believed in were invalid. She had been full of rage and hatred for years and it had been used by the Sith for their own purposes. Once her use had been exhausted, she was discarded like a broken tool. Ventress realized that she had been dependent on a lie and the loyalty she imagined did not exist. Even her own Mother, Talzin, abandoned her following the massacre of the Night Sisters on Dathomir.

 

Adrift

“None of this was my choice, I never asked to be ripped away from my home, from my family. You’ll never know what its like” – Pluma Sodi

I wish I didn’t, but I do” – Assaj Ventress “The Clone Wars: Bounty”

 

At last Asajj began to form her own identity and found her place in the madness that surrounded her. Despite her previous allegiance to the Dark Side she learned compassion for others and the ability to work for mutual benefit. The Jedi had been her sworn enemies, now she no longer saw them as such and was willing to work with them. In Quinlan Vos she found a kindred soul and shared her knowledge of the dark arts of her people. Through shared experience and hardship they became lovers and through that love the darkness that resided within her gave way to light and hope. She was home at last.

 

Freedom

The final act of Asajj Ventress is a remarkable chapter in the Star Wars saga and symbolizes the salvation that later redeemed Anakin. In an effort to save Vos from succumbing to the Dark Side, Ventress battled with Count Dooku and willingly sacrificed her life so that her lover should live.

That act alone redeemed Asajj Ventress and bought Vos back from the Dark Side, saving him. Asajj Ventress was a Jedi who had fallen from the path. Desperate to find meaning in her life and to make someone pay for the pain she had suffered through life she had fallen to dark emotions and lived a personal hell. Forgiveness, sacrifice for others and ultimately love redeemed her and bought her back to the light. She did this by herself and it freed her.

Remember, no one holds the key to your own freedom and salvation but you.

Codependency

Codependency is often described as a dysfunctional relationship that exists between two persons one or both of which may be in addiction such as alcoholism. The other person tolerates and facilitates that behaviour by remaining within the relationship despite the emotional, mental and even physical abuse that they suffer. Both participants in the relationship believe that they cannot live without the other. Both condemn themselves to a partnership that is built on anything but true love.

In reality Codependency is much more. A relationship that is held together out of fear or loss is a form of codependency. One person may lean on another person emotionally and be unable to validate themselves without the person. This is compounded if the other person also has emotional or psychological issues which compliment those of her partner.

Two damaged people bought together do not necessarily provide a solution or salvation. One of two things may happen; one of the individuals may grow emotionally and awaken to the fact that they are in an unhealthy codependent relationship that does not allow them to flourish. Otherwise the relationship may endure but simply out of a fear of being “alone”. The opportunity to find true love and to live a free and fulfilling life is compromised. This is not love but a form of bondage that ends in regret.

 

A Painful Truth

Some years ago I realized I am in a codependent relationship with my partner. I thought couples just had their disagreements and got over them. During my drinking these disagreements were fairly often but then I was very selfish and obstinate and only saw my side. Despite getting sober and working the steps I found I could not break this cycle of codependency. The relationship remains dysfunctional.

I found that despite the decades I spent being on my own I was now a virtual prisoner to my need to belong. I now find myself questioning the authenticity and honesty of the relationship but uncertain on  how to act. Is it fair to be in a relationship where deep within our own heart we know that whatever true affection and love existed has long been replaced with a mutual need for stability, security and familiarity? Is not being in the world alone more important than being in a true and nourishing relationship?

 

Emotional Maturity

There is nothing wrong with stability, security and familiarity. All of these are important in a healthy relationship. However a codependent relationship is categorized by an imbalance between two people. There are power struggles and each attempt to assert their control over the other. Disagreements occur and concessions are made by one side or another in order to maintain the peace. The result is resentment and anxiety. Open and honest communication breaks down. Couples become distant harboring private resentment for the failings they perceive in their partner. They blame each other for the unhappiness in their lives but they are unwilling to do anything. Despite all the ill feeling and pain both know that they cannot function alone. Freedom and happiness is traded in for stability, security and familiarity.

Emotional maturity was not a part of my sobriety in the beginning. I am still growing up. In other words I had not matured as an emotional person during my decades of alcoholism. I still had all the emotional maturity of a traumatized teenager and a lost young man trying to make sense of the world. Much to my surprise I realized not long ago that everything decent I had ever done was to get approval and love from others. To be accepted. Every spiteful or indecent act I had ever committed was to get back at them or others for perceived wrongs. This included getting drunk.

 

Child

Codependency in my case did not just happen later in life. I grew up with an alcoholic Father who himself had all the emotional maturity of a deprived child. Without another role model to learn from and no outside support becoming an accepting and active participant in the abuse was assured. A child will adapt quickly and learn to survive. As a child I begged my Father to be reasonable, sane and sober. I would put him to bed in the dead of night when he stumbled in to whatever doss house we lived in and pull off his boots. In the morning I woke him up and pressed him to go to work as he swore at me through a hangover. I hated him but he was still my Father and as such I needed him.

Natural emotions such as empathy and joy were dulled and replaced with fear, then anger and finally apathy. With apathy and time people start to identify with the negative influences in their lives and also begin to act them out. Emotional abuse, violence and cruelty become a part of who we are. I remember the cruelty I afflicted on my siblings as a child and on hapless victims in the school yard. I suffered at home and others had to suffer. Bullies beat me so I had to bully those that were weaker than me. The bullied often become the bullies. This still wears down on me heavily at times.

Growing up without a Mother and in the care of an abusive alcoholic Father had left me angry and vulnerable as a kid. We were thrown in to the State Care system as the Child Welfare people intervened. My sullen disposition attracted the wolves at school and being small in stature I was an easy target for bullying. I fought regularly and was in trouble often. I shoplifted and was smoking and drinking by age 11. The world looked like a hostile place to me and I was out in the cold. Desperate to find a place I could call home, I ran away and joined the Army as soon as I finished High School.

 

A Home

I took that anger in to the Army and they molded it and beat my vulnerability out of me. My weaknesses were removed and they built me up in to something useful. I cut all contact with my Father and never spoke to him again. The Army gave me a roof over my head, three meals a day, medical and dental, training and told me what I had to do and when to do it. It was simple and structured. For a long time I felt empowered and protected. I also felt like a bad ass. I was extremely fit, tanned and trained. Being part of something bigger than oneself does that. So does extra muscle mass and being trained in unarmed combat and Infantry skills. But it was shallow; there was a gaping hole there. I knew I didn’t belong in that world and rebelled. I found alcohol.

After an ignoble and unceremonious discharge from the Army a few years later I was back out on the street and completely alone. The Army had probably saved me from destitution and a hopeless future but I had barely matured in to an adult. I was dependent on the system to support me. I felt like an important part of me was torn away when I stepped outside the gates for the last time and the cord was cut. They had taught me to be a Soldier but not a functional and mature adult fit for normal life. I had entered barely 18 and at 23 I was on the street while many of my High School Friends were graduated from University and already in professional careers earning close to 6 figure salaries. I had no transferable qualifications other than in heavy drinking.

 

Barely Functional

Functioning and surviving in civilian life alone was an enormous challenge. People around me were phony and shallow. Their concerns and priorities were petty and made little sense. Employers seemed only to use and exploit young employees. The Jobs I took were mind numbing and low paid and I soon made enemies. There was no comradeship or mutual benefit. It was a dog eat dog world and I felt completely maladapted to it.

My anger and frustration would boil over and I quickly alienated and scared off people. Friends and acquaintances distanced themselves. I could not re-enter the Army, I had well and truly burned my bridges there. The answer was to move around a lot and get drunk as often as possible. I tried the Geographic solution and drowned it in alcohol. In order to eliminate any reliance on others and be completely independent I vanished overseas taking my problems with me as far as I could take them.

 

A Wife to the Grave

My relationship with booze took a new turn in civilian life. For a start I didn’t have to worry about trying to fit drinking around the Army. I learned I could arrange life to suit my drinking. As I did so I found myself becoming more dependent and less flexible with people, places and circumstances that got in the way of that relationship.

Alcohol is cunning and has a way of intruding in every aspect of life like a demented and obsessive lover. We know that the relationship is doing us harm but we remember the good times too. We cannot imagine being separated from alcohol. Our disease adopts a persona that is omnipresent and absolute in our lives. She is like a Succubus, a lover turned Demon who will not let us go. The relationship becomes entirely one sided. Alcohol will eventually take everything unless we break that hold first.

 

Emotional Sobriety

Recovery of course is breaking that dependence. The 12 Steps provided the pathway for me to do that. As my sobriety strengthened my personality began to change. Self honesty and humility allows us to review our actions in life and identify where we have been lacking. This provides the impetus to start maturing as a person. Emotional sobriety is the eventual outcome of practicing principles and working the steps.

Along the way we begin to review our relationships. Some of them present themselves as being dysfunctional or toxic and are ended. In my case my sobriety began to reveal dimensions and aspects of my relationship with my partner that I had never considered before. In our journey we take an honest view of our life and question where authenticity is lacking and where fear or resentment resides. We make amends for the harm we caused where we can.

Every major change in life comes with costs and benefits and recovery is no different. I began to realize that I had been in a relationship simply because I needed it when I was drinking and alone. The need to fulfill the need for a place to finally call home and to find someone was a way of addressing the void that had existed in me my entire life. It’s a trap many of us fall into, we think that others will complete us and we rely on them to carry us when we can’t carry ourselves. Once we get sober and sane the world becomes a different place and so do we. The illusions that we created for ourselves start to fall away and we see life in plain view.

Having emotional sobriety is realizing that only we can fill the void that resides within us with something deep and spiritual. We look at ourselves and realize we no longer need anyone. We may want them, but we no longer need them. It can come as a bit of a shock to realize that a long term relationship is built on the shifting sands of codependency. The sands are slipping away, being eroded with time. The trick of course is what to do about it. Do we let it go or start sand bagging?

 

Interdependency

I have a friend who is also sober and in a relationship that is interdependent, that is the opposite of codependent. I envy them. The couple compliment each other perfectly and neither is dependent on the other to be the person they want them to be. They support each other and understand each others needs. They are together because they want to be, not because they have to be or need to be. Both are free to express their own individual qualities in the way that best defines them.

The outcome is a trusting and mutually beneficial partnership built on mutual love and respect. Both are empowered, self sufficient and self determinant because the nature of their relationship encourages it. Communication is open and honest; laughter is a daily part of their lives. The relationship is vital like a breath of fresh ocean air.

 

Accept the things

I don’t have a definitive solution for my situation. My strategy is acceptance and to take the view “this too shall pass and better times shall come”. I keep my side of the street clean and live in accordance with my principles. Realizing that one’s relationship is in trouble is a good start but knowing is not doing. Being unable to do much about it without the willingness of the other person is a problem. Then things could always be much worse.  Things can seem bad and cause us pain but actually it is not the thing that does us harm but our reaction to it.

Being Jedi as well as being sober has taught me that we cannot force people to be one thing or another. They will decide for themselves and so should we for our own selves. We can try to improve situations through our own choices. If we are separated or divorced we can choose to be polite and civil to our estranged partner. There is no reason to answer one person’s bad behaviour or harsh words with more of the same. Promises should be kept and obligations met even if we would rather not comply. If someone lies to us we should not use it as an excuse to be dishonest in return. Children should never be used as a bargaining chip or held for ransom; they are innocent parties.

We may be stuck in a relationship that is dysfunctional and even terminal but we can still treat the other person with care, dignity and respect. Han Solo and Princess Leia set a good example. Married at the end of one war, separated decades later at the start of another. There was no animosity or blame between them. The fortunes of war and a shared love and concern for a very troubled son reunited them for a brief time. No matter what circumstance we find ourselves in our relationships, we still have a choice to be a good person.