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.

Build Resilience: Be Indifferent

Calm, at peace, passive” – Yoda

I try hard to be indifferent. This might raise eyebrows. Tell anyone you are indifferent and they immediately make the assumption that you don’t care. Being indifferent does not mean you don’t care. It means that you can care about something without attaching emotion to it. It means being without passion for that thing and free of the suffering of grasping attachment.

Building resilience and being a resilient person is about being able to accept that life is not fair. It is about being able to absorb punishment, loss and disappointment and brush it off. A resilient person knows that fate is uncertain. Life can be kind and cruel. With one hand it gives and then takes with the other.

The Taoist sage Chuang Tzu said that life is made up of 10,000 joys and sorrows. The nature of samsara means that we are caught in a karmic cycle of joy and sorrow for eternity or until we reach union with the Force. We experience painful times, happiness, laughter, victory and bliss but also sadness, grief, frustration, disappointment and despair. These experiences are a part of the human condition and we grow because of them. Through growth, understanding and compassion some of us achieve a sense of equanimity in our lives. We become indifferent and in doing so become free.

 

Compassion

Attachment is forbidden. Possession is forbidden. 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

Being indifferent and having compassion is the middle way. The road is the one that is traveled by spiritual seekers. It is a path that I embrace as a 12 Step Jedi.

Compassion is not to be confused with passion. Compassion means “loving kindness”, empathy and concern for others without attachment and suffering. Passion is the antonym of compassion. Compassion comes from the soul while passion come from the heart. Love that is born of passion is grasping and fears loss. It leads to suffering. Compassion is free of bonds and fear and sets free.

 

Passion

There is no passion, there is serenity” – Jedi Code

Epictetus said that all things outside of us are made up of the preferred and the non-preferred indifferent. Nothing is agreeable or disagreeable on its own. Only our impressions attached to that thing make it so. No one wants to lose their job, fall ill, and break up with a person they love or lose a loved one. The emotions that we attach to these events, grief, sadness, anger and denial are normal and healthy. Where they become excessive and cause us and others to suffer needlessly is when they become harmful.

What are you passionate about? I have to say I am passionate about nothing. I can’t afford to be. Alcohol was my passion and I know where that leads. Passion leads to desire then dependence which leads to fear and suffering.

Passion means “to suffer”. It is another word which has been misrepresented through the ages. Jesus faced his passion on the cross. It was through his pain and torment that the Bible tells us that he was able to transcend this material world and become one with God.

Those that have hit “rock bottom” realize a similar passion. It is by hitting “rock bottom” that they find the way out of the hell of addiction and abuse. By going through the darkness and pain we come out the other side to the light.

 

Preferences

“Strength of mind rests in sobriety; for this keeps your reason unclouded by passion.” – Pythagoras

Naturally we prefer that life is good to us and those we love. Ask most people what they would wish for and it would be along the lines of “world peace, happiness and prosperity”. Our preference is in those things that make life pleasurable and fulfilled. We can also become attached to pleasures and sensations. When those attachments become too great they can become a source of suffering.

Addiction is an extreme of attachment. An addict seeks to experience the elusive feeling of bliss and contentment that the drug provides. The sensation is pleasurable but the consequence is suffering. Anyone who has been dependent on anything or suffered an addiction knows very well the terrible cycle of desire, pleasure and regret followed by desire. We lived in abuse on a perpetual Merry-Go round that would not let us get off.

The way to get off the ride and be rid of the insanity is to realize what passion is and let it go.

 

Upekkhā

Equanimity is calamity’s medicine.” – Pubililius Syrus

The Buddhists use the idea of upekkhā (equanimity) to describe the state of being unwavering, unconcerned and neutral in the face of the eight worldly concerns (gain/loss, praise/blame, pleasure/pain, fame/dishonor).

A bodhisattva who practices the Eight Verses for Training the Mind begins to approach upekkhā. The path to enlightenment is followed for the betterment of all living things. Before one can even get close to upekkhā they must renounce worldly pleasures. Through long practice on the path, the bodhisattva cultivates equanimity and mental resilience.

 

Apatheia

The good are virtues and that share in them; the bad are the vices and all that indulge them; the indifferent lie in between the virtue and vice” – Epictetus

The Stoics speak of Apatheia, a type of indifference similar to upekkhā. Not to be confused with the modern mistranslation “apathy”. Apatheia suffered the same indignity of being deprived of its true meaning as did the word stoic.

Apatheia is a form of indifference as the Pagan Greeks and Romans knew it. A Stoic was able to engage in political or philosophical debate with someone who disagreed with his ideas and remain completely detached from the emotion of the debate. Truths and ideas were valued by the Stoics, not who was right or wrong or had the last word. Right and wrong were irrelevant.

In  Apatheia there are only the preferred and non-preferred indifferent. The person arguing with the Stoic may get flustered, angry and even abusive but the Stoic remains calm and indifferent. The only thing that matters is virtue.

 

Calm, at peace, passive

Imagine being like that? Always “calm, at peace, passive”? Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be free of the suffering? We could truly care for all things but not let things out of our control charge our emotions in destructive or unproductive ways. Without the passion.

To be in a mental and spiritual state which is indifferent to pain, to injury and insults, to success or failure, poverty or riches, health or illness. This is the essence of indifference. Accept what is with resolve and resilience. With an indifferent mind we can look beyond our failings and shortcomings as well as our successes, triumphs and failures. Indifference removes the emotions and the attachments and then we can learn, heal and grow.

 

Source: Lucas Films

Learning Indifference

Pass on what you have learned. Strength. Mastery. But weakness, folly, failure also. Yes, failure most of all. The greatest teacher, failure is.” – Yoda

 

My problem is that I try too hard to be indifferent. Ironically I suffer by applying effort in to being indifferent. My decisions to being indifferent are based on avoidance and struggle rather than acceptance. This brings on resistance and suffering. The feelings of equanimity and calm that should come with indifference elude me. I am beginning to understand now that the ego is at play. The ego has a way of tricking us.

The ego is ever present and in perpetual struggles with the inner and silent self that resides within. Ego is selfish and screams like a petulant inner child when it does not get the attention it wants or the last word. Indifference as most people understand it comes from the ego.

The inner self is an observer. It watches with indifference and non-attachment yet from it springs all the boundless love and compassion that we feel and know to be our true self.  The self wants us to realize our true nature not by force but through gentle awakening. That is the difference between indifference and apathy. One comes from the true self, the other from the ego.

 

Choose Lightly

How do we practice indifference? Whatever hand fate deals treat it with indifference. As Luke Skywalker did simply brush it off. Wear life like a loose cloak.

Continue to prefer what is preferable. Choose richer before poorer, health over sickness, success over failure, choose life over death. But be prepared for the non preferred and the unexpected and unintended vicissitudes of life. Make the most of them too and learn because it is the hard times that we truly test our virtues and apply our principles. It is in battle that we shine and become resilient.

“Pain is slight if opinion has added nothing to it;… in thinking it slight, you will make it slight. Everything depends on opinion; ambition, luxury, greed, hark back to opinion. It is according to opinion that we suffer…. So let us also win the way to victory in all our struggles, – for the reward is… virtue, steadfastness of soul, and a peace that is won for all time.” – Seneca

 

Further Reading

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F by Mark Manson

Build Resilience: Be Realistic

Many of the truths that we cling to depend on our point of view.” – Obi-Wan Kenobi

One of the mistakes I made when starting this journey was aiming for perfection. I wanted perfect practice. My principles had to be applied consistently and without fault. I became a religious zealot and almost fanatical in my approach to my recovery. Of course I could only sustain that for a short period of time. I grew frustrated that I could not always get my own way. Resentment and anger followed. I had to learn to be realistic with myself. Recovery requires a “take it easy” approach of just following the process and doing the work. That process turned out to be the gentle Middle Path.

We have to be realistic with ourselves and others. We cannot expect things to always turn out as we plan. Flexibility is a trait of the resilient person. Change is going to happen and you can either resist and fight it or adapt and live with it. Those that are resilient choose the latter.

No one is asking that we like everything that happens to us. Things happen in my life that suck which I cannot change. I have a hard enough time changing myself so what luck am I going to have changing people or circumstances. My happiness and progress in life should be independent of these things. By taking a pragmatic and realistic view we are less likely to be disappointed and more likely to contemplate, accept, adapt and bounce back.

No one can force perfection but we can accept things as they are.

 

Realism

“These thorns are all that is true, life is suffering, suffering is life, be happy with the small things that come to you” – Johnny Clegg & Savuka “African Dream”

Most recovered alcoholics and addicts I have met are realistic people. They can’t afford not to be. They may have spiritual ideas and beliefs but their feet are planted firmly on the ground. Life has made us that way because we lived in an illusion for so long and suffered for it. Experience has taught us the concept of dukkha and samsara. Suffering is life and life is suffering. Good things do come sometimes by chance but mostly through our own efforts.

Objectivity is also a Real World Jedi trait. We take an objective view of reality. Evidence based scientific method with healthy skepticism is generally accepted by Jedi. At the same time we accept that sometimes science has it wrong or lacks the answers we seek. We also cannot know all of reality. There are unknown unknowns and known unknowns. Reality also exists outside of the box of time and space. This we call the Force.

 

What Is

“Your eyes can deceive you; don’t trust them.” – Obi-wan Kenobi

What exists, exists independent of our views and conceptual ideas. A rock exists with or without our consent. The world revolves, the seasons change, things are born and die, a tree falls in the forest whether we are there to experience it or not. The past is gone beyond recall, the future is nothing more than an illusion and all that truly exists is the Now. The Now is where reality happens. The Force exists in and through all things.

Our senses provide us with awareness of the physical world. At the same time our senses are not always right or are incapable of sensing all of reality. We therefore only sense so much. Something deep within us knows that there is more to reality than what we can see, hear, touch and taste. We all have intuition, a knowing and impressions. When we take a moment to absorb a painting, a work of music, a star filled sky, a sunrise or a newborn child, something spiritual stirs within us and we know that we are more than “crude matter”. Our consciousness is present in the moment. We get a sense of a grander reality and who we really are.

 

In a Galaxy Far Away

“The Force will be my guide” –  Je’daii Lanoree “Into the Void”

The Jedi understood the chaotic nature of reality. They appreciated the randomness and unpredictability of events. In order to achieve their purpose they sought to balance the Force within themselves. Emotions were kept in check but not repressed. Opinions mattered but were not accepted as absolute truth. Absolutes were rejected and ideas welcomed and judged by their merits and not by prejudice.

Behind the chaos of reality was the duality of the Force, the energies emitted by the light and dark sides of Ashla and Bogan. The goal of the Jedi was to seek balance within themselves through the Force. By achieving balance they could come closer to bringing balance and harmony to the galaxy.

Those that achieved balance with the Force were united with it. Through transmutation of the physical to the Force they became one with it and achieved enlightenment. This is the Star Wars depiction of transcendence to perfection. It may be fiction but it is inspired by eastern and western philosophies and traditions that we can use in our own spiritual journey.

 

 

The Middle Way

“The Middle Path is the way to Freedom– Rumi

Seeking perfect practice backfired for me. I realized early in my recovery and now in my journey that perfection is a mirage. As we move closer to our idea of perfection we see it begin to vanish or move. Frustration replaces optimism. Fear begins to replace Faith and if we are not careful despair can overcome hope. I had to take the Middle Path and face reality or I risked falling back in to abuse.

Every day I see idealism taking precedent over realism in our society. I have largely tried to distance myself from the toxicity of it on the news and in social media. Dogmatic extremes shouting down rational and reasoned discourse has become the norm in our polarized world. Everything is out of balance. Realism has taken a back seat to extremism and the first casualties in this war have been objectivity, tolerance and global resilience.

The Buddha reminded us that we should all strive for enlightenment for the sake of all living things. Suffering is universal but with the right choices, it is optional. The Eight Fold Path can validate the Four Noble Truths in our lives and lead us out of suffering. At the same time the Buddha admonished those that chose the hard road to perfection. One who seeks enlightenment for his own sake can never find it. The Middle Way gives us a reality check. We can’t hope to progress with no effort or through a fanatical approach. Both lead to more suffering.

 

Transcend

“Luminous beings are we. Not this crude matter” – Yoda

Obi-Wan Kenobi, Yoda, Anakin and Luke Skywalker all transcended to the Force. Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda lived the Middle Path and transcended effortlessly. Anakin and Luke realized the truth more dramatically but it was their final acceptance of reality and surrender to the Force that led to their transcendence and enlightenment. They also chose the Noble Middle Path.

All humans have the potential to become enlightened but very few ever reach that summit of consciousness. Progress not perfection is the key in whatever journey we choose. Forgiving yourself for your mistakes and blunders will build resilience and compassion not anger and resentment. Accept that in reality things will rarely if ever go exactly as planned. We can only control our impressions, thoughts and opinions. What is not in our control is the body, circumstances, other people, money, status and the future. The important thing is using what we have to move forward in the Now. Faith, heart and resilience behind reason may not lead us to perfection but it will take us in that direction.

MTFBWY

 

Further Reading

“The Middle Way: Faith Grounded in Reason” by The Dalai Lama

Build Resilience: The Road Less Traveled

It is the rough road that leads to the heights of greatness.” – The Clone Wars “The Wrath of Ryloth       

In Seinfeld the character George Costanza discovers in an episode that doing the opposite of what he usually does opens doors for him. The lovable Loser realizes that he has been doing things predictably wrong his entire life. By doing the opposite of what he has always done, George suddenly starts to experience success in his life. It’s a staggering revelation. Being different, blazing your own trail and daring to walk the road less traveled may not be easy but it is worth it.

The Star Wars saga is about a young man who chooses not to conform. The myth follows the stages of the “Hero’s Journey”. On Tatooine, Luke dreams of leaving the planet and joining the Rebellion. There is a thirst, a call to adventure but he is tethered to his Uncles farm. Events out of his control but linked to him intervene. Luke is thrust in to an adventure and his life and the galaxy is forever changed.

Star Wars is full of those who choose not to conform and who choose to walk the road less traveled. In the Clone Wars, the Pirate Hondo quickly and easily switches sides and allegiances to suit his needs and ensure his survival and profitability. In one episode he is opposed to the Jedi and then as the situation changes he decides to help the Jedi without missing a beat. The Master Jedi Quinlan Vos also kept his fellow Jedi guessing with his unpredictable and unconventional style. There is no beaten path for the Resilient. Being resilient means being fluid, adaptable and being prepared to “take the road less traveled”.

 

“The Troubled One”

“Life is difficult.” – M.Scott Peck

My childhood was far from conventional. At times it was miserable but it was never boring or without drama. There was a drunken Father who became a widow and his children motherless. There were siblings in ill-fitting clothes shunted from home to home before they became separated. The endless moving from one place to another, one school to another. Shallow roots pulled up continuously until it seemed pointless to connect to any place or anyone. Being taken in to the care of the church, then the state and then back in to the Father’s.

Looking back it was a pitiful existence. “When I look back on my childhood I wonder how I managed to survive at all” is how Frank McCourt describes his childhood in “Angela’s Ashes”. I can relate to that. There was the hunger, fear and loneliness of neglect. The anger of betrayal and abuse. I fought a lot and ran away and was always in trouble. There were run ins with the law. Somehow my older brother kept me out of “Juvi” by beating some sense in to me.

I walked out of home as soon as I finished High School and joined the Army. Then there were the years of searching and roaming. Booze had now become the guiding path in my life. It buffered me from the world and put a wall up to others.

I would look at people who had the “normal” life and envy them while at the same time feeling resentment. They had a life I did not fit in to and I had had a life they could not understand. I was thrust on to my path and these people had choices. Not surprisingly I was different and always felt an outsider. Being a loner and an introvert I turned to alcohol in order to belong and be accepted. The feelings of awkwardness and inferiority were dispelled. I found that alcohol made me sociable and funny. All the sudden I was “normal” instead of being different.

 

The Long Road Back

“It is because of problems that we grow mentally and spiritually” – M.Scott Peck

Getting drunk and staying drunk for me was easy. No effort was required. There was no resistance although there was a degree of dissonance. Doubts were negated by a strong mental compulsion to take the easy path. Being sober and living by principle is hard in comparison.

Sobriety is walking a long and winding road back from despair and hopelessness. The path is one that is rocky and often a steep climb with lots of trips and falls. We stagger on. It takes discipline and heart and a lot of faith to stay on that path. There is pain and doubt. In doing so we build resilience. We also build a wisdom of ourselves and others that those who stay on the beaten path do not.

 

Choose your Path

These days I celebrate being different. I choose the “path less traveled”, avoiding the mainstream and mediocre where I can. Many of my life choices are “alternative”. I embrace a personal spirituality that is fluid and open to change. Instead of hitting the gym I train calisthenics at park gyms or with whatever I can find, whenever I want. My tastes in music and food are unconventional and open. I follow the Jedi Path and apply the philosophy in to my life. Politics do not interest me but I have views that are non-partisan yet reflect my own convictions. My career is considered unusual and presents a paradox which people find interesting and I find challenging.

I see the world in a very different light than I did years ago. Life is different and every day is a gift. I have changed as the “Hero’s Journey” changes those that walk it. Virtues are now highly prized. I don’t compromise on my values and I demonstrate them through principles.

Being sober and choosing life is taking the “road less traveled”. Had I not chosen that path I have no doubt that now years later my life would be profoundly worse. It was not the easiest path to take. I fell over a few times but I kept getting up and moving forward. The destination was and still is a mystery. That is the adventure, the unknown. Faith and resilience is needed and greatness is its reward.

Dare to be different. Walk your own path.

“To proceed very far through the desert, you must be willing to meet existential suffering and work it through. In order to do this, the attitude toward pain has to change. This happens when we accept the fact that everything that happens to us has been designed for our spiritual growth.”  – M.Scott Peck

 

 

Further Reading

“The Road less Travelled” by M.Scott Peck

“The Hero with a Thousand Face” by Joseph Campbell

Build Resilience: Overcome Fear

Facing all that you fear will free you from yourself” – The Clone Wars “Sacrifice”

Fear often stops us in our tracks. Of all the emotions it is the one which hijacks our hopes and dreams the most. Fear of the unknown, fear of failure and ridicule are reasons that prevent people from starting let alone achieving their goals.

Most of the things that we fear reside only in our minds. We spend time imagining different scenarios of what might happen without realizing that there is no evidence or rational argument that supports the fears we harbor. The more we try to resist, avoid or flee from the things we fear the larger they loom. By confronting our fears we often find that they fail to materialize or have been blown out of proportion by our imagination.

Fear can either be an obstacle or an opportunity. We can use our fear to demonstrate faith and practice principles. Through fear lies the potential for power. We must simply overcome our fear and demonstrate our strength, courage and resilience. In order to overcome fear we must go through it.

The more we push ourselves to confront what we fear the more resilient we become. A fighter who enters the ring convinced that he is no match for an opponent has already lost the bout in his mind. We can however choose to enter in to the unknown as best prepared as we can be and face down our fears.

 

The Dagobah Lesson

It is not death that a man should fear, but he should fear never beginning to live” – Marcus Aurelius

When Luke Skywalker stood at the entrance to the dark cave he was about to confront his deepest fears manifested as the Dark Side. Fear is the opposite of faith as dark is the opposite to light. Fear is little more than absence of faith in our own divine capacity to find the light within ourselves. Luke entered the cave and came face to face with his darkest fear, not his nemesis Darth Vader, but his own dark side. Dagobah showed Luke Skywalker that fear resides only within us. Faith or the Force can be used to light our way through the darkness of our Fear.

Fear can also drive us to do courageous things. When we hear of stories of heroism in war and peace we often hear it said that “fear” spurned them in to action. A war hero often can’t explain why he rushed a machine gun nest or ran under fire to recover a wounded comrade. Neither can the bystander who rushes in to a burning house to rescue those trapped inside. Fear can drive a reaction that defies the natural instinct for self-preservation. The mental and physiological effects of fear can produce incredible courage and almost superhuman powers for some while render others completely immobile or send them in to mindless panic.

Our response to fear is at times unpredictable and surprising. In the Army there were those who were outstanding peace time soldiers fall to pieces under fire and a complete disgrace of a soldier in the barracks who surprised everyone with exceptional courage in combat. Some very courageous veterans face the greatest challenges and fears not in active service but when they transition to civilian life and leave behind the protective shell of the Army. The fear is debilitating and devastating because it takes everything and leaves nothing.

 

Fear to Recovery

Fear not the future, weep not for the past” – The Clone Wars “Voyage of Temptation

Fresh out of the Army I was fearful so I got drunk a lot. When I was drunk I could be fearless one night and a pathetic coward the next. Fear riddled my being. The past haunted me and the future terrified me. In the present I found the solace of booze.

Be messy and complicated and afraid and show up anyways” -Glennon Doyle Melton.

In recovery I learned that courage comes in many forms. It is the person in the meeting who has lost everything including her dignity and self-respect and now sits before us holding back the tears and telling the story of how she came to be there. The amount of courage it can take for some to share their stories and seek to make amends in early recovery is in a way far braver than the instinctive compulsion to rush out and save a comrade while under fire. It is the sort of courage that will provide us the strength and resilience to stay sober.

 

An Insidious Rumor

“Fear is the path to the Dark Side. Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering.” – Yoda

The important thing to remember is that Fear is a natural response to a legitimate threat. Fear is what kept our ancestors alive. In modern society fear has a different nature and is not always legitimate or real. Fear today is mostly insidious and chronic such as the fear of retrenchment, poverty, rejection or illness rather than the acute and immediate threat of being torn apart by a lion.

 “Fear is a great motivator.” – The Clone Wars “Heroes on Both Sides”

Intangible fears have been created to control us better or get us to do what Governments and Corporations want us to do.  We are conditioned through media to fear the perpetual enemy, the existential threat. Be it the Terrorists, Commies or the Russians, someone is out to get us. Fear is the greatest motivator. It was an irrational Fear of mortality that spurned Anakin to seek to control the Force and led him to the Dark Side. The Empire used Fear to control the Galaxy, the Emperor used it to control Darth Vader.

Some of us suffer chronic fear and anxieties that require professional help while others rarely feel any fear at all but have specific phobias that send them to pieces. If we are asked to name our greatest fears many of us can’t. Some of them are like whispers in the dark, a cold draft or a passing shadow. We know fear when we feel it. It is what we do about it that matters most.

 

Own you Fear

“We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when are afraid of the light.” – Plato

When we know our fears we can face them. Resilient people have a healthy relationship with fear because they recognize those that are real and those that are false or misleading. Resilient people do not jump to the worst conclusions and automatically create fearful scenarios and doomsday outcomes. An overly positive and optimistic view is avoided as well. In the absence of clear evidence resilient people do not make immediate judgement and then charge them with emotions such as fear or anger.  Resilient people recognize that fear is a tool for them to channel in productive ways. Fear is only to be feared when it short circuits our rational mind and hijacks out capacity for reasoned choice. When fear controls us.

Let us not forget what happened to Anakin Skywalker. As a child he suffered fear and tragedy. A young man and Padawan, Anakin started to feel anger for the injustices of his past. In “The Revenge of the Sith” we saw that anger turn to hatred pushing Anakin to the dark side. Anakin never lost the fear. It was always there, growing stronger with time, controlling him and eventually possessing him. Even as Darth Vader he existed under perpetual fear. Only his son Luke Skywalker could redeem him through forgiveness and courage. It was not the absence of Fear that won the day but the ability to rise above it.

In order to overcome fear and build resilience we must know what it is and what it is not.

Fear is

  • A natural and healthy human response to perceived or actual threats
  • Often the product of imagination or falsehoods
  • Often magnified in our minds through ignorance
  • Contagious and can be manifested in society through prevailing attitudes (eg. Terrorism)

Fear is not

  • Always objective and rational
  • An abnormal responses to life
  • Unique to the individual
  • A weakness
  • A final reason to not do something we want to
  • Unnatural or shameful
  • Inherited and a part of your nature

 

Further Reading

Stoic Warriors by Nancy Sherman (2016)

Build Resilience: Embrace the Suck

I’ve got a bad feeling about this” – Han Solo

Voluntary Hardship is one thing but loving adversity is at an entirely different level. It sounds devious and twisted but it works and it is incredibly effective in building Resilience.

“Embrace the Suck” is a term used in the Military. I’ve heard it used in one form or another in three different Armies in three languages. The term was also adopted in CrossFit and you hear it in the Box around the World.

Embrace the Suck means diving in to the crap and wallowing in it with a grin on your face. You know you are going to hate it and you know it will suck badly but you flick a switch in your head that reads “Beast Mode” and you wade in. It is a process of turning a negative perception of an experience upside down by surrendering to it.

People who wade in to discomfort and vulnerability and tell the truth about their stories are the real badasses” – Brene Brown

 

Kokoro

When a man is beaten, tormented and defeated…He is ready to learn something.” – Emerson

The Navy SEAL former Commander Mark Divine calls Embracing the Suck the essence of the Warrior’s “Unbeatable Spirit” or “Kokoro Mind”. It is the essential ingredient for success and one that alludes 80% of candidates attempting the world renowned and feared BUDs course.

Those that pass selection the SASR or the Navy SEAL BUDs Operator training will tell you that the course was 80% mental and 20% physical. Those that somehow get through it all will admit that the key to success  was to drop all resistance to the experience and truly embrace it with every fiber of your being. This means total commitment and focus. The evolution is entirely mental, emotional and spiritual. The pain and discomfort is an illusion that is temporary and transitory. By “Embracing the Suck” the candidate for Special Operation Forces transcends to another level.

 

Winners are Grinners

The greater the obstacle, the more glory in overcoming it.” —Confucius

I can’t stand heights. Once during a course in the Army I had to traverse across a 50 meter canyon. A cable was suspended across a chasm that was at least 100 meters deep.

I attached my carabiner to the cable and swung on so that my body was lying on it with one leg dangling for balance. Pulling myself across the cable I kept my eyes on the Instructor on the opposite side of the canyon. Pulling myself closer and closer using my hands and mounted leg pumping to slide my body forward. I refused to look down. Suddenly I felt myself swaying to and fro. It became worse and worse and I realized the Instructor 30 meters in front of me was pulling the cable violently. I froze.

“Let go of the cable” the Instructor bellowed, “get the F__ off!” he yelled again.

I shook my head with a stifled no and the Sergeant swore and started to pull at the cable harder. “Let the F___ Go!” he yelled again. A Corporal standing near by laughing went over and also started to pull. The cable lurched back and forth and I felt like I was going to be flung off. I let go.

I was suspended above the void looking straight ahead as I swung with the cable above me. An old blue lanyard and a rusty carabiner was the only thing keeping me from falling to my death. My mind was racing in panic and I wondered if the lanyard and carabiner were going to hold. I heard my number being called.

“Student 67! look at me”, the Instructor yelled out. I stared at him. “Embrace the Suck and grow some balls Student 67! Now look down!”. I looked down and could see trees far below and a dry wadi bed. My stomach rose to my mouth. I heard my number again.

“Stand at attention and give us a smile”. I thrust my arms down and bought my feet together and gave a grin. There was laughter. “What are you waiting for dickhead?” the Sergeant yelled “remount and get over here”. I was back on the cable in a second and apparently broke the record for the fastest time across.

 

Image Source: Lucas Films

Bullet Proof Mind

“Misfortune is virtue’s opportunity.” – Seneca

For us mere mortals the lesson is clear. In order to build resiliency and then strengthen it we must relish any opportunity to put ourselves to the test. Rather than avoiding the unpleasant we must seek it out. This means turning up to training even when you don’t want to. Running the extra mile when you think you are going to puke. Putting your hand up for the most unsavory and unpopular jobs. Taking out the garbage or scrubbing the latrines. It might be filling in for someone’s shift when they can’t come in when you’d rather have the night off. This mean but not just doing it but doing it with enthusiasm and a sense of gratitude that people will start to wonder if you are not quite sane.

“Embracing the Suck” means “The Obstacle is the Way”. Any challenge faced is an opportunity to demonstrate virtues and practice principle. Someone hurls abuse at you in traffic? Give them a smile. You are having a real bad day and falling behind and someone comes to you asking for help on something trivial? Be patient and offer to help later. You have made an expensive blunder at work and fear getting reprimanded or losing your job? Owe up to the mistake, take responsibility and face the music. Making amends but too reluctant to face someone? Just do it anyway. Never compromising on your principles naturally builds resilience.

You have 100 Burpees to do and you want to quit at 40 and puke? I had a Platoon Sergeant in the Army that used to say that “Pain is weakness leaving the body”. Embrace the Suck and keep going.

 

Pain to Virtue

“Whenever you suffer pain, keep in mind that it’s nothing to be ashamed of and that it can’t degrade your guiding intelligence, nor keep it from acting rationally and for the common good.” – Marcus Aurelius

By embracing the adversity and unpleasantness of life as well as the good we are practicing the very concept of surrender. Buddhism teaches that what we resist persists. When we deny what is happening or throw up resistance to it we create suffering.

Every painful event, disappointment, lost opportunity, misfortune and missed chance can be a gift in disguise. We are given the opportunity to practice virtues and improve ourselves.

There is a choice in practicing Voluntary Hardship but in life we encounter hardships and responsibilities every day that “Suck”. A relationship may be on the rocks, work may be driving you crazy, you can’t get out of an emotional rut. Pause and reflect on what you can do to change the situation and get to work.

This means applying your principles and being true to your values even when your ego is telling you to do the opposite. Someone offended you? Suck it up and grin at them. Your look will tell them that you are no snowflake. Embracing the suck is also letting go of your fears. With the internal resistance gone we can flow through and with the experience. Over time things that used to seem daunting will no longer bother us. They will resolve themselves if we stop fighting them.

 

Lessons Learnt

“It takes discipline to focus only on high-value targets instead of giving in to the temptation of the low-hanging fruit life serves up daily.”  – Mark Divine

One of the reasons I failed in my attempts at staying sober for so many years was because I chose comfort over courage. I did not want to suffer and ironically I suffered more by not doing anything to change. My attempts involved trying to force change on others and fighting everything and everyone. I missed the fact that trying to control what is not of my own doing would only frustrate me more. Embracing the Suck meant taking full ownership and responsibility for my Life.

Admitting to a problem or fault takes honesty and humility, deciding to turn over your life to a Higher Power takes Faith, living your principles everyday takes Courage. None of it is easy of comfortable. You are choosing “Courage over Comfort” by taking the plunge. By “Embracing the Suck” you are fully committed and focused and using the experience as a chance to grow.

Imagine taking that attitude in to your daily life. How much easier things would seem. “People who wade in to discomfort and vulnerability” are the real badasses. Those that “Embrace the Suck” create an Unbeatable Spirit that cannot be beaten down.

Further Reading

Unbeatable Mind by Mark Divine.

 

Build Resilience: Voluntary Hardship

Life rises from the ashes. Fire brings renewed growth and  strength. The Forest is resilient. 

Voluntary Hardship is one of the ways we can build our resilience. The Stoics in Ancient Greece and Rome practiced Voluntary Hardship as a way to harden themselves to life. The practice could be as simple as missing a meal or sleeping rough. It was also about being exposed to uncomfortable situations, working with difficult and rude people and seeking out ways to test the limits of mental, emotional and physical endurance.

When I was 18 I decided to join the Army. I felt a need to test my mettle and prove myself a man. There was a need to expose myself to Voluntary Hardship in an environment where my choices were limited and I would be forced to grow. I thought that like a forest regenerating after fire I could be renewed by the furnace of the military.

 

“Lean into the discomfort of the work.” – Brene Brown.

 

Grunting

Being in the Army was like jumping in to a frying pan. Joining the Infantry was like jumping from the pan and in to the fire. It was uncomfortable and harassment constant. The work was dirty and hard. The lifestyle was close to Spartan. Material possessions were few. There was a greater chance of getting injured and suffering long term pain and disability. Knees and backs were shot after years of walking long distances with heavy loads. These are some of the reasons why men (and now women) still choose to do it.

Anyone who has ever been a Grunt knows that the Infantry thrives on a blend or order with random chaos. One minute everything is quiet and calm and then without warning a hurricane in the form of a snap inspection happens. Lockers are over turned, beds and mattresses are thrown about, gear is tossed out of windows and hosed down amidst screaming and yelling.

You find yourself at three am running around outside under a flood light dazed and confused. Grunting in the cold and wet while in your underwear, getting abuse hurled at you through a megaphone, you ask yourself in wonder “I volunteered for this shit?” The Army does this for one reason, to build resilience and prepare soldiers for war.

If you are not miserable, they are not doing it right. Voluntary Hardship works.

 

Yoda’s Method

Remember Luke Skywalker on Dagobah? Yoda pushed him to the limits of his mental, physical and emotional boundaries. The Jedi Master was showing Luke what he was capable of. By pushing Luke hard enough, Yoda was teaching him to find the Force within him and the resilience to meet his destiny.

Yoda: “Mysterious are the ways of the Force.”
Luke: “Did you just make me stand on my head for two hours because I was annoying you?”
Yoda: “Very mysterious.”

During the original trilogy we witnessed Luke evolving from an emotional and petulant Farm boy to a hardened and resilient Jedi. Voluntary Hardship was a Jedi discipline intended to prepare the Jedi for his or her mission.

 

Sane and Safe

Voluntary Hardship is all of these things but not all of us are going to commit to a personal Dagobah. We can do it as part of a sane and safe practice that suits our lifestyle. By constantly testing ourselves and by making life routinely uncomfortable in some way we are hardening ourselves for the day we may need to live it for real.

These days I rely on Voluntary Hardship to help me in my recovery. It is not safe to rest on my laurels and get too comfortable. Alcoholism is a subtle and cunning foe that preys on momentary lapses in reason and weaknesses.

By practicing Voluntary Hardship I am able to forgo things in a mindful way. By doing so I know that I am training myself to resist temptation and better absorb hardship when it comes without warning. I’m better able to deal with HALT* moments that arise and keep my serenity.

We need not deprive ourselves of basic needs. No one who is sane practices Voluntary Hardship by wandering through the wilderness without food or water for forty days or sleeping on a bed of nails. Doing anything at the expense of our health and well being is contrary to the purpose of Voluntary Hardship.

A voluntary hardship might be skipping a meal and going hungry for a night, having a cold shower, sleeping on the floor, leaving your jacket at home when you know it’s cold and raining out donating half of your clothes to charity. You could choose to go without Social Media for a few days or throw your Smart Phone in the drawer. Do it often enough and you begin to understand what scarcity and hardship feels like and that you can live with both if needed.

“The benefits of Voluntary Hardship far outweigh the discomfort.”

 

Easier

You began forcing yourself to get out of bed 6 am a month ago.  At first it was hell but you soon started to get used to it. Soon enough it became routine and then you thought, “why don’t I go for an early morning run?”.  You went from sleeping in till late and struggling out of bed to getting up at sunrise and going for a run.

After a few months you find yourself in the gym. All of the sudden you realize you look and feel great. Why? Because you chose to be uncomfortable.

Incremental improvements happen when we  challenge ourselves. We adapt and become conditioned to hardship and eventually we start to enjoy it.

 

Rewarding

When we were Kids some of us might remember having had “privileges” such as Television revoked for transgressions such as failing to make the bed. The denial was not voluntary but the sense of gratitude we got when the privilege was restored was real.

Imagine denying yourself the pleasures that you routinely enjoy. The truth is most of us don’t because we are on the hedonistic merry-go round. People are constantly seeking new pleasures and distractions. The things that we coveted and received soon lose their shine and we are left wanting for the next best thing. We have forgotten to appreciate the things we have and only want and expect the things we don’t.

What if we were to lose or have some of those things we have withheld? Could we do without them? My Daughter pleaded that she could not do without her Smart Phone until she found out she could. It taught her to value her things more. Still after the next model came out she “needed” that too!

Not having our endless demands met is healthy. Healthy denial teaches us to be grateful for what we have and take the time to enjoy them knowing that life can still be enjoyable without them.

 

Simpler

There is so much we can forgo in life. Peeling away the layers of materialism and settling for a simpler and less cluttered life frees us a lot of stress. Life become more about enjoying the experience rather than amassing possessions.

I do not equate a lack of material wealth as poverty or hardship. Some people do and they are physically and emotionally attached to their belongings in way that it creates a prison for them. By letting go of the clutter we think we need we start to break those bonds.

Wanting less also means having to spend less which means less debt and more money to do things that enrich your life experience.

 

Healthier and Happier

Less stress, more time and money to invest in your health and well-being, putting people before things all lead to a greater sense of self sovereignty, independence and happiness. If Voluntary Hardship leads to adopting a healthier diet, exercise program and positive outlook then all the better. All of these benefits result from having more resilience which results from Voluntary Hardship.

Use your imagination. Have fun with Voluntary Hardship. Remember it is training, not some form of penance.

*HALT: Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired. The four horsemen of the Apocalypse (Triggers) for Alcoholics in early recovery.

 

Further Reading

Ryan Holiday (2014): The Obstacle Is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph. Available on Amazon at http://amzn.to/29HvsMI

Meditations by Marcus Aurelius. Available on Amazon at: http://amzn.to/29R3Ysb

Letters from a Stoic by Seneca the Younger. Available on Amazon at: http://amzn.to/2mqd44A

Build Resilience

The six petal rosette is a symbol of life and resilience in many ancient cultures. Life is resilient and in a constant cycle of birth, death and rebirth. Even a fragile poppy will fall under a storm to re-emerge more vibrant than before.

Trigger Warning

I recently attended a workshop on mental health where a Psychologist opened the session by telling the captive audience that if they want to reduce the risk of suicide in their kids, teach them how to build resilience in life. He was blunt and direct.

The room was full of people who happen to be in the highest risk category for suicide; work-away white males between the ages of 35 and 54 with a good number of veterans and divorced Fathers in the mix. No one was triggered. The statement got everyone’s attention because it was confronting and hit close to home.

Resilience is more than a trait, it is a virtue. Probably the most underrated virtue. The reason it is a virtue is because the choice of how we respond to life remains largely within. We can choose to stay down when life floors us or we can pick ourselves up and keep moving. We can hide from the world or we can face it. The choice is ours.

 

Survivor

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

In recent years the idea of Resilience has been pushed to the background. Identity politics and the emergence of a victim-hood culture and ubiquitous trigger warnings have convinced many people that they do not need to change; society must change to accommodate them. Resilience helps some but not all some might argue. While it is true that many people around the world suffer injustices which should be addressed it does not mean that they should not strive to be resilient in the face of adversity as well.

Trigger warnings don’t happen in real everyday life and they don’t really help. Avoidance can be detrimental. One way to become resilient is to identify our vulnerabilities and expose them to our fears and obstacles.

There is a choice between being the perpetual victim and a survivor with a story to share. Do not fall for the victim-hood culture.

 

Vulnerable

Vulnerability is not weakness. And that myth is profoundly dangerous” – Brene Brown

People are not born equal. That is a fact of life. Society cannot change overnight. Cultural attitudes can take decades and longer to change. Paradigm shifts occur slowly. Sometimes they occur dramatically through revolutions and reformations. Much of this is determined by the social and cultural consciousness that drives the change. As the tide moves we are swept along with it or left behind.

We are also all born vulnerable. That is a good thing. It puts us where we need to be. As humans we are imperfect but we all have within us the capacity to change, to fail repeatedly and get up and try again and again.

Our lives are also largely out of our control. We are more vulnerable to change and chance that we care to admit. Most of us would find it hard if not impossible to recover from a major catastrophe such as the loss of a loved one, financial ruin or a relationship melt down. We are human and therefore vulnerable, we all suffer loss, illness, injury, heartbreak, grief and finally death. Our vulnerability can also be the source of our courage and resilience. How? By being more in tune with our emotions and understanding our relationship with them.

What of today? What can we do now? Regardless of who we are resilience can serve us. Some of us are raised to be resilient and it seems to be in our nature. Others less so but there are ways to build resilience in to our lives.

 

Nothing Ventured Nothing Gained

“Resilience is more available to people curious about their own line of thinking and behaving,” – Brene Brown

If we want to get fit and healthy we exercise regularly and eat nutritious food. We can stimulate our minds and ward of degenerative diseases like dementia by keeping mentally active. Our emotional state is kept in balance through meditation, socializing and spending time with family and friends. Without even thinking about it most of us look after our mental, physical, emotional and spiritual health. All of this helps us in building our resilience to adversity.

Resilience is a virtue that needs to be practiced. Waiting for the “accidental and the unforeseen” to happen is too late. Resilience is built through training and practice.

How do we practice resilience? None of us want to put ourselves in to real situations where we test our resilience. We are not going to upturn our lives so that we can assess our capacity to recover. That would be counter-intuitive. At the same time we can sometimes anticipate when bad things are going to occur. A loved one may have a terminal disease and while we dread it, we know the day will soon come when they will die. Our employer may warn us that retrenchments are coming due to an ailing economy. We are then told to prepare for bad news.

The “unforeseen and the accidental” of Marcus Aurelius is what we are least prepared for. This is where we need to train our resilience.

Over the next seven days we will be looking at 9 ways we can build resilience in to our lives.

 

Recommended Reading

Brene Brown (2017): Rising Strong: How the Ability to Reset Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead. Available on Amazon at https://www.amazon.com/Rising-Strong-Ability-Transforms-Parent/dp/081298580X

Eric Greitens (2016): Resilience: Hard-Won Wisdom for Living a Better Life. Available on Amazon at: https://www.amazon.com/Resilience-Hard-Won-Wisdom-Living-Better/dp/0544705262