What If?

Brothers in Arms

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

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

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

ANAKIN: Help me, Master.

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

OBI-WAN: I will not..

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

ANAKIN : I hate you!

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

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

OBI-WAN: You were my brother, Anakin. 

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

ANAKIN screams in rage

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

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

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

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

 

“Do all things with love.” – Og Mandino

 

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

 

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

Edits

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

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

 

Cuts

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

“Help me, Master” makes “Revenge of the Sith” so much more a tragedy than it already was. Lucas was wise not to include such a final and tragic twist in the movie. It would have been too dark.

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

 

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

 

Arcs

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

Luke not only saved his Father he saved himself. That was his destiny. Obi-Wan ignored a cry for help and it created Darth Vader. That one action sealed fate.

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

 

Let the past die” – Kylo Ren

 

Binds and Wings

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

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

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

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

 

If

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

How do you change?

“If I feel depressed I will sing.

If I feel sad I will laugh.

If I feel ill I will double my labor.

If I feel fear I will plunge ahead.

If I feel inferior I will wear new garments.

If I feel uncertain I will raise my voice.

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

If I feel incompetent I will think of past success.

If I feel insignificant I will remember my goals.

Today I will be the master of my emotions.”

– Og Mandino

The Lightsaber

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

―Luke Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi

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

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

 

The WTF moment

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

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

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

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

 

No, I’m your Father

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

What a way to end a very bad day.

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

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

 

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

―Darth Sidious and Darth Vader

 

The Baton of Guilt

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

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

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

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

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

Wouldn’t he?

 

Credit: SW-daydreamer.tumbler.com 

No he would not.

 

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

Letting Go

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

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

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

 

This one is mine. I no longer use yours.

―Luke Skywalker, to Darth Vader

 

The Unwanted

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Memories

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

―Darth Vader examining Luke Skywalker’s Lightsaber.

 

The Lightsaber Project

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

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

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

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

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

Heart

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

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

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

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

 

The Heart

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

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

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

 

The Warriors Virtue

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

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

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

 

Soldiers Heart

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

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

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

 

 

Heart on a Sleeve

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

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

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

 

Losing Heart

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

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

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

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

 

The Fall

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

 

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

“Then you will die” – Darth Vader

 

The Redeemed

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

 

The Flame

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

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

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

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

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

 

Further Reading

“A Fighter’s Heart” by Sam Sheridan

Jedi Resilience

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

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

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

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

 

Resilience Virtues

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

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

 

Practice make Progress

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

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

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

 

False Peaks

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

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

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

 

The Promises

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

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

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

(Alcoholics Anonymous pg83-84)

Build Resilience: Pay it Forward

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

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

 

Comrades

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

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

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

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

 

The Wounded

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

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

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

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

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

 

Ask and Give

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Pay if Forward

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

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

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

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

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

 

Self Help Exercise: Storming the Wall

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

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

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

 

 

Build Resilience: Be Prepared

“Han Shot First” – The Jury

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

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

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

 

The Cantina

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

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

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

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

 

Ready and Able

Sorry for the mess” – Han Solo

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

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

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

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

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

 

Ill-Prepared

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

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

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

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

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

 

Get a Grip

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

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

 

Wrestling Demons

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

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

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

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

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

 

One Day at a Time

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

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

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

 

Stay Calm, Be Ready

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

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

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

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

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

Always be prepared.

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)