Amathia

 

There is no Ignorance there is Knowledge” – Jedi Code

There is, he said, only one good, that is, knowledge, and only one evil, that is, ignorance” – Socrates

Amathia

People do stupid things. We can all admit to behaviour that in retrospection and on reflection seems illogical, irrational, self-destructive and just plain stupid. Being alcoholic I am qualified to attest to this. Looking at my past I could easily write the book “On Stupidity”. I still remind myself that people are not purposely stupid any more than I was. People just do stupid things. To quote Forrest Gump “Stupid is as stupid does”.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German pastor and Anti-Nazi dissident, wrote that while the reasoned may protest against “Evil” and be inoculated against it there is no such defense against the person who does stupid. Even the person who does “evil” feels a unease with their acts (unless of course the person is a psychopath). “Evil” is however a result of stupidity and ignorance.

The Greeks called such “Stupidity” Amathia, a sort of preventable intelligent “Stupidity”. Amathia is different to the “dull witted” who lacks the mental capacity to know virtue from vice. Socrates considered Amathia the root of evil acts in people. Epictetus described Amathia as anti-wisdom. A spiritual malady that afflicts those that could know and should know better.  Worse than ignorance, Amathia is choosing not to know, the worst type of stupidity.

 

A Stain

Stupidity never receives a clinical description or medical diagnosis. As an affliction it resides outside the realm of psychology. In the Army, “Stupid” or variations of was the worst label one could suffer. Being labelled “Stupid” was like a stain. It marked the unfortunate as “incompetent, unreliable, a liability and a bullet magnet”. “Stupid” was someone who could not be taught because he was incapable. Unable to learn not because of a lack of ability but because of a lack of willingness. Such was a lost cause, a “Cluster”, a “Gomer Pyle”.

Reading Bonhoeffer’s description of stupidity I am stunned by the familiarity to my own behaviour around alcohol. I never considered myself “Stupid” however I did stupid things and refused to learn from them. I was a “Cluster” in the true sense of the word. This flaw was a stain and it touched everyone who came close to me.

 

Defenseless

Bonhoeffer wrote a letter while awaiting his fate in a Nazi prison. I will quote extensively from it as it serves as a wake up call. Bonhoeffer writes “against stupidity we are defenceless” and goes on; “Neither protest nor the use of Force accomplish anything here; reasons fall on death ears

Most alcoholics are defenseless against the power of alcohol. They are hopeless when it comes to being convinced by others of their condition. Loved one’s and friends try to intervene without success. Employers, work mates and medical professionals try to reason with them. All efforts avail nothing.

Not only addicts are affected. People in general tend to grasp on to their system of beliefs and tightly held opinions that an alternate view cannot and will not be entertained. Extremists come in many shades but all share a common refusal to budge on their beliefs even in the face of evidence to the contrary. Some are even prepared to die for them.

 

“facts that contradict one’s prejudgment simply need not be believed- in such moments the stupid person even becomes critical – and when facts are irrefutable they are just pushed aside as inconsequential, as incidental.”

 

Ignoring Evidence

Even in the face of declining health, lost employment, repossessed house, broken family and destitution an alcoholic will continue to insist that the source of his problems is the fault of others. She will refuse to admit fault or accept being alcoholic. Despite the inevitable cognitive dissonance suffered the person will reject all evidence. This denial and reinforcement of enabling behaviour counteracts any impetus for change.

We call this person sick. Indeed they have a mental, physical and spiritual illness rooted in Amathia.

How often in other areas of life do we put our blinkers on and cherry pick the truth believing only what we want to hear and rejecting opposing views and contradictory evidence as “false”, “fake” or “baseless”? We would rather ignore and reject out of hand ideas or evidence that challenges our perceptions than give them a moment’s thought.

 

The Belligerent

“In all this the stupid person, in contrast to the malicious one, is utterly self-satisfied and, being easily irritated, becomes dangerous by going on the attack.”

 

When we are pushed to consider a view point that challenges our sense of self and potentially destroys everything we believe we can become extremely defensive. Pushed hard enough we may defend our beliefs to the point of violence. It happens with addicts who are forced in to a corner.

Violence is also used by  people who have inflexible and dogmatic views on religion, politics and other contentious issues. Are our valued ideas and concepts worth defending or advancing to the point we need to attack others who challenge us? Do we have the right to smother dissenting views and criticism?

 

A Contagion

Somehow people “become stupid” over time. Progressively they adopt attitudes and beliefs that eventually translate in to habits and character. The element of “Stupidity” is demonstrated in the traits described above. The outcome for an alcoholic is gradual loss of control of their lives and eventual descent to a personal hell. I know this because I lived it.

Stupidity is contagious. Bonhoeffer believed that those that felt a strong need to belong  to a group whether social, political or religious tended to be more willing to accept ideas than those who are happier to find their own path. Ideas and attitudes are fueled by people who share similar mind-sets and views.  As a drinker I sought out Drinkers to socialize and associate with and avoided people who did not drink. People tend to seek out the company of those that validate their character and values and avoid those who don’t.

In many ways recovery is a “Solo” mission. We can get advice and direction from people and seek what fits our own individual needs. There is no “one size fits all”. Most spiritual paths and philosophies are similar. There is a community but we are free and encouraged to go out and find our own way. There is nothing wrong with embracing an ideology however never grasp it so tight that it becomes a tether to the mind and soul. Be free to explore and seek new ideas and thoughts.

“Upon closer observation, it becomes apparent that every strong upsurge of power in the public sphere, be it of a political or of a religious nature, infects a large part of humankind with stupidity.”

 

A Modern Affliction

Bonhoeffer was imprisoned for many years by the Nazis. Despite his long incarceration Bonhoeffer believed that “stupidity” more than “evil” attracted many people to the Nazi doctrine. The rise of populism, “identity politics”, the “social justice warrior”, nationalism, religious extremism and “alt-left” and “alt-right” movements are all facets of the same thing when observed impartially from above. “Right” and “wrong”, “good” and “bad” are subjective.

We live in a world that is becoming increasingly polarized, intolerant and “stupid”.  The argument for reasoned discourse has been drowned out by the noise of divisiveness. People are being conditioned not to think, not to question. At the same time supporters of opposing views claim the moral high ground and possession of the truth. In truth the lack self ownership and independence of thought.

 

it seems that under the overwhelming impact of rising power, humans are deprived of their inner independence, and, more or less consciously, give up establishing an autonomous position toward the emerging circumstances.”

Independence

Alcoholism like any type of dependence is a complete loss of self-autonomy and independence. It is also attachment and ego run riot. We forget how to think critically and with reason. Our actions are guided by something stronger than our own free will. Our inner world no longer belongs to us.

Ask yourself what are you dependent on? People, places, things, ideas and beliefs can all be our sources of attachment and dependence. Despite ourselves we find our own values and ideas are no longer our own, we are simply reciting the ideas and values of others as our own and “preaching to the converted”.

In conversation with him, one virtually feels that one is dealing not at all with a person, but with slogans, catchwords and the like that have taken possession of him. He is under a spell, blinded, misused, and abused in his very being.”

 

Self Wisdom

A person who is self-reliant, independent and emotionally intelligent and capable of critical analysis is unlikely to follow a “false prophet”. Our ego and fears seems to push as that way. Most people want to be part of the crowd. No one wants to be a contrarian. People want to be able to give themselves a label which expresses who they are and what they value. I was no different. Being alcoholic I made many claims and had an inflated sense of self-importance. My disease and the problems it presented defined me.

Recovery has taught me how to be self-reliant and independent. I can differentiate between what is in my control and what it outside of it. My inner world belongs to me. I have command over my proper faculties, my thoughts, perceptions and responses. The tone and attitude I bring in the day is up to me. Opinions and beliefs are mine alone. My spirituality is unique and my own. I choose my values and the principles I live by.

I have little control over people and circumstances. There may be some influence but the world is largely out of my control. Even my body is not entirely under my control. I can choose what to eat and drink from what is before me. My health may fail despite best efforts to be healthy and fit. Cancer or heart disease may still cut my years short. I am my own being and belong to no one but myself.

 

“Having thus become a mindless tool, the stupid person will also be capable of any evil and at the same time incapable of seeing that it is evil. This is where the danger of diabolical misuse lurks, for it is this that can once and for all destroy human beings”

 

Evil is a Symptom

Bonhoeffer witnessed with dismay the rise of the Nazi Party in Germany. Being an opponent of Hitler he was imprisoned and persecuted. Accused of association in the plot to kill Hitler he was interned in a concentration camp and executed during the closing days of the war. Bonhoeffer would not have justified killing, even Hitler. Violence was not in his philosophy.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer suggested that the nature of the “Stupid” person is not an “intellectual” deficit but a “human” one. People are not born “stupid” any more than they are born “evil”. Some people are less intelligent than others, even “dull”, but are less “Stupid” in their nature than those with high intellect. History has shown some remarkably talented and brilliant minds who were ultimately betrayed by their own “Stupidity”.

People believe “Evil” is an independent and a tangible concept. That it has a life of its own. “Evil” is what most people perceive to as the really bad things that people do.  No one considers themselves to be inherently “evil”. Bonhoeffer  believed that people were not evil but only capable of doing evil because of their ignorance. Evil is a symptom of Socrates’s Amathia. Bonhoeffer also believed people could change for the better.

Yet at this very point it becomes quite clear that only an act of liberation, not instruction, can overcome stupidity

 

Liberation

In many ways Bonhoeffer was a real world Jedi Master. Bonhoeffer challenged the Lutheran church with his ideas of spirituality and religiosity but did not alienate himself from it. His views and philosophy of non-violent resistance influenced Martin Luther King, anti-communism in East Europe and the anti-Apartheid movement in South Africa. In his letter from prison Bonhoeffer offered his friends some advice; “Liberation can overcome stupidity“.

More than 2200 years before Bonhoeffer, Socrates suggested  the same thing. Salvation from the worst flaw, the real human evil, Amathia is through the spiritual and psychological liberation that self knowledge brings.

Each of us has the key to our own liberation. Our own reasoned choices determine who we are. We can submit to our own vices or we can embrace virtue. Do we choose to abide by the will of others or make up our own minds? Do we walk the path we want for ourselves or do we follow others blindly? At the same time we can be understanding and compassionate with others, even the “Stupid” that we meet everyday.

In the week the world remembers the Holocaust it is perhaps timely that we reacquaint ourselves with the word Amathia.

 

Make Bed Change World

Never give up hope, no matter how dark things seem” – The Clone Wars “The Wrong Jedi”

 

Making the Bed

US Navy SEAL Admiral William H. McRaven delivered a commencement address to the graduating class of the University of Texas on May 17, 2014. In that speech the Admiral  McRaven told his audience “If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed”.

 

The video of the speech was posted on YouTube and went viral with over 10 million views worldwide. McRaven shared ten simple principles he had learned as a Special Forces Operator and Naval Officer. Those principles can be applied in everyday life and recovery as they can in the meat grinder of Navy Seal Hell Week.

In simple terms they boil down to the principles of humility, courage, perseverance, patience, knowledge, simplicity, self-control, self-belief, selflessness, team work and a healthy sense of humor. We never ring the bell and quit. “Embrace the Suck”. Through principle and actions you can change not only yourself but the world as well. The first step is making the bed.

 

 

The transcript is here: https://www.realclearpolitics.com/video/2014/05/22/10_lessons_to_help_change_the_world.html

 

If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed”.  – Admiral William H. McRaven

 

The video is a timely reminder of the power of small daily rituals in our lives. Making a bed may seem like a fairly trivial thing to do. I for one don’t feel right not making the bed in the morning. Decades of habit since childhood reinforced in the crucible of the military ensures that the bed is made as soon as my feet hit the floor in the morning.

Not only is the bed made but the top sheet is folded over and the corners are tucked in and the cover smoothed over. This is a conscious act I do every morning no matter what.  Even if I achieve nothing else that day at least I have made the bed. I start the day with purpose. This purpose hopefully carries on in to other tasks.

 

If you make your bed every morning you will have accomplished the first task of the day. It will give you a small sense of pride and it will encourage you to do another task and another and another.” – Admiral William H. McRaven

 

Ritual

Being Jedi is about having daily rituals as well as the discipline to carry them out. In time these rituals become habits. We are conscious that  meditation, exercise and being aware and mindful in our daily activities and interactions with others are all constructive and healthy habits. These are called disciplines for a reason. Like rolling out of bed every morning and taking a minute to make the bed, it takes conscious application, effort and purpose. No trivial or mundane feat.

 

Making your bed will also reinforce the fact that little things in life matter. If you can’t do the little things right, you will never do the big things right.” –  – Admiral William H. McRaven

 

 

Bad Habits

Negative habits also become ritual. Going for a drink was part of a ritual. It started off small but soon took over.  If I had had a good day, a bad day or a mediocre day it was all good enough reason for a drink. Bitter disappointments and sorrows were dispelled with alcohol. Celebrations, victories and wins were all good reasons to get drunk. There was no excuse, no ritual and no reason not to have a drink. If I drank, I got drunk and reasoned that those times were justified even when I knew they weren’t.

After living like that for years and decades you begin to realize that your ideas and beliefs may be flawed. Addiction over rides rational thought and reasoning. Soon you discover that most of the rituals, routines and habits you have come to develop have become part of your character. You discover that your character has evolved over time to tolerate, normalize and then defend some very nasty attributes.

What we might have once been considered unacceptable in our selves soon becomes the new normal. We soon find ourselves on a downward spiral trajectory to rock bottom unless we change direction.

 

Break the Chain

Breaking the addiction cycle is an exercise in forming new habits. I found that it is easier to form new habits than break old ones. The new habits will simply over time phase out and replace the old ones. Knowing what your thought patterns are, being aware of triggers as well as the rituals that lead to abuse and knowing how to avoid them or respond effectively is the key to breaking free. We have to train ourselves in to a new way of thinking and acting. Embracing new habits and rituals that replace old destructive habits is the key.

Addiction is a habit, so is a healthy and sober life. Replacing one with the other is simply about choosing and taking action. Action is repeated. In time action becomes habit and habit becomes character. In time changes happen that in hindsight seem nothing less than miraculous.

Here are ten ways that change may manifest if we extend the principle of making the bed every morning to other areas in our lives as well:

  • Instead of blaming others we start to look at what role we had played in our problems;
  • Rather than insisting others apologize we begin to forgive and let go of resentment;
  • Instead of being focussed on the harm others did to us we start to consider the harm we have done to others;
  • We seek to make amends to others rather than expect special treatment;
  • An attitude of entitlement is replaced with simple acceptance and gratitude;
  • Words such as honesty, humility, patience, temperance and respect became personal principles and strengths;
  • People become more important than things;
  • Spirituality instead of our attachments begin to define us as human beings;
  • We begin to see ourselves as part of the whole rather than separated from it;
  • We begin to feel a conscious connection to the Living Force.

 

Start by making the bed today and every day. Eventually other tasks will become easier to do. Quitting even when things seem hopeless is no longer an option.

 

Embrace the Suck, Change the World

Some of us start to make the bed every morning, some of us just continue to make the bed as we had always done. In a way I’m glad now that I kept making my bed even during the darkest days. Perhaps while I still did there was a glimmer of hope that I would one day accomplish much more.

Every morning some people roll out of bed to face the day. They stumble to the bathroom, get dressed and have breakfast before immersing themselves in  the noise and distraction of the day. They stare at the mirror blankly as they brush their teeth, mind preoccupied with mental chatter. Food is shoved in to mouths while scrolling through the news feed on phones or staring at the morning show on the Television. Some people lurch outside of the door and barely notice the world around them as they head off to work. They rinse and repeat every day. Those are some people, not Jedi.

Some of us wake up, pause and then put our feet on the floor. We turn and make the bed and begin our morning routine. Same routine as ever. The day begins with a simple and mindful act. A task is completed. We take that moment in to the day no matter what it has in store for us and complete more tasks. To quote the Navy Seals we “Embrace the Suck” and in doing so we change the world.

 

And, if by chance you have a miserable day, you will come home to a bed that is made—that you made—and a made bed gives you encouragement that tomorrow will be better.” – Admiral William H. McRaven

https://www.amazon.com/Make-Your-Bed-Little-Things/dp/1455570249

Animus

Courage begins by trusting oneself.” – The Clone Wars

 

An Expression

In France people often the use the word “Courage” or “Bonne Courage” to encourage a friend or an acquaintance that is facing a challenge large or small. It is not a word which is used in the English language as an informal expression of one’s hope that another will succeed or prevail. We will rarely hear someone say to another “Be Brave” or “Have Courage” as if we were saying “Good Luck” or “Have a nice Day”. In France it is used often and is meant to remind one of the virtues of courage and its universal application in all aspects of life. It is a reminder that self trust is the root of courage.

 

A Virtue

Courage was considered by the Stoics as one of the most important virtues that a person could attain. Along with wisdom, justice and temperance (self-control), courage was considered essential to living a good life. Perhaps with the adoption of the Stoic philosophy by the Romans and its eventual influence on Christianity the virtue of courage became embedded in the Romantic languages such as French.

 

Heart

The Latin word for courage is “cor” which roughly translates to “heart”. When people say, “He had the heart of a Lion” they mean he had courage which was exemplary. More than courage, the person had “heart”. “Heart” often refers to the inner resolve and spirit of a person which courage is a part of. A person may have the courage to face a fight and enter a ring to face an adversary but “heart” keeps him in the fight even when the odds are stacked against him. The person is not being reckless or suicidal; the person has the self trust to carry on past any fears and doubts.

 

Nihil tam acerbum est in quo non æquus animus solatium inveniat”

“There is nothing so disagreeable, that a patient mind can not find some solace for it”. – Seneca the Younger

 

Animus

The Latin word “Animus” was used to describe something more than “heart”. Animus roughly translated to the virtues of spirit, mind and courage. Animus entails the development of human mind, body and spirit and the transcendence of the human consciousness to higher levels.

Carl Jung believed that the masculine Animus and the feminine Anima are part of the collective unconscious in humans, transcending the personal psyche. Jung believed that humans evolved along a trajectory which culminates at transcendence, the expression of the rational soul. Seneca also described Animus to mean the rational soul expressed as the reasoned mind.

 

Anti-Ego

At the highest level Animus is the antithesis of the ego. The Ancient Greeks and Romans recognized that the ego was the greatest challenge that people faced. The root of all fears and doubts stem from the ego. The ego overrides reason and better judgement.

Cor (Heart) is needed to overcome that fear and arrive at a state of Animus which breaks us free from the grip of the ego. By finding Animus we overcome the barriers that we have built to stop us getting where we want to go.

 

Courage is not the lack of fear. It is acting in spite of it” – Mark Twain

 

Warrior Spirit

The Ancient Greeks and Romans considered Animus to be exemplified by the “warrior spirit” of duty, sacrifice, loyalty, honor and courage. When a warrior died in battle they had achieved the greatest feat for their nation. The Ancients believed that a warrior slain on the battlefield held an esteemed place in the underworld of the dead.

Even today we revere and honor our fallen heroes and use words such as courage, bravery and selflessness to describe them. Soldiers still use the slogan “Until Valhalla” in reference to the glory assigned to fighting with spirit and dying with honor. They are not fanatics, they trust themselves and their comrades beside them.

 

The Seeker

The purpose of the “Heroes Journey” is for the one “called to adventure” to find their internal Animus by overcoming the trials and challenges that stand before them. By venturing in to the dark and the unknown one arrives at light and knowledge. By sinking in to despair one finds hope. Through defeats and disappointments one finds the strength to overcome and the will to continue on to victory. The story has been told and retold through the myths and stories of the ages. We see it clearly in the saga of Star Wars. These stories inspire us.

 

“Bonus animus in mala re, dimidium est mali”

Courage in danger is half the battle.” – Plautus

 

Resolve

You do not need to be a hero on a life and death mission to discover your own Animus. I once thought the only way to truly test myself and find honor was by going to war. One does not need to do either to live a good and meaningful life. Life will test our courage and strength in many ways. It may be as simple as practicing principles even when others push the boundaries and provoke us. Staying sober is a daily and sometimes hourly test of resolve. We can express Animus in everything we do.

 

Bonne Courage

The French regularly say “Bonne Courage” as an offering of support to someone who is facing a challenge or difficult time. It is an odd expression to the English ear but it makes perfect sense. What the French are saying is much more than “Bonne Chance – Good Luck”. “Courage” is a reminder that everyone has an inner and sacred Animus that resides within. If one has the self trust to find heart and dig deep enough they will find it there and it will give them all the strength they need to prevail.

 

Gratus animus est una virtus non solum maxima, sed etiam mater virtutum onmium reliquarum

A courageous heart is not only the greatest virtue, but the parent of all the other virtues.” – Marcus Tullius Cicero

Appearances

“Size matters not.  Look at me.  Judge me by my size, do you?” Yoda

Who am I?

Image is important. People spend a lot of time trying to define who they are to the rest of the world. People seek identity through the clothes and symbols that they wear and the appearance that they keep. Like-minded individuals are drawn to each other and reaffirm their identity through the validation of others. Individuals will carefully choose and calibrate their appearances, their possessions and who they associate with to reflect their own sense of identity. Hair styles, body image, jewelry , tattoos are chosen to clearly state what is important to the person and how they want to be perceived. However are we really all of these things? Do external appearances really define who we are?

 

Trust not too much to appearances” – Virgil

 

The Ideal

Imagine two stereotypes. Firstly imagine a Jedi. What do you imagine a Jedi to look like? A Jedi might appear in your mind as Obi-wan Kenobi or Luke Skywalker. They wore Jedi robes or a black tunic of the type that Luke wore in “Return of the Jedi”. At the belt or in hand is a Light saber. Ignited the Light saber glows blue or brilliant white. The Jedi appears in excellent physical condition and radiates quiet confidence and purpose. Because of the Star Wars fiction we have come to expect Jedi to appear in a certain form and act in a certain way. When they don’t our perceptions are challenged and we either reject that image or explore and then accept the new “ideal” of what a Jedi should look like on the big screen.

 

You don’t have to look tough to be tough”. – Ahsoka Tano

 

Ahsoka Tano had a hard time convincing many of her abilities and worth when she first appeared in the Clone Wars ready for battle. She did not fit the Jedi stereotype with her small stature and young appearance. Neither did the enigmatic Jedi Master Quinlan Vos with his irreverence and laid back disregard for dress code and protocol.

 

Well, Quinlan Vos has that effect” – Obi-wan Kenobi

 

It is not the uniform or the Light saber that makes the Jedi. These are symbols that belong in the fictional realm. What makes the Jedi is being, not appearance. Being Jedi comes from within. Intent, commitment, discipline and action are words that define a Jedi in the Real World.

 

Terminally Unique

What does an alcoholic look like? Some people would describe a skid-row drunk character taken out of a photo from the Great Depression. A lean body with a gaunt face. Thread bare clothes and old worn out shoes. Hand clutching a bottle in a brown paper bag.

A man down on his luck and living on the street. Another stereotype might be the high functioning type with an office job. Deep lines mark his face. There is worn out look in his eyes and a two day growth. A perceptible tremor in his hands. It might also be the harried housewife dropping her kids off at school barely able to control her nerves. Her make-up hurriedly applied is unbecoming and her voice is raw from drinking. It could just as well be The Teacher that welcomes the Mothers child into the classroom or the Doctor she visits to talk about the pain in her side. Each is terminally unique. Each is also the same at a deeper level.

 

Appearances are often deceiving” – Aesop

 

Deception

I certainly never fit the stereotype of an alcoholic but that didn’t change the truth. Typical of many alcoholics I hid it from others and functioned well enough in day to day life. I made an effort with my appearance. Appearances are deceptive. On the inside I was torn and laid waste. The house of cards was crumbling. It’s no wonder people were surprised when I later admitted my addiction to them. Habits and character traits like obstinacy, dishonesty, belligerency, arrogance, impatience, intolerance and stubbornness did not come across as alcoholic behavior. People look for external signs like a disheveled appearance, alcoholic breath, shaking hands and inexplicable absences or accidents before they draw conclusions.

 

Religion is for people who are scared to go to hell. Spirituality is for people who have already been there.” – Bonnie Raitt

 

 

Recovered

What does recovery look like? It is different for everyone. I can meet a dozen other alcoholics in recovery and note that they look like people I might encounter anywhere. There are men and women, young and old with all body types. Some may identify as gay, straight or neither. Religious and political beliefs vary. Some wear casual clothes, others are more formal while some appear alternative. There are professionals, semi-professionals and the unqualified. Wealthy and poor. All races. There is no stereotype of what a person in recovery looks like. There is something common between us however, something that’s tangible and real. The feeling of a shared experience of survival from despair and addiction.

When I imagine a person in recovery I see someone who is calm, at ease with themselves, humble in their demeanor, attentive to others, honest and forthcoming and less self-centered but also self caring. I see someone who is in some way “spiritual”.  This might fit as a stereotype. Regardless, it is not how many days, weeks, months or years a person goes without a drink but the choices they make every minute and hour of the day which defines recovery. It is not in external appearances but one’s own internal world which defines contented sobriety.

 

Just as a candle cannot burn without fire, men cannot live without a spiritual life.” – Buddha

 

Life as You

You are not the clothes you wear, your hair style or the symbols that you carry. These things may be important to who you are but they do not define who you are. Politics, religious beliefs and philosophies can guide our lives but they are also not who we are. Status, career, profession, qualifications are all labels we value as a society but they do not mark a person as either a good or bad person. You are not your body, hair, image, possessions or ego. All of these things are transitory.  Our own choices and the common flame that burns within us is what makes us who we are.

 

You are not your body and hairstyle, but your capacity for choosing well. If your choices are beautiful, so too will you be.” – Epictetus

Self Assessment

Trials

In Star Wars the Jedi Trials were used by Jedi Masters to test and assess Jedi Padawans on their journey to becoming Jedi Knights. There were five trials “Skill”, “Courage”, “Spirit”, “Flesh”, and “Insight”. The Padawan was closely assessed by the Jedi Master overseeing the trials but the Padawan was also expected to be self critical throughout.  A Padawan had to dig deep within and determine if she had passed the trials as intended. A Padawan could get through a trial. But did the Padawan achieve the goals of the trial by gaining the insights and breakthroughs that the test was intended to bring out in her? Only through honest and thorough self assessment could a Padawan hope to fully become a Jedi.

Ahsoka Tano was an example of a Padawan who critically reviewed her beliefs, ideals and performance often.  Ahsoka was able to moderate Anakin’s behaviour through her strong principles and tireless devotion to her Master. Anakin would often criticize her but Ahsoka was by far her own strongest critic. More on Ahsoka later.

 

Free Pass

One of the things we are rarely encouraged to do is to critically assess our own performance as individuals. Usually someone else is the first to provide us with feed back on our performance or progress.

Whether it is at work, in a relationship, training for an event or plowing through a course, we usually don’t take the time to critically review ourselves. We usually rely on someone else to do it for us. Sometimes we are told things we didn’t want to hear and we act surprised. But should we be? Should we not critically assess ourselves everyday and know ourselves better? Most of us would rather give ourselves a Free Pass.

 

This is to be a test of your knighthood. You and your companions must make your own way through the difficulties you will encounter.” – Jedi Master Arca Jeth

 

The Corporate Slap

I’ve worked for a number of companies that had six monthly performance reviews built in to their human resource management program. Every six months you walked into an office to face your line Manager and a member of HR. They would deliver an appraisal and score you on your performance. The performance review would determine whether you received a bonus or part bonus or nothing at all. Promotions and continued employment was also determined in the review. There was a general rule that anyone who fell in the bottom 10-25% of the company would find themselves on notice and given a “probationary improvement plan”. Anyone in the bottom 10% was usually fired that day. This was how they got rid of undesirables.

The performance review required the individual to give themselves a score for performance against company “pillars” such as “courage”, “integrity”, “safety”, “productivity” and “respect”. Employees had to write a short justification of their score against each of these items. Most people wanted a high score because no one wants to be in the bottom quartile and face dismissal or shame. Everyone wants a bonus. Generally self assessments were scored high and 5 star performances was not uncommon for people who were clearly “under performers”. Why would someone be so dishonest with themselves? They either truly believed they deserved a high score or they were being dishonest.

 

The Truth Hurts

I have seen many people walk out of these performance review meetings clutching tissues as they dabbed tears in their eyes. Strangely some of these people would enter the room expecting a glowing report only to have their expectation dashed by a frosty reception and a dismal review. They had self scored high and seen it decimated from 5 stars to two or three. A reality check had been delivered.

What surprised me is why some of them were so shocked or hurt when they were given an honest assessment of their performance. Could they not see it themselves? Had they not taken the time to be honest with themselves and consider that perhaps people noticed their day to day performance and behaviors? The truth can hurt but it’s worth the pain.

 

 Brutally Honest

For some reason I could always guess how my performance review was going to go. In the military you knew if you were liked or disliked by the chain of command. They told us everyday and were brutally honest about their feelings towards us. Performance review was everyday. Feedback could swing from high praise to vitriolic condemnation reinforced with punishment push-ups and corporal punishment in a single hour.

In civilian life I grew wary of people because unlike the military you did not have such transparency and blatant honesty from your bosses. In the “real world” a person at work who was nice to you and pretended to be your friend might well be putting you down behind your back in order to look better. A supervisor might be blaming all of her failings on her subordinates and taking credit for all their hard work. In the Army this sort of “backstabbing” was unacceptable and was usually dealt with through “old school” methods. Being wary and realistic allowed me to walk in to a performance reviews hoping for the best but expecting the worst.

 

Whistling in the Dark

One of the things that surprised me is how line Managers at some companies only ever bother to speak to their subordinates about performance once or twice a year. Unless there is a glaring problem with behavior you are left alone and allowed to reinforce whatever flaws or habits are letting you down. No one is around to pull you back in to line. Most people don’t take the time to self assess themselves honestly and continue to “whistle in the dark” everyday completely unaware they have a target on their back.

Being alcoholic I knew my obstinacy, belligerency, complacency, dishonesty and hangovers were noticed in the workplace. The stories I made up to cover for absences from work were flimsy at best. I was rude and direct with people and I didn’t like them. The difference for me was I didn’t care. No one ever pulled me aside either. No surprises were ever had on performance review day.

 

High Functioning

Alcoholics can be exceptional people and many are highly talented over achievers. This is often called “High Functioning Alcoholic”. Unfortunately we tend to eventually torpedo ourselves because the ruse takes too much effort to sustain indefinitely. We give our bosses, bank managers and friends and loved ones the rope to hang us with. At the beginning everything runs well and we outperform expectations. Eventually, the cracks start to show but we recover and make up for it in spades. The house of cards starts to wobble and then finally collapses. We are left standing amidst the wreckage of our lives. Those around us stare at the mess and are baffled. We can’t explain why we do the things we do. They say they never saw it coming.

Despite my disease I knew when I had messed up and I tried to hide or deny it. Failing that I could try blaming others. It was only in recovery was I willing to inventory every fault, flaw and misdeed on paper and admit them to myself, another and my Higher Power. Once done I only had to try to make amends where I could and resolve to improve on a daily basis.

Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.” – Step 10, AA (Alcoholics Anonymous)

 

Daily Inventory

Daily self assessment is used to self monitor our own progress. We readily admit mistakes when we make them. This takes vigilance, discipline and self honesty. Every day we face challenges that test our emotional, spiritual and mental strength. Without the presence of mind and firm principles life can erode the foundation of our recovery and weaken us.

By taking daily inventory we manage life “one day at a time”.  This daily practice approach allows us to immediately appraise ourselves and adjust our behavior when we admit fault. We orientate ourselves back on to the path, make amends where necessary and continue forward. The goal is progress, not perfection. Mistakes will be made. We will falter. If life did not throw curve balls at us occasionally how would we ever grow?

Stoicism, like the 12 Steps encourages a daily self appraisal through an evening review. The evening review is used to identify what went well and where things can be improved. Personal conduct and interactions throughout the day are assessed and measured against personal values and principles. Did we demonstrate virtues in our interactions with others? Were we polite, patient, calm and civil in our dealings with difficult situations and people? Were there instances where we were angered and said or did something that we later regretted?

 

A Jedi Ritual

The Jedi were also encouraged to constantly undertake personal self assessment and review. This was a daily ritual. By connecting with the Force through meditation they could observe their actions as if looking from the outside in. Over time the Jedi could achieve a constant state of mindfulness where every thought, word and action was assessed before it was given power through release. The Jedi were self sufficient and were self honest enough to be their own best critic.

When the Jedi Council admitted to Padawan Ahsoka Tano that they had wrongly accused her of terrorism and sabotage she was promoted to Jedi Knight. The promotion was based on the premise that the ordeal had served as her final trial. Firm in her convictions Ahsoka Tano rejected the promotion and left the Jedi Order. In her mind she had suffered a great betrayal and had the presence of mind to be honest with herself.

The Jedi ritual can be used as a tool to identify problems and solutions. If something went well, we determine why and resolve to repeat or improve on that in future. If there was a shortcoming or failure we figure out why it happened and find a solution. We do not condemn or berate ourselves needlessly. Everyone makes mistakes and some days go better than others. Each and every day is an opportunity to put our principles in to action and learn something new.

 

 Avoid Complacency

Getting sober and staying that way, going on a diet to lose excess weight, exercising, studying for a qualification, becoming a Jedi and creating a successful relationship are difficult but rewarding. Self improvement is by nature hard because it demands we make real and meaningful changes in our life. It can be easy to get complacent and lose our way without taking the time to pause and assess our progress.

Regularly check in on how you are traveling on the path. Ask yourself “how am I doing right now?” Explore your feelings. If your mind is in turmoil or your emotions are raw take a moment to simply pause and observe impartially and then let go. There are some days when you will need to pause more than once to center yourself. At the end of the day, take the time to review your performance. Do this as part of your meditation practice if you like. That quiet time of contemplation and self assessment will, if you allow it, keep you focused on your goals.

 

The trials are difficult. Many try and fail, so I advise you not to be complacent.” – Jedi Master Satele Shan

Communication

The ability to speak does not make you intelligent” – Qui-Gon Jinn

 

The Lost Art

One of the most important skills we can attain in life is genuine and effective communication. Besides being a skill that is both acquired and learned, conversation is also an art to be mastered. Unfortunately in the post-911, pseudomodern and technocentric world, the art of conversation has largely been lost. The intrusion of instant messaging and social media in to people’s lives is rapidly replacing face to face conservation and relationship building on real human terms.

How many times have we walked in to a public space and found people engrossed “trance-like” in their smart phones? How many times have we aborted the opportunity to engage in conversation with a stranger simply because it feels awkward or we find we no longer had the skills or never had them in the first place? Would it be fair to say that many people find a deeper connection to their mobile phones than to fellow humans they are with?

Modern commentators call it the “lost art of conversation”. Modern technology has given us the tools to communicate with almost anyone, anywhere, anytime. Should you so desire you can join a social media group on virtually any subject and in short time be making friends or enemies online. Is this real communication however? Are we really connecting with other members of the human race? Is the “art” of conversation being lost and with it deeper connection with others? Are people alone even in a crowd?

 

A Deeper Connection

Connection is deeper than mere words on a computer screen. Communication is more than a shallow and awkward conversation in the cafeteria. I remember moments in my life when I connected with others at some deep and almost mystical level. Time froze, the senses were heightened, I stood present in the moment and felt truly connected with another soul;

…Soldiers in the back of an Army truck returning from patrol, tired, weary painted faces hidden in shadows and momentarily lit by the glow of a cigarette. A bottle of Vodka passed between them as a harmonica played and silence spoke of the common bond and brotherhood that we shared…

….A passionate and heated argument with a friend over treasured ideals. Words are spoken that cannot be taken back; blows are exchanged and then laughter as we forget the insult and pick each other up… 

….Around a camp fire with friends made on the road. A guitar plays and voices are raised in song, glasses are raised. There is laughter and spontaneity and anticipation of possible love and long lasting friendship. Strangers are connected under a clear sky and a pale moon…

….My baby daughter sits on my knee her eyes convey so much love and trust that my heart feels as if it will burst…

….Desperate to stay sober. A stranger listens to my story.  Someone who understands what it feels like to hit rock bottom….Sober now, I listen to someone who shares a similar story of what it was like, what happened and how they changed…

Mere moments in life that we remember. How we connect can remain with us forever.

 

The ability to speak

Alcohol gave me the freedom to take life to excess. Conversations on the deeper and philosophical meanings of life would last through the night. No topic was off the table. Secrets were shared and blood oaths made from one to another. There were breakthroughs and moment of deep insight. Nothing was off-limits, we could dance naked in the moonlight around a fire and howl like wolves. At times I felt as if the world were in my hands. Yet I was miserable. In fact I was disconnected, alienated and separated from others. Alcohol cured me of the ability to speak, to truly communicate.

 

The greatest compliment that was ever paid to me was when someone asked me what I thought, and attended to my answer” – Henry David Thoreau

 

I lacked the most basic communication skills. I refused to listen, I put words in people’s mouths and cut them off. Conversations tended to be one sided and I often spoke with authority on subjects I knew nothing about. I was easily distracted and rarely focused on what the other person was saying. Opinion mattered more than conceding error of thought or judgement. Words were often charged with emotion or a haughty arrogance. Honesty received from others was often treated as an affront especially if it were critical. Dissenting opinions were treated with scorn. People were ignored and judged. I could be charming, cold and rude in the same conversation. My body language screamed belligerency and intimidation and often it was.

 

You want to go home and rethink your life.” – Obi-wan Kenobi

 

More than Mind Tricks

The Jedi were masters of communication, although not all of them were great conversationalists. Jedi tended to say what needed to be said and to avoid small talk. On issues that mattered however the Jedi were firm in their beliefs and unwavering in their principles. They could convey their thoughts clearly with tact, conviction and even wit  and humor. Jedi were also good at listening and asking open questions that provided answers and allowed the speaker to open up. In seeking knowledge they knew how to engage with others through charm, persuasion and confidence, drawing out the benefits of a conversation.

The Jedi knew that in order to achieve their purpose they had to communicate face to face with others and be empathetic. Displaying diplomacy, decorum, paying attention and having a willingness to listen to all, including those they disagreed with. Deals were brokered, alliances formed, promises made and matters “resolved” the “old way” using the spoken word, eye contact and body language. When circumstances called, there was the “Jedi Mind-Trick”.  The Jedi used effective communication refined as an art.

What is the message? Jedi knew what to say and how and when to say it. The Jedi were mindful enough to know when to be silent and let the others speak. They could appear open, passive or guarded as the circumstance dictated. Body language was used as effectively as words. Jedi avoided judging others or appearing arrogant.

 

Disconnected

“The wisdom behind conversation is that by acknowledging each other’s humanity through open and communal exchange, we are testifying to the vibrancy of human nature.”  – Sakyong Mipham “The Lost Art of Good Conversation”.

These days we seem to have hours to peruse our social media stream and phones but no time to connect face to face, in person. Even when we do it can feel strange, even awkward. Feeling at odds people will reach for their phones and try to “connect” remotely when there are people in front of them they could be talking to.

Lets face it, we all do it. I send emails at work to a person who is sitting a short walk away because it’s easier and quicker. It means I don’t have to give non-verbal cues and have a record of the conversation in case something is misheard, misconstrued or forgotten.

Texting has become the preferred alternative to conversing on the phone. Surveys conducted in the UK and US revealed that more than half of respondents communicate primarily through text. The percentage is higher with Millennials’. Conversation like letter writing or hard bound books is becoming quaint and out of fashion.

Beginning a conversation is an act of bravery. When you initiate a conversation, you fearlessly step into the unknown. Will the other person respond to favorably or unfavourably? Will it be a friendly or hostile exchange?” – Sakyong Mipham “The Lost Art of Good Conversation”.

 

Reconnecting

Try conversation, that is, share in communication with another in such a way that you both become more enriched from the experience. It seems easy enough but it also takes effort, concentration, mindfulness and self-discipline;

  • Pay attention to what is being said;
  • Be mindful of words, tone, context and flow;
  • Be mindful of body language, yours and the others;
  • Look the other person in the eye;
  • Use humour and wit where appropriate;
  • Actively listen, acknowledging what is being said;
  • Resist being distracted;
  • Know when to speak and when to listen;
  • Be civil and respectful, even if the other person fails to.

Who would have thought that communication is like meditation or anything else worth doing? It takes effort and application.

 

The most precious gift we can offer others is our presence” – Thich Nhat Hanh

Be Present

Getting sober meant re-learning a lot of basic life skills. One of the skills that I still struggle with is communicating with others. The truth is I was never taught how to talk to people. Being introverted did not help either. I’ve learned that conversation is the most effective and genuine communication tool. Being an art it requires patience and practice. With lack of use it can also be forgotten but it is never too late to recover and remaster the art. The gift of sobriety and more importantly life is the ability to connect with the world around us, with people and experience life in full.

The gift you can give others is to be present.

 

Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others,
even the dull and the ignorant;
they too have their story.”
– Max Ehramm “Desiderata”

Oikeiôsis

Oikeiôsis is the Ancient Greek word meaning belonging. The concept of the human need to feel belonging was first theorized by the Stoic Zeno of Citium. To the Stoics Community was everything. Buddhism uses the term Sangha which roughly translates as the “group” or “community” of practicing Buddhists.

Community is also important to us. As social beings we all need to belong to a community where we can contribute and be valued. No one really lives in isolation by choice. To be part of the group is in our make up as a species. We need each other to survive and to flourish and from that need civilization emerged, grew and persists.

 

One World

The importance of community in the recovery movement is expressed through the pillars of fellowship, unity and service. People come together to share and to learn from one another. By helping others we help ourselves in the process. We understand that sitting alone at home may work for some people some of the time but true progress is made when we join with others in a common purpose. Through others we come to learn that we are not unique but share common problems, hopes and fears. We begin to realize that it is our similarities that bind us together and our diversity of thought and opinion that makes the community resilient. From that we find the strength to recover.

To be Jedi is also to be part of a community. Jedi are active participants in society. They are neither cloistered Monks nor Hermits seeking perpetual solitude. At times we all seek solitude and time away from others to recharge. Once ready we are ready to take our place among others and participate, share, learn, work and contribute in our own way. This is in our nature as human beings.

 

Disconnected

Sometimes it is easy to get pessimistic about the world around us. Society can seem hostile or indifferent. People often feel disconnected and alone in the world. A person may have thousands of Face Book friends but no one they can lean on and trust. We can create an online persona and profile which attracts thousands if not millions of followers and admirers and still feel lonely. Some of us feel alienated in the real world and eventually in the online realm as the hostility and toxin that pervades it forces us to disconnect even further.

Many of us live in sterile suburban neighborhoods where we live behind locked doors and barely recognize the neighbors let alone know their names.  We commute in cars to work in a sea of traffic feeling disconnected from, if not frustrated with, the blank faces in the cars around us. We sit or stand on trains or in waiting rooms our eyes fixed on our phones, not speaking, not making eye contact.

 

Happyness

In the Netflix Documentary “Happy” (2011) we see people living in supportive communities in Calcutta and Copenhagen. Despite the enormous gap in wealth between the two cities there is an undeniable “sameness”. Both communities are close knight, supportive and non-competitive. The members of different families and generations live together communally, share responsibilities and look after each others kids. There is a strong sense of belonging and unity which is increasingly rare today in general.

These people are among the happiest alive. The normal indicators of happiness and wellbeing; gross domestic product, employment rate and housing indices do not apply to these people. The strong sense of community is what makes these people feel happy and fulfilled.

 

The Odd Ball

I would be the first person to admit that I am not and never was the most sociable person. Being a strong introvert means I can be quite happy standing alone at a party without engaging anyone. Acutely aware that I was a quiet and reserved type when I was younger I naturally wanted to be liked by others. Alcohol was the remedy which allowed me to be gregarious, outgoing, funny and friendly. Drunk, I became approachable and my awkwardness was replaced with a confidence and a cocksure attitude that won people over and made me friends. Over the years I kept going back to booze and never really learned how to just be myself and connect with people on a deeper level. By the time I hit forty I realized I had all the social skills of a man in his early twenties, if not his teens.

 

Lost Soul

Being alcoholic is to live in a delusion. To find recovery is to see the falseness for what it is. The illusion of social acceptance and community which alcohol creates becomes apparent. We think that we “fit in” but we realize that we don’t. People who we thought were friends turn out to be nothing of the sort. Our own motivations with people become clearer and we realize they were selfish and self centred. We used people and prized things.

 

Getting sober we realize the relationships we had with people outside of our sphere of drinking, professional and personal, was often dishonest and sometimes abusive. Along the way we have hurt and damaged those we care about. If we are honest with ourselves we realized that we lived on the fringes of community, never in it. We did not really belong. All of this had to change if we were to truly recover and take our place in society.

 

Place

Being in recovery and becoming sober has forced me to re-evaluate my place in society. I have come to realize how easily I could have ended up in jail, dead or in an asylum had I continued. In recovery we learn to re-enter the community and find our place and purpose. The attitude of entitlement and “special treatment” that we used to demand in abuse is gone. We realize that in life we must earn our place and make our way without expecting dispensation because we are somehow “special”.

 

The community is about the whole not the individual. By being part of that whole and contributing in some small way we start to feel belonging in a real sense.

 

Find your Place

Most of us are not in a position to move in to a commune or co-housing arrangement where strong community is fostered as in “Happy”. There are still a number of ways we can improve our connection with others and feel part of our broader community:

 

  1. Embrace your identity and what makes you unique.  Also look for the common humanity in all people. Very often we find our community is divided along ethnic, religious, racial, nationalist or social class lines. We flock to those we most identify with, those with whom we resemble and share the most in common with. There is nothing wrong with identifying with a group or ideology but we must be careful not to shut out others simply because they seem “different”. This enforces the identity mindset, victim-hood mentality and “us and them” culture which pervades society today.   We have more in common than we think.
  2. Be kind and compassionate; this extends from the previous point. We should respect and treat all people the same. Humans respond well to kindness and compassion, it is a universal language common to all. Donating to local charities and supporting local businesses is one small way we can express care for others.
  3. Be prepared to help. Offering our time and skills as volunteers brings us closer to the community. You may find a particular cause or charity which appeals to you. Organisations that deal in disaster relief and emergency aid will register people who can assist in times of crisis. Even just being willing to respond to a request for assistance, where safe, is being Jedi. Those in recovery know the benefits of being of service to others.
  4. Get active in issues that concern you; whether it is a social justice cause, the environment or a local issue such as better public amenities and services there are many ways to get active. People can organise petitions, attend public meetings, form online groups, write letters, submit public comments on projects and proposals and participate in rallies and protests. Even just participating in public surveys and voting is getting involved.
  5. Join community groups; sporting and recreational, social and cultural clubs. Finding and meeting with common minded people who enjoy similar interests builds a strong sense of community.

 

The Circle

Stoic philosophy challenges people to consider themselves not only members of their community and country but citizens of the world and cosmos. The “View from Above” exercise is used to remind us that we are part of a whole which extends far beyond ourselves and our immediate circle. The Circle of Hierocles was drawn more than 2500 years ago to depict cosmopolitanism. The ancient Stoics word for “belonging” to community was oikeiôsis. The ancients saw themselves as belonging not only to themselves but in expanding concentric circles, their family, city state, country, the world and cosmos.

 

The Circle of Hierocles  (Source: https://howtobeastoic.wordpress.com )

 

We should take the time to broaden our perspective as human beings. Every action and choice that we make has a broader consequence and reach than we imagine. By understanding our place in society and our role in the community we can live more mindfully and in accordance with our nature.  We become connected with the whole.

A View from Above Meditation by Donald Robertson

 

 

Right Effort

 

A Jedi must have the deepest commitment, the most serious mind.” – Yoda

 

Ten months ago I started Daily Jedi as a personal endeavor to progress in my training as a Jedi and to fortify my 12 Step Practice. I never imagined it would require as much effort as it has. It would be easier not to bother and use the time for something else. But where would the fun be? More importantly what would I lose? Without effort and application in action everything that came before leads to nothing. In order to be the change we must do the work. For the work to be effective there must be Right Effort.

Since I started down the Jedi and 12 Step Paths I have become acutely aware that without effort there can be no gains. We can read all the books we like, become informed and educated and have the desire and commitment to change. That only gets us so far. We can make the decision to move forward and put our plan in to action.

 

Faith without works is dead” – James 2:26

 

The Path on the Path

Right Effort is the sixth step in the Buddhist eight-fold path. Right Effort supports the practitioner through every step of the Path. Any serious practitioner of meditation will tell you that meditation takes concerted effort. Meditation is not idly sitting in the lotus position. The mind is ill disciplined and prone to constant interruption by thoughts and images that intrude. A practitioner must apply effort to ensure concentration and focus in applied. Discipline prevents the practitioner from being drawn in to reverie or falling asleep. Thoughts are allowed to pass through like clouds moving with the wind without attaching to them. There is a reason why most people falter in their meditation practice; it is not easy and it requires a lot of effort even though the ultimate goal is effortlessness and realization of the state of “nothingness”.

The one on the path to enlightenment knows that if Right Effort can be applied in meditation it can be applied everywhere else where virtue needs to be cultivated and faults of character discarded.

 

Effort is crucial in the beginning for generating a strong will.” – Dalai Lama

 

 

Starts with You

So it is with every aspect of our lives. In order to succeed in our personal and professional lives we must be willing to put the work in to achieving desired outcomes. Effort must be applied if we want our relationships to work. Our studies and careers will falter unless we dedicate ourselves with effort. We cannot expect to make gains in our physical fitness if we do not put in the hard hours on the track, the pool or in the gym.

Our preference can be to let things slide or procrastinate until our mood and fancy take us. We may not be trying to achieve enlightenment but we all want to be better. Being better takes effort.  The change starts with you and so does the effort.

There is no definitive guide that tells us how hard we should work at what we want to achieve. We can have the support, encouragement and guidance of coaches and mentors as well as friends and family on the sideline but ultimately it is up to ourselves to decide to put the effort in and how much. No one else can or should do the work for us.

As an example, it is my choice to abstain from drinking and follow the principles I have learned on this journey. I can access the help of the sober community and a sponsor, I can read books and practice virtues every day but in the end I do the work, no one else.  Each of us must ultimately decide how much effort to apply in our own lives. Others can show us the way but we do the work.

 

Moderate effort over a long period of time is important, no matter what you are trying to do. One brings failure on oneself by working extremely hard at the beginning, attempting to do too much, and then giving it all up after a short time.” – Dalai Lama

 

 

The Middle Way

We live in a world where many are choosing the easy path. For most there is no choosing the hard road which Roosevelt called “the Arena”. That way is rife with great risk, danger, hard work, self sacrifice and extraordinary effort. Very few choose to take that path but you will meet them usually serving others often to the sacrifice of their own lives. Those that choose what Buddha called the “Middle Way” of the Eight Fold Path see the benefits of effort without the hard way of self mortification or the easy path of self indulgence.

The Middle path requires discipline, commitment and a life time of effort to succeed. In our world today even that is too much for most people. They prefer the “Easy Way” which requires little effort for great return. People want something for nothing. Entitlement, free pass, medals for passive participation and mediocrity have become the standard of the day.

Mediocre effort produces mediocre results. Moderate effort over a long period brings tangible results.

 

Seek Balance but Do It

How should we achieve the “Middle Way” of effort? The secret is in balance and prioritizing. At the beginning of my recovery I was like a Zealot that devoted every waking hour to my practice. I became fanatical and a religious bore. With time I settled down and realized that I needed to relax and take it easy. I began to find balance in my life again and let my guard ease a little.

The unreasonable goal of perfection was replaced with reasonable progress over time. There were some cardinal rules, for example I chose to abide to my core values and principles, perform my daily practices, eat healthy, exercise, meditate and refuse alcohol. I still follow this regime. The fanatical zeal in which I strove to follow the path has been abandoned for something more temperate and spiritual; a “Middle Path”.

We don’t need to break records (or our neck) in our efforts. Which just get up in the morning and do the work. But we do it easy and with purpose.

 

Surround yourself with people who take their work seriously, but not themselves, those who work hard and play hard.” – General Colin Powell

 

 

Jedi Way

Consider the fictional Jedi. Obi-wan Kenobi and Yoda were never so intense and driven in the execution of their duties that they lost their way to destructive emotions like anger and frustration. The Jedi sought balance and harmony in all things. This meant that work was performed to a high standard but a Jedi also took time out to rest and recuperate between missions. If a mission could not be accomplished they learned from the failure and moved on. The Jedi could be playful and engage in fun but were also studious and serious in their studies and training. In my view the Jedi followed a “Middle Path”.

The Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh taught that Right Effort is meant to bring joy and interest not misery and exhaustion. The Jedi exemplified this. The Sith, in contrast, were more absolute and fanatical in their approach which bent them to the Dark Side of pain, suffering and self mortification. Suffering they also had a desire to inflict pain on others.  Choose the Middle Way and surround yourself with those that do as well and you will succeed.

 

The idea of Right Effort is to replace negative emotions with positive ones” – Larry Shapiro

 

 

Philosophy is Action

Philosophy aims for inner change which will over time be reflected in our external reality. When we talk about Right Effort it is not just training harder or greater application in meditation or any other endeavor it is about applying effort to making inner change.

Some of us find it hard to avoid getting angry, frustrated or resentful when things don’t go our way. We can lose patience with people who do not meet our expectations or have not reached our level of maturity. Despite our best intentions we can slip back in to bad habits and allow ourselves fall in to self indulgences which we later regret. In order to change we must be willing to be “on our game” and apply effort in which ever area we wish to change. We want to adopt virtues that are useful and discard unwholesome habits.

Change may require us to “fake it before we make it” for a while but by “acting out” to the best of our ability at least we are applying Effort. We will make mistakes and fall short many times but the important thing is we get back up and keep going. Eventually we become the change we seek.

Why else would we be interested in philosophy if our goal was not to use it to change for the better? For action? Why would we want to do something if it took no effort? Philosophy is of no use unless it drives effort and is translated in to real action through work.

Take action, do the work and harvest the rewards.

 

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” – Theodore Roosevelt

Decisions

To be Jedi is to face the truth, and choose.” – Yoda

 

A process

In previous posts the mental processes at arriving at a decision were discussed in the context of Jedi Philosophy. Arriving at a decision is a multi-step process. We looked at the need for inner reflection to realize the truth and need for change. Resolutions were considered as an affirmation of that shift in thinking. Making a resolution is creating a broad determination to do something or be someone.

Right View was framed as the wisdom and attitude that drives that desire for change and realization of the truth. Before making a decision we must undertake an acid test to determine if an action is consistent with our value system and the principles we live by.

Finally, we had to ask ourselves “why”. The intent of our desired action and outcomes had to be defined and flow from the process. At this point we are ready to actually make a decision and commit to it with action.

People go through a great degree of preparation and work to get somewhere and when the time comes to launch they balk. They face the agony and terror of actually deciding to go ahead with affirmative action.

Making a decision is akin to throwing our selves down the Rabbit Hole. We have pushed the “Go” button and now committed through thought, word and action. Everything to that point was getting the stage set up and rehearsing for the show. When the time comes to step out on to the stage and perform we either go ahead with it or we don’t.

 

Once you make a decision, the universe conspires to make it happen.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

 

The Rabbit Hole

I recall when I joined the Army there were a number of other men who had spent their lives wanting to be a soldier and working towards that goal. It was their decision to be there. I’d basically run away from home and had fewer choices. The Military seemed like a viable option in keeping me as far away from my home as possible. I didn’t have a clue of what to expect.

During selection we were put through  physical and medical, psychological and psychometric assessments, a security screening and a final interview. All of these I passed. We were told repeatedly that we could resign at any point during the six months of basic training.  Once we signed the interim contract we were on probation before being offered a definitive contract. This meant we had six months to decide if we wanted “in” or “out”. The Corps also had that time to assess our suitability or not and send us home in the latter case. I was going to make they didn’t send me home.

At the recruiting station I met a guy named Jack who was around 23 and had finished college. Most of the other guys in the Platoon were between 17 to 21 and were out of High School or avoiding jail or the dole. Jack was different; he looked like a soldier; he was fit, tall and tanned and had all the quiet charisma and presence which commands admiration from other men. It turned out he had been preparing for months for training and planned to get in to Special Operations. The Army was a dream of his since he was a child and he had passed up an opportunity to become an Officer preferring instead to start at the bottom.

Opting Out

Six months later there remained 16 of the original 30 intakes. A number of men had been put back farther in their training for failing tests or for minor injuries. A few had left due to injuries or psychological concerns. One recruit had gone so far as to leave one night and become AWOL. The rest of us stood in parade uniform waiting to be interviewed by the Platoon “Boss” who would provide a final appraisal and tender our final contracts for signing. This would be the moment of decision for each of us. After that we would belong to the Army for a minimum of three years.

Jack was ranked top in the platoon and had been an extraordinary recruit. He excelled at everything, drill, battle drills, navigation, first aid, range shoots, physical training, military ethos and doctrine. You name it he came first at everything. Jack also had the right attitude and was squared away all of the time. You could not fault him and he helped others get through basic training. We thought for sure he would be offered a place in Special Forces and have a career the rest of us could only dream about.

The door opened and the Platoon sergeant called up Jack. Crisply marching forward he knocked on the door frame three times and stepped in to the office, saluted and presented himself to the Boss. The door closed and we assumed he was in there to get his accolades while the rest of us waited in the hallway wondering what bits of flesh were going to be torn off us.

A few minutes passed and we wondered if he wasn’t being entertained by the attending Staff with brandy and cigars. A few minutes later Jack emerged with the Platoon Sergeant who was looking a little red faced. Jack looked his usual cool and composed self and passed us in the hallway and whispered with a grin and a wink “Cheers Lads”. That was the last time we saw him.  Later we learned that after being given a glowing report he was presented with his contract but had flatly turned it down. They had gone so far as to promise him a rapid transfer to Special Forces and even a pathway to becoming an Officer but still he turned them down and requested to leave immediately to resume his life as a civilian.

 

Waste no more time arguing about a real man should be. Be one” – Marcus Aurelius

 

 

The Red Pill

At the final moment when presented with a piece of paper Jack had made his decision. Everything had culminated to that point and he chose out. None of us had before then heard him voice any doubt at his being in the Army and he had never complained. If anything he  seemed to enjoy the rigors, discipline and deprivations of barrack and field life. Jack’s departure was as much a shock for the platoon instructors as it was for the rest of us. For many, it planted a seed of doubt in their minds. Jack had decided the Army was not for him after all and that was that. What did he see that the rest of us did not?

A few years later as a civilian I reflected on what Jack had done and realized he had been more exceptional than any of us had realized. Not only did Jack do everything to 110% when he did he also refused to compromise his principles and mislead the Army and his mates by signing a contract once he decided it was the wrong decision. Jack had decided he could not commit himself to the path and decided to step away before he regretted his decision. He left without regrets.

The manner in which Jack did this was honorable. Jack had nevertheless taken the Red Pill and realized that his path lay elsewhere. It taught me an important lesson in being true to oneself without fear. Of being able to make the hard decisions in life even when they go against the grain but you know they are right regardless of what people think.

 

Principles

Ironically Jack had displayed exactly the types of virtues valued by the Army; integrity, honesty, sincerity, courage and unwavering commitment to principles. Signing a contract without being absolutely committed did not enter in to his way of thinking as it did mine.

I signed my contract because I felt pressured and was not wholly committed. This was a pattern that persisted throughout my entire life. Making a decision that I knew deep down was not the right one; never committing to my word.

Eventually life has a way of adjusting misalignment. Someone I never met made a decision and I was  thrown out of the Army for various sins. I bounced about aimlessly through life for many years. I submitted to the will of others and accepted the decisions they made for me with later regret. Girlfriends ended relationships and employers terminated me. Rejection became the norm.

As an alcoholic I had surrendered all power to make decisions that were reasoned and reinforced with commitment. Others made them for me. The only decision I made that stuck was to be committed to my drinking.

 

Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.” – Step 3, Alcoholics Anonymous

 

Made a Decision

In seeking recovery through the 12 Steps the most important decision I ever made was to turn my life over to a Higher Power. The decision was definitive and complete. I could attempt to articulate the feeling of control and power that gave me but I would not do it justice. Suddenly the compulsion to drink was lifted and I never drunk again. I had taken the Red Pill.

By turning my life and will over to the Force I had in effect handed my problems over to that power. I now carried that power with me to make any inner change I wanted. With time that inner change would begin to reflect in my outer world. Relationships improved, life became easier and more purposeful and my health also improved. I began to live the philosophy. All of this was based on one single decision.

If you are reading this because you want guidance on being Jedi or are struggling with personal issues including addiction and want to improve your life ask yourself “What is my decision”. Intent is meaningless without action. Without a final decision to jump down the Rabbit Hole and commit ourselves to change completely we remain in a netherworld between action and inaction. We become impeded by lack of momentum. We hesitate at the precipice and while we test the water we refuse to jump in. The curtain has gone up and we must decide; do we step forward and play our part on the stage of life or do we hold back.

 

The risk of a wrong decision is preferable to the terror of indecision” – Maimonides

 

The Choice is Yours Alone

The agony of decision making is a choice. Finding a quiet place to reflect or seeking the advice of others helps to some extent but a decision must still be made. We can postpone the inevitable determining that the time is not right. That will depend on whether the decision is still available for us to make further down the track. The opportunity may vanish leaving us wondering.

We can weigh the cost, benefits and risks ad infinitum but there will always be a cost and a risk of making a decision. Despite the best knowledge available we could still regret the decision later on. A decision may be a pragmatic choice or an intuitive one. Believe me I have made both and not all of them take us where we thought they would.

 

A good decision is based on knowledge and not on numbers.” – Plato

 

To thine own self be true

Being true to yourself is also a choice. No one can force you to be someone you are not. Anakin in “The Revenge of the Sith” made his choice and committed to the servitude in the Dark Side and not even Obi-wan Kenobi or Padme could save him. In the “Return of the Jedi” Luke Skywalker turned the tables on the Emperor by deciding to spare Vader. Kylo-Ren extended his hand to Rey to join him in uniting Dark and Light, a new order. Rey refused and in making her decision chose her destiny. Those decisions ultimately reflected who these characters were at that point in their lives.

Life is full of decisions. The agony of decisions, even minor can leave us confused, immobile and uncertain and it takes courage to decide. We are all confronted with choices that will be transformative  and some may come at a heavy cost. Decisions are made that will change life forever.

Your decision may be to change a career, get married, have children, embark on a lifestyle change, or commit to a philosophy. Each is an adventure that comes with opportunity, pain, disappointment, joy and most of all learning. The decision to take the plunge is yours. “Do. Or do not, there is no try” as Yoda would say.  Decide you must and do so with conviction and commitment. Once the decision is made be at peace with it.

 

It is in your moments of decision that your destiny is shaped.” – Tony Robbins

Intention

A Jedi uses the Force for knowledge and defense, never for attack.” – Yoda

 

Symbols of Intent

The first thing most people imagine when they hear the word Jedi is Luke Skywalker or Obi-wan Kenobi with Light Saber in hand rushing towards an enemy as they deflect laser bolts. The image of the warrior is prominent in peoples mind. It is true that the fictional Jedi are armed with light Saber the same way Monks of the east and west were armed with staffs and martial arts to defend themselves. To imagine the Light Saber as a weapon of offense is an error in fact it was a symbol of the Jedi principle of protection and defense. The intent of the Light Saber is its power. It was only used as a weapon as a last resort and never in anger.

In “Return of the Jedi” Luke casts aside his Light Saber during the final confrontation with Darth Vader. The act is symbolic. Luke decided to cast his anger aside and find the love and compassion within him. It is the only way he can defeat Darth Sidious and redeem Vader.

In “The Last Jedi” the ageing Luke Skywalker takes the Light Saber offered to him by Rey after she has found him living as a Hermit on the hidden planet of Ahch-To. With comical irreverence Luke throws his old Light Saber behind his back.

For years Obi-wan Kenobi resided on Tatooine watching over Luke from a distance. Although he still had his Light Saber it was kept aside. Even in confronting the Sand People who had captured Luke Skywalker in “A New Hope”, Obi-wan Kenobi chose only to use the power of perception and his own voice in driving the Tuscan Raiders away in fear. The Light Saber is symbolic of the Jedi only if it used with Right Intent.

 

Lethal Intent

I’ve often heard the statement that firearms kill people. A gun can be used to kill a person however it is not the weapon itself that decides its end use. The intent to kill resides with the wielder. A sword can just as easily be beaten in to a plow than used as a weapon depending on the intention of the user.

Intention is therefore everything in the “why and how” we conduct our life. I can choose to own a Light Saber, a Gun or a Pit Bull Terrier.  The Light Saber replica won’t have much use but how I choose to manifest my intent with a gun and an “aggressive” breed of dog is entirely up to me. I can keep the gun locked away and hopefully never ever have to use it and I can train the Dog to be a loving pet; gentle with people and other animals. There is still an element of uncertainty based on what I have control over and what I don’t. The Dog may unexpectedly bite a child and the gun might be stolen and used in a crime.

 

Reasoned Intent

With every decision we make there is always an intent, a purpose. Why do we make the choices that we do? What is our intent? When I left High School and presented to an Army recruiter the first thing he asked me was “Why do you want to join the Army”? He said my response was important and it had to be honest. The answer revealed my true intention and whether I was going to stick my contract or wash out.

Likewise when I first approached the Jedi community and revealed I wanted to train in Jedi philosophy I was asked to spend some time thinking about “Why Jedi”. What was the intent of my choice? Would it sustain my practice past a few weeks or months? Did I realize it was an internal path and one I would have to keep largely to myself? I found that being able to reason rather than rationalize my intent before doing something was more likely to align it to who I am and want to be.

 

First things First

One of the most important questions I had to ask myself when I was drinking to excess was “Why am I doing this? What is the purpose?” There was no reasoned or even rationalized response. In the beginning the intent of my drinking had been to feel better within my self, to fill some emptiness inside. I wanted to be accepted and loved like everyone else and drinking seemed to promise a way into fellowship, confidence and acceptance.

Drinking could make me feel part of something bigger than myself and to be somebody who could be respected, admired and sought out. Of course this was all a mirage and I fell in to the trap and it took me to a dark place after all the illusions I had created began to fall away.  Something entirely different was revealed. An image that was unbearable to confront.

In the end, the intent of drinking was to satiate a need that could not be satisfied and to keep the beast within fed. It had become a cage. Realizing true intent was like lifting the veil that had shrouded the truth for years. I began to understand the true nature of my disease.

 

Failed Intent

All the times I had tried to quit or at least control my drinking in the past had eventually ended in relapse. In going on the “wagon” I had had good intentions but I could not follow it up with meaningful actions. My intent was also conditional on certain loop holes in thinking. Like small cracks in a dyke they eventually split open and allowed the entire structure to collapse in a flood of booze. Intention was moderated by rationalization. I figured I could still achieve my goal of sobriety with the odd loosening of the belt. This of course was a form of “False Intent”.

 

A Daily Reprieve

Where do your priorities lay? What is important to you? What matters most of all? In the beginning my intent was to simply get through the day without taking a drink. The next day could look after itself and the next day after that. My commitment was for 24 hours.

I would renew my intent every morning and claim the strength from my Higher Power to achieve that. At the end of the day I would review how things had gone and on turning off the light thank my Higher Power for another sober day. My goal was sustained and long-term sobriety and my dream was to realize serenity.

My intent was simply to claim a daily reprieve and stay sober one day at a time through application of certain virtues and principles. This was a form of “Right Intent”.

 

What we really have is a daily reprieve contingent on the maintenance of our spiritual condition” – Alcoholics Anonymous p85.

 

Right Intent

The second step and virtue on the Eight fold path of Buddhism is “Right Intent”. Intention is more than resolve. Through resolve we decide to do something but it is not enough on its own. We must have “Right Intent” in order to stay the course. For example would anyone who resolves to marry another person bother if they did not intend to give the marriage their utmost for as long as possible?

Resolve and Intent are two different things and of course they work in tandem. Both must stay as strong as the day we set off for the duration of the journey. Yes there are days when we stagger and fall but intent keeps us moving forward even when resolve falters. We strive for outcomes but must also accept what is in our control as well as what is outside of it.

Intent in Action

Intention is flawed if our intent is;

  • To draw something to ourselves for selfish gain; or
  • to force something away through ill will;
  • or to do harm to ourselves or others.

To counteract flawed intention one’s intention must;

  • Be based on renunciation. We must be willing to let go of the causes of our suffering. Desires and clinging attachments to people, places, things, circumstance and flawed ideas tightly held all lead to suffering as they are impermanent and transient. Addiction is a form of rampant attachment. Luke Skywalker casting his Light Saber aside was a renunciation of attachment to old strongly held beliefs.
  • derived from good will. When we do things we essentially seek to serve others before ourselves. In the recovery program personal benefit is derived by helping others struggling with their addictions. Caring for others is a corner stone of Faith and many philosophies including Jedi Philosophy.
  • inherently harmless. In the 12 Steps amends are sought to people whom we have harmed wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others. The Hippocratic Oath compels Doctors to “primum non nocere”, first do no harm. Compassion is a Jedi trait.

Right intent is expressed through thought, word and actions. Therefore being mindful of intention is important. We should consider the impact of our thoughts, words and actions on self and others.  The potential consequences either immediate or delayed should be considered. We may do something with the best of intentions but not realize the consequences of our actions until much later. By contemplating our actions and looking beyond outward far beyond ourselves we become more mindful of the reach of our intent.

Always ask what your intent is and whether it serves or not.

 

The Jedi Method

The Jedi Method is a formula used to apply mindfulness in our actions. Our desire is for an outcome which aligns with our values. The method states:

 

Intent + Action = Outcome

 

If our Intent is right and our actions follow suit than there is a high likelihood, while never guaranteed, that outcome will agree with action and intent. Action and Intent is applied in a world in which we do not exercise supreme control over all external factors. We cannot foresee the future or account for every single possible variable. We only have what we control (Intent and Action).

  1. Ask yourself before committing to an action “Could this action lead to suffering?” If the answer is “yes” reconsider it after applying ethics and your personal value system to a decision.
  2. During the action ask “Is this action causing suffering?” if so, then reconsider the need to continue or make adjustments that correct the error.
  3. After the action consider “Will this action lead to suffering?” if so, then seek to remedy, learn from it and avoid repetition in the future.

We live in an imperfect system and everyone makes mistakes. All that one can reasonably expect is that we take due diligence in our actions. We are accountable and responsible for the choices we make. If our intent is challenged we can defend our actions with conviction and without hesitation.

We take charge of the things that we can control, work with what we can influence  and we willingly surrender the things over which we have no control.

 

Surrender at Last

A Light Saber can be a weapon or a door stop depending on the intent of the user. Perhaps Luke Skywalker had learned towards the end of his physical existence that the mind is far more powerful than a weapon. The Last Jedi decided he no longer needed his Light Saber even for the purpose of protection.

On the Planet of Crait Skywalker faced his old apprentice and nephew, Kylo Ren, who was bent on killing him. Luke showed that one can still achieve an outcome without reaching for a Light Saber or without even being there. Victory can be won with the mind.

Across the Galaxy on the Island Jedi Refuge of Ahch-To, Luke Skywalker awoke from his Force projection and surrendered himself to the Force. As he met his destiny the twin suns set over the ocean.

Intent is the key.

Our Intention creates our reality” – Wayne Dyer