The Shadow

Luke, trust your feelings – Obi-Wan Kenobi

When you look at the dark side, careful you must be. For the dark side looks back.” – Yoda

 

We are each made up of three distinct aspects. There is the Shadow, the Watcher and the Persona. The part of me which I know best and which presents to others is the persona. The Shadow is what lurks beneath the surface of my consciousness and my ego. It is the Dark Side of the psyche, the inner beast. The Watcher is the unseen observer, the inner pilot which comes from the Force. Today I would like to talk about the Shadow.

 

This meeting with oneself is, at first, the meeting with one’s own shadow. The shadow is a tight passage, a narrow door, whose painful constriction no one is spared who goes down to the deep well. But one must learn to know oneself in order to know who one is….” – Carl Jung

 

Ahuyuasca

A friend of mine recently came back from Peru where he had attended an Ahuyuasca retreat*. Over a period of three days he participated in ceremonies where he took a brew made from the Ahuyuasca plant. The plant is a potent psychedelic drug. Users can attest to profound life changing experiences under its influence.

 

My friend was curious and being a veteran of recent wars he had deep seated issues he wanted to confront and resolve. Depression, alcoholism, drug abuse, self doubt, suicidal thoughts and PTSD clouded his existence as it does with many other veterans.

 

During one of the ceremonies my friend came face to face with his Dark Side. Decades of repressed emotions were revealed and released. Spiraling deep in to a dark abyss his whole being was made apparent in all its millions of facets. All of the guilt, self doubt, the anguish and pain he held within, all the buried memories were revealed to him in a swirling sea that stretched to eternity. The vision was tangible and alive. It was terrible and wonderful at the same time.

 

“….For what comes after the door is, surprisingly enough, a boundless expanse full of unprecedented uncertainty, with apparently no inside and no outside, no above and no below, no here and no there, no mine and no thine, no good and no bad…..” – Carl Jung

 

In that swirling chaos of his subconscious my friend found that he could let go of all that held him back and find peace at last if he chose. His past, present and future became as one. All time was now. Every place was now. Separation and duality did not exist. In that dimension he realized the illusion of self for what it is.

 

The effect the experience had on him was cathartic and complete. My friend had had nothing less than a deep spiritual experience.  I was drawn to this story because it sounded like the spiritual experience that had placed me on the road to sobriety. I had also met my Shadow. The difference was I didn’t take Ahuyuasca then but had fallen into a deep psychic rift leading to a mental and spiritual personal hell which I came back from as if reborn.

 

“….It is the world of water…..where I am indivisibly this and that; where I experience the other in myself and the other-than-myself experiences me” – Carl Jung

 

 

 

The Beast

Carl Jung wrote about the Shadow. Jung stated that every person has a Shadow, a Dark Side, which is always present. Some of us keep it buried deep within our psyche and never know of it. Others allow it to bubble to the surface and manifest on occasion but maintain control or keep it buried much of the time. Fewer people are dominated by the Shadow. Very few people are even acquainted with their Shadow. It is the repressed morass of everything we don’t want to know about ourselves. The conscious Ego refuses to acknowledge the Shadow at all.

 

The Shadow is like the creature that lurked in garbage compactor of the Death Star; hidden and insidious yet indifferent. The Cave on Dagobah was a symbol of the intrinsic Shadow. A place best avoided. The Shadow is in us but we’d rather not know about it.

 

The Shadow is not necessarily evil. To label anything evil or malign is convenient but not always accurate. No person is inherently evil but the capacity to do terrible things resides in all of us. The Shadow of the psyche plays a hand in that. At the same time the Shadow can also have positive aspects such as risk taking and competitiveness. It can also be entirely unknown to us and have us act in ways that baffle us and those around us. You may not notice your own Shadow but others do and they’ll rarely be up front with you about it. Likewise you will see it in others. You will project your own shadow on others and find fault there.

 

There is in every one of us, even those who seem to be most moderate, a type of desire that is terrible, wild, and lawless.” – Plato “The Republic”

 

 

Primal

We all have an inner moral compass. Much of our personal views and morality is based on societal norms and the influence of our family and friends. It is often said that a person who is “well raised” will display moral virtues even under the most testing conditions. Yet, a sense of morality is also built in to our psyche. We intuitively know right from wrong. Children are naturally empathetic and caring. An infant that is deprived of affection and human touch will fail to grow and likely die. To be human is to be more than just a product of our environment. There is a blend of nature and nurture in everyone.

 

Yet the Shadow resides within us all. Jung said it extends all the way to Hell. It is part of our nature and buried in the recesses of our psyche to levels you cannot imagine. The Shadow pulls at our sleeve and appeals to the Darker Side of our nature and manifests as aggression, selfishness and greed. There is an evolutionary advantage to that. After all as humans we are driven to compete, dominate and consume. Without that drive our species would not have evolved, prevailed and ultimately populated the Earth.

 

At the same time coexistence and cooperation has been a requisite for survival and mutual benefit. There remains a duality in Humans, a Yin and Yang derived from millions of years of evolution. But like it or not everyone is a loaded gun. You, I and everyone are capable of good, bad and even terrible things.

 

Everyone carries a shadow and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is” – Carl Jung

 

 

Archetypes

In Mythology there is usually a Hero and a Villain. Joseph Campbell’s “A Hero with a Thousand Faces” reminds us of this timeless formula. George Lucas based Star Wars on Campbell’s “Heroes Journey”.

 

We meet the Shadow in Star Wars. There are Heroes and Villains of course but none of the characters act always as expected. Some of the heroes are less than heroic and some of the villains also show redeeming virtues at times. Real life is no different. In reality we are both Hero and Villain in our own life story.

 

The “Heroes Journey” calls the protagonist to face his Shadow, overcome it and come out better from the experience. Along his Journey the Hero can also be a Villain and an Anti-Hero. This doesn’t only make for a good tale but it also develops character and provides an important lesson which is the purpose of myth.

 

Han Solo, Asajj Ventress, Boba Fett, Cade Bane, Lando Carlissian, Mace Windu, Quinlan Vos and Qui-Gon Jinn were neither all Hero nor all Villains. Each of the characters displayed attributes both good and bad. They were complex individuals who acted for reasons that seemed correct to them at the time. The Empire was not entirely bad either nor was the Republic entirely good. The Shadow was in everything. That is one of the gems of Lucas’s creation.

 

If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.” – Obi-wan Kenobi

 

 

Living with the Shadow

The Skywalker family seemed utterly cursed. Anakin of course was haunted his entire life by the Shadow of Vader. Leia struggled with her own inner Demons. There was the perpetual conflict in Leia between a responsibility to her family and to her position. Luke was torn by his own inner doubts. On Dagobah he came face to face with his Dark Side in the Cave, a crucial part of his training. Luke confronted it again, for real, as his rage took decades later and he almost killed his nephew. Kylo Ren equally infected saw beauty and purpose in a nihilistic pursuit of power.

 

Yoda summoned his Shadow and overcame it allowing him to unify with the Force. Obi-wan Kenobi also invited his Shadow “out to play” and let it cut him down thus releasing him to also unify with the Force,

 

The best way to deal with your Dark Side is to face it, know it and accept it. Ignoring the Shadow does not work. Trying to kill the Shadow is impossible. We Alcoholics are often warned of the danger of the Ego. The Ego we are reminded has a tendency to become inflated. In time we lose our humility to Ego and allow ourselves to be led astray. In fact the much maligned Ego is not all bad. It is essential to our persona as long as we don’t let it get away from us. The Shadow on the over hand is the overlooked enemy if we let it dominate and control us.

 

“It was on the moral side, and in my own person, that I learned to recognize the thorough and primitive duality of man; I saw that, of the two natures that contended in the field of my consciousness, even if I could rightly be said to be either, it was only because I was radically both” – Robert Louise Stephenson (Author of “Dr Jeckyll and Mr Hyde”)

 

Source: Star Wars (Luca Films)

 

Jeckyll and Hyde

Someone once told me that alcohol does nothing more than bring the real persona to the fore. That scared me because it meant that I was not a nice person. It also meant that I did not know myself at all.

 

If you knew me sober and then met me when I was drunk you would no longer know me. You would be confronted by a personality completely different to the individual you had previously met. The act of taking a drink had chemically altered my brain. After a single drink I was no longer the same person. One drink would lead to more drinks and the transformation would progress.

 

Eventually I would no longer resemble my sober self more than a passing physical resemblance. I resembled the duality of Dr Jeckyl and Mr Hyde. Drunk I was as base, antisocial and destructive as Mr Hyde.

 

Eventually the Shadow began to take over my persona entirely.

 

“Battle not with monsters, lest ye become a monster, and if you gaze into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.” – Friedrich Nietzsche

 

 

Three Steps

Look deep in to the soul of an Alcoholic in the later stage of addiction and you will see the Shadow staring back. The person you see is now the Shadow having completely taken over the person’s psyche. It is frightening if you pause to think about it. Even the Ego has been muted and forced down. The Ego needs the body to survive and won’t endanger it willingly. The Shadow does not care.

 

What remains in the late stage Alcoholic is the manifestation of something primal, desperate and nihilist. There is utter selfishness, anger, rage, self pity, self loathing, denial, indifference, resentment, grief and more than anything an urge that must be fulfilled at any cost. This is the Shadow. The only way out of the Shadow is through a spiritual cure.

 

In order to break from my Shadow I had to confront it through admission of my Alcoholism. My disease showed itself to me in all its detail. I saw clearly the harm I had caused to myself and others. I saw the past and the future laid out before me. The present moment stood still and I knew that I was on the edge of a great chasm.

My Shadow was laid bare before me. It was like I was detached from my body looking down at me and seeing myself for who I was for the first time. At that moment I turned to a Higher Power and asked it to take my burden. I became willing to let go without regret or reservation. In that moment I knew the shackles had been removed. I was free.

 

“In these ways, the personal shadow reinforces, encourages, and becomes dependent upon the addictive behavior to express itself, to have any existence in the light outside of the closet, the attic, and the basement where it has been locked up and hidden for so long.” – David Schoen “The War of the Gods in Addiction”.

 

 

The Journey

What I meant by a spiritual cure is not Divine Intervention but Faith in a Higher Power. The road to recovery for me had only begun at that moment. In order to express Faith I had to work. Self discipline and tenacity was necessary. Constant and honest introspection was required. I completed my personal inventory and admitted my faults and litany of wrongs to another and to my Higher Power. Little by little my Shadow began to dissipate becoming less black and dense. The spiritual burden I carried became lighter. I began to know myself more in weeks than I had in decades.

 

The process never ends. Daily introspection is required. Admit faults without hesitation. Seek to make amends where appropriate. Make a daily inventory and meditate on the Shadow often. Review, adapt, modify and improve continuously. Knowledge accumulates and wisdom follows.

 

Knowing your own darkness is the best method for dealing with the darknesses of other people.” – Carl Jung

 

 

 

Integrate

Once you acknowledge and accept that life is suffering and you suffer you can begin to dissect the reasons why. It will come as no surprise to discover that much of our own suffering comes from our own choices. Many of those choices will be contrary to your stated principles, values and virtues. An Alcoholic must at last confront the Shadow which afflicts his life and struggle to overcome it. Only by accepting that reality and seeing things as they really are do we stand a chance. Paradoxically healing comes from integrating the Shadow in to our consciousness.

 

We must constantly question the paradigm we find ourselves in. Does it represent reality or a projection of your own psyche? We must also decide what our values are and the virtues we wish to demonstrate. Are your thoughts, habits and actions objective and in congruence with those stated principles, values and virtues?

 

A Jedi constantly questions his or her reality. A Jedi trusts her feelings because she knows they are valid. Jedi are never satisfied with appearances alone and delve deeper to uncover the truth discarding what is false or redundant. Jedi practices such as meditation, physical training, mindfulness, awareness, objective inquiry and self discipline all serve to keep a Jedi in reality. Cooperation, diplomacy, reasoned discourse and respect for others creates an environment incongruent to the Shadow. Jedi strive to uphold the Code.

 

Light repels shadows and only barriers that we construct with our own minds create them. Light offers clarity through knowledge while the Shadow conceals the truth. A Jedi is simply someone who knows who they are both good and bad, warts and all. They know and accept the Shadow and fully and mindfully integrate it.

 

“People will do anything, no matter how absurd, in order to avoid facing their own souls. One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.”  – Carl Gustav Jung

 

 

Being you

My friend found answers in his quest for knowledge through Ahuyuasca. In reality all he did was confront his Shadow and fully integrate it in to his being. This he did through acceptance and surrender to the experience. As a result all of the repressed memories and emotions he carried were released. From there he was able to walk away from the experience a free man at least for a time.

 

Isn’t freedom from suffering what we all seek?  Is it enough to confront the Shadow? Is a spiritual experience alone enough to reach self actualization and lasting serenity?

 

The attainment of virtue, clarity of purpose and wisdom should be the pillars we seek in life. This is the highway on the journey to enlightenment. By confronting the Shadow we come face to face with our Dark Side and knowing it we can better know ourselves. Knowing ourselves we can then begin to lighten the shadow and express what we repress. We invite our repressed feelings out to play. We integrate our Shadow in a constructive way rather than leave it buried deep within our psyche.

 

All our lives we are conditioned to be and act a certain way. We repress and hide aspects of ourselves that we refuse to acknowledge. Our persona is a mirror of what family, friends and society wants from us. The Shadow retains the hidden morass of repressed memories and emotions like the refuse and the beast in the garbage compactor on the Death Star. Embrace the aspects of the shadow that serve. Be you entirely not a second rate version, a mere shadow of yourself.

 

“As far as we can discern, the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light of meaning in the darkness of mere being.” – Carl Jung

 

 

*Authors Note: I do not personally endorse or recommend the use of Ahuyuasca or any other psychedelic drug without the full supervision of a competent practicing psychiatrist. There are many retreats in South America and elsewhere that offer Ahuyuasca ceremonies. Readers who are considering traveling to a retreat and using the drug should fully research the topic beforehand and seek medical advice prior to proceeding with the experience.

 

Further Reading

Related article on Star Wars.com: https://www.starwars.com/news/star-wars-in-mythology-the-shadow

Jung, C.G. (1969). Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious [sic], Collected Works of C.G. Jung, Volume 9 (Part 1), Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press. ISBN 978-0-691-09761-9

The 12 Step Jedi

This New Year I decided to review how far I have come on the Jedi Path and was struck with an inspiration to rewrite the 12 Steps as it may have served the Jedi. In doing so I realized that the 12 Steps can be a azimuth, a sign post that guides us on the Jedi Path leading to realization of the Jedi Code in our lives. Here are the 12 Steps of the Jedi Path to recovery as I see them. I hope this can serve others in their own journey. The 12 Step Jedi.

 

 The 12 Steps 

 

 

Step 1: Became aware that we suffer and have fallen prey to the insanity of the Dark Side through alcoholism and addiction.

 

Darth Vader was never completely lost to the Dark Side. No one ever really is. Shards of the past, brief glimpses of who and what he was reminded Darth Vader that deep within him still resided Anakin Skywalker. In the fan film “Shards of the Past” Darth Vader still dreams of his former life and his love. Without that thin reed of love that still shone like a feeble light in the darkness there would never have been final redemption for Anakin.

The first stage of recovery is admission that we have a major problem. As humans we all suffer. The cause of all suffering is grasping attachment. Alcoholism is a form of unbridled attachment and ego run riot. To a sane and healthy person, the alcoholic appears quite insane.  Through admission we see it too. Only through admission can we learn to let go of our attachments and start a process of ego deflation. Recovery starts with accepting that there is a problem but there is also still a way out.

 

 

Step 2: Came to believe in the Force. We realized that the Light Side is the Jedi Path to redemption and recovery.

 

Step 2 calls for us to become willing to believe that a Higher Power can restore us to sanity. It is up to each individual to decide their own Higher Power. As Jedi we reject the Dark Side and turn to the Force. Being luminous beings in human form there is still the spark of the divine within us. It can never be completely extinguished. We come from the Force and ultimately return to it as we belong to it. No matter how deep we sunk in depravity or despair we are never gone beyond all hope. The Force is always within reach if we are willing to come back to the Light.

 

 

Step 3: Became willing to accept the Jedi Path and surrendered our lives to the Force.

 

Obi-wan Kenobi asked Luke to trust in the Force, to use it. Yoda also reminded Luke that our lives ultimately belong to the Force. Our lives are granted by the Force in trust. The act of surrender to the Force empowers. All we have to do is surrender ourselves to the Force and put our trust there. We turn over our problems to that Higher Power and stop trying to run the show.

The Force is a life line. We accept the thin reed that is offered and we pull out selves out of the hell we have made for ourselves. The problems that we had are no longer ours, we have turned them over. They now belong to that Higher Power, we call the Force. Liberated of the burden we can walk free at last. On dry ground we have landed on the Jedi Path and only need to take one step after the other in our new life.

 

 

 Step 4: Willing to confront our inner Dark Side we entered our personal Dark Side Cave without fear or hesitation.

 

The “Dark Side Cave” on Dagobah in “The Empire” was a metaphor for the unspoken Demons that reside within. Our fears, anxieties, resentments, grief and anger reside within that. The “Cave” hides our secrets and the darker recesses of our psyche. In order to conquer our Dark Side and start healing we need to confront it. As Luke entered the Gnarled Tree and encountered his Dark Side, so must we. Failing to do so allows our fears and failings to persist dragging us down. Our previous self remains hidden only, covered over by a thin veneer. In time it will emerge stronger than ever unless it is exposed and dragged in to the Light. This we do by looking squarely in to the mirror. We bare open our soul. By making a full, searching and honest inventory of all of our wrongs and faults we invite our Dark Side out to play. Nothing is left out. We must be brutal in our self honesty and pull back the curtains to see what we truly were.

 

 

Step 5: Emerging from the Dark Side Cave anew we admitting our past wrongs and faults to ourselves, to another and to the Force.

 

Luke Skywalker confronted his Dark Side in the Cave on Dagobah. Anakin also came face to face with his Dark Side in the “Clone Wars: Ghosts of Mortis”. Yoda was tested by his Dark Side in the “Clone Wars: Destiny”. In all of these confrontations good ultimately prevailed. Each of the Jedi was able to overcome the “darker sides of their nature”. It is unlikely that we will have a psychic battle with our own Dark Side as depicted in Star Wars however we can begin to grapple with it by taking full responsibility for every action we ever committed through confession and disclosure. It is not enough for us to admit it to ourselves and the Force only. We must also admit our past and our faults to another. Someone we can confide and trust in who is willing to listen to our story in a non-judgmental way will allow us to be free of the guilt and shame at last. We can at last become right with the Force and start to bring balance and peace in to our lives.

 

 

Step 6: We then became willing to let go of our past wrongs and faults.

 

The “Dark Side Cave” showed Luke his manifested darkest fears. The Cave acted as a reflection of the mind only. Luke came out of the Cave still ignorant of his legacy and his own attachments. Only our attachments to our faults prevent us from moving forward. We must be willing to let go of them. If we know we have an anger problem we start by deciding “I’m no longer going to be angry”. Where Fear of change is holding us back we decide “I’m not going to be scared anymore”. Our lives have been a dishonest facade so we make the decision to be honest.

The serenity prayer asks that we have the serenity to accept the things we cannot change and the courage to change the things that we can. Understanding the dichotomy of control is important. There are things outside of our control and other things to which we have partial control. These “externals” demand our attention and energy but frustrate us when they fail to conform to our view. What truly matters is what resides within us; our reasoned choice. We can control how we act and what we say. It is within our reasoned choice to “let go” of our past wrongs, our faults and failings as we perceive them.

The decision to do so remains with us. No one can change us only we can decide to change ourselves. As the saying goes “Be the change you want to see”.

 

 

Step 7: We finally let go of our past wrongs and faults leaving them behind.

 

In “The Empire” Luke Skywalker struggles with his identity and purpose. Luke wants to be a Jedi and is impatient, obstinate and angry. There is much he needs to learn. In between the time he is rescued on Cloud City to the opening scenes in “Return of the Jedi” something has changed in Luke. Gone is the reckless and impulsive youth. The boy has become a Jedi.

Step 7 is acting out our new lives. There is no miracle. Change is simply the product of intent and action. If we struggle with change “we fake it till we make it”. Being Jedi is a verb. A Jedi is measured by their actions and the virtues they demonstrate every day. Being sober is not only abstaining from alcohol but exercising principles in our lives. We stop being the person we were and start being the person we want to be. In order to be that person we must let go of the behaviors and thinking that used to define us and start applying principles and virtues in to our lives.

 

 

Step 8: We made a list of those we had harmed in the past and became willing to make amends.

 

Star Wars is replete with examples where the past has caught up with its characters. Darth Maul finally confronted Obi-Wan Kenobi on Tatooine after decades of hunting him down to extract the revenge he demanded. Obi-Wan spent years in hiding until his past caught up with him again in “A New Hope” and he was finally ready to meet his destiny on the Death Star. Darth Vader, a twisted and tortured slave of the Emperor, finally found redemption and reconciled with his son. Luke Skywalker alone on Ahch-To with his painful memories, hiding a dark secret, finally finds the will to meet the evil he has helped create and find his own final redemption. By digging in to our past we not only confront our faults and failings we also find the courage to face those we have harmed so that we may at once set matters right and also find redemption.

Our past lives made a huge impact on others as well as ourselves. If we are honest we have to admit that there are more people who were harmed by our behaviours than we know. We cannot make amends for every wrong ever done but we can try to make things right where we can. In making a list we must once again be honest and thorough. Our list may include those who we have grievances with. By adding them to the list we accept that we have to ignore the fault that others carry, we are only interested in making things right as far as we are concerned. To that extent we must be willing to forgive others and especially ourselves.

 

 

Step 9: We made amends to those we had harmed except when to do so would injure them or others. Where we have been harmed by others, we forgive. We also made self amends and forgave ourselves.

 

Dealing with amends in real life is a little different and may not be as drastic as these events in Star Wars. Sometimes it is not possible to find all those we have harmed. Making amends for past actions known and unknown may also cause greater harm than good. A person we have harmed may no longer be alive. They may not be interested in our amends. Sound judgement is required when deciding to approach someone with amends. The key is to act with sincere intent and reason. Where we have been harmed we must be prepared to forgive and let go of the pain and resentment. In doing so we walk away with a clear conscience. We should not forgot that the person on the top of our amends list is ourselves.

Never forget that the best way to make amends for the past, is not to try to change it. Nothing can change the past. Amends are best served by living our new life with principle and purpose. In doing so we can avoid the need to make amends in the future by living right today.

 

 

Step 10: Training daily we sought to always improve ourselves physically, mentally and spiritually. When we made mistakes we admitted them immediately and made amends if possible.

 

Being Jedi is a process of continuous improvement. We do not compare ourselves to others to make ourselves feel lesser or better. Our goal is only to improve daily to become better versions of ourselves. Training requires a concerted and ongoing process with a goal of progress not perfection. In order to develop physically, mentally and spiritually we must be prepared to apply right effort. A Jedi will seek to train body, heart, mind and soul. The “How” is left to the individual.

On the journey we must accept that mistakes will be made. There is no perfect path and errors provide lessons if we are honest about them. Every mistake should be seen as an opportunity to learn. Expect to stumble but be prepared to quickly rectify and make amends and keep moving forward. Never stop growing.

 

 

Step 11: Meditating daily we sought to increase our Knowledge of the Force so that it might lead to realization of Peace, Harmony and Serenity in our lives and in the lives of others.

 

The Jedi Code is an ideal. Perfect practice is a myth. Achieving enlightenment is not what we are after. The goal is to progress one day at a time, one moment at a time. Through little steps and incremental gains we begin to realize our goals. Through self-betterment we in turn make the world a better place. Daily meditation should be an integral part of Jedi practice. Through meditation we come to greater  self-realization and knowledge. The benefits of meditation flow into all aspects of our lives.

 

 

Step 12: Having learned to live as a Jedi as a result of these Steps we continued to apply the Jedi Code in all aspects of our lives putting our own life and home in order first. Seeking world betterment through self betterment we continued to walk the Path. On our journey we supported others and helped those who sought our aid where we could.

 

The focus of our efforts should always be centered on ourselves in the beginning. As we recover we being to extend our focus outward to others. We get our own home in order first and look after those close to us. In time we can extend our focus out further in to the community, nation and world.

Ultimately we are in a better position to help those in need being always mindful that to render aid and provide support can come with intended and unintended consequences. Where help is sought we do only what we are capable of doing and aim to help others to help themselves.

As we walk the Jedi Path we grow stronger physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. The changes come gradually and we may not notice them but others will. When we come to full understanding we are living the 12 Steps and reflect the Jedi Code in every word, thought and action. Then we can truly call ourselves Jedi.

 

 

The Jedi Code

There is no emotion, there is peace.

There is no ignorance, there is knowledge.

There is no passion, there is serenity.

There is no chaos, there is harmony.

There is no death, there is the Force

 

 

Note:

Alcoholics Anonymous (3rd Edition) suggests that the 12 Steps be a guide only. The founders of the 12 Step movement promised that those who practiced the Steps could achieve “contended sobriety” if they were honest with themselves and others. Without honest work and rigorous honesty the chances of success were mediocre at best; “half measures avail us nothing”. The 12 Steps were never intended to be dogma that needed to be followed religiously in order to be considered “on the beam” with any chance of staying sober.

Many in the movement contend that the original 12 Steps are perfect in their form and should not be changed or amended in any way. Several forms have emerged over the years depending on the groups that have branched off AA (NA, CA, OLGA etc.)  as well as versions that reflect the religiosity or secularism of the group.

Therefore I wish to apologize to anyone reading this modified 12 Steps who may be offended. I treat this as no joke. My intent is not to suggest a change to the 12 Steps but to present them in a way that may service the Jedi Community and perhaps others. The 12 Steps can be used to help us better understand and then realize the Jedi Code.

 

Happy New Year and MTFBWY

 

Take Stock

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

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

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

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

 

Lists

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

* Never confuse “stoic” with “Stoic”.

The Cave

Five Years

Today marks five years of sobriety in my life. I look back at that time and I ask myself have I come far? Am I a better person? Is it worth it? If I am honest with myself I can respond with some conviction “yes” to all of these questions. When I look at the person am I now compared to whom I was five years ago the change is remarkable. This process of change has not been dramatic but gradual. Change has not come over night but has been achieved through incremental progress, “one day at a time”.

Has it been hard? It has been the hardest thing I have ever done. Becoming sober and trying to achieve a measure of emotional sobriety has been a roller coaster ride. The good news is that anything that we strive for, anything worth doing is rarely a walk in the park. Sobriety is no different. Most days we are getting by fine but we keep up the pressure and test ourselves. By never resting on our laurels and by applying principles in all areas of life and by being true to our values we prepare ourselves for those tough times when we need to dig deep. Philosophy helps us to get there.

 

“There is no success without hardship” – Sophocles

 

Life is a Wrestle

The Stoics understood the purpose of philosophy. They committed to applying their philosophy every waking hour. It was not a tool they used when they needed to draw inspiration or use a handy “get out of jail free card”.

 

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

Marcus Aurelius compared life to a wrestling match. A wrestler is able to move gracefully and with purpose. The Wrestler is aware of his surroundings and can move through time and space with ease like a dancer. At the same time a Wrestler can anticipate an attack and if taken off guard can quickly recover from an assault, break a hold and turn the table in his favor. Using strength, flexibility, agility, momentum, technique, courage and intelligence the Wrestler prevails over his opponent.

Unless we take our philosophy for life and apply it, practice it and make progress constantly we will not benefit. We should learn from mistakes and strive to improve so that we do not become complacent and untrained. We are less likely to handle the adversities of life, be it an opponent in the ring, a sudden crisis, a tragic event or even a petty inconvenience that raises our ire if we are ill prepared.

Being sober has been five years of “train hard to fight easy”. I have had to wrestle mostly with my own failings. I have worked the 12 Steps and applied my principles and values in order to recover.   Working the Steps and being Jedi has enabled me to manage my anger, fear, anxiety, resentment and self pity.

 

The Cave

In many ways the last five years has been a solo journey.  I have had to face many challenges and confront many fears and a great deal of doubt and pain alone. My family has been there and there is also a fellowship to learn from but ultimately any one who passes through their personal Dagobah Cave must do so alone. When Luke Skywalker confronted his dark side in the Dagobah Cave he did so by himself. Yoda knew what Luke would face there; he too had faced his own personal Demons and conquered them.  Yoda also knew that Luke had to face the cave alone.

 

“What will I find in there”? – Luke Skywalker

“Only what you take with you” – Yoda

 

The Dagobah Cave scene was a symbol of the human need for self exploration and self knowledge. We all want to know what resides within ourselves every flaw and fault as well as every virtue. When I embarked on my journey or recovery I did not know myself. I thought I did but it was an illusion. The person I saw when I looked in the mirror was not the person that other people saw. What I believed others saw in me was not a reality either. I lived in self illusion and dishonesty.

Only by having the courage to confront myself and reveal all of my faults and flaws to another and to my Higher Power was a clear picture presented. I was appalled by what I saw but I also knew I did not have to be that person any longer.With self-knowledge  I could change but I had to want to and be prepared to do the work.

 

The essence of knowledge is self-knowledge” – Plato

Catharsis

In order to change sometimes we have to be prepared to undergo a personal catharsis first. For me it was hitting rock bottom and then finding a way out as I surrendered to a Higher Power. It was not the first time I had experienced a transformative experience. The death of my Mother when I was seven was traumatic and confusing. The years I spent in orphanages, juvenile foster care and living with an abusive alcoholic taught me about survival and the value of human dignity and justice. Service in the military and years as a homeless itinerant after discharge taught me about the wider world and showed me the best and worst in others and in myself. Alcoholism too was an important school of life.

 

“Hardships often prepare ordinary people for an extraordinary destiny” – CS Lewis

 

All of these experiences were personal Dagobah Caves; trials on the journey of life. All of them carried poignant and powerful impacts on my life that shaped my character and my destiny. Those experiences carried important life lessons which have made me who I am today.

 

“Self knowledge puts us on our knees, and it is very necessary for love. For knowledge of God gives love, and knowledge of self gives humility” – Mother Theresa

 

 

The School of Life

If my alma mater is the school of hard knocks, then the last five years of sobriety has been the most powerful graduate school I could have ever hoped for. The prize has been emotional, mental, physical and spiritual growth. Recovery teaches us a great deal about ourselves and others. We are taken beyond the limits of what we thought was humanly possible. Much of the time we are swimming against the tide.

There are  years or decades of reinforced behaviors, ideals, bias and sacred cows to overcome before we can progress. The requirement is a complete overhaul of who we thought we were. We have to stop looking outside ourselves for faults and excuses but look inwardly at how we have made our lives. For many this can be confronting and frightening. Some of us fight it and resist but we know that we must enter that dark cave and put trust in our Higher Power. We must enter alone and face the truth, only then can we emerge victorious.

“When you think everything is someone else’s fault, you suffer a lot. When you realize that everything springs only from yourself, you will learn both peace and joy.” – Dalai Lama

 

Life Contract

Tomorrow I will wake up to another sober day. God willing there will be many more. I like to believe that I will see this life through without sliding back in to alcoholism. The future is uncertain and far better people than me have relapsed so I don’t take my life for granted. Even the most promising Jedi can turn to the dark side and become Sith. If I can continue the upward march towards a higher vantage point that never ends till the final breath I will be contented. There is still much work to do; there is no five year contract on sobriety or personal betterment. It is a life contract with my Higher Power.

We should never be complacent. I will not rest because of a milestone. It is only another day. Aurelius believed that his Legionnaires should train as hard in peace as they did in war. So should we. As Jedi we are compelled to train and to improve ourselves, it is our personal duty. While we drop our guard our opponents are watching and waiting for an opportunity. Our addiction is outside doing push-ups while we get comfortable in our complacency.

If we work at it a little at a time, day by day, consistently without repose we see the change that we seek not just in ourselves but in others too. Improvement happens incrementally. We work and do what we have to do, rather than what we want to do.

A philosophy for life is for life and to live well is to do so without struggle and without rush. We only live one day at a time and deal with one obstacle at a time, with each step we climb higher. Consistency and commitment is everything. Faith keeps us there. Remember it took Yoda nearly 900 years to reach enlightenment. Enjoy the ride and also take the time to smell the roses, you worked for them.

Jedi have compassion

Compassion is central to a Jedi’s life. We need to have love and compassion for ourselves first and foremost, and then let that compassion gravitate outwards to the whole creation.

(33 Jedi Traits)

Metta

Metta is the Buddhist practice of “Loving Kindness”. Buddhists believe that compassion for all living things is vital as all life is precious. With compassion and loving-kindness the karmic consequences from past lives can be reversed and the Adherent can become Bodhisattva, an “awakened one”.

The  Bodhisattva postpones their transcendence to Nirvana for the sake of compassion for all life. Imagine that, to willingly seek to take on all the worlds suffering. These Buddhists feel compassion for all life but with that happy smile and serene face you see the Dalai Lama wearing. They take the “passion” out of “compassion” and replace if with loving kindness.

“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” – Dalai Lama

 

Stoic Compassion

Many people in the west confuse the word compassion with “pity”. Some view compassion as an emotional weakness and certainly not a virtue believing that empathy is more appropriate. Empathy is viewed as a rational response to the misfortune of others rather than the emotion of compassion. The Stoics viewed “simple” compassion as a failing. At the same time they advocated it was a duty of all to help those in need. A Stoic form of compassion which was vital and rendered without passion was suggested.

The world was viewed by the Stoics as an interconnected system and therefore it is in the best nature for people to get along and work together. It therefore pays to be altruistic and show understanding and empathy. Sympathy and pity helps no one.

 

“What brings no benefit to the hive brings none to the bee” – Marcus Aurelius

 

Loving Kindness

The idea of compassion in the East is very different to that in the west but surprisingly similar to the Stoic view. Compassion as Metta, wishes all to be free from suffering, oneself included. Loving kindness can radiate out from the individual to encompass the entire Universe in compassion; a simple desire that all sentient beings may find their way out of suffering.

The statement “Jedi have compassion” therefore agrees with the Buddhist concept of Metta. Jedi are objective in their response to the suffering of individuals but desire peace and happiness for all. Jedi resist feeling the suffering of others. They do not allow compassion to affect their judgement by emoting with the victim. Jedi provide support to those that need it, they render aid and defend the weak however they do not instantly fall in to the trap of irrational responses that lead them on a crusade.

 

Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them humanity cannot survive.” – Dalai Lama

 

Bleeding Hearts

How often have we turned on the news and been confronted with tragedy and injustice? We are bombarded with social media posts that show images of suffering and trauma. Floods and earth quakes, war and famine, poverty and social injustice seem to fly at us from every corner of the world. Hundreds of funding campaigns and aid organizations compete for charity from people who feel the dreadful pangs of compassion and pity but feel powerless to do anything.

Large non-governmental organizations have grown extremely rich on the good will and compassion of people who want to help those in need. Many of these compassionate people think that giving a few dollars to the poor or needy will help them out. But is this really an altruistic act of giving or a selfish attempt to feel better? Does giving in the way we give help any one? I have seen a culture of dependency and entitlement emerge in communities where handouts are the primary form of support.

 

Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” – Maimonides

Think before Leaping

Three years ago I watched with horror as Islamic State swept in to Iraq and started a genocidal campaign of slaughter of the Yezidi people. The Yezidis are a peaceful indigenous people who have somehow survived centuries of persecution and kept their unique and ancient religion intact. In 2014 the world watched on as genocide took place. I was overwhelmed with compassion and desperately wanted to do something. I agonized over whether to go to join the building resistance. What could anyone do if the World Governments did nothing? This was one tragedy that did not even earn a hashtag.

As Jedi we must decide how to best support those in need, render aid and defend the weak. We must recognize that to act instinctively on compassion alone may not be the best way. If we see someone drowning in dangerous surf do we immediately leap in to save them? Our instincts would drive us to risk our life especially if it were a child. How would our compassion for the drowning person help if we also succumbed to drowning or also needed rescuing? Jedi have compassion but think before leaping in. A dead hero serves no one.

 

12 Step Compassion

I felt a different type of compassion the first time I went to a 12 Step Meeting. Someone invited me to share and I told my story. There were nods of heads and knowing looks as I recounted my story of misery and woe. I was sort of expecting to hear clucks of sympathy and a few words of pity but there were none.

The speaker thanked me for my discourse and invited another person to speak. I listened and heard a story far worse than mine. My face burned red with embarrassment and I wondered if the people there thought I was being a bit over dramatic. Compared to the people who had lost everything I had got off pretty lightly.

After the meeting people milled around and I looked for my escape. An older guy who had told a real sad story came over and introduced himself. He was joined by a lady who had made a mess of things in the past and was estranged from her kids but was recovering and held no grudges. They were smiling and joking and asked whether I had enjoyed the meeting. They asked me how I was doing and implored me not to drink. “Just for one day” they said; “take it one day at a time, one step at a time”. I felt reassured.

These people were expressing Metta, not compassion. There was genuine concern for my well being however they were not trying to tell me what to and did not offer any sympathy. They were going to show me the way but no one was going to carry me. They reminded me I was not alone but on a life raft with other people working together towards the same end. In order to love others I had to learn to love myself first.

None of us are victims deserving pity unless we choose to be. We can let go of that and cultivate Metta for ourselves and others.

 

“For all that I do, whether on my own or assisted by another, should be directed to this single end, the common benefit and harmony.”Marcus Aurelius

 

Obi-wan’s Compassion

During his captivity under the Zygerrian Slavers, Obi-wan Kenobi was almost broken. Obi-wan suffered from a crisis of compassion. The more he tried to help his fellow slaves the more they were punished by their captors. As he rushed to intervene to stop an act of cruelty, a guard would rush in and take a whip to him and then punish the slave even more.

The cruelty to others was too much for Obi-wan, he suffered because he could not help and when he tried it made matters worse. Eventually the other slaves shunned Obi-wan telling him to keep away. After the second battle of Christophsis, Obi-wan also suffered the emotional toll of having so many friends killed around him.

Obi-wan had a compassionate heart, unlike Yoda he was not always able to see clearly beyond his concern and anxiety for the suffering of others. The fall of his student and friend Anakin on the lava flows of Mustafar almost drove Obi-wan to despair such was his overwhelming compassion and grief. Being over anxious for others does not help anyone, least of all ourselves.

“Wisdom, compassion, and courage are the three universally recognized moral qualities of men” – Confucius

To Suffer or to Heal

The word compassion means “with passion” or “to suffer with”. Anakin and Luke both felt uncontrolled compassion for others and allowed that emotion to cloud their judgement. Compassion ultimately led Anakin to the Dark Side and almost destroyed Luke as well as he attempted to rescue his friends on Cloud City.

Empathy on the other hand allowed Luke to put aside his passion and spare his Father. In an instant Luke was awakened that he did not need to have conflicting passions. Luke chose to understand the suffering of Darth Vader and put an end to it. Luke refused to feed the fear, anger and hatred that Darth Sidious demanded. Through loving kindness he defeated the Sith Lord and redeemed his Father.

Passion yet serenity” – Jedi Code

Jedi Compassion

We can react with blind compassion, to do so can ignite an emotion, often raw and irrational. To respond with empathy is to use one’s heart with a brain attached. By acting with loving kindness, Metta, we combine heart, soul and mind together in a mindful way.

We recognize the suffering of others and willingly take that suffering from them. Instead of tying that suffering to ourselves we let it go. This leads to healing. We use empathy and mindful action to make a difference. We can stand in a storm of tragedy and chaos and not let it affect our serenity.

This is the true nature of Jedi compassion. .

Compassion, which I would define as unconditional love, is essential to a Jedi’s life.” – Anakin

Jedi serve the Living Force

Trait 3/33

Jedi serve the Living Force and never serve the dark side, in any way, shape or form. Jedi are serious about their service to the Force, and are not thrill seekers or adventure seekers. They are serious about following the Jedi teachings in their own lives, because the Jedi teachings lead to personal growth, and help them to be conscious of their connection to the Living Force, which is within.

(The 33 Jedi Traits)

This statement provides a number of key requirements to being considered a Jedi. One does not entertain the Dark Side, we take the path seriously, this is not a game but a way of life. Practiced consistently the Jedi Path will lead to spiritual, physical, emotional and mental health and well being. The Trait provides a point of reference for those embarking on the Jedi Path.

I could just as easily take this comment and apply it to the 12 Steps.“The only requirement is a desire to recover from alcoholism. This means abstaining from drinking. Treat the program seriously as to fail could mean relapse and insanity or death. Integrating the principles of recovery in to all personal affairs the 12 steps becomes a way of life. If practiced  consistently the principles will lead to recovery and personal and spiritual growth. Life will take on new meaning”. This has been true for me so far.

I serve the Living Force  when I apply the underpinning principle that my recovery is a daily reprieve contingent on the maintenance of my spiritual condition. That is, I serve the Force in the manner which I choose to live and be Jedi.

 

The Noble Way

The first two of 33 Traits identify the cause of suffering and the solution to our suffering. The Dark Side points to suffering and the Force reveals redemption. The statement “Jedi serve the living Force” means simply to live in accordance with our values every day. This Trait reveals the simple truth, that if we live in accordance with our principles we will grow as a person. To put this in to real world context let us consider the fundamental teachings of Buddhism the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path.

The Four Noble Truths teach us that we all suffer, our suffering is caused by our attachment to impermanent states and things. Freedom from attachment ultimately leads to freedom from suffering. The Noble Eightfold Path provides the road map that must be followed to free one’s self from suffering. This is achieved through application of virtues and temperance in our lives, cultivating self discipline and practicing mindfulness and meditation. The Eightfold Path consists of eight practices: right view, right resolve, right speech, right conduct, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right meditation.

 

The Road Map

Being a real world Jedi does not mean that we must enter in to Monastic Life and take vows of service, poverty and chastity. Being a practicing Buddhist does not mean we have to either. Many people imagine the 12 Steps to be some sort of cult with secret handshakes and rigid dogma. It is nothing of the sort. Buddhism, the Jedi Path and 12 Step recovery are essentially personal paths that we follow on our own two feet.

All these paths have one thing in common. They all provide a road map that take different routes but all end up at essentially the same destination; freedom from suffering. If we have a map but do not embark on the journey or decide to head off road or  take another direction we will not arrive at the destination. If we stick to the road map and take our time but remain consistent in our practice we see progress and in time we get to where we are going.

Arriving at the destination we set off again seeking new milestones, new challenges. Over time we improve and become better. We leave behind ideas and things we have outgrown or no longer need. We pick up fresh ideas and tools along the way. This is the cycle of continuous improvement, an endless cycle of planning, doing, checking and correcting.

Our goal is progress not perfection as reality teaches us that perfection in life is an unattainable goal. We should only compare ourselves to who we were yesterday. Compare ourselves to others and we usually find ourselves lacking or we develop an arrogance that eventually trips us up.

 

An endless Journey

Metaphorically speaking recovery and the Jedi Path is a life journey there is no “Finish Line” that proclaims we have arrived. I can’t plod along for years and get to a point and say “I’m cured” and decide that’s it I can put all of this 12 Step stuff away, find my slippers and a bottle of Port. In short time I will be rudely awakened to the fact that I shouldn’t drink. I will soon be back where I started if not worse.

A philosophy for life is by definition “for life”, we live it day by day, one day at a time. We cultivate our practice and harvest the rewards as we move through life. By practicing this philosophy I serve the Force. Calling myself Jedi is optional. Doing so helps remind me constantly where I am headed and keeps me on track.

 

Keep at it

The beauty of the 12 Steps is that they never ever end. We can work them, work them some more and keep going. The Steps can be worked formally with a Sponsor or alone. The real work happens through the little things that we do every day.

The Jedi Path is no different. There are online courses that one can complete if they have the time and inclination. Some Jedi groups offer rank and hierarchy and knighthood ceremonies. A new documentary called “American Jedi” is to soon be released which reveals that side to the community. However anyone can be a Jedi if they commit to the Path and stick to it as a philosophy for life. It is a philosophy for life, not just a “in case of emergency” tool kit. We also only get out what we put in.

Ask yourself; “what can I do to improve myself today?”. If you are in a 12 Step program ask “what step am I on today and where do I need to work?”. Those who commit to the Jedi Path should also ask themselves “am I being true to the Jedi Code and which of the Jedi virtues and practices do I need to apply more effort?” . Keep climbing the stairs, go to work and serve the Force by being the best version of yourself that you can be.

The Force

Jedi believe in the Living Force.

Jedi believe in an invisible universal energy called ‘the Force’, also known as the ‘Living Force’, the ‘good side’, or the ‘light side’. The Force is a living spiritual presence that surrounds us, penetrates us, and binds all the matter in the universe together. The Force is the soul of all living things; it exists everywhere. Jedi believe that Force allows people to have free will and choice, but that destiny also plays a part in their lives (33 Jedi Traits).

Source: https://www.thoughtco.com/jedi-teachings-to-live-by-95912

The Force Issue

No exploration of the Jedi Path can omit mention of the Force indefinitely. We can  avoid the “Force Issue” for so long. Eventually we must confront it and determine for ourselves, what the Force is and what our relationship to it is. The 12 Steps asks the recovering alcoholic to do the same thing in Step 2. Having admitted powerlessness over alcohol one must become willing to consider a spiritual foundation to their recovery. In the past we have tried self will and found ourselves falling short.

The spiritual commitment of simple belief requires for some a major departure from previous ideas. Many alcoholics have long abandoned any concept of God. They mistrust religion and view any mention of the spiritual with hostility or skepticism. The program is asking them to do the opposite, to consider and then believe in the concept of a Higher Power.

Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.” – Step 2

The same problem presents itself to the atheist or the agnostic looking at the Jedi Path. Many will feel that to accept some religious concept of the Force is to submit to dogma. For most this will be unacceptable and a deal breaker. The Jedi Path is palatable without a spiritual foundation but any mention of the Force is to be suppressed or ignored. Everyone is aware of the elephant in the room but no one is prepared to mention it. No one likes to be accused of following some “hokey religion”.

“Don’t try to frighten us with your sorcerer’s ways, Lord Vader. Your sad devotion to that ancient religion has not helped you conjure up the stolen data tapes, or given you clairvoyance enough to find the rebels’ hidden fort-…” – Admiral Motti
[Vader makes a pinching motion and Motti starts choking]
“I find your lack of faith disturbing.”Darth Vader

The Fictional Jedi obviously believed in the Force.  While dedicated to the Dark Side, Darth Vader still remained respectful of the eternal power of the Force. Through the Star War saga we get  mixed messages on what the Force is. Qui-Gon Jinn reveals that microscopic life forms called Midi-chlorians are the physical manifestations of the Force in all life. Obi-Wan Kenobi calls it a energy source that surrounds and penetrates all living things. In the real world we have to take a step back from the fictional portrayal of the Force and apply our own definition to it.

Personal HP

The 12 Steps provides a caveat to the alcoholic who is struggling with accepting the concept of God in to their lives. Step 2 and 3 suggests that we come to believe in a Higher Power as we define it. The word God is used several times in the 12 Steps but the intent is not to enforce any particular dogma or definition of God. Whatever Higher Power the person in recovery chooses is entirely up to them. It can be “Good Orderly Direction”, “Group of Drunks” or any other secular concept. Some alcoholics view the fellowship as their Higher Power, others conceive of something closer to nature or the state of existence and abiding Love. Others apply religious or spiritual beliefs.  I simply call it the Force and it works for me.

When I embarked on recovery I sought out a concept of a Higher Power that I was familiar with. Jesus appeared. In time my spirituality evolved as I read further and meditated. I explored spiritual paths and my concept of God evolved and changed in to something I could verbalize and then could not. At times I grappled to conceive of a God who resided outside of myself and failed. I began to ponder the notion that duality is an illusion and that all is one and one is all. During my search I discovered the “A Course in Miracles” and Kabbalah. Both provided me with answers but for me even more questions on this concept of one soul, one Force.

Things were starting to clear but not a lot. My focus seemed to be drawn to achieving some sort of spiritual transcendence. I wanted to achieve the spiritual experience I had felt on coming out of “Rock Bottom”. I wanted that state of elation and connection again. For that I was missing the point. None of it is about achieving enlightenment; it is about living a good life and being the best version of ourselves that we can be.

The Living Force

Does the Force exist? Do we need to define it? I don’ know. For some the definition of the Force as provided in the 33 Traits will be enough. I don’t think it matters that we can define exactly what the Force is. Ultimately it is up to each and every individual to determine what the Force or Higher Power is for themselves. A trap we can fall into is to spend all of our time chasing a rainbow.

In early recovery I was so keen to see the face of God and get spiritually high that I completely lost myself. It was immature and irrational and a surrogate for addiction. I had to be reminded that it is OK to have our heads in the clouds sometimes but we must keep our feet firmly placed on the ground. To simply believe in something is sometimes enough. Recovery, being Jedi, life happens in the here and now not in some attained spiritual state somewhere in the obscure future.

Can we agree that simply being ourselves is to honor life and therefore express the Force? By using the life that we have in the way that best suits ourselves is possibly our only purpose. That is the meaning of my Higher Power, the Force.

Believe in what you want to be believe. Call it whatever you want, conceive of it any way you want. If there is a God, she will not mind, if there is no God it does not matter. And May the Force be With You.

33 Traits

The Real World Jedi community maintains a philosophy that is practical and a spiritual path that is non-dogmatic. Regardless of the particular Jedi movement one finds themselves in there are a number of traits that are common to all. People who identify with the Jedi Pragmatists, Jedi Realists and those that follow the Jedi religion known as Jediism all recognize certain traits that are essential to the Jedi.

The traits can be best summarized in the “33 Traits of a Jedi” list originally posted on an online forum called Jedi Sanctuary. The list is still used to help guide those that are seeking answers to what the Jedi Path is. Like Buddhism, the Jedi community offers numerous lists. These lists have evolved in the Jedi community over the last 25 years however none are more comprehensive or practicable than the list of 33 Traits.

I want to emphasis that the term Jedi used in this article refers to a person who identifies with the Jedi Path in the Real World. These traits do not necessarily apply to the fictional Jedi however it should be noted that the 33 Traits were inspired by the fictional archetypes.

 The Foundation

Over the next few weeks I will be exploring each of the Jedi Traits. Broadly speaking they can be separated in to 5 broad categories which guide a practitioner on the Jedi Path. These are:

  1. The spiritual foundation: statements relating to the Force and the Jedi’s relationship to the Force.
  2. Mindfulness: statements about the importance of meditation practice, mindfulness and awareness in the life of a Jedi.
  3. Virtues: statements that describe the key attributes and virtues of a Jedi such as patience, self discipline, objectivity, humility, humor and courage among others.
  4. Physical and Martial Training: statements that describe the use of physical and martial arts training to help improve the Jedi in a holistic way.
  5. Service: statements that highlights the importance of duty and service to others.

 A Path for Life

When I first read the list several years ago I was blown away. This was my point of depart for a rekindled interest in the Jedi Path and it came at a time when I had started my recovery and was faltering emotionally. Like the 12 Steps, the list seemed complete and all encompassing, there is no need to change or improve on it. I felt that if I could apply this in to my life it would fortify my recovery. Others had done the same by assimilating their religious and spiritual practices (Buddhism, Taoism, Christianity, Islam, Advaita etc) in to the 12 Steps so why not the Jedi Path?

During my studies I have read many interpretations of the 33 Traits and seen examples of how they are applied in real life. As a recovering alcoholic I have used the list to support my progress through the 12 Steps. Both compliment each other however the 12 Steps provides a road map for recovery while the 33 Traits provides suggestions for improving one’s mental, physical, emotional and spiritual health. One supports the other. I return to the list often and will attempt to provide some practical ways on how one can apply the 33 Traits in their lives.

The list is provided here

War

“Wars not make one great.” – Yoda, “Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back”

A Zero Sum Affair

No matter what our politicians and leaders tell us, wars do not solve problems and they certainly do not make people or nations great. The killing of another human being no matter what the justification is never easy, we are not programmed to take life. Yes, there are heroes in war, acts of bravery under fire that are celebrated and remembered. War can bring out the best and worst in people but it should never be glorified. Very few veterans will relish war and only a fool brazenly seeks it. Speak to someone who has seen war up close and they will tell you it is never pretty and it is a waste of life an d treasure. For this reason it should always be a last resort and one that is never taken lightly by those that send others to fight.

As a society we seem to have become increasingly conditioned to war. It seems we are in a perpetual state of war while preparing for future conflicts. Today the United States is directly involved in conflict in no less than 15 countries on five continents. We have 300 bases in over 70 countries. A dangerous military build-up is also occurring between historic Cold War foes that is devoid of any of the mutual respect and constructive dialogue that existed forty years ago. Distrust, division and accusation prevails. Our world is headed to a precipice and indeed the Doomsday Clock overseen by a panel of international Atomic Scientists was recently adjusted to 2½ minutes to midnight, the closest to the point of Armageddon since 1953.

Last Resort

What can we do about any of this? Unfortunately not much. The Stoics suggested that in life there will be many things that disturb us of which we have no control. We can emote on a subject, we can commiserate on how terrible the loss of life in Syria, Yemen and Ukraine is due to conflict or bemoan the degradation of the global environment. Worrying or emoting about events that we have no control over does not alleviate the suffering or change a thing. If we can act, we do what can be done otherwise we focus on our place in the world and those that rely on us. We attend to our own battles at home and strive to make a better life.

The Fictional Jedi were keepers of the Peace but were sworn to protect the Republic and defend it. Being a real world Jedi means knowing which battles to pick and only ever accepting violence as a last resort and primarily in self defence, never attack. A Jedi abhors violence.

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

 Soul Wars

Carrie Fisher once compared her battle with mental illness as akin to being in a war. The analogy was not intended to belittle the sacrifice of veterans who had fought in Afghanistan but to highlight the nature of the struggle she endured for years. Many of us fight our own inner battles, the prize of victory is survival and defeat ultimately means death. The courage needed to survive addiction and recover should never be understated it also takes a tremendous amount of balls.

“One of the things that baffles me (and there are quite a few) is how there can be so much lingering stigma with regards to mental illness, specifically bipolar disorder. In my opinion, living with manic depression takes a tremendous amount of balls. Not unlike a tour of Afghanistan (though the bombs and bullets, in this case, come from the inside).” – Carrie Fisher

Alcoholics are not facing an enemy on a battleground or the threat of IEDS, they are confronting their own darker side. In recovery we change our lives utterly and in ways we could never have imagined.

A Crowded Hour

Soldiers are given medals for acts of heroism in the face of danger. Storming a machine gun nest, pulling a wounded comrade to safety while taking fire, jumping in to a burning vehicle to pull out unconscious casualties all take a tremendous amount of guts. The ordeal will last from seconds to hours. The “crowded hour” that Soldiers who have experienced in battle will know as the euphoria mixed with terror that is as addictive as a drug.

“Sound, sound the clarion, fill the fife!

Throughout the sensual world proclaim,

One crowded hour of glorious life

Is worth an age without a name.”

Thomas Osbert Mordaunt (1730-1809)

When the dust settles and the adrenaline wears off the Hero Soldier will be unable to explain his actions, he will simply state that his training and instincts kicked in, there was no time to think, just act. A true Warrior will never claim that war has made him “great”.

Uncommon Valor

We Alcoholics also faces a momentous challenge in overcoming our addiction and starting the long road to recovery. In Step 1 we must admit our powerlessness to alcohol and accept that a spiritual solution is the only path. For many this can require rejecting a life time of prejudice and accepting something that before was completely unfathomable. We must dig deep and inventory our history all of our faults and all of the harm we have done others. Having admitted our faults to ourselves we must admit them to our Higher Power and another person. With our past clearly laid bare we must be willing to put it behind us and resolve to change and become who we want to be.

Our actions must agree with that resolve; we seek out those we have harmed and we make amends. We forgive others and we finally forgive ourselves. Living one day at a time we seek to improve ourselves and grow spiritually as well as mentally and emotionally. Our attention moves outwards and we seek to serve others, helping where we can.  The journey can be terrifying but we find a type of courage and inner strength that endures and we change. It takes uncommon valor.

Better a patient person than a warrior, one with self-control than one who takes a city.” – Proverbs 16:32

Whoever answers the call of duty should never be condemned and those that make the ultimate sacrifice should never be forgotten but always honoured. War should always be regretted and never glorified. Never forget too that we as alcoholics face our own battles on a daily basis, often alone and without support. Our effort is worthy and honourable. We may not think it “great” but your recovery is a small light in a dark world, you are making the world a better place.

World betterment through self-betterment” – The Jedi Circle

Bigger Fish

There is always a bigger fish” – Qui-Gon Jinn “Episode 1: The Phantom Menace”

In the scene in “Episode I: The Phantom Menace”, Qui-Gon Jinn and Ob-Wan Kenobi are pursued by an underwater creature. Jar Jar Binks, is in fits of terror while the Jedi seem unconcerned by the looming menace. They seem more annoyed at the bumbling Gungan  they are stuck with. As the reptilian carnivore closes in it is ambushed by some vast underwater behemoth that rises from the deep and swiftly devoured. Qui-Gon Jinn remarks nonchalantly “Well, there is always a bigger fish”. It’s a forgettable scene but it’s a memorable quote and is one I use often in applying my philosophy for life.

Fact 1: No matter how big and tough someone thinks he is there is always some one out there who will better him.

Never think for a moment that you are invincible and that if you hold the title for world champion someone is not going to come along one day and knock you off your pedestal and claim the crown. It need not be a title or the claim to being the best at anything, even becoming over confident can eventually lead to cocky self-assuredness, arrogance and finally complacency. This would be a fatal mistake. For someone in recovery they are all red flags which can ultimately lead to relapse. Humility as a virtue is vital to sustained recovery.

It was pride that changed angels into devils; it is humility that makes men as angels.” – Saint Augustine

Fight Smart

The only wars that are truly won are those that were resolved before a shot was fired. I personally would not invite my addiction outside for a fight. I might win the first round but eventually pound for pound it will mop the floor with my face.  So I won’t dance with the Devil.

By fighting we leave ourselves open to being beaten, especially if we lead by the chin by being arrogant. Regardless of how recovered I think I am I know that the best way to win a fight is not to be there in the first place. I avoid situations that lead me in to trouble, I recognize the red flags as they appear and if required I have a tool bag of spiritual and mental skills I can use when needed. I fight smart.

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

It is better to treat life like a wrestling match than a dance or in the case of an alcoholic, a bout of bare knuckle brawling. Trying to fight life through brute force only wears us out and half the time you are beating yourself. Fools think they can dance through life. Realists realize that life is more like wrestling. Life sweeps us up, knocks us down and tries to pin us. We manage to break the hold and flip things over getting the upper hand until the next time we are thrown off balance. The trick is to be prepared mentally and physically for the things that tip us over.

 

Fact 2: No matter how big or bad a problem seems to be it could always be worse.

The next time something annoys you or you are faced with a vexing problem ask yourself “could this be any worse”? The truth is of course it could be. Things can always be worse than they are. Take a moment to collect your thoughts. Look around you and notice the things that are going right in your life. Realize that the world is still there, society still functions, the sun will rise in the morning to another day. What ever is bothering you now will pass.

Sobriety does not give us immunity from pain but it does give us the opportunity to respond to the vicissitudes of life in a sane and appropriate manner.

Man is disturbed not by things, but by the views he takes of them.” – Epictetus

Gratitude is a powerful force in your life and so is the ability to perceive and prepare for the “worst case scenario”. Negative visualization is one practice I use often to readjust my perception of “problems”. When I think about how bad some people have it I am reminded of how lucky I am. Things could always be worse.

Imagine the Worst

Negative visualization was used by the Stoics. Seneca reminds us that we should remember that our life can end at any moment and we should appreciate life to the full. Epictetus advises that when we kiss our children good night we should remember that it may be the last kiss. Children can be taken away. All things are transitory and impermanent and fate can change in an instant so we are reminded to savor every moment we spend with our loved ones.

Society compels us to live hedonistic lives, the book “The Secret” teaches us to use positive visualization to get the things we want, stating that the University will provide riches and opportunities if we simply claim them. Negative visualization teaches us to want what we have and appreciate more what we get.

The trouble with trying to get the Universe to give us things through positive visualization is we get really annoyed when it doesn’t fall out of the sky in to our lap. Worse it fosters a culture of entitlement and a ride on the hedonistic treadmill, we get what we want and then soon growing tired of it we want more and more.

Negative visualization teaches us not to take anything for granted especially our sobriety.

Prepare for the worst, hope for the best” – Unknown

Jonah and the Big Fish

Let’s use Jonah as an example in keeping with the giant fish theme. Jonah was sent on a mission by God which he didn’t want to accept because it was “too hard” or it didn’t agree with his plans. Too bad Jonah these things pick you. Displeased, God tossed Jonah about on an angry sea before the reluctant prophet was thrown over board by his terrified companions. Jonah was then swallowed by a behemoth and held for three days in the innards before being unceremoniously spewed up on the beach of ancient Israel for good measure. Then it’s a long walk to Nineveh where he has to deliver the news that the entire city is about to be destroyed by divine wrath which is certain to make him as popular as a bacon sandwich at a Bar Mitzvah.

Things do turn out well though; Jonah gets his second wind and gets the population of Nineveh to repent sparing them from annihilation. Having done a great job he gets a whole chapter dedicated to him in the Bible and almost everyone has heard the story.

Jonah should have just had faith to being with and done what he was told in the first place and cut all the fuss, he should have gone straight to Nineveh. Instead of being a sour puss Jonah should have taken a leaf from the Athenians and used negative visualization to harden up for the worst case scenario and then worked for the best outcome. The flip side of course is that his reticence taught the rest of us an important lesson about accountability and duty.

 

Fact 3: The biggest and best that you think you can achieve might be wrong. You can always do better if you want. There is always “bigger fish to fry”.

We define our own “impossible”. If we say we can’t do something we are probably right, if we say we can we are probably right. Recovery has taught me that I can achieve more than I gave myself credit for. I never imagined I would be three months sober let alone 5 years. If I can do it so can anyone else.

The idiom does not only apply to recovery but in all other aspects of my life as well. Whether it is setting goals at work, in training or in my personal life I set the bar a little higher. I try to work in a zone of Eustress.

Good Stress, Bad Stress

Under stress is where we are not challenged. We are simply coasting along and usually accepting mediocre as good enough. If we put in average effort we are going to end up with average results but more usually none at all.

Half measures availed us nothing” – Big Book p59.

Distress is the opposite, we are at the limit of our physical, mental, emotional or spiritual capacity and sometimes beyond. Performance starts to fall apart and effort is non-sustainable. In early recovery I went in to hyper mode and over loaded myself. This of course led to distress and almost a relapse. “Easy does it” means to do it but do it easy, which of course means Eustress!

Eustress is the zone in between under-stress and distress. It is the zone of optimal performance where we are challenged but within our capacity and we can improve over time.

Set Goals

I work towards self improvement. In physical training for example the only way to make gains is to increase the load or the reps a little every time, introducing new exercises also helps, mixing it up. Sticking to the same routine will work for a while but soon you will simply plateau out and get bored and you won’t make gains.

When setting goals that push you, allow yourself to recover and then ratchet it up a bit more. If you plateau, back off a bit and then hit it again. Without rushing but with a slow and steady pace you will see improvement. New opportunities and bigger goals come in to view and the next thing you know you are doing things you thought were impossible a few weeks or months prior. Put the effort in and see the results. Nothing worthwhile is gained without hard work. Fortune does not fall out of the sky as promised in “The Secret”.

This formula works for training, learning a language, overcoming fears, dealing with anxiety and depression and almost anything else where the goal is gradual improvement over time. Always speak to a professional health advisor before starting a new program.

Oh and if you fish you will be very familiar that there is no such thing as “the biggest fish” only the “biggest catch of the day”. There is always tomorrow and if you hook Jar Jar Binks, throw him back in.