Change

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

Drop the Rock

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

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

 

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

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

 

Reflect

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

 

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

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

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

 

Change yourself

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

 

Change your thoughts, transform your life

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

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

 

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

Slave not Master

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

Do or do not, there is no try” – Yoda

 

Rule of Fives

Five approaches to making changes in your life:

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

Things could still be worse

The State of the World

If you follow the news every day you are probably of the view that the world is in serious trouble. It seems that every day we are bombarded with more terrible news from around the world. Some of it affects us directly or we know people involved. News from further afield also touches us. We feel for the people that are caught up in a tragedy, their plight streamed to our computer or television. Their suffering becomes our suffering.

The world seems like a smaller place than it ever did. We are connected through the power of the internet and comprehensive news coverage. If something terrible happens in our town, city, state, country or on the other side of the planet we soon hear about it. Right now there are mass murders, genocide, environmental destruction, natural disasters and famine happening around the world in plain view. The world stands on the precipice of a nuclear disaster, war appears to be looming large as does an array of other global catastrophes. We feel helpless to do anything. Despite all of this, things could still be worse.

 

Reasonable to Good

Despite all the tragedy and calamity in the world we also get caught up in our own personal dramas. Our wants and needs still preoccupy our thoughts. Simple and day to day problems still arise. The car still breaks down, we have crappy days and nothing seems to go right. Except when it does, bad things usually happen to other people. Most of the time they happen to people we don’t know and believe it or not, the news does not cover every instance of bad news. Terrible things are happening right now that will never be reported, that we will never hear about.

That does not mean the world is falling apart around us. The chances of being assaulted, robbed or murdered remain low. Most of us will never be caught up in a natural disaster or a major accident such as a fatal car accident, train derailment or a plane crash. Hopefully, even less of us will be visited by war. Diseases such as cancer may happen but the odds might still be in our favor. Overall the outlook for a positive future seem reasonable to good. The world still has much beauty and peace.

 

Not the End

So why does it seem that things could not get any worse right now? Well they could. It’s simply a matter of perception. Things do not hurt us, only our perception and view of them does. I have heard people, myself included, declare “that’s it, it’s over, my life is finished!”. The reality is it’s not. We could lose our job, our house, our partner could abandon us, loved one’s could die but we are still here.

The sense of loss and grief that is felt does not mean that the world has ended or that we won’t see better days. The sun will rise again in the morning and the Earth will continue to turn on its axis. What assaults and bereaves us today will pass. It may seem hard to accept but it is true. Hurricanes and earth quakes destroy cities and wars upend entire countries, yet people still emerge and rebuild brick by brick. Soon enough children’s laughter can be heard and life goes on.

 

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

 

Life Goes On

The power of perception and gratitude kept James Stockdale alive in a North Vietnamese prison and it kept Viktor Frankl’s hopes and dreams alive in Auschwitz. Both of these men knew things could be worse. They were still alive and they owned their minds. The power of choice over whether to allow themselves to give in was theirs alone.

There are times when fate hands people a cruel and heavy burden. I could not think anything worse than the loss of a child. Yet I know people who have suffered that tragedy and who have come out the other side of hell more appreciative of life and love. They are more grateful for the things that they still have and grateful the for time they were blessed to have spent with their loved one. Life does still go on.

Putting things in to perspective allows us to find our balance. We can grieve and process our loss in a mindful way while appreciating what has been taken away. Loss is a reminder that all things are impermanent and transitory. Gratitude reminds us to value what we have more than what we expect or want. By accepting that life could still be worse we are in a way acknowledging that and letting go of our attachments without devaluing their importance in our lives.

 

Grace of God

A decade ago I was diagnosed with a tumor that resided within my skull. Unlike a brain tumor it was a mass that was non-malignant and could be surgically removed before it did any damage to my brain. At first I thought I had a brain tumor and panicked until the Doctor reassured me that my prognosis was good as it had been found before it could interrupt the blood supply to my brain. So I asked “it could’ve been worse?”, the Doctor replied that indeed I could have had a stroke at any time and lost a great deal of function if not my life, so yes “it could have been far worse”. That experience taught me a lesson. It gave me a new lease on life and a grateful appreciation for everything in it. Unfortunately I forgot that I was alcoholic and soon started the spiral downwards.

Recovered Alcoholic often surprise people with their spontaneity, humor and positivity. Some of them have been through the wringer, they have estranged or lost friends and family members, ruined their careers and lost everything they ever owned and suffered terrible health problems. Yet here they are, laughing and joking and enjoying life to the full. Even bad news seems not to unsettle them. They accept what comes with equanimity and peace. They realize that the only reason they are sitting there is because of the “Grace of God”.

My personal descent in to a hell I call “rock bottom” put me in an emotional and spiritual place I thought could not possibly be worse. The reality was, I was lucky; I found a Higher Power and made my way out. With renewed faith I started to clean myself up and begin recovery by taking the steps. I admitted my powerlessness to act against a disease and I surrendered my problem over to a Higher Power. By surrendering my life to the Force I was able to start putting my life in to perspective and finding that I still had a lot to be grateful for. I realized that things could have been far worse. Compared to others I got off lightly; I still had a family, my job and my health.

 

Leia

Leia Organa is very much the symbol of strength, pride and steely determination in the Star Wars saga. Leia suffered loss in her roles as a Princess, Diplomat, Rebel Leader, Jedi, General and Mother. Her life had been full of personal tragedies and bitter betrayals. Besides the loss of her biological parents at birth she endured decades of hardship in peace and in war. Whether you read Canon or Legends they included the death of her son Anakin and the loss of her Ben Solo to the First Order. She married and separated from Han Solo and then in “The Force Awakens” learned that he had been brutally executed by their own child. Despite all of this Leia never buckled, she never gave in.

In real life Carrie Fisher also dealt with personal hardships and tragedies that most people were unaware of. From an early age she was thrust in to the lime light due to her high profile parents. Star Wars launched her career and earned her unimaginable fame. That global recognition came at a price. Still a teenager Carrie Fisher was in an affair with her co-star Harrison Ford. The relationship was one sided, he a distant lover and she a an impressionable young girl who was infatuated yet awkward about her feelings and embarrassed about her body. She fell in to addiction and depression and struggled with the pain and self loathing that it bought on. The separation of her parents and death of her Father also had a heavy toll on her.

Despite all of the hardship and tragedy Carrie Fisher never wallowed in self pity. Although she had low self esteem she also had the tenacity, strength and courage to overcome her demons and emerge as a confident writer and spokesperson for mental health. She became like General Organa, tough and frank yet approachable and funny. Carrie Fisher had a common touch which connected with ordinary people. She had been through the wringer and like many recovered Alcoholics had a ferocious love for life and a healthy sense of humor born of humble irreverence for one’s own flaws.

The shared beauty of Carrie Fisher and Leia Organa was the knowledge that life is tough and it will get you down. Life can pick you up and throw you down again and again but it can always be worse. How we get through it and come out the other end largely depends on us. We can give up and weep bitterly in the dark or we can stand up and keep going one day at a time, one step at a time.

Despite all the tragedy and evil in the world it is still a wonderful place. There is more good in people than bad.

Self Sufficiency

A Shield

Self Sufficiency is the state of feeling secure and complete in one’s self. While Self Reliance is complete acceptance of one’s abilities and limitations and being able to regulate one’s response to emotions self-sufficiency is feeling “good” about yourself. More so it is about being in control and balanced. To be in a state of self-sufficiency is to experience mental, physical, emotional and spiritual well-being and a feeling of “completeness” and wholeness.

Imagine Yoda and Obi-wan Kenobi when they were confronted by their arch rivals Darth Sidious and Darth Vader. Did they seem perturbed, were they upset or visibly afraid? Did self-doubt cloud their judgement and affect their actions? Both Jedi Masters demonstrated a high degree of self-sufficiency. Faced with insurmountable odds they did not flinch. Even insulted and berated by their opponents they refused to let it affect their actions giving up neither to passion nor anger. They refused to lose control. Jedi had strong self-sufficiency, it was the shield that protected them.

Anakin on the other hand had weak self-sufficiency and was sensitive to assaults on his character or perceived slights to his honour and values. Luke Skywalker also faced an internal crisis that reflected a sensitive character and lack of self-sufficiency. Luke was easily roused to anger and jealousy as was his father particularly over matters of the heart. Over time Luke became more accepting of himself and sure in his decisions and actions thanks mainly to his Jedi training.

 

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

 

 

Heart on a Sleeve

Alcoholics are sensitive people, we take everything personally. I have often been told that I wear my heart on my sleeve and true to that I have often proved them right. Unfortunately my alcoholism never helped me in regulating my emotional response to perceived injustices or even trivial slights. With a family heritage that originated deep in the mountains of the Balkan powder keg it seemed my genes did not favor me either. I would often lose my temper over the slightest of insults or loss of control.

Alcoholics are often control freaks by nature, we need to be in order to feed our addiction, unfortunately that trait and the emotional toll of not getting our way seems to cross over in to all aspects of our lives. We alkies get “butt hurt” easily.

 

Self Defense

Self-sufficiency is being able to handle rejection well, it is also being able to let an insult slide without even a blink. If we find ourselves in a situation where our character or integrity is attacked we do not feel the need to react with defiance and attack in return. We can shrug off verbal and physical assaults and quickly forget them. We harbour no grudges. Resentments and self-pity born of damaged pride is not for us. This does not mean that we are everyone’s door mat either, far from it. Strong self-sufficiency means being able to defend one’s self in a calm and collected manner without feeling the need to defend one’s honour or pride at the same time. Self-defence means protecting our physical self from harm and setting boundaries on the actions of others, it is not about seeking punishment or taking revenge.

 

Nothing to Prove

Self-sufficiency is also not requiring constant validation from others. I know people who live for attention. They always have something to prove to others. If they post something on social media and don’t get the requisite set of likes they expect they act confused and hurt. They must always be the centre of attention and anything less than public adulation reduces their self-esteem. If we want to be validated we validate ourselves by working harder and striving to be a better person every day. We do not need the praise of others to feel good about ourselves. Praise and ridicule are the sides of the same coin to us and neither mean anything in the long run.

 

In Balance

Having self-sufficiency means having complete internal balance and sense of control. It is not about being an unemotional machine that feels nothing like a rock. Self-trust and resilience are synonymous with self-sufficiency. We are able to make our own decisions without being swayed by others. Opinions can be formed without defaulting to the latest collective mind-set on a particular issue. We can trust in our judgements and stick by them if challenged.

 

Being authentic means being yourself, not someone you imagine other people will like better or accept more readily. For decades I tried to be someone else and it only bought me depression and a lack of identity. Even know I am still working out who I am.

 

Open and Honest

Most of all we appreciate honesty, we want people to tell us what they think and to be truthful with us even if we might not like what we hear. Being self-sufficient means being able to acknowledge the opinions of others, especially those about ourselves without allowing it to damage our self-esteem or balance. We listen to others and we accept the truth when we hear it.

 

Self-sufficient people enjoy time alone but are not loners. They also enjoy the company of others and are engaged in life rather than isolated from it. We may be preoccupied with our own problems but we also preoccupy ourselves with others. Empathy with others and connection to community are important to those with strong self-sufficiency.

 

People not Things

Material possession and status are not as important to people with strong self-sufficiency. We do not need possessions to compensate for deficiencies or to prove to others our worth. We may enjoy and appreciate nice things but we are not reliant on them. A nice car, house, designer clothes and shoes and excess cash do not define us or even impress us. We believe that rank and status are earned and not granted out of entitlement however titles do not bother us, we know who we are and what we’ve done. Medals and awards are graciously accepted when earned but rarely worn.

 

Practice Self-sufficiency

Some people think that being self-sufficient is in some ways being cold and unemotional or stoical. The Jedi were none of these things and being sober is not the dull, boring and somber existence that many imagine. The Stoics themselves were similar to Jedi, they were entirely self-sufficient and were able to achieve a strong emotional, mental and spiritual balance in their lives. Stoicism is still practiced today and strongly influences Cognitive Behavioral Therapy used to treat acute low self-esteem and mild depression. Here are some practices that can be used to improve self-sufficiency:

Reframe the situation:

Have you ever been dumped by a girlfriend / boyfriend? Did you ever get fired from your job? Perhaps both happened in a single week. How did it feel? If you felt terrible about it for a long period or too it worse than you now feel was appropriate now it is probably because your emotional response to the event upset you more than the event did. Later on you meet someone and land a job that fits you far better and you wonder why you were upset all along. The belief that you would never find another love or find a suitable job proved to be irrational and false. If you were to reframe the situation to something like “I’ve been dumped but I’ll be alright and will meet someone new” and “that job paid the bills but it was clearly not meant to last, something better will turn up”, you will find that the emotions tied to the situation are not as acute and consequently you won’t take it as bad.

Change what you can, accept what you can’t:

The serenity prayer is read at AA meetings for a reason; it reminds those in recovery that acceptance and action are hand in hand. We must take action where we have control in our lives and we must be prepared to accept that there is much which happens in life which we have no control. It is worthwhile asking the following questions when confronted with a challenge or problem in your life:

  1. What aspects do I have control over?
  2. What do I have come but not all control over?
  3. What areas do I have no control over at all?

For example, if you lose your job you have no control over that. You can try to get the company to reverse their decision. Failing that you can put a positive spin on it and spend time tidying up your resume. You can get out and start job hunting. Being unemployed can be hard but being sad and miserable about being unemployed is a choice. It is better to accept the loss of the job and get busy finding another one rather than staying passive and impotent by wasting time in denial and regret.

Pick you Role Model:

My role model is Ob-wan Kenobi. When I find myself in a difficult situation or I need to inspiration in the best way to achieve a desired outcome I consider how someone with the presence of mind, skill and self-discipline like Obi-wan Kenobi would have handled it. Obi-wan is not a real person, I cannot use him as an actual mentor. Fortunately many of us have access to mentors and in the 12 Step program we can approach a potential sponsor to help guide us. In the Jedi community a dedicated mentor is important in guiding those seeking to learn the philosophy of being Jedi.

Set Daily rituals:

The Stoics used daily rituals to centre themselves. In the morning they would take time to plan their day, they would “welcome the day” by observing or imagining the rising sun. They would consider all the hardships and challenges they could expect to face. These are handy practices. In addition to those I also remind myself of something to be grateful for. During the day I do spot checks to assess my mental and emotional state. In the evening I consider the day’s events and assess my conduct noting opportunities for improvement. Meditation and daily readings are also an integral part of my daily routine as is exercise.

 

Self-reliance and Self-sufficiency are two of the greatest assets a person can possess. Not only will it make you more resilient and adaptable to life it will also improve emotional, mental, physical and spiritual well-being. An owner of a major company commanding billions of dollars’ worth of assets and having a vast personal wealth may actually be poor if she lacks self-reliance and self-sufficiency. Life is no more than a hollow and meaningless existence compared to the peasant who is both self-reliant and self-sufficient. All of the things we own or control are transitory and impermanent, they have no intrinsic value. To be in command of one’s own emotions and to be the master of one’s own life, on the other hand, is a treasure far greater than a mountain of Gold. Therein lies true serenity.

Jedi have Foresight

Jedi can see the future through the Force

Through the Force, Jedi can see both near term and long-term future events. Future seeing abilities are sometimes a result of meditation.

(33 Jedi Traits)

 

Can we predict the Future? If we could, who would want to carry the burden of knowing their fortune and the future of all? Who could honestly feel blessed in having the ability to predict future events? It could be said that knowing the future would give one the power to change some unfortunate event. That would be true to some extent but in the vast majority of cases you would still be powerless to change predetermined events. People would still die, bad things would still occur and you would still have to carry the burden of knowing beforehand.

The Jedi had some ability to foresee future events. Yoda for example had visions of the fall of the Jedi Order. Even in the fiction however the Jedi only had a glimpse of the future. Anakin did not see his own fall or the tragic end of his wife, Padmé Amidala. In fact Anakin created his own destiny by falling to fear, anger and hate. In the real world there are people who have some sort of psychic ability to predict with clarity future events. Others use basic logic, reasoning and probability.

 

Difficult to see. Always in motion is the future..” – Yoda

 

Crystal Ball Gazing

While most of us can barely foresee future like a fortune teller, alcoholism has taught me that the future can be anticipated. I have no doubt that certain actions lead to typical outcomes. It does not take a crystal ball to realize what would transpire if I had a drink or two. Armed with experience and self knowledge I know that certain triggers can lead to certain outcomes. Those outcomes carry consequences.

Scientists have shown that the human mind is capable of using logic, probability and patterns drawn from past events to predict the future. My History teacher said “We study dead people so that we can appreciate the past, understand the present and predict the future”. He was right. It does not take a Jedi to predict the Future, just a rational human being.

 

The power for creating a better future is contained in the present moment: You create a good future by creating a good present” – Eckhart Tolle

 

The Rational View

Being a rational human being, being Jedi is about having foresight. It is about taking a “Future View” of our actions. In active alcoholism I never considered consequences for my actions but I feared the Future. Life was lived for the moment on some sort of hedonistic merry go round that only led to suffering. The future appeared dark and desperate. A form of insanity existed where I thought that if I kept trying the same thing over and over again I would eventually end up with a different and better outcome. Reality suggested the opposite.

 

The dark side clouds everything. Impossible to see the light, the future is.” – Yoda

 

We may have plans but so does the Future. The truth is we have no idea what is coming around the bend. To worry about a future that has no come to pass does little more than take us away from when life happens; in the Now.

 

“Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment”. Buddha

 

 

Future View

These days I take a “Future View” when making decisions. This is simply considering the long and short term consequences of a decision and weighing them rationally against perceived immediate benefits. Resisting impulses is a form of self discipline that leads us to consider the near and long term impacts of making a decision that appears to have short lived benefits.

 

Accept the things to which fate binds you, and love the people with whom fate brings you together, but do so with all your heart.” – Marcus Aurelius

 

We make decisions that discount the future all of the time and potentially lead to poor outcomes. For example, we choose to speed while driving. Do we consider thinking that gaining five minutes on the road carries a risk of getting a fine or having an accident that could potentially devastate not just one life but many?

We spend money on frivolous purchases rather than saving for something important. Words leave our worth which we later regret saying but which gave us satisfaction at the time. Important assignments and preparation for exams are delayed until the last moment knowing full well the consequences in advance. Actions lead to predictable outcomes which we can visualize clearly in our minds eye, yet we make the same errors over and over again. Taking a “Future View” allows us to avoid these traps.

 

Change the Future

A “Future View” carries no guarantees but as a virtue it is up there with patience, honesty, humility, courage and self discipline. Jedi are familiar with these virtues. We alcoholics know that the decisions we make today can ultimately decide the rest of our lives. The power of foresight is used to avoid a future we would rather not have.

One can Meditate on their decisions and use their intuition and common sense. Your heart will show the way. As long as we stay on the path we no longer need fear the future. We do what we need to do today, living one day at a time. We turn the outcomes over to a Higher Power. Things do turn out OK.

 

True happiness is… to enjoy the present, without anxious dependence upon the future.” – Seneca

Jedi and the Law of Attraction

Jedi believe in the law of attraction which is basically this: whatever you ask for, and firmly believe, you will receive. The Force will bring us whatever we continue to think about, even if we are unconscious of it. This makes it extremely important to always be aware and mindful about what we are thinking about, and what we are asking for.

(33 Jedi Traits)

Like Attracts Like

The esoteric Law of attraction states that like attracts like. If we think about something consistently we will move towards that state. Being preoccupied with an illness and thinking about the pain and suffering it causes only charges that state and as a result we remain sick or get sicker. Thinking about and meditating on recovery and health raises  our consciousness and tilts the scales toward that outcome. Having a negative disposition and attitude towards life leads to negative outcomes. Conversely being optimistic and positive about life leads to positive experience.

Life largely happens at the level of the mind. Our perception accounts for everything. This is not pseudoscience but a reality. If a person convinces themselves that they will fail in an endeavor they are more likely to as they have already given up on the cause. A person who approaches life with a “can do” attitude and visualizes success is more likely to succeed. If that person also allows for the possibility of failure and finds a silver lining in every dark cloud then they are more likely to absorb and accept life’s disappointments.

 

No Guarantees

I do not believe that simply thinking a lot about a thing and visualizing it will instantly bring my heart’s desire or my worst fears in to reality. All the “claiming” and “feeling” desired change through visualization will not see money, fast cars and success fall out of the sky on to my lap as if by a miracle. The universe is not a service provider, reality does not work that way. I am the author of my own destiny to an extent; only through framing a positive outlook and  working towards what I can achieve will I get there, “God willing”. There are no guarantees.

We do have a choice how we frame our thoughts however. Instead of thinking “I need more money” or “I’m sick of feeling like this” or “I hate my job” try framing it differently. Debt can be seen as an opportunity to review spending habits and start making wise choices, negative emotions can be replaced by positive impressions and unless we are being held against our will there is nothing stopping us from actively seeking the job we want rather than the job we feel stuck in.

An overweight person can sit on a couch all day. That person can have a strong desire to have a body that is fit and lean. The universe can be implored upon to provide that physique. This can be done with absolute conviction and belief consciously and subconsciously. The adherent can work at this repeatedly everyday without fail, constantly claiming that lean and fit body. Everyday on approaching the mirror that person can expect to see his hearts desire appear. The truth is unless that person gets off the couch and starts to eat better, live cleaner and takes up a program of physical exercise there is no chance in hell that he will ever achieve that desired state.

 

Never Give Up

A positive attitude and optimistic outlook can make all the difference in healing from an illness. Scientific studies have shown that cancer patients who are optimistic and relaxed about their treatment are more likely to recover. Everyone knows that stress is a killer and worrying about the things we cannot control does not make them better. A farmer cannot worry a drought away. Positive thoughts alone will unlikely result in rain. What the farmer can do is resist the urge to despair, continue to be positive even in the face of financial ruin and have faith that times will get better. I have seen a lot of people on the edge of despair who have waited another day and seen a miracle happen. Never give up.

Thinking about disease or poverty however does not necessarily bring them on as some New Thought advocates of the “Law of Attraction” suggest. Sometimes things happen to people for no reason other than “they do”.  People who are extremely positive about life and diligent with their health still get cancer. Some of these people die, others recover in large part because they have the mental fortitude and will to live. Some Farmers “drought proof” themselves as much as possible and have contingency plans but still go under.

How we deal with crisis when it happens is more important than how we seek to enrich our lives with material goods and a transitory illusion of happiness.

 

Stay Grounded

The Stoic practice of negative visualization is as effective as the idea of law of attraction. Negative visualization asks us to consider life without all the things we consider important. By imagining the loss of home and job, having our partner walk out or losing our freedom we not only appreciate these things more but we harden ourselves for life’s many heart breaks.  Pinning all of our hope on the “law of attraction” as the ultimate source of all of our hopes and desires can set us up for disappointment if we do not get what we want, when we want it.

We should be optimistic and hopeful and claim all the blessings we can in to our lives but we should also accept that life is a river of 10 000 joys and sorrows. We will shed many tears in our lives. It is worthwhile to take time to be grateful of things we do have. Want the things you have more than the things you don’t. Accept the things you cannot change.

 

Relationships

Consider your partner, if you have one, or someone close to you. Think about all their attributes that really annoy you. What are their habits that make you angry or downright indigent? How does that make you feel? How does that person appear to you when you think that way? I bet their faults are magnified.

Now consider their positive attributes, the things that you love about them. How does that make you feel? Does it create a completely different reaction in you? Remember that there is no such thing as a perfect person. Everyone has their faults and positives as we all do. We can try to coerce them to be something else but ultimately we can’t change them unless they want to change themselves.

Everyone has a mental image of the perfect partner. The Law of Attraction suggests that if we visualize being with that person eventually they will appear. The problem of course is that they may not. Even if a “perfect” person does appear eventually they lose their shine and present the inevitable flaws of being human. The person may not be “perfect” but he or she may in fact be “perfect” for the imperfect you.

 

Be Mindful of Toxic People

People of a certain disposition will always attract those that are similar. Negative and positive minded people attract like and so forth.  Being mindful of the people we associate with in real life and online is important. Surround yourself with people who share your values and abide to similar principles. Having common interests works to a certain extent but ultimately you want to surround yourself with like-minded individuals.

If a person you associate with is habitually negative or critical about life and other people, pessimistic in their outlook and attitudes then in time you are sure to absorb some of that. Negativity and pessimism can spread and affect every aspect of your life so it is best to avoid it as much as possible. This means avoiding people who are tainted with a habitually negative disposition.  Toxic relationships are a no-go and foul the body, mind and spirit. If in one, walk away.

 

Hitting Home Runs

Babe Ruth once said that he used to see himself scoring home runs before he did. It’s no secret that if we visualize something happening and accept it as a given it is more likely to happen. The odds are in our favor. Visualizing an outcome and charging it with emotion can bring it in to reality. This is going out and getting what you want with intent, the Universe is not necessarily adjusting itself to accommodate your whims but sometimes things have a strange way of playing out. I like to think the Force is watching my back.

As an example, you may really want a particular job or you have a keen interest in forming a relationship with a person you are attracted to. If that job is outside of our league or a more suitable candidate comes along we don’t get the job no matter how much we try to “will” it to happen. If the person we desire is simply not in to us then it is also not meant to be. You can flog a dead horse and persist or you can accept the outcomes as they are and move on.

Sometimes we move on and something strange happens; you land a better job and meet someone who suits you even better! Often things just have a way of working out not exactly as we planned but even better. The path may not be direct and there are many bumps along the way but eventually we seem to end up exactly where we were meant to. It feels like someone or something has put you there. Is it Serendipity or the Law of Attraction?

 

Bird in a Storm

I’m not saying that the “Law of Attraction” exists or does not exist. In my experience I sometimes end up in the place I hoped for and at times life has thrown some curve balls and dramatic changes which like a bird caught in a storm has thrown me on to foreign shores. I believe that life is a blend of destiny, serendipity and fate, over that we are still the author of our lives to such an extent we write the story within the context fate hands us. The more we put our focus on something, the more it becomes us.

I wanted to be sober for decades and “wanting” is all I got. When I finally decided to surrender my alcoholic problem to a Higher Power I was immediately catapulted on to a new life trajectory. The life I had wanted to live had always been there for me to take.  I simply chose not to embrace the spiritual changes needed to finally let go. By no longer fighting and forcing the issue I was finally able to make my dream a reality and free myself.

 

Through the Force. things you will see. Other Places. The future…the past. Old friends long gone.” – Yoda

Jedi believe in life after death

Jedi believe that the soul survives death, Jedi do not obsessively mourn those who pass. There will always be some mourning, and missing of that person, which is only natural. But Jedi avoid the extremes of mourning that can be so debilitating, negative, and destructive. Jedi trust the Force to take care of our departed loved ones and ‘let go’.

(33 Jedi Traits)

We all die, that’s a fact. It is an inescapable part of our biology. The cost of consciousness is the acute awareness of our inherent mortality. We begin dying as soon as we are born. Some of us will live full lives reaching old age and a weary acceptance of the closing circle. Others will pass on much earlier and seemingly before their time was due. We do not like to remind ourselves but every soul who we know, younger and older and those not yet born but destined to be will all die.

Life and death are one thread, the same line viewed from different sides.” – Lao Tzu

 

The Final Act

Last week I pondered deeply on the meaning of life and the finality of death. I wondered at the prospect of a life eternal and whether souls do indeed depart the confines of the body and ego and return to a Divine Source. Experience has taught me to keep an open mind. There have been times when I am sure I have felt the presence of departed loved ones. I have sensed that love does not die but transcends to that place beyond the veil.

One of the guys at work took his own life at his home. It came as a shock to all as he was a young man with a full life ahead of him. There were no outward signs of depression and he had been looking forward to an overseas holiday. His career was tracking well and he had recently built a home. Engaged to be married he left behind a child hood sweet heart. No one could understand it, certainly I could not. Then, can we ever truly know a person? What resides with in the deepest recesses of a person’s heart can be far removed from what we see.

 

All Journey’s End

Like most people, I have grieved the Departed who were family and friends. Most of the time we would rather not think about death at all but the reality is that as we grow older we seem to attend more funerals than weddings. Life is a cycle of renewal and Death is a part of that. To seek immortality and cheat death is to go against the nature of things.

Death is one prophecy that never fails” – Edmund Wilson

Through life I have also been close to death a number of times both physical and spiritual. I was never afraid of dying from some misadventure. My fear was to die the slow death of alcoholism and arrive at that place knowing that life had been forfeit long ago. To live like that was to die every day.

 

A Crowded Life

I have worked with animals, some are rare and endangered. One species I’m very familiar with has a curious habit. The males live a single year. They are born and quickly leave the den to establish their own territory. From that point they live to eat as much as possible in order to build the size and strength to compete successfully for females.

When the females enter in to heat the males will frantically mate until they are physically incapable of doing so any more. They will copulate with as many females as they can in order to increase the chances of passing on their genetic baton. Once they have expended their energy reserves they drop dead. They literally shag themselves to death.

For a period there are few if any males in the population. The Females are able to take advantage of limited resources without competing with males for food and shelter allowing them to gestate and provide for the newborns. The young when they emerge have a higher chance of survival with the absence of grown males and disperse seeking vacant territory. The cycle continues. Death is a key element in the survival and evolution of the species.

I never saw a wild thing sorry for itself. A small bird will drop frozen dead from a bough without ever having felt sorry for itself.” – DH Lawrence

Humans are also subject to natural laws. If people were able to live forever or past several generations it would serve no biological purpose and stretch resources thin. Old men voluntarily give up their place in a life raft for a reason. They have lived and served their purpose. Each life is but a flash in the expanse of eternity. Our only purpose is to live our lives in the time we have. We choose how.

 

Luminous Beings

In the Star Wars saga death is a constant. We are reminded that those that die are returned to the Force from which they emerged. Energy can neither be created nor destroyed; rather, it transforms from one form to another. Life Force transcends to the spirit. Certain Jedi were able to retain their consciousness of self after death would appear as spiritual beings able to communicate with the living.

Luminous beings we are, not this crude matter” – Yoda

I believe that death is not the end but a single stage in a broader existence. If we are divine beings having a human experience then it would make sense that our earthly confine of body, time and space mean nothing in the after life. To unite with the Force would be to become one with all that is. The nature of that source is the grandest mystery, but is it?

Deep down we know that when we say Goodbye to a loved one in their final moments we are saying “See you soon”. I have been present at the birth of a child and the moment of death of a person whose heart I felt stop. There was an air of reverence in the room on both occasions as if all who were present knew that they were experiencing a special and holy moment.

Death is a natural part of life. Rejoice for those around you who transform into the Force. Mourn them do not. Miss them do not.” – Yoda

 

Love never Dies

We all miss those who depart before us and we grieve them. Grief is a personal expression of loss and love. Some grieve more than others. In some cultures they celebrate the passing of loved ones. Some societies expect a set period of mourning after which life goes on and grieving stops. There is no right or wrong but to grieve for years over the loss of a loved one does not bring the person back. It only leads to suffering.

We can rest assured that our loved ones suffer no more. I believe that they would not want us to suffer in our grief. Letting go of our attachments means accepting that death is a natural part of life and is not to be feared. We all want to live long and happy lives and wish the same on others, this is also natural.

I believe that our loved ones do watch over us and want us to be happy and not be bound by grief. We can keep their memories alive and celebrate their lives and know that some day we shall meet again on the other side. To Let Go is to express undying love.

Life is a gift, but by nature it is impermanent. One should live each day knowing that it might be their last. A sword dangles over each of us. We must be prepared for our own final destiny but we must also accept that those whom we love also share that same destination. In that way each of us are all the same and we are all are united in the end.

Let each thing you would do, say or intend be like that of a dying person” – Marcus Aurelius

Jedi Let Go

 

Jedi believe in ‘letting go’ of their attachments.

Jedi work on ‘letting go’ of their attachments and train themselves on this. The fear of loss of one’s attachments leads to the dark side, so a ‘letting go’ and ‘trusting in the will of the Force’ attitude needs to be developed gradually to overcome this fear of loss. Everything really belongs to the Force anyhow, so we need to trust the Force, and not be so attached to people and possessions.

 

“Attachment leads to jealousy. The shadow of greed that is” – Yoda

“Train yourself to let go of every thing you fear to lose” – Yoda

 

10’000 Joys and Sorrows

Buddhists believe that the fundamental cause of suffering is attachment. The premise is not solely with one religion. All of the mainstream faiths warn followers of becoming overly attached to our earthly possessions, title, bodies, relationships and beliefs. With attachment comes the fear of losing what one is attached to. Since infancy we are constantly experiencing the anxiety of anticipated loss. A child will cry when her mother leaves the room through separation anxiety. The loss of a favorite toy is a constant preoccupation of many children. They will clutch on to their prized possessions and weep inconsolably if it is lost.

As we grow we become attached to our body image and fear any harm that comes to it. Our reputation and standing among peers becomes inflated in our minds. Acceptance within the group becomes paramount. We become adults and start to attach to our identity, our beliefs and convictions. Our Ego starts to expand and we find someone whom we believe might “complete” us. Attachments form for a significant other and a partnership may be formed. We become attached to our profession, our career and the many possessions that we accumulate along the way.

As we age our ego has completely transcended who we truly are. Our children become an extension of ourselves and we see our being as intrinsically linked to our social status, standing with peers, qualifications, bank balance, lifestyle and our appearance and health. Entering into middle age we start to mellow out a little but we are set in our ways, our convictions and beliefs as well as our opinion of ourselves and others. Some of us may start to ask the important questions at various stages of our lives and even seek non-attachment.

For the most part we are caught in the paradigm and “letting go” of attachment and especially of our life is something we can barely begin to consider. We forget that all of the things that we value; all that we are attached are impermanent by nature. Any or all of them can be removed at any time. Nothing lasts forever and all things must change and eventually end. Everything ultimately returns to the Force.

There is one thing and only one thing that causes unhappiness. The name of that thing is attachment” – Anthony de Mello

 

The Meaning

In his book “Man’s search for Meaning”, Viktor Frankl recounts a story. During the Nazi occupation of his home city Vienna an important Academic was arrested by the Gestapo for the crime of being an intellectual and a Jew. While awaiting interrogation and eventual deportation to a concentration camp the academic protested his arrest. “I’ll have you know I am an important man in Vienna”, he proclaimed and rattled off memberships to various distinguished bodies, awards and medals of honor and qualifications. The Academic removed from a satchel a pile of papers stating his various standings and showed them to the police officer.

A German Officer standing nearby took up the papers and tore them to pieces, “There, you are nothing now!” he yelled tearing at the sheets and throwing them on the floor “You are nothing but a Jew!” The Academic was shocked. Months later deprived of his standing, his home and his family and wearing nothing but a filthy prison uniform bearing a number and stripped of his dignity the Academic died a broken man. He had lost his identity and unable to see any hope for the future, he withered and died.

When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.” – Lao Tzu

Hope Survives

Frankl was also an Academic and a Jew. As a Psychologist he understood the power of the Ego and its ability to build up an image and drag us down with it when it is dismantled. In Auschwitz, Frankl survived in the face of atrocious odds. Frankl refused to let the Nazis take the one thing he had control over, his mind. He understood that everything he had before was probably gone. His house was probably destroyed, his position gone for ever and his wife and family probably dead. The thought of it would torture anyone but Frankl accepted it for what it was and “let go” of his mental attachment to the things he had no control over.

From one moment to the next, one day after the other, Frankl continued to breathe and live. He never lost Hope that the war would end and he would be allowed to return home and whatever was left. One Day in late 1943 the Soviet Army appeared and the Nazis fled. Frankl had survived.

We must let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the one that is waiting for us” – Joseph Campbell

 

The Stoics

James Stockdale spent seven years in a North Vietnamese prison cell after his Navy bomber was shot down during a raid in 1965. Stockdale was a student of the Stoics and kept a copy of Epictetus with him during his time as a POW. The Stoic example of accepting one’s present condition beyond what one is capable of controlling carried Stockdale through his ordeal.

The attachments he had for freedom, his family and career were put aside as he focused on keeping what he did have, his mind and the choice to give up or continue. More importantly despite seven years of life lost, Stockdale carried no bitterness and no regrets seeing it as a pivotal experience:

I never lost faith in the end of the story, I never doubted not only that I would get out, but also that I would prevail in the end and turn the experience into the defining event of my life, which, in retrospect, I would not trade” – James Stockdale

The Stoics were themselves beyond attachment. Like the Buddhist precept of non-attachment the Stoics accepted what came their way with equanimity. Seneca was extremely wealthy but accepted the loss of his wealth and an order from Nero to kill himself with equanimity, even ironic humor.

Cato the younger was one of the most influential men in Rome and yet wandered the streets in simple clothing and bare feet. Removed from an important military rank during the civil war, he shrugged off the snub and rallied his soldiers around him and did his duty for the Republic.

Epictetus was banished to a desolate Greek Island by the Emperor. Instead of dwelling on his loss he started a small Stoic school. His student and later the Emperor, Marcus Aurelius, fought the Germanic tribes while his wife plotted with a trusted friend, Cassius, to bring his reign to an end. The plot was uncovered by loyalists and Cassius was killed and his wife arrested. Instead of flying in to a blind rage Aurelius forgave his wife and wept at the news of Cassius’s death.

Receive without pride, let go without attachment” – Marcus Aurelius

 

Letting Go

Grasping attachment and the fear of losing what was most dear to him ultimately led Anakin to the Dark Side. Not happy to simply accept things as they were, Anakin wanted to control the Force to his will and claim ultimate power, the power over life and death. In his fear Anakin lost everything that was dear to him and became a tortured servant of the Dark Lord.

“You only lose what you cling to” – Buddha

The Fictional Jedi were expected to follow the precept of non-attachment. For this reason they were not allowed to marry or have children or carry on as normal Galactic citizens might. Their commitment was similar to being in a Monastic Order or perhaps even the Army of some countries. Personal possessions were eschewed as were other attachments that the rest of us take for granted.

Obviously most of us are not going to give all of our possessions away but the clothes on our back and start to live such a life. Being sober also means being sane and rational. I for one like the things that I own. I’m not prepared to just hand them over and become a Monk, walking away from family and job. We can still loosen our attachments however.

There is no need to grasp so tightly on the things that we prize. Life need not be a monkey trap where a monkey is held fast only by its refusal to let go of a bait. The monkey can slip its hands inside the trap and clutch on to a treat but unless it lets go of the prize it cannot withdraw its hand. The monkey is trapped only by its refusal to let go. That is the nature of grasping attachment.

The root of attachment is suffering” – Buddha

 

Negative Visualization

A Zen Master once received an exquisite and precious porcelain cup. The item was so precious that he decided to consider it broken and worthless straight away. As a result the Master was able to keep the cup without attachment so that when one day when it did break he shrugged “of course”. No big deal.

The Stoics had a practice called “Negative visualization” which captures the Zen practice. Negative visualization recommends that we spend time thinking about loss every day. We consider losing our jobs and having the bank foreclose on the mortgage and losing all our property. Imagine your spouse leaving you or someone close dying. The Stoics suggested that parents should consider that they may never hold their children again after they have tucked them in to bed at night. As morbid as it sounds, contemplating catastrophe is an intellectual exercise and is psychologically safe as long as we do not attach emotion to our visualization. The act is not pessimism which reflects a negative outlook. If it were we would be called pessimistic for buying life or health insurance.

With daily practice we can use negative visualization to appreciate what we do have while “letting go” at little of the attachment that we tie to them. As Epictetus said we should avoid holding on to something so tight that it removes our ability to act with reason and destroys us when we lose them. The practice hardens us for the inevitability of loss.

“In short, you must remember this – that if you hold anything dear outside of your own reasoned choice, you will have destroyed the capacity for choice” – Epictetus

 

The Reserve Clause

The Stoics also used the “Reserve Clause” which is simply another way of framing a situation. We can always add a caveat to any statement that allows for it to not proceed to our expectations. For example we may work extremely hard in preparation for an exam or train fanatically for a sporting event. We can either attach to the effort that we put in and put our focus there or we can become fixated on an outcome which is not entirely within our control.

Despite the hours of study, we may end up getting a paper that covers areas we overlooked. On the day of our event we make some simple mistakes and loose the competition. Attaching to the goal would leave us bitterly disappointed. Having a reverse clause which says “I’ve worked really hard for this and I’ll do my best but leave the rest to fate” is one way we can loosen our attachment to outcomes.

 

Live Life with an Open Hand

Life can be lived from one day to the next mindfully or we can spend it in anxiety ridden anticipation of loss and catastrophe. We can spend our days clutching on to our money, possessions and life or we can loosen the bonds that tie us to this world a little. Do we hold a Dove in hand so tight that we squeeze the life out of it or do we hold it gently and loosely and willingly let it go when the time comes?

 

Let Go, Let God” – Anonymous

Jedi trust their feelings or intuitions

Jedi are a ‘feeling people’ and believe in using and trusting their feelings and intuition. Jedi are intuitive and are in touch with the core of their being.

(33 Jedi Traits)

Who am I?

A decade or more ago I took a personality evaluation test called the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). My Employer’s HR executive had decided it would be a good idea if everyone took the test and shared with everyone else their traits. The rationale was that people are different and they react differently to things. Their personality type will determine many of the traits we observe that either inspire or annoy us.

For supervisors like myself it was explained I had to map the personalities of my subordinates in order to manage them better. If I know my tools, the psychologist explained, I can use them more effectively. The results for supervisors would also be used to help determine advancement through the ranks of the company to higher level positions.

My results were disappointing and inconsistent with the companies profile for advancement to middle management and beyond. Based on my personality type I was to advance no further than frontline supervisor. I was stuck. This was disappointing but I also felt intuitively that it was for the best. I liked being in the field, interacting with people and getting my hands dirty. The sterile world of “brown nosing” and office politics was not for me. Besides, I figured that eventually my drinking would mess things up so why climb the lofty heights only to be unceremoniously thrown back down.

INFJ

What was my fatal flaw? The MBTI revealed my personality type to be INFJ. My chosen profession should have been an artist, poet, monk, philosopher, aid worker, teacher or child care worker. I was a bit shocked because I always thought I was a bit of a rough diamond he-man sort of guy. To be told I was more of a quiet “sharing and caring” kind of guy was not what I was expecting. I sought to hide the results. The lads at the pub and the guys in my Army Reserve unit must not know about this. I started to feel I didn’t know myself. I didn’t.

For years booze had obscured my true nature from myself. From the age of 18 I had tried hard to be someone else. My real personality had been eclipsed by a false persona that was not the real me. Alcohol had kept me in denial and now some psychologists test had just held up a mirror that showed me who I was beneath my fake exterior. It was a revelation but intuitively I knew I had been suppressing my true self for decades in order to be accepted. Alcoholics tend to do this and it causes an inner tension. We eventually face a psychic crisis as the real person we are catches up with us.

Introversion

The MBTI test revealed that a strong “I” meant introvert. This surprised everyone as I always played the extrovert but it was show. I never felt comfortable around people or crowds. The Psychologist revealed that “I”’s have a “party going on inside” but when forced in to social situations could would tire easily. She reassured me I was no social leper, we just don’t need others to draw energy from. We get it from ourselves. “E” suck energy out of others. It sort of made sense; I had to drink to feel comfortable in a crowd.

Intuition

For some reason “N” means “Intuition”. I didn’t know much about the word “Intuition” other than the racy video clip by the singer Jewel. I also thought intuition was something to do with stopping at three beers, something I was never good at so I thought my intuition must be poor. Apparently it was also off the scales. This fortunately was good, if I were a CEO, but not so good so far down the ladder. She had to interrupt me as I drifted off a bit and thought about Jewel. “Intuitors”, she told me tend to be dreamers.

Feeling

“F” was for feeling. F meant I tend to listen to my heart more than my head. If I feel something is not right I’m usually on the mark. The problem of course is that emotions can get away from strong “Feelers”. Otherwise she said “F”s are sensitive to other people and can be empathetic.  I wear my heart on a sleeve is what the shrink said and I protested in indignation. This was a problem for the company as my “F” was off the charts. Being an “F” meant I was liable to have principles that would extend beyond share holder value. I could turn in to a “whistle blower” or worse, a unionist. The blood drained from my face. I started to remember the trouble I had caused in the Army because of principle and wanting to defend others. “F” meant “Fail”.

Judging

My “J” was not as strong but still significant. “J” is for Judging. Not to be confused with the judgemental type. This was a redeeming feature as it indicated I am task orientated and plan work. Unfortunately I can get so focused on one task I forget others or miss information. It seemed to me I would now spend the rest of my career doing data entry. Why couldn’t I have been an ESTJ like Darth Vader? Those guys made it far in the company. The CEO was an ESTJ.

Be Yourself

The final report went to my boss sealing my career trajectory. I was sort of relieved but still hated myself for being an INFJ. Who should I blame? Parents, God, the English teacher who had told me to be a writer some day. I had often looked in the mirror and asked “Who am I?”, this test revealed my personality. I saw the result as a flaw not realizing it was actually a good thing. My real character flaws were obstinacy, belligerency, resentment, apathy, anger, dishonesty, self pity and selfishness all alcoholic tendencies. Not the real me.

I often wonder how the test would have gone if I had arrived at work drunk and fresh out of a Night Club. Before the morning blues and dry horrors had set in. I could have sat the test and got a completely different score. The Psychologist told me the test was very hard to fool. I have sat it several times and once got drunk and did it again trying for a different score. Every time INFJ.

These days I actually love that I am an INFJ. It makes perfect sense. The company and that job is long gone but I am still an INFJ and always will be. I know myself better than I did and to know thyself is a great thing. Whether a person can truly know themselves is a matter of opinion. We can be Jedi and go some way to trusting ourselves and being in tune with our feelings.  We can be ourselves without fear and with confidence. I will never again try to be anyone other than who I am. That’s a start.

The Advocat

I looked up INFJ today and found our archetype is the “Advocat” or the counsellor. We have a strong sense of morality and idealism as well as loyalty. Obi-Wan Kenobi was an INFJ as was Aragorn and Lady Galadriel of Lord of the Rings.  INFJ’s are dreamers who do. They are quiet achievers who try hard to make a positive impact on the world. They are altruistic and selfless people who fight tirelessly for what they believe is right. We are strong willed and decisive but soft spoken and caring. We are less than 1% of the world so we are truly special. Yes we have our weaknesses but then so does everyone else.

To my delight I found that Carrie Fisher, Martin Luther King, Mother Theresa and Nelson Mandela were all INFJ. I feel blessed to have that in common with these great people.

Accept who you are, be yourself. Embrace the authentic you even if you are an ESTJ like Darth Vader. MTFBWY.

https://www.personalityclub.com/blog/star-wars-personality-chart/

Time

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

 

When you live to be 900 years old and have trained Jedi for 800 years like Yoda I suspect your perception of time would differ to a life form that lived a far shorter life span. The Galapagos Tortoise can live to over 150 years. Some have been recorded to live over 200 years. I wonder how passing time feels to a Tortoise. My guess is they don’t think about it much and simply live their lives one day at a time, one moment at a time.

Time is an illusion.” – Albert Einstein

To the rest of us, time is such a finite resource. These days’ people seem to be time deprived. In fact we are and it is not lost on a lot of corporations that take advantage of our lack by trying to sell us more time while exploiting the fact most of us don’t have the time to research options.

We are in fact rushing from one day to the next. Within what seems to be breath of existence we soon find our days have been utterly spent. Most people do not take the time to appreciate the moments let alone the time they have left.

 

The trouble is, you think you have time” – Guatama Buddha

The Illusion

What if it could be different? Do we need to devote all our attention and energy to a point in the future where happiness will be achieved? Our Ego is future focused. We work our lives away to be able to be debt free when we are too old to really enjoy life. We put in an ordinate amount of effort in to achieving some ideal at some point in the future.

Our dreams become preoccupied with a promotion or new career, new house, new car, better body and more money. When we arrive at these goals the happiness they promised in the past is not realized past the short term. We find ourselves arriving at one thing, finding satisfaction for a while before become restless and wanting more. The years and decades pass in some futile hedonistic pursuit of happiness.

It is not that we have so little time but that we lose so much. … The life we receive is not short but we make it so; we are not ill provided but use what we have wastefully.” – Seneca

 

Lost  Time

Life can be a string of meaningless acts of instant gratification and pleasure seeking. Ask any alcoholic why they drink. The fundamental reason is in order to fill some great emptiness in their lives. They seek fulfillment through the temporary sensation of pleasure that alcohol brings. Alcohol promises an illusion of happiness and transcendence to a higher plane. Of course we know the opposite is true. Booze distorts our perception and leads us down a path that leads to suffering and eventually spirals to a personal hell or worse.

One of the things that I became acutely aware of when I was drinking was the relentless march of time. I could feel the sands of time slipping through my fingers. It felt as if time was running out. I was careening to some unknown destination.

I would awake in the middle of the night still feeling the booze in my system. There was a creeping sense of terror. I could feel of the weight of some dark and terrible destiny on my shoulders. It felt like I was wrestling a Demon. The fear was tangible and at time I felt like I was sinking into some sort of purgatory, consumed by a darkness that had no limits and no escape.

Time stood out in harsh reality. I saw the remainder of my days set out before me like some twisted and dark path and I realized this was a slow death. At times I thought about suicide but I feared what came beyond death. I sometimes still feel the echo of that fear when I am tired and doubt clouds my mind.

They lose the day in expectation of the night, and the night in fear of the dawn.” – Seneca

 

“One Day at a Time”

There is a saying in AA that with enough sober time we get to have a choice whether we want to be an old timer or not. We have a simple choice; drink or don’t drink. Do or do not, there is no try. Through our choices we at least have some control in the present and in the future. That knowledge makes us realize that life happens in the Now, not at some time in the future.

We realize that there is no requirement other than a desire to stop drinking followed by a simple decision not to drink on a day by day basis. By simply not picking up, we decide to some extent how that day will turn out. The next day we do it again and again in the day after that. Life becomes a string of sober days and we find ourselves living “one day at a time”. The path is no longer a dark and twisted one. It has becomes a path filled with light and a bright future.

Time is a created thing. To say ‘I don’t have time,’ is like saying, ‘I don’t want to.” – Lao Tzu

 

Living Now

Living life “one day at a time” is the key to a “Good Life”. It is the path that leads to true happiness. We are more mindful of every passing moment. Our sobriety allows us to appreciate each day. The things that concerned us in the past become less of a worry.

We know that things will turn out just fine and even if at times life appears difficult. Fundamentally all is well and this too shall pass. We find within ourselves the need to help others and to share what we have learned.

Life becomes simpler, more meaningful and peaceful. I no longer wake up in the middle of the night gripped in some unspeakable terror. We lose the fear of growing old and dying. I know I belong to the Force and I will return to it one day so why should I be afraid?

 

Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come. We have only today. Let us begin.” – Mother Teresa

 

The Old Timer

Yesterday I wrote about Growing Old. I mentioned a man, Li Ching-Yuen, who had lived 256 years. This man lived in China in the last century. All the aged who knew him, including very old men over 100 said that he had already been ancient when they were young children.

This man told that he had been trained by another who had lived to the age of 500. A type of Chinese Yoda, he had learned the secrets of the Force (Tao). Martial Arts, meditation, herbs and breathing exercises were part of his training.

Outside of the Old Testament there is no written story of people living to such an age. What was this man’s secret? According to a Journalist who met him it was based on a very simple philosophy of life:

  • Keep a quiet heart
  • Sit like a tortoise
  • Walk sprightly like a pigeon
  • Sleep like a dog

Whether  Li Ching-Yuen lived to 256 as was claimed or less is irrelevant. Li Ching-Yuen said that maintaining an inner calm and peace of mind, living in the moment were vital. Taking breathing exercises and being active and taking rest when needed were also secrets to his longevity. We all need these things to be healthy.

The Choice

In a world that is in hyper drive all the time and over obsessed with instant gratification and future reward these simple practices should be welcome. We all have within ourselves the ability to decide how we want to live inwardly and whether we let stress and the pressures of life build us up or break us down. Time in our experience only moves in one direction, our choice is how we use the time given us. Few of us will be able to cheat time but we can make the most of it.

We can all take a page from Li Ching-Yuen and like Yoda learn the true meaning of the words “Calm at Peace, Passive”.

Life is long, if you know how to use it.” – Seneca

Growing Old

When 900 years old you reach, look as good, you will not.” – Yoda

Recently I turned half a century. The milestone was not marked by any celebration and I asked that family and friends treat it as any other day. My Stoic attitude to turning 50 was to take the time to contemplate my life up until that point. I wanted to appreciate where I currently am in my life and ponder the future.

The inescapable fact

It is hard to escape the fact that time is not on our side. No one will live to be as old as Yoda. Those that do not die young will see their parents grow frail and eventually lose their health. Children bury their parents and grieve their passing as is the nature of things.

Our children grow up and eventually leave the nest seeking to start their own journey through life.  If we manage to dodge the many ailments and illnesses that seem to beset the middle aged we too also eventually grow frail. Our strength and agility slowly start to leave us. Sight grows dimmer, conversations are harder to follow and loud noises bother us more.

We watch as the world around us becomes more and more unfamiliar and we notice how young new parents look with their small children. Once upon a time not long ago we were that age too and had the same glow and vibrancy of youth.

One by one that that we knew leave us and start to dim in our memory. Soon our time comes.

Looking Back

I am now fifty years old. It feels strange to say it. I am a product of the 60’s and was born at a time when youth was rebelling against authority. The Vietnam War was being fought and the counter culture was in full swing not only in the States but around the world. They called it the “Love Generation” among other things. Some may actually remember that era (pun intended) and recall that it doesn’t seem that long ago. Yet it probably seems like an eternity.

They say I am Generation X. The very mention of the term brings back a lot of nostalgia. Which in itself is weird. I remember getting drunk and stoned a lot through the 90’s. The music was a mix of House music and then Grunge. An entire decade seems to have been lost in some sort of haze of booze and drugs or the fog of hangovers and brief recovery.Trainspotting and Kurt Cobain inspired the times.

There are the faded and yellowed photos of forgotten friends and fellow travelers in some remote and distant parts of the world. Everyone looks so young and happy. We are holding up bottles of beer and nursing cigarettes. There are bongs laying about.

We are wearing cut off Jeans, Nirvana and Led Zeppelin T-shirts and Thai Dye. Everyone has long hair and some of the guys have beards. Most of us are skinny, tattooed and tanned. There’s the promise of a good night and maybe love with a stranger. Life is a care free adventure, for a time there is no need to worry about the future. Youth seemed to be the promise that would last forever.

Never Lasts

Nothing lasts for ever and everything must end. Our travels, careers, friendships and close relationships, our very lives are all finite and impermanent. The party also had to end. I just never caught on like most and didn’t start growing up.

Booze tends to hold back the clock a little. Soon enough we are the middle aged person trying to keep up with people half our age. They are where we were 20 years ago and here we are still in the same place.

Ripped Off

Getting sober is a little like Rip Van Winkle waking up from his drunken slumber. The first thing Rip did on waking was go to his local Tavern and order an Ale. Looking around the Bar he noticed that the clientele was different. Some of the older people stared at him curiously. There was a young man that looked vaguely familiar to him.

Soon enough he was approached and it became revealed that he had vanished 20 years before and was now a much older version of himself. Rip Van Winkle had slept for 20 years, the result of a ghostly practical joke. The old fellows were his Friends and the young man his grown son. He learned that his wife had passed on. A bit relieved, Rip had another drink.

Waking Up

When we get sober the world appears different. Like Rip Van Winkle we realize we have been in some sort of slumber for years. Others have been moving on with their lives and in many ways we have been moving forward too but a large part of us has been rooted in the same spot. Once we have freed ourselves from the compulsion to drink our old haunts and old way of life no longer appeal. The chains slip off.

Sometimes I pass a bar or a night club and feel an urge to go inside, to resurrect a part of me that is now dead. I see the young people partying and having a great time, the music is blaring and the laughter fills the air. I feel a sense of nostalgia for the past but it soon passes and I remember who I am and most importantly when I am.

Old is a State of Mind

I do not consider myself old. In many ways I am excited about the coming years. After five years of sobriety I have learned so much about myself and recovery. I have barely touched the surface. Like Rip Van Winkle I see a chance to make a fresh start with every day. Age need not hold me back.

Indeed I can proudly say that I am fitter and stronger now than I was at 25. People say I look younger too, which I’ll take. There’s still a spring of youth in my step. I hope I’m wiser. There is the advantage of experience on my side. Wisdom acquired from a life of mistakes to draw from.

The Future

We can accept that the years will wear on us and eventually the tide of time will take us with it. Like Yoda I can face my ultimate destination with equanimity. My only concern is to live what Epictetus called the “Good Life” and whether I do or not is largely entirely up to me.

No one can know what the next day will bring. The future is always a mystery. With some certainty we can say that the sun will set tonight and rise in the morning to another day. Each day brings another chance to get things right, to learn and to grow and to use what we have learned. We can continue to look forward with hope and draw on our Faith that your best days are yet to come.

Recently I saw an article about a man who reportedly lived to 256. This man had been taught by another man who he claimed had lived for 500 years. The man is now dead but his story was documented early last century. The very old man had a secret for living to such an age which he shared…I’ll share it…..Tomorrow.