The Good Man

Who am I?

 

We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.” —C.S. Lewis

“I’m nice men”. – Han Solo

“Good Man that Cody” – Obi-Wan Kenobi

 

The Jedi Model

The Jedi can be described as a model of chivalry and dare I say it, manliness. They were after all inspired partly by the Samurai and the Arthurian Knights. The Jedi were not Warrior Monks in the classic sense. The primary role of the Jedi were to act as peacekeepers in the Galaxy. They represented the Senate on important diplomatic affairs and assumed senior military rank during conflict. They were a combination of Soldier, Diplomat, Mediator, Academic, Adviser and Teacher whose purpose was to serve the greater good. The traits and code of the Jedi is what set them apart. On this Earth there is no contemporary or historical comparison to the Jedi.

What interests those who look to the fictional model of the Jedi for inspiration is their character traits and virtues. Jedi had decorum, measure, tact and an ease in the way they carried themselves. A Jedi appeared to be as solid as a rock yet free of any great mental burden. The Jedi responded rather than reacted to the world around them, living in the present moment. Weighing each word and action carefully but without strain or hesitation. They were objective and rarely judgmental. Decisive and resolute without being rash. The Jedi also demonstrated etiquette in how they carried themselves and interacted with others. In many ways, Jedi were and remain ideal fictional role models for men; refined and Stoic. They had a sort of real world chivalry which was once valued but has now all but been lost in our world.

Why am I focusing on the male Jedi as opposed to all Jedi? Certainly there were many inspiring female Jedi. Ahsoka Tano was an exemplary Jedi though she never reached that rank.  Jedi Master Luminara Unduli  heroically commanded the 41st Elite Corps in many battles before she was executed under Order 66 by Palpatine. There were very many brave Jedi females among their male counterparts so why is it important to single out males?

 

Boys in Crisis

Males today are in crisis. Boys are falling well behind females in areas of academia and have less direction and are less driven to achieve on average than girls. Many boys are repressed of their natural propensity to be boys by the education system. Being “boyish”, competitive, boisterous and curious is frowned upon . With an absence of enough male mentors and good role models there is a generation of boys who are confused about how to behave in society, interact with peers and how to engage with and treat females. Many of the role models of today in politics, popular culture and sports seem to foster the worst type of attributes in boys today.

Traditional male roles have become blurred or expunged. To express a desire to be a warrior, protector or provider, something inherently masculine, is increasingly being scorned by a society that is beginning to treat young boys as merely “defective girls”.

The result of this “masculinity crisis” is a generation of boys who  are less likely to enter into higher education or gain meaningful employment than girls. Who are less likely to succeed in life. Technology has also provided a surrogate reality which promotes disengagement through instant access to online porn and round the clock computer games. Social media, smart phones and the instant random “hook up” culture has eroded the essential  social skills boys need to build meaningful relationships. Boys are conditioned to shirk responsibility and have become apathetic to the world they live in. Men are becoming a type of “Post-Modern Man-Child” obsessed with instant gratification and riding the mindless hedonistic carousel.

 

Initiation

In pre-modern cultures boys were initiated. The tradition provided a ritual for boys to enter into the world as a man with an inner moral compass and a heritage to pass on to the next generation. In my travels I have seen forms of this tradition in South America, the Middle East, Africa and Aboriginal Australia. I went through my own rite of passage through the misery of six months of Infantry basic training. In Star Wars, Luke Skywalker entered into manhood through the rite of training and initiation under the guidance of Yoda and the crucible of combat. The ritual of initiation is absent in our postmodern world. In its place is a growing number of confused uninitiated young men who are more likely to be depressed, angry and alienated than their forefathers were.

The emergence of the “Post Modern Man-Child” threatens the biological imperative of gene preservation. A larger proportion of millennial males will fail to meet a suitable long-term mate and become husbands and fathers. Those who do are less likely now more than ever to remain in that relationship and have access and provide paternal care to their children. A generation of boys are growing up without a paternal figure in the household. This is where the decline starts as the cycle will perpetuate. Society will eventually begin to unravel.

 

The Lost Boys

Boys eventually grow in to men. A man today is twice as likely to fall into drugs or alcohol  addiction, four times more likely to die a violent death or commit suicide than a female. Men are ten times more likely to be incarcerated. Men are still being sent to fight and die in wars at rates far higher than women. High risk, physically debilitating or dangerous occupations are still largely taken up by men. Although women have higher rates of mental illness, men are far less likely to seek help.  Funding for governmental support services for men’s health is also far lower than it is for women. The value of a man’s word has become diminished. Men are guilty of being afflicted with being born male.

The crisis facing males is largely ignored or glossed over by society. The problem is no longer a gender issue but an identity one. Women are largely empowered in our society and know who they are and what they want while men are increasingly finding themselves less sure about their place in this “Brave New World”. Struggling to navigate in an increasingly hostile world, males face an existential identity crisis. Boys are hurting. I see it every day.

I have a teenage son and like any parent want to see him thrive, grow, prosper and succeed. Boys have it a lot harder now than in my generation. I get the sense that Boys are wandering half lost through a world that looks down at them for who they are and what they are and represent; “The Patriarchy”. As a society we cannot afford to lose our boys to a notion of gender politics and victim-hood culture.

 

The Other Side

None of this is to intended to point an accusing finger at women. Women also have their own challenges. For example, the rate of anxiety, depression and PTSD is far higher in women than in men. Women endure far higher rates of domestic and sexual abuse than men. Fortunately society is not blind to this.

In progressive countries women’s rights have become largely  enshrined in law and cultural mindset. In many parts of the world, however, women still face horrendous abuse sanctioned by religion and culture. During a tour of duty in East Africa I witnessed the impact of slavery, genital mutilation, kidnapping and the forced arranged marriages of young girls to violent men. I saw the horrific consequences of systemic mutilation, torture and rape on women because of ethnic war and religion and the impact that had on the community. These injustices are widely recognized and condemned around the world but remain reality for millions of women and girls.

The point is that no one side has a monopoly on hurt and injustice;  everyone suffers. Men and women both.

 

Gender Wars

There appears to be a subtle war going on between the predominate genders, male and female. This is of course a struggle for domination that cannot be won by either side. We no longer live in a “Man’s World”. In my view the “Patriarchy” is already dead or at the very least dying in the west. Even the latest Star Wars movies alludes to this fact and infers the struggle between the masculine and feminine. We are reminded of destructiveness of male toxicity through the desperate and childish antics of Kylo Ren. The reckless and churlish nature of male expression in Poe Dameron is laid bare. Even when Poe’s intentions are noble they are still portrayed as wrong and incompetent. In “The Force Awakens” we find Han Solo turned out to be the “Dead Beat Dad”.

In “The Last Jedi”, my childhood hero and role model, Luke Skywalker struggles to “man up” as he trips over himself on Ahch-To. Luke constantly appears the cantankerous old man before self-sacrificing and finally redeeming himself as worthy.

The fictional Star Wars Universe used to remind me that males and females are strongest when they work together and complement each other. Princess Leia could keep up with the boys and fight her way out of a jam without needing a “White Knight” to rescue her or by losing her femininity. We adored her indomitable spirit. Luke and Han could put on a show of strength, determination and be the leaders they were meant to be while still revealing a chink in their armor and a weakness for friends. They had vulnerable compassion and a raw grit, a type of heroic chivalry born of self reliance and sacrifice that is all but dead today.

In the Clone Wars series, Ahsoka tempers Anakin’s darker emotions and he loves and respects her in return and watches over her. They made a formidable, unstoppable team.

When the feminine and the masculine are acknowledged and celebrated as different but essential parts of the whole we are enriched and bought closer to together. We should be encouraging boys to be men and ask men to step up once again and be good “manly” men.

 

Return to Chivalry

Perhaps we should be encouraging a return to chivalry and some old fashion values such as courtesy, civility and decorum. A Man should not be afraid to hold open a door for a lady, to offer to carry her burden or to court her with sincere charm, decency and respect. Even, if I dare suggest, to offer to pay for dinner. To be the Gentlemen. But chivalry is more than these things. It is the way a person lives and abides by a code of ethics, a personal philosophy for life.

Although I had a poor father role model and eventually took to alcoholism myself I still had a clear image of what a good man ought to be or should be. That image was partly inspired during my childhood by fictional characters like Luke Skywalker, Han Solo and Obi-wan Kenobi. I was lacking in real role models so I looked to fiction, the Star Wars mythology to provide a standard. Luke, Han and Kenobi were my role models of chivalry and manliness. My problem was that although I aspired to be that “ideal man” I failed largely through lack of self-awareness, confidence, knowledge and discipline.

Alcohol can possess a man and literally take his manhood. He becomes a shell of the person he once was. In recovery you start to reclaim more than your sobriety. You begin to discover what a Good Man is meant to be and you strive to become that.

 

The Good Man

So what is chivalry and manliness in these times? No two people will provide the same answer that would be accepted by everyone. I would argue that George Lucas can still provide a good role model through his beloved male characters in the Star War mythology. Let the words and actions of those characters be a guide for young men today.

 

Resolution

” No! Try not! Do or do not. There is no try.” – Yoda

 

It is OK to try and fail but to never try in the first place what you want to achieve is real failure. Having an Indomitable Spirit in every attempt to achieve a goal is a virtue that men have always admired. Finishing what you started, being true to your word and more importantly keeping your word shows resolution and true grit.

 

Compassion

 

“Compassion, which I would define as unconditional love, is essential to a Jedi’s life. So you might say, that we are encouraged to love” – Anakin Skywalker

“To answer power with power, the Jedi way this is not. In this war, a danger there is, of losing who we are.” – Yoda

 

A man shows compassion to all living things. Resisting passion and grasping attachment. The jealous possession of Love suffocates it. Love is given freely rather than taken being the gift that it is. Having compassion means that even in the darkest of times never lose your humanity.

 

 

Humility

 

“We can learn from others, but we must also learn from our own experiences and our own mistakes” – Luke Skywalker

“Suspend your judgment, and every being has something to teach you.” – Qui-Gon Jinn

 

Never confuse humility with lack of self-esteem or decorum. Humility is both. A man always admits when he is wrong and seeks to learn from his mistakes. A man knows he always has more to learn and never stops growing. The “silent type” who does not feel the need to be heard every minute and who measures his words and actions exercises humility as well as self-control. A humble man esteems and respects himself but neither puts himself beneath or above others. Humility means accepting there are lesser and greater men in the world.

 

 

Responsibility

“Every generation has its challenges to face, its own battles to win. Why should yours be any different? Running away from your responsibilities won’t solve anything” – Luke Skywalker

“Who’s more foolish, the fool or the fool who follows him?” – Obi-Wan Kenobi

 

Being a Man is taking responsibility for your actions and words. Allowing emotions to exist but not being owned by them. Accepting the responsibilities in your life as duty and sticking to them despite the inevitable doubts and hardships that come.

 

 

Self-Discipline

“The Force may not have a Light or Dark Side, but we do… and we must choose.” – Luke Skywalker

“No! Unfortunate that you rushed to face him… that incomplete was your training. Not ready for the burden were you.” – Yoda

 

Life is essentially about choices, the choices we are confronted with and what we do with them. The choices you make are entirely up to you. The challenge is to make the correct choices armed with the information, experience and knowledge that you have. Sometimes there is little more than intuition and a moral compass to help you in making that decision. This includes exercising temperance and moderation in all facets of your life. Being in control of your actions despite the tug of emotions. Having the self-discipline to make that correct choice and sticking to it is the hall mark of a man. Self ownership and self discipline is the mark of a man.

 

So what are you waiting for? Go out and Be Jedi, Be a Good Man.

 

Further Reading on Modern Chivalry:

https://www.theatlantic.com/sexes/archive/2012/12/lets-give-chivalry-another-chance/266085/

What If?

Brother’s Keeper

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

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

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

ANAKIN: Help me, Master.

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

OBI-WAN: I will not..

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

ANAKIN : I hate you!

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

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

OBI-WAN: You were my brother, Anakin. 

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

ANAKIN screams in rage

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

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

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

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

 

“Do all things with love.” – Og Mandino

 

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

 

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

Edits

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

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

 

Cuts

Everyone knows how the battle between Anakin and Obi-Wan played out on Mustafar in “Revenge of the Sith”. Anakin had his legs and arm cut off and was left to die, a lost cause, by his Master. In the deleted and alternate scene on Mustafar, Anakin comes to his senses momentarily and pleads for help. The voice was edited out of the final cut but you can still see Anakin voice “Help me, Master” with pleading eyes. Obi-Wan refuses and Anakin’s face contorts in to rage and hatred as his eyes turn yellow and red. Obi-Wan abandoned Anakin to his fate at his moment of need.

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

Help me, Master” makes “Revenge of the Sith” so much more a tragedy than it already was. Lucas was wise not to include such a final and tragic twist in the movie. It would have been too dark and left the world in a worse place. But “What if” he had?

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

 

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

 

Arcs

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

Luke not only saved his Father he saved himself. That was his destiny. “What if” Obi-Wan ignored a desperate cry for help and it created Darth Vader? That his action sealed the fate of billions of lives across the Galaxy?

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

 

Let the past die” – Kylo Ren

 


Credit: Aquila–Audax Source: Deviant Art

Binds and Wings

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

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

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

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

 

If

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

How do you change?

“If I feel depressed I will sing.

If I feel sad I will laugh.

If I feel ill I will double my labor.

If I feel fear I will plunge ahead.

If I feel inferior I will wear new garments.

If I feel uncertain I will raise my voice.

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

If I feel incompetent I will think of past success.

If I feel insignificant I will remember my goals.

Today I will be the master of my emotions.”

– Og Mandino

Jedi Resilience

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

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

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

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

 

Resilience Virtues

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

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

 

Practice make Progress

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

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

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

 

False Peaks

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

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

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

 

The Promises

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

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

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

(Alcoholics Anonymous pg83-84)

Build Resilience: Be Prepared

“Han Shot First” – The Jury

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

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

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

 

The Cantina

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

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

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

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

 

Ready and Able

Sorry for the mess” – Han Solo

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

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

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

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

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

 

Ill-Prepared

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

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

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

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

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

 

Get a Grip

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

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

 

Wrestling Demons

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

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

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

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

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

 

One Day at a Time

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

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

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

 

Stay Calm, Be Ready

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

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

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

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

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

Always be prepared.

Right Effort

 

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

 

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

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

 

Faith without works is dead” – James 2:26

 

The Path on the Path

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

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

 

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

 

 

Starts with You

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

The Middle Way

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

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

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

 

Seek Balance but Do It

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

Jedi Way

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

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

 

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

 

 

Philosophy is Action

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

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

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

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

Take action, do the work and harvest the rewards.

 

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