Self Reflect

In a dark place we find ourselves, and a little more knowledge lights our way” – Yoda

Reflect

Why are you here? What do you want from life? Where do you want to go? How do you plan to get there? These are often the questions we ask ourselves as we enter in to a New Year. We reflect upon the last 12 months. Some of us take time to count our blessings and successes as well as failures. We assess what went well and identify where improvements can be made. We take inventory.

If you are finding yourself in a period of introspection and soul seeking the chances are you are seeking to change. That change may be specific to your relationships, career, health or finances. You may be unhappy where your life is currently at and you want to make broad and sweeping changes. Perhaps things are generally going well but you want to do better in some or all areas of your life.

 

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

 

Self Knowledge is Freedom

Self reflection and introspection is a powerful act which can guide us on a path to enlightenment. The exercise is not meant to be self absorption. We are not using it to think of ourselves only in a selfish or self centered way. The goal is not to garner a spirit of self will or to blame others. Self reflection is to realize our goals and understand where we are in relation to those goals. This leads to self knowledge. With self knowledge comes the freedom to change once we decide to act.

Having worked the 12 Steps for the last five years I have learned the importance of constant self reflection in my practice. When I was drinking I did not want to face the truth of who I was. It seemed easier to coast through life and see how long I could get away with it.

 

“Searching and Fearless”

Only through being self honest and taking inventory of my character faults did I begin to move forward with the transformation needed for sustained sobriety. I had to take a hard look at myself and wipe away the delusions I had created around my ego. Ignorance, dishonesty, anger and a delusional sense of omnipotence and grandiosity had to be removed. I had to stop acting like a self inflated, narcissistic big shot. The relief came in admitting my faults to myself and to another person and to my Higher Power. I asked that my faults be removed and became willing to start living free of them.

 

“Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.” – Step 4 (Alcoholics Anonymous)

 

The 12 Steps are not for everyone. One does not need to be in Alcoholics Anonymous to use self reflection to make positive changes to their lives. The ancient traditions of the East all use practices which lead to self reflection. Meditation is one such exercise. The Abrahamic faiths also use introspection to lead followers to a better life free of transgression. Yom Kippur an example.

Philosophy and Psychology extend self reflection to self knowledge and self improvement. No less the fictional Jedi were encouraged to continuously appraise their own performance and progress through self reflection.

“By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest.” – Confucius

 

Inventory

Take some time to reflect on your life. Consider the past year and go back as far as you want to. List your achievements for the last 12 months. Highlight your successes. Now do the same for the last 5 years and if you dare go back as far as a decade.

The milestones of your life may be anything you consider significant. It may include finishing school and university, academic achievements, career highlights, military or community service, business achievements and financial growth. List the things that make you proud. Include your family milestones and relationships with partners, family, friends and associates.

List all of your key attributes that you feel describe you in a positive way. Words might include trustworthy, humble, funny, determined, intelligent, kind, considerate and compassionate.

Now list where things have not gone so well in your life. List the areas you regret or wish could be improved. Inventory your faults to others as well as your flaws and failures. Be honest but do not self deprecate yourself in the process. Confronting our mistakes and failures are essential if we want to move on and improve our lives.

List your character flaws and faults which you identify as negative or unproductive. These might be impatient, compulsive, obsessive, aggressive, resentful, demanding, inflexible, bigoted and dishonest.

 

Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.”- Aristotle

 

Meditate and Persevere

Self reflection requires a lot of honesty and introspection. We have to be completely honest with ourselves and realistic in the way we look at ourselves. A mirror must be held up and we must confront who we are and where we have come from. We must face the good with the bad in order to make the changes we want to be. This can be hard but persevere we must.

Take the time to meditate on this exercise.

Self reflection can be a confronting as well as a rewarding experience. Unless we know who we are and come to terms with it, we can not hope to move forward. Self reflection is the first step to action.

 

“My friend…care for your psyche…know thyself, for once we know ourselves, we may learn how to care for ourselves”– Socrates

Take Stock

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

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

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

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

 

Lists

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

* Never confuse “stoic” with “Stoic”.

Redemption

When Anakin had succumbed to his fears, anger and hate and fallen to the dark side the person that he was died. In his place rose Darth Vader, a dark shadow of his former self and a slave to the Dark Lord. In “Episode VI: The Return of the Jedi”, Darth Vader finally realizes who he truly is and finding the love for his son Luke, he turns on his Master, Darth Sidious. The redemption of Anakin was the final end of Darth Vader.

I’ll not leave you now. I’ve got to save you.” – Luke Skywalker

You already have.” – Anakin Skywalker

The Chains of Addiction

The fall of Anakin and the emergence of a twisted and tormented Darth Vader in the same body can be viewed as a metaphor for suffering and the slavery of addiction. How many people have we encountered in our lives who changed so utterly through addiction that they were barely recognizable? Family and friends no longer knew them and they no longer knew themselves.

The effects of drug and alcohol addiction carries an insidious toll on a person’s life and on their psyche. I became morally compromised and spiritually bankrupt through alcoholism though I did not see it at the time. The difference between who I had been and who I became was stark.

By destroying Darth Sidious and saving his son, the chains that had held Anakin in the form of Darth Vader finally came off. He  emerges from the dark place where he had been imprisoned and tortured for decades as a mere slave to fear, anger and hatred. As Anakin lies dying he atones for the past. He forgives and is forgiven and finds redemption at last. Anakin is set free and is reunited with the Force.

Inventory

Realizing the truth of who we are and what we have done through our alcoholism can be painful but it is also liberating. I remember one of the most emotional experiences I have ever had was completing my inventory in Step 4.  Admitting it to my Higher Power and sharing it with another in Step 5 was to finally free myself from the bondage of the past. I saw at last who I had been and the damage I had done to myself and others. There was another way and I could forgive myself and build a new life.

“Step 4: Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.”

“Step 5: Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

After sharing my story I felt as if a huge weight had been lifted off. I was ready to change and I wanted to right the wrongs of the past. Filled with hope for the future I looked forward to making amends and claiming a sober life. The clouds parted and at last it felt as if a door had opened and I had passed through to a new dimension a free man.

Amends

Several years ago when I was still drinking I learned that my Father had passed away as a skid row drunk. He had been dry when I had last seen him 25 years earlier but we became estranged and I never spoke to him again. In time he became little more than a rumor. The news was that he moved around a lot and was back “on the sauce”.

Over the years I often wondered what I would say if we met again and whether I could forgive him. There had been anger for years for a miserable childhood. I  blamed my drinking and many of my troubles on him. There were so many faults I so despised in him that I had revealed in myself. Like Luke Skywalker I was in danger of falling to the Dark Side, like his Father and indeed in the end it had me.

When I learned that my Father had died my feelings were mixed. Part of me did not care, another part was sad and the last part was angry I had been robbed of an opportunity to tell him how he had ruined so many lives including my own. My reaction was to simply get drunk in response to the news. I was more like him than I dared admit.

Forgive

When I compiled my list of amends in Step 8 I placed my Father near the top of the list. The predicament of course was that he had died the previous year. I said a prayer and Forgave him and asked for forgiveness in return. With that I blessed his memory and made peace at last with a painful part of my life. Perhaps someday we will meet again on the other side of the veil where these things will no longer matter.

Forgiveness and making amends is one of the most powerful experiences that anyone in recovery can experience. The humility and compassion that we discover during the inventory and disclosure of our faults is further cultivated as we put aside resentment and pride and seek to atone for the past. We also begin to find redemption as Anakin did by seeking forgiveness and by forgiving others. Most of all we find the power to forgive ourselves and move on.

MTFBWY