Do these things

Try not. Do. Or do not. There is no try” – Yoda

Try Hard

In the scene in “The Empire Strikes Back” on Dagobah, Yoda admonishes Luke for stating that he would “try” to lift his X-Wing out of the swamp. The audience is given the impression that “trying” is not good enough and Yoda expects nothing less than a winning performance from Luke. This is not entirely the case. Yoda is teaching Luke a lesson about “right effort”.

Yoda was not admonishing or challenging Luke Skywalker. He was showing him that the Force did not require effort and anger to be harnessed. A small amount of focus and concentration could direct the Force to do anything Yoda desired including moving an X-wing out of the swamp. Luke was trying too hard and getting flustered and frustrated before giving in.

Anakin had used anger to direct the force but it was clumsy and ugly. There was no need to “force” the Force. All Anakin and Luke had to do was relax and just do it.

Yoda was not a perfectionist. Unlike Anakin and Luke he had reasonable expectations of himself and others. Yoda saw no point in forcing things. Yoda knew that slow and steady wins the race. Living by a philosophy of life is like that. It is easier than we realize. We just have to do it and do it easy.

 

Do it Easy

Having a philosophy for life need not be hard or even complicated. When we embark on a journey of self improvement we often want to change everything about ourselves. We throw ourselves in to the work and try our hardest to put in to practice the things that we have learned. It becomes difficult to keep a track of all the precepts, principles and rules that we set for ourselves. As we stumble and fail we get frustrated and start to force change, making things only worse.

“What” you say, “but I thought right effort was everything”. Right effort need not be over-effort or making earth shattering changes. Let us not forget that none of this is about trying to save the world or changing others. We are only improving ourselves so that perhaps we can in some small way make a positive difference in the lives of others. Through self betterment we lead to world betterment. There is no need to break ourselves getting there. We should apply the “easy does it” or rather the Pareto principle in our lives.

Sometimes  just doing a few things well makes all the difference. Not just in our own progress but also in positive outcomes for others. Applying the Pareto Principle often works in our favor.

 

Pareto

The Pareto principle, also known as the 80/20 rule, is a theory maintaining that 80 percent of the output or success from a given situation or system is determined by 20 percent of the input. The idea was proposed by an Italian economist who noticed that 80% of property was owned by 20% of the population. People started to notice the same 80/20 rule appearing everywhere.

If we apply approximately 20% of the effort towards change we will get 80% of the way there. The Pareto principle works everywhere, in business, physical training, study and nature. For example:

  • 20% of clients produce 80% of a companies turnaround
  • 20% of effort produce 80% of a target output
  • 20% of exercises and habits produce 80% outcomes in physical training
  • Natural systems are efficient with energy and default along a line of “least resistance” effectively the Pareto principle demonstrated in ecology
  • Going over the key points in a subject (20% of the volume) will cover 80% of the material required to pass an exam
  • Trying too hard when attempting to attract the opposite sex ends in them losing interest resulting in a 80% strike out rate.
  • 80% of mistakes are caused by 20% errors. 80% of accidents are the result of 20% hazards.

 

Work Smart

What all this means is that we should strive to work smart not hard for change.  We can get by with little. Yes change can be difficult but we do not need to hang ourselves on a cross to get the optimal results that we seek. Instead of going over the mountain we can sometimes go around it or through it. 20% of the effort will get us 80% of the way there so there is really no excuse for not doing something. We don’t try, we do, but we do it easy not hard.

 

Low Fruit

Having a philosophy for life by definition means we want it to serve us in some tangible and practical way. Jedi philosophy like the 12 Steps is not meant to be something that we memorize and commit to in such a way that it makes our lives inflexible, difficult or complicated. It is not a book on the shelf outlining unreachable goals that we exhaust ourselves trying to reach. A practical philosophy for life can be applied without much effort if we are willing to do the work. The benefits of doing so can be immediate and significant.

The idea is to harvest the low hanging fruits. Take away the key ideas and points of our chosen philosophy that are easy to remember. Use them in such a way that they accord with your internal value system and set of personal principles. Nothing could be easier than that.

 

Take Homes

Let’s break it down. What are the few things that we should strive to do? What are the take home jewels that stem from all this talk and contemplation of philosophy? I have boiled it down to five key areas for consideration:

  1. Treat your body like a temple; it’s the only one you have and you need it to function on this plane. Science has not yet offered replacement bodies that you can trade in your old one for in order to keep living indefinitely. In practical terms this means being mindful of what you put in to your body. It also means we should exercise regularly, meditate and rest when we need to.
  2. Respect your self and others; treat others as you would want to be treated with respect and dignity. Give others the love and compassion that they deserve. Work for the common good. Strive for synergy and cooperation.
  3. Be objective and rational in all things; defer to reason where opinions differ. The truth may be a matter of opinion but accept only what is true as you believe it. Accept that the truth can change and we must change too. Don’t hold on to ideas or beliefs so tight that you can’t let them go when they are proven wrong.
  4. Embrace your full spectrum of emotions as they make you fully human; but take charge of how you respond to your emotions moment to moment. Let emotions go that do not serve you.
  5. Learn what is in your control and what is not; align your wants and needs to that. Be ready to accept the things you cannot change and learn to let go of attachments including people, things and circumstances. All things eventually return to the Force. Embrace change, do not fear it.

 

Progress not Perfection

Remember we are not here to be perfect people or perfect Jedi or to achieve a level of spiritual perfection. We want continuous and incremental progress that never ends. Aiming for perfection is likely to lead to disappointment while deciding to coast along will ultimately see us regress and slide backwards. The objective is to trudge slowly uphill but without getting worn out. There should always be enough gas in the tank and fire in the belly to keep going.

 

A Journey

Follow your heart and whatever code you call your own, be it the Jedi Code or 12 Steps or anything else. This is your journey and no one else. We all have free will and we make of our lives as we see fit. There is nothing we have to do. No one is judging you but you and if there is a God it does not mind. You are already forgiven, you were never not.

You accept the consequences of our decisions as the natural order of things determine. By learning from our mistakes, we can only resolve to do better and not repeat or regret them. The ball is in our court and it is our game till the day we die. So let’s make the most of it and enjoy this grand adventure of life. We really only do get one shot at it so don’t waste 80% of your time when 20% will do. Do not “try”, just do it but do it easy.

Minimalism

The Minimalists

Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus are the “Minimalists”. They are two guys that have published books, posted you tube videos and pod casts and made a documentary on the benefits of minimalism. The Minimalists have travelled the United States speaking to everyone and anyone who will listen to their message that you don’t need a lot to be happy; you only need to have the things that matter. You may have seen their documentary “Minimalism” on Netflix, listened to their pod cast or read their books and essays. In a few short years they have helped start a quiet movement in the United States and the rest of the world on the benefits of minimalism.

Take a look around you. What do you see? In my house I see a lot of clutter. Having a couple of kids who are teenagers and twenty years of accumulated possessions does that. It’s actually quite normal to have a house full of things that we barely use or need. Our society expects it and we have been bought up to believe the mantra of marketing and consumerism; “more is better”. Take a walk through a shopping mall or a furniture and electrical goods warehouse and we are immediately impressed by the range of goods on offer. They promise a more comfortable existence and the marketing used tries to convince us that we will be happier, more popular and attractive if we fill our lives with more.

 

Less is More

The Minimalists would argue that the opposite is true. More is not necessarily better and in fact it may be what’s holding us back. Having less is having more. The counter-paradigm is a hard concept to accept. How can having less be better than having more? How can living in a small house or apartment that is sparsely furnished be better than living in a luxury mansion or apartment full of elegant and expensive furniture? Why would someone choose to ride a bicycle to work when they can drive their comfortable BMW? Isn’t it better to have a walk in wardrobe full of clothes and shoes to choose from than a small selection of functional yet attractive garments and shoes? Who wants to work in a job that provides for our needs rather than our endless wants? You want us to work to live, rather than live to work? Life is not about money? Are these Minimalists mad?

In the documentary “Minimalism: A documentary about the important things” we learn that Millburn was working in a higher powered corporate role and was chasing the American Dream. On the rat race to the top, Millburn found that he was working crazy hours and stretching himself thin. Relationships with people were shallow and geared towards personal gain. Life was about owning more and getting as far up the ladder as possible, at any cost. This is the competitive culture that society instils in people.

Take a walk down the main street of your commercial capital and you will hear the hum of capitalism and the fast pace of people defying reality by trying to push infinite growth in a finite system. Something has to give and for Millburn it did. The loss of his mother and marriage in the same month and nearly burned out by his job, Millburn was chronically unhappy with his life. Depressed and questioning everything he lived for he stumbled on minimalism and his life changed for forever. Minimalism and simplicity set him free.

 

Slow Death

I recently learned that in Japan the rate of deaths of otherwise young and healthy professionals from overwork and stress is unprecedented. China is fast catching up as its fast growing economy and hard work ethic churns people through the system and spits them out. Hundreds of millions of people in that country are desperately trying to achieve the same level of affluence and fulfil the same material goals that hold us hostage in the west. The eastern culture of community, simplicity and harmony has been hijacked by consumerism and unsustainable economic growth.

In the west many of us are forced to work longer and harder for less as prices increase and wages freeze. We spend our lives chasing the dollar to fill our homes with worthless junk or in some cases to continue to live with the basics and make ends meet. People are becoming more insular and disconnected from each other as they focus on their own lives and “keeping up with the Joneses”. Society is becoming more dysfunctional and unhappy as people mindlessly ride the Hedonistic merry-go round. We seek and then finding grow bored and dissatisfied and we seek the next thing to fulfil us. Never happy, never satisfied.

The Environment is suffering from our over consumption and waste. We stand on the brink of ecological collapse. Insanity is the only word to describe the paradigm we live in. It can only end one way, but it doesn’t have to.

 

Love People not Things

Millburn says in his documentary that we should “Love people and use things, because the opposite never works.” As a 12 Step Jedi I can identify. In active alcoholism we use people purely for the purpose of getting drunk. Alcohol is not so much used by us as it uses us. It sounds insane but the disease of alcoholism is completely insane. We are prepared to sacrifice everything in order to satisfy an addiction that is slowly killing us physically, emotionally and spiritually. A love affair with booze forms that resembles the most dysfunctional and destructive of relationships yet nothing short of death or a spiritual experience will break that bond.

I had a spiritual experience, no doubt about it. Perhaps Millburn did to. No two spiritual experiences are the same. The bright white light and “out of body” experience described in the literature is rare. Most people experience a type of epiphany or a sudden self realisation.  A number of discoveries are made and events occur in almost fortuitous succession that lead of personal insight and spiritual breakthroughs.

I hit rock bottom and was presented with the truth of what I had become and given a clear vision of who I truly am. Perhaps Millburn experienced something similar. The 12 Steps and the Jedi Path is my road and minimalism was his. The end result is that we got the same basic truth to always “love people and use things”.

 

Clean Minds

Everyone thinks that minimalism is about getting rid of stuff that we have been hording for years. Going through the garage, wardrobe, basement and attic and turfing things out is only part of it. We also have to take a look at the mental junk that we are hording in our minds and decide what to discard and what to hold on to.

That is essentially what Millburn did when he quit his job and sold his stuff, he was overhauling the mental paradigm he was trapped in. By changing his external world and his behaviours he was changing his internal world. As he started to free himself of the clutter and false ideas of the world he began to realize a better and easier way to live, minimalism. The changes in his life resulted in changes to his own mental patterns and ultimately his character. The wonderful thing about the Minimalists is that they could also take this and share it with the world and support themselves by doing it.

So what can we take from the Minimalists and how can we apply it in our own lives? Those that practice a philosophy for life will have many answers. I know that the 12 Steps and the Jedi Path lead us to a minimalist life through deeds, not words. To be Jedi is to take action:

 

Take Action

  1. Take Stock: Millburn quit his job not because he hated his boss but because he saw that his life was passing him by in the mindless pursuit of wealth and material possessions. Millburn recalibrated his values and decided he wanted to live a life worth remembering. A major part of that was realizing that money is not everything. Yes, we need money and it can make life more pleasurable but poor people are happy too. We need to decide what we value in life and live in accordance with our values.
  2. De-clutter: In the army they used to say something along the lines that “if your shit is not squared away neither is your head”, except the language was far more colourful. It is true that a cluttered home or workspace denotes a cluttered mind. By applying the 5S principles we can de-clutter and organise our external world and allow the benefits to flow in to other areas of our lives.
  3. Service: One of the best ways of getting out of our own heads is by helping others. It is no cliché, doing something for others, even small acts of kindness make us appreciate people more and thereby forget our own troubles. We come to realize that helping others provides us greater rewards than money can.
  4. Mental Breaks: Meditation, mindfulness and awareness are tool we can use to reduce the mental clutters and ease the chattering mind monkeys that assault us sometimes constantly.
  5. Less is better: I find I am addicted to social media and the news. Taking a break from both is a respite. We are tied to our phones and our internet accounts. Some people never put them down. The other day I heard a line which I thought rang very true “Years ago we used the internet to escape from reality, these days we escape the internet by returning to reality”. Our over consumption extends to television and food as well. We need to eat less junk and more healthier food, exercise more and spend more time outdoors in nature and with other people instead of staring at a box.

And most importantly, remember: “love people, not things.”

 

 

Books by The Minimalists:

Everything That Remains: A Memoir by The Minimalists

Minimalism: Live a Meaningful Life

 

The Minimalist Website

The High Ground

 

Art of War

In War the advantage of the high ground is constantly sought out. Seizing and holding high ground is often critical in a military campaign. One only needs to look to history to show how choosing to defend a higher position has resulted in a decisive victory. Federal forces under General Meade defeated the Confederacy at Gettysburg by holding the high ground. Napoleon was able to defeat the Prussians at Jena by attacking in flanking maneuver from a higher position.

The advantage gave both Meade and Napoleon a better view of the battlefield and further reach for their artillery, it also made life harder for the enemy. The Vietminh were able to over run the besieged garrison at Diem Bien Phu during the Indochina War by attacking from and holding the mountains that surrounded the valley in which the French were “ensconced” and subjected to months of withering assaults until they cracked. The Mujahideen in Afghanistan managed to wage a war against the Soviets and Afghan national army by drawing them in to the mountains where they held the advantage with guerrilla tactics and American weapons. The contemporary version of the Mujahideen, the Taliban, today uses the same tactics against their former allies, the Americans.

 

Camp in high places, facing the sun. Do not climb heights in order to fight” – Sun Tzu

 

Sun Tzu in the Art of War advises that military commanders should always seek to use the high ground to their advantage. This ideal has come to be used not only in military planning but also in business decision making. Companies that secure the high ground in the field of innovation, use of technology and adopting modern and ethical approaches to business such as diversity, sustainability and a proactive safety culture will often hold a competitive advantage and an adaptable culture. Inflexible companies that refuse to adapt to change or are sluggish in their attempts to keep up and innovate are left behind and out competed.

 

A Battle Ground

Holding the high ground in a tactical sense however does not always make sense. In small units the high ground is avoided unless it is a defensive position. Normally a good commander will read the terrain and use it to the best advantage. On patrol we would often lay up on high ground at night. Before dawn we would silently break camp and withdraw to a position that offered better protection and a means of escape. The tactic also was designed to throw off an enemy planning to attack at dawn.

Patrol commanders would take in to consideration factors such as observation, concealment, and means of escape and avenues of attack; sometimes the high ground is the last place you wanted to be. The advantage of air power and use of drones however has removed some of the advantage of being a militia or guerrilla force ensconced in the mountains as the current war in Afghanistan has shown.

 

A Word Weapon

An often used term is “moral high ground”. In society we see it a lot in arguments. It is a weapon used by both sides of a debate. For example, both pro-life and abortion advocates believe they have a “moral high ground” on the issue of abortion. The same applies with the euthanasia and same sex marriage debate in many countries.In the military the assimilation of females in to combat roles and the acceptance of LGBT divided the population in and out of uniform. Both sides claimed the “moral high ground”.

Progressive movements will often claim the High Ground in these social issues. Very often the term “moral high ground” is also used to excuse violence or intimidation in the name of a contentious issue. Claiming the moral high ground does not mean that an argument is correct unless you are a Sophist.  It also does not justify the use of violence. Unfortunately violence is still used as the power of advantage rests with the side that holds the high ground.

 

Remember back to your early teachings. “All who gain power are afraid to lose it.” Even the Jedi.” – Chancellor Palpatine

 

A Point of View

In the Star Wars sage the Jedi often claimed the moral high ground in their campaigns both military and political. Mace Windu and Qui-Gon Jinn were often predisposed to blur the lines of ethical conduct in order to advance the cause of the Jedi. The argument often put forward by the Jedi was that the use of deception, betrayal and subterfuge was in the interests of the Republic and for the “common good”. The morality and ethics of such actions were tenuous at best. This fact was not lost on Palpatine who ironically often used and played the Jedi for his own nefarious ends.

We often hear such lines being used in the real world. Companies use it when they lay off hundreds of staff for the “common good”. When our government takes us to war they do it in the “national interest”. They use the moral high ground to place legitimacy over an irrational argument. Much later we are left wondering how it could have happened. The real question should be “what is the moral high ground”? Who defines it? Is it valid?

 

Good is a point of view, Anakin. The Sith and the Jedi are similar in almost every way, including their quest for greater power.” – Chancellor Palpatine

The false High Ground

Anakin had been in many fights over the years and many of these battles had seen him and his opponents seek to take advantage of higher positions. Whether on foot using a light sabre or in a fighter Anakin always vied to take the higher ground by out maneuvering and outwitting his opponents.

Confronting Ob-wan Kenobi on the lava flows of Mustafa, Anakin was faced with a dilemma and sought to counter it with a reckless move that almost cost him his life. Obi-wan had the high ground and offered Anakin the chance to surrender and live. Metaphorically speaking, Obi-wan also held the “moral high ground”. By confronting Anakin he was not only attempting to stop the rise of the Sith and the fall of the Jedi Order, he was also trying to save his friend. Both seemed to be noble causes in the context of what we believe. The outcome however was that Obi-wan Kenobi was unable to accomplish either of these objectives.

 

Casualties of War

Taking the moral high ground has pit falls. It can blind us to the “bigger picture”. We take one view and refuse to consider alternatives or opposing arguments. Very often a deep seated “righteousness” pervades an opinion. It does not matter if it is right or wrong, true or false, the only thing that matters is that it is must prevail. Objectivity followed by honesty is often the first casualties on the fight for the “moral high ground”. Arrogance is a flaw that often develops in the belief that a view is superior to all others.


The Higher Objective

Have the high ground means being better able to view the landscape and appreciate the situation for what it is. From a higher vantage we can look down at people or we can help them up to stand beside us. The goal should not to be to hold the moral high ground in order to defeat or belittle others. The goal should be to take that person to the higher vantage point so that they can see the truth for themselves.

Being recovered means we can place a high value on sobriety and clean living. We can also value virtues in ourselves and others such as honesty, humility, benevolence and selflessness. Although we are better we do not act better than others.

Being sober does not give me the right to take a moral high ground at the expense of others especially if I consider my history. No one has the right to take a moral view and consider others lesser than themselves because they fail to make the grade. It would be wrong for me to judge an alcoholic who is desperate and hopeless; I was near enough there once myself. It may be easy to judge a homeless person pan handing in the street who looks young enough and fit enough to be working but it would be wrong. We cannot know what fate put him there. Some of us have hit the skids before and know the bite of poverty and acute apathy. A few of us have slept rough, begged for booze and money or searched for food in rubbish bins.

 

Falling Down

We should always be mindful before taking the High Ground. The fall from our lofty tower might be great when our views are laid bare as false. Having strong opinions on matters can make us feel potent and powerful but they also leave us open to scrutiny and judgment by others. When we are forced to defend our position we can find that our argument does not hold and our defenses have major weaknesses. We fight to hold the high ground and we lose ground. As our defenses crumble so do our firmly held beliefs and with them our self esteem and confidence.

 

It’s over Anakin, I have the high ground” – Obi-wan Kenobi

In that dramatic scene on Mustafa, Obi-wan tells Anakin it is over. Filled with hate and rage, Anakin attempts to leap over Obi-wan and out flank him. The move is a fatal one and Obi-wan’s light sabre flashes and catches Anakin mid air amputating both his legs. Anakin rolls away and comes to rest by a lava flow his skin badly seared by the heat soon bursts in to flames. He screams in anguish, pain and rage.

 

Surrender the Higher Ground

In the end it did not matter who had the high ground on Mustafa. Anakin was reconstructed as Darth Vader and Darth Sidious assumed the role of Emperor. The Jedi Order was destroyed but for few survivors and a scattered rebellion emerged from the ruins of the Republic. Over the decades of war that followed both sides would claim the moral high ground in their struggle over the other. Obi-wan exiled and alone with his memories might have pondered the merit of his beliefs and questioned whether they had been firmly placed on high ground after all.

The idea of a moral high ground is based on what society values. Our parents, friends, teachers, religious instructors and leader, elected leaders and peers all help form our moral views. We hold on to them and build our fortress upon their foundation. How often do we question them, how often do we ask if they are right?

The first thing to ask is “what are my moral high grounds”. The next thing to ask is whether attaching ourselves to an inflexible view point helps or hinders our cause. Would it be better to loosen the bonds of opinion slightly and to critically assess them? Instead of focusing on the failings of others should we not be looking at our own faults? Where there is conflict and hate do we assign blame on the others only or do we also look at the part that we have played? Is there room for compromise and mediation, can common ground be found? Sometimes it can, sometimes it cannot but by engaging in dialogue there is always a chance of a spark of understanding to emerge. The only way to find out is to walk down from the high ground across no mans land and speak with the enemy. The way to peace and forgiveness may be to surrender the High Ground.

The best conversation is rare. Society seems to have agreed to treat fictions as realities, and realities as fictions; and the simple lover of truth, especially if on very high grounds, as a religious or intellectual seeker, finds himself a stranger and alien.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

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

Question

What if the democracy we thought we were serving no longer exists, and the Republic has become the very evil we’ve been fighting to destroy?” Padme Amidala, Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith

During “Clone Wars” series the plot by Chancellor Palpatine to undermine the war effort and manipulate the Republic through deception and subterfuge is revealed piece by piece. Like a jigsaw that eventually reveals the face of Darth Sidious the true picture begins to unfold. The veil is finally removed and it becomes revealed that the enemy was within the gates all along.

Nothing was ever as it seemed, all was an illusion and everyone was being played. I love the “Clone Wars” but sometimes wonder how blind the Republic and especially the Jedi could be to not have seen it before everything went to hell in “Episode III: The Revenge of the Sith”. Didn’t anyone on Coruscant but Senator Padme Amidala have the presence of mind to ask the question? Padme was after all in the worst kept secret of the entire Republic. Where there’s smoke, there’s fire…well almost always.

Sleep Walking

How often do we open our eyes and see things as they truly are? We realize that for years we have been misled or fooled in to believing one thing over another. For many people the revelation can be life shattering and turn their lives upside down, conversely it can also be liberating and free them from living a lie.

Imagine being in a relationship built on a lie. Many people remain together but they are scared of losing what they think they have when in fact it does not exist. Love does not exist in a loveless relationship that is meant to be based on mutual affection and love. Worse, people remain attached even though it means a life of pain and suffering. The reality of domestic abuse whether physical or emotional is an example. The heartbreak of co-dependency being an another example where people are tied together because of an addiction.  The question “why” has to be asked.

That starts with waking up to reality and letting go of denial.

The Fog of Ignorance

Alcoholism made me a cynic and a skeptic, I would question everything but myself and reserve suspicion of even the most innocent of intentions. If a friend came up to me and said, “I got sober because I put my faith in a Higher Power”, I would have laughed along like it was a good joke and then tried to ply him with booze. I would then have got resentful because deep down I knew that he has something I want but can’t (won’t) get, I would tell myself that he “thinks he is better than me” and reason “if he doesn’t want to break bread (get drunk) with me, then to hell with him”.

Sitting back and exploring the personal implications of what he had said would not enter my mind. Instead I would create my own reality and color that with arrogance, anger and resentment. I would dismiss it without any consideration. This is the type of person that soon finds himself alone.

Asking questions is always a good start. Like Padme we should be critical of self as well as others. In her statement she is actually making the admission that she is part of the system, not someone standing to the side in opposition or neutral but as an active player. Yes they have been all fooled by the insidious penetration of the Sith in to the Republic but they had also bought in to the rhetoric and had blindly marched along, especially Anakin. War does that to people.

The Nazis in Germany rose to power in similar fashion riding on a wave of post War discontent. They built confidence and trust with the people over years before the reality of what they had facilitated became apparent. Dissent and opposition had been silenced and the mass psyche manipulated to giving executive power to a Dictator who killed millions. We read our history and we wonder, how could they have been so blind to fall for it? How could we let it happen again?

Waking Up

Recovery removes denial and reveals us in ways we would rather not know. We can see who we are as clearly as if someone held a mirror up to our lives. Recovery  changes who we are and very often the people close to us do not like those changes. With clarity we are also able to perceive the world with fresh eyes and we may come to the conclusion that our situation is not right and we need to change our relationships, our job and interests as well as our habits.

Change is never easy and I have met some people who regretted changing their lives for the better because it forced them to make decisions that they did not want to make. Life was hard before but then it seems to get harder and more complicated as we set higher standards for ourselves and adopt principles that others cannot accept. They must choose and so must we.

I know the sting of disillusionment very well. It seems I have gone through life anticipating disillusionment with people, place and circumstance. As an alcoholic it is to be expected, we tend to project perfection on everything but ourselves and when things don’t go our way we become resentful and allocate blame.

In sobriety however we apply principles that underpin our recovery. This requires objectivity and the acceptance of reality, we no longer live in a fool paradise but see things as they are. If a relationship is healthy we value it, if a relationship is toxic we do not lie to ourselves and claim that it is “fine”. We stick to our principles and the number one principle is  rigorous honesty with self and others.

The Jedi Method

Disclaimer, I can’t and I won’t give relationship advice, that is not my intent here. The point is simply to avoid knowingly being dishonest with ourselves and others. This of course means that sometimes we must make painful decisions. Let us not forget that the intent of the 12 Steps is to recover. One of the steps requires that we seek to make amends where it would not cause harm to self or others (Step 9). This means we must review our life in an objective and honest manner and determine what our intent is before deciding on an action. The Real World Jedi provide a solution to this conundrum in the Jedi Method (Trout, 2012).

Jedi Intent + Jedi Action = Jedi Outcome

Intent

What is our motivation behind any decision? Is it selfish, self centred or self seeking? Is our intent virtuous? Are we being objective and reasoned? If the intent is in accordance with our personal system of values then it is usually on solid ground.

 

Action

Deciding what to actually do in any situation will be largely determined by the desired outcome. The adage “means do not justify the ends” applies; one cannot undertake a course of action that is reprehensible, unlawful or unethical even in the name of a noble cause. We cannot take a course of action at the expense of others unless it is wholly justified. This principle can be hard to swallow but for us it is paramount for our sobriety. Any action we take we can sleep comfortably with and not have to justify to ourselves or others.

 

Outcome

Working out the outcome can be difficult. Take a scenario, a person is in an unhappy relationship at home. She has quit drinking and is maintaining her sobriety, her partner quit for a while but relapsed and continues to get drunk. She has tried to get him to go to meetings but he won’t and doesn’t want her to either. This places an inordinate amount of pressure on the relationship. One is working, the other is spending and not working and arguments are making an unhappy household worse.

The person in recovery decides enough is enough, no more begging, no more excuses or tears. She is grabbing her stuff and walking out. In my view the intent is solid, the action is reasonable under the circumstances but the outcome is largely unknown. That is, we may know the short term outcome but what of the long-term consequences, the direct and indirect impacts?

Will he improve in her absence? Does this mean life will get harder for her now being single and homeless? There are consequences for every action which is why it is important to carefully consider every possible outcome before proceeding. The mistake is to abandon the cause because of the fear of uncertainty, we must be agile enough to adapt without compromising our principles. Sometimes we have to take a difficult course of action that serves our best interests we can still make sure that decision is consistent with our values.

 

Setting Priorities

In my world there are three main priorities they are the “The Force”, Sobriety, Family. If I lose my faith in my Higher Power and forget that my recovery is a daily reprieve contingent on the maintenance of my spiritual condition I will drink again and lose my sobriety. If I lose my sobriety I ultimately lose my family, job, home and health. I can however lose my family, job, home,health and family without losing my sobriety because it is not contingent on those things, it is contingent on my Faith.

One of the reasons Anakin lost the plot was because he had his priorities upside down and feared losing the things he loved. Unable to be honest with himself or others he was easy prey to the Dark Side. We can never be certain if the Jedi Council were aware of his marriage to Padme Amidala, another deception which came at a price. The tragedy is that lies and deception destroyed them all. Its a recurring theme in mythology, in Star Wars and sometimes in real Life.

My focus then is working on what I need to stay mentally, physically and spiritually fit and sober. In recovery we only really have three things that are ours to keep or lose; our mind, our Faith and our choice. Everything else is largely out of our control. That doesn’t mean that we should not care about what we treasure in our lives but we should always keep eyes open and to quote Larry King on RT; Question More.

Ask the Right Questions and Demand the Right Answers” – Larry King

Truths

Many of the truths that we cling to depend on our point of view.” – Obi-Wan Kenobi “Episode VI: Return of the Jedi”.

The Flatlanders

In the satirical novel Flatlanders by Edwin Abbot we learn how a Flatlander perceives reality in two dimensions and how he reacts to a third dimension when presented to him. To a Flatlander there is no height or depth to anything, everything exists in planar view. It is like imagining what it would be like to be a stick figure on a piece of paper going about its day, having breakfast, kissing the stick wife and stick kids good bye as it leaves to go to work on a two dimensional cart. To the Flatlanders the proposition of a third dimension was preposterous and dangerous. The reality of a Flatlander is hard to grasp as it would be hard for a fish to imagine a life on dry land.

Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one” – Albert Einstein

Our World

What we hold true is largely derived from our cultural conditioning and our upbringing. We were not born with the ideas, attitudes and prejudices that we have. We acquired them along the way through experience and our interaction with society. Imagine the way a slum dweller in Calcutta views the world in comparison to an affluent person living in southern California. Even in Southern California the views of a Mexican itinerant farm hand on politics, gender, race and economic issues are likely going to differ widely to an affluent American living in Hollywood. The perceptions of the two social classes differ because their experience of reality is different.

The divisions that exist in the world based on cultural, ethnic, national, racial, gender and political lines are all illusionary. They exist as conditioned ideas in peoples minds. Alternatives do exist and no one has to believe anything, we all have a choice in what we believe and do not believe. Fundamentally people are the same. They want the same things, to live in peace and security, to raise their children and to provide for their needs.

No one is born “bad” and no one is intrinsically “evil”. No one is inherently “right” or wrong”. People may suffer mental illnesses or personality disorders that are expressed in maladaptive, sociopathic or psychotic behaviors. That does not make them bad or evil. Behavior may be perceived as “bad or evil”. There is no such thing as “Black and White” in a world that is millions of shades of gray.

Dogmas–religious, political, scientific–arise out of erroneous belief that thought can encapsulate reality or truth. Dogmas are collective conceptual prisons. And the strange thing is that people love their prison cells because they give them a sense of security and a false sense of “I know.” – Eckhart Tolle

Then what it True?

Reality Bites

Imagine how life must appear to the “hopeless” drug addict or alcoholic. Would it appear hopeful and optimistic? Or does it appear bleak and a constant struggle? Do issues that concern sober and clean people they know concern them? What is true to them, what appears real?

I recently listened to a radio interview with Chester Bennington the front man for Linkin Park. Chester committed suicide last week; he suffered depression and tried to resolve his battle with drugs and alcohol. In the interview Chester related how he perceived the world, the constant struggle he had with that perception while being aware that it is “all in his mind”. The tragedy is that Chester knew he had a problem and he articulated quite clearly what he needed to do to resolve his perception of the world and silence his mind.

Chester Bennington defined his truth and he articulated his reality. How we perceive that reality, the “world” he speaks of will differ from one person to the next. That is why when we hear stories in meetings we look to relate to the individual. Their story may be like many others but it is still unique, they are relating their personal reality. Many people outside of recovery would not be able to fathom it, they would be like Flatlanders trying to understate “Sphere World”. The interview with Chester Bennington can be seen here. I encourage that you watch it.

In active alcoholism our perception of reality is skewed. In the recent blog entries on Cognitive Dissonance and Motivational Needs we looked at how we struggle with reality and use maladaptive behaviours to facilitate our addiction. We explored some of the strategies we can use to bring ourselves back on course. Chester Bennington provides another example that how we perceive other people, even the rich and famous is often not the way they perceive themselves. To be human is to have vulnerabilities, weaknesses and fears. How we deal with our perpetual struggle for self actualization and transcendence is a battle that largely happens within our own minds.

We suffer more in imagination than in reality.” – Seneca

The Illusion and the Truth

On Tatooine Obi-Wan Kenobi had revealed to Luke Skywalker that Darth Vader had killed his father, Anakin. Later on Dagobah, Luke knows the truth about his father and asks the ethereal Obi-Wan Kenobi why he had lied to him. As far as Obi-Wan Kenobi was concerned, Anakin died even before they fought on Mustafa. By falling to the dark side Anakin no longer existed, there was only a pale shadow in the form of Darth Vader.

This was a truth to Obi-Wan Kenobi, it was how he perceived reality. Despite what Luke Skywalker thought, Obi-Wan Kenobi had never lied to him but he had not told him the entire story either. Anakin was a prisoner of his own perception of reality; being Darth Vader was an expression of a falsehood. Is that not a metaphor for a disease like alcoholism? A pathological denial of the truth.

Luke had to go out and face his own fears and seek his destiny. In doing so he redeemed himself and saved his Father. Luke offered Anakin an alternate reality; the Truth. Free from the illusion that had held him captive as Darth Vader, Anakin was able to overcome Darth Sidious and end his own suffering.

Obi-Wan Kenobi was wrong about Anakin, he was still alive. We are often wrong about others and especially ourselves. Our perception of the truth often deceives us but we choose not to challenge it.  We cling to our beliefs even when evidence is presented contrary to our view point. No one likes to admit that they are wrong but the first step in recovery is admission. In order to admit we must first look in the mirror and see things as they truly are. Then we must take Action.

From here on out, there’s just reality. I think that’s what maturity is: a stoic response to endless reality. But then, what do I know?” – Carrie Fisher

Needs

 Maslow’s Theory

The theory of motivational needs by Maslow states that there is a hierarchy which must be ascended like a ladder in order for an individual to achieve higher level needs. Simply stated, basic needs like food, water, shelter must be met first. The need for a safe and secure environment is followed by the need to be in healthy relationships, family and friends. The self worth of a person, their self esteem is also a need that must be met in order for them to have the confidence to achieve self actualization, the realization of one’s potential. Viktor Frankl suggested the highest need was to rise above the ego through self transcendence or enlightenment.

Alcoholism tends to skew our hierarchy of needs. The compulsion to drink will over ride basic needs such as nutritious food, sleep and basic health care. We often put our safety and security at risk and as well as our relationships. Being riddled with self pity, self hate, fear and anger our self esteem is near to non-existent or presents as a facade of arrogance and “big shotism”. Our primary need is satisfying our addiction. Everything else falls in to some fumbled order that rejects Maslow’s theory.

The Recovery Ladder

In recovery I’ve become acutely aware of my personal hierarchy of needs. Some times they seem selfish. I often ask myself if I’m putting my own needs before others. Is my recovery so important that the way I live my life is neglectful of others. Have I replaced one addiction for another in the form of a program of recovery? Sometimes I get confused as to why my need to self actualize and improve through the daily practices of meditation, study and physical exercise seems to be at odds with loved ones. Even with compromise there seems to be a tension. Am I missing something? What are my needs and how to I reconcile those with the needs of others? Am I being selfish and self centered?

In recovery we adopt a principle of “Live and Let Live” and “Let Go and Let God”. We surrender much of the control we once struggled to maintain. Trying to control people, places, things and circumstance put as at odds with the flow of life and when we didn’t get our way we drunk to get even. We grew resentful and bitter that the world did not conform itself to our expectations. Then in recovery we focus on self improvement and are left feeling guilty asking if self improvement is self indulgence.

The Me Reality

Look around you. Everyone is doing what they want. Not only that they are making their cake, eating it and posting the entire event on Face Book or Instagram. Right now there is a global phenomenon of highly visible but false self actualization going on. People have become so fixated in gaining acceptance and validation that they follow fads or what ever is trending that day and fish for likes for everything from the mundane to the insane.

Society is obsessed with instant gratification and entitlement. The effort required to achieve real self esteem and self actualization is sabotaged by a pervasive attitude of easy access and discouragement. People want the gains but they are not prepared to work for it and are confused when life does not grant them their wishes. In the perpetual search for approval and validation they will accept ‘Likes” on Social Media as a surrogate. From the moment kids were given “participation trophies” for showing up and the words “winning and losing” were banned from school age competition we created a society that screams “me, me and me”.

The Other Side

It seems people are too busy judging each other or trying to validate themselves on social media. They have forgotten the motivating factor behind their actions or it has been reduced to “Likes”. Does it really matter what other people think? Do we really need to be so obsessed with widespread approval?

What happens on the other side of the street is not as important as what happens on our side. Sobriety is largely contingent on how we feel about ourselves and how we think moment to moment. If our words and actions are consistent with our personal values then we are on steady ground. When we allow conflicting needs and expectations to confuse our own primary goal of staying sober and we start to fall off course.

Jedi Needs

The needs of a Fictional Jedi were very clear and very simple. Basic needs were met without fuss or fanfare. Jedi would eat when hungry, drink when thirsty, sleep when tired and seek shelter from the elements when required. They dressed to suit the environmental conditions they expected to operate in. The safety and security of others was more commonly placed before their own. Jedi were still cautious when required and did not take unnecessary risks. With the exception of Anakin and one or two others, the Jedi were mindfully daring but not foolhardy or reckless. Decades of rigorous training meant that actions and reactions were drilled in to them.

The Jedi formed close bonds with their own and with other sentient beings. While grasping attachment to individuals was not allowed they were encouraged to form positive and productive relationships with all life forms. The Jedi knew that all life is interconnected and belongs to the Force and they identified strongly to that non-dualistic belief.

Jedi naturally had self esteem and self confidence that comes with achieving excellence. The Jedi Order was a meritocracy and Jedi were promoted from Padawan to Knight and finally to Master and Council Member when they demonstrated they were ready. There were no free lunches and no short cuts.

Self actualization was the outcome of Jedi training. The harsh conditions under which they trained and operated, the supportive nature of the Jedi Order and the focus on personal development and self improvement through training, mentorship and experience produced individuals who were mentally, physically, emotionally  and spiritually highly evolved. The Jedi could also reach transcendence and unite with the Force.

Realities and Needs

The goal of “world betterment through self betterment” in Jedi Philosophy strongly advocates self actualization. Real World Jedi are expected to demonstrate virtues and qualities in all their affairs which are consistent with the Jedi Code. This means that real world Jedi, like the fictional Jedi we take inspiration from, have the following qualities:

  • they are tolerant and accepting of others. Being easy on others but hard on themselves;
  • they are humble without being self deprecating or lacking self esteem;
  • they seek meaningful and rewarding relationships based on mutual respect for each other needs and opinions;
  • take a realistic and objective view of life that understands that good and bad things happen;
  • understand that hard work and effort is needed to get results;
  • accept that sometimes we do not get what we want;
  • simplify and take a minimalist approach to possessions and wants;
  • can be self reliant and not have to depend on others for needs including approval and validation;
  • show creativity through expression or through action;
  • take an active interest in the environment and community, thinking global, acting local;
  • Jedi seek practical and sane solutions to problems as they arise.

When I look at this list I see many of the virtues and principles that underpin the 12 Steps. Being a 12-Stepper and a Jedi is not that much different. We know who we are and we know what our needs are and we can define them. Our hierarchy of needs are re-established. We take care of ourselves and care for others. We build meaningful and deep relationships. Our self esteem improves over time and we remain humble. With spiritual growth we  go beyond single spiritual experiences and start to realize transcendence.

We seem different to other people, because we are; we are survivors. Having values and principles that keep us sober is not a drawback, it is a great asset in these times of instant gratification and discouragement. Of all the people out there, it is those that have survived the trials of life be it trauma, tragedy, addiction or mental illness that truly understand the climb up the ladder of the hierarchy of needs. The blessing is we can use that to pass a hand down and help others up.

Love

“Attachment is forbidden. Possession is forbidden. 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 “Episode II: Attack of the Clones”.

One Word

Of all the words in existence the the word used to mean “Love” carries the most meaning to people.

What is Love? What does it mean? Countless songs, poems and stories have been written about it. Most of us intuitively know it but few can articulate in words what it is even to themselves. We know how it feels and we also know that Love comes in different flavors.

The Fictional Jedi were forbidden to love another in the ordinary sense. They were in fact expected to Love all sentient beings. The key role of the Jedi was service to others. Buddhism carries the same precept called “Loving Kindness” (Mettā). A Buddhist seeking enlightenment does so for the benefit of all sentients, so that they may be released from samsara, the eternal karmic cycle of life and death. Enlightenment is not sought for the benefit of the Bodhisattva but for all to ease suffering (Dukkha). Yoda and Obi-Wan Kenobi demonstrated a similar commitment when they abandoned the “crude matter” of their bodies and surrendered their souls, bringing balance to the Force.

The goal of Jedi Philosophy is to provide the path for people seeking to improve themselves. We realize that the way to achieve fulfillment and happiness is through service to others. Selfless service and giving of self requires Love not love.

World betterment through self betterment” – Kevin Trout “The Jedi Circle”

Love and love

Love with a capital “L” is unconditional Love. It is the Love that transcends personal concerns and the Ego. Love is all embracing, liberating, all forgiving, all encompassing, omnipotent and omnipresent. It binds all of creation together. It atones completely and sets free. All life is an expression of the Force. Love is the Force.

The Love of a mother for her child, the love of sacrificing one’s life for another, the love between comrades in arms and the deep and enduring love between two people that transcends the physical and life. That is unconditional Love.

Are you allowed to love? I thought that was forbidden for a Jedi.” – Padme Amidala “Episode II: Attack of the Clones”

When Padmé Amidala challenged Anakin on his capacity to Love another she was right but she was also wrong. Anakin could not attach to carnal love but he could express unconditional Love.

Love with a lower case “l” is called ordinary love. It binds, controls and fears loss. Jealousy is harbored in ordinary love and grasping attachment keeps it moored there. Ordinary love cannot sail, it is not free and it is controlled by the Ego.

Love as Suffering

It was the ordinary love that destroyed Anakin. The attachment and fear of losing Padme, his wife and the anger that burned in him was exploited by the Dark Lord. Unconditional Love would have allowed Anakin to set Padme free and defeat Darth Sidious. Instead he chose to control something that cannot be controlled and lost it all.

Anakin also loved Obi-Wan Kenobi like a Father. Perhaps because he never had a Father and had lost his mother Anakin grasped at anything that gave him meaning. It was a need that consumed him and others. As an Orphan myself I can appreciate the pain, fear and anger, the grasping attachment.

Why do I get the feeling you’re going to be the death of me?” – Obi-Wan Kenobi

Don’t say that Master… You’re the closest thing I have to a father… I love you. I don’t want to cause you pain. ” – Anakin “Episode III: Revenge of the Sith”

Obi-Wan Kenobi also loved Anakin but he was able to fight him because of that Love. I can only surmise that Obi-Wan’s pity and compassion for what little remained of his friend prevented him from slaying Anakin on the lava flows of Mustafa. Anakin was dead already and only Darth Vader remained. Obi-Wan felt unconditional Love for what was left of his beloved friend and could not take Life in such a way no matter how twisted and evil it was.

In the fight between Love and Hate, Love will prevail.

In the final confrontation between Luke and Darth Vader on the Death Star II it was unconditional Love that reunites Father and Son and destroyed the Dark Lord. Love does conquer all.

False Love

Alcoholism was the Dark Side in my life. Love was a word I used but it was not real. We may feel what we believe is Love but it is only an object that we desire and grasp on to. Love that is grasped and bound cannot breath and it cannot last.

“I can’t live without you”, “I need you”, “You complete me, I’m nothing without you”, “You belong to me”, “I hurt you because I love you” were the kinds of words I used. In reality I only loved myself and the bottle. I would choose booze over the feelings of others. Love in thought does not match Love in action.

We weep at love lost because it was never about the other person but what we wanted and were attached to. Addiction does not allow unconditional Love to flow. It stifles it.

If you love someone, set them free.” – Richard Bach

Love sets Free

I found Unconditional Love in the most unexpected place. In the mental and psychic black hold of “Rock Bottom” I imagined myself dying in suffering, self pity and self hate. I called for help and my Higher Power saved me and set me free from my addiction. It was unconditional Love that bought me back to sanity and in to recovery.

The feeling glowed within me for days. I felt like I had the deepest Love for all things. Every rock, tree and animal I saw, every person I passed I felt unconditional Love for. I believe I had transcended to another dimension of existence. At the fundamental level we are spiritual beings having a human experience and we are all made of unconditional Love.

In the rooms you feel compassion and Love for the fellow suffering alcoholic. You feel it when you see those that suffer. It is not pity, it is unconditional Love. Our Ego is the only filter, the only limitation to that pure Love.

In recovery we learn who we were, who we are and who we will likely be if we stay on the beam. Love like spiritually is a personal journey. We can seek advice on affairs of the heart but it is up to each of us how to use our intrinsic capacity to love. Love is who you are so you can’t go wrong.

I believe that Love never dies. We take it with us. The ego dies and so does ordinary love but Love with a capital L is eternal.

Love, not time, heals all wounds” – Anonymous

Science

If no mistake have you made, yet losing you are … a different game you should play.” Yoda, “Shatterpoint”

Science is based on proposition and the testing of a hypothesis. Experimentation is used to arrive at a statistically significant determination that a hypothesis is correct or incorrect. The best Scientists will try to reject a hypothesis and disprove a theory rather than default to a bias. They will try to prove themselves wrong no matter how important their theory is to them.

There are two types of Scientist in my experience. The first is those that undertake research to arrive at the truth. They want to understand the world as it is without the influence of any bias. Unbiased Scientists test their theories and accept when they are wrong.

The other type of Scientist will invest personal bias in their theories and adjust or interpret results accordingly to arrive at a conclusion. Such Scientists rarely welcome debate or criticism of their findings. You will find them in the halls of academia guarding their beliefs jealously and deriding any idea that challenges theirs. They are inflexible and they stymie the growth of scientific endeavor and the open exchange of ideas.

Truth of the Matter

No matter how you try to change it, the truth remains the truth. If you conduct an experiment and everything you do is correct but the outcome is the opposite of what is expected then that is the truth. The truth is not what you would make it. We have to accept the truth in order to recover.

The definition of insanity is to do something over and over again with the same outcome and expect something different. After trying an experiment a number of times in the same way with no change in conditions or parameters one should arrive at the same result. There may be some variation but when you do the math the result is still significant.

Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results“: Albert Einstein.

Despite a background in Science I was never good at exercising Scientific method in my own life. I would try the same things over and over and expect the same outcome only to be proved wrong again and again. Of course this flies in the face of logic but then who every said that logic applies when it comes to Alcohol.

Let me list some of the experiments I tried to drink normally:

  1. Stick to Light Beer only: Failed
  2. Drink only when eating: Failed
  3. Add water to wine: Failed
  4. Stop at three drinks: Failed
  5. Pace Drinking, have one, wait an hour and have another: Failed
  6. Not drink at all at a Party: Failed
  7. Empty the house of alcohol: Failed
  8. Exercise more often, start a health kick: Failed
  9. Swear off: Failed
  10. Seek help from a Psychologist: Failed
  11. Isolate myself from alcohol and everyone else: Failed
  12. Accept my alcoholism and Surrender my addiction: Worked

Whatever works

Only the last method worked. I tried it once but unlike the others there was no need to go back to the experimental design and manipulate parameters and variables. My hypothesis “an active program of recovery based on spiritual principles leads to sustained abstinence” worked. It still does.

Everything else I was doing before that? There was nothing wrong with any of it. Under certain conditions they will work in some cases. For me, they didn’t so I had to take a radical depart and think outside the realm of normal science. I had to reject my bias and accept that in my case only a spiritual solution could work. I tried it and much to my surprise and delight it did work.

Yoda summed it up very well. Everything you are doing in your life might seem right; there may be nothing wrong with it. But is it working for you? Does it serve? Will making one change, doing one thing differently make all the difference in the world? Perhaps we should consider a different solution instead of being stuck in our own paradigm and rejecting the alternatives.

“There is a principle which is a bar against all information, which is proof against all arguments, and which cannot fail to keep a man in everlasting ignorance—that principle is contempt prior to investigation.” – Herbert Spencer

Death

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

Jedi do not fear death in the fiction as they know that the material plane is only one dimension of existence, that in time all life returns to the Force as all life belongs to the Force. Even as Yoda dies in the “Return of the Jedi” his body vanishes supposedly transcending to the Force.

Yoda struggles through his final breaths to pass on a final lesson to Luke Skywalker. Throughout the movies we are reminded of the continuity of existence after the death of the physical and in the “Return of the Jedi” as Anakin, Obi-wan Kenobi and Yoda appear before Luke Skywalker in their ethereal forms we get a sense of peace and hope that even in death, love endures.

To Live is to Accept Dying

Why do we fear death? I was terrified of death and sought escape and succour in a bottle knowing that by doing so was a slow death. I’ve heard that alcoholics are not afraid of dying but fear only the long slow death of alcoholism, yet they drink despite this fear so strong is the compulsion.

With recovery we begin to see the sunlight through the clouds and with time the fear of death is replaced by renewed hope and a sense of love for life and compassion for others. We begin to love ourselves again and express true love for others especially those that we have harmed through our actions. We begin to reconcile ourselves with God “as we understand him” and put together a plan of action to make amends and rid ourselves of our character defects and weaknesses.

Fear of death leaves us entirely after having got so close to death in the past, close enough to feel its presence in the early hours of the morning. We have faced our fears of some unknown thing that clawed at our being, we are no strangers to it and come to realize that death is also a part of life. It is not death that causes us fear, we only fear the thought of dying.

“We do not fear death; we fear the thought of death” – Seneca

The Circle of Life

Do we not begin dying at the point of birth? Our lives are simply a biological struggle to offset death long enough to ensure that our genetic make-up is passed on to the next generation.  Our descendants grant us a type of physical immortality that will one day invariably fade as does the very memory of our existence.

Perhaps, it is the fear of being forgotten that strikes at the heart of most people; that their short life will have little meaning in years, decades and centuries and that those they leave behind will eventually also die, turn to dust and be forgotten. Most of us prefer not to ponder such things until we arrive at our middle years, mostly in shock at how quickly the years have passed, deciding to make the most of our remaining years and “really live”. Does any of this matter?

The end of the Road?

Depending on your view of the Force and belief around life after death you may have decided that life does not end with our final breath but continues “on the other side of the veil” in the afterlife. Conversely you may take the view that one a person dies that is it, they are no more and will not care whether they are remembered or mourned or not. As they are dead and completely oblivious to anything as much as a lump of wood is.

It is the right of the living to mourn the dead and to remember them. Whether a person transcends to the spiritual plane or simply becomes nothing with brain death should make no difference to the departed. With death comes the end of the ego and also the end of Fear. The great mystery and hope for all is whether Love transcends death as in Star Wars, I believe it does.

Twilight is upon me, and night must fall. That is the way of things, the way of the force” – Yoda

I have felt the brush of death and know within me that death is not to be feared, it is the destination for all and a part of nature. We can all hope for a long and happy life but we should also be prepared for a good death and how we choose to face our ultimate and final destination is also within our power.