Build Resilience: Be Indifferent

Calm, at peace, passive” – Yoda

I try hard to be indifferent. This might raise eyebrows. Tell anyone you are indifferent and they immediately make the assumption that you don’t care. Being indifferent does not mean you don’t care. It means that you can care about something without attaching emotion to it. It means being without passion for that thing and free of the suffering of grasping attachment.

Building resilience and being a resilient person is about being able to accept that life is not fair. It is about being able to absorb punishment, loss and disappointment and brush it off. A resilient person knows that fate is uncertain. Life can be kind and cruel. With one hand it gives and then takes with the other.

The Taoist sage Chuang Tzu said that life is made up of 10,000 joys and sorrows. The nature of samsara means that we are caught in a karmic cycle of joy and sorrow for eternity or until we reach union with the Force. We experience painful times, happiness, laughter, victory and bliss but also sadness, grief, frustration, disappointment and despair. These experiences are a part of the human condition and we grow because of them. Through growth, understanding and compassion some of us achieve a sense of equanimity in our lives. We become indifferent and in doing so become free.

 

Compassion

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

Being indifferent and having compassion is the middle way. The road is the one that is traveled by spiritual seekers. It is a path that I embrace as a 12 Step Jedi.

Compassion is not to be confused with passion. Compassion means “loving kindness”, empathy and concern for others without attachment and suffering. Passion is the antonym of compassion. Compassion comes from the soul while passion come from the heart. Love that is born of passion is grasping and fears loss. It leads to suffering. Compassion is free of bonds and fear and sets free.

 

Passion

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

Epictetus said that all things outside of us are made up of the preferred and the non-preferred indifferent. Nothing is agreeable or disagreeable on its own. Only our impressions attached to that thing make it so. No one wants to lose their job, fall ill, and break up with a person they love or lose a loved one. The emotions that we attach to these events, grief, sadness, anger and denial are normal and healthy. Where they become excessive and cause us and others to suffer needlessly is when they become harmful.

What are you passionate about? I have to say I am passionate about nothing. I can’t afford to be. Alcohol was my passion and I know where that leads. Passion leads to desire then dependence which leads to fear and suffering.

Passion means “to suffer”. It is another word which has been misrepresented through the ages. Jesus faced his passion on the cross. It was through his pain and torment that the Bible tells us that he was able to transcend this material world and become one with God.

Those that have hit “rock bottom” realize a similar passion. It is by hitting “rock bottom” that they find the way out of the hell of addiction and abuse. By going through the darkness and pain we come out the other side to the light.

 

Preferences

“Strength of mind rests in sobriety; for this keeps your reason unclouded by passion.” – Pythagoras

Naturally we prefer that life is good to us and those we love. Ask most people what they would wish for and it would be along the lines of “world peace, happiness and prosperity”. Our preference is in those things that make life pleasurable and fulfilled. We can also become attached to pleasures and sensations. When those attachments become too great they can become a source of suffering.

Addiction is an extreme of attachment. An addict seeks to experience the elusive feeling of bliss and contentment that the drug provides. The sensation is pleasurable but the consequence is suffering. Anyone who has been dependent on anything or suffered an addiction knows very well the terrible cycle of desire, pleasure and regret followed by desire. We lived in abuse on a perpetual Merry-Go round that would not let us get off.

The way to get off the ride and be rid of the insanity is to realize what passion is and let it go.

 

Upekkhā

Equanimity is calamity’s medicine.” – Pubililius Syrus

The Buddhists use the idea of upekkhā (equanimity) to describe the state of being unwavering, unconcerned and neutral in the face of the eight worldly concerns (gain/loss, praise/blame, pleasure/pain, fame/dishonor).

A bodhisattva who practices the Eight Verses for Training the Mind begins to approach upekkhā. The path to enlightenment is followed for the betterment of all living things. Before one can even get close to upekkhā they must renounce worldly pleasures. Through long practice on the path, the bodhisattva cultivates equanimity and mental resilience.

 

Apatheia

The good are virtues and that share in them; the bad are the vices and all that indulge them; the indifferent lie in between the virtue and vice” – Epictetus

The Stoics speak of Apatheia, a type of indifference similar to upekkhā. Not to be confused with the modern mistranslation “apathy”. Apatheia suffered the same indignity of being deprived of its true meaning as did the word stoic.

Apatheia is a form of indifference as the Pagan Greeks and Romans knew it. A Stoic was able to engage in political or philosophical debate with someone who disagreed with his ideas and remain completely detached from the emotion of the debate. Truths and ideas were valued by the Stoics, not who was right or wrong or had the last word. Right and wrong were irrelevant.

In  Apatheia there are only the preferred and non-preferred indifferent. The person arguing with the Stoic may get flustered, angry and even abusive but the Stoic remains calm and indifferent. The only thing that matters is virtue.

 

Calm, at peace, passive

Imagine being like that? Always “calm, at peace, passive”? Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be free of the suffering? We could truly care for all things but not let things out of our control charge our emotions in destructive or unproductive ways. Without the passion.

To be in a mental and spiritual state which is indifferent to pain, to injury and insults, to success or failure, poverty or riches, health or illness. This is the essence of indifference. Accept what is with resolve and resilience. With an indifferent mind we can look beyond our failings and shortcomings as well as our successes, triumphs and failures. Indifference removes the emotions and the attachments and then we can learn, heal and grow.

 

Source: Lucas Films

Learning Indifference

Pass on what you have learned. Strength. Mastery. But weakness, folly, failure also. Yes, failure most of all. The greatest teacher, failure is.” – Yoda

 

My problem is that I try too hard to be indifferent. Ironically I suffer by applying effort in to being indifferent. My decisions to being indifferent are based on avoidance and struggle rather than acceptance. This brings on resistance and suffering. The feelings of equanimity and calm that should come with indifference elude me. I am beginning to understand now that the ego is at play. The ego has a way of tricking us.

The ego is ever present and in perpetual struggles with the inner and silent self that resides within. Ego is selfish and screams like a petulant inner child when it does not get the attention it wants or the last word. Indifference as most people understand it comes from the ego.

The inner self is an observer. It watches with indifference and non-attachment yet from it springs all the boundless love and compassion that we feel and know to be our true self.  The self wants us to realize our true nature not by force but through gentle awakening. That is the difference between indifference and apathy. One comes from the true self, the other from the ego.

 

Choose Lightly

How do we practice indifference? Whatever hand fate deals treat it with indifference. As Luke Skywalker did simply brush it off. Wear life like a loose cloak.

Continue to prefer what is preferable. Choose richer before poorer, health over sickness, success over failure, choose life over death. But be prepared for the non preferred and the unexpected and unintended vicissitudes of life. Make the most of them too and learn because it is the hard times that we truly test our virtues and apply our principles. It is in battle that we shine and become resilient.

“Pain is slight if opinion has added nothing to it;… in thinking it slight, you will make it slight. Everything depends on opinion; ambition, luxury, greed, hark back to opinion. It is according to opinion that we suffer…. So let us also win the way to victory in all our struggles, – for the reward is… virtue, steadfastness of soul, and a peace that is won for all time.” – Seneca

 

Further Reading

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F by Mark Manson

Community

One World

The Jedi believed that the Force was a kind of universal consciousness that manifested itself in life. Obi-wan Kenobi in a “New Hope” described it as  “an energy field that is created by all living things. It surrounds us; it binds the galaxy together”. In Star Wars, the idea of a unitary system is often imagined. The Force was seen as the spiritual and natural balance regulating the order of all existence in the Universe and beyond. The reach of the Force transcended the physical plane in to the spiritual spheres, creating a bridge between life and the afterlife. The Force binds life together as a community.

Star Wars is obviously a work of fiction but does offer a parable to the real world. If we look at the Star Wars mythology we see how the Force, the fictional archetypes and the greater community of life interacted as a whole. The struggle depicted in the Star Wars saga is one between unity and disunity, balance and imbalance, light and darkness.

 

“The Force is an energy field that is created by all living things. It surrounds us; it binds the galaxy together” – Obi-wan Kenobi

Reach

Our physical form is limited. We live but a few decades and most of us never travel far. In our generation at least few people will venture outside of Earth’s orbit. Our reach with people is also limited despite the advances in technology. We might be able to reach the masses through social media but we actually only ever meet and get to know so many people. We will only ever get to reach a minuscule fraction of those that live. Most of us will also realize that we only have a few intimate friends while the rest are acquaintances whom come and go.

Despite our limited reach we have a natural sense of belonging to something far greater than ourselves. We look at the stars in the milky way galaxy and feel a deep connection as if we are looking back in time to our own past and destiny. A sense of the spiritual can be felt when we consider the enormity of the cosmos and the span of time. We are conscious and alive and the mystery and purpose of life pulls something deep within us. We also feel part of the global community, a unique member of humanity.

In our lives we are constantly reminded of our identity. We are given labels that assign us to a race, a country, an ethnic group, a sexual orientation and a religion. We are tuaght to seek out and identify with our tribe and we build walls around us to protect what it safe and familiar. All of these labels are human constructs that have evolved over time to enable the survival of one group over the other. The division that boundaries create lead to the separation and estrangement of  one human from another. In fact all of the differences that exist are mere illusions. All people essentially have the same hopes and aspirations and all people feel the same pain and suffer the same fate. We are all part of an indivisible humanity.

Cosmopolitan

The Star Wars universe represents a “Galactic Cosmopolitan”. The sentient beings that resided within the reaches of the Galaxy were seen as citizens of one large community. The same constructs and problems that plague our world also plagued the Star Wars Universe. There was conflict and hatred between different star systems and confederate groupings of planets.

The role of the Jedi was to bring a resolution to conflict and peace to the Galaxy. The Jedi wanted to restore balance to the Force. Each of the myriad of intelligent life forms represented were seen as part of a whole. While seeking unity, the Jedi also sought to preserve the identity and freedom of self expression of the individual. Perhaps George Lucas was trying to hold a mirror to the world through his work. Through the parable of Star Wars we can see vestiges of our own society, how we are and how we could be.

The word “cosmopolitan” comes from the Greek literal meaning “citizen of the world”. The Ancient Greeks did not have the same level of understanding of the cosmos as we did but they understood the concept of a universal citizen. The Stoics took this further and while they understood that a person could be patriotic and loyal to their tribe they could also welcome all people as fellow humans sharing the same nature. City States and Empires went to war and the Stoics fought in these wars but they never saw their enemy as less than human. The Stoics looked past the apparent shallow differences between people and saw the common rationality and humanity that still exists in all people.

The United Nations was originally built on the premise of unity among people and nations for the betterment of all. In many ways the UN has failed in its mandate and continues to fail being a victim of old bureaucracy and pulled by vested interests. So have our leaders. As individuals, as Jedi, we can still do our part to foster unity and partnership between people. To do so is to express the Force and our own humanity.

 

One Family

The 12 Step program is a good example of grass roots unity between people. We are all seen as sufferers of the same disease. Political opinions are absent, in fact the traditions exempt the fellowship from siding with one opinion or another outside of the fellowship in order to avoid controversy and conflict. In the fellowship we are all the same regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, religion or sexuality. We all have a shared experience and a common history and we all desire the same thing. In a way we are members of the same family. We are made to help each other.

Imagine if the world was like that; a true global community? If all nations could put aside their differences and embrace our common and shared humanity war and poverty would be rare. If all people began to work together and truly care for one another the world would be a far better place.

 

Reach Out

Most of us live in a bubble. We are surrounded by family and friends that are familiar to us. We keep close to home. Some of us get wander lust and break out of the bubble deciding to travel and open ourselves to new experiences. Those that reach out in to the community and volunteer or work with people can also appreciate the idea of “one humanity”. This is all it takes; a willingness to step outside your comfort zone and to get to see and understand how others live. Be willing to help the person who comes seeking help. Act in small ways to make the world a better place through gestures of kindness and compassion.

There is less of a difference between people than we are sometimes led to believe. Fear keeps people apart and drives a wedge between them. It should not be that way and it does not have to be. Look past your current horizons and reach past your boundaries, be ready to help your fellow human. We are all in this together and our survival as a species depends on it.

Jedi have compassion

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

(33 Jedi Traits)

Metta

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

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

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

 

Stoic Compassion

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

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

 

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

 

Loving Kindness

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

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

 

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

 

Bleeding Hearts

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

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

 

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

Think before Leaping

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

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

 

12 Step Compassion

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

Obi-wan’s Compassion

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

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

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

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

To Suffer or to Heal

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

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

Passion yet serenity” – Jedi Code

Jedi Compassion

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

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

This is the true nature of Jedi compassion. .

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