Change

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

Drop the Rock

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

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

 

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

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

 

Reflect

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

 

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

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

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

 

Change yourself

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

 

Change your thoughts, transform your life

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

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

 

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

Slave not Master

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

Do or do not, there is no try” – Yoda

 

Rule of Fives

Five approaches to making changes in your life:

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

Common Sense

Source: Pinterest

The Uncommon Trait

“Common sense” is a term used to describe the application of reasoning and good judgement in one’s life. The way is seen as the most obvious and most applicable in most circumstances. In other words the approach most people would choose in taking a course of action. Human nature would be the guiding principle.

At the practical level common sense denotes behaviour which supports well being. For example most people wouldn’t use a blow dryer while taking a bath. Any one with common sense would not hand their credit card details to someone on the phone claiming to work for the IRS. Common sense prevents us from making some obvious and stupid mistakes.

Unfortunately “common sense” seems to be less common in the world than one would expect. It seems to be the exception rather than the rule. We all make some whopping mistakes and foolish blunders that defy common sense and leave us and others wondering what went wrong.

 

“Never tell me the odds” – Han Solo

 

In the Day

I have spent years working in high risk and hazardous environments both in the military and in the primary industries like farming, logging and mining. Years ago everyone relied on a fair degree of common sense to stay safe. There were basic safety rules which were cardinal and reinforced. If a person was a hazard to himself or others he usually got moved on before he killed himself or someone else.

Common sense was the vernacular of the old timers it was a skill passed down and respected by the younger generation. Ultimately you either had it or you didn’t.

 

Common sense is genius dressed in its working clothes.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

Not so common

In recent times “common sense” has been pushed out with the old timers. Safety has bought in safe systems of work underpinned by procedures, supervisor training, lead and lag indicators and micromanagement. Common sense is viewed as dated concept that doesn’t work. People can’t be trusted to use their own judgement and think for themselves.

Employers don’t advertise for candidates who will show “common sense” in their duties. The word is one to avoid using on resumes and in interviews. Never say “common sense” to a safety professional; they will chastise you and declare that it does not exist.

Yet common sense does exist. Most people just abrogate their personal responsibility to others. Blame is an easier option than admitting mistakes. As a result common sense is less than common, it is rare. The most common sense failure is to make the same mistake over and over again. One would think that once or twice would be enough and three times unforgivable but sure enough…

 

Common sense is not so common.” – Voltaire

 

Not so Smart

Most Alcoholics have intuition and many are smart and intelligent. Common sense however seems to elude us. We can be creative and carry “street smarts” to get along but where alcohol is concerned we become experts in a twisted sort of common sense that only enable us to get drunk and stay in addiction.

Our attributes of dishonesty and selfishness enable us to find ways to get drunk in the most devious and creative ways. We hide bottles in unusual places. I have kept stashes of booze around the house and forgotten where I put them. I have hidden liquor in empty shampoo bottles. We have told the most plausible lies and staged the most elaborate ruses to get drunk even when we were isolated from alcohol or barred from drinking.

 

By any Means

Prisons are porous; drugs, tobacco and alcohol still flow in. I managed to spend a bit of time in the Brig for AWOL among other offenses mostly related to alcohol. The regimental lock up was fairly tight sealed and its inmates closely monitored. We were kept busy around the clock till lock up.

Alcohol and tobacco were strictly forbidden yet I still had more than enough to keep me going while in jail. It took some covert operations type planning and execution and a bit of outside help. The MP’s tried to force me to reveal my method but I refused. Part of the fun was being able to buck the system regardless of the endless hours of digging holes, painting rocks white, parade, pack running and body blows I got for insubordination. If only I had applied myself in life with the same commitment and effort.

 

The three great essentials to achieve anything worth while are: Hard work, Stick-to-itiveness, and Common sense.” Thomas Edison

 

What Works

My skills also kept me out of trouble at home and work years later. I knew how to evade police patrols doing random alcohol checks. There were contingencies in place to ensure I always dodged alcohol screening in the workplace when I knew my breath would knock over anyone who came within five feet of me.

Common sense suggested that any number of means to control drinking would work. Drinking reduced alcohol beer, starting later, counting drinks, pacing, time limits, eating a big meal and snacks, taking vitamins, drinking only organic wine, never mixing drinks, fasting, planning, exercise, meditation, swearing off and taking a vow to name a few. None of them worked. In the end working the Steps and practicing principles worked. It works because it is a common sense approach as much as a spiritual one.

 

Most people die of a sort of creeping common sense, and discover when it is too late that the only things one never regrets are one’s mistakes.” – Oscar Wilde

 

 

Koinonoēmosunē

The Roman Stoic and Emperor, Marcus Aurelius called common sense “Koinonoēmosunē” using the Greek origin of the roman concept of “Sensus communis“. Marcus was a pragmatic and grounded man but also very spiritual. In my view he was the world’s first Jedi. Despite his status as Emperor he did not consider himself above his fellow man. He saw himself as being of flesh and blood and subject to the same limitations and nature as all human beings.

The Stoics believed that all people share a common perception, not only as animals that need to eat, water, shelter, protect their resources and breed but also as a rational human being that act for the good of the community as well as one’s own self. Behaviors that were not ethical in the sense that they did not serve that purpose of personal and common good were seen as contrary to the idea of Koinonoēmosunē. Acting contrary to one’s own mental, physical, emotional and spiritual well being or that of others is contrary to common sense.

 

Applying Common sense

Koinonoēmosunē is exactly what we do when we participate in active recovery and self improvement. We improve ourselves and we aim to help others. Common sense is lived rather than applied on rare occasions. We do not abrogate reason and logic to others, we think for ourselves and weigh up our actions and assess them against our personal values. Responsibility for our conduct is accepted as an unalienable part of who we are.

The goal of world betterment through self betterment is the intent in Jedi action. Therefore to apply common sense in our lives is very much a Jedi act as well.

 

Jedi Method

If we are having trouble deciding what common sense is remember that the fundamental rule is to “Keep it Simple Stupid”. That does not mean that we are stupid but we tend to over complicate our lives and act in ways that do not serve our interests in the long run. By breaking it down and applying the three basic questions of the “Jedi method” we are on our way to applying common sense in our approach:

  1. Intent? Why am I doing them? Does it conform with your personal set of values and adopted principles?
  2. Action? Is it correct? Should I take a different tact? Does it agree with ethical and moral principles? (In other words would it be reasonable for someone else to do it under similar circumstances without having to defend their actions to others later on? Would they be able to sleep soundly afterwards?)
  3. Outcome? What are the consequences long and short term? Do they serve not just one’s self but others?

You ultimately have to decide what common sense is. Just remember that it is not dead.

The Impulsive (Part II)

Part I: The Impulsive

Be Kenobi

If we conduct ourselves in a way where an action is taken with little forethought and consideration it can be either spontaneous or impulsive. An impulsive action will usually be triggered by emotions such as fear, anger or sadness. There is a sense that the action is wrong but lack of self control enables it.

Spontaneity on the other hand might be triggered by creativity, imagination, happiness, joy or contentment. Love is a trigger for spontaneity. Flowers or a diamond ring for someone special is bought with a spontaneous heart. Deciding on a whim to get drunk after an argument is impulsive.

So how can we be less Impulsive and more Spontaneous like Obi-wan Kenobi?  Before you do anything “at the drop of a hat” or on an impulse you should try to do the following:

1. Think, think, think

Ask yourself why am I doing this? What are the motives? Does it serve? Gun shops in most states in America must impose a “cooling off” period before selling a firearm for the simple reason that the disgruntled looking man who has walked in all red faced and shaking may be intending to do something regretful.

If we are having a bad day and we decide impulsively to get “get back” by getting drunk, we need to chill for a moment and think it through. Think before reacting on social media or posting a comment or photo that will come back and bite in unexpected ways.

 

2. Look before leaping

So you have decided to do something, there is no turning back. If that’s the case, then may as well do it properly. What’s the rush? Instead of walking to the boss’s office right now to deliver a resignation in colorful language why don’t we sit down and write it out clearly spelling out our reason. Once written, read it back and perhaps even read it to a co-worker. Once you have finally decided to go ahead with it, do it but in a way where you don’t let your principles down and add another person to your amends list. Never burn bridges.

Taking a moment to think rationally and objectively may also help you decide on another outcome. Never draft an angry email and send it straight away. Leave it in the “draft” folder for a night and return to it the next day. You may be surprised how different you feel about what happened “yesterday”.

 

3. Speak to someone

Speak to a friend, partner or confident about your plans to gauge their reaction. You may be decided to act but their input may provide food for thought. Also ask yourself if acting in a certain way is consistent with your values and principles. Is it who you want to be?

 

4. Weigh up the Consequences

Impulsive people rarely consider the implications or the consequences of their actions. Losing one’s temper and quitting a job can lead to financial hardship and going out and getting drunk after an argument may lead to further bad decisions such as drunk driving or violence. Spontaneous people generally weigh things ups before they commit where as impulsive people don’t.

 

5. Know your triggers

Impulsive reactions are often the product of emotions that we have trouble processing such as anger. It is easy to make rash decisions when emotional. An argument with a spouse or a bad day at work may “force” us to make impulsive decisions. Sometimes we act on impulse when someone cuts us off on the road or we encounter a rude person.

When having a HALT moment (Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired) it is a good idea to delay action and pick up a phone. By knowing our triggers we can be prepared to avoid an unpredictable response.

 

6. Trust yourself

Impulsive people ultimately do not trust themselves. We know that history has shown that impulsive decisions lead to poor outcomes however we seem to never change. With recovery we becomes more confident and in control of our emotions. We learn to trust ourselves more in the decisions we make. Usually we know if a decision is spontaneous and good or impulsive and poor by looking inward and being true to our principles.

Childlike

While sometimes it is inappropriate to be spontaneous and other times acting on impulse is the right move the opposite is usually true. Emotional maturity and sobriety means being able to resist acting on impulses particularly when the triggers are emotions such as fear, anger or frustration.

Being able to act with spontaneity can bring enjoyment, fulfillment and creativity to many people who are “free spirited” when they act with discernment, good judgement and a bit of “common sense”.

Being Jedi is not about being bland and boring where every decision is based on thorough assessment and approval. We do not go through life like automatons, inflexible and afraid to make decisions because of fear of consequence of the opinions of others.

Being Jedi is being open minded, flexible and agile enough to respond quickly to a rapidly changing environment without allowing emotions to dictate actions. Good outcomes are based on good choices and follow through. Ultimately when we are confronted with a choice we must first ask “does this add value” and “is this what I want”. The decision should be simple without resorting to impulse.

Life can be full of spontaneity if we choose. Research has shown that spontaneous people are happier. If you watch children at play you will remember a younger you when the world was so vibrant and the moment exciting and fun. Kids are spontaneous because it is in their nature. It is in our nature too. Being spontaneous expresses who we are and reflects our true divine self. Recapture that feeling of spontaneity in your life.

 

Once we believe in ourselves, we can risk curiosity, wonder, spontaneous delight, or any experience that reveals the human spirit” – EE Cummings

The Impulsive (Part I)

“if you make decisions out of fear you are more likely to be wrong” – Ahsoka Tano

 

Unlike Twins

If someone calls us “spontaneous” we might be inclined to view it as compliment or at the very least not a negative descriptor. If on the other hand we are called “impulsive” it is somehow a bad thing. Spontaneous people are fun to be around, they make quick decisions and think on their feet. They are doers and make things happen. Spontaneity is to suddenly quit your job and go traveling. To kick off your shoes and jump in to life feet first. The newlyweds who just met in Vegas were being spontaneous when they decided to marry. To be spontaneous is to ignore the feelings of fear and self doubt and to approach life with open and willing arms. But isn’t that what impulsive people are like? Are they not sort of the same?

The good news is that they are not the same. The Webster dictionary defines spontaneous as: “proceeding from natural feeling or native tendency without external constrain” and Impulsive as “acting or tending to act suddenly and without careful thought He’s impulsive and does things he regrets.”. Most people would agree that being spontaneous is not a bad thing while acting on impulse can lead to regret. A spontaneous demonstration in support of a popular cause or spontaneous clapping and cheering is different to reacting on impulse to an insult with violence or getting drunk because the cat peed on the rug. Impulsivity has been called the “evil twin” of spontaneity.

 

The highest and best form of efficiency is the spontaneous cooperation of a free people” – Woodrow Wilson

 

Toss of a Coin

Every major decision I ever made in my life had a certain degree of spontaneity to it. In fact most things I planned do to didn’t happen instead life seemed to unfold in unexpected ways. Somehow I would make decisions on the spur of the moment and a whim when confronted with a choice. I even took to tossing a coin; “heads I do this, tails I do that” sort of approach to life letting chance decide. It was insane.

Imagine traveling or job hunting and deciding your next move on the toss of a coin or a gut feel. I would just go with the flow acting spontaneously. I met my wife with a toss of a coin. Sitting in a Pub around a table with male friends, all of us nursing hangovers from the night before, I noticed a girl at another table and caught her eye. My friends saw my glances and egged me to go over and “chat her up”. I pulled a coin out of my pocket and said “tails I go over and you buy me a pint, heads I don’t and get a round in”. Tails never fails. I never told her that story but told her my actions that night were based on a spontaneous decision, not a coin toss or Dutch courage.

 

Spiritual awareness unfolds when you’re flexible, when you’re spontaneous” – Deepak Chopra

 

Being Impulsive

Was that me really being spontaneous or was I being impulsive? I could be impulsive especially where booze was concerned and it generally led to trouble. I remember a friend of mine a Sergeant  in the Army telling me how my latest drunken spree was going to see me get thrown out. “How can you be so bloody reckless and impulsive”? he demanded in bemusement. Impulsive was what the Teachers called me every time I pulled some crazy stunt or got in to fist fights. My case officer wrote “impulsive” on my file when I was assessed during processing for entry in to the State Care system. Every time I embarked on a binge after a single beer it was put down to some impulsive behavior that seemed to come when I had a drink. I thought I was being spontaneous.

A snap decision would see me accept job and then leave it at the drop of a hat often without even any notice. I just didn’t show up after a disagreement with the boss. Confronted with a predicament or an important choice I would act on impulse and usually anger and indignation. Decisions were made on a whim and based on “f*k everything and run” (FEAR) approach. The alternative was to sit around and agonize over a decision to act and lose momentum. Without defaulting to chance, I was stuck. This was a feeling I loathed, being unable to make a decision and being immobile. Better to be moving, doing something, anything.

 

“Youth is impulsive. When our young men grow angry at some real or imaginary wrong, and disfigure their faces with black paint, it denotes that their hearts are black, and that they are often cruel and relentless, and our old men and women are unable to restrain them. Thus it has ever been.” – Chief Seattle

 

Impulsive by Nature

I did not know it at the time but impulsivity is a characteristic of people with  an addictive personality. Alcoholics get drunk at exactly the worst and most ill thought out time because they are impulsive by nature. Our Orbifrontal cortex, the part of the brain that helps with decision making is dulled with chronic alcohol abuse. If we were impulsive before we started drinking, we were more likely to fall into substance abuse and become addicted.

The merry-go round of addiction relies largely on an impulsive nature. Being highly influenced by emotions is also a trait of an impulsive alcoholic. We have less ability to regulate our emotions and exercise self control in our actions.

 

Spontaneous but Jedi

In the Clone Wars we see Obi-wan often reacting in a spontaneous not impulsive fashion. Obi-wan Kenobi made decisions on the fly and could react instinctively to a rapidly evolving situation. Obi-wan had the ability to quickly think things through and act when required, otherwise he paused and waited for the right opportunity. Ob-wan’s master, Qui-Gon Jinn was also spontaneous and unorthodox in his approach and was also good at inspiring and motivating others. Yoda too could be spontaneous in his actions and often surprised friend and foe alike with his ability to quickly transform from contemplative elder to agile warrior. Yoda could be serious and measured and then be almost childlike in his interaction with others.

Anakin on the other hand had an impulsive nature driven by emotions. Anger, fear and frustration often clouded his judgement and allowed him to act in impulsive and reckless ways.

 

“A powerful Jedi you are, yet unpredictable and dangerous you can be, to both your friends and your enemies.” – Yoda to Anakin “Clone Wars – The Box”.

Danger to ourselves

Someone who is spontaneous can be impulsive and vice versa. The two are different but not mutually exclusive. If a person is spontaneous they are usually described as enthusiastic, idealistic, independent, creative and dynamic. Traits that describe Obi-wan Kenobi. Spontaneous people can switch from one thing to another quickly and act on a whim but they do so mindful of the consequences.  Impulsive people are described as reckless, emotional, obstinate, uninhibited, reactive, uncontrollable and impetuous. Words that describe Anakin as he began to spiral out of control. Anakin’s lack of self control and his impulsive nature was a danger to himself and others.

Impulsive people will sometimes rationalize their actions but in most cases will blindly follow their emotional response without any thought. When I look at the descriptors I see Anakin in the impulsive person that I once was. My goal now is to be more like Obi-wan Kenobi.

Self Discipline

Do or do not, there is no try” – Yoda

Self Discipline is often the one single element that determines success in life. The act of self control is the ability to move in a direction despite internal resistance. Self discipline provides the momentum and drive to keep going and to follow through in the promises that we make to ourselves and others. When others are not looking or directing us to do something it is self discipline that we draw on.  We may not want to get out of bed in the morning to shiver in the cold, the thought of working when we could be resting might not appeal yet we do it.  The only thing preventing us from making the wrong or most preferred decisions and taking the easy option is Self Discipline.

 

“With self discipline almost anything is possible” – Theodore Roosevelt

 

Hard Benefits

The benefits of self discipline extend in to all aspects of our lives and lead to success in virtually every endeavor. Self disciplined individuals are more focused on their task. They are committed to achieving desired outcomes and will stick with a task to the end. Being driven they will often lead from the front. Self disciplined people are less impulsive and more in tune with their emotions, they are less likely to lose their temper or panic. Being motivated and mission orientated means more efficiency and productivity; time wastage is reduced. The self disciplined often seem to have more free time and are less stressed and more in control of their lives than those that are ill disciplined. Besides being successful, those with self discipline are also happier.

Self Discipline is the ability to conquer one’s self and to hold that fort indefinitely. It is about owning ourselves and taking charge of our thoughts, words and actions.

 

In reading the lives of great me, I found that the first victory they won was over themselves…self discipline with all of them came first” – Harry S Truman

 

Taught not enforced

Self Discipline is a key Jedi Trait. Without it a prospective Jedi would be unable to complete the rigorous training and character formation required to be a Jedi Knight. Luke Skywalker lacked self discipline when he first met Obi-wan Kenobi on Tatoouine. He was impatient and impulsive and highly idealistic.

By the time Luke met Yoda on Dagobah he was no longer a young and inexperienced farm-hand but he still required training in self discipline. Luke had been through some adventures and had lived through some close calls. Among other things Luke had destroyed the Death Star during the Battle of Yavin. Quickly ascending the ranks of the Rebel alliance Skywalker continued to see action including a decisive battle on the frozen planet of Hoth. Despite his military rank and  war experience, Luke still lacked self discipline until Yoda began to train him on Dagobah.

Although some people have inherent self control, self discipline is generally inspired and taught by others. We see the benefits through positive example and with guidance from good mentors we learn the art and skill of self discipline. A Karate instructor  for example will teach his students self discipline through constant positive reinforcement, mentoring and instruction. The students observe the instructor and through example and encouragement begin to apply the skill in their training. With time and practice the skill translates in to other areas of life such as study, work and relationships.

 

I think self discipline is something, it’s like a muscle. The more you exercise it, the stronger it gets” – Daniel Goldstein

 

 

“Disciplined”

When I was young I was impatient and ill disciplined. I also had beliefs and opinions on things I largely knew little about. Schooling was disciplined. Corporal punishment was still used then and I was no stranger to the cane. My father also had very strict rules and did not hesitate to enforce them with a heavy hand. In the Army the practice of “hazing”, “blanket bashing” and physical punishments from NCO’s including beatings was still common practice. The culture still a few years from being pushed in to the shadows. As in school I continued to learn lessons the “hard” way and after a while became numb to the abuse.

In order to function I turned to booze. Alcohol became a readily available means of blocking out the world; I could care less when I was drunk. My mind would no longer torment me and I neither could the world. This was not an environment for self discipline. I was bent till I snapped.

 

Tenacity

Despite being served up plenty of discipline I was never taught self discipline. Many years later I came to realize that even as a mature adult I was completely devoid of self discipline, it had never been instilled in me. Not by teachers, parents or my superiors in the military. Yes, I could get out of bed in the morning and go to work, even inebriated from the night before, but that was fear in action, not self discipline. I could take order begrudgingly but that was because I had to, not because I wanted to. Making my bed every day and having a “clean cut” appearance despite hangovers was not self discipline it was habit.

Being able to have the self control to drink in moderation and go to bed early enough to wake up in a condition “fit for work” is “self discipline”. I failed there many times and eventually ran out of chances with frustrated and exasperated employers who had given me many chances. Allocating time and setting priorities to ensure assignments were submitted on time and being fully prepared for exams at University is self discipline. Procrastinating until the last minute and then cursing my stupidity through the fog and misery of a hangover was not. By some miracle I was able to complete my studies and earn a degree. Tenacity is also trait common in Alcoholics.

 

Self disciplined begins with the mastery of your thoughts. If you don’t control what you think, you can control what you do. Simply, self discipline enables you to think first and act afterwards” – Napoleon Hill

 

Will Power

Trying to get sober on will power alone taught me an important lesson; self discipline is not enough especially when you don’t have any. Where alcohol is concerned, the moral and intellectual will power that is required for self discipline is often missing. Alcohol tends to short fuse that part of our brain. Every good intent is thrown out of the window for no rational reason. It just does, we cannot explain it.  We can have the most important day of our life planned and prepared for and then someone hands us a drink and we fail to show up.

On the night before my wedding, my best man was wise enough to cut my supply of booze and insist I get to bed early. I never realized it at the time but he knew that he would have had hell to pay if I’d missed the ceremony or arrived red eyed and stinking. Compliance was granted because I could follow orders easily when they made sense, I was lousy at regulating myself if left alone without someone telling me what to do.

It was not my fault, I just didn’t know. People would say “you were a professional soldier, didn’t they teach you discipline?” If that meant blind obedience to orders, then yes; the Army wants people who unquestioningly follow orders especially when instinct is screaming no. For a start, pointing a rifle at another human and firing “center of body mass” is not a natural thing for most people. Self discipline is different and based on what we want to do, not what we are forced or compelled to do due to fear or blind obedience. One cannot have self discipline forced on or beaten in to them. Even the indoctrinated can eventually see through falsehoods.

Being self disciplined is being able to self regulate. No one need look over our shoulder or check what we are doing. The assumption is that a person with self discipline and integrity can be left alone to do their task or fulfill a promise. With recovery we start to learn the benefits of self discipline. Like any skill it takes time and practice to become second nature. Once we develop self discipline we find we are able to do things that previously we were unable or unwilling to do without being pushed or forced to do. The mental barriers that prevent us from our goals start to fall down as we apply ourselves and follow through with our commitments. Self discipline becomes the engine for positive and continuous change in our lives. Self discipline then equals success.

 

“Whether you call it Buddhism of another religion, self discipline,  that’s important. Self discipline with awareness of consequences” – Dalai Lama

 

Try it

Challenge yourself to being more self disciplined. Even for a few days try one or some of the following if it is not already part of your routine. See if you can make it a habit. These are daily activities that I started and stuck with applying the Jedi principle of Self Discipline:

  1. Exercise daily: Do 30 minutes or more of exercise within your physical limitations. This might be a brisk walk, a jog, a fast paced run or a strength or endurance based activity in the gym or at the park. You decide, the key is to get moving especially when you don’t feel like it. Just Do it.
  2. Meditate: Sit for 15 minutes or more. Focus on the breath. If your mind wanders to stray thoughts or you are distracted gently return to the breath and continue. There are free meditation apps and podcasts as well as guided meditations on Youtube* to assist. It take self control to sit for more than 5 minutes without being distracted by the “monkey mind”.
  3. Fast: Cut one temptation from your life for a period of a week. It may be junk food, soda, alcohol or tobacco or another food item you have been wanting to cut back on. A week long sugar fast may be one that will challenge you. Try extending it longer. Intermittent fasting also takes self discipline however before you start fasting a day or two a week or change your diet speak to a health professional and listen to your body. Health and Safety first.
  4. Shut it Down: Social Media (Face Book, Twitter, Instagram) is distracting and can be a huge time waster as well as introduce toxic energy in to your day. The news media is another source of negativity that demands our attention and emotional response. I find taking time out from Face Book and switching off the news when it comes on spares me potential anxiety or anger. Leave the TV switched off and leave your cell phone on silent for a day. The world can function without us being tuned in 24 hours. You won’t miss much if you media-fast for a week.
  5. Don’t Wait: Have you been putting off a health kick for a while waiting for the right time? Are you thinking about starting martial arts but have been making excuses and keep passing up the “try before you buy: three free lessons” offer at the local Krav Maga class or Karate Dojo? You bought a guitar but don’t seem to ever be in the mood to pick it up and start learning? Well, just start, stop procrastinating and do it. These things will not happen by themselves, you have to decide and act accordingly.

 

“Do or Do Not, There is no Try”

Yoda reminded Luke Skywalker that it was entirely up to him whether he chose to succeed or fail as a Jedi. Luke had been taught much by the Jedi Master and was shown the path that he needed to take to fulfill his destiny. It was now all up to Luke what to decide and how to act. Self discipline was going to be the virtue that took him there.

What will you do?

 

 “No person is free who is not master of themselves.” – Epictetus

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 seek Balance

Jedi believe that they need to bring balance to the Force within

Jedi believe that they need to bring balance to the Force within, and not wait around for a Chosen One to do it. If our minds are negative, then the Force flowing through us will seem negative too; our consciousness will seem negative and dark. If our minds are clear and wholesome, then the Force flowing through us will be clear and natural; we will be full of goodness and light. Jedi are responsible for balancing their own minds, so that their minds are clear, good, positive, wholesome, and stay on the light side; this will serve “to bring balance to the Force” within us so that the light side is dominant.

(33 Jedi Traits)

 

Purgatory

The years I spent in alcoholic abuse were a journey through purgatory. Not in the literal sense but at the emotional and spiritual level. Drinking was meant to lift my spirits and bring pleasure to my life. I wanted the memories of my past buried and thought that the escape offered by alcohol could provide that. I was wrong on many levels.

It has been said that we addiction is the misguided attempt to fill a spiritual void in our lives. We seek direction, meaning and fulfillment. In the beginning alcohol seems to provide that and eventually we find that it has led us deep into a dark forest. We either lose ourselves there or find a way out. The darkness takes us or we follow the light out.

 

“Just as a candle cannot burn without fire, men cannot live without a spiritual life” – Buddha

 

The Light and the Dark

Life is an experience that takes us along a wide spectrum of emotions between two extremes; Fear and Love. The natural order is one of opposites; Fear and Love, Joy and Sadness, Good and Evil. When we live in harmony our emotions exist but we choose how to engage and respond to them. We are not swayed by out emotions as much as we were in active abuse. We can know equanimity, peace and serenity.

 

You will know when you are calm, at peace, passive” – Yoda

 

Our emotions can resemble a boiling ocean under a dark and violent storm. We can be tossed about on the waves and pulled under by our emotions of fear and anger. We can also choose to stand like a like a lighthouse on a rock, solid and defiant against the howling wind and lashing waves. Our internal world can also resemble a serene pond disturbed only by the slightest breeze but otherwise calm. We can be the candle in the dark.

 

“It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness” – Eleanor Roosevelt

 

Life is mostly perception. The color and tone of our emotions depend largely on ourselves, not others. No one and no thing does harm to us any more than the harm that we perceive. A serene pond can be calming to some but not to all. Some people live in a perpetual storm. They crave drama and turmoil in their lives and constantly seek it out, creating it in their lives and drag other in if they can. This only causes suffering.

 

Find you Own Light

We can seek inspiration and guidance from those we call Gurus and Sages but the way we decide to live out lives is up to each of us. To blindly follow a message can be as bad as not having direction. A spiritual path is a personal journey to one’s own answers. We are all very much the same but every person is also unique. There has never been a you as you are now and there never will be again. Each of us has our own path to walk. We should only look to others for guidance.

Being Jedi and living sober has not solved all of my problems and it certainly won’t exempt me from life’s difficulties. What the path has done has taught me I always have a choice. I command my own thoughts, words and actions. Do I allow emotions to toss me like a boat beaten by waves in a storm or do I create my own shelter from the storm? Am I the person who loses his mind when crisis strikes or do I stand firm and resolute in the face of adversity?

The path has also given me a philosophy for life. The greatest tool we have is our mind. Philosophy trains both the mind and the soul. The 12 steps remind us constantly to raise to action, to never be idle and to do good works. The Jedi Path pushes us to strive further and to reach the limits of our potential and then go further.

“What shall I find?” – Luke Skywalker

“Only what you take with you” – Yoda

 

 

The Light in Dagobah

In life we face trials like Luke did on Dagobah. We must be willing to confront our doubts and fears and resolve to conquer them. Only by healing ourselves and putting our own lives in order can we start to be of real service to others. There we find our true inner light.

Our goal is world betterment through self betterment. How do we get there? One step at a time, one day at a time and one act at a time. Life is a string of moments, how we decide to use those moments is up to us. We can let the light in or we can choose to shut ourselves of from it.

 

“‘May the Force be with you’ is charming but it’s not important. What’s important is that you become the Force – for yourself and perhaps for other people” – Harrison Ford

 

In all our affairs

“Bringing balance to the Force”  is not just being more mindful of our emotions and learning how to respond productively to them. Finding balance in all aspects of our lives is important for our well being. We may look after our spiritual health but at the same time neglect our own physical well being.

People work tirelessly to help others without expectation of reward and neglect their own needs. In time they begin to suffer ill health and mental fatigue and an emotional toll sets in. Saint Francis of Assisi was an example of a very spiritual man who died because of the extent to which he neglected himself to help others.

This week the world has remembered the Emergency Workers who responded to 911 and continue to suffer. We are blessed to be protected and served by people who sacrifice themselves but we should always also care for ourselves and keep a healthy balance in our lives.

We are only human. Each of us is being comprised of a physical body, a personality with emotions, an intellect and a deeper spiritual essence. One can focus on one aspect of their being without working on the others and soon find an imbalance. Eventually all aspects of our lives begin to suffer. Always seek balance in your life be it work, family life, recreation, service, study and rest. The Force will flow better that way.

 

The best and safest thing is to keep a balance in your life, acknowledge the great powers around us and in us. If you can do that, and live that way, you are really a wise man.” – Euripides

 

Clear your Mind

Sit quietly and meditate on the moment. Allow you mind to go blank of thoughts. Be aware of every tremor and sensation within. Relax you body and take deep breaths and relax further. Allow emotions to gently fade.

Focus on the breath, the rise and fall of your abdomen as you breathe deeply. Let thoughts enter in like clouds, without struggle, without resistance. Some thoughts are light and others are dark. You can watch those clouds pass by and keep focus on the breath. Close your eyes and allow yourself to go in deeper….

Imagine a bight light deep within yourself. See it as a small candle surrounded by darkness. Watch as the light grows brighter pushing back the darkness. The light continues to grow brighter until your entire consciousness is consumed by it.  Open your eyes, how does the world look when you put yourself completely in the moment.

 

The Window

When I started writing this blog entry I was in a negative mental state. My mood was dark and I felt cold and distant to those around me. I felt that everything seemed pointless.  Despite my mood I knew that the feeling would pass. To wallow in my self pity and frustration is a form of self indulgence. Entertaining negative emotions closes us off from the Divine Source. It closes the shutters and draws the curtains on the light of the Force.

I dislike feeling that way. Stinking Thinking was the harbinger of some of my greatest drunks and biggest mistakes. Getting drunk now is out of the question, that has been handed over to a Higher Power. What I can do is choose to open the shutters of my heart.

I can open the window of my soul to a wide blue sky over a green meadow. The sun shines brightly and I can see the divine light of the Force in everything. I can feel that light filling my being. The dark clouds over my soul disperse and the Force touches me once more. I have regained my balance and dark thoughts are gone. The sea is calm once more, it has turned in to a calm pond bathed in soft light. The gentlest of ripples play across the surface as a light breeze passes. Everything is well.

We are the temple which houses a spark of the divine in each of us. Every moment we have a choice; do we shut the Force out or do we let it in?

Jedi avoid acting on Anger

Jedi avoid acting on dark side emotions like fear, anger, aggression and hate.

We can’t control which emotions we will feel, but we can always choose to control our actions. We might feel anger from time to time, but we don’t have to act on that feeling of anger or rage.

 

A Sword

Anger is a double edged sword. The emotion is primal and inherent in our nature. Anger triggers an adrenal reaction in the face of a threat. As a biological creature we are primed to use anger to compete successfully and to survive. As a rational human being anger also serves to motivate change. For example, revolution is a societal reaction to common anger. Had it not been for anger among the masses there would never have been a French Revolution or an American War of Independence. Both historic events ushered in a world hunger for social justice and democracy. Anger can be beneficial, even essential to the human condition.

Controlled aggression is the tool used in the Martial Arts and by Soldiers to counter and defeat an opponent. There is a line between controlled aggression and cruel savagery. As Jedi we know not to cross it. Sometimes that line becomes blurred and we risk crossing in to the darker side of our natures.

Anger is a short madness.” – Horace

 

A Madness

Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned”- Buddha

I have seen the other side of the anger. There is a reason why it is one letter from Danger. Anger is a poison which does more damage to the vessel which carries it than on which it is poured.

Unfettered anger can lead us to do terrible things. It can cause us to make the greatest and most memorable speeches we will later regret. In moments it can destroy a lifetime of effort, love and creation in a torrent of catabolic rage. In the biblical parable it was jealousy which turned Cain against Abel but anger which led to murder. Anger has been the trumpet call for countless wars, genocides and murders. The madness continues unabated.

 

Born to Anger

Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering” – Yoda

The character emotion of Anakin through the prequels was Anger. Anakin was angry at fate and what it had put his family through. For years he held resentment against those who had enslaved him. Anakin hated himself for being unable to save his Mother. Eventually the Jedi became his object of anger and hatred. The dark emotions consumed him and carried him to the Dark Side where he submitted to Darth Sidious and suffered as Vader.

I inherited my Father’s anger as he inherited his Father’s before him. Anger runs through the paternal side of the family. It is an emotion embedded in our make up and carried in our souls. They are an angry people made to suffer in the crucible of the heart of the Balkans.

Centuries of war and occupation by brutal Ottoman occupiers who enslaved the population, forced conversions and removed children for the Janissary was passed down from one generation to the next as a deep anger and bitter hatred that fueled ethnic and religious divisions, war and genocide.  I saw that country explode in to war in the early 90’s and was horrified by the expression of raw anger and hatred between former neighbors and friends.

The pure savagery of the war still haunts me to this day. Entire communities on all sides were wiped out. Whole families snuffed out including relatives. I lamented the war but I understood the anger that fueled it. That anger was in me like some curse. It still simmers there in that old country.

“How much more grievous are the consequences of anger than the causes of it”. – Marcus Aurelius

 

A Heavy Burden

Anger took me to alcohol and kept me in her clutches. The promise that it would ease the pain of loss and history were false. Alcohol made it worse. Anger and seething resentment cast a dark cloud over the brightest days. It would simmer and occasionally boil over.

I lived in perpetual fear at what I might do if it exploded in to blind rage and consume the people around me. The memories of seeing anger and hatred in its worst shades would haunt me. My own anger lay brooding within and it remains there to this day buried deeper than it was before.

Men in rage strike those that wish them best” – Shakespeare

 

Its not Enough

Being sober is one thing. Everyone thinks that abstaining from alcohol is enough. Everything else must fall in to place and life will be rosy thereafter. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Take away our substance, our addiction and we lose our physical crutch. The spiritual must fill the hole that is left behind otherwise it is soon replaced with fear, anger and hatred. This is exactly what happened to my Father.

An alcoholic, my Father quit drinking and became a dry drunk. Unable and unwilling to accept the self honesty and humility required, my Father’s anger and hatred consumed him. At times his anger would terrorize and control I and my siblings. We lived in fear of physical and emotional harm.

That anger drove us away. One later took his own life, the rest of us survived as best we could. My Father later died with that anger a skid row drunk, alone and embittered. We still carry that ancient anger within us but we chose to stop the cycle. The anger will not be passed on. There is no need for the sins of the Father to be visited on the son. Love heals anger.

If we were to live, we had to be free of anger. The grouch and the brainstorm were not for us. They may be the dubious luxury of normal men, but for alcoholics these things are poison.”

— Alcoholics Anonymous

 

The Red Flag

Anger is a red flag for the recovering alcoholic for everyone else it is the “convenient emotion”. Of all the emotions which will carry me back to drinking and using, anger and resentment are the most dangerous.

I still get angry. It is a normal emotion and a normal reaction to certain situations in life. We would be foolish to laugh off something that any normal person would claim righteous anger. The difference is that we choose how to respond to anger as we do any other emotion. That’s a normal response to anger.

Do we act out our anger in destructive ways or do we carefully consider a proportionate response knowing that forgiveness and compassion might be one option. If anger visits us for trivialities such as a minor slight like a rude remark or a spilled drink do we allow it to affect our mood or simply brush it off as an event not worth an elevated heart rate?

Know what ticks you off. Manage your response to those triggers. Take time out when you feel your anger rising and find ways to stay calm and in control through relaxation and mindfulness techniques. Seek professional help if anger is derailing your life and relationships.

Remember Anger is our birthright as a species. It will serve us well if we use it wisely. Anger can also be terrible tool capable of the most heinous acts. Whether we use Anger to build or destroy bridges and light wild fires is largely up to each of us. The world is a very angry place now and mostly for the wrong reasons. Do we add to that global anger? We all have a choice in how we use this blessing and curse of being human.

The sharpest sword is a word spoken in wrath”. – Buddha

Silence

There are worse things than Silence” – Padmé Amidala

 

The Silent Cure

In silence there is peace and serenity. To be silent is to be like a still calm lake. Nothing disturbs us on the surface of things or within. Imagine being alone on that lake. The sun is shining. The only disturbance being the slight rock as you shift your weight. The hum of a passing dragon fly. That is what silence sounds like.

We also feel silence. By being silent we connect with something deep within ourselves. The watcher within emerges as the mind clears of thoughts and we become present in the moment. As our breath rises and falls we feel ourselves in tune with nature, the pulse of life. We are part of the cosmos on a tiny boat.

Silence is a true friend who never betrays.” – Confucius

 

The Inner Silence

The world is full of noise. To escape the hum of civilization one must either seek solitude far from home or withdraw within themselves.

Seneca once said that we could escape to a mountain retreat or a secluded place on the coast. Unless silence is within us, we bring our mental noise with us. One can be on Mars in a lifeless wilderness and still not be in silence. Silence is within, it is not just to hold one’s tongue but to silence the mind and heart as well.

If our emotions are in turmoil, so is our mind and we feel forced to speak. Often it is in silence that we find the inner peace we seek. In silence we find the right things to do and say.

 

Speak softly

How often had we said a thing and wished we had held our tongue instead. Once words ill spoken leave our mouth they are beyond recall. Thoughts and feelings too can betray us as we yield to turbulent emotions.

To be Jedi is to know when to speak and when to hold silence. Emotions can be tempered, we can choose when to speak and what to say. While anger, fear, exuberance, impatience and annoyance may rise and fall within us whether we choose to energize those emotions is up to us. We decide how play out those emotions. You can keep calm and silent when angered or resort to harsh words and rash action.

“Silence is a lesson learned from the many sufferings of life” – Seneca

Silence is Golden

Jedi know the value of inner and outer silence. In recovery too we learn that silence is golden. We meditate to restore our balance and recharge ourselves. When others speak we listen in silence and without judgement. We also speak with clarity and purpose and express our thoughts calmly. Like Jedi we can guard our words but we do not ignore our convictions. Sometimes more is said with less.

Speech is silver and silence is golden. – Thomas Carlyle

Once upon a time I feared silence. Even as I sought to isolate I needed noise around me. If there was none my mind was agog with rampant activity. I could be alone but with enough alcohol there was a noisy party going on inside my head. Around people I spoke without thought or care. My words betrayed jumbled thoughts, anger, fear and hate. The more I spoke the worse I made things.

The more you say, the more likely you are to say something foolish” – Robert Greene

In conversation I barely heard the other person. I would cut in and talk over people. Ignore their point of view and use words to shore up my position. I betrayed my immaturity and inexperience. I would blow opportunities, put people off side and build obstacles for myself. As I dug a deeper hole I became resentful and found respite in isolation.

 

Return to Silence

These days I seek silence often. Finding turmoil and noise within me I settle it down. When I want to say something, I ask myself like Cato did in the Roman Senate “Is this better left unsaid”? Will silence serve me better than to speak my turn? If not speak mindfully and with confidence. To be silent could be a disservice. Sometimes speaking up is a duty.

“In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends” – Martin Luther King

Today we are driven to be heard. There is a perception that to be silent is to not exist. Social Media demands our attention and we want to be heard. We join the din of the forum. Everyone is yelling but no one is listening.

Our ancestors lived in silence compared to us. Life was closer to nature and simpler. Words had more value. The ancients would find our world confusing, frightening and distracting. The natural state is to reside in tranquility. Our hearts yearn peace. There we find truth.

“Learn to get in touch with the silence within yourself, and know that everything in life has purpose. There are no mistakes, no coincidences, all events are blessings given to us to learn from” – Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

Find Silence amidst the Storm

Imagine a still lake in the mountains if you will or a calm sea at sunrise. There is barely a ripple on the face of the water. You can hear your own breathing. A soft breeze touches your face. The silence encompasses all for an eternal moment. The light of sunrise falls on distant hills. Even the birds are subdued in the peace and serenity of the morning.

Close your eyes. Look into your mind and listen intently. Let the voices and echoes fade in to silence. Passing like clouds in the wind. Peer in to your core where the seat of emotions resides. Feel what is there. Let any tension in your body and residual emotions relax and release. Let go of any pain and fear. Relax in to the silence. Hold the moment.

You are one with the cosmos and one with all creation. You are a child of the Force.

Power

“Don’t you see? We don’t have to run away anymore! I am more powerful than the Chancellor, I… I can overthrow him! And together, you and I can rule the galaxy! Make things the way we want them to be!” – Anakin Skywalker “Episode III: Revenge of the Sith”.

There is a saying that absolute power corrupts absolutely. Think of the number of Dictators in history who have ascended to absolute power through the power of the people and ultimately bought nothing but war, hardship and death. The most well known despots and dictators came from humble beginnings. Saddam Hussein was born to a family of shepherds from a Village near Tikrit. Hitler was born in a modest household in rural Austria and as a young man fought his Father constantly over his dreams to become an artist. Stalin lived in an impoverished household, his father an alcoholic cobbler.

In Star Wars, Anakin Skywalker was born in to slavery and remained in bondage until he was taken by Qui-Gon Jinn and bought to Coruscant to train as a Jedi. What marks each of these personalities is a burning passion to control and to shape not only their destiny but the destiny of those around them. At the root of that Passion was a deep seated Fear.

Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” – Lord Acton

Power Corrupts

People respond to power as they respond to fear. As a species we are social animals who gravitate to strong leaders who advance the needs of the group. Leaders are often selected for their qualities such as hard work, dedication, compassion and loyalty, their ability to derive the best out of the group.  Leaders also rise to power through cunning, subterfuge and ruthlessness, they promise people what they want and say the right things, they remove obstacles one by one. The manner in which some of the most vile Dictators ascended to power reflects their temperament and self will.

Power is always dangerous. Power attracts the worst and corrupts the best” – Edward Abbey

The tendency to put one’s own needs above others regardless of the consequences is the hallmark of a narcissist. Where the person is able to satisfy their needs at great expense to others and do so with impunity and without regard to that suffering is the markings of a psychopath. They do not know empathy, though they pretend to. The similarity between both personality types is that these individuals may appear outwardly normal and even successful in business, government, political or military service. They only care for themselves and their own desires though they may convince others, including loved one’s, of the opposite. They can be charming, funny, intelligent and sharp as a knife and yet within them resides something so compellingly dark and cold that it shudders the very soul. Give them absolute power and they will embrace it like a Bride taken to the grave.

Nearly all mean can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character give him power” – Lincoln

The illusion of Control

Alcoholics have some things in common, in abuse priorities are skewed. Getting “tight” usually comes before most other affairs in order of priority and if it doesn’t we are usually working on the next opportunity. Where booze is considered we tend to have a complete lack of consideration for the needs of others. This can be painful to realize and we may deny it but then we remember the number of times we failed to make commitments to our families and friends when alcohol became involved. We spent our time and money on booze when it should have been for the family.

We tend to get hostile to those who suggest we might have a problem and when drunk we could resort to violence if the supply was cut off. When it seemed that others were trying to intervene or impede our drinking we became paranoid. We were certain people spoke bad things about us and plotted behind our backs, we became paranoid. We concealed our booze and drunk in hiding. Lying became second nature. Attempts were made to control people, place and things, we had to run the show and bend others to our will. When they failed to comply we became dark and sometimes we did and said things we later regretted.

Dance with the Devil and she will never let you go” – Sicilian Saying

Paranoia, narcissism bordering on psychopathic tendencies and rampant self obsession seems to describe some of the behaviors we exhibited. Sort of sounds a bit like a Dictator doesn’t it? I can imagine that our loved ones and Friends did not like that side of us and suffered as a result of our excesses.

Powerfully Recovered

Being sane and normal to the extent where we stop acting like a complete “POS” requires a fairly significant deflation of the Ego. All of the characters listed above went out true to character. Their Ego’s refused to accept the truth. Saddam was never humbled in his cell and was defiant to his last breath as he was hung by a cheering crowd of sectarian rivals. Hitler as mad as ever ordered his people to lay down their lives for him before he took the cowards way instead of defending Berlin. Choosing suicide Hitler took a capsule of cyanide and blew his brains out. Stalin died believing Russia loved him yet he was hated and feared to such an extent Khrushchev removed all effigies and statues of him.

In a symbol of a descent in to a person spiritual hell, Anakin burned in terrible agony on the lava flows of Mustafa as Obi-Wan looked on in pity and despair. As he burned and clung on to life, the hatred consumed him utterly. Anakin was finally redeemed by Luke in an act which symbolized the power of forgiveness and Love.

Those that recover after hitting “Rock Bottom” know the power of redemption, forgiveness and Love. That power saved over lives and restored us to sanity and health. Through forgiveness, humility, empathy, honesty and Love we become Powerfully Recovered.

 

The Power of Love

I was in South Africa in 1994 and witnessed one of the most extraordinary events in modern times. This was the first free and fair election in South Africa’s history. On April 27 the Nation voted in the first Black President in a country that had been staunchly Apartheid only four years before. I was there because I thought the country would “Balkanize” and erupt in to bloodshed, tribal fighting and war. I wanted to take photos and see what happened. There was no way war was not going to happen as “TIA-This is Africa”.

Many of the people I spoke to feared that Mandela would bring a Dictatorship to South Africa far worse than White Rule. Would he take his revenge for the extra-judicial murders, the brutal police and Army actions and his 27 year prison sentence? Would he confiscate property and return land to dispossessed tribes and kick out the whites? No one was sure what he would do, thousands of people left the country fearing the worst.

Civil War seemed certain. The tension and fear in South Africa was palpable and everyone braced for the coming storm though many dared to hope. Then the most amazing thing happened on April 28…absolutely nothing. That morning  the sun rose to a new flag and a new Democracy, there were no sirens or gun shots or smoke. In my hotel room I could hear birds singing and children laughing outside. As I lay on a bed in a cheap hotel room in downtown Durban, my throat parched and mind in torment from another hangover, I lit a cigarette and realized; this was the sound of Peace. I was a bit shocked and confused, not knowing what to do next.

 

Truth and Reconciliation

Mandela later opened the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and all of the crimes and atrocities that had been committed by all sides during the decades of Apartheid were laid bare. No one was thrown in prison and everyone was pardoned of their crimes. The only condition was complete and rigorous honesty. With the truth out, people were able to grieve, forgive and embrace and move on. Everyone had been a victim and the scars ran deep but there was a dream that the country could live as one, no longer divided along the lines of race and ethnicity.

This is why Mandela is seen as one of the greatest leaders in History. It was not a strong masculine presence or a commanding voice and great speeches that marked him as a great leader. It was his presence and his actions. Mandela had a calming effect on people and a kind word for all. Bafana had a deep love for his country, compassion for all its people and the ability to forgive and embrace those who had tortured and jailed him. Africa is full of tragic stories, South Africa was at last a shining beacon of hope in a troubled world.

Each of us is as intimately attached to the soil of this beautiful country as are the famous jacaranda trees of Pretoria and the mimosa trees of the bushveld – a rainbow nation at peace with itself and the world” – Nelson Mandela

Power can corrupt those that desire it above all else. Power can also be used for the good of all. Marcus Aurelius was a Stoic first and the Emperor of Rome second, he considered all people in and outside the Empire to be fellow citizens of the world. Power was a responsibility, not an entitlement or excuse for abuse.

Aurelius  believed that it was in the nature of all humans from the lowly peasant, to soldier to the Emperor to work together for the common good. That an Emperor should first serve the people and protect them. It is irony that his son Commodus would end up being one of the most despotic and violent Dictators since Nero and ultimately precipitate the beginning of the end of the Roman Empire.

Absolute power corrupts absolutely. Leaders like Mandela and Marcus Aurelius remind us that Power can also be based on Love.  One can still be powerful, caring  and humble at the same time.