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.

Question

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

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

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

Sleep Walking

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

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

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

The Fog of Ignorance

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

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

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

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

Waking Up

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

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

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

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

The Jedi Method

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

Jedi Intent + Jedi Action = Jedi Outcome

Intent

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

 

Action

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

 

Outcome

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

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

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

 

Setting Priorities

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

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

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

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

Fools Rush In

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

In “The Empire Strikes Back” Luke Skywalker departs Dagobah against the advice of his teacher and mentor Yoda. Luke is driven by the need to help his friends and seeks to confront the evil that is Darth Vader. At this time Luke is unaware of the truth about Darth Vader, he is untrained and mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually unprepared for the challenge he has set himself. All of this matters not to Luke, like his father Anakin, he has a strong will and wants to prove himself. There is the compulsion in him to rush things and reach his goals before he is ready. In the Cloud City of Bespin Luke is lured in to a trap and meeting Darth Vader learns the terrible truth of his past before narrowly escaping. The revelation nearly destroys Luke.

Later in “The Return of the Jedi” Luke returns to Dagobah seeking to resume his training and finds there a frail Yoda, close to death. Luke broaches the subject of his Father and it is revealed that indeed Darth Vader is his Father, Anakin. Yoda then admonishes Luke that he was bound to fail in his confrontation with Vader, he was unprepared and not ready for the strong psychological and spiritual burden of knowing the truth and resisting the Dark Side. Yoda reminds Luke that sometimes in life we must realize we have much to learn and farther to go in our personal growth before we are ready to enter the next stage of our life.

The Stages of Life

Life happens in stages. We all know this. Babies are born and grow, Children bloom in to Teens and young Adults and then enter Adulthood. Eventually they find their chosen profession, find a partner and perhaps begin a family. Along the way they reach and surpass typical milestones in life mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually. Eventually their own kids grow up and leave the nest and they enter in to the middle years of life possibly with Grandkid. There is retirement and contemplation and eventually the twilight years before succumbing to old age. That is how an “ideal” or “typical” life is meant to look, or so we are told.

The life experience of one person will differ to another. This can be due to a range of factors including age, gender, cultural upbringing and education. We may find ourselves getting impatient with other people or disagree with their views. Often times we have to consider that they may be at a stage in their life which we have passed or yet to reach. We have to make allowances for that. Remember that life is a progression, a journey in which we learn and grow over time often in stages. Sometimes we guide others, like our kids and sometimes we take advice from those with more life experience and wisdom than us.

It takes a long time to bring excellence to maturity.” – Publilius Syrus

Growing Up

Everyone ages and matures at a different rate. I have met 16 year old kids living in less developed countries who were more mature and grounded than some middle age professionals I have encountered in the corporate rate race. Maturity does not necessarily correlate  with age, position, address or size of pay check. Indeed as an active alcoholic I was emotionally and socially immature, a child in a man’s body. I stopped growing as a person once I started to rely on alcohol as a social stimulant and then a requirement. That did not stop me from being relatively functional but I needed booze to function. In sobriety I discovered that I lacked the basic tools to interact with people and handle situations normally. The crutch had been removed and I had to learn to stand on my own two feet with nothing more than a basic comprehension of a program for recovery and an even dimmer understanding of the concept of a ‘Higher Power”.

“Every difficulty in life presents us with an opportunity to turn inward and to invoke our own submerged inner resources. The trials we endure can and should introduce us to our strengths.” – Epictetus

I would not expect someone who has just hit rock bottom and looking for a way out of alcoholism to know everything there is to know about recovery. It takes time, patience, effort and a lot of faith to build the experience, knowledge, wisdom and skills required to attain “contented sobriety”. Deciding after 6 weeks of “white knuckled” abstinence that we are cured is deceiving one’s self. We can try to test that idea and perhaps get away with it but it is a huge gamble and one that rarely pays off in the long run. Believe me I tried.

The Long Curve

There are many things in life which present as a steep learning curve, parenting is one of them, bringing a baby home for the first time can seem daunting and even terrifying to new parents. There is all this stuff you have to do and know that no one tells you about and the books don’t even mention. Nothing prepares you for it. Babies don’t wait if they are hungry or need a diaper changed or run a fever for us to figure it out the first time.  By child number two you are a bit more settled and after that it’s a doddle. Now you are a veteran in child raising and you look at new parents going through the same steep learning curve and you smile knowingly. Parenting is stressful but most parents cope fine and learn a lot about themselves. Recovery is sort of the same, it is a learning curve but it’s not steep, its long and its all up hill.

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit”. – Aristotle

Fools Rush In

One of the things I learned is that we cannot rush our recovery. There is no well defined point that can be reached where one declares “That’s it! I’m cured”. To take the view that a cure exists is to decide there might be short cuts and seek arrival at the desired destination of a subjective “normalcy” sooner. This is called the merry-go-round approach to life. We may change seats and try different ways of but we are still on the same ride and nothing changes.

What is “normal” anyway? Some would argue for alcoholics it is the ability to “take it or leave it” and to respond to life in an appropriate and proportionate manner. I am recovered but I will never be fully recovered and being honest would not even be able to define what “recovered” is. If I make it to the end of the day in a better condition than yesterday it’s a win.

The important thing to remember is that although we can claim the power to recover, we remain powerless over alcohol but we are never powerless to act. Many people might dispute this and claim a definitive cure but I err on the side of caution and set the cardinal rule as it applies to my addiction. I may be ready to take up a lot of challenges in life now and in the future but I will never be able to drink normally again. I won’t make the same mistake that Luke did and rush in to confront my addiction by feeding it.

Wise men say, Only Fools Rush in” – Elvis Presley

 Reaching Victory

Will I ever reach a stage in my life where I can claim victory? If recovery is a journey where the final destination is the end of life then it would be fair to say yes. If I can reach the end of life without having relapsed in to who I was before and can hopefully look back on a life “well lived” and accept death with equanimity, that is a victory in my book. There is no desire in me to declare a “cure” and return to drinking or arrive at a point that can be defined as “happily ever after“. I would not return to the illusion if I could, even if assured of being able to indulge without fear or anything worse than a hangover. That is a sane and a mature approach to something as insane as addiction. Live on life’s terms.

The final battle between Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader provides a lesson in victory. Surrendering control, accepting what is, embracing reality and letting go of what does not serve through action leads us there:

Luke Skywalker departs Dagobah and on the Planet Endor surrenders to Darth Vader. Taken to the Death Star II Luke is tempted to the Dark Side by Darth Sidious. The Emperor forces Luke to  battle Darth Vader and urges his to succumb to anger. Luke has grown and is able to resist falling to the Dark Side. His actions ultimately save his father and destroy the Dark Lord. Like Luke we must be willing to confront our own darker side not by use of force or resistance but by surrendering to what is, accepting who we are, embracing change and finally letting go. That is the path to victory. Luke had reached the end of his training and could now call himself a Jedi.

There is no “happily ever after” but Luke does find some closure, for now.

There must be a beginning of any great matter, but the continuing unto the end until it be thoroughly finished yields the true glory.”- Sir Frances Drake

Truths

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

The Flatlanders

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

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

Our World

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

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

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

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

Then what it True?

Reality Bites

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

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

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

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

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

The Illusion and the Truth

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

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

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

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

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

Needs

 Maslow’s Theory

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

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

The Recovery Ladder

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

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

The Me Reality

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

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

The Other Side

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

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

Jedi Needs

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

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

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

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

Realities and Needs

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

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

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

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

Cognitive Dissonance (Part II)

Part II: Overcoming Cognitive Dissonance

Several days ago a Friend of mine who runs a martial arts business posted a poignant piece on the psychology and the consequences of quitting. My Friend was not talking about quitting a destructive habit such as compulsive drinking, gambling or drugs but on the perennial challenge of seeing new students quit within two weeks of signing up.

The truth is that quitting is a hell of a lot easier than sticking if the activity is difficult but beneficial. This is why the majority of candidates on the BUDS program for the Navy SEALS bomb out in the first 48 hours. They figure to themselves “this is harder than I thought”, “why don’t I quit now and save me further pain”. The training Staff are experts in picking up doubt and mental weaknesses and pounce at any sign of it. They actively encourage the candidates to quit, to ring the bell and throw in the towel. The SEALS want men who are mentally and emotionally resilient and who stay the course. Physical toughness is only about 30-40% of BUDS. Mental and emotional strength is the key to getting through.

The opposite is true for things that are seemingly bad for us or contrary to our cause. These things seem extremely hard to quit particularly if the habit is addictive or reinforced in any way. Drinking and taking drugs for example is extremely difficult to quit despite the obvious harm they do us. If anyone had asked me which would be easier, quitting smoking and drinking or getting through something like BUDS I would have said BUDS. Most of us want to quit but cannot find the mental, emotional and spiritual resilience to last the distance. We relapse when we try on will power alone.

The Serial Quitter

I can sympathize with my Friend for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I was a serial quitter and know all about it. I have taken up a number of activities and made up excuses and quit. Cross Fit, Kickboxing, Gym memberships and even martial arts. Those were sporting and recreational pursuits. I also gave up on jobs, career paths, studies, relationships, sobriety, life….The excuses were less than adequate but it all boiled down to two things; fear of commitment and intractability.

For some reason I have always feared commitment. Most things I ever did I did so because I felt under pressure in some way. When it came to applying effort under my own steam voluntarily and without obligation I would find something else to do and eventually give it away. This was because it was easier to default to the softer option. I also imagined that I was not good enough, or I looked stupid or having stumbled and failed once I decided what was the point. In this state a person suffers a crisis of self confidence and fails to commit. Alcohol or drugs provides a convenient remedy as it dulls our sense of accountability and reassures us that we are better than we actually are.

Intractability

Intractability is being obstinate and difficult to manage. Alcoholics generally have a rebellious streak and we are rooted in our flawed belief system. Self discipline and the ability to commit are concomitant in sticking with a program of recovery, martial arts or BUDS selection. Alcoholism on the other hand tends to throw self discipline to the wind as soon as the first drink is ingested.

The mind set is reinforced in Alcoholics to reject opinions or information that is contrary to our world view. We may be brilliant when we want to be but the second something tips us over or someone gets in our way, we throw the whole lot in, stamp our feet and quit. We proclaim that “they don’t know that they are talking about”. Our only Master is Booze, she is the one we ultimately take orders from.

In a Dissonant World

In today’s society we are increasingly left feeling isolated, in conflict and under tension. Technology dominates every aspect of our lives. Morality seems to have fallen by the way-side or at least replaced by a type of righteous political correctness which stifles discourse and counter views. Society has become polarized. People are feeling less connected within the community and despite the prevalence of social media are feeling increasingly marginalized. This environment has given rise to an unprecedented level of cognitive dissonance in society. Fortunately there are ways to break free from it:

1. Question your views.

In a critical and objective manner dissect your belief system. Challenges assumptions and question everything. Ask if you are not holding on to beliefs that are flawed. Do you have your hand in a Monkey Trap?

The Monkey Trap requires a monkey to place it hand inside a box with a small opening large enough for a hand to fit through but not a balled fist. The Monkey will reach for the treat inside the box and clutching on to it is unable to free itself. If it could only let go of the treat is would be free. This is how some of us hold on to our ideas and prejudices. We convince ourselves of a reality that does not exist and we hold ourselves to that despite evidence to the contrary. Seek evidence and reject what does not hold true.

In the case of Martial Arts, the belief that “I can’t do this” is self perpetuated by quitting. If we break down a problem in to smaller portions and focus on achieving milestones the challenge does not seem so momentous. With a change of perception we entertain the possibility we can achieve. As they say in AA, “take it one day at a time”, the miracle may happen tomorrow.

2. Get out of your Comfort Zone.

Trying new things is absolutely essential to growing as a human being. Have you ever observed a child? A two year old will explore everywhere it can, pick things up and make a mess. She is learning at a phenomenal rate about her world and place in it. We never stop learning and the best way to keep growing as a person is to expose ourselves to new things that are outside of our comfort zone.

The British SAS has advice for candidates on its selection course; “embrace the suck”.  They reason that the cold, hunger, fatigue, uncertainty and exhaustion are guaranteed so might as well embrace it. The course is undertaken in a manner where the candidates never know what is happening or going to happen. If one approaches the course with a “Can Do” attitude rather than a fearful one they are already half way through.  It is a mind-game. With practice and perseverance we arrive at confidence that we can do this. Start off with a “Can Do” attitude.

We all define our “own impossible”. If our mind can imagine something then its possible that it can be done. It is about convincing ourselves that we can take the first step and put one foot in front of the other. Eventually we get to our destination if we keep going.

3. Simplify

One of the reasons we stall in recovery or in any other challenge is because we often over complicate it. Most challenges look complicated because we frame it that way in our mind and the easiest option is to abandon the idea. We also seem to use the word “But” to excess. For example, “I want to stop drinking BUT I’ll lose my Friends” or “I would go to Train BUT [insert excuse here]”. We often complain that people get in our way when most of the time it is our own selves that sabotage our efforts.

In every decision there is an opportunity cost. Only the person can decide if it is worth it? Would I rather be sober or get wasted with Friend? Is sitting at home on Face Book instead of attending training a worthwhile use of my time? All we need to do is ask ourselves what is more important; there is no need to complicate. Decide and choose that. If there are obstacles that complicate your decisions either work around them or manage them out. Yes, this includes “Friends” that pull you away from your goals.

4. Keep you eye on the Goal

Visualize the person you want to be. See yourself standing there in a year’s time having accomplished the goals that you set. Keep that image in your mind and if required draw up a battle plan to get there. In that plan set a strategy, determine the resources you will need and set achievable milestones along the way. Keep the Plan fluid and adaptive so it can to survive the unforeseen. Just because you have a plan does not mean that life will come along and try to upset things.

If you stick to your (rough) plan and keep track of progress you will see improvement over time. For the last 6 months I have stuck with a fitness regime which has resulted in significant gains. Daily application and commitment to the program has been the formula. At first I made excuses not to workout but reminded myself of the reasons I was doing it.

Self Discipline and effort are two Jedi traits that are required to keep on track in any endeavor including sustained recovery. Remember that all you really control is the effort that you put in. An Olympian can train as hard as humanly possible but that does not guarantee a Gold Medal at the Games. If we achieve our goals in the time and manner we set, great, if not we should still recognize the effort we put in.

Luke Skywalker suffered Cognitive Dissonance on Dagobah while was being trained by Yoda. The effort and time needed to get through the trials and the study to becoming a Jedi were obviously more than he was willing to invest at that time. The need to be Jedi conflicted with his need to “be elsewhere”. Luke Skywalker lacked patience and the tension forced him to leave his training early and confront Darth Vader before he was ready…Which brings me to the last point:

5. Is it Worth It?

My Friend has taught Martial Arts for 40 years and has been in countless confrontations which he managed to defuse or resolve using skills drawn from decades of training. On quitting he asks his students one basic question to help with their Cognitive Dissonance; he asks “is it worth it?” The price of not learning Martial Arts might mean that they do not acquire the skill set and discipline to confront an attacker trying to kill or rape them. The price of learning Martial Arts will mean years of dedication, hard work, pain and sacrifice.

When we put it that way it often seems more stark. In the context of life and death it does not get much more clear. Some people need more proof than others.

Do I pick up a drink and most likely relapse in to active alcoholism or do I work the program?

Every one of us must decide what we value and act in accordance with that. No one can force us, we must decide ourselves.

Speak

The ability to speak does not make you intelligent” – Qui-Gon Jinn “Episode 1: The Phantom Menace”

Jar Jar Binks was one of the most annoying characters created by George Lucas in the prequels. Many Star Wars fans cringe at the Gungan buffoon and derided the prequels for introducing him. Jar Jar Binks is actually like a lot of people we meet and not all of them act that way when they are drunk though they may at times sound like him. They are usually drawing a lot of attention their way and speaking a lot without actually saying anything useful.

How often do we kick ourselves after we have said something better left unsaid. We often catch ourselves too late. It would be better to think before speaking. There are also times when we wish we had said something but we didn’t. Not speaking up also seems at times as bad as saying the wrong things at the wrong times.

Silence

Silence is a virtue or so we are told. The teachers in my catholic school would remind us often that children are seen and not heard. Silence was imposed and voicing an opinion was discouraged. I have discovered that often the greatest wisdom comes from the mouth of a child. Plain truth belies innocence. One should always speak their truth quietly and clearly. Listen to your kids or Grand kids often.

Learning when to speak and when to keep silence is an art. We all want to be heard. Sometimes we are not given the chance. The loudest and most assertive speakers generally get the floor. Passive and quiet people are usually not heard above the din.

The Power of Quiet

I’ve usually found the loud, gregarious and boorish types who insist on being heard above others have the least to say. The ability to speak does not always imply intelligence. In our society it seems that the most vocal and the loudest get the most airplay time. There is nothing wrong with that as it is a sign of open discourse which keeps Democracy alive. This is true as long as others are not silenced and forgotten. The loud and arrogant have a right to be heard but so do the quiet and humble.

Usually the quiet types are the ones we need to listen to. Their silence might not hide ignorance but a reluctance to speak. They may also know that saving your voice for when it’s required is often the best approach. You see them in the back of the room at meetings. They are also the silent person at work and the quiet achiever in the team. When they speak up I usually listen intently. The quiet ones usually have something I often lack; diplomacy, wisdom and tact.

“[The Spartans] conceal their wisdom, and pretend to be blockheads, so that they may seem to be superior only because of their prowess in battle … This is how you may know that I am speaking the truth and that the Spartans are the best educated in philosophy and speaking: if you talk to any ordinary Spartan, he seems to be stupid, but eventually, like an expert marksman, he shoots in some brief remark that proves you to be only a child”. – Plato

Who would’ve thought the Spartans were the silent types? Many guys I met who were Special Forces Operators were quiet and unassuming but also sharp as a tack. The mark of a true warrior. A lot of people mistake being quiet for being weak, often a big mistake! The guys you met in a Bar who were loud and telling war stories were usually from rear units or had never served. Big mouths are usually compensating for some deficiency.

Speak Up!

Francis Bacon said that “silence is the virtue of fools”; this is true for those who remain silent when they should have spoken up.  Never remain silent when to do so would be an injustice. If we speak up and learn that despite what is apparent we are wrong then we can make amends. It is too late after something wrong happens that we could have otherwise prevented by raising our voice. It often stuns me when I learn that an accident has happened in the workplace and I hear someone say “I could see that was going to happen”. My first question is “Why didn’t you say anything?” . We all have a responsibility to speak up when it is required.

The fictional Jedi by nature were not gregarious, they were assertive and they did speak up when it was required. They did however speak mindfully; they measured their approach and considered their words particularly over delicate matters. The Jedi used tact and diplomacy. Words were not wasted. They said a lot in few words.

Listen Up!

We have two ears and one mouth, so we should listen more than we say.” –Zeno of Citium

Being a good listener is also a virtue. When we speak we are moving from the known to the known. Listening takes us from the unknown to the known, we learn something. Then in order to communicate effectively one must actively listen and respond being mindful of what we say and how we say it. Language is only partially verbal; body language, facial expressions, eye contact, hand motions, tone and the most subtle cues often communicate more than words. By listening actively we are communicating.

Women in particular are expert at picking cues and know when a guy is not listening. So for the sake of serenity, Listen!

A good listener is not only popular everywhere, but after a while he knows something.” –Wilson Mizner

Meesa throw it all together

Knowing how to listen and when to speak and when to hold tongue is an exercise in self discipline and mindfulness. As an alcoholic I often feel compelled to allow my emotions to drive my tongue. It takes real presence of mind to catch myself. A speech injected with anger or resentment may get an impact but it is one we learn to regret later. Angry or yelling we don’t hear anything, not even ourselves making a mess of things. In recovery we learn that anger and resentment does not serve us. To throw anger at others through our words makes us feel worse not better.

“”First learn the meaning of what you say, and then speak.” – Epictetus

Jar Jar Binks eventually made it to the Galactic Senate and despite his clumsiness with words and actions still proved to be a worthy ally up until the fall of the Republic. The fact that he became a politician seems a parody of our own society where sometimes the politician with the biggest mouth ends up in the highest office. We should still be willing to give those people the benefit of the doubt when they say things that are less than intelligent. After all many of us said things that we wish we hadn’t and expected the same courtesy from others.