Build Resilience: Pay it Forward

Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi. You’re my only hope.” – Princess Leia

In the opening act of Star Wars we see the Corvette “Tantive IV” under attack by an Imperial Star Destroyer. On board the Tantive IV is Senator Leia on a diplomatic mission from the Imperial Senate to her home planet Alderaan. Moments before the Tantive IV is seized by Imperial Storm Troopers Leia hides a desperate call for help inside the Droid R2D2. The message, along with information crucial to the survival of the rebellion, would find itself to Luke Skywalker on Tatooine and to Obi-wan Kenobi. It was a call for aid that would trigger a series of events that would change countless lives and ultimately the destiny of an entire Galaxy. One call for help would ultimately prove an ancient prophecy true and bring balance to the Force.

 

Comrades

A common perception is that we must tough life out by ourselves. This is a common view among men. The “suck it up Princess” mentality is something I see every day in my line of work. In the Army we were expected to rely on each other as a team to get the job done. There was no shame in asking for help from the man beside you when you could not help yourself. We had each other’s back.

There were caveats. If a guy in the Platoon was having personal issues or going through an emotional crisis it was different. Showing weaker emotions was not accepted and everyone was expected to sort themselves out. If a guy had had a bust up with a girlfriend for example we took him out and got him drunk. That was the protocol for a broken heart or other emotional issues. Booze was the ultimate remedy. If a person could not carry their emotional baggage on the job, they were a liability.

Emotions not expressed as aggression, pride, competitiveness and other Alpha Male qualities were not welcome in our midst. It was the overpowering and addictive pull of masculine toxicity which defined us.

Don’t be ashamed to need help. Like a soldier storming a wall, you have a mission to accomplish. And if you’ve been wounded and you need a comrade to pull you up? So what?” – Marcus Aurelius

 

The Wounded

The fact that so many wounded warriors are now struggling with PTSD and depression is no surprise. Around 22 veterans in the United States commit suicide every day. Even invincible heroes have scars that lie hidden and run deep. “Suck it up Princess” no longer cuts it and it probably never did.

Suicide is one of those topics we don’t like to talk about. Even today it is still a taboo subject among many. Most of us know of someone who has lost a battle with depression and taken their own life. It goes without saying that we are only human. People are vulnerable and fragile even beneath the physical and mental armor.

Suicide was one of those “options” that tugged at my sleeve. The “Black Dog” would visit and suicidal thoughts would pass like a dark cloud. The truth was I enjoyed wallowing in self-pity and imagining how I could hurt others. I had the insane notion that I would gloat in self-satisfaction after expunging myself from existence. The reality was that I was far too much of a morally bankrupted coward to take the idea past depraved mental masturbation.

Accepting things as they are. Surrendering to a Higher Power. Recognizing the harms done to self and others. Taking steps daily to improve one’s self. Helping others. Who has time for self-pity with all of that? With recovery, thoughts of suicide dissipated along with the depression and anxiety.

Sometimes, accepting help is harder than offering it.” – The Clone Wars “Legacy of Terror”

 

Ask and Give

Recently on “Temple of the Jedi Order” I saw a thread about suicide. A number of people related how people known to them had committed suicide. They had “felt” something was wrong and now regretted not saying anything or doing anything. In many cases they had simply failed to recognize the signs and warnings. Most people aren’t trained to identify warning signs. Many times they may be subtle or absent.

Many people also don’t like to ask for help. They want to work it out alone. Speaking to others is a last resort. There could be a large number of reasons for this social, cultural or personal. Once help is sought it can turn everything around. Being alcoholic I shunned any offer of assistance and resented it. If I needed help then I had a problem. If there was a problem, change was needed. The problem was admitting to a problem in the first place. So we stay in a hole until life becomes so uncomfortable we are forced to seek help. Finding it we start to see the doors in our mind open and we begin to help ourselves.

Compassion and empathy are Jedi virtues. Jedi are expected to be willing to render aid and provide support where they can  and where it is needed. We listen with an open heart and without judgement. We can give our undivided attention without imposing conditions. It may not seem much but it might be all that’s needed to make all the difference.

Being Jedi is not forcing help on others. We help those willing to listen. In the 12 Steps we only “carry the message”. We listen and offer what assistance we can. Whether or not it is accepted or if our aid helps is out of our control. Be mindful that an offer of help does not mean “I will carry your burdens for you”.

Never forget that It is not unusual for us to neglect our own needs in meeting the needs of others. Be prepared to ask for help as well. By speaking to someone, a family member, a friend, a counselor or a sponsor it could make all the difference.

Remember. In Star Wars it was a lonely plea for help from a stranger that pushed Luke Skywalker in to action and ultimately into a journey of self-discovery, redemption and triumph.

I know God will not give me anything I can’t handle. I just wish that God didn’t trust me so much.” – Mother Teresa

 

Pay if Forward

The book “Pay it Forward” by Catherine Ryan Hyde and the movie adaptation inspired many people when they came out in 1999. The story tells of a twelve year old boy who’s simple and brave actions in helping a stranger starts a movement that changes the world. It starts with an idea and then a simple gesture of kindness to a fellow human being. By “paying it forward” the flow of energy expands outwards, snow balling in to something that captures the world’s imagination.

“Pay if Forward” is a work of fiction as much as “Star Wars: A New Hope” is. The message is that every person has the power to help another. We are all on this rock together and have more in common than we know. Help, selfless altruism is a universal virtue. The power of help is universal.

Listening to others share their troubled and sharing our own is the basis of group therapy as used in the fellowship of AA.  Likewise being Jedi is being receptive to others and providing support where we are able. We know what goes around comes around. “Paying it Forward” is more than a catch term, it is the ballast that keeps society afloat. It also keeps many Alcoholics from sinking back into abuse.

Helping others without expecting anything in return keeps the energy flowing. Being of service, small acts of kindness replaces anger and fear with empathy and a sense of purpose. Those acts then take a life of their own. When help is offered to those that need it we are making a positive change, if only for a short time. By helping others we help ourselves. We pay it forward but we get to keep it too.

Because it proves that you don’t need much to change the entire world for the better. You can start with the most ordinary ingredients. You can start with the world you’ve got.”  – Catherine Ryan Hyde

 

Self Help Exercise: Storming the Wall

We are conscious of our own thoughts and emotions. Some of us have trouble responding to extremes of emotions or unruly and chaotic thoughts. Emotions are meant to tell us how our internal world is coping with life. The mind is meant to help us to make choices congruent with our values. The trick is not acting on impulse or allowing emotions to rule our judgement and decisions.

I sometimes take a moment to shine a light on my thoughts and feelings. It’s a method I learned from Eckhart Tolle’s “Power of Now”. Especially when troubled I will pause and ask myself “what am I thinking?” and “what am I feeling? I become an impartial observer to my own thoughts and feelings. A light is thrown on my inner world and any negative thoughts are reasoned with and let go. Negative emotions exposed by the light are transmuted and dispersed through a simple act of mindfulness. There is no struggle. I have helped myself over the wall. I am returned to the power of the moment.

We may be resilient but like the soldier storming the wall we could use the occasional hand to help us up.

 

 

Build Resilience: Embrace the Suck

I’ve got a bad feeling about this” – Han Solo

Voluntary Hardship is one thing but loving adversity is at an entirely different level. It sounds devious and twisted but it works and it is incredibly effective in building Resilience.

“Embrace the Suck” is a term used in the Military. I’ve heard it used in one form or another in three different Armies in three languages. The term was also adopted in CrossFit and you hear it in the Box around the World.

Embrace the Suck means diving in to the crap and wallowing in it with a grin on your face. You know you are going to hate it and you know it will suck badly but you flick a switch in your head that reads “Beast Mode” and you wade in. It is a process of turning a negative perception of an experience upside down by surrendering to it.

People who wade in to discomfort and vulnerability and tell the truth about their stories are the real badasses” – Brene Brown

 

Kokoro

When a man is beaten, tormented and defeated…He is ready to learn something.” – Emerson

The Navy SEAL former Commander Mark Divine calls Embracing the Suck the essence of the Warrior’s “Unbeatable Spirit” or “Kokoro Mind”. It is the essential ingredient for success and one that alludes 80% of candidates attempting the world renowned and feared BUDs course.

Those that pass selection the SASR or the Navy SEAL BUDs Operator training will tell you that the course was 80% mental and 20% physical. Those that somehow get through it all will admit that the key to success  was to drop all resistance to the experience and truly embrace it with every fiber of your being. This means total commitment and focus. The evolution is entirely mental, emotional and spiritual. The pain and discomfort is an illusion that is temporary and transitory. By “Embracing the Suck” the candidate for Special Operation Forces transcends to another level.

 

Winners are Grinners

The greater the obstacle, the more glory in overcoming it.” —Confucius

I can’t stand heights. Once during a course in the Army I had to traverse across a 50 meter canyon. A cable was suspended across a chasm that was at least 100 meters deep.

I attached my carabiner to the cable and swung on so that my body was lying on it with one leg dangling for balance. Pulling myself across the cable I kept my eyes on the Instructor on the opposite side of the canyon. Pulling myself closer and closer using my hands and mounted leg pumping to slide my body forward. I refused to look down. Suddenly I felt myself swaying to and fro. It became worse and worse and I realized the Instructor 30 meters in front of me was pulling the cable violently. I froze.

“Let go of the cable” the Instructor bellowed, “get the F__ off!” he yelled again.

I shook my head with a stifled no and the Sergeant swore and started to pull at the cable harder. “Let the F___ Go!” he yelled again. A Corporal standing near by laughing went over and also started to pull. The cable lurched back and forth and I felt like I was going to be flung off. I let go.

I was suspended above the void looking straight ahead as I swung with the cable above me. An old blue lanyard and a rusty carabiner was the only thing keeping me from falling to my death. My mind was racing in panic and I wondered if the lanyard and carabiner were going to hold. I heard my number being called.

“Student 67! look at me”, the Instructor yelled out. I stared at him. “Embrace the Suck and grow some balls Student 67! Now look down!”. I looked down and could see trees far below and a dry wadi bed. My stomach rose to my mouth. I heard my number again.

“Stand at attention and give us a smile”. I thrust my arms down and bought my feet together and gave a grin. There was laughter. “What are you waiting for dickhead?” the Sergeant yelled “remount and get over here”. I was back on the cable in a second and apparently broke the record for the fastest time across.

 

Image Source: Lucas Films

Bullet Proof Mind

“Misfortune is virtue’s opportunity.” – Seneca

For us mere mortals the lesson is clear. In order to build resiliency and then strengthen it we must relish any opportunity to put ourselves to the test. Rather than avoiding the unpleasant we must seek it out. This means turning up to training even when you don’t want to. Running the extra mile when you think you are going to puke. Putting your hand up for the most unsavory and unpopular jobs. Taking out the garbage or scrubbing the latrines. It might be filling in for someone’s shift when they can’t come in when you’d rather have the night off. This mean but not just doing it but doing it with enthusiasm and a sense of gratitude that people will start to wonder if you are not quite sane.

“Embracing the Suck” means “The Obstacle is the Way”. Any challenge faced is an opportunity to demonstrate virtues and practice principle. Someone hurls abuse at you in traffic? Give them a smile. You are having a real bad day and falling behind and someone comes to you asking for help on something trivial? Be patient and offer to help later. You have made an expensive blunder at work and fear getting reprimanded or losing your job? Owe up to the mistake, take responsibility and face the music. Making amends but too reluctant to face someone? Just do it anyway. Never compromising on your principles naturally builds resilience.

You have 100 Burpees to do and you want to quit at 40 and puke? I had a Platoon Sergeant in the Army that used to say that “Pain is weakness leaving the body”. Embrace the Suck and keep going.

 

Pain to Virtue

“Whenever you suffer pain, keep in mind that it’s nothing to be ashamed of and that it can’t degrade your guiding intelligence, nor keep it from acting rationally and for the common good.” – Marcus Aurelius

By embracing the adversity and unpleasantness of life as well as the good we are practicing the very concept of surrender. Buddhism teaches that what we resist persists. When we deny what is happening or throw up resistance to it we create suffering.

Every painful event, disappointment, lost opportunity, misfortune and missed chance can be a gift in disguise. We are given the opportunity to practice virtues and improve ourselves.

There is a choice in practicing Voluntary Hardship but in life we encounter hardships and responsibilities every day that “Suck”. A relationship may be on the rocks, work may be driving you crazy, you can’t get out of an emotional rut. Pause and reflect on what you can do to change the situation and get to work.

This means applying your principles and being true to your values even when your ego is telling you to do the opposite. Someone offended you? Suck it up and grin at them. Your look will tell them that you are no snowflake. Embracing the suck is also letting go of your fears. With the internal resistance gone we can flow through and with the experience. Over time things that used to seem daunting will no longer bother us. They will resolve themselves if we stop fighting them.

 

Lessons Learnt

“It takes discipline to focus only on high-value targets instead of giving in to the temptation of the low-hanging fruit life serves up daily.”  – Mark Divine

One of the reasons I failed in my attempts at staying sober for so many years was because I chose comfort over courage. I did not want to suffer and ironically I suffered more by not doing anything to change. My attempts involved trying to force change on others and fighting everything and everyone. I missed the fact that trying to control what is not of my own doing would only frustrate me more. Embracing the Suck meant taking full ownership and responsibility for my Life.

Admitting to a problem or fault takes honesty and humility, deciding to turn over your life to a Higher Power takes Faith, living your principles everyday takes Courage. None of it is easy of comfortable. You are choosing “Courage over Comfort” by taking the plunge. By “Embracing the Suck” you are fully committed and focused and using the experience as a chance to grow.

Imagine taking that attitude in to your daily life. How much easier things would seem. “People who wade in to discomfort and vulnerability” are the real badasses. Those that “Embrace the Suck” create an Unbeatable Spirit that cannot be beaten down.

Further Reading

Unbeatable Mind by Mark Divine.

 

Communication

The ability to speak does not make you intelligent” – Qui-Gon Jinn

 

The Lost Art

One of the most important skills we can attain in life is genuine and effective communication. Besides being a skill that is both acquired and learned, conversation is also an art to be mastered. Unfortunately in the post-911, pseudomodern and technocentric world, the art of conversation has largely been lost. The intrusion of instant messaging and social media in to people’s lives is rapidly replacing face to face conservation and relationship building on real human terms.

How many times have we walked in to a public space and found people engrossed “trance-like” in their smart phones? How many times have we aborted the opportunity to engage in conversation with a stranger simply because it feels awkward or we find we no longer had the skills or never had them in the first place? Would it be fair to say that many people find a deeper connection to their mobile phones than to fellow humans they are with?

Modern commentators call it the “lost art of conversation”. Modern technology has given us the tools to communicate with almost anyone, anywhere, anytime. Should you so desire you can join a social media group on virtually any subject and in short time be making friends or enemies online. Is this real communication however? Are we really connecting with other members of the human race? Is the “art” of conversation being lost and with it deeper connection with others? Are people alone even in a crowd?

 

A Deeper Connection

Connection is deeper than mere words on a computer screen. Communication is more than a shallow and awkward conversation in the cafeteria. I remember moments in my life when I connected with others at some deep and almost mystical level. Time froze, the senses were heightened, I stood present in the moment and felt truly connected with another soul;

…Soldiers in the back of an Army truck returning from patrol, tired, weary painted faces hidden in shadows and momentarily lit by the glow of a cigarette. A bottle of Vodka passed between them as a harmonica played and silence spoke of the common bond and brotherhood that we shared…

….A passionate and heated argument with a friend over treasured ideals. Words are spoken that cannot be taken back; blows are exchanged and then laughter as we forget the insult and pick each other up… 

….Around a camp fire with friends made on the road. A guitar plays and voices are raised in song, glasses are raised. There is laughter and spontaneity and anticipation of possible love and long lasting friendship. Strangers are connected under a clear sky and a pale moon…

….My baby daughter sits on my knee her eyes convey so much love and trust that my heart feels as if it will burst…

….Desperate to stay sober. A stranger listens to my story.  Someone who understands what it feels like to hit rock bottom….Sober now, I listen to someone who shares a similar story of what it was like, what happened and how they changed…

Mere moments in life that we remember. How we connect can remain with us forever.

 

The ability to speak

Alcohol gave me the freedom to take life to excess. Conversations on the deeper and philosophical meanings of life would last through the night. No topic was off the table. Secrets were shared and blood oaths made from one to another. There were breakthroughs and moment of deep insight. Nothing was off-limits, we could dance naked in the moonlight around a fire and howl like wolves. At times I felt as if the world were in my hands. Yet I was miserable. In fact I was disconnected, alienated and separated from others. Alcohol cured me of the ability to speak, to truly communicate.

 

The greatest compliment that was ever paid to me was when someone asked me what I thought, and attended to my answer” – Henry David Thoreau

 

I lacked the most basic communication skills. I refused to listen, I put words in people’s mouths and cut them off. Conversations tended to be one sided and I often spoke with authority on subjects I knew nothing about. I was easily distracted and rarely focused on what the other person was saying. Opinion mattered more than conceding error of thought or judgement. Words were often charged with emotion or a haughty arrogance. Honesty received from others was often treated as an affront especially if it were critical. Dissenting opinions were treated with scorn. People were ignored and judged. I could be charming, cold and rude in the same conversation. My body language screamed belligerency and intimidation and often it was.

 

You want to go home and rethink your life.” – Obi-wan Kenobi

 

More than Mind Tricks

The Jedi were masters of communication, although not all of them were great conversationalists. Jedi tended to say what needed to be said and to avoid small talk. On issues that mattered however the Jedi were firm in their beliefs and unwavering in their principles. They could convey their thoughts clearly with tact, conviction and even wit  and humor. Jedi were also good at listening and asking open questions that provided answers and allowed the speaker to open up. In seeking knowledge they knew how to engage with others through charm, persuasion and confidence, drawing out the benefits of a conversation.

The Jedi knew that in order to achieve their purpose they had to communicate face to face with others and be empathetic. Displaying diplomacy, decorum, paying attention and having a willingness to listen to all, including those they disagreed with. Deals were brokered, alliances formed, promises made and matters “resolved” the “old way” using the spoken word, eye contact and body language. When circumstances called, there was the “Jedi Mind-Trick”.  The Jedi used effective communication refined as an art.

What is the message? Jedi knew what to say and how and when to say it. The Jedi were mindful enough to know when to be silent and let the others speak. They could appear open, passive or guarded as the circumstance dictated. Body language was used as effectively as words. Jedi avoided judging others or appearing arrogant.

 

Disconnected

“The wisdom behind conversation is that by acknowledging each other’s humanity through open and communal exchange, we are testifying to the vibrancy of human nature.”  – Sakyong Mipham “The Lost Art of Good Conversation”.

These days we seem to have hours to peruse our social media stream and phones but no time to connect face to face, in person. Even when we do it can feel strange, even awkward. Feeling at odds people will reach for their phones and try to “connect” remotely when there are people in front of them they could be talking to.

Lets face it, we all do it. I send emails at work to a person who is sitting a short walk away because it’s easier and quicker. It means I don’t have to give non-verbal cues and have a record of the conversation in case something is misheard, misconstrued or forgotten.

Texting has become the preferred alternative to conversing on the phone. Surveys conducted in the UK and US revealed that more than half of respondents communicate primarily through text. The percentage is higher with Millennials’. Conversation like letter writing or hard bound books is becoming quaint and out of fashion.

Beginning a conversation is an act of bravery. When you initiate a conversation, you fearlessly step into the unknown. Will the other person respond to favorably or unfavourably? Will it be a friendly or hostile exchange?” – Sakyong Mipham “The Lost Art of Good Conversation”.

 

Reconnecting

Try conversation, that is, share in communication with another in such a way that you both become more enriched from the experience. It seems easy enough but it also takes effort, concentration, mindfulness and self-discipline;

  • Pay attention to what is being said;
  • Be mindful of words, tone, context and flow;
  • Be mindful of body language, yours and the others;
  • Look the other person in the eye;
  • Use humour and wit where appropriate;
  • Actively listen, acknowledging what is being said;
  • Resist being distracted;
  • Know when to speak and when to listen;
  • Be civil and respectful, even if the other person fails to.

Who would have thought that communication is like meditation or anything else worth doing? It takes effort and application.

 

The most precious gift we can offer others is our presence” – Thich Nhat Hanh

Be Present

Getting sober meant re-learning a lot of basic life skills. One of the skills that I still struggle with is communicating with others. The truth is I was never taught how to talk to people. Being introverted did not help either. I’ve learned that conversation is the most effective and genuine communication tool. Being an art it requires patience and practice. With lack of use it can also be forgotten but it is never too late to recover and remaster the art. The gift of sobriety and more importantly life is the ability to connect with the world around us, with people and experience life in full.

The gift you can give others is to be present.

 

Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others,
even the dull and the ignorant;
they too have their story.”
– Max Ehramm “Desiderata”

Codependency

Codependency is often described as a dysfunctional relationship that exists between two persons one or both of which may be in addiction such as alcoholism. The other person tolerates and facilitates that behaviour by remaining within the relationship despite the emotional, mental and even physical abuse that they suffer. Both participants in the relationship believe that they cannot live without the other. Both condemn themselves to a partnership that is built on anything but true love.

In reality Codependency is much more. A relationship that is held together out of fear or loss is a form of codependency. One person may lean on another person emotionally and be unable to validate themselves without the person. This is compounded if the other person also has emotional or psychological issues which compliment those of her partner.

Two damaged people bought together do not necessarily provide a solution or salvation. One of two things may happen; one of the individuals may grow emotionally and awaken to the fact that they are in an unhealthy codependent relationship that does not allow them to flourish. Otherwise the relationship may endure but simply out of a fear of being “alone”. The opportunity to find true love and to live a free and fulfilling life is compromised. This is not love but a form of bondage that ends in regret.

 

A Painful Truth

Some years ago I realized I am in a codependent relationship with my partner. I thought couples just had their disagreements and got over them. During my drinking these disagreements were fairly often but then I was very selfish and obstinate and only saw my side. Despite getting sober and working the steps I found I could not break this cycle of codependency. The relationship remains dysfunctional.

I found that despite the decades I spent being on my own I was now a virtual prisoner to my need to belong. I now find myself questioning the authenticity and honesty of the relationship but uncertain on  how to act. Is it fair to be in a relationship where deep within our own heart we know that whatever true affection and love existed has long been replaced with a mutual need for stability, security and familiarity? Is not being in the world alone more important than being in a true and nourishing relationship?

 

Emotional Maturity

There is nothing wrong with stability, security and familiarity. All of these are important in a healthy relationship. However a codependent relationship is categorized by an imbalance between two people. There are power struggles and each attempt to assert their control over the other. Disagreements occur and concessions are made by one side or another in order to maintain the peace. The result is resentment and anxiety. Open and honest communication breaks down. Couples become distant harboring private resentment for the failings they perceive in their partner. They blame each other for the unhappiness in their lives but they are unwilling to do anything. Despite all the ill feeling and pain both know that they cannot function alone. Freedom and happiness is traded in for stability, security and familiarity.

Emotional maturity was not a part of my sobriety in the beginning. I am still growing up. In other words I had not matured as an emotional person during my decades of alcoholism. I still had all the emotional maturity of a traumatized teenager and a lost young man trying to make sense of the world. Much to my surprise I realized not long ago that everything decent I had ever done was to get approval and love from others. To be accepted. Every spiteful or indecent act I had ever committed was to get back at them or others for perceived wrongs. This included getting drunk.

 

Child

Codependency in my case did not just happen later in life. I grew up with an alcoholic Father who himself had all the emotional maturity of a deprived child. Without another role model to learn from and no outside support becoming an accepting and active participant in the abuse was assured. A child will adapt quickly and learn to survive. As a child I begged my Father to be reasonable, sane and sober. I would put him to bed in the dead of night when he stumbled in to whatever doss house we lived in and pull off his boots. In the morning I woke him up and pressed him to go to work as he swore at me through a hangover. I hated him but he was still my Father and as such I needed him.

Natural emotions such as empathy and joy were dulled and replaced with fear, then anger and finally apathy. With apathy and time people start to identify with the negative influences in their lives and also begin to act them out. Emotional abuse, violence and cruelty become a part of who we are. I remember the cruelty I afflicted on my siblings as a child and on hapless victims in the school yard. I suffered at home and others had to suffer. Bullies beat me so I had to bully those that were weaker than me. The bullied often become the bullies. This still wears down on me heavily at times.

Growing up without a Mother and in the care of an abusive alcoholic Father had left me angry and vulnerable as a kid. We were thrown in to the State Care system as the Child Welfare people intervened. My sullen disposition attracted the wolves at school and being small in stature I was an easy target for bullying. I fought regularly and was in trouble often. I shoplifted and was smoking and drinking by age 11. The world looked like a hostile place to me and I was out in the cold. Desperate to find a place I could call home, I ran away and joined the Army as soon as I finished High School.

 

A Home

I took that anger in to the Army and they molded it and beat my vulnerability out of me. My weaknesses were removed and they built me up in to something useful. I cut all contact with my Father and never spoke to him again. The Army gave me a roof over my head, three meals a day, medical and dental, training and told me what I had to do and when to do it. It was simple and structured. For a long time I felt empowered and protected. I also felt like a bad ass. I was extremely fit, tanned and trained. Being part of something bigger than oneself does that. So does extra muscle mass and being trained in unarmed combat and Infantry skills. But it was shallow; there was a gaping hole there. I knew I didn’t belong in that world and rebelled. I found alcohol.

After an ignoble and unceremonious discharge from the Army a few years later I was back out on the street and completely alone. The Army had probably saved me from destitution and a hopeless future but I had barely matured in to an adult. I was dependent on the system to support me. I felt like an important part of me was torn away when I stepped outside the gates for the last time and the cord was cut. They had taught me to be a Soldier but not a functional and mature adult fit for normal life. I had entered barely 18 and at 23 I was on the street while many of my High School Friends were graduated from University and already in professional careers earning close to 6 figure salaries. I had no transferable qualifications other than in heavy drinking.

 

Barely Functional

Functioning and surviving in civilian life alone was an enormous challenge. People around me were phony and shallow. Their concerns and priorities were petty and made little sense. Employers seemed only to use and exploit young employees. The Jobs I took were mind numbing and low paid and I soon made enemies. There was no comradeship or mutual benefit. It was a dog eat dog world and I felt completely maladapted to it.

My anger and frustration would boil over and I quickly alienated and scared off people. Friends and acquaintances distanced themselves. I could not re-enter the Army, I had well and truly burned my bridges there. The answer was to move around a lot and get drunk as often as possible. I tried the Geographic solution and drowned it in alcohol. In order to eliminate any reliance on others and be completely independent I vanished overseas taking my problems with me as far as I could take them.

 

A Wife to the Grave

My relationship with booze took a new turn in civilian life. For a start I didn’t have to worry about trying to fit drinking around the Army. I learned I could arrange life to suit my drinking. As I did so I found myself becoming more dependent and less flexible with people, places and circumstances that got in the way of that relationship.

Alcohol is cunning and has a way of intruding in every aspect of life like a demented and obsessive lover. We know that the relationship is doing us harm but we remember the good times too. We cannot imagine being separated from alcohol. Our disease adopts a persona that is omnipresent and absolute in our lives. She is like a Succubus, a lover turned Demon who will not let us go. The relationship becomes entirely one sided. Alcohol will eventually take everything unless we break that hold first.

 

Emotional Sobriety

Recovery of course is breaking that dependence. The 12 Steps provided the pathway for me to do that. As my sobriety strengthened my personality began to change. Self honesty and humility allows us to review our actions in life and identify where we have been lacking. This provides the impetus to start maturing as a person. Emotional sobriety is the eventual outcome of practicing principles and working the steps.

Along the way we begin to review our relationships. Some of them present themselves as being dysfunctional or toxic and are ended. In my case my sobriety began to reveal dimensions and aspects of my relationship with my partner that I had never considered before. In our journey we take an honest view of our life and question where authenticity is lacking and where fear or resentment resides. We make amends for the harm we caused where we can.

Every major change in life comes with costs and benefits and recovery is no different. I began to realize that I had been in a relationship simply because I needed it when I was drinking and alone. The need to fulfill the need for a place to finally call home and to find someone was a way of addressing the void that had existed in me my entire life. It’s a trap many of us fall into, we think that others will complete us and we rely on them to carry us when we can’t carry ourselves. Once we get sober and sane the world becomes a different place and so do we. The illusions that we created for ourselves start to fall away and we see life in plain view.

Having emotional sobriety is realizing that only we can fill the void that resides within us with something deep and spiritual. We look at ourselves and realize we no longer need anyone. We may want them, but we no longer need them. It can come as a bit of a shock to realize that a long term relationship is built on the shifting sands of codependency. The sands are slipping away, being eroded with time. The trick of course is what to do about it. Do we let it go or start sand bagging?

 

Interdependency

I have a friend who is also sober and in a relationship that is interdependent, that is the opposite of codependent. I envy them. The couple compliment each other perfectly and neither is dependent on the other to be the person they want them to be. They support each other and understand each others needs. They are together because they want to be, not because they have to be or need to be. Both are free to express their own individual qualities in the way that best defines them.

The outcome is a trusting and mutually beneficial partnership built on mutual love and respect. Both are empowered, self sufficient and self determinant because the nature of their relationship encourages it. Communication is open and honest; laughter is a daily part of their lives. The relationship is vital like a breath of fresh ocean air.

 

Accept the things

I don’t have a definitive solution for my situation. My strategy is acceptance and to take the view “this too shall pass and better times shall come”. I keep my side of the street clean and live in accordance with my principles. Realizing that one’s relationship is in trouble is a good start but knowing is not doing. Being unable to do much about it without the willingness of the other person is a problem. Then things could always be much worse.  Things can seem bad and cause us pain but actually it is not the thing that does us harm but our reaction to it.

Being Jedi as well as being sober has taught me that we cannot force people to be one thing or another. They will decide for themselves and so should we for our own selves. We can try to improve situations through our own choices. If we are separated or divorced we can choose to be polite and civil to our estranged partner. There is no reason to answer one person’s bad behaviour or harsh words with more of the same. Promises should be kept and obligations met even if we would rather not comply. If someone lies to us we should not use it as an excuse to be dishonest in return. Children should never be used as a bargaining chip or held for ransom; they are innocent parties.

We may be stuck in a relationship that is dysfunctional and even terminal but we can still treat the other person with care, dignity and respect. Han Solo and Princess Leia set a good example. Married at the end of one war, separated decades later at the start of another. There was no animosity or blame between them. The fortunes of war and a shared love and concern for a very troubled son reunited them for a brief time. No matter what circumstance we find ourselves in our relationships, we still have a choice to be a good person.

 

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 Sufficiency

A Shield

Self Sufficiency is the state of feeling secure and complete in one’s self. While Self Reliance is complete acceptance of one’s abilities and limitations and being able to regulate one’s response to emotions self-sufficiency is feeling “good” about yourself. More so it is about being in control and balanced. To be in a state of self-sufficiency is to experience mental, physical, emotional and spiritual well-being and a feeling of “completeness” and wholeness.

Imagine Yoda and Obi-wan Kenobi when they were confronted by their arch rivals Darth Sidious and Darth Vader. Did they seem perturbed, were they upset or visibly afraid? Did self-doubt cloud their judgement and affect their actions? Both Jedi Masters demonstrated a high degree of self-sufficiency. Faced with insurmountable odds they did not flinch. Even insulted and berated by their opponents they refused to let it affect their actions giving up neither to passion nor anger. They refused to lose control. Jedi had strong self-sufficiency, it was the shield that protected them.

Anakin on the other hand had weak self-sufficiency and was sensitive to assaults on his character or perceived slights to his honour and values. Luke Skywalker also faced an internal crisis that reflected a sensitive character and lack of self-sufficiency. Luke was easily roused to anger and jealousy as was his father particularly over matters of the heart. Over time Luke became more accepting of himself and sure in his decisions and actions thanks mainly to his Jedi training.

 

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

 

 

Heart on a Sleeve

Alcoholics are sensitive people, we take everything personally. I have often been told that I wear my heart on my sleeve and true to that I have often proved them right. Unfortunately my alcoholism never helped me in regulating my emotional response to perceived injustices or even trivial slights. With a family heritage that originated deep in the mountains of the Balkan powder keg it seemed my genes did not favor me either. I would often lose my temper over the slightest of insults or loss of control.

Alcoholics are often control freaks by nature, we need to be in order to feed our addiction, unfortunately that trait and the emotional toll of not getting our way seems to cross over in to all aspects of our lives. We alkies get “butt hurt” easily.

 

Self Defense

Self-sufficiency is being able to handle rejection well, it is also being able to let an insult slide without even a blink. If we find ourselves in a situation where our character or integrity is attacked we do not feel the need to react with defiance and attack in return. We can shrug off verbal and physical assaults and quickly forget them. We harbour no grudges. Resentments and self-pity born of damaged pride is not for us. This does not mean that we are everyone’s door mat either, far from it. Strong self-sufficiency means being able to defend one’s self in a calm and collected manner without feeling the need to defend one’s honour or pride at the same time. Self-defence means protecting our physical self from harm and setting boundaries on the actions of others, it is not about seeking punishment or taking revenge.

 

Nothing to Prove

Self-sufficiency is also not requiring constant validation from others. I know people who live for attention. They always have something to prove to others. If they post something on social media and don’t get the requisite set of likes they expect they act confused and hurt. They must always be the centre of attention and anything less than public adulation reduces their self-esteem. If we want to be validated we validate ourselves by working harder and striving to be a better person every day. We do not need the praise of others to feel good about ourselves. Praise and ridicule are the sides of the same coin to us and neither mean anything in the long run.

 

In Balance

Having self-sufficiency means having complete internal balance and sense of control. It is not about being an unemotional machine that feels nothing like a rock. Self-trust and resilience are synonymous with self-sufficiency. We are able to make our own decisions without being swayed by others. Opinions can be formed without defaulting to the latest collective mind-set on a particular issue. We can trust in our judgements and stick by them if challenged.

 

Being authentic means being yourself, not someone you imagine other people will like better or accept more readily. For decades I tried to be someone else and it only bought me depression and a lack of identity. Even know I am still working out who I am.

 

Open and Honest

Most of all we appreciate honesty, we want people to tell us what they think and to be truthful with us even if we might not like what we hear. Being self-sufficient means being able to acknowledge the opinions of others, especially those about ourselves without allowing it to damage our self-esteem or balance. We listen to others and we accept the truth when we hear it.

 

Self-sufficient people enjoy time alone but are not loners. They also enjoy the company of others and are engaged in life rather than isolated from it. We may be preoccupied with our own problems but we also preoccupy ourselves with others. Empathy with others and connection to community are important to those with strong self-sufficiency.

 

People not Things

Material possession and status are not as important to people with strong self-sufficiency. We do not need possessions to compensate for deficiencies or to prove to others our worth. We may enjoy and appreciate nice things but we are not reliant on them. A nice car, house, designer clothes and shoes and excess cash do not define us or even impress us. We believe that rank and status are earned and not granted out of entitlement however titles do not bother us, we know who we are and what we’ve done. Medals and awards are graciously accepted when earned but rarely worn.

 

Practice Self-sufficiency

Some people think that being self-sufficient is in some ways being cold and unemotional or stoical. The Jedi were none of these things and being sober is not the dull, boring and somber existence that many imagine. The Stoics themselves were similar to Jedi, they were entirely self-sufficient and were able to achieve a strong emotional, mental and spiritual balance in their lives. Stoicism is still practiced today and strongly influences Cognitive Behavioral Therapy used to treat acute low self-esteem and mild depression. Here are some practices that can be used to improve self-sufficiency:

Reframe the situation:

Have you ever been dumped by a girlfriend / boyfriend? Did you ever get fired from your job? Perhaps both happened in a single week. How did it feel? If you felt terrible about it for a long period or too it worse than you now feel was appropriate now it is probably because your emotional response to the event upset you more than the event did. Later on you meet someone and land a job that fits you far better and you wonder why you were upset all along. The belief that you would never find another love or find a suitable job proved to be irrational and false. If you were to reframe the situation to something like “I’ve been dumped but I’ll be alright and will meet someone new” and “that job paid the bills but it was clearly not meant to last, something better will turn up”, you will find that the emotions tied to the situation are not as acute and consequently you won’t take it as bad.

Change what you can, accept what you can’t:

The serenity prayer is read at AA meetings for a reason; it reminds those in recovery that acceptance and action are hand in hand. We must take action where we have control in our lives and we must be prepared to accept that there is much which happens in life which we have no control. It is worthwhile asking the following questions when confronted with a challenge or problem in your life:

  1. What aspects do I have control over?
  2. What do I have come but not all control over?
  3. What areas do I have no control over at all?

For example, if you lose your job you have no control over that. You can try to get the company to reverse their decision. Failing that you can put a positive spin on it and spend time tidying up your resume. You can get out and start job hunting. Being unemployed can be hard but being sad and miserable about being unemployed is a choice. It is better to accept the loss of the job and get busy finding another one rather than staying passive and impotent by wasting time in denial and regret.

Pick you Role Model:

My role model is Ob-wan Kenobi. When I find myself in a difficult situation or I need to inspiration in the best way to achieve a desired outcome I consider how someone with the presence of mind, skill and self-discipline like Obi-wan Kenobi would have handled it. Obi-wan is not a real person, I cannot use him as an actual mentor. Fortunately many of us have access to mentors and in the 12 Step program we can approach a potential sponsor to help guide us. In the Jedi community a dedicated mentor is important in guiding those seeking to learn the philosophy of being Jedi.

Set Daily rituals:

The Stoics used daily rituals to centre themselves. In the morning they would take time to plan their day, they would “welcome the day” by observing or imagining the rising sun. They would consider all the hardships and challenges they could expect to face. These are handy practices. In addition to those I also remind myself of something to be grateful for. During the day I do spot checks to assess my mental and emotional state. In the evening I consider the day’s events and assess my conduct noting opportunities for improvement. Meditation and daily readings are also an integral part of my daily routine as is exercise.

 

Self-reliance and Self-sufficiency are two of the greatest assets a person can possess. Not only will it make you more resilient and adaptable to life it will also improve emotional, mental, physical and spiritual well-being. An owner of a major company commanding billions of dollars’ worth of assets and having a vast personal wealth may actually be poor if she lacks self-reliance and self-sufficiency. Life is no more than a hollow and meaningless existence compared to the peasant who is both self-reliant and self-sufficient. All of the things we own or control are transitory and impermanent, they have no intrinsic value. To be in command of one’s own emotions and to be the master of one’s own life, on the other hand, is a treasure far greater than a mountain of Gold. Therein lies true serenity.

Self Reliance (Part II)

Self-reliance was made famous by Ralph Waldo Emerson in his essay “Self Reliance” published in 1841. The concept of Self Reliance was a hallmark of the transcendentalist movement made popular in the 19th century. Emerson argued that the individual should strive to avoid conformity and consistency in favor or demonstrating their true nature as granted by the Divine principle. The philosophy was strongly in favor of individualism, free thought and personal responsibility. Emerson wrote that time be better spent on the development of one’s character through introspection than on seeking to “fit in” to the mainstream of thought and opinion.

 

A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

Diogenes

Alexander the Great once requested an audience with Diogenes an ascetic of some fame. Diogenes, who’s philosophy of living well in poverty and being completely self reliant in all things had earned him the respect of the greatest military leader of all time. Alexander found Diogenes lazing in the sun completely unperturbed by the arrival of the Macedonian King and his entourage. When asked by Diogenes if he desired anything, he simply replied “I desire only that you move yourself out of my sun”. Alexander duly complied as here was a man who neither feared him nor wanted anything he could offer.

 

Self-Trust

When we are self-reliant we not only know ourselves but we also implicitly trust ourselves. Being able to trust one’s self beyond doubt is a rare trait. Most people might think they know themselves and trust their judgement but do they really? Being self reliant is about knowing what we want and how to get it. It is about being true to with ourselves. This does not mean that being self reliant is to isolate one’s self in a cabin or practice non-conformity as a principle. It is about having the ability to take what you need and to leave the rest with confidence. Self reliance is claiming one’s self determination, independence, autonomy and sovereignty. It is about being one’s own person that can stand out on their own two feet without having to blindly follow others.

 

People who truly understand what is meant by self-reliance know they must live their lives by ethics rather than rules” – Wayne Dyer

 

Self not Self Reliance

I was one of those Alcoholics who enjoyed thumbing my nose at others. I was belligerent and obstinate I my views. Selfishness masqueraded as self reliance. The truth was that I had no real principles or values to mention and my mind could sway from one opinion to another depending on my mood. I was easily led, especially to the bar. In many ways I was owned by others and the booze definitely had me. Self reliance is not laziness, selfishness, obstinacy, ignorance, aggression, dishonesty and easily compromised morals. Those are the hall marks of alcoholism and narcissism.

 

“Self-reliance is the key to a vigorous life. A man must look inward to find his own answers” – Robin Williams

 

Seeking Balance

Being Jedi is finding the balance between being self reliant and conformant. We are able to respect rules, traditions and conventions and conform when necessary. To do otherwise would make us Anarchist or a Grey Jedi at best. In order to be true to a philosophy for life there are certain things we should do and certain things we should not. Self-reliance does not give us permission to do whatever we please.

Being firm in our principles and values means that we are self reliant enough that they cannot be easily swayed. We are not inflexible in our views and opinions however; we have a free mind and can judge the merits of opinions and ideas as they come to us without being swayed by hype, hashtags or “popularism”. Self-reliance does not make us better than everyone else or a loner, it makes us independent thinkers. We own our own minds.

 

“What lies behind us and what lies before us are small matters compared to what lies within us” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

With Surety

Self-reliance is important in our recovery. One must be able to trust themselves. For example if I cannot enter a bar with complete confidence that I will not be swayed or tempted to drink my sobriety is on thin ice and my self reliance is weak. Having a Higher power which we can surrender our lives too give us the spiritual strength to be able to overcome those time when our emotions are ragged. It is about being able to surf strong emotions and recognize HALT moments for what they are; a chance to practice the principles that make us self-reliant. We can be hungry, angry, lonely or tired without using it as an excuse to be an asshole and get drunk. We are the master of our own domain and can feel safe enough in our own company to weather any storm under the shelter of our faith in a Higher Power. Being self reliant is doing the right thing, no matter what all of the time. It is about having surety in one’s self.

Training to be Self Reliant

Being self-reliant is therefore having responsibility and accountability for one’s decisions and actions. A person must be informed and able to critically judge information on their own and make decisions based on knowledge and guided by personal values.

There are a number of strategies I use to build self-reliance which are part of the daily practices within Jedi Philosophy.

  1. Stay Healthy: This means being conscious of what we eat and drink, listening to your body and getting adequate rest and relaxation. If you are able to cut down on junk food and refined sugars and otherwise have a balanced and healthy diet, great! Alcohol is off limits in my case but otherwise the American Medical Association recommends no more that 14 units of alcohol spread over a week for both women and men. The medical profession suggests that no alcohol is best.
  2. Physical Activity: 30 minutes or more of light to moderate physical activity is recommended on a daily basis. Each individual will have their own needs, goals and limits. A program for losing weight will be different to a goal of increasing strength. Likewise increasing cardio fitness will require a different regime to putting on muscle mass. The key is to move your body.
  3. Mental Fortitude: Try depriving yourself of a luxury on occasion, run the odd cold shower or sleep on the floor once in a while. Spend less time on social media and impose a media fast on yourself for a week if you can. Put the smart phone on silent or leave it in the drawer. Decide to go a day without getting angry for any reason, if you succeed, stretch it to two days and longer. Meditate daily or as often as you can.
  4. Minimalize: Go through the clutter of your life and discard what is not needed. Donate clothes and other items to charities. Review your commitments, which are really necessary? Re-assess how you spend your time and with whom and cut down on the activities that are mere distractions or negative.
  5. Travel: If you are able, sell your junk and put the rest in storage and go travelling. Set no limits, just go wherever your fancy takes you. Solo travel is the greatest school for self-reliance there is. You will learn a lot about yourself and others. A solo traveler often has no one but themselves for company.

The Jedi had to be self reliant, the nature of the job demanded it. Self reliance is also critical for a recovering addict. There is will power, self control and self discipline in being able to abstain from drinking but sustained and contended sobriety require much more. Conviction in one’s abilities and faith in a power greater than one’s self has been the most important aspect of my journey so far. Only you can steer your life in the direction you want to take it. It is your life, your responsibility don’t rely on others too much.

Self Reliance (Part 1)

An Island

Self reliance is the ability of an individual to be able to function as a productive and balanced human being without being reliant on others. Imagine living in the wilderness or on a remote and uninhabited Island. You have all the tools and resources needed to survive indefinitely. Could you do it? Would you have the emotional strength, the physical fitness and the knowledge and skills needed to survive without outside help? Would you have the spiritual fortitude to overcome the periods of loneliness, self doubt and unhappiness? Being unable to share moments of personal achievement and happiness or having someone to share the burden of suffering would weigh on most people.

 

Jedi Reliable

The Jedi by nature and training were self reliant while also dependent on each other. Each individual was expected to be able to function effectively as an independent unit. This was critical as the Jedi often worked alone deep in hostile territory with limited support. Jedi were taught the skills needed to be effective. They had the mind set and resilience required to be able to work in isolation cut off from all support. If they got in to trouble behind enemy lines they were often on their own and had to find their own way out.

 

The Dude in Black

In “Return of the Jedi” we find Luke Skywalker a changed man. The black Jedi Gi made him look different but there was something in his eyes, the way he walked and carried himself. It was compelling.

Some years had passed since Luke confronted the truth of Darth Vader and realized who he was and meant to be. On Dagobah, Skywalker had faced his dark side and purged himself of weaknesses. Desperate to help his friends and driven by the fear of their loss he set out before he was ready. The events that unfolded later changed him forever.

In “Return of the Jedi” Luke has matured. Now a Jedi, he has become self reliant. He is competent and confident. This is apparent by his bearing and command of force powers. Luke can easily get past guards using Jedi mind tricks and can wield a light sabre with all the prowess of a master. But its more than mastery of skill.

In his maturity Luke has become calmer, more at ease within himself and confident in his decisions. Along the way he has lost the reckless and impulsive drive which we saw in the first two installments. The cockiness and impatience of youth are replaced by a humble and self assured resilience and character. Luke Skywalker is beginning to resemble Obi-wan Kenobi in some intangible way.

 

Growing Pains

Self reliance is something that comes early in some and later in others. For many there is a degree of self reliance but their wings are clipped. They are unable or unwilling to blaze their own trail.

Probably because of my upbringing I was self reliant by the time I was in my teens. My Father’s absence and alcoholism meant being able to look after myself at an early age. I barely had the skills to make it alone but life had taught me to fly early. As soon as I finished high school I flew the nest and I entered into the Army. It was out of the fire and into the frying pan.

 

Hurry up and Wait

The Army thrives on a paradox of inconsistent consistency. Nothing makes sense till it does. The strange thing about the Army is they teach you self reliance but preferred you didn’t have it. They want you dependent. We were taught the importance of improvisation and initiative but then punished when we used it. Skills and knowledge were drilled in to us which were handy in war but barely transferable in to the civilian world. With each year that passed I found myself less and less tuned to the world outside the gates and the people in it. In the Army you are caught in a sort of a paradoxical paradigm that stays with you when you leave.

Then the day comes when you are cast in to that world and all the escape and evasion training, combat survival skills, navigation, marksmanship, weapons handling and smart drill on the parade ground you learned means “sh*t” in the real world. You suddenly realize you know very little and are not so self reliant.

Fresh out of uniform I thought I would find civilian life easy. It came as a rude shock. Without the order, routine, support and discipline I soon fell apart. I would stay up half the night watching TV and sleep most of the day. My drinking crept from Friday and Saturday evenings into Sundays and then during the week. I could not hold down a job and would either get laid off or quit as my frustration and anger rose. I would lose my temper and get in to fights over trivialities. Women were a mystery unless they were strippers and hookers. People avoided me and friends disowned me. In the attempt to remedy the situation I sought a change of scenery and bounced about from one town to another and one job to another. In that time my drinking got worse as did my overall situation.

 

Booze Reliance

The problem with alcoholism of course is the dependence. With that dependence we lose any semblance of healthy self reliance. All of the sudden life becomes primarily a series of drunken episodes interspersed with periods of awkward sober time that invariably lead to another spree.

Everything and everyone has a utilitarian purpose in our agenda. We are reliant on our work to provide us with money to primarily buy booze. People are either facilitators or collaborators in our drinking or they are impediments. Friends are props to our drinking or sources of free booze and money. We think we are in control and self reliant when in fact we are a slave to our rampant emotions and addiction.

 

Becoming Self Reliant

Finding sobriety is about finding self reliance, often in the dark. For a start we have to stop being self centered and selfish. We need to stop demanding that the world cave to our demands and constantly make concessions. With a jolt we realize the time to grow up and act mature has arrived, albeit a little late in life. We have to stop relying on others and start taking ownership and responsibility. We may physically be adults but we have all the maturity of a child.

We pick up the pieces of our life and start to put them together with both hands. This means coming to terms with our faults. We resolve to be rid of them. Determined to set matters straight we seek out those we have wronged and we make amends where can. The past behind us we look to ways we can improve and grow becoming more and more self reliant as we do. We learn honesty and start to owe up to mistakes and fess up to blunders instead of allocating blame or making feeble excuses. With that new found freedom we look to where we can help others sharing the lessons of our own struggles.

 

Being Self Reliant

Luke Skywalker was a good example of everything that is positive and wholesome in self reliance. It was not the selfishness and arrogance of rugged individualism but a maturity born of hardship, self knowledge and sacrifice for others. Luke still needed others he cared for and he never sought to be a loner. The Jedi knew his purpose and like the Jedi before him he knew he could rely on the skills, knowledge and power that he had been given to make a difference in his life.

At the end of the day what good we draw daily into our own lives is largely up to us. If we rely on people, places, things, circumstances, money, status or the affection of others for our own happiness we are likely to be disappointed at some stage. All of these external factors are largely out of our control. The true source of happiness lies in self reliance. You are with you all the time whether you are in a city of 25 million souls or alone on a desert Island. The source of all your joys and sorrows resides within. Value that, it is all we really have.

 

God laid down this law, saying: if you want some good, get it for yourself“. – Epictetus

 

Next Blog: Skills for Self Reliance

 

Note: I dedicate this blog entry to the service men and women who face the daily struggle in their transition from service to civilian life. CONUS Battle Drills is a sometimes sobering, sometimes hilarious look at that struggle and provides some skills for veterans leaving the service or already ensconced in civilian life that can be used to improve their lives.

 

CONUS Battle Drills

 

CONUS Battle Drills (The Book)

 

 

Jedi have a sense of Humor

33. Jedi have a keen sense of humor

Jedi are serious people, but they don’t take themselves too seriously. Jedi like to make people smile and laugh, especially in bad situations.

(33 Jedi Traits)

When we Laugh

There is a saying that goes if we are laughing we cannot have our mind in a dark place. Much of our life is spent ruminating on the past with all its regrets or projected into the future with all of its fears and hopes. Laughter puts us in to the present moment. When we laugh can not be anywhere but in the here and now.

“Angels can fly because they take themselves lightly” – GK Chesterton

Nothing seems more unfettered than the raucous laughter of children at play. As we grow older and lose our innocence that capacity for spontaneous joy seems to diminish. The inner child remains but is silent and suppressed much of the time. The times we find our sense of humor and laugh  it feels like we are inviting that inner child out to play. The world appears brighter when we do.

 

“We should take a lighter view of things and bear them with an easy spirit, for it is more human to laugh at life than to lament it” – Seneca

Humor is a Treasure

The Jedi knew the value of humor. Obi-wan Kenobi was one to often use irony and wit to refocus Anakin or defuse a situation from turning violent. Yoda often turned to humor and playfulness to make light of a situation or to disarm opposing opponents even at their own expense.

 

“When nine hundred years old you reach, look as good you will not” – Yoda

Humor is one of our greatest assets. Those in recovery know its value. We can laugh about past tragedies and misfortune. Life has played a merry game with us and we can see that the last laugh is on us. So why shouldn’t we laugh? We are recovered.

“A happy heart is good medicine” – Proverbs 17:22

Needed Armor

Its easier said than done but always try to see the funny side. Sometimes cruel irony in its own way is funny if you think about it. The Stoics believed that to re-frame misfortune as comedy and find wit in the most inappropriate circumstances was like wearing an extra layer of armor. Someone can insult us or beat us to the ground but if we laugh at them and counter their insult with a joke they have failed to harm us.

One of the greatest assets of an Infantryman is a sense of humor. Without it he is virtually guaranteed misery in service. The spontaneous hilarity, the endless practical jokes and good natured ribbing kept many of us from going insane and brought us closer together. So it is with any family; those that laugh together stay together.

 

Laugh it Off

Learn to laugh again if you think you’ve forgotten how, you are wrong. There were many times in my depression and alcoholism that I no longer saw the lighter side and then I would surprise myself. A sense of humor can sometimes get us into trouble. Regardless so can a serious disposition or a sour attitude, so better to laugh. Good humor used well can be infectious, so spread it around and most of all remember to laugh at yourself.

Surround yourself with people who take their work seriously but not themselves” – General Colin Powell (ret)

How humor heals

1.  Fear and depression are disarmed as laughter reminds us they are impermanent. We do get through them, “this too shall pass”.
2.  Humor releases endorphins and relaxes tension. Laughter feels good.
3.  Dr. Patch Adams used laughter as medicine to treat pain and promote recovery.
4.  Humor increases immunity by promoting immunoglobulin.
5.  Stress hormones are reduced through laughter.
6.  Humor cultivates optimism. If we can laugh something off we suddenly feel positive in the face of adversity.
7.  Humor deescalates tension and conflict. Ive been in some very tense moments when a joke said by someone at exactly the right time or even a dropped fart has resulted in fits of laughter, insults and oaths are forgotten.

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?