Hamartia

You want the impossible” – Luke

That is why you Fail” – Yoda

 

Have you ever experienced soul crushing failure? Did you learn from the experience? Were you able to take that failure and make something of it? Did you resolve to overcome the challenge or did you quit? Did you ever experience Hamartia, a failing so great that it ended you?

 

We all have faults and failings, most are not the fatal and tragic flaws of Hamartia. Our willingness to try and fail and then try again say a lot about how resilient we are. If the “Hero’s Journey” is a metaphor for life, we are all on a personal “Hero’s Journey” then we should not only expect to fail at times, we should embrace it. But we should never quit and succumb to Hamartia.

 

A failure is not always a mistake, it may simply be the best one can do under the circumstances. The real mistake is to stop trying.” – BF Skinner

 

Hamartia

The ancient Greeks and Romans recognised that failure was essential for success. The myths described the disastrous failures as well as the triumphs of the Hero. What made the stories so compelling then and now was the way in which the Hero was able to surmount their failings and continue on towards the prize. Failure made the Hero more human yet at the same time elevated them to the status of the Gods. The legend was the success that came out of failing.

 

Hamartia (ἁμαρτία) was the Greek word that described something worse that failure. It was to reject the struggle to overcome failure, to refuse the call of the “Hero’s Journey”. Hamartia was to turn one’s back on the Gods and life itself. It was to quit and give in, to lose all Faith. A Hero who could not surmount his tragic fatal flaws and was defeated by them is said to have fallen to Hamartia. They had abandoned the Gods and the Gods had abandoned them. Hamartia is a spiritual and moral failing of the character. A tragic fate worse than death.

 

The ideal but unattainable state of the ancient Greek and Roman philosophers was the achievement of the opposite of Hamartia, being free of error and failing, to be without fault, Anamartetos (αναμάρτητος). The ultimate goal of life, the “Hero’s Journey” is to arrive at this end.

 

I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” – Thomas Edison

 

 

The Fall and Rise of Skywalker

Luke Skywalker is the Hero Archetype of the Star Wars mythology.  In the original trilogy Luke undertakes the “Hero’s Journey”. There is the call to adventure, doubts and finally commitment. A mentor appears who guides Luke on to the path he must take. Luke makes mistakes and suffers setbacks but learns from them. On Dagobah he learns that nothing is impossible if he is willing. Through his struggles he is able to overcome his Dark Side and confront his darkest fears.

 

Luke arrives at the culmination of his journey. Through struggle, surrender, love and redemption he defeats the Sith and restores balance to the Force. The Hero is now complete. Overcoming failure and fulfilling his mission, Luke is reunited with his loved ones and lives happily ever after. Luke had overcome Hamartia.

 

We know now that the Hero’s Journey did not end for Luke at the closing scenes of “Return of the Jedi”. Luke embarked on many adventures after the Fall of the Empire.  The Journey finally ended on Ahch-To where the aged, embittered, defeated and ultimately failed Jedi Master stood at the final cross road of his life. Did the Hero’s Journey end there in ignominy or did Luke arrive at the glorious destiny intended for him? Did Luke fall in to Hamartia like his father Anakin or did he achieve Anamartetos? To rise is to achieve Anamartetos. 

 

Anakin fell to Hamartia when he surrendered to the Dark Side. The tragedy of the fall was complete in every way.  Luke could have easily fallen in the same trap but learned that while failure may be part of being Jedi, giving in to Hamartia is not. A Jedi can only be judged by how failure is dealt with and whether he or she makes something of it. A Jedi may fail but never gives in to Hamartia.

 

Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.” – Winston Churchill

 

Stumbling Failure

The first four decades of my life seemed to be replete with failings. In many ways, looking back I was a miserable failure, but a stubborn and rebellious one. I had trouble admitting it but that fact was to some extent I had failed in almost every important aspect of my life. My character flaws and failings were too numerous to admit. Yet there I was always in the ring, ready to continue to wrestle with life.

 

There had been some successes. I had survived my troubled childhood and a come out of a short and shameful time in the Army relatively unscathed. It was a miracle that I was not been killed many times during my years of roaming the face of the Earth (Alcohol took me close to that end many times). Outside of the Army I stayed out of prison. I somehow managed to graduate with a degree and in good standing which was nothing short of miraculous considering I rarely finished anything I started.

 

Friendships formed and then floundered. Romantic relationships ignited and burned out quickly. My marriage nearly ended before it had started but persisted thanks mostly to stubborn perseverance. I was a selfish father when my kids were born. Alcohol and selfish pursuit often took precedence in that regard.  My health took turns for the worse yet I continued to drink. I seemed to make a mess of every job I took as my career faltered along. At one point I was staring down the barrel of chronic health issues, a failed marriage, career in tatters, legal issues and bankruptcy.

 

My basic flaw had always been dependence – absolute dependence – on people or circumstances to supply me with prestige, security and romance. Failing to get them according to my still childish dreams and specifications, I had fought for these things. And when defeat came, so did depression” – Bill W

 

 

Perfection is…..

The irony of the first half of my life was my obsession with perfection and inability to see my own flaws. It pervaded everything I did. My attitude was that if I could not achieve perfection I let the whole thing slide. In my contempt for less and complacency failure was almost always guaranteed. When I did fail it was accompanied with frustration, resentment, blame and a complete lack of self-reflection. I had abandoned the “Hero’s Journey” and had all but fallen to Hamartia. In front of me loomed the dark void.

 

Things turned around for me when I stopped fighting and surrendered my alcoholic problems to a Higher Power. By letting go I decided that failure to that point was OK. There was no changing the past and there was no forcing change. I had to pick up the pieces and with unsteady hands rebuild my life in the way I felt my Higher Power would have me.  The road to success was through a morass of failure. The issue was not whether I failed in my struggles but whether I picked myself up and continued to move forward despite those setbacks. Hamartia, giving in to my fatal flaws was not an option.

 

When success began to happen the fog lifted from my eyes. Perfection was not required, only a willingness to try and never give up mattered. I found that despite a desire to lie down and not get up, I always did. I continued to wrestle with life getting stronger with every day. Persistence and effort paid off. I began to realise the goal of  Anamartetos.

 

Thoroughly have we seen a person fail who has rarely followed our path” – Alcoholics Anonymous p.58 (The Big Book)

 

Thoroughly

Recovery is not easy. By the grace of a Higher Power I have never returned to alcohol. I often see old habits bubbling to the surface. My shadow self will come to the fore. Perfectionism, uncertainty and fear of failure will hijack attempts to try new things. I sometimes limit myself by staying with what is safe, familiar and certain. In many ways I fear that failing may undermine the foundation on which my sobriety is built.

 

By taking a daily inventory of our failings and faults and admitting to them do we begin to take action to remove them from our lives. We recognise our own inner Hamartia and we keep those fatal flaws at bay. Anger, resentment, complacency and apathy are the four horsemen of the apocalypse we avoid. We do not avoid the struggles and challenges of life. By risking failure and disappointment we open up new pathways to learn and opportunities to improve.

 

Alcoholics can be frustratingly obstinate yet remarkably dogged at the same time. When we apply the same amount of dedication to our recovery as we did to our drinking we seldom fail. Some flaws have an advantage.

 

Never Give Up” – Luke 18:1

 

Anamartetos

Experiencing Failure is a part of life. Failure is a part of the Hero’s Journey. Mistakes happen and setbacks occur. Nothing ever happens to perfection. There is no smooth sailing the entire journey. Storms will appear on the horizon and sweep in. We will be battered by waves and lashed by wind. Sometimes we will flounder on rocks and be shipwrecked and marooned. From setbacks and catastrophe the Hero emerges stronger, wiser and more resilient.  The transformation allows the Hero to move forward and complete the task and return home victorious. To reject the Hero’s Journey that is in all of us is to reject life. Like Luke we must decide what is possible or not and choose between Hamartia and Anamartetos.

 

Never Give Up!

Don’t Panic

“They’ll panic? I’m about to panic!” – Ahsoka Tano

Don’t Panic” – Douglas Adams “The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy”.

 

In a ‘Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy” Arthur Dent is mostly oblivious to the rest of the world and its troubles. One day he wakes up to find his house is about to be demolished to make way for a highway bypass. The local council had posted the plans and somehow Dent had failed to take notice. As this was unfolding a Vogon star ship had entered Earth’s orbit and declared to the world that the planet would be destroyed to make way for an intergalactic hyperspace bypass. Pandemonium ensues and everyone panics.

With the help of his enigmatic friend, Ford Prefect, Arthur Dent manages to get off Earth before it blows up. Still wearing his night gown and pajamas from the morning Arthur Dent reluctantly sets off an intergalactic adventure that takes him across and to the end of the Universe and the beginning. The adventure begins with the default clause of the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy; “Don’t Panic!”.

 

“Don’t Panic. It’s the first helpful or intelligible thing anybody’s said to me all day.” – Douglas Adams “The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy”.

 

The Second Arrow

Alcoholics are catastrophic thinkers. We tend to imagine the worst possible outcome in all scenarios. An argument is the end of a relationship, a reprimand at work is as good as being fired and a letter from the government or IRS is a herald of financial disaster. We are the worst for dreaming up the worst case scenarios.

The Buddha alluded to catastrophic thinking when he spoke of the “second arrow”. The first arrow was what actually happened to us, the true cause of the suffering. The second arrow was the event magnified within our own minds. The suffering is worsened by our own emotional and irrational reaction to it. The first arrow is out of our control, the second arrow is within it.

 

Would it save you a lot of time if I just gave up and went mad now?” – Douglas Adams “The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy”.

 

Worst Case Scenarios

When I was a child I would shake in my shoes when called to the principal’s office. I was terrified of imagined and realized punishments my Father would inflict before they happened. No matter what the reason, I still feel unease when summoned by my boss at work for a private chat in his office.

In school at the height of the cold war I was named the “Doomsday Prophet” for my dire predictions that a nuclear holocaust was about to happen. It never did.

Never one to relax I was constantly on edge in the Army believing that each new day would herald more misery, corporal punishment and probably some terrible end. I listened to rumors and digested the news with alarm and consternation. My body was a ball of nervous anxiety. Fortunately my training conditioned my reflexes. To feel fear is normal but to react with panic in combat is unforgivable. .

 

He felt that his whole life was some kind of dream and he sometimes wondered whose it was and whether they were enjoying it.”  – Douglas Adams “The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy”.

 

Panic Junkie

I became drawn to calamity and chaos like a moth to fire. I was addicted to anxiety and panic. Events in the world seemed to mirror what was going on inside me. With a sense I could make a difference I set off on a global bar crawl to set things right. I traveled from the famine of East Africa to air raid sirens and religious hatred in the Middle East, the fraternal war and ethnic bloodletting in Bosnia to the tribal and racial violence in South Africa.

I washed up amidst the “colorful” poverty of the Favelas and the burning season in the Amazon in Brazil. The memories play back like the frames of a movie reel. Within that collage of noise and color I remember the haze of alcohol and an undertow of fear and self loathing.

 

The Burning Issues

Something I saw in Brazil affected me. The Amazon touched my soul. The morning mist shimmering in the early light as it hung low on a still river. I remember the call of macaws as they passed majestically over-head. The dim world of the forest was silent but for the call of birds and spider monkeys complaining in the canopy high above. The forest was vast and it had the power to utterly possess me. It had the primordial and divine peace that I yearned in my own life.

The smell of smoke and the haze hung over the forest as fires burned far away. The forest was being pushed back by ranchers and gold miners who were locked in a struggle with rubber tappers and Indians. I was told in 1994 the forest would be gone in twenty years. This alarmed me.

The forest burned. The world was being destroyed and I felt growing anger and alarm. The more I realized I was powerless to make a difference the greater my resentment grew and fed my anxiety.

 

If there’s anything more important than my ego around, I want it caught and shot now.” – Douglas Adams “The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy”.

 

 

Did you ever hear the tragedy of Skywalker?

Irrational fear aroused within Anakin a sense of panic at a destiny he could not control. Fears were magnified in his mind and became catastrophes he could not control. The need to change and control that destiny drove him to abandon reason and allow his shadow self to dominate him.

Anakin allowed irrational fear and catastrophic thinking to bypass a life time of Jedi training. Objectivity, reason, rational decision making and sound judgement were replaced by the darker side of emotion. Emotion rather than reason owned Anakin. This ultimately led Anakin to the dark side.

 

I’d far rather be happy than right any day.” – Douglas Adams “The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy”.

 

 

F*k Everything and Run

Sobriety has taught me that any decision based on fear and panic may help in the short term but long term the consequence often negate those positives. In the past I would panic and make rash decisions and do something I would later regret. Often I would say “F*k it” and run away from my responsibilities. I would get drunk.

In hindsight I would realize that these actions incited by fear, anger and ultimately catastrophic thinking had done nothing for me and usually it only made matters worse. Why did I put myself through that? Everything turned out fine.

After witnessing the burning season in Brazil I entered University and studied environmental science. Two decades later I work in conservation and observe with alarm how fear and panic has hijacked rational and reasoned discourse. Short sighted decisions are made with little regard to far reaching consequences. I’m pleased to see that the Amazon is still there. There are monumental problems in the world but I have faith and believe in hope.

 

For a moment, nothing happened. Then, after a second or so, nothing continued to happen.” – Douglas Adams “The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy”.

 

Know Faith No Fear

My life was one of reactivity, catastrophic thinking and panic. It’s strange that until you recognize it in others you don’t recognize it in your self. It took me to get sober and work on myself to realize how irrational many of my fears were and how catastrophic thinking ran my life.

Every time I feel the second arrow hit I pull it out immediately. Let the first arrow hurt for a bit but don’t make it worse by imagining something that is not real. Remember the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy; “Don’t Panic”. In other words have faith, not fear.

 

“So this is it, we’re going to die” – Douglas Adams “The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy”.

 

The House is on Fire

I don’t want you to panic. The house is not burning down. The world is not coming to an end. There is no reason to abandon reason. If things are not right, work to fix it and put it right. Do what is within your power to do and let go of the rest.

Avoid jumping to conclusions, silence the doomsayer within and never listen to doomsday prophets. Use your own judgement and think hard before deciding.

Study and be prepared to change your view when evidence suggests otherwise. Avoid falling for group-think and hysteria.

Recognize and avoid the mob fueled by dogma and anger. You were given the faculties to make up your own mind and think for yourself. In other words, be a little like Arthur Dent.

 

Don’t Panic

Panic and catastrophic thinking is not for us. Jedi are free thinkers we respect and acknowledge our emotions but we do not react to them mindlessly. We use our brains to decide what is true while remaining tolerant of the views of others. Gathering the facts as they are, we choose how best to act in a way that is applicable, beneficial, practical and positive.

Whatever you do Don’t Panic.

 

Epilogue

And then, one Thursday, nearly two thousand years after one man had been nailed to a tree for saying how great it would be to be nice to people for a change, a girl sitting on her own in a small café in Rickmansworth suddenly realized what it was that had been going wrong all this time, and she finally knew how the world could be made a good and happy place. This time it was right, it would work, and no one would have to get nailed to anything.” – Douglas Adams “The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy”.

 

 

Struggle

Training to become a Jedi is not an easy challenge. And even if you succeed, it’s a hard life.” – Qui-Gon Jinn

 

 

Safe and Warm

Sometimes I find it a struggle to get out of bed and face the day. My automatic preference would be to remain in bed, warm between the sheets and let the world go on without me. With effort I will get up and start my morning routine. I resolve to face the days challenges and I remind myself “one day a time, one problem at a time”.  The mental fog begins to clear as plans take shape. At times I struggle to find the motivation to do my work. Soon enough the day is done and hopefully I have something to show for it more than a made bed (make the bed every morning  if nothing else).

 

On those mornings you struggle with getting up, keep this thought in mind – I am awakening to the work of a human being” – Marcus Aurelius

 

The Roman Emperor and Stoic Marcus Aurelius also struggled out of bed in the cold dark mornings while on campaign in the frontiers. The security of the empire weighed heavily on his shoulders,  it was his cross to carry. Marcus arose each morning to make life and death decisions, fight the enemy and bury his fallen soldiers. He had to contend with cut throat politics and betrayals and the constant demands of Rome. All of this while he struggled with poor health, a troubled son and self-doubts. Marcus Aurelius saw these struggles as mere obstacles in his mind that could be overcome. Who could envy such a position?  Despite the burdens, Marcus Aurelius saw struggle as a path to enlightenment and obstacles as the road markers along the way.

 

I am ready to face the Trials.” – Obi-Wan Kenobi

 

 

Life Struggle

To be alive is to struggle. Being human simply makes us aware of that struggle and allows us to quantity and qualify it in a subjective manner, to give it meaning. All living things struggle, that is the nature of evolution after all. It is no wonder that the human experience is inherently one of struggle but more importantly it is our innate ability in overcoming the challenges that life presents us that makes us unique. We can choose to suffer passively or struggle against suffering. The Stoics compared life to a wrestling match. At times we will get pinned down and forced in to submission and sometimes we end up on top. The important thing is we are in the ring willing to struggle.

 

Our struggles are those that reside within resulting from the things life throws at us and which we have little or no control over. Generally our struggles are an emotional response to life’s vicissitudes. It is not so much the thing that hurts or offends us but how we perceive it and how that perception affects us emotionally. The trick is to look at struggle in a different way. Victory over external struggles is usually contingent upon overcoming internal struggles. The struggle is no longer a barrier but an obstacle we work to overcome.

 

You’re imperfect, and you’re wired for struggle, but you are worthy of love and belonging” – Brene Brown.

 

 

Pushing Back

People face terrible struggles in life, many which I am fortunate enough not to suffer. I am not impoverished or unemployed, my mental and physical health is good. My family life is good. I am one of the lucky few to be working in a profession which I chose, was trained for and pays well. My sobriety is solid. I do not face persecution or discrimination. Compared to many in this world my life is blessed.

 

All that could change in an instant. What we have can be easily taken from us. People lose their jobs and livelihoods, their physical and mental capacities can fail, life’s saving and property can be taken away in an instant and their loved one’s can leave or die. Homelessness is a real possibility. Innocent or not, we can find ourselves in prison. The democracy and justice system we enjoy could be corrupted or overthrown. Peace may be shattered by war. Take nothing for granted. I try not to. It’s a good idea to remind ourselves that all things are impermanent. Life can easily pull the rug from under us.

 

I could pour myself a drink and lose everything that sobriety has bought as I spiral back in to active alcoholism. To suffer is inevitable but to struggle is largely a choice. There are those who suffer passively but do not struggle. To struggle is to push back against the suffering. Through struggle we have a chance to get out of suffering.

 

“There’s no coming to consciousness without pain.” – Carl Jung

 

 

Struggle = Meaning

Most people define “happiness” as their goal in life and they struggle to achieve whatever their ideal of happiness is. For some it may be a “perfect partner”, great job, successful career, plenty of money, adoring and loyal friends and admirers. Others may decide that happiness is a poor word for an internal state that might be best described as Eudaimonia. I’ve met people who are content in their suffering and victim-hood as if it was a good thing and do nothing to get out of it. I have also met people who find a deep sense of meaning, purpose and fulfillment in the struggle to overcome their obstacles and be the best version of themselves possible.

 

The probability that we may fail in the struggle ought not to deter us from the support of a cause we believe to be just” – Abraham Lincoln.

 

People often grapple with the mystery of meaning and purpose; why am I here and what am I supposed to do with my life? Making choices that must be made and the uncertainty that haunts me.  Accepting the certainty that one day my children will become independent adults and I will grow old and frail. Facing the inevitability of death. This is the human condition. Loss and change is a part of life. We have a capacity as rational human beings allows to choose how to respond to that and give it profound meaning.

 

We are not alone in our struggles. Would it be better to embrace struggle rather than avoid it? Should we seek to struggle knowing that the suffering it brings is a path to serenity and peace? Through struggle we are no long a victim or passive object of suffering. We no longer suffer in vain because we struggle. In our struggle we validate and own the suffering that we feel and we choose.

 

“You must…confront…Vader. Then, only then, a Jedi, will you be. And confront him, you will” – Yoda

 

 

Trials

To become a Jedi in the Star Wars Universe a Jedi apprentice was expected to undergo a series of five trials which challenged their mental, spiritual and physical limit. In rare cases a Jedi was knighted because of their actions rather than going through the formal trials.  The action usually involved an intense struggle in overcoming a penultimate personal challenge. The ordeal ultimately defined the Padawan as a Jedi Knight. Obi-wan Kenobi’s trial was facing Darth Maul in combat after his Master, Qui-Gon Jinn, was struck down. Obi-wan conquered his fear and overcame the challenge defeating Darth Maul.

 

Luke Skywalker became a Jedi Knight when he confronted Darth Vader and through reason and compassion redeemed Anakin and defeated the Sith.

 

Ahsoka Tano framed for terrorism and treachery fought desperately to clear her name to the Jedi Council. Mace Windu recognized her struggle and offered her Knighthood however she refused and left the order disillusioned.

 

Anakin achieved Knighthood through his bravery on the battlefield. Despite his rank he suffered terribly but never struggled in the way that matters. Anakin’s failed to struggle with his own demons and as a result he never overcame them. He showed skill, prowess, courage and intelligence yet his struggles were directed at others and the things he had little control over. Anakin struggled against a galaxy of injustice, corruption and greed which was noble but the means he applied did not always justify the ends. Death and mortality haunted Anakin. By trying to struggle vainly against the natural order of things Anakin played in to the hands of the Sith and fell to the Dark Side.

 

This is not to say that people should not struggle for freedom or justice or the causes they believe in. They absolutely should. Struggle should however, be transformative, leading us away from suffering through suffering. It should not cause others to suffer. One’s struggle should inspire others and be borne of sacrifice, love and virtue. We should struggle for the right things, in the right way for the right reasons.

 

A warrior in not born. He is the sum of the sacrifices he has made” – Klaus Yohannes

 

 

Crucified

In the bible Jesus struggled along the Via Doloros on his tortured journey to crucifixion. Jesus was beaten and flogged by his guards and abused by spectators as he dragged the heavy wooden cross through the streets to Golgotha. Along the way Jesus endured unimaginable pain and mental anguish. According to the gospels he was nailed to the cross and hoisted up to suffer a slow and excruciating death yet he chose to forgive those who tormented him rather than condemn them, surrendering instead to his fate. Through suffering and death came redemption, resurrection and salvation. The story of the crucifixion is a reminder that the pathway to physical, mental and spiritual growth and fulfillment is won through great struggle.

 

Klaus Yohannes, the Black Viking of London describes how his constant pursuit of struggle has made him the man he believes he was always meant to be. Struggle he believes is something we should seek out and embrace every day. Security is an illusion. The warm bed and easy way prevents us from reaching our potential. To prove his point he has spent years pushing his body, mind and soul to the very limits and beyond. In that zone of harrowing struggle he has found purpose, meaning and redemption.

 

On April 14th, 2019, Klaus Yohannes endured the passion of the crucifixion. Although he was not physically nailed to a cross, mentally he was. Yohannes carried a 60 kg (132 pound) sleeper on his back and walked bare chested and barefoot 7.2 miles through the streets of London. He stumbled, fell, crawled and walked one agonizing step at a time. The trial nearly killed him as the weight of the sleeper fractured and displaced his cervical vertebrae, bare millimeters from severing his spinal cord. Why? Nor for money or for fame but because he wanted to show himself he could do the unimaginable.

 

Strength and growth come only through continuous effort and struggle.” — Napoleon Hill

 

 

Seven Sagas

 

The Obstacle is the Way” – Ryan Holiday

 

The ordeal Klaus Yohannes endured was a test of will. From the second mile, Klaus suffered torment and considered quitting constantly but pushed on, ignoring the pleas of bystanders, his support team and his own mind and body screaming at him to stop. The struggle was the point and the way to reaching a transformative state by pushing the boundaries past any limits he had considered imaginable.

 

Like the trials of a Jedi, the “crucifixion saga” is one of seven sagas that Klaus Yohannes has set himself to undertake on his journey of transformation through the embrace of struggle. The only obstacle he perceives are those in his own mind. With the right mindset, self-discipline and preparation almost anything can be accomplished if we are prepared to overcome our own self-imposed limits. We do not need to embark on near impossible feats of endurance but we can take the attitude “The Obstacle is the Way”.

 

Klaus Yohannes said “security is an illusion”. We are not made to lie in bed, passive and inactive. Comfort, pleasure and ease may be desirable but they do not sustain us. The safety and security that we enjoy is based on struggles, usually endured by others. Life gives some an easier ride however the world will not deny anyone struggle. Yet, rarely will they ask for it. People like Klaus Yohannes seek it out every day. This is what a Jedi does and why to be Jedi is special.

 

The world will deny you many things, it will not deny you struggle” – Klaus Yohannes

 

Klaus Yohannes – The Black Viking

 

Forty Percent

David Goggins is another “modern day Jedi” who also espouses struggle as a pathway to greatness and virtue. Goggins refuses to betray himself by being mediocre in any aspect of his life. Failure as a result of his own choices is not an option.

 

The former Navy SEAL and ultra-marathon runner pushes himself to the absolute limits of physical and mental endurance. The reason for this drive is simple; Goggin’s suffered as a boy at the hands of an abusive father, he was overweight and everything about him was mediocre. One day Goggins decided enough was enough and to change his life. He embraced struggle as the vehicle with which to achieve his full potential and ultimately help others to achieve theirs.

 

Goggins likes to hammer home a mantra he took from the Navy SEALs “we only commit 40% of our true potential”. Only our own minds are holding us back. If that is true, imagine the possibilities.

 

I thought I’d solved a problem when really I was creating new ones by taking the path of least resistance.” – David Goggins

 

The Obstacle is the Way

Obstacle is the Way” could be a Jedi aphorism. Becoming a Jedi was no easy feat. It was an incredibly demanding life that required constant struggle and sacrifice. Even then, success was not guaranteed. Star Wars uses personal struggle as a recurring theme because a story without an element of struggle is pointless. The victorious struggle of the hero against the Dark Side is the point of Star Wars. The archetypes manifested in Anakin, Luke, Leia, Han Solo, Yoda, Kylo Ren and Rey all face very personal struggles with loss, grief, betrayal, self-doubt, anger, fear and despair.

 

Struggle is the underlying message of the “Hero’s Journey”. Struggle underpins the collective mythologies of the human experience including the Star Wars saga. It is not only Human to struggle, it is necessary and a virtue.

 

“The obstacle is the path” – Zen Proverb

 

Finding the Path

I still recall the loud blow of a whistle and the shouting that would rudely awaken the Platoon during Boot Camp. The mornings were brutally cold and dark. We stumbled half asleep out of the barracks, getting screamed at and shoved. Like sheep corralled we formed up on the parade square and stood shivering in the snow waiting for roll call.  How long we stood depended on how long the Drill Sergeant took to finish his coffee and cigarette. Later on operations in the blistering heat of East Africa the Platoon Sergeant had a habit of always choosing the hardest route for a foot patrol or route march. Up and over mountains we went at an inhuman pace, each carrying more than 60 pounds of kit, wheezing and cursing with each pained step. Easy was not in his vocabulary. We were forced to struggle for a reason. War, if, when it came, would be “easier” if we suffered now.  Train hard, fight easy.

 

I struggled with alcohol and overcame it. Recovery and sobriety is constant a struggle against the ego. It is never good to take the path of least resistance. I must constantly challenge myself and embrace struggle if I am to stay sober.

 

My life is far from perfect and I do not claim happiness in the ordinary material sense. The pursuit of material things brings no lasting fulfillment. I would prefer to arrive at Eudaimonia as a natural result of virtue. As much as my shadow self, the inner alcoholic, wants me to stay in bed, eat junk, be lazy and drink booze I know these things will only lead me in to ruin. Virtue is my defense. Struggle is the foundation of virtue.

 

The “Obstacle is the Way”. Struggle counters the entropy of the Dark Side that threatens to engulf us. Through struggle we are reminded not only that we live but that we can only achieve our true potential by overcoming our own inner obstacles.

 

Further Reading

Can’t Hurt Me: Master Your Mind and Defy the Odds by David Goggins. Lioncrest Publishing (December 4, 2018).

 

The Obstacle is the Way: The Ancient Art of Turning Adversity to Advantage by Ryan Holiday. PROFILE BOOKS; Main edition (2001)

Blame

Darth Sidious at Nuremburg

 

It’s all Obi-wan’s fault. He’s jealous. He’s holding me back!” – Anakin “The Clone Wars”

 

You turned her against me!” – Anakin (to Obi-wan Kenobi on Mustafar) “Revenge of the Sith”

You have done that yourself.” – Obi-wan Kenobi

 

Blame. Was Darth Vader to blame for the destruction of Alderaan?

The Death Star was the greatest weapon ever devised. The sheer scale and power of the Death Star was unimaginable. The audacity and ambition that went in to its conception, design and construction was beyond anything ever attempted. Despite all of the technology, terror and control the Emperor wielded his forces had suffered humiliating defeats at the hands of the rag tag Rebel Force.

This was unacceptable, someone had to be blamed and punished. A swift and terrible punishment was needed. The Death Star moved towards Alderaan to exact “justice”. What happened next has been the subject of debate and controversy for decades.

 

I should conclude that our demonstration was as impressive as it was thorough.” – Darth Vader (on the destruction of Alderaan) “A New Hope”.

 

 

“Don’t Blame Me”

I often think about causality and blame. The two are often conflated but they are not the same thing. In my work I often deal with incidents. A mishap will occur and a as a consequence there will be some sort of loss such as an injury, equipment damage or environmental impact. An investigation will be launched to determine cause. This search for causality can often end up becoming a witch hunt.

A blame culture exists in society today which demands the allocation of blame for every fault. Causality is reduced to quickly assigning blame and meting out punishment. The result is resentment and conflict.

 

Whenever you find yourself blaming providence, turn it around in your mind and you will see that what has happened is in keeping with reason” – Epictetus

 

 

Wet the Bed, Blame the Blanket

Blame is a trait unique to human beings. There is nothing in the animal kingdom that even closely resembles it. If a dog pees on the carpet it is not going to try to deflect blame on to a two year old child. A few years ago I would have gladly passed on blame to the dog if I had had an “unfortunate accident” while completely inebriated. I was the person who would willingly pass blame on others and then ultimately finding reason for guilt, self loathing and self pity, blame myself begrudgingly without learning a thing.

No one blames others like an Alcoholic. We are true professionals in the blame game.  If we wet the bed, we blamed the blanket. If we wet the carpet we blamed the dog.

Alcoholism and all the dysfunctional and destructive habits that stem from it are not accidental and don’t arise by themselves. Someone or something, we reason, must be to blame. Where there is pain, loss and suffering there must be a reason and someone to blame. We blame our parents, partners, friends, co-workers, upbringing, education or lack of. If nothing else, God, fate or providence can be blamed.

So why do people so readily choose to assign blame? Does it make any difference? Will blaming others or even ourselves for misfortune help? Does it right the wrong?

 

As a mountain of rock is unshaken by wind, so also, the wise are unperturbed by blame or by praise.” – Buddha

 

 

Survival Mode

I learned the meaning of blame, guilt and punishment as a child. Living with siblings we were quick to blame each other to avoid parental wrath. Children naturally seek favor. If a parent seeks to punish a sibling for a misdeed perhaps it will make the other child look better. No one wants to be punished for something they didn’t do and will avoid punishment for something they did, if possible. Blame can be used to absolve oneself of any responsibility by passing it on.

Sometimes blame is necessary for survival. Living in a catholic orphanage taught me to be a survivor. The Nuns would constantly seek out scape goats among the children in their care. A misdeed or grievous sin would be uncovered and the culprits sought out. Collective punishment would be dispensed unless a confessor came forward to claim responsibility and penance. Ultimately those responsible and on the sidelines of the trivial matter (stolen sweets or similar) would begin to blame each other until the shell of lies and denial cracked and confessions came flooding out in waves of helpless tears.

Children under the age of ten and as young as five were forced to denounce each other and hide behind a layer of mistrust and suspicion in order to avoid physical and mental abuse. By the age of eight I had developed a keen ability to liar, deceive, cheat, con and hide the truth. I was very quick to blame anyone but myself.

 

It is easy to see the faults of others. But difficult to see one’s own faults” – Buddha

 

We care to Admit

My blame mentality blossomed during my drinking career. Every lost job, black eye, broken relationship, falling out, argument and hangover was blamed on anything but my own actions. I saw my anger, resentments, belligerency, aggression and selfishness as natural and proportionate responses to life. Misfortunes were not my fault there was always someone else to blame. This mindset keeps us in denial and ultimately in addiction. I had however stopped fooling others. I was only fooling myself.

The blame mentality does not seek to rectify and remedy but incriminate and punish. Deep down we know the truth and the truth is no one is to blame when things are just the way they are. All we need is the power to admit it.

 

Today I escaped from the crush of circumstances, or better put, I threw them out, for the crush wasn’t from outside me but in my own assumptions.” – Marcus Aurelius

 

Taking Action

When we wake up to the truth and look for cause instead of blame we can begin to take action. Seeking causality allows us to understand the problem, quantify the effect and identify solutions that resolve the issue, not compound it. What it takes is a willingness to admit our own faults, acknowledge the harm done, clarify and seek to make amends and forgive others for the role they played.

Once we isolate the cause of our problems we can avoid falling back in to the blame game. Some times blame is reasonable and justified as long as causality is established. The end goal should be to address cause, take action and finally move on. Let’s consider a scenario that helps illustrate this point. Imagine two people who have been drinking at separate bars get in to their cars at the same time and decide to drive home. Along the way, they meet.

 

What are conflict, dispute, blame, accusation, irreverence and frivolity? They are all opinions, and more than that, they are opinions that lie outside of our reasoned choice” – Epictetus

 

 

T-Boned

The first drunk gets in to his car and some miles on drives through a red light and hits another car driven by the second drunk who is speeding. Who and what is to blame for the resulting injuries and damage?

The first drunk may tell the court that he got laid off from work and had had an argument with his wife and decided to go to a bar. He may also offer that the driver of the other vehicle shared blame as he should have slowed on approaching the intersection instead of speeding and was also drunk at the time. Those are excuses and opinions, not causes.

Ultimately the cause of the accident was the running of the red light. The conscious decision taken by the driver to drive while intoxicated led to a lapse in judgement. The first driver was found to be responsible for causing the accident through his actions. The second driver was responsible for driving whilst under the influence but shared no responsibility for causing the accident. Recognition of blame either way is voluntary. We see it all the time in the court rooms. People will accept a fine or a prison term but not the blame. Causality establishes blame whether a person accepts it or not.

 

You must stop blaming God, and not blame any person. You must no longer feel anger, resentment, envy or regret.” – Epictetus

 

 

No Blame

Even now if I don’t get my way I look for blame. Alcoholics have a reactive attitude; we are prone to extremes of emotions. I have to rein myself in and to avoid jumping to conclusions, making assumptions and playing the blame game. Introspection and self reflection is required. The goal of causality is to gain knowledge. Ask yourself these questions when looking to blame:

 

What happened?

Why did it occur? (Ask why five times to get to the root cause).

What is my role in this?

How can I / we remedy it or make amends?

How can I / we prevent this from happening again?

What can I / we learn from this?

 

Blame is not sought. Why looks for cause, not blame. How and what energizes action and focuses on solutions. Not everything in life is as simple as a T-bone at an intersection. Cause and effect can be more subtle and complex. As an alcoholic I have to keep things simple and ask “what role have I played in this?” If I am accountable I admit it and accept the consequences of my actions. I seek to make amends, learn from my mistake and resolve to do better.

In other words…if you are pointing a finger at someone, there are three fingers pointing back at you. Hesitate before blaming.

 

In a way, you have determined the choice of the planet that’ll be destroyed first. Since you are reluctant to provide us with the location of the Rebel base, I have chosen to test this station’s destructive power… on your home planet of Alderaan.” – Tarkin “A New Hope”.

 

 

Alderaan

So can we blame Darth Vader for the destruction of Alderaan and the death of two billion “innocent” sentient beings living on the planet when the Death Star opened fire?

At the beginning of “A New Hope” the Tantive IV was intercepted by the Imperial Star Destroyer Devastator, boarded and seized by Darth Vader. As part of the operation Senator Leia Organa of Alderaan was captured and accused of being a Rebel agent.  In order to reveal the greater conspiracy against the Empire, Leia was interrogated. When that failed they threatened her home planet with annihilation if she did not cooperate.

The final order to fire was given by Admiral Tarkin, not Darth Vader. The target was selected because it was Leia’s home and because the Imperial command had enough evidence to consider Alderaan a willing party to the Rebellion and therefore an enemy. This fact does not does not absolve Darth Vader from guilt but it brings “blame” in to doubt.

Darth Vader was tasked by the Emperor to recover the stolen blue prints of the Death Star and eliminate any direct threat posed by the Rebels. Vader was also the Emperors apprentice and watchdog on the Death Star to oversee its commissioning. While Tarkin gave the order to fire on Alderaan he did so with the tacit approval of Vader. Tarkin may have been in command of the Death Star but Darth Vader held the strings and had ultimate power to veto any command Tarkin made.

The Dark Lord could have killed Tarkin with complete impunity should he have desired. Leia knew this and always blamed the destruction of Alderaan on Darth Vader.

 

If we would lean this way, whenever we fail, and would blame only ourselves and remember that nothing but opinion is the cause of a troubled mind and uneasiness, then by God, I swear we would be making progress”. – Epictetus

 

 

Lessons learned

I’m not sure how a trial at an intergalactic tribunal for war crimes would have played out. If they had survived and been prosecuted for war crimes, Tarkin, Vader and Palpatine would have all shared responsibility in the heinous acts of the Empire including the destruction of Alderaan. Had a tribunal been staged by the New Republic it may have been enlightened enough to determine why it happened and understand the reasons for that.

The Republic would have avoided embarking on a “Witch Hunt” bent on blame and revenge and instead sought reason and justice. While it would be small compensation for the loss of life on Alderaan, lessons would have been learned from the tragedy. Those lessons may have been used to prevent history from ever being repeated.

Blame does little more than keep wounds open. Worse it adds salt to them. Reconciliation, harmony and peace are impossible with blame. Addressing cause, acknowledging suffering and accepting responsibility not only reconciles it lifts people to a higher place and bridges differences. Knowledge is gained, justice is served. Isn’t that after all the Jedi way? If we all avoided blame perhaps the world would be a better place.

 

There is no ignorance there is knowledge” – Jedi Code

 

 

Blame by Threepio

C3PO had a built in blame mentality chip as part of its personality algorithms. This was due to the lack of defensive weaponry integrated in to protocol droids. Protocol units were completely unarmed and expected to be able to use negotiating and reasoning skills to stay out of trouble. When confronted with specific threats or fault the protocol was to resort to blame. R2D2 provided a convenient target for blame.

I wonder if the Threepio and Artoo were in a co-dependent relationship but that is for another article.

 

Don’t blame me.  I’m an interpreter. I’m not supposed to know a power socket from a computer terminal.”

“That malfunctioning little twerp (Artoo). This is all his fault! He tricked me into going this way, but he’ll do no better.”  

“It wasn’t my fault, sir. Please don’t deactivate me. I told him (Artoo) not to go, but he’s faulty, malfunctioning; kept babbling on about his mission.”  

“Deactivate! Well, on the other hand if you hadn’t removed his (Artoo’s) restraining bolt…”  

“I would much rather have gone with Master Luke than stay here with you (Artoo). I don’t know what all the trouble is about, but I’m sure it must be your fault.”  

“Listen to them! They’re dying, Artoo! Curse my metal body! I wasn’t fast enough. It’s all my fault! My poor master!”  

“Help! I think I’m melting! (to Artoo)This is all your fault.”  

I don’t know what all this trouble is about, but I’m sure it must be your (Artoo) fault.”

Hate

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

“Strike me in anger and I will always be with you” – Luke Skywalker

 

Hatred is a powerful emotion. Unlike anger which is a transitory emotion eventually burning out, hatred will endure the test of time and be as potent as the day it rose. I have personally seen and felt the results of ethnic and religious hatred that had lay buried beneath the surface for generations simmering but never extinguished finally exploding into life. Entire communities wiped out, former neighbors and friends turned enemies ready to slaughter each other with impunity.

Hatred flows in the blood. Hate is a living thing; it is passed on like a curse from one generation to the next. Endless wars and bloodshed are fueled by Hatred.

More than a quarter of a century ago I went to my Father’s homeland. The country was tearing itself apart in an orgy of ethnic and religious hatred that shocked the world. In that beautiful country I was surrounded by people who hated “them” and wanted to see “them” suffer a cruel fate. I belonged to an ethnic group that had a historic vendetta against another group who shared the same language, history and culture but had been at war for centuries.

Standing there none of it made sense to me. It seemed insane. I began to question the war and my own motives. Rather than take up arms I decided not to add to the insanity seeking instead to work with Aid groups. I could not find any animosity or hatred in me for an entire people based on their ethnicity.

 

Affliction

People do cruel and obscene things to each other out of Hate. Sometimes these acts are done without a hint of anger or pride. Hatred is justification enough for torture, murder, rape, genocide. The very emotion removes all humanity and commonality with the object of ones hatred. To Hate is to separate.

Wrath, the ultimate manifestation of Hatred is considered a deadly sin because of its raw and total destructiveness that eventually and utterly consumes itself to oblivion.

Hatred is a uniquely human emotion. There is no other creature in existence that knows hate. Animals will display anger, aversion, fear and aggression but never deep rooted hate waiting to spring in to acts. Why is that? What is the possible evolutionary advantage of being capable of and having the potential for Hate?

Why do I still feel resentment, righteous indignation and  sometimes even hate towards others?

 

You have hate, you have anger, but you don’t use them.” – Count Dooku

 

 

With Extreme Prejudice

In the Army they taught us to “Hate” the enemy, whoever they decided it was at the time. The reason was simple. Killing another human being is much easier if you hate them. You will no longer see the enemy as a fellow human being who shares the same hopes, fears and dreams as you filtered through the lens of hate.

In the course of the training the Hate grows. You learn to hate the instructors and senior ranks because they treat you with cruelty and contempt. In turn you turn that Hate on others. Eventually war gives you an outlet and a target for that hate. Aggression and a willingness to do violence are multiplied through hate.

People are not naturally primed to kill. Killing is not in our nature. The mental and spiritual barriers that prevents a human from killing another is broken down by Hate. A person might kill out of the pure instinctual drive to survive or in a fit of rage where all sense and reason is momentarily lost. Hatred, on the other hand, provides the “sense” and the “reason” for committing the worst of atrocities.

I Hate You!” – Anakin

I Loved You!” – Obi-wan Kenobi

 

 

Consumed

Anakin was driven to the Dark Side through the hatred that grew within him like some insidious tumor. The fire of Mustufar ravaged his body but hatred utterly consumed his soul.

Anakin’s Grandson, Kylo Ren, suffered the same affliction. Ren’s hatred was so deep that he became a psychopath. Hatred had driven Luke to almost kill his nephew Ben Solo. Believing himself entitled to Justice Kylo Ren derived sadistic pleasure and satisfaction in hunting and murdering those who had been close to him, who had hurt him. Hatred spurned him on but as it grew deeper it consumed him.

Anakin driven to insanity and complete loss of identity with his transformation to Vader suffered deeply. Vader was tortured physically, mentally and spiritually with every breath. The Hatred was complete and transmutated itself into raw power. The Dark Side. Vader no longer hated anyone or anything other than himself and his Master. In Vader lay no festering ordinary hatred. There was only a will to control all that is within a closed fist of absolute power. All of Vader’s intent was directed there.

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that” – Martin Luther King

 

The Insanity

Alcoholism leads to Hatred. An alcoholic not only feels regret, remorse and disgust at their behavior but also deep seated Hate. The Hate can be all consuming. Our disease, other people and especially the self are all objects of our Hate. Refusing to take blame for our condition we lay it on others and our resentment turns to Hate. I wanted to hurt others when my hate grew so big but most of all I wanted to hurt myself. There is absolutely no logic or reason to it, but to the alcoholic is makes perfect sense.

In short it’s a form of insanity.

A man can feel both love and hate in his heart and still function. Alcohol distorts everything. The sufferer will love and hate more passionately but in a way that seems unreal. The disease afflicts our view of the world and twists emotions in such a way that we no longer resemble the person we once were. Nothing is normal and everything is to excess.

 

“Darkness is a lower energy than light, and when you bring light to the presence of darkness you don’t have to warn it, you don’t have to tell it that it has to get away. It can’t survive. Light dissolves darkness. And so does love dissolve hate and so does joy dissolve sadness and so does faith dissolve doubt and so on” – Wayne Dyer

 

 

Water

Recently a friend told me about the “memory of water”. The controversial theory is that water retains a memory of what resided within it. Water will also store the vibrational energy of emotions directed towards it. The idea sounds fanciful and experiments which have attempted to demonstrate the theory have been unable to be replicated using scientific method.

As a believer in the Force I have to agree that every action, word, thought and emotion carries potential energy. Hate and Love each carry energy. One is dark and the other is light. Love fosters and upholds life while Hate brings war and destruction. Both emotions have consequences.

I attempted to replicate the experiment at home to test the memory of water. Every morning for the first week I woke up and filled my mind with negative thoughts. Suitably wrapped in a foul mood I approached a glass of water on my desk and said the following words; “I hate you! Die! Kill! War!”. I poured all of my malice and anger in to the glass and walked away. Strangely enough the rest of the day did not go well for me. I repeated this every day for a week. By the end of it I was tired and edgy.

I allowed two weeks to pass and poured a new glass of water. This time I paused on awakening to fill my mind with positive thoughts. I approached the glass of water brimming with optimism and said to it “Love, Peace, Calm”. This I repeated every day for a week and sure enough my week went better than during the previous experiment.

What was the final outcome of the experiment? The first glass of water seemed discolored and tasted tepid and stale at the end of the week. It was unpleasant to drink and I felt slightly nauseous afterwards. The second glass of water exposed to loving emotions was fresh and tasted good. I felt no ill effects. As compelling as it seemed it was also inconclusive.

Obviously my experiment was not undertaken using scientific rigor. Any number of variables could have affected the outcome. The fact remain however that if we go through life carrying negative emotions such as Hate it does affects our mental and physical health. In turn Hate cascades in to every aspect of our lives, affecting our relationships and our potential. Hate literally poisons life.

Hate begets hate; violence begets violence; toughness begets a greater toughness. We must meet the forces of hate with the power of love.” – Martin Luther King

 

Power of Love

As children we learn to Love before we learn to Hate. Within our true self resides unbounded Love. That is why when we carry Hate we know that it is not who we are. It feels unnatural and heavy like a sickness within us. The feeling of “righteous indignation” and anger it gives us is shallow and leaves us feeling hollow and in conflict with who we truly are.

When we open our eyes to the illusion of Hate, it becomes exposed for what it is. Hate is a wall that separates us completely from our inner divine more than any emotion. Hate separates us from our true nature and from other people. Like a cancer it grows and ultimately it destroys us from the inside out. If you strike with hatred in your heart it will stay with you forever like a dark stain.

Love conquers Hate. It was an act of Love that redeemed and saved Anakin from his living hell. Love stayed Luke’s hand from inflicting a fatal blow on Ben Solo. Luke invited Kylo Ren to strike him down but warned him to do so with Hate would afflict him forever. Perhaps Love will be the final act which will save Kylo Ren and bring order to the Force.

 

Hatred does not cease by hatred, but only by love; this is the eternal rule” – Buddha

 

I’m done with Hate and you should be too. Hate begets hate. Love begets love. Meditate on that.

Pride

 

Sometimes we must let go of our pride and do what is requested of us.” – Anakin Skywalker

 

Heart of the Sith

Pride it is said belongs to the “Sith”. Pride is a fault, a flaw and a vice to be avoided by the Jedi. In the real world the word “Pride” is often maligned by society. People say to have pride is to not have humility.

We are warned about the perils of pride from childhood and throughout life. Often times the consequences of pride are laid bare as a warning to others. Pride has led to the decline and fall of world leaders, celebrities and sports stars in recent times. Empires throughout history have risen and fallen, built and then laid desolate by pride.

 

Hubris

Hubris is excessive Pride. In Greek Mythology an act of hubris was for a mere mortal to defy the Gods or assume one’s self better than they. This would ultimately lead to the fall of the perpetrator of hubris. Odysseus was guilty of hubris on many occasions. The hero was waylaid by the God Poseidon for his hubris. Icarus in his hubris forged wings from wax and fell to his death for flying too close to the sun.

The story of the Arch Angel Lucifer and his fall from Heaven is the greatest reminder in mythology of the consequence of hubris. The Bible and the Koran are full of warnings against angering God through hubris. Star Wars is another mythology where hubris is the ruin of many.

 

Don’t be too proud of this technological terror you’ve constructed. The ability to destroy a planet is insignificant next to the power of the Force.” – Darth Vader

 

Sweet Poison

Pride is poison to the Alcoholic. I know it kept me in strife for decades and almost ruined me completely. Pride keeps us in denial and chained to addiction. Without surrendering pride and embracing humility there is little chance of recovery. We are best advised to avoid pride at all costs. Pride after all is a manifestation of the Ego and leads to despair.

Somewhere along the line the words “pride” and “hubris” have become conflated. Pride is the worst of the seven deadly sins and the root of all others. Let us not forget that pride can be both a balm and a bane. Pride can be both good and bad. Pride has a Dark Side and a Light Side.

 

There is no hubris, there is pride” – Author (acknowledgments to the Jedi Code)

 

Pride by Nature

At the same time we admonish pride as a personal trait we also see it as a virtue behind causes. Pride is the word that has been used widely by the LBGTQ community in their efforts to seek tolerance and acceptance. Minority and disadvantaged groups in the United States and many other countries rise them selves up behind a banner of pride. Black Pride remains a driving force behind the civil rights movement. People of all types are encouraged to be proud of their heritage, their culture and identity.

Pride is at the heart of human nature. Pride serves an evolutionary purpose and is a part of the human make up. The emotion is uniquely human. Humans are motivated by pride to compete, climb the hierarchy, develop, reproduce and succeed. In evolutionary terms, pride carries a clear advantage.

Children develop a sense of pride before they can crawl. Have you ever seen the pure joy and raw pride in a baby who has taken her first step? Try taking a spoon from her when she’s trying to feed herself.

Pride is therefore necessary for human growth. Without pride a person cannot expect to achieve self sufficiency, self reliance and resilience. Pride is essential for learning.  I would argue that the sentiment “before the fall comes pride” may be correct some of the time but it is not an absolute. We all need the right amount (and the right type) of pride.

 

 Original image property of Lucas Films

Proud

In the book “Pride: the secret of success” by Jessica Tracey (2016). The author claims that research in psychology makes a strong case that pride is at the heart of success. The greatest artists, inventors, discoverers and innovators have been driven by a sense of pride in their ability to overcome a challenge and achieve their dreams. Steve Jobs, Sir Edmund Hilary, Albert Einstein, Nelson Mandela, ML King, Rosa Parks, Amelia Earhart and Charles Darwin were all driven by pride.

People may dispute that pride had anything to do with the worlds greatest figures and their accomplishments. Principal and a yearning for justice were at play, not pride. But what if Rosa Parks had swallowed her pride and surrendered her seat on that bus in Alabama? What if Darwin had listened to his critics and abandoned or renounced his work? Pride fuels the emotions that govern principle and justice. Civilization and society was built by pride.

Having pride means you care about how others see and how you see yourself. Pride confers that you want the respect that you deserve and seek to be admired. We are motivated to work harder and to strive for excellence through pride.

 

The path to the Dark Side is paved with good intentions” – L. Christopher Bird

 

Pride and Prejudice

In Star Wars a young Luke Skywalker and Rey both share the same character traits of impatience and determination. Each has pride and a good measure of it. Where pride leads to accomplishment, hubris leading from impatience, cocksureness and overconfidence has the opposite effect. Hubris led Luke to depart Dagobah against the advice of Yoda. Perhaps hubris led Rey to attack Luke and hurriedly leave Ahch-To after she had learned the truth of Skywalker’s dark secret.

Luke Skywalker tells a shocked Rey in “The Last Jedi” that arrogance and hubris led to the fall of the first Jedi Order. Rey cannot believe it yet soon after her own pride forces her to make rash decisions that almost end in disaster.

Alone on his Island, Luke has grown older but seemingly not much wiser. A sort of hubris clouds his willingness to see things as they are. Luke has become obstinate, cantankerous and arrogant. False pride disguised as crippling guilt keeps Luke from claiming his destiny and transforming tragedy in to victory. It was also hubris that drove Anakin throughout his career as a Jedi Knight. Once that excessive pride was expressed as hatred and a desire to control others Anakin’s fall to the Dark Side was assured.

Pride was also used for good in Star Wars. The Jedi Order served the Republic with pride. The Clone Army prided itself on discipline, teamwork and courage; all facets of pride. The Rebellion was sparked by a desire for freedom and justice. Pride kept the Rebels in the fight despite many setbacks. Luke Skywalker rebuilt the Jedi Temple out of pride of its former glory. The Jedi Order was restored because of pride.

 

And in my hubris, I thought I could train him (Ben Solo); I could pass on my strengths” – Luke Skywalker

 

 

Conquer Pride

So the Jedi tenet that pride is to be avoided as a vice of the “Sith” is partially misguided. The “Sith” bask in hubris. Their hubris was the feeling of arrogance over others and the contempt that they felt for those they considered “inferior”. The “Sith” sought only to control and dominate. Power feeds pride. This is not the type of pride we want.

Jedi Philosophy suggests that we should “conquer pride”. The precept encourages us to assess our motives continuously. Are our intentions sincere? Do our actions lead to positive outcomes? Right action follows right intent.

We are not asked to reject pride as a useful emotion but to not let it rule us. We use pride to serve us and others only. Pride should never control our motives or control our actions alone. Pride should be used to improve, build and create never to denigrate, destroy and harm. There should always be a stop check on our pride to avoid it becoming hubris.

Pride can push us to cheat, lie, to be disingenuous and take advantage of others. We can be motivated to climb the ladder through pride but also to climb over others. Pride can cause us to be boastful, gloating, obstinate, inflexible, conceited and arrogant. In alcoholics it manifests as rampant self will, self seeking and selfishness. We should seek to conquer pride.

 

My powers have doubled since the last time we fought, Dooku!” – Anakin Skywalker

Good! Twice the pride, double the fall!” – Count Dooku

 

 

Red Flags

Pride is most harmful when it clouds our judgement and directs our actions in a way that fails to consider primary and secondary consequences. For example, during an argument your pride may be dented and as a result you resort to anger and lash out. Feeling foolish and resentful you may decide to further take matters in your own hand by getting drunk. This leads to more problems and arguments. The cycle continues. This is a typical pattern of behaviour I displayed in alcoholism. Where my pride had been hurt I reacted in ways that only made things worse, not better.

We are warned in recovery of the dangers of pride. Pride taken in the accomplishment of sobriety can back fire. Hubris caused my Father to relapse in to final and fatal active alcoholism. Hubris can be the rug that is pulled from under us. We cannot take credit for being sober. The credit goes to whatever Higher Power we chose. At the same time there is nothing wrong in feeling pride in the fruits of our labor and the progress we have made in our lives. They key is to temper our pride with a sense of humility and gratitude.

 

Great Kid! Don’t get cocky” – Han Solo

 

 

Get over yourself

Bill W in his essay on emotional sobriety confesses that hubris led him to feeling intense resentments and bouts of depression. The new lease on life and a renewed sense of purpose recovery gave him had the side effect of inflating his own pride. With growing fame in the movement his pride soon turned to hubris and then he was in trouble. When he realized that he could not control others it came as a shock and resentment set in sending him on a downward slide. By realizing and admitting this fault Bill W was able to “Let Go” of the need to control others and focus on what he could control; his own reasoned choices.

Recovery is not possible without pride. Pride is an essential ingredient in staying sober and clean. We can stay humble but also have pride in the knowledge that we have recovered. Whether a Higher Power, the Force or God gave us the strength to stay on the path or not does not mean we cannot be proud of where we have come. As long as we “don’t get cocky” we can have pride in that.

 

If you strip away the myth and look at their deeds, the legacy of the Jedi is failure. Hypocrisy, hubris.” – Luke Skywalker

 

 

A Paradox

Recovery is a journey that often presents paradoxes that confound at first but then explain themselves with time. The way to salvation is through surrender, giving away means we get to keep, the greatest conquerors conquer only themselves, humility leads to pride are examples. Virtues such as courage, wisdom, justice and moderation all require a measure of pride.

Pride is the root of all sins but it is also the root of all virtues. Pride is behind the self reassurance and confidence that we need to find our purpose, chase dreams and find success. Without a measure of pride the self belief  needed to see success and the self discipline required to carry out the work to the end is less likely to flourish. When people say “take pride in your self and in your work” they are not telling us to show hubris, but care. Ultimately how you use pride and whether it uses you is a choice.

There is nothing wrong in having pride if you can resist hubris. Use pride to inspire, drive and motivate you to success. Do not be ashamed if you are proud of your accomplishments, identity, character and virtues. If these things matter to you having pride in them will only add their value and give you greater purpose in life.

Be Proud, Be Jedi.

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.