Codependency

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

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

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

 

A Painful Truth

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

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

 

Emotional Maturity

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

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

 

Child

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

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

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

 

A Home

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

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

 

Barely Functional

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

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

 

A Wife to the Grave

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

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

 

Emotional Sobriety

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

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

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

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

 

Interdependency

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

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

 

Accept the things

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

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

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

 

The Impulsive (Part I)

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

 

Unlike Twins

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

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

 

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

 

Toss of a Coin

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

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

 

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

 

Being Impulsive

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

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

 

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

 

Impulsive by Nature

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

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

 

Spontaneous but Jedi

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

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

 

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

Danger to ourselves

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

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

Self Sufficiency

A Shield

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

Heart on a Sleeve

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

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

 

Self Defense

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

 

Nothing to Prove

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

 

In Balance

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

 

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

 

Open and Honest

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

 

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

 

People not Things

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

 

Practice Self-sufficiency

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

Reframe the situation:

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

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

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

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

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

Pick you Role Model:

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

Set Daily rituals:

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

 

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

Self Reliance (Part II)

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

 

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

 

Diogenes

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

 

Self-Trust

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

 

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

 

Self not Self Reliance

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

 

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

 

Seeking Balance

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

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

 

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

 

With Surety

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

Training to be Self Reliant

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

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

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

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

Self Reliance (Part 1)

An Island

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

 

Jedi Reliable

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

 

The Dude in Black

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

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

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

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

 

Growing Pains

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

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

 

Hurry up and Wait

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

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

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

 

Booze Reliance

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

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

 

Becoming Self Reliant

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

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

 

Being Self Reliant

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

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

 

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

 

Next Blog: Skills for Self Reliance

 

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

 

CONUS Battle Drills

 

CONUS Battle Drills (The Book)

 

 

Jedi have a sense of Humor

33. Jedi have a keen sense of humor

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

(33 Jedi Traits)

When we Laugh

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

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

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

 

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

Humor is a Treasure

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

 

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

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

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

Needed Armor

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

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

 

Laugh it Off

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

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

How humor heals

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

Jedi seek Balance

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

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

(33 Jedi Traits)

 

Purgatory

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

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

 

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

 

The Light and the Dark

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Find you Own Light

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

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

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

“What shall I find?” – Luke Skywalker

“Only what you take with you” – Yoda

 

 

The Light in Dagobah

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

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

 

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

 

In all our affairs

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

Clear your Mind

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

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

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

 

The Window

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

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

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

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

Jedi have compassion

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

(33 Jedi Traits)

Metta

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

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

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

 

Stoic Compassion

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

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

 

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

 

Loving Kindness

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

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

 

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

 

Bleeding Hearts

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

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

 

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

Think before Leaping

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

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

 

12 Step Compassion

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

Obi-wan’s Compassion

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

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

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

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

To Suffer or to Heal

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

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

Passion yet serenity” – Jedi Code

Jedi Compassion

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

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

This is the true nature of Jedi compassion. .

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

Jedi avoid acting on Anger

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

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

 

A Sword

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

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

Anger is a short madness.” – Horace

 

A Madness

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

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

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

 

Born to Anger

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

A Heavy Burden

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

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

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

 

Its not Enough

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

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

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

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

— Alcoholics Anonymous

 

The Red Flag

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jedi are Positive

Jedi believe in practicing awareness and are mindful of their thoughts. Jedi keep their thoughts positive. A positive mental attitude is healthy for both the mind and body. Not every thought that ‘pops’ into our head is actually ours, since thoughts can originate from many sources across the Universe, and not just from our physical brain. We have to be able to discern the thoughts and remove the bad ones or negative, fear-based ones. Even the food we eat, and things we drink can influence our thoughts. So, we must always be mindful of our thoughts.

Jedi Optimism

In the Clone Wars episode “The Blue Shadow Virus” Anakin is becoming agitated as it becomes clear that Padme and the entire planet of Naboo may be in grave danger from a biological weapon unleashed by the Separatists. Obi-wan Kenobi watching Anakin tie himself in to knots of anxiety wryly points out that Anakin seems a little “on edge”.

There’s a good chance we’re about to destroy all life on this planet including ours and the senator so yes I’m a little on edge, why aren’t you?” replies Anakin with exasperation.

Obi-wan Kenobi shrugs nonchalantly, “I’m better at hiding it”.

Obi-wan always reserved optimism. Even when faced with a hopeless situation he never gave up hope and it showed in his attitude. Obi-wan was realistic but never defeatist. Anakin on the other hand could be positive but was easily drawn in to a negative outlook at the expense of reality.

Jedi Pessimism

In the Clone Wars The Jedi Master Pong Krell switched sides. Arriving on Umbara during an assault to take the capital, Krell relieves Anakin who has been ordered back to Coruscant. Krell takes command of a battalion of the 501st and begins to undermine the mission. The Clone troopers under his charge eventually discovered the deception and mutinied. They manage to restrain the Master Jedi after many Troopers are killed in the attempt to capture the traitor.

When asked “why” the Jedi Master revealed that the Republic’s efforts are futile and he was going to save his skin and become Count Dooku’s apprentice. Pong Krell had lost confidence in the Republic and his pessimism at their chances forced him to abandon the Jedi Code and sway to the Dark Side. This is the nature of chronic pessimism.

The Power of Positive Thought

Over sixty years ago the “Power of Positive Thinking” became an international best seller. The premise of the book was that each and every person has the ability to completely transform their lives simply through the power of positive thought. This was hardly a new concept. The philosophy had been around for thousands of years. The Buddha revealed to his followers this profound fact over 2500 years ago. The ancient Greeks and Romans were tossing it about between the different philosophies of the day even before Socrates spoke about it. The early Christians preached of the power of the mind to transform one’s life through simple belief and Faith. The idea of miracles is largely one of the power of the mind over the body. If we truly believe we can be healed, so we shall.

Speak to any Doctor and you will be told that diagnostic medicine works most of the time. That most of the time is due largely to clinical trials undertaken to prove drugs and treatments. Some diseases like cancer provide Oncologists with a challenge in that science has not quite nailed a cure. A person identified with Stage IV lung cancer is likely to have a low rate of survivability even with treatment particularly if the tumor is aggressive. Doctors are now finding that patients who have grit, determination or abiding faith can at times turn these odds around and “demonstrate modern day miracles”.

Doctors will also tell you that treatment of any disease and the healing process is a team effort. The conscious patient is not just a passive subject but an active participant in their treatment and recovery. The Patient is expected to be compliant with the treatment plan. If a course of drugs is not taken as ordered or instructions are not followed then the Doctor cannot be held accountable for lack of progress. The Patient must also bring a willing and positive attitude to the table if they are to stand a chance of full recovery.

In a dark place we find ourselves and a little more knowledge lights our way” – Yoda

Think and Heal

Very often we hear stories of people who have been given a hopeless prognosis. Some are given months or a few years to live. Yet their sheer will to live and their “can do”, “never say die” attitude not only keeps them alive but in some cases leads to complete recovery. Ask any but the most closed minded Doctors and they will tell you that a patient’s positive attitude is a crucial element in the successful outcome of a case. Some people think themselves into illness. Some patients think themselves worse and sabotage their recovery. Recovery is a mental as well as a physiological process.

The Canadian Medical Association Journal published a study that backs the “mind-body connection”  with hard science1.. Optimistic and confident patients who went in to surgery fared better than those who went in fearful or pessimistic about their chances. Post-operative pain was also lower in patients who were positive and more proactive in their recovery. In another study optimism and a positive outlook was also correlated with long term health and quality of life2.

The “woe is me” cohort were found to have more dependency on treatment and pain therapy and lower success rates to full recovery. In the past Doctors would refer anything they could not touch, hear or feel and measure to the “Psych” department. Increasingly Doctors are talking to their Patients about the importance of having a positive attitude. Meditation and relaxation exercises are encouraged along with affirmations and visualization.

 “In order to carry a positive action we must develop a positive vision” – Dalai Lama

The Operation

Some years ago I had a large non-malignant tumor removed from my head. The mass if it had been allowed to continue growing would have have been fatal. The Doctors were honest about the surgery and the potential outcomes. I was going to lose most of my hearing. There would be disfigurement and facial palsy. My eye sight would like be badly affected as well as balance. It would be months before I would be fit to return to work and I’d probably never have the same quality of life again. There would be chronic pain. The upside is I’d get to live for a few more decades.

The operation went ahead. I walked out of hospital and was back at work four weeks later. Within a few months I was back to full fitness. The palsy and eye issues were there but I was alive. The Doctors were surprised by the progress and stated that it was my drive and determination to get better that accelerated the healing. A positive attitude on my part had made their job a lot easier. They did the medicine, I did positive attitude. I got better and went back to work.

If you change your mind your conditions must change too. We are transformed by the renewing of our minds.” – Emmet Fox

Stinking Thinking

While this disease had been easy to lick my problem with the other disease, alcoholism, was not so simple. Alcoholics have a way of self inoculating themselves against a mental attitude adverse to drinking. Where alcohol is concerned we become completely irrational and unreasonable. Our mind is hijacked by a deeper need than self preservation.We sabotage ourselves mentally.

Several months after my life saving operation I was wondering what was the point of being granted a second chance. I was frustrated with the pain and discomfort. My eyes watered or were too dry, I had headaches all the time and I was conscious of the palsy. Alcohol became a release. I had stinking thinking.

As the depression set in so did the anxiety and the resentment. Fear leads to anger leads to the dark side. I was losing my mind and as I spiraled downward there seemed to be little hope. Would it have not been better if that tumor had killed me rather than let me live through this suffering? I seemed to be sinking in to some kind of deep hole and into a morass of self pity, despair, anger, sadness and lingering insanity. I could not muster the bravado which had helped me recover after surgery. Why was that?

Waking Up

It was a simple and feeble call for help. A flimsy reed was offered and I was raised up out of that pit. I can remember the experience but it is hard to describe. My call for help was a surrender, a submission to some power. Something washed over me and I felt like a light flared within. The sensation was overwhelming. I knew at once everything would be alright. There was no need to worry ever again. My compulsion to drink was gone and it has never returned.

For a few weeks after I rode a wave of spiritual and emotional high. I embraced the ethos of recovery and set out to better myself. In the span of two months I worked through Steps 1 to 9. Such was my attitude that I was able to achieve all the goals I set myself. A positive attitude was paramount in early recovery. Since then I have discovered that attitude is a choice. We can choose to adopt a negative attitude or a positive attitude to almost any situation. It’s what we make it.

Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier” – Colin Powell

Get Positive

Having a positive attitude does not mean we dance as Rome burns down. It means taking a realistic view of life by taking control where we can and accepting that some things are out of our control. Even in the face of a unwanted events we can still be cautiously optimistic. To fall in to despair or a cycle of negative self talk  solves nothing, it makes it worse.

Things will happen in life which broadside us in completely unexpected ways. We received bad news and we ask how can anyone be positive. I recently learned that someone close to me has lung cancer. The person is very ill but not terminal and is fighting the disease. I try to present a positive attitude every time I see him. It is largely up to him to decide whether to be pessimistic or optimistic about his chances.

When others are down we can help them raise their spirits. No one need carry the load themselves. We cannot take the cancer or the disease and carry it for them because we are stronger but we can help carry them through the rough times. As Samwise Gamgee said to Frodo on the slopes of Mount Doom as the Ring Bearer lay on the rocks unable to go any further “Come on Mr Frodo, I can’t carry the ring for you…..but I can carry you and it as well. So up you get!”.

Be mindful of your attitude. The frame of mind that you take in to almost any situation will affect the outcome. A positive attitude can achieve almost anything, even miracles.

Men are disturbed not by things but by the views which they take of them” – Epictetus

1.http://www.webmd.com/balance/news/20010727/power-of-positive-thinking

2. http://www.cmaj.ca/content/186/4/E150