Four Horsemen

(Credit: goodbadennui)

Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger; anger leads to hate; hate leads to suffering” – Yoda

Fear, anger, hate, and suffering were the Four Horsemen of the Dark Side that lead Anakin to his fate. They followed him like a shadow growing in strength with the years. Yoda’s prophetic warning to the child Anakin in “The Phantom Menace” was one of the most iconic lines in the Star Wars saga. In a few words Yoda revealed not only the path to the Dark Side but also the way out of suffering.

Yoda saw much fear in the young Anakin and saw the potential for that fear to transmute itself in to anger and hate. The raw untapped Force that resided in Anakin was obvious to Yoda and it troubled him because the Force has a light side and a dark side. The one who wields the Force decides which of the two sides to wield. Yoda’s misgivings were justified and for that reason he entrusted the training and care of Anakin to Qui Gon-Jinn and then Obi-wan Kenobi.

Fear, resentment, and anger is poison for the alcoholic in recovery leading to confusion, frustration, and despair. All stem from grasping attachment. What are they?

  • Resentment is when you don’t get your way yesterday.
  • Anger is when you don’t get your way today.
  • Fear is that you won’t get your way tomorrow. 

Hate is an extreme expression of resentment, anger and fear stemming from a perceived injustice or threat. Alcoholics know hate. They start by hating the limits imposed on their drinking, that hate extends to all around them and finally they hate themselves and alcohol. The irony is that hate always does more harm on the vessel that contains it than on which it is poured. It can only lead to suffering.

(Credit: Disney Lucas Films)

The child Anakin had been born into slavery and raised in Fear. The adolescent took that fear and turned it in to anger over the death his mother. Death and injustice became the subject of his hate. Now a Jedi, Anakin practiced controlled anger in war but he learned to hate the Separatists. War showed him the failings of democracy and the hypocrisy of the Jedi Order and it made him angry and resentful. Anakin believed his destiny was to rule the galaxy with Padmé at his side, not for power but for the sake of he and his beloved. Given power over mortality Anakin could defeat death and bring “peace, justice, freedom and security” to all.

Anakin was a victim of the Four Horsemen. Any modern psychologist would say he was suffering from mild paranoid schizophrenia and borderline psychosis stemming from post-traumatic stress disorder, an understandable outcome of slavery and then decades of service as a “Janissary” in the Jedi Order. A lifetime of unresolved inner conflict and emotional baggage built up and climaxed into hate when he perceived that Padmé and Obiwan-Kenobi had betrayed his love and trust. Anakin succumbed to rage and fell to the suffering of the Dark Side. The Horseman carried him away like a bride to the grave.

It need not be for us like that. We who have suffered for years and decades under fear and allowed it to breed resentment, anger and even hate come to realize that these things are merely the ego trying to keep us in the illusion of separation from our true selves, which is the Force. The ego wants us to be subject to its control and if that means alcoholism and lifetime of suffering, even at the risk of ego death, it is better than self-realization. Once we realize that we are above the base emotions of fear, anger and hate we can rise above them and in doing so completely overcome the ego and exorcise the Four Horsemen from our lives, for good.

Shoshin

You must unlearn what you have learned” – Yoda

Yoda was 900 years old when he met Luke Skywalker on Dagobah. That would have made him a Master by any definition. Despite his age and experience, Yoda was humble enough to be reminded by the younglings he taught in the Temple on Coruscant the value of having a beginners mind. On Dagobah he also admonished Luke to put aside what he thought he knew and empty himself of prior experience so that he could be open and receptive to learning, like a beginner.

You can’t learn what you think you already know. There is a reason beginners in karate and other martial arts are given a white belt. White is the color that represents Shoshin, the Zen concept of a mind that is fresh and new, waiting to be taught and  filled with knowledge. In martial arts having a beginners mind keeps one humble and always open to learning. Soshin is the beginners mind of a white belt, however even a black belt is just a white who never quit. In a Dojo you will often find the Sensei wearing a white belt in recognition of the unlimited potential of the “beginners mind”.

Despite his age and mastery as a Jedi, Yoda demonstrated a purer form of Shoshin. That state of mind opened him to the power of the Force and led Yoda to enlightenment.

Observe… without preconceptions and with a blank mind.” – Taiichi Ohno

Al Kavadlo is a well-known personality in the calisthenics community with over 20 years as a personal trainer in New York, a string of books and a growing YouTube channel. Other than being exceptional in the art of calisthenics Kavadlo is also respected for being a warm, humble and positive guy who works to motivate people to reach their goals. In his book “Zen Mind, Strong Body: How To Cultivate Advanced Calisthenic Strength – Using The Power Of “Beginner’s Mind“, Cavadlo states that the path to excellence is often a simple one. We tend to waste a lot of time complicating things and making them harder instead of “keeping it simple” and doing the basics well even when reaching mastery. We should always adopt a beginners mind and view our training with a fresh set of eyes like any novice.

Shoshin

Kavadlo’s Zen like approach to training resonates with me because I have also practice calisthenics. It is a simple but humbling form of exercise which trains complete control of the body through strength and agility. Body and mind work as one. Progress can be very slow. After many years of training it is not unusual to be humbled over and over again by a move that eludes you but others find easy to master. It is also an easy practice to become arrogant and conceited as you progress only to have that progress cut by months or years through a simple injury caused by over-confidence. Many people quit after months of effort because they failed to realize calisthenics is as much a mental journey as a physical one. It require a beginners mind to master.

You want to know the difference between a master and a beginner? The master has failed more times than the beginner has ever tried.” – Unknown (sometimes attributed to Yoda).

The 12 Steps is about “keeping it simple” and never becoming so conceited that you no longer see the blind spots in front of you. Its about having a “beginners mind” and being humble enough to admit that alcohol is a cunning opponent that exploits arrogance and complacency. Years of abstinence helps but it does not guarantee we will never relapse back into old habits. Having a beginners mind reminds us that we are only one drink away from total relapse.

The 12 Steps also reinforces the need to getting back to basics. Instead of telling ourselves that we know it all already we have to be prepared to adopt a beginners mind in our recovery. After many years of recovery we can still lack emotional sobriety. Over the years we can hit a spiritual plateau and began to stagnate. Some of us are headed for trouble unless we take notice and arrest the slide. We must put aside any perception of mastery and become a humble beginner again and re-learn the basics from scratch. We take on a “beginners mind”. The 12 Steps is a circle it is not a linear path with an end point. In recovery we must often revisit the foundation steps in order to maintain our sobriety.

Truly wonderful, the mind of a child is.” – Yoda

Recently I have been experiencing a type of mental, physical and spiritual low which left me in a rut. During this time I felt myself often angry and frustrated over little things. I no longer cared about what I was doing or the people around me. “Stinking thinking” started to pervade my thoughts and as they did my behaviour began to change. It was affecting my relationships, my job and my health. I began to lose progress in my training, I stopped writing and in self-pity I began to consider whether I should leave the Jedi Path. Then I picked up and read “Zen Mind, Strong Body” and found that having a beginners mind is very much a part of being Jedi.

I got back to work with a beginners mind. Ideas and possibilities began to reveal themselves. Where before I refused to see past my own problems I now started seeing solutions. The Force started to work for me through an attitude of Shoshin.

So pick yourself up and shake yourself off. Pick up the basic text and read as if it were the first time. Train, meditate, read, pray, eat, sleep and repeat. Treat each day with the respect it deserves as a chance to start afresh and discover new opportunities and experiences. Do what you have to do but keep it simple and get back to basics. Do it with a “beginners mind”.

If your mind is empty, it is always ready for anything, it is open to everything. In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s mind there are few. ” – Shunryu Suzuki.

Zen Mind, Strong Body: How to Cultivate Advanced Calisthenic Strength—Using the Power of “Beginner’s Mind” by Al Kavadlo (paperback or e-book from Amazon or Dragon Door publications https://www.dragondoor.com/b81/

Voice

I have only just begun using my voice which is now freer than ever before, and I hope it inspires others to do the same.” – Gina Carano

Imagine, if you would, being gagged and forbidden to speak your mind. How would that feel? Imagine also being told how and when to think, speak and act. What would that do to your soul? It would be like keeping a tree in a small pot. As the tree grows, its roots branch out and unable to go deeper they begin to bunch into a mangled and tortured mass. Eventually the tree begins to stunt and whither in its growth.

Humans have an inherent and divine need to express themselves without being suppressed and stymied by others. The inner divine seeks to grow and expand. This is part of our nature to know and experience life and ultimately the Force. When we are prevented from doing so we suffer and like the tree we also become stunted in our development.

Imagine putting up barrier to a child’s physical and mental growth for a year. What would that do? How would that affect the child long-term?

Do not let what you think they think of you make you stop and question everything you are.” – Carrie Fischer

Through early childhood, school and then the military my thoughts, words and actions were highly regulated. Deep within me raged a battle between a side that needed to conform and be accepted and another side that wanted to cut the bonds, cry out and be free to be who I wanted to be. Every time I strayed from the path chosen for me I was punished or threatened with expulsion. Fear kept me in check. I had to watch what I said and did. Even thoughts had to be moderated because they can be betrayed. As the years passed I felt as if inside I was a mangled and tortured mass of suppressed emotions. My soul felt caged.

Alcohol offered me an escape. It was an alluring illusion. Within a bottle lay freedom from care and worry. I could be at peace with myself and others. There were no barriers to what I could do, say or think. I was unchained and my soul was free to fly to the heavens like some Icarus.

It was a lie.

I cried out and my prayer was answered” – Gina Carano

Alcohol provided the illusion of a temporary respite from reality but reality never gave respite. In the morning, reality came crashing down. There were consequences for wrong thought, words and actions. I found that booze did not bring out the real me, it had created some twisted and obscene persona. That person was the opposite of who I wanted to be. The real me was prevented from being realized. Eventually the truth of that became too great to bear any longer and I was either to fall in to a very dark place and never return or recover.

Recovery can be summed up in three words; admit, accept and act. Rinse and repeat. To be truly recovered one must be honest and have courage. This means admitting to yourself and others your disease and faults. Accepting a power greater than yourself in to your life. You start letting go of the need to control everything and please others. That means having the courage to think, speak and act free from fear of judgment from others. It means being an authentic human being for once in your life. That means finding your voice and using it.

The Star Wars heroes are loved because they are authentic. They all used their voices and refused to be silenced by fear. Yoda, Anakin Skywalker, Obi-wan Kenobi, Ahsoka Tano, Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia and Han Solo never pulled any punches when it came to speaking their minds.  In real life Carrie Fischer had bigger stones than most men in Hollywood and said exactly what was on her mind. Gina Carano is not far behind her.

Authenticity means having the courage to remove the gag and chains that bind you and having the freedom to express and be who you are. Be Jedi and use your voice free of fear.

This is the way.

I don’t want my life to imitate art, I want my life to be art.” – Carrie Fischer

I’m in” – Cara Dune

Courage

Courage does not mean the absence of Fear but the willingness to place faith in our ability to rise above it.

“A Jedi must have the deepest commitment, the most serious mind.” –Yoda

The word courage is derived from the Latin word for heart “cor”. Courage was one of the cardinal virtues of the Stoics. A Roman was measured by not only his courage in the face of combat but also in his response to everyday adversity. A Stoic approached suffering with equanimity and acceptance. The courage shown in the face of uncertainty, pain and death were the only things that truly mattered.

The Jedi also had courage. The rigours of Jedi training, the trial of courage required it in abundance. Without courage a Jedi could not hope to survive the many ordeals that would confront her in a lifetime.

“Courage begins by trusting oneself.” – Moral

Face Fear

I lacked the courage to accept my alcoholism and the damage it had bought to my life and the life of others. Alcoholism made a coward out of me. It removed any willingness and heart to face mistakes and own up to them. I lacked the honesty and courage to accept accountability for my actions. It forced me to avoid or run from my responsibilities. Through the three steps I came to admit my problems, accept responsibility and believe that a Higher Power could restore my sanity and give me all the courage and strength I needed to recover.

Life is suffering. Every day is to face a degree of uncertainty in life. With experience we come to understand that plans and expectations rarely match outcomes. What we hope will transpire is often dashed by reality. We have all heard of “Murphy’s Law”. Expect the unexpected and always at the worst possible time. Life is fraught with unknowns, adversity, trials and challenges not to mention disappointments, failures and tragedies.

It is in the act of getting out of bed and facing the world that we demonstrate a measure of courage. With every heart break and loss that we endure, each disappointment that we accept and all the challenges that we face and overcome we show courage.

He certainly has courage.” – Princess Leia

Finding Courage

Courage cannot exist without fear. It is perfectly normal to feel fear. Some people are terrified of public speaking. Others find the challenge of leaving the house with trepidation. Many of us will feel fear for reasons we cannot articulate or do not understand. For example, the world is in a state of turmoil. The media bombards us with a constant stream of bad news and despair. Humanity seems to be in a state of chronic fear. The fear is not a tangible thing. It does not exist outside of our mind.

Fear is a normal human response; it is necessary to our survival. Courage is not the absence of fear but being able to act despite those fears. Courage is the person terrified of public speaking who stands in front of a crowd and delivers their speech. It is the person who walks out of their home to face a hostile world. Courage is choosing to face yours fears despite every fibre in your being that screams at you to turn back. Courage is the very essence of being human because without it, humanity could not have survived in a world that was constantly trying to kill it. Fear and courage are brothers.

Ironically Fear has much to do with my recovery as does Faith. Courage does not mean the absence of Fear but the willingness to place faith in our ability to rise above it. I fear a return to alcoholism and suffering but know that faith and courage provides the safe harbour from the storm that rages around me.

“This battle is inevitable. You can stand by your beliefs but let us stand by ours.” – Anakin Skywalker

Courageous

Star Wars is a saga of trials, tragedy, loss, hope, struggle, and redemption. The virtue that pervades the story is courage. Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia are idolised as morally virtuous characters because they repeatedly showed courage in the face of fear and evil . Han Solo despite his faults and shortcomings showed amazing courage and was willing to sacrifice his own safety for the ones he cared for. Each of these characters had their own fears and doubts but they overcame them and did what was needed despite every reason to seek safety and refuge.

What good is a reward if you ain’t around to use it? Besides, attacking that battle station is not my idea of courage. It’s more like, suicide.” – Han Solo

The “Heroes Journey” is an act of courage. Courage is what differentiates the mere traveller to the hero on the journey of life. One simply follows the path and arriving at challenges and obstacles chooses to turn back, stay put or go around because of fear. The traveller is not necessarily a coward, he simply lacks courage and will stick to what is familiar, safe, and expedient. The Hero on the other hand overcomes his fear by confronting the challenge head on at the expense of what is safe, secure, and expedient. Through that act the Hero is elevated from one level to another.

“The Force may not have a Light or Dark Side, but we do… and we must choose.” – Luke Skywalker

Rising Above

To show courage:

  • Choose to act, despite the fear. Answer the call to adventure whatever it might be.
  • Follow your heart despite the risks and the naysayers who tell you to abandon your dreams.
  • Persevere in the face of adversity, keeping your eye on the prize. Keep going and never give up.
  • Stand up for what is right to you. Speak up!
  • Face the unknown. Embrace the suck. Eschew comfort and familiarity. Welcome adversity as an opportunity.
  • Face suffering with acceptance and equanimity. Say “This too shall pass”. Mean it whatever your concept of Faith.

Through the catharsis of suffering the Hero has gained where the traveler has not.  By falling, failing, and then persevering through one challenge after another the Hero lives the virtue of courage. It is through these efforts that the Hero achieves her goals and returns home transformed.

Over the next seven days explore your fears and how you can use courage to overcome them. Remember that reality is divided into the things that we can control versus those that we have partial or no control over. In life you have very little control over the things that are external to you. You do control how you perceive those things which harm you. This is an invitation for you to ask your fears to come out and play.

You know why you are here and why you are here. Your mountain is there in front of you waiting to be conquered. Only fear holds you back. The challenge is on you. Only you can muster the courage to go out and get what you want. Have courage and send your fears packing.

Justice

I have brought peace, freedom, justice, and security to my new empire”- Anakin

The Fall

The Jedi were Guardians of Justice. As representatives of the senate they avoided political affiliations and were dedicated to promoting justice and peace in the galaxy. The Jedi did this by applying a code that was ethical, moral and balanced. In other words, they used the “Jedi Method” for dispensing Justice.

Despite their best intentions the Jedi ultimately failed in their mission and were at times a source of injustice in the galaxy. The Jedi were not loved everywhere they went, far from it. As the Republic began to unravel to its end the Jedi found themselves making difficult choices which conflicted with the Jedi Code. The Jedi were complicit in the erosion of the democratic rights of citizens. Their action betrayed the very principles they stood for hastening their final demise. The foundations of justice on which the republic was built were compromised. The failure of Justice led to the rise of Palpatine and the final fall of the Republic.

The Jedi lost sense of who they were. Along the way they compromised their principles for power, prestige and influence. The Jedi became political pawns and were eventually eliminated by Palpatine under Order 66. It was an ignominious end to a shining beacon of freedom and justice in a chaotic galaxy. With the fall of the Jedi came the end of Justice.

Justice is conscience, not a personal conscience but the conscience of the whole of humanity” –  Alexander Solzhenitsyn

A Complex Moral Virtue

Justice is a moral virtue that is as hard to define as it is to achieve. Justice is rarely universal or perfect. For every Justice  there is always a grievance left in its shadow. The scales will tip in favour for one party at the expense for another.

In a perfect world, every decision made in the name of Justice would serve everyone equally and no harm would result. We know this is rarely the case and one person’s gain will be another person’s loss. As hard as it can be to grapple with the outcomes, we should all strive toward “Justice for all” but be aware that mistakes can and will be made. Spend a day in the criminal or family courts to see this how Justice often plays out.

Humans are born with a sense of justice and become conscious of it at an early age. Children know intrinsically when something is unfair. They recognise compassion and empathy and carry an innate natural wisdom. As children age, they are influenced by parents, peers, teachers and the environment. Personal prejudices and biases creep in as the ego flowers. We never lose our divine sense of Justice; it only becomes shrouded.

Truth never damages a cause that is just” – Mahatma Gandhi

Lady Justice

No two people will have the same answers because everyone holds a different set of values which they define as stated principles. Each person has a varying outlook and idea on how Justice should be dispensed and appear at any given time for any issue. Every person has their unique set of preferences, bias and prejudices known and unknown. These vary and change over time with knowledge and experience.  The exception is those that are told what to think. Without further thought or reasoning they blindly accept dogma and dare not stray from it.

Jedi used their sound judgement and reason. They were flexible enough in their thinking to not fall into traps or follow orders without question. Dogma was avoided. Jedi would at times question the sanity or the morality of decisions made. At the same time the Jedi were sworn to the order and were expected to follow orders. This conflict between personal judgement of what was right versus duty would plague many Jedi.

A real-world Jedi must confront the same questions and grapple with the same inner conflicts. Real-world Jedi are diverse, they are every race, colour, creed, gender, political leaning, sexual orientation and opinion. There is no die-cast Jedi with a “typical” appearance, character or set of ideas. People in general are no different. Regardless of who you vote for, the causes and issues you follow be they social or environmental how you define “Justice” in every instance may differ from that of others.

The foundation of justice is good faith” – Cicero

Seeking Justice

Alcoholism distorts ones sense of right and wrong. I had a very skewed sense of justice as it applied to me. Despite clear evidence to the contrary, I was never at fault for any of the harm I caused. Restitution was for others, not me. Blame for my own faults could be assigned to others. I was never at fault. Even when deep inside I knew I had overstepped the mark I was able to rationalise my way out of it. I was the victim in all of this.

Recovery forces us to get honest with ourselves. We look back in to the past  and list all of the people we have harmed. Character flaws are exposed for what they are. Mistakes and injustices are admitted. Seeking to put things right we seek to make amends as far as we can without causing harm to others. Our pride, ego and security is no longer important, we have to put justice first. Our sobriety depends on it.

Justice takes courage. It also takes a commitment to rigorous honesty and humility. Selfishness, pride and ego need to be put aside. It is not a case of saying “I am right therefore you must be wrong“. It is about looking beyond appearances and courageously seeking the truth.

Justice is truth in action.” –  Benjamin Disraeli

Jedi Method

So be careful when you demand “Justice”. Things may not be as black and white as they appear. Bias and prejudice will only further cloud judgement. Be mindful of hidden agendas, ulterior motives and a natural desire for restitution or revenge. Be wary of the mob demanding retribution at all costs. Justice should contain none of these things.

You must ask if your sense of justice correct? You can seek advice but decide you must, what is right. It may help to ask three important questions before you dispense Justice:

Is it ethical? Ask yourself “would you do something that you would consider wrong or questionable if it were done by someone else?”. If you cannot satisfy this test, then the thing should not be done.

Is it moral? Ask yourself before making a decision “Will I be able to sleep soundly tonight? How would I react if I were on the receiving end? Will I be judged harshly?”. Remember that each judgement that you pass carries consequences, for others and for yourself. Accept that.

Is it balanced? You must determine if something is fair. Does it respect the rights of others? Is it equitable (equity)? Is there also a degree of impartiality? Does it recognise the arguments and grievances of all sides equally (equality)? Is it fair?

Is it true? Justice only holds if it is based on truth. Honesty is paramount. Lies, half truths and falsehoods negate justice. The truth is no predicated on the views of the mob. Truth is immutable.

So, the question you have to ask is “what do you value? What are your principles and finally, how do you define Justice? What is your blind side, and do you know your own biases?” Are your decisions around Justice based on truth, fairness, compassion and wisdom?

Does it agree with the Jedi Method?

Image: March on the Jedi Temple during Order 66 (Copyright and all rights reserved by Lucas Films Ltd)

Resolve

Credit: Lucas Films Ltd

 

I want to learn the ways of the Force and become a Jedi like my father” – Luke Skywalker ( A New Hope)

 

In a tragic scene which has become one of the most iconic in cinematic history Luke discovers his Uncle and Aunt murdered by the Empire, their bodies outside the ruins of their homestead. Grief quickly turns to fear and hate and in that dark place he finds his resolve and answers the call to adventure.

 

In order to change we must have resolve. We cannot rely solely on others and must be active in our own transformation. Others can act as guides, mentor or coaches but you are the author of your own change. You are the protagonist in your own “Hero’s Journey”.

 

Once you have decided to do something it is important to clarify in your mind why you are doing it. We are often tempted to pursue a new goal and set off before we are prepared or even willing. New year’s resolutions are an example. We give ourselves an ultimatum to change and improve our lives but fail to commit. We lack resolve. As a result we stumble aimlessly forward without a well-defined plan or even any objective. We then falter and abandon the prize we had set ourselves. A goal should always be articulated in a way that it defines the “why” and “what” you are trying to achieve before racing off to achieve it.

 

A study conducted through Scranton University and reported in the Journal of Substance Abuse found that only 19 percent of individuals follow through with New Year’s Resolutions. The main reason is resolutions fail is because they lack the resolve, the commitment and the “why”.  The main reasons alcoholics and other addicts fail to recover is because they fail to admit they have a problem in the first place. Change is the desire but desire alone is not usually going to get you far. Resolve and commitment will.

 

The transtheoretical model of behaviour change states here are six stages people go through on their journey to recovery. This is equally applied to any change in pattern or behaviour that requires concerted effort and commitment.

 

  1. Precontemplation: Denial of a problem contrary to the opinion of others and apparent evidence.
  2. Contemplation: Admission of a problem. Exploration of the costs and benefits of change.
  3. Preparation: You become mentally prepared to change through acceptance.  Surrendering to the process.
  4. Action: Doing the Work. Demonstrating the change you wish to see  even if you have to “fake it till you make it”.
  5. Maintenance: Taking steps every day to ensure that the change becomes embedded over time.

 

Relapse is the sixth stage. Almost everyone who has attempted a change has slipped in to old habits or suffered a setback.  True failure is quitting while there is still the chance to continue on the journey. On the path to being Jedi you will meet many obstacles and challenges. The temptation to fall off the path and quit will sometimes be greater than the effort required to pick yourself up and stay the course. Relapse should not be seen as a failure unless it is terminal.

 

If you had zero problems in your life and everything was perfect there would have no reason to change anything and no point in being here. Likewise if you are not ready to admit you have a problem or are not fully prepared and committed to change then the change you seek will not happen. No magical date will change that. Whether you start on January 1 or any other day makes no difference if you do not have the resolve to start with.

 

So why are you here? Why Jedi Philosophy? What are you seeking to change or improve about yourself? Do you really want to change or does the idea appeal to you more than the work? If you can arrive at answers to these questions then you admit you have a problem and are willing to change. You resolve to improve. Preparation and action usually follows.  For some people this may be self-evident, for others it may be harder to define or articulate. Often it’s easier to keep it simple.

 

Write down one thing you would change about yourself this very moment. Then ask yourself “Why” five times writing down the answer that comes to mind under each line. Dig deep to get to the “Why” to uncover hidden emotions and motivations and become more self-aware. I had a deep seated habit of catastrophic thinking. This affected my relationships and I needed to address it. In the end I had to confront that the way I reacted to adversity was essentially based on fear of punishment or loss that stemmed from a traumatic childhood.

 

What do I want to change?

I want to stop over reacting

Why?

Because it makes me anxious and upset.

Why?

Because I think the worst possible outcome.

Why?

Because I have no control.

Why?

Because I let the fear and anger dictate my reactions.

 

What upset me was not the problems I faced but how I perceived them. I can choose to allow every single bump on the road trip me up or I can accept that things will not always go as I plan. I can decide not to let it affect me that way. The reason I needed to change was because my behaviour was affecting my relationships. I wanted to achieve a higher degree of peace and serenity responding to life in a mindful way rather than reacting to it. By conceptualising it that way I became more invested in addressing that fault and more willing to change.

 

Without having resolve, change is unlikely to be enduring or meaningful, “half measures avail us nothing”. You need to care passionately about the goal and be single-minded about it giving it the focus it deserves. Accept the odds and don’t let people dictate them to you. Have a plan in mind and a destination but do not cling to either as plans change and goals may be unattainable. You need to accept that change is not easy and must be prepared to endure the obstacles, challenges and setbacks that will get in your way.

 

In order to start on the Hero’s Journey, you need to accept your call to adventure. You need to leave the “Ordinary World” behind. To do that you need a reason to be here. You need to answer with full conviction the “Why”. You need to have Jedi Resolve and be prepared to change despite the part of you that fears change and resists. This is your “call to adventure”. Do you answer that call as Luke did?

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.”