Amathia

 

There is no Ignorance there is Knowledge” – Jedi Code

There is, he said, only one good, that is, knowledge, and only one evil, that is, ignorance” – Socrates

Amathia

People do stupid things. We can all admit to behaviour that in retrospection and on reflection seems illogical, irrational, self-destructive and just plain stupid. Being alcoholic I am qualified to attest to this. Looking at my past I could easily write the book “On Stupidity”. I still remind myself that people are not purposely stupid any more than I was. People just do stupid things. To quote Forrest Gump “Stupid is as stupid does”.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German pastor and Anti-Nazi dissident, wrote that while the reasoned may protest against “Evil” and be inoculated against it there is no such defense against the person who does stupid. Even the person who does “evil” feels a unease with their acts (unless of course the person is a psychopath). “Evil” is however a result of stupidity and ignorance.

The Greeks called such “Stupidity” Amathia, a sort of preventable intelligent “Stupidity”. Amathia is different to the “dull witted” who lacks the mental capacity to know virtue from vice. Socrates considered Amathia the root of evil acts in people. Epictetus described Amathia as anti-wisdom. A spiritual malady that afflicts those that could know and should know better.  Worse than ignorance, Amathia is choosing not to know, the worst type of stupidity.

 

A Stain

Stupidity never receives a clinical description or medical diagnosis. As an affliction it resides outside the realm of psychology. In the Army, “Stupid” or variations of was the worst label one could suffer. Being labelled “Stupid” was like a stain. It marked the unfortunate as “incompetent, unreliable, a liability and a bullet magnet”. “Stupid” was someone who could not be taught because he was incapable. Unable to learn not because of a lack of ability but because of a lack of willingness. Such was a lost cause, a “Cluster”, a “Gomer Pyle”.

Reading Bonhoeffer’s description of stupidity I am stunned by the familiarity to my own behaviour around alcohol. I never considered myself “Stupid” however I did stupid things and refused to learn from them. I was a “Cluster” in the true sense of the word. This flaw was a stain and it touched everyone who came close to me.

 

Defenseless

Bonhoeffer wrote a letter while awaiting his fate in a Nazi prison. I will quote extensively from it as it serves as a wake up call. Bonhoeffer writes “against stupidity we are defenceless” and goes on; “Neither protest nor the use of Force accomplish anything here; reasons fall on death ears

Most alcoholics are defenseless against the power of alcohol. They are hopeless when it comes to being convinced by others of their condition. Loved one’s and friends try to intervene without success. Employers, work mates and medical professionals try to reason with them. All efforts avail nothing.

Not only addicts are affected. People in general tend to grasp on to their system of beliefs and tightly held opinions that an alternate view cannot and will not be entertained. Extremists come in many shades but all share a common refusal to budge on their beliefs even in the face of evidence to the contrary. Some are even prepared to die for them.

 

“facts that contradict one’s prejudgment simply need not be believed- in such moments the stupid person even becomes critical – and when facts are irrefutable they are just pushed aside as inconsequential, as incidental.”

 

Ignoring Evidence

Even in the face of declining health, lost employment, repossessed house, broken family and destitution an alcoholic will continue to insist that the source of his problems is the fault of others. She will refuse to admit fault or accept being alcoholic. Despite the inevitable cognitive dissonance suffered the person will reject all evidence. This denial and reinforcement of enabling behaviour counteracts any impetus for change.

We call this person sick. Indeed they have a mental, physical and spiritual illness rooted in Amathia.

How often in other areas of life do we put our blinkers on and cherry pick the truth believing only what we want to hear and rejecting opposing views and contradictory evidence as “false”, “fake” or “baseless”? We would rather ignore and reject out of hand ideas or evidence that challenges our perceptions than give them a moment’s thought.

 

The Belligerent

“In all this the stupid person, in contrast to the malicious one, is utterly self-satisfied and, being easily irritated, becomes dangerous by going on the attack.”

 

When we are pushed to consider a view point that challenges our sense of self and potentially destroys everything we believe we can become extremely defensive. Pushed hard enough we may defend our beliefs to the point of violence. It happens with addicts who are forced in to a corner.

Violence is also used by  people who have inflexible and dogmatic views on religion, politics and other contentious issues. Are our valued ideas and concepts worth defending or advancing to the point we need to attack others who challenge us? Do we have the right to smother dissenting views and criticism?

 

A Contagion

Somehow people “become stupid” over time. Progressively they adopt attitudes and beliefs that eventually translate in to habits and character. The element of “Stupidity” is demonstrated in the traits described above. The outcome for an alcoholic is gradual loss of control of their lives and eventual descent to a personal hell. I know this because I lived it.

Stupidity is contagious. Bonhoeffer believed that those that felt a strong need to belong  to a group whether social, political or religious tended to be more willing to accept ideas than those who are happier to find their own path. Ideas and attitudes are fueled by people who share similar mind-sets and views.  As a drinker I sought out Drinkers to socialize and associate with and avoided people who did not drink. People tend to seek out the company of those that validate their character and values and avoid those who don’t.

In many ways recovery is a “Solo” mission. We can get advice and direction from people and seek what fits our own individual needs. There is no “one size fits all”. Most spiritual paths and philosophies are similar. There is a community but we are free and encouraged to go out and find our own way. There is nothing wrong with embracing an ideology however never grasp it so tight that it becomes a tether to the mind and soul. Be free to explore and seek new ideas and thoughts.

“Upon closer observation, it becomes apparent that every strong upsurge of power in the public sphere, be it of a political or of a religious nature, infects a large part of humankind with stupidity.”

 

A Modern Affliction

Bonhoeffer was imprisoned for many years by the Nazis. Despite his long incarceration Bonhoeffer believed that “stupidity” more than “evil” attracted many people to the Nazi doctrine. The rise of populism, “identity politics”, the “social justice warrior”, nationalism, religious extremism and “alt-left” and “alt-right” movements are all facets of the same thing when observed impartially from above. “Right” and “wrong”, “good” and “bad” are subjective.

We live in a world that is becoming increasingly polarized, intolerant and “stupid”.  The argument for reasoned discourse has been drowned out by the noise of divisiveness. People are being conditioned not to think, not to question. At the same time supporters of opposing views claim the moral high ground and possession of the truth. In truth the lack self ownership and independence of thought.

 

it seems that under the overwhelming impact of rising power, humans are deprived of their inner independence, and, more or less consciously, give up establishing an autonomous position toward the emerging circumstances.”

Independence

Alcoholism like any type of dependence is a complete loss of self-autonomy and independence. It is also attachment and ego run riot. We forget how to think critically and with reason. Our actions are guided by something stronger than our own free will. Our inner world no longer belongs to us.

Ask yourself what are you dependent on? People, places, things, ideas and beliefs can all be our sources of attachment and dependence. Despite ourselves we find our own values and ideas are no longer our own, we are simply reciting the ideas and values of others as our own and “preaching to the converted”.

In conversation with him, one virtually feels that one is dealing not at all with a person, but with slogans, catchwords and the like that have taken possession of him. He is under a spell, blinded, misused, and abused in his very being.”

 

Self Wisdom

A person who is self-reliant, independent and emotionally intelligent and capable of critical analysis is unlikely to follow a “false prophet”. Our ego and fears seems to push as that way. Most people want to be part of the crowd. No one wants to be a contrarian. People want to be able to give themselves a label which expresses who they are and what they value. I was no different. Being alcoholic I made many claims and had an inflated sense of self-importance. My disease and the problems it presented defined me.

Recovery has taught me how to be self-reliant and independent. I can differentiate between what is in my control and what it outside of it. My inner world belongs to me. I have command over my proper faculties, my thoughts, perceptions and responses. The tone and attitude I bring in the day is up to me. Opinions and beliefs are mine alone. My spirituality is unique and my own. I choose my values and the principles I live by.

I have little control over people and circumstances. There may be some influence but the world is largely out of my control. Even my body is not entirely under my control. I can choose what to eat and drink from what is before me. My health may fail despite best efforts to be healthy and fit. Cancer or heart disease may still cut my years short. I am my own being and belong to no one but myself.

 

“Having thus become a mindless tool, the stupid person will also be capable of any evil and at the same time incapable of seeing that it is evil. This is where the danger of diabolical misuse lurks, for it is this that can once and for all destroy human beings”

 

Evil is a Symptom

Bonhoeffer witnessed with dismay the rise of the Nazi Party in Germany. Being an opponent of Hitler he was imprisoned and persecuted. Accused of association in the plot to kill Hitler he was interned in a concentration camp and executed during the closing days of the war. Bonhoeffer would not have justified killing, even Hitler. Violence was not in his philosophy.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer suggested that the nature of the “Stupid” person is not an “intellectual” deficit but a “human” one. People are not born “stupid” any more than they are born “evil”. Some people are less intelligent than others, even “dull”, but are less “Stupid” in their nature than those with high intellect. History has shown some remarkably talented and brilliant minds who were ultimately betrayed by their own “Stupidity”.

People believe “Evil” is an independent and a tangible concept. That it has a life of its own. “Evil” is what most people perceive to as the really bad things that people do.  No one considers themselves to be inherently “evil”. Bonhoeffer  believed that people were not evil but only capable of doing evil because of their ignorance. Evil is a symptom of Socrates’s Amathia. Bonhoeffer also believed people could change for the better.

Yet at this very point it becomes quite clear that only an act of liberation, not instruction, can overcome stupidity

 

Liberation

In many ways Bonhoeffer was a real world Jedi Master. Bonhoeffer challenged the Lutheran church with his ideas of spirituality and religiosity but did not alienate himself from it. His views and philosophy of non-violent resistance influenced Martin Luther King, anti-communism in East Europe and the anti-Apartheid movement in South Africa. In his letter from prison Bonhoeffer offered his friends some advice; “Liberation can overcome stupidity“.

More than 2200 years before Bonhoeffer, Socrates suggested  the same thing. Salvation from the worst flaw, the real human evil, Amathia is through the spiritual and psychological liberation that self knowledge brings.

Each of us has the key to our own liberation. Our own reasoned choices determine who we are. We can submit to our own vices or we can embrace virtue. Do we choose to abide by the will of others or make up our own minds? Do we walk the path we want for ourselves or do we follow others blindly? At the same time we can be understanding and compassionate with others, even the “Stupid” that we meet everyday.

In the week the world remembers the Holocaust it is perhaps timely that we reacquaint ourselves with the word Amathia.

 

Self Assessment

Trials

In Star Wars the Jedi Trials were used by Jedi Masters to test and assess Jedi Padawans on their journey to becoming Jedi Knights. There were five trials “Skill”, “Courage”, “Spirit”, “Flesh”, and “Insight”. The Padawan was closely assessed by the Jedi Master overseeing the trials but the Padawan was also expected to be self critical throughout.  A Padawan had to dig deep within and determine if she had passed the trials as intended. A Padawan could get through a trial. But did the Padawan achieve the goals of the trial by gaining the insights and breakthroughs that the test was intended to bring out in her? Only through honest and thorough self assessment could a Padawan hope to fully become a Jedi.

Ahsoka Tano was an example of a Padawan who critically reviewed her beliefs, ideals and performance often.  Ahsoka was able to moderate Anakin’s behaviour through her strong principles and tireless devotion to her Master. Anakin would often criticize her but Ahsoka was by far her own strongest critic. More on Ahsoka later.

 

Free Pass

One of the things we are rarely encouraged to do is to critically assess our own performance as individuals. Usually someone else is the first to provide us with feed back on our performance or progress.

Whether it is at work, in a relationship, training for an event or plowing through a course, we usually don’t take the time to critically review ourselves. We usually rely on someone else to do it for us. Sometimes we are told things we didn’t want to hear and we act surprised. But should we be? Should we not critically assess ourselves everyday and know ourselves better? Most of us would rather give ourselves a Free Pass.

 

This is to be a test of your knighthood. You and your companions must make your own way through the difficulties you will encounter.” – Jedi Master Arca Jeth

 

The Corporate Slap

I’ve worked for a number of companies that had six monthly performance reviews built in to their human resource management program. Every six months you walked into an office to face your line Manager and a member of HR. They would deliver an appraisal and score you on your performance. The performance review would determine whether you received a bonus or part bonus or nothing at all. Promotions and continued employment was also determined in the review. There was a general rule that anyone who fell in the bottom 10-25% of the company would find themselves on notice and given a “probationary improvement plan”. Anyone in the bottom 10% was usually fired that day. This was how they got rid of undesirables.

The performance review required the individual to give themselves a score for performance against company “pillars” such as “courage”, “integrity”, “safety”, “productivity” and “respect”. Employees had to write a short justification of their score against each of these items. Most people wanted a high score because no one wants to be in the bottom quartile and face dismissal or shame. Everyone wants a bonus. Generally self assessments were scored high and 5 star performances was not uncommon for people who were clearly “under performers”. Why would someone be so dishonest with themselves? They either truly believed they deserved a high score or they were being dishonest.

 

The Truth Hurts

I have seen many people walk out of these performance review meetings clutching tissues as they dabbed tears in their eyes. Strangely some of these people would enter the room expecting a glowing report only to have their expectation dashed by a frosty reception and a dismal review. They had self scored high and seen it decimated from 5 stars to two or three. A reality check had been delivered.

What surprised me is why some of them were so shocked or hurt when they were given an honest assessment of their performance. Could they not see it themselves? Had they not taken the time to be honest with themselves and consider that perhaps people noticed their day to day performance and behaviors? The truth can hurt but it’s worth the pain.

 

 Brutally Honest

For some reason I could always guess how my performance review was going to go. In the military you knew if you were liked or disliked by the chain of command. They told us everyday and were brutally honest about their feelings towards us. Performance review was everyday. Feedback could swing from high praise to vitriolic condemnation reinforced with punishment push-ups and corporal punishment in a single hour.

In civilian life I grew wary of people because unlike the military you did not have such transparency and blatant honesty from your bosses. In the “real world” a person at work who was nice to you and pretended to be your friend might well be putting you down behind your back in order to look better. A supervisor might be blaming all of her failings on her subordinates and taking credit for all their hard work. In the Army this sort of “backstabbing” was unacceptable and was usually dealt with through “old school” methods. Being wary and realistic allowed me to walk in to a performance reviews hoping for the best but expecting the worst.

 

Whistling in the Dark

One of the things that surprised me is how line Managers at some companies only ever bother to speak to their subordinates about performance once or twice a year. Unless there is a glaring problem with behavior you are left alone and allowed to reinforce whatever flaws or habits are letting you down. No one is around to pull you back in to line. Most people don’t take the time to self assess themselves honestly and continue to “whistle in the dark” everyday completely unaware they have a target on their back.

Being alcoholic I knew my obstinacy, belligerency, complacency, dishonesty and hangovers were noticed in the workplace. The stories I made up to cover for absences from work were flimsy at best. I was rude and direct with people and I didn’t like them. The difference for me was I didn’t care. No one ever pulled me aside either. No surprises were ever had on performance review day.

 

High Functioning

Alcoholics can be exceptional people and many are highly talented over achievers. This is often called “High Functioning Alcoholic”. Unfortunately we tend to eventually torpedo ourselves because the ruse takes too much effort to sustain indefinitely. We give our bosses, bank managers and friends and loved ones the rope to hang us with. At the beginning everything runs well and we outperform expectations. Eventually, the cracks start to show but we recover and make up for it in spades. The house of cards starts to wobble and then finally collapses. We are left standing amidst the wreckage of our lives. Those around us stare at the mess and are baffled. We can’t explain why we do the things we do. They say they never saw it coming.

Despite my disease I knew when I had messed up and I tried to hide or deny it. Failing that I could try blaming others. It was only in recovery was I willing to inventory every fault, flaw and misdeed on paper and admit them to myself, another and my Higher Power. Once done I only had to try to make amends where I could and resolve to improve on a daily basis.

Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.” – Step 10, AA (Alcoholics Anonymous)

 

Daily Inventory

Daily self assessment is used to self monitor our own progress. We readily admit mistakes when we make them. This takes vigilance, discipline and self honesty. Every day we face challenges that test our emotional, spiritual and mental strength. Without the presence of mind and firm principles life can erode the foundation of our recovery and weaken us.

By taking daily inventory we manage life “one day at a time”.  This daily practice approach allows us to immediately appraise ourselves and adjust our behavior when we admit fault. We orientate ourselves back on to the path, make amends where necessary and continue forward. The goal is progress, not perfection. Mistakes will be made. We will falter. If life did not throw curve balls at us occasionally how would we ever grow?

Stoicism, like the 12 Steps encourages a daily self appraisal through an evening review. The evening review is used to identify what went well and where things can be improved. Personal conduct and interactions throughout the day are assessed and measured against personal values and principles. Did we demonstrate virtues in our interactions with others? Were we polite, patient, calm and civil in our dealings with difficult situations and people? Were there instances where we were angered and said or did something that we later regretted?

 

A Jedi Ritual

The Jedi were also encouraged to constantly undertake personal self assessment and review. This was a daily ritual. By connecting with the Force through meditation they could observe their actions as if looking from the outside in. Over time the Jedi could achieve a constant state of mindfulness where every thought, word and action was assessed before it was given power through release. The Jedi were self sufficient and were self honest enough to be their own best critic.

When the Jedi Council admitted to Padawan Ahsoka Tano that they had wrongly accused her of terrorism and sabotage she was promoted to Jedi Knight. The promotion was based on the premise that the ordeal had served as her final trial. Firm in her convictions Ahsoka Tano rejected the promotion and left the Jedi Order. In her mind she had suffered a great betrayal and had the presence of mind to be honest with herself.

The Jedi ritual can be used as a tool to identify problems and solutions. If something went well, we determine why and resolve to repeat or improve on that in future. If there was a shortcoming or failure we figure out why it happened and find a solution. We do not condemn or berate ourselves needlessly. Everyone makes mistakes and some days go better than others. Each and every day is an opportunity to put our principles in to action and learn something new.

 

 Avoid Complacency

Getting sober and staying that way, going on a diet to lose excess weight, exercising, studying for a qualification, becoming a Jedi and creating a successful relationship are difficult but rewarding. Self improvement is by nature hard because it demands we make real and meaningful changes in our life. It can be easy to get complacent and lose our way without taking the time to pause and assess our progress.

Regularly check in on how you are traveling on the path. Ask yourself “how am I doing right now?” Explore your feelings. If your mind is in turmoil or your emotions are raw take a moment to simply pause and observe impartially and then let go. There are some days when you will need to pause more than once to center yourself. At the end of the day, take the time to review your performance. Do this as part of your meditation practice if you like. That quiet time of contemplation and self assessment will, if you allow it, keep you focused on your goals.

 

The trials are difficult. Many try and fail, so I advise you not to be complacent.” – Jedi Master Satele Shan

Resolutions

“Do. Or do not. There is no try” – Yoda

If you want to be successful in a particular field, perseverance is one of the key qualities.” – George Lucas

Resolutions

Every year without fail I make New Years Resolutions which never stick. This is a tradition of a mine along with millions of other people. Some of my resolutions include goals such as “learn a new language” or “learn to play the guitar” or “train for and run a marathon this year”. These are defaults which always false start. I set the bar higher; exercise more, eat better, cut out sugar, train more rigorously and the list goes on.

Last year I wrote a list of goals and set targets around them. By the second week, as usual, I’ve slipped or not even started on my resolutions. One year later I went back to that list and realized that I had only met one of five personal goals I had set for myself. Perhaps I had set the bar too high.

I could say there were other noteworthy achievements which I had achieved but which were not on the list. Life still happens and goals change are all excuses. Having resolve is also important if we want resolutions to stick.

 

“Write it on your heart that every day is the best day in the year.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Clean Slate

We are not alone if we tend to view the New Year as a clean slate with which to start a new beginning. Ever wonder why we are bombarded with advertising from companies trying to sell diets, nicotine gum, personal training and gym equipment? Ever wonder why the local gym puts on early starter membership deals to entice people to sign up? Marketing people are not stupid. People grab at a new lease of life in the New Year.

Some of us want to change how we look and feel. We decide we want to improve ourselves through study or training. On reflection we decide we want to spend more time with our family and friends. Things that matter to us stick out. Some of us decide to change our jobs or start a new career. We all seek change.

The trouble is that most of these resolutions falter before the first steps are taken and we abandon them. Why do most people fail to stick to their resolutions? They fail within days or weeks because any meaningful change worth making requires effort.

Did you make a resolution on 31 December? Where is it now?

 

Momentum

The inescapable fact of New Years resolutions is that they rely on momentum, desire and self efficacy to achieve. People generally only stick to goals that are easy to accomplish or derive a quick and pleasurable outcome. Goals that propagate themselves work best.

Resolutions that require dropping a pleasurable habit tend to be less successful. This includes pleasures that may cause harm such as smoking or drinking. Resolutions that also require a substantial investment of time, money and energy in to something challenging but potentially rewarding in the long term also tend to slip. We also suffer from cognitive dissonance. Our intent is noble but “it’s just too damn hard”.  A tug of war rages in our minds between what we ought to do and what we want to do.

One of my recurring resolutions used to be “No more drinking after tonight” and “quit smoking”. I would see in the New Year with beer or champagne (or both) in hand and call in the New Year. Being that I had resolved not to drink ever again after that night I would take it to excess. Why not? It was one last big bender to see out the year and herald in a new and sober one. Naturally my resolution would not last. Within a few days I was off the wagon. Along would come the caveats and the exceptions before long the resolution was forgotten and I would decide to try again at a later date.

 

There is no scarcity of opportunity to make a living at what you love; there’s only scarcity of resolve to make it happen” – Wayne Dyer

 

 

Effort and Excuses

I was missing two important points every new year. Firstly, one does not need a particular day to do anything that they can do now. Picking New Year to do something is somewhat of a cliché and not only that we secretly know it. Most people are cynical of the merits of New Years resolutions let alone resolutions at any other time.

Secondly, making a decision to change is not a passive exercise. If we decide to quit drinking or cigarettes we act that out by refusing to drink alcohol or smoke. A decision to start exercising means exercise, not more procrastinating and waiting for the right opportunity. Points one and two are excuses and if honest we know that they are poor ones.

When I eventually did quit smoking it was on receiving the news that I was going to be a Father. I could no longer reason a justification for indulging in a habit like smoking if I were to be responsible for another life. I got patches and went on a program to quit and never lit up again.

Alcohol however is a “cunning and subtle foe”. We can easily reason that moderation in drinking is reasonable and possibly even healthy, certainly socially acceptable. The problem of course is that moderate alcoholism is an oxymoron. Controlled drinking is a concept that works for some but not for all. A fact most of us readily deny.

 

His resolve is not to seem the bravest, but to be.” – Aeschylus

 

The First Step

It finally took hitting “rock bottom” for me to finally come to the realization of my problem. Surrendering my will to a Higher Power broke the delusion completely. There were no resolutions, no specific start date and no “taking an oath” or “swearing off”. I simply turned over my problems to the Force and let it go. All I had to do was surrender control and admit I had made my life a mess.

By turning my life over I was given the power to start living a new life “one day at a time”.  Action started that moment on a day in September. It continued every day.  I saw the New Year in sober and have since seen five more. God willing this tradition will continue till I die. I found my Resolve.

 

Wise to resolve, and patient to perform” – Homer

 

 

Jedi Resolve

Being sober on a daily basis is a conscious decision. I get up in the morning and resolve not to drink that day. I also resolve to be Jedi as I define it. “Jedi Resolve” extends to everything I do. Once a decision is made steps are put in place to lay the foundations for the practice. Making a decision to do or be something is not a once a year exercise, it is conscious and daily process. Done often enough it becomes automatic and a part of us. Habits form. We feel better for it and eventually we miss it if we stop for any reason.

Want to learn a new language? Start today. Want to play the guitar? Pick one up. Resolve to eat better? Start making healthy choices. Decided to start exercising? Put on your shoes and start moving. It’s as easy as that. Just keep doing it until it becomes a priority over the alternative. With the right intent and the right effort, you have Jedi Resolve. Outcomes are largely out of our control. What is in our control is our resolve.

 

On Day at a Time

Facilitating and forcing new behaviors helps in forming habits. Plan, set and commit to a routine, involve other people and set daily goals. Take a one day at a time approach but resolve to do it. Alter your environment if needed to facilitate the change. Remember to reward your efforts and celebrate your milestones.

One study found that 71% of people who succeeded in achieving their resolutions slipped in the first month. Lack of self control, discipline and will power led to the early slip. The good news is that the respondents did not quit and realized their goals. They absorbed the slip and kept going until their efforts paid off. If we fall off the bike while learning to ride, we brush ourselves off and get back on.

This year I made no New Years Resolutions. I’ve realized that if we want change in our lives that is worth having we must simply do the work to make that change. Why wait until the New Year if we can do it anytime? And what better time is there than now.

 

“You have to find something that you love enough to jump over hurdles and break through the brick walls.” – George Lucas

Self Reflect

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

Reflect

Why are you here? What do you want from life? Where do you want to go? How do you plan to get there? These are often the questions we ask ourselves as we enter in to a New Year. We reflect upon the last 12 months. Some of us take time to count our blessings and successes as well as failures. We assess what went well and identify where improvements can be made. We take inventory.

If you are finding yourself in a period of introspection and soul seeking the chances are you are seeking to change. That change may be specific to your relationships, career, health or finances. You may be unhappy where your life is currently at and you want to make broad and sweeping changes. Perhaps things are generally going well but you want to do better in some or all areas of your life.

 

“Your vision will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.” – Carl Jung

 

Self Knowledge is Freedom

Self reflection and introspection is a powerful act which can guide us on a path to enlightenment. The exercise is not meant to be self absorption. We are not using it to think of ourselves only in a selfish or self centered way. The goal is not to garner a spirit of self will or to blame others. Self reflection is to realize our goals and understand where we are in relation to those goals. This leads to self knowledge. With self knowledge comes the freedom to change once we decide to act.

Having worked the 12 Steps for the last five years I have learned the importance of constant self reflection in my practice. When I was drinking I did not want to face the truth of who I was. It seemed easier to coast through life and see how long I could get away with it.

 

“Searching and Fearless”

Only through being self honest and taking inventory of my character faults did I begin to move forward with the transformation needed for sustained sobriety. I had to take a hard look at myself and wipe away the delusions I had created around my ego. Ignorance, dishonesty, anger and a delusional sense of omnipotence and grandiosity had to be removed. I had to stop acting like a self inflated, narcissistic big shot. The relief came in admitting my faults to myself and to another person and to my Higher Power. I asked that my faults be removed and became willing to start living free of them.

 

“Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.” – Step 4 (Alcoholics Anonymous)

 

The 12 Steps are not for everyone. One does not need to be in Alcoholics Anonymous to use self reflection to make positive changes to their lives. The ancient traditions of the East all use practices which lead to self reflection. Meditation is one such exercise. The Abrahamic faiths also use introspection to lead followers to a better life free of transgression. Yom Kippur an example.

Philosophy and Psychology extend self reflection to self knowledge and self improvement. No less the fictional Jedi were encouraged to continuously appraise their own performance and progress through self reflection.

“By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest.” – Confucius

 

Inventory

Take some time to reflect on your life. Consider the past year and go back as far as you want to. List your achievements for the last 12 months. Highlight your successes. Now do the same for the last 5 years and if you dare go back as far as a decade.

The milestones of your life may be anything you consider significant. It may include finishing school and university, academic achievements, career highlights, military or community service, business achievements and financial growth. List the things that make you proud. Include your family milestones and relationships with partners, family, friends and associates.

List all of your key attributes that you feel describe you in a positive way. Words might include trustworthy, humble, funny, determined, intelligent, kind, considerate and compassionate.

Now list where things have not gone so well in your life. List the areas you regret or wish could be improved. Inventory your faults to others as well as your flaws and failures. Be honest but do not self deprecate yourself in the process. Confronting our mistakes and failures are essential if we want to move on and improve our lives.

List your character flaws and faults which you identify as negative or unproductive. These might be impatient, compulsive, obsessive, aggressive, resentful, demanding, inflexible, bigoted and dishonest.

 

Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.”- Aristotle

 

Meditate and Persevere

Self reflection requires a lot of honesty and introspection. We have to be completely honest with ourselves and realistic in the way we look at ourselves. A mirror must be held up and we must confront who we are and where we have come from. We must face the good with the bad in order to make the changes we want to be. This can be hard but persevere we must.

Take the time to meditate on this exercise.

Self reflection can be a confronting as well as a rewarding experience. Unless we know who we are and come to terms with it, we can not hope to move forward. Self reflection is the first step to action.

 

“My friend…care for your psyche…know thyself, for once we know ourselves, we may learn how to care for ourselves”– Socrates