Perspective

The Forest for the Trees

Have you ever looked at an image and then zoomed right in? As the image is magnified focus is shifted to the part of the image being magnified. We magnify further and the periphery of the image moves out of view. Eventually the image becomes a single pixel of either red, blue or green in a sea of similar pixels that differ only in color and tone. Zoom out and the image starts to reveal itself until it’s full extent is revealed in complete clarity.

 

“Whenever you want to talk about people, it’s best to take a bird’s eye view” – Marcus Aurelius

 

We all know that digital images are comprised of millions of pixels. Likewise a view of the Earth from our level on the surface is far different from a view from space. Down here we can discern individual trees in a forest. Looking down from the international space station we would see a patch of green that would indicate a forest. From orbit the world looks peaceful and serene and at ground it is chaos. A sense of perspective is important if we want to get the detail as well as the big picture.

 

Attention to Detail

Our lives also require perspective. We need to be able to see the big picture outside of ourselves as well as our immediate view and inner self (intuition). Often we are satisfied with what we see and we don’t dig any deeper and we don’t take an overview of all aspects of a particular issue. The result is we end up missing vital information and we fail to see the interrelationships between one thing to another. We miss out on important facts and lose perspective. Decisions are made on incomplete information and conclusions are drawn on inaccurate or false information. We think we have all the answers but in fact we don’t. This can lead to trouble.

One of the jobs of a leader is to take a broad as well as narrow view. As an Infantry Grunt I was often oblivious of the “big picture”. When decisions were made at the higher echelons and passed down they rarely, if ever, came with a rationale or a detailed explanation. The expectation was that we followed orders and did not question them. Information was “need to know”. Most people are happy with a narrow perspective and being given screened, drip fed information that is limited in nature. I resented it and failed to understand that I was only told what I needed to know and for my own good. My job was to do my job and pay attention to detail. The brass had their job cut out trying to coordinate their responsibilities within a far bigger picture than I was aware of. As I learned my job and gained responsibility the “unknown, unknowns” became smaller.

 

 

Story lines

The “Big Picture” is the tool George Lucas used in his construction of the Star Wars saga. Each of the movies offers pieces of a jigsaw puzzle that only provide a glimpse of the whole story. As the saga unfolds, more pieces are added to the puzzle and a picture begins to emerge.

The story of how and why Anakin became Darth Vader became apparent slowly over the prequels. The insidious corruption of the Republic from within and the rise of the Sith and the fall of the Jedi at the end of the Clone Wars was also fully revealed in the prequels and the “Clone Wars” series. The truth of Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia became apparent over a period of 8 years that the original trilogy took to run from the opening scene to the final credits.

The whole story is a series of fragments told from different perspectives stitched together. The story continues to unfold; who is Rey? What’s with Luke? Kylo Ren? When all the fragments have been gathered the Big Picture will come in to view. Hidden answer will be revealed.

 

 

Bad Decisions

The problem with many people, including alcoholics, is they lack perspective and are incapable of appreciating the “Big Picture” and they often miss the detail too. Being selfish and self indulgent creates a narrow egocentric view of life. Everything is about “me, me and me” and what is good for “me”. We fail to consider the consequences of our actions, words and thoughts and only see the immediate benefit that is imagined but often fails to materialize. For example, a person can decide to stop at a bar after work in order to unwind, a drink is ordered and then another. Eventually the person staggers out of the bar and steps in to his car. Driving home he fails to see a Stop sign and drives through it hitting another car.

The consequence of this event are lives destroyed, homes up turned, years in jail and decades of sadness and regret. The sequence of events leading to that point are the detail, the “Big Picture” is the outcome; the dozens of people affected and the lives ruined by one stupid mistake. There is no turning the clock back.

What’s the excuse, the reason for this tragedy? For addicts, where there is a compelling need everything else fades in to the background and all focus is placed on that one thing. The main focus when urges occur is satisfying that craving. Nothing else matters. Things like personal safety and the safety of others no longer matter. We lose our inner compass and perspective. There is no excuse, just bad decisions.

 

No body does wrong willingly” – Socrates

 

Putting it into Perspective

Alcoholics are sensitive people and our egos are easily hurt. If there is a problem at work or at home we obsess about it and let it ruin our day and possibly the week. It might have been a minor slight or a misunderstanding but the immediate reaction was to narrow everything in life to that one thing. Anger, resentment and bitterness would cloud our view. The solution may have been in front of us or the whole thing may have been a product of imagination, but it did not matter. Being able to put things in to perspective would have spared a lot of heart break.

These days I have the benefit of perspective and a rational mind. Getting an appreciation of the finer details within the context of a bigger picture allows better informed decisions and opinions to be made. Sometimes it takes the ability to look at things from above and outside of one’s self as well as using one’s inner compass to guide us. Consider the world without a lens filter on. Once we remove the ego and our personal biases from a view the perspective changes and we start to see things clearly and more in focus. Being able to be a “Big Picture” thinker is  a skill and an asset but we should also be able to be detail orientated as well. It really is just applying mindfulness in to our lives.

 

“Let us, to the end, dare to do our duty as we understand it” – Lincoln

A Loose Garment

Seeing the Big Picture allows us to see what is really at stake and to understand the interrelationships between us and the rest of the world. Having an expanded perspective helps us to understand other people better and empathize with their problems. A global view makes us more aware of the environment and concerned for nature. We become more aware of the world and can take the view that when things don’t go well for us we still have a lot to be grateful for. Being able to switch our focus to the detail when needed allows us to gather facts and information we need to be able to live skillfully. We insist on facts but we don’t lose the ability to use our intuition when it is required.

 

And the whole world is a mere speck” – Marcus Aurelius

We should always ask ourselves to look inward, outward and above when we deal with life’s challenges. Looking at it from different angles. Put yourself above the issue. Ask yourself what is the real issue here? Why do I feel this way? Will it matter in an hour or day from now? Is it that important or worth stressing over? What if I just accept that? Rather than being swept away by drama, life can be worn like a loose garment. We can view each moment mindfully by taking the time to notice the finer details while also being able to look down on our own lives from a high vantage point. The Big Picture often reveals life as it really is, we just need to be able to allow ourselves to shift our perspective to bring it in to focus.

InnSaei

I recently watched the documentary “InnSaei” on Netflix. InnSaei means intuition in the ancient Nordic language of Iceland. The literal translation of the word is “the sea within” and it can also mean to “see within” and to “see from the inside out”.  The word describes the human ability of being able to sense things from deep within, to perceive and understand the world beyond our five senses and rational mind.

The ancient Icelandic society was based on a maritime culture. The sea and the spiritual connection of the Vikings to it influenced their view of the world. Other ancient cultures had their own deeper understanding of reality and connection with nature. The Polynesians for example roamed the Pacific Ocean without the use of navigational tools other than maps made of sticks. The Australian aboriginals crossed the vast deserts finding water holes and direction by following the stories told by their ancestors in the dreaming and passed down. People had a strong sense of place which transcended logic and relied heavily on intuition and a spiritual connection to the land, sea and stars.

 

Intuition in a Left Hemisphere World

Everyone has intuition but few people can harness the potential power that it offers. Modern Western society is heavily reliant on logic and the application of objective reasoning. Our society favors the left hemisphere of the brain. The rational side of the psyche and the ability to accumulate knowledge and process data is preferred.

The right side of the brain is the center of intuition. It is where our ability to imagine and view the abstract and intangible resides. Creativity and spirituality as well as a deeper sense of reality originate in the right hemisphere. The “soul” of our character resides there. Combined with the rational left hemisphere the brain uses 98% of its mass to process the information and stimuli which the remaining 2% uses in all of our cognitive functions. The brain is a balanced organ, the left and right sides functioning in harmony to create the person you are. We are using a fraction of our capacity as human beings.

 

Rose Colored Glasses

Humans are less intuitive than ever before. The world is a different place now than it was in the past. Today we are bombarded with information and constantly distracted. The amount of data and stimuli processed by the average person who is connected to mass media and communications is staggering. This does not mean people are more intelligent or happier than they were in the past. The opposite is true. Humans are less connected in a tangible sense and more disconnected from their authentic selves and others. Wisdom is vanishing and being replaced with information overload. As a result people feel more alienated, less empowered and lost. Most don’t even know why and fall to drugs, alcohol and rampant consumerism to fill the void.

Sometimes it is also easy to feel that sobriety fails to deliver a perfect or fulfilling life. Being sober does not create an ideal utopia internally or externally. What it does do however is awaken intuition. We feel more aware of our surroundings and are more in touch with reality. The rose colored glasses that we wore as we were whistling in the dark of alcoholism are removed. Some of us land heavy on our feet. We have awoken from a slumber and before us lay the wreckage of our past and an uncertain future. All we have is this day, this moment to live.

Being intuitive is being in tune with the moment and everything that surrounds us. It is being able to imagine a transcendent state while keeping our feet planted firmly on the ground. Intuition is an inherent part of our psyche, a sixth sense that helps us function in this plane. It is the inner voice yearning to be heard. Combine intuition with experience, reason and logic and you ultimately have wisdom.

 

 

Blinded Jedi

The fictitious Jedi were intuitive. They could sense trouble before it appeared. To “sense a disturbance in the Force” was a highly tuned intuition at work. The Jedi could go further and apply the skill not only in their appreciation of others and assessment of situations but also in light saber fighting. To be effective in light saber, a Jedi had to be highly intuitive and be able to “sense” where an opponent would strike next. The Jedi had to fight as a combined physical, mental, emotional and spiritual unit completely in harmony. A light sabre duel was a battle that tested the intuitive power as well as skill, wit and “sangfroid”.  This is why is symbolizes the Jedi.

By sharpening their sensing skills with the use of a training helmet that blocked out vision and encouraged reliance on the Force, the Jedi were using intuition to act and counter a laser fired from a training aid. Over time the skill became so ingrained and refined that the light sabre could be used to deflect laser bolts fired from blasters back on to the enemy. The Jedi were able to close in with their opponents, evading laser bolts with nothing more than an ancient weapon and a use of their intuition and training.

 

 

Lead the Tail

Our intuitive powers may not be so sharp as to give us super human power but we can still make use of our intuition. To be Jedi is to use objectivity in dealing with perception but we should also use and trust our intuition. Emotions can often cloud our mind so we treat them mindfully. Passion is tempered in to something useful and constructive rather than being the “tail that leads the dog”.

With a heightened intuition we are more aware. Problems do not trouble us as much. We tend to find solutions without struggle. Relationships improve as our empathy and understanding of others improves. Self knowledge becomes broader and deeper. Not only do we know ourselves better but we know our selves in ways that evaded us before. We can anticipate life better and thereby our response to it. In the past we were uncomfortable in our own skin, now we are at ease with who we are. Every day we extend the boundaries and surpass our limits. Constantly improving we are able to redefine our own “impossible”. Decisions become more fluid and confident as we are able to blend calm logic with intuition. We are surer of ourselves.

Intuition becomes a big part of how we make decision and use our judgement. Sometimes we get our “gut feel” wrong but the more we use that inner compass the more skillful we are at applying it. With time and practice we are able to distinguish between subconscious bias and intuition which speaks to us at a much deeper level. Our Innsaei begins to speak to us as it spoke to the Vikings, the Islanders, the Aboriginals on Earth and the Jedi in the Star Wars Universe.

 

 

Sharpen Up

Five ways to improve and sharpen your intuition:

  1. Meditate: A formal practice of meditation clears the clutter and noise from the mind and allows ideas and thoughts to emerge which are fresh and unpolluted.
  2. Practice mindfulness: Be fully aware of your thoughts and actions as well as the sensations in your body. Listen to your gut as much as your logic and reasoning. Avoid jumping to conclusions or making rash decision. Intuition is not rushed or charged with emotion.
  3. Know the difference: Differentiating between bias and intuition can be difficult. If we encounter a guy who is 200 pounds, covered in tattoos and piercing and has a big beard our first impression might be negative. Then we find out he is a genuinely nice and generous guy who has a heart of gold. The initial impression was shallow bias, intuition means spending a bit of time to “suss” out people before tainting them with a lable based on stereotype or prejudice. Never judge a book by its cover.
  4. Spend time in nature: Reconnecting with nature re-awakens our intuition. Hunters and fishermen know this very well. As a surfer I can not stress the impact of nature on the psyche. A surfer is in tune with the ocean, she can sense the rhythm of the swell and anticipate how a wave will evolve, form and shape. It’s deeper than knowing, the ocean speaks to them. I know surfers who can sense when danger is about and will egress from the water finding our later that a shark was spotted close by.
  5. Trust your intuition: Sometimes we get a strong pull one way or another yet we ignore it. Later we realize our intuition was trying to tell us something. As a Medic I used to assess patients all the time. My questioning would provide answers that would direct my assessment and formulation of a treatment plan. I would dismiss a bit of epigastric pain as bit of indigestion and be ready to send them away but something would nag at me. Just to be safe I would apply a 12 lead ECG and probe further and realize that the person was having a silent MI (heart attack). “Gut Feel” in combination with good medical knowledge, experience and training is a valuable asset for Doctors, Nurses and Paramedics. Ignore your intuition at your own peril!

Years from Now

Star Wars may be a work of fiction but for many it sparked an interest in the infinite possibilities and the mystery of the cosmos. The Universe is vast. No one knows exactly how big or how old the Universe is. No one knows for certain how the big bang came about or when the Universe will end. Our cosmos comprises countless stars and worlds within billions of galaxies. There may also be multiverses and parallel universes.

The nature of time is also still being worked out. Time is not linear as we imagine but can be manipulated and reversed. Science postulates that time travel is feasible. If we can get the math and technology right it may be possible to pay our old self or our future self a visit.

Our human senses are limited as is our reach in space. Our physical existence is a mere instant in the expanse of time. We all exist in a finite box of space and time. The breadth of our knowledge and experience is perhaps a tiny fraction of our potential. Our impact in this lifetime even in human terms, pathetically small. The fact that often escapes us however is that all is interconnected. We may be small but we are a piece of the puzzle. A part of the whole.

 

You are a child of the universe, no less than the tress and the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should” – Desiderata

 

 

The Wall

I looked out across a stretch of water separating us from the mainland and then down at a sea wall being built. A colleague standing beside me asked how long I thought the sea wall would last? Would it hold out for years, decades or centuries? I had no idea. The ocean and her tides sometimes has her own plans and she definitely has time and lots of it. I pointed out that the stretch of water in front of us would one day recede as the climate cooled and the sea level dropped. Before that it would likely rise. The ocean would rise and fall many times over the next hundred thousand years. Whether the sea wall lasted or not that long barely mattered. The preference would be that it lasted as long as it was needed but to what end, we have no control, we can only do what we can now. Our actions in building the wall will provide some guarantee but not all. Perhaps in centuries to come people will look at the wall and wonder about those that built it.

Is life like that? We throw all of our energy and commitment in to building a decent life. We invest so much in to our own growth and those of our loved ones. Much of our lives are spent learning how to function in the world and then dedicated to working and building a career. Years invested in paying off college fees, a mortgage and saving for retirement or our kids’ education. We come to old age and we look back on our life and how the time was spent. Did any of it mean anything, did it make a difference, will any of it matter a hundred years from now?

 

Butterfly Effect

Will it matter a hundred years from now? This is the question that keeps some of us awake at night. Those of us who know regret will ponder the meaning of life and question our impact. We want to achieve self-actualization and know that our lives meant something and made a difference. If we consider for a moment that our memories may be forgotten in a couple of generations, simply washed away with the tide of time it can seem life has played some cruel joke.

What if every thought, word and action mattered. The ripple effect of what you are doing this instant carries over the years of your life and the centuries beyond. Each action creates a butterfly effect that reverberates through time and has profound effects on those whom we know today and future generations that are to be born tomorrow.

The world is like a complex network of cause and effect, a rich tapestry. On the surface there is a rich design and underneath a jumble of countless threads. Every single thread represents a thought, a word an action. Each tree that falls and every fragile seedling that emerges from the ground has an impact on the world. Every child that is born makes a difference. Our choices made every instant carry in to the future in one form or another as they set a process in motion.

 

Survivors

Being a survivor of a violent and abusive upbringing I can see how pain and misery can have massive repercussions in a life. Sometimes we remember hurtful things that were said to us when we were very young. Perhaps the people who said them were a parent, a sibling or a close friend. Those words or actions have never been forgotten and they influence us in some way. The way we choose to treat others may also be a product of the way we were treated in the past. Through those choices we are perpetuating something that started perhaps decades or centuries ago.

By deciding to be sober many of us changed the future in ways we cannot imagine and will never know. That is a good thing if we do good.

 

Shape the Future

The Jedi were mindful about time and space and their reach across it. They were mindful of the impacts that their actions had not just in the here and now but across the galaxy and far in to the future. Unlike the Jedi we cannot jump in to a star ship and hyperspace from one end of the Galaxy to the other. We cannot influence what happens on another world. Our actions here on Earth, no matter how trivial, do still have an immediate and a long term impact.

 

“A hundred years from now it will not matter what my bank account was, the sort of house I lived in, or the kind of car I drove . . . . but the world maybe different because I was important in the life of a child.” – Forest E Witcraft

The choices that we make as consumers will decide whether unethical and polluting companies continue to operate. Our unsustainable use of resources may deprive someone else or make life more impoverished to someone we have never met. The way we speak to our kids and the way we conduct ourselves can have far reaching consequences. What we do now can make a difference in one hundred years. You and I may not be remembered but a long forgotten act of cruelty or kindness will still be felt and perhaps not just on our world.

Remember that.

Jedi avoid acting on Anger

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

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

 

A Sword

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

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

Anger is a short madness.” – Horace

 

A Madness

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

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

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

 

Born to Anger

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

A Heavy Burden

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

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

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

 

Its not Enough

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

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

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

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

— Alcoholics Anonymous

 

The Red Flag

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jedi live in the present moment

Jedi live in the here and now, and don’t have stress about the future or the past. This isn’t as easy as it might seem because the mind always rushes to the future or past. Contact with the Living Force always occurs in the present moment. The mind is our tool, and we need to stop the incessant thinking and mental chatter that comes from the mind in order to be conscious of the present moment, and to live in the present moment. We need to control the mind, and not let the mind control us.

(The 33 Jedi Traits)

Like Air

Mindfulness is defined by the Webster dictionary as “The practice of maintaining a nonjudgmental state of heightened or complete awareness of one’s thoughts, emotions, or experiences on a moment-to-moment basis.” Other sources define mindfulness as pretty much the same thing, the practice of being present in the here and now. In other words being mentally right here in this present moment as you read these words. Mindfulness is nothing more than that. If we still our mind for a minute and sense every quiver, every sensation in our body without judgement. If we allow thoughts to pass like clouds without engaging them. We are completely aware of what is happening inside and outside of ourselves with each passing breath, that is mindfulness.

“Mindfulness is about being fully awake in our lives.
It is about perceiving the exquisite vividness of each moment.
We also gain immediate access to our own powerful inner resources
for insight, transformation, and healing”.

Jon Kabat-Zinn

Mindfulness is a word that has a lot of connotations and brings up a lot of imagery like meditating monks, yoga on the beach or a child humming while drawing shapes. All of these things are mindfulness in action. The word is also a cliché.

In recent years the term has become a buzz word in marketing, entrepreneurship, leadership and the health industry. Thousands of books and magazine articles have been written on the health benefits of Mindfulness and hundreds more on how to be mindful. Entire shelves and racks in book shops and magazine stores are full of coloring books that promote mindful practices by sitting for a few minutes a day shading in shapes with colored pencils.

Psychologists refer their clients to courses and apps that teach and guide them through mindfulness techniques. There is mindfulness techniques offered for all activities, cooking, cleaning, running, walking, child raising, working and breathing. The sheer genius of business to make a multi-billion industry out of Mindfulness astounds me. Since Eckhart Tolle penned the “Power of Now” the mindfulness craze has touched just about everyone in the west.

I have friends who are lifelong Buddhists. They watch the current phenomena with despair and  bemoan the rampant commercialization of Mindfulness. They feel that a noble practice has been hijacked for profit. The idea that someone could do something as audacious as sell mindfulness for vast profits seems insane. It is like selling air.

 

The Past

What many people don’t realize is that mindfulness has been around for a very long time. In fact it is part of our makeup. The Eastern and Western philosophies and spiritual traditions have advocated mindfulness and the power of living in the Now for millennia. Mindfulness is no mystery, people just don’t live in the present. Our minds are perched in the past as we ruminate on events or regrets.

We ask ourselves “why” and berate ourselves for mistakes as if we could turn the clock back and make things right. Of course we can’t and to think this way is a form of insanity. The best we can do is learn from the past and resolve not to make the same mistakes again. We can and should make amends for past mistakes if we can. If we can’t we should learn to forgive ourselves and others and move on with our life

Listing the wrongs I had to done to people in my past and seeking to make amends was a Step I took in my first year of recovery. It was one of the hardest but also the most rewarding experiences of my life. I was compelled to face my role in past grievances and let the blame on others go. Grievances, blame and grudges against people and organizations were forgotten. I started to realize where I had made mistakes and burned bridges. Resentment seemed like such a foolish notion and I was able to forgive and let go. Those I approached and confessed my wrongs were open armed and understanding.

I began to realize the value of sincerity and honesty. Humility without self depreciation and mutual respect for others became virtues more valuable than gold. I realized my resentments and belligerency and refusal to forgive and forget had cost me many opportunities. Determined to place it all behind me I moved on with my life. The past is there as a resource. The best lessons in life are learned from the worst mistakes. I don’t reside in the past now but I won’t forget it either.

The Future

We also tend to compromise the present by projecting our minds in to the Future. We are always heading somewhere. Goals and targets are set. Preconceived conditions are made that determine what our imagined state of happiness or fulfillment is. We set conditions like; “Once I get that promotion things will be perfect” and “I’ll finish my degree and life will be great” or “Once I make a couple of million I’ll retire and be happy”. These statements make two assumptions about the future which are largely out of our control; that these events will occur as planned and that we’ll derive a perpetual state of fulfillment, happiness or contentment on reaching that goal.

Obviously life does not always play along with our plans and when they do we find ourselves no better off than when we started. The Promotion provides more money and perks but has more responsibility and stress. The degree allows us to do other things but life is anything but “great” because we can’t start the career the course promised or we get jaded as reality bites. We eventually make enough money to retire and find ourselves too old to “really live” or we retire early and find that life is not so green on the other side of the day to day grind.

The Lure of Tomorrow

When I was in the Army I volunteered for a posting to a country in Africa. I decided that the posting would provide invaluable experience and would be worth two years of my life. Within a few months I was counting the days and months down to the end of my rotation. I dreamed of what it would be like when I got back home and imagined wonderful things. Depression set in as the months dragged on and the tempo ranged from full alert on long range patrols to days of mind numbing barrack duties.

Eventually the day arrived when I got on a plane and flew out. The elation was short lived. Months later I was wishing I was back. I hear veterans from Afghanistan and Iraq say the same thing, wanted to be home and then wanted to be back. For two years I lived with my head in some place other than the here and now.

I can still remember laying in the desert under a sky filled with stars and hearing jackals yelping in the distance. The burning sunsets over a parched land in all its splendor. The call of wild birds in the mountain forests and the cries of Baboons. Mountains that rose above the desert capped with clouds and covered in ancient forests. A train of camels being led by men wearing skirts gilded with large belts bearing long curved swords. Images that haunt me to this day and yet at the time I was utterly miserable and longed for a better tomorrow.

One of the reasons alcoholism is so spiritually debilitating is because it keeps us anywhere but in the Now. We don’t want to face the reality of the present moment. So we drink to escape to an imagined past or a better future.

Living in the Now

What is a modern day cliché has actually been known for thousands of years. Life happens in the here and now. Not in the past and not in some time in the future. The past is gone beyond recall and the future is uncertain. Every moment we find ourselves in is the Now. There is no time other than the Now which really matters. We plan for the future in the Now, we regret or remember the past in the Now. Our mind may be trying to drag us to the future, our Ego may be ruminating on the past but all of this is happening in the present moment. Every moment that we are absent is a moment lost.

The benefits of living in the Now are well documented. Everyone knows that stress is a killer. Research has shown that mindfulness practice leads to lower stress and anxiety levels. Lower stress in turn has a benefit to cardiovascular health, sleep and immunity. We become more in tune with our emotions and learn to deal with them objectively and constructively. Our senses become more refined, we begin to notice the world around us more.

Listening to others becomes easier. We are able to stop and appreciate the sights and sounds of life. Food is tasted rather than being hurriedly shoved in to our mouths. We become more conscious of our body in a healthy way and start to care for it more.

The things that upset us or caused us anxiety and depression in the past no longer have that effect. We are more resilient and accepting of life’s vicissitudes. Relationships with other people improve and as we become more self accepting we start to appreciate others more and are more empathetic. We find ourselves calm in the midst of a raging storm. Who would not want that?

You should sit in meditation for twenty minutes every day
– unless you’re too busy –
then you should sit for an hour.

– Old Zen adage –

Practice

Meditation is a mindfulness exercise however one can practice mindfulness anywhere, anytime. While driving a car, brushing the dog, washing the dishes, listening to music, playing with the kids and in fact doing just about any activity. It is simply paying attention to what you are doing. Commit your mind to the task with intent. If you are washing the dishes you are only washing the dishes and nothing else. Feel the water on your hands, the hardness of the porcelain and cutlery. Hear the sounds it makes. Use all of your senses.

Allow mental intrusions to pass without engaging them. You can focus on the breath, the rise and fall of your chest or abdomen. If thoughts distract you simply return to the breath. There is a saying that when an old man sits, he only sits, there is nothing else going on; this is the essence of mindfulness.

Look to this day:
For it is life, the very life of life.
In its brief course
Lie all the verities and realities of your existence.
The bliss of growth,
The glory of action,
The splendour of achievement
Are but experiences of time.

For yesterday is but a dream
And tomorrow is only a vision;
And today well-lived, makes
Yesterday a dream of happiness
And every tomorrow a vision of hope.
Look well therefore to this day;
Such is the salutation to the ever-new dawn!

Sanskrit proverb

Silence

There are worse things than Silence” – Padmé Amidala

 

The Silent Cure

In silence there is peace and serenity. To be silent is to be like a still calm lake. Nothing disturbs us on the surface of things or within. Imagine being alone on that lake. The sun is shining. The only disturbance being the slight rock as you shift your weight. The hum of a passing dragon fly. That is what silence sounds like.

We also feel silence. By being silent we connect with something deep within ourselves. The watcher within emerges as the mind clears of thoughts and we become present in the moment. As our breath rises and falls we feel ourselves in tune with nature, the pulse of life. We are part of the cosmos on a tiny boat.

Silence is a true friend who never betrays.” – Confucius

 

The Inner Silence

The world is full of noise. To escape the hum of civilization one must either seek solitude far from home or withdraw within themselves.

Seneca once said that we could escape to a mountain retreat or a secluded place on the coast. Unless silence is within us, we bring our mental noise with us. One can be on Mars in a lifeless wilderness and still not be in silence. Silence is within, it is not just to hold one’s tongue but to silence the mind and heart as well.

If our emotions are in turmoil, so is our mind and we feel forced to speak. Often it is in silence that we find the inner peace we seek. In silence we find the right things to do and say.

 

Speak softly

How often had we said a thing and wished we had held our tongue instead. Once words ill spoken leave our mouth they are beyond recall. Thoughts and feelings too can betray us as we yield to turbulent emotions.

To be Jedi is to know when to speak and when to hold silence. Emotions can be tempered, we can choose when to speak and what to say. While anger, fear, exuberance, impatience and annoyance may rise and fall within us whether we choose to energize those emotions is up to us. We decide how play out those emotions. You can keep calm and silent when angered or resort to harsh words and rash action.

“Silence is a lesson learned from the many sufferings of life” – Seneca

Silence is Golden

Jedi know the value of inner and outer silence. In recovery too we learn that silence is golden. We meditate to restore our balance and recharge ourselves. When others speak we listen in silence and without judgement. We also speak with clarity and purpose and express our thoughts calmly. Like Jedi we can guard our words but we do not ignore our convictions. Sometimes more is said with less.

Speech is silver and silence is golden. – Thomas Carlyle

Once upon a time I feared silence. Even as I sought to isolate I needed noise around me. If there was none my mind was agog with rampant activity. I could be alone but with enough alcohol there was a noisy party going on inside my head. Around people I spoke without thought or care. My words betrayed jumbled thoughts, anger, fear and hate. The more I spoke the worse I made things.

The more you say, the more likely you are to say something foolish” – Robert Greene

In conversation I barely heard the other person. I would cut in and talk over people. Ignore their point of view and use words to shore up my position. I betrayed my immaturity and inexperience. I would blow opportunities, put people off side and build obstacles for myself. As I dug a deeper hole I became resentful and found respite in isolation.

 

Return to Silence

These days I seek silence often. Finding turmoil and noise within me I settle it down. When I want to say something, I ask myself like Cato did in the Roman Senate “Is this better left unsaid”? Will silence serve me better than to speak my turn? If not speak mindfully and with confidence. To be silent could be a disservice. Sometimes speaking up is a duty.

“In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends” – Martin Luther King

Today we are driven to be heard. There is a perception that to be silent is to not exist. Social Media demands our attention and we want to be heard. We join the din of the forum. Everyone is yelling but no one is listening.

Our ancestors lived in silence compared to us. Life was closer to nature and simpler. Words had more value. The ancients would find our world confusing, frightening and distracting. The natural state is to reside in tranquility. Our hearts yearn peace. There we find truth.

“Learn to get in touch with the silence within yourself, and know that everything in life has purpose. There are no mistakes, no coincidences, all events are blessings given to us to learn from” – Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

Find Silence amidst the Storm

Imagine a still lake in the mountains if you will or a calm sea at sunrise. There is barely a ripple on the face of the water. You can hear your own breathing. A soft breeze touches your face. The silence encompasses all for an eternal moment. The light of sunrise falls on distant hills. Even the birds are subdued in the peace and serenity of the morning.

Close your eyes. Look into your mind and listen intently. Let the voices and echoes fade in to silence. Passing like clouds in the wind. Peer in to your core where the seat of emotions resides. Feel what is there. Let any tension in your body and residual emotions relax and release. Let go of any pain and fear. Relax in to the silence. Hold the moment.

You are one with the cosmos and one with all creation. You are a child of the Force.

Time

You will know (the good from the bad) when you are calm, at peace. Passive. – Yoda

 

When you live to be 900 years old and have trained Jedi for 800 years like Yoda I suspect your perception of time would differ to a life form that lived a far shorter life span. The Galapagos Tortoise can live to over 150 years. Some have been recorded to live over 200 years. I wonder how passing time feels to a Tortoise. My guess is they don’t think about it much and simply live their lives one day at a time, one moment at a time.

Time is an illusion.” – Albert Einstein

To the rest of us, time is such a finite resource. These days’ people seem to be time deprived. In fact we are and it is not lost on a lot of corporations that take advantage of our lack by trying to sell us more time while exploiting the fact most of us don’t have the time to research options.

We are in fact rushing from one day to the next. Within what seems to be breath of existence we soon find our days have been utterly spent. Most people do not take the time to appreciate the moments let alone the time they have left.

 

The trouble is, you think you have time” – Guatama Buddha

The Illusion

What if it could be different? Do we need to devote all our attention and energy to a point in the future where happiness will be achieved? Our Ego is future focused. We work our lives away to be able to be debt free when we are too old to really enjoy life. We put in an ordinate amount of effort in to achieving some ideal at some point in the future.

Our dreams become preoccupied with a promotion or new career, new house, new car, better body and more money. When we arrive at these goals the happiness they promised in the past is not realized past the short term. We find ourselves arriving at one thing, finding satisfaction for a while before become restless and wanting more. The years and decades pass in some futile hedonistic pursuit of happiness.

It is not that we have so little time but that we lose so much. … The life we receive is not short but we make it so; we are not ill provided but use what we have wastefully.” – Seneca

 

Lost  Time

Life can be a string of meaningless acts of instant gratification and pleasure seeking. Ask any alcoholic why they drink. The fundamental reason is in order to fill some great emptiness in their lives. They seek fulfillment through the temporary sensation of pleasure that alcohol brings. Alcohol promises an illusion of happiness and transcendence to a higher plane. Of course we know the opposite is true. Booze distorts our perception and leads us down a path that leads to suffering and eventually spirals to a personal hell or worse.

One of the things that I became acutely aware of when I was drinking was the relentless march of time. I could feel the sands of time slipping through my fingers. It felt as if time was running out. I was careening to some unknown destination.

I would awake in the middle of the night still feeling the booze in my system. There was a creeping sense of terror. I could feel of the weight of some dark and terrible destiny on my shoulders. It felt like I was wrestling a Demon. The fear was tangible and at time I felt like I was sinking into some sort of purgatory, consumed by a darkness that had no limits and no escape.

Time stood out in harsh reality. I saw the remainder of my days set out before me like some twisted and dark path and I realized this was a slow death. At times I thought about suicide but I feared what came beyond death. I sometimes still feel the echo of that fear when I am tired and doubt clouds my mind.

They lose the day in expectation of the night, and the night in fear of the dawn.” – Seneca

 

“One Day at a Time”

There is a saying in AA that with enough sober time we get to have a choice whether we want to be an old timer or not. We have a simple choice; drink or don’t drink. Do or do not, there is no try. Through our choices we at least have some control in the present and in the future. That knowledge makes us realize that life happens in the Now, not at some time in the future.

We realize that there is no requirement other than a desire to stop drinking followed by a simple decision not to drink on a day by day basis. By simply not picking up, we decide to some extent how that day will turn out. The next day we do it again and again in the day after that. Life becomes a string of sober days and we find ourselves living “one day at a time”. The path is no longer a dark and twisted one. It has becomes a path filled with light and a bright future.

Time is a created thing. To say ‘I don’t have time,’ is like saying, ‘I don’t want to.” – Lao Tzu

 

Living Now

Living life “one day at a time” is the key to a “Good Life”. It is the path that leads to true happiness. We are more mindful of every passing moment. Our sobriety allows us to appreciate each day. The things that concerned us in the past become less of a worry.

We know that things will turn out just fine and even if at times life appears difficult. Fundamentally all is well and this too shall pass. We find within ourselves the need to help others and to share what we have learned.

Life becomes simpler, more meaningful and peaceful. I no longer wake up in the middle of the night gripped in some unspeakable terror. We lose the fear of growing old and dying. I know I belong to the Force and I will return to it one day so why should I be afraid?

 

Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come. We have only today. Let us begin.” – Mother Teresa

 

The Old Timer

Yesterday I wrote about Growing Old. I mentioned a man, Li Ching-Yuen, who had lived 256 years. This man lived in China in the last century. All the aged who knew him, including very old men over 100 said that he had already been ancient when they were young children.

This man told that he had been trained by another who had lived to the age of 500. A type of Chinese Yoda, he had learned the secrets of the Force (Tao). Martial Arts, meditation, herbs and breathing exercises were part of his training.

Outside of the Old Testament there is no written story of people living to such an age. What was this man’s secret? According to a Journalist who met him it was based on a very simple philosophy of life:

  • Keep a quiet heart
  • Sit like a tortoise
  • Walk sprightly like a pigeon
  • Sleep like a dog

Whether  Li Ching-Yuen lived to 256 as was claimed or less is irrelevant. Li Ching-Yuen said that maintaining an inner calm and peace of mind, living in the moment were vital. Taking breathing exercises and being active and taking rest when needed were also secrets to his longevity. We all need these things to be healthy.

The Choice

In a world that is in hyper drive all the time and over obsessed with instant gratification and future reward these simple practices should be welcome. We all have within ourselves the ability to decide how we want to live inwardly and whether we let stress and the pressures of life build us up or break us down. Time in our experience only moves in one direction, our choice is how we use the time given us. Few of us will be able to cheat time but we can make the most of it.

We can all take a page from Li Ching-Yuen and like Yoda learn the true meaning of the words “Calm at Peace, Passive”.

Life is long, if you know how to use it.” – Seneca

Joy (Part 2)

The Happy Trap

In the book the “Happiness Trap” the author suggests that one of the greatest impediments to achieving a “good life” is the expectation that we must always be Happy. The mistake that we make is we confound “Joy” with “Happiness”. Once again, the two are different; one is an emotion, the other is a state of being. The book reveals that we often beguile ourselves by falling in to a “Happiness Trap”.

We have convinced ourselves that life is meaningless and defective unless we are “Happy” so we set ourselves up for stress and disappointment when we fail to achieve “Happiness”. We may be happy in the beginning but then the love of our life leaves for our best friend, we get passed over for that promotion at work, someone steals the car, the computer blows up taking all our work. World crashes in, our life is crushed and we think it’s over because we are now unhappy. Life is not over, life is both pleasure and pain and even this too shall pass. Don’t feel unhappy about being unhappy. Embrace the wonderful tapestry of emotions which make us human.

“The walls we build around us to keep sadness out also keeps out the joy” – Jim Rohn

The “Good Life”

Monks and Mystics do not give the impression of being a “Joyful” bunch, neither do Jedi. We imagine them to be serious and humourless and everything that resembles devout. Then we are surprised when we see religious leaders, devout people like the Dalai Lama, Thich Nhat Hanh, Desmond Tutu and even Pope Francis cracking a joke and being playful and funny. How could that be when the world is so full of misery, war and strife aren’t they supposed to be sombre and righteous? What is the secret?

St Francis of Assisi was also a spiritual leader who eschewed all the pomp and ceremony of the Church and chose a life of poverty, simplicity and service as Jesus of Nazareth had. Francis of Assisi is known as the patron saint of Ecology for his love of animals and defense of the Environment. At the Vatican Francis presented in front of the Pope in his simple habit and rags and instead of bowing and supplicating before the Pontiff he danced and sang in Joy to the complete shock of the watching hierarchy.

Francis preached in rapture about the beauty of nature and the wonder of the cosmos and the Joy of the Divine. Later Francis traveled to Egypt in the midst of the Crusades to broker peace and understanding with the Arab Caliphate. Instead of being killed or taken as a hostage he was honored by the Sultan and bestowed gifts. Francis returned home and preached that Christians and Muslims could learn from each other and co-exist peacefully as members of one big family. Francis took love, reconciliation, humility and respect with him and it was welcomed and embraced.

In our obsession with original sin we often forget original innocence”  – Pope Innocent III to Francis of Assisi

Saint Francis of Assisi was 46 when he died. The years of attempting to live as an ascetic in self imposed poverty and deprivation had caught up to him despite later admitting that a middle road of simplicity was the path to spiritual Joy. Francis suffered terribly during his death but his Joy never left him, the light that he held within him was strengthened by his strong spiritual faith and beyond. Jesus and Gautama Buddha died in the same way, as did Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Sri Chin Moy and Bill W, they all took their Joy with them. They transcended life.

The Stoics believed that one could be deprived of everything but keep their sense of Joy at living, even condemned to death a person could meet their fate with peace and Joy of knowing they had lived a “good life”. Nothing can take that away. I believe we take our Joy with us when we die.

“Joy is not in things, it is in us” – Wagner

 

End of Joy

Today’s Pope has attempted to emulate the historic Francis by trying to broker peace again in the Middle East. This has largely gone no where. The Pope also tried to encourage a global consensus on climate change and environmental destruction as well as address inequality and rampant consumerism, to no avail. Technology may have moved on, borders have been drawn and erased and Empires have risen and fallen but still the same problems remain.

There is a detachment, a disconnect between what we think is joy (pleasure) and what is true joy in our society and as result a deep discontent prevails. This disconnect has resulted in endless war, poverty, inequality, environmental degradation and global angst. Perhaps this is because we have become more distanced from nature than at any time in our history. Material and individual pursuits have replaced the spiritual and the collective. It is no longer “we” but “me”. Many people feel entitled to happiness but do not realize only they have the power  to make themselves happy, no one can do it for them. We need to stop living in a “feel good” society and start living in a “do good society”.

The Art of Joy

Joy in comprehending and looking is natures most beautiful gift” – Albert Einstein

Yoda and the Jedi were similar in many regards to the spiritual leaders who have genuinely tried to make a positive difference in the world. The Jedi were not void of Joy, in fact they were probably the most content sentient beings in the Galaxy but just didn’t show it much. The fictional Jedi had a deep and abiding connection to the Force, they knew they were part of a greater whole and they were at complete peace with who they were.

Death did not fear them as they knew ultimately they would return to the Force and become one with it. The Jedi lived austere and simple lives based around duty, virtue and discipline and as a result they knew Joy.  Jedi realized that the pursuit of happiness in the shallow way eventually led to grasping attachment, which lead to fear, anger and hatred and ultimately the Dark Side.

In the Clone Wars “Lost Missions” Yoda travels to a mysterious world that is intense with the Force. Yoda seeks the wisdom to be able to unite with the Force after death in with his living consciousness. That is, Yoda seeks enlightenment and immortality of consciousness. In this mysterious realm he encounters the spiritual manifestation of the five states of being that are said to survive death; anger, sadness, confusion, serenity and joy. Each of the forms guide Yoda through the trials he must face to achieve his goals.

Yoda survives the trials and having gained the wisdom he seeks, he returns to Coruscant. The Jedi Master has changed and in the place of the fear, doubt and regret which has plagued him through the Clone Wars, emerges serenity, peace and Joy. These three unified states define Yoda for the remainder of his life until he is able to leave behind his tired physical form and his consciousness unites with the Force.

Find a place inside where there’s joy, and the joy will burn out the pain.” – Joseph Campbell

Simple as ABC

Not many of us are in a position to change our lives to an extent necessary for significant spiritual, mental, emotional and physical improvement. We have lives, commitments, careers and families to attend to; responsibilities. Fewer want to completely leave their former lives and adopt a life as a Mystic or Monk in a monastery or retreat. We must all work out what works for us as an individual and try to maintain a balanced life that satisfies our personal needs with the needs of others.

Simple lifestyle changes can make a lot of difference, they do not need to be drastic. In sticking to them we find that the effort and time we put in to acquiring “Happiness” through the pursuit of shallow and meaningless pleasures and material possessions can be better served by going back to the basics, the “ABCs”.

A is for Act: always act in accordance with your identified values. Know what they are, they will guide you in every aspect of your life. Be spiritually, physically, socially and mentally active. This means take up a hobby or interest you enjoy, exercise within your limitations, socialize with like-minded people and build a network of friends.

B is for Belong: be part of something, join a club or community group or get more active if already involved.

C is for Commit: volunteer, engage in a cause, take up a course, accept a challenge.

It’s that simple.

only those who have learned the power of sincere and selfless contribution experience life’s deepest joy: fulfillment” – Tony Robbins

 

Joy (Part 1)

Happy is one of the many things I’m likely to be over the course of a day and certainly over the course of a lifetime. But I think if you have the expectation that you’re going to be happy throughout your life–more to the point, if you have a need to be comfortable all the time–well, among other things, you have the makings of a classic drug addict or alcoholic.”
― Carrie Fisher, Wishful Drinking

When most people think of a state of Joy they imagine a feeling of happiness. For example, seeing your Football team win the grand finals might give you a great deal of joy. We say we are “joyed” on hearing that our preferred political party has won the elections or we passed an exam and we claim joy when we win the cash jackpot. I see people on game shows absolutely in hysterics of “joy” on winning “a brand new car”. Is that Joy or just a transient state of happiness?

The Master Jedi Yoda is in many ways symbolic of an aged and wise old Buddhist Monk who resides in a mountain top temple somewhere where the air is thin in the Himalayas. You would find that these old Monks probably don’t have a lot to be “over joyed” about. After all, they spend their day in contemplation and meditation when not chanting or reading. Their lives are simple, ascetic and disciplined yet if you were ask them how they felt, they would respond that they feel “Joy”.

No Secret

Monastics and Mystics of all traditions and religions all claim the same thing, a deep and abiding sense of Joy. How is that? Where does it come from? In our Western and secular society can we come to the same sense of Joy without devoting to life in a temple or monastery? How can we feel joy if it’s not tied to food, sex, material possessions, winning and money? Is there some secret we don’t know about? I mean a secret, not that scam fad called the “Secret” where we simply claim whatever we want from the Universe be it a fast car, boats, money, hot partner and piles of money and it will just fall out of the sky along with a bucket of Joy because of the “Law of Attraction”.

There’s actually no “Secret”, Joy is  a natural state of being. If we focus on the breath and watch it we begin to sense that deep and abiding presence of joy within us. Call it whatever you want, it has many names but we feel it when we observe the breath and quieten our mind. Most people don’t even realize this and live in a false perception that only what is external can bring Joy when the real meaning of Joy resides within us all. That is a quantum leap for a lot of people to make when they have spent their lives seeking “Happiness” thinking it to be Joy.

Happiness does not depend on what you have or who you are; it solely relies on what you think” – Buddha

Happiness v Joy

Happiness is dependent on attaining something that is external to ourselves. The constant search for the “right” partner, career, home, car and lifestyle, that “right” combination of people, place, things and thoughts tied to some sort of insane expectation that it will remain so forever is the basis for happiness.

Happiness is a point in the future that is dependent on things that are largely out of our control. What may make us happy now may not rock our boat tomorrow. We invest so much energy on building the foundations for “Happiness” only to end up dissatisfied, disillusioned and falling out of love. All of these things are not necessary in themselves, we only think they are and we are fooled in to believing that the attainment of Joy is contingent on certain conditions.

In recovery we learn to recycle pain and despair in to Joy. Life is not so reliant on the attainment of  specific external conditions in order to be “happy”, we understand that Joy is a deeper sense of being not a fleeting emotion. Joy means that we can maintain a sense the “all is fundamentally well” even when things at the moment appear to be going the opposite. We know that “this too shall pass”, there is no pathological evasion of sadness but a healthy acknowledgement of our human emotions.

Having Joy is being able to be sad as well as happy, we do not feel that being sad or depressed means that there is something wrong with us because we are not perpetually Happy. We accept that life can be hard and painful and we understand that emotions like happiness and sadness are transient while true Joy is abiding and eternal.

You have no cause for anything but gratitude and joy” – Buddha

Friends and Fools

Who’s more foolish, the fool or the fool who follows him?” – Obi-Wan Kenobi “Episode IV: The New Hope”.

Most parents take an active interest in who their children hang out with. They know from experience that the people they choose to spend time with and call friends will ultimately shape their character. If we are honest we can still hear our parents mumbling misgivings about some of our friends and admit they were right. We chose to ignore their advice thinking we had our friends worked out and besides they wouldn’t do anything to betray us. Until they did. The old question remains, who is the more foolish, the fool or the fool who follows?

The Fool

For some reason I seemed to attract a lot of bad characters when I was a kid. Everyone said I was smart so why did I fall in with the wrong crowd and bring bad attention my way; surely I was smarter than that? For some reason everyone also seemed to breath a sigh of relief when it was known I’d run off and joined the Army. Except for my Father that is; he had been an “expert judge of character”, so why did he hand around dead beats? Simple answer, he used them and “birds of a feather do flock together”.

In my case I was an impressionable young fool seeking an example to look up to. I was easily led. It’s a common theme with boys in a society where Fathers are facing an identity crisis and seen as having a diminished role in their children’s upbringing.

Regardless of the underlying causes such as alcoholism and violence in the home, unemployment and crime in the neighborhood and peer pressure at school, the common theme between everyone I knew that fell in with the wrong crowd was an absent Father. It is simply the inherent need to belong to something that pushes us in to the arms of fools. That is why kids that end up in crime gangs, joining extremist groups or doing drugs and alcohol are usually the ones with dead beat or absent Dads.

So in the military I found discipline and purpose but I also found belonging. I also found alcohol. Led by a need to feel accepted in the ultimate boys club I learned how to drink and as a result began the long spiral towards alcoholism. I was the greater fool for falling for it.

“Do not be misled, bad company corrupts good character” – I Corinthians 15:33

Friends v’s Drinking Pals

In taking the first steps in to recovery we start to enjoy a moment of clarity. We see what Fools we were and how we made a mess of things. Given a new lease on life we resolve to do things differently. Before we had been sailing blind, we knew where we wanted to go but were too foolish to take advice on how to get there. In recovery we open our selves up to learn from our past. One of the things we learn is that we have been a fool led by other fools for a long time.

One of the key things we consider during recovery is our choice of friends. Are they real friends or just drinking pals? Some of us are blessed to be surrounded by a supportive group of friends and family who enrich us and care about us. Some of us are alone or have few friends either by choice or circumstance. The rest are in their predicament partly because of the people they associate with. The question to ask in recovery is what do I keep and what do I let go? Very often we need only search our heart for the truth. As painful as it is we must let go of people who no longer serve our purpose in life or match our values.

Breaking off

One of the toughest decisions most of us make in choosing sobriety is deciding to break off relationships that are toxic or detrimental to our recovery. I see the issue raised often in the recovery forums; “I really don’t want to drink tonight but my friends have invited me to a party”. True friends respect our decision  not to drink and they support us.

A poor choice of a friend will try to talk you in to doing something you know is not right. In my opinion if you are in this predicament, ask yourself is it more important to make your friends happy and go drinking with them or stay sober? If your friends respect your decision and support you, they are friends worth having.

I moved around a lot as a kid and then grace of alcohol I never learned to develop true and meaningful friendships of the type that never age. Most of my friends were drinking buddies, the common love of getting mutually wasted and shenanigans kept the friendship vital but shallow. Take the booze and parties out of the equation and there was nothing left, just a sketchy myriad of recollections that resemble the “Hangover” movies.

If I meet my old Drinking Pals now the interaction is awkward. I guess we all grow up eventually. In the interceding years I missed the whole formula for creating meaningful friendships based on mutual trust, respect and interest. That’s the inglorious reality of booze; you are fooled the whole time.

An intelligent man is sometimes forced to be drunk to spend time with his fools.” – Ernest Hemingway

No Fool

In the separation of friends and drinking buddies we can feel lonely and alienated as our circle diminishes. Take comfort that we have raised ourselves above the level of fools and are left with keepers. No longer do we keep ourselves fooled we have taken a step in being honest with ourselves and others.

We have stopped fooling others by showing our genuine self. By being recovered I am someone new to the people I once got drunk with. Not the guy they thought they knew, but the real me. They recognize me but they don’t. Some no longer want to drink and they resent me for the fact that I remind them that they won’t change. Others approach me and ask what I did and decide they want what I have, sobriety.

Each person has a choice, almost daily, on who they want as their friends. For some there is no greater treasure than the dearest of friends. Others are happy with a great many friends. Others prefer to keep a small company of friends. Choose the company of friends that enrich your life, who you enjoy, whom you inspire and are inspired by. Most of all be content in your own company. Be your own best friend.

Associate yourself with people of good quality, for it is better to be alone than in bad company.” – Booker T Washington

Obi-Wan Kenobi was not a loner and he was no sociopath, he had a keen sense of humor, a keen intellect and was a good judge of character. He was also a Jedi who was as comfortable in his own company as well as in the company of others.

The question “Who’s more foolish, the fool or the fool who follows him?”  was a rhetorical one that fooled Han Solo but not Chewbacca*. Perhaps Obi-Wan was a little unfair on Han Solo in the beginning, after all the Commander of the Millennium Falcon did prove himself more than once in the end. Han Solo was certainly no fool even if at times he was foolhardy.

*In the scene Chewbacca clearly says “The Fool” in response to Obi-wan Kenobi’s question.