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.

Future

You cannot prevent what you cannot see coming. You can only do what you think is right at each moment as you live it. We can plan, hope, and dread the future. What we cannot do is know it.” – Qui-Gon Jinn

We spend a lot of time “time traveling”. We reflect on the past or project in to the Future playing out scenarios, ruminating or dreaming. Most of the time our minds are focused on getting to a destination in time, place or circumstance. Rather than living in the moment we focus our mind on plans and outcomes at some point in the future while not ruminating on the Past.

Unlike the past which cannot be altered or changed the future is not set. Every decision made every moment shifts the forward trajectory. We often marvel at the serendipity of events or their complete and utter chance and circumstance. The insignificant choices that you make, what you decide to do or say at any given moment can have an impact that carries on for years and decades. It can affect your life in innumerable ways and the lives of others too.

The daily decision to remain sober for example is a good example. I choose sobriety and in making that decision I influence the future. Not only my future but also those close to me and perhaps someone I have never met before. If I chose the opposite and took a drink I would set in motion a chain of events in consequence to that decision. I would likely get drunk, upset those close to me, fail in my duties and possibly, even, get in to a car and have an accident that cause the death or life time injury to another.  All of these things can flow from the decisions I choose. I have partial control over the future and therefore I have an inherent responsibility in the outcomes.

Power over the Future

I partially disagree with Qui-Gon Jinn on the first note “you cannot prevent”. It is true that things will happen that are completely out of our control. For example, the economy can turn sour and mass unemployment can directly impact on us. The Government can change policies which affect our ability to pay for Health Care or Education. A freak accident can occur on our way to work. Some things are completely out of our control, some things aren’t. I can still take action now that prepares me for the unforeseen. I still have a degree of control over how I choose to respond.

We can  prevent what we cannot see coming. We are not powerless in recovery or in life or anything. I may not have control over most things but I do have partial control over some things.

Where my own thoughts and conducts is concerned, I do have full control. I have control over my mind. In the event that I get drunk however I forfeit much of that control. Once I take a drink I lose my choices. I am no longer responsible or competent but tragically I still have an impact on the future.

Premeditatio malorum

One of the ways I deal with the “things I cannot change” is to practice the Stoic exercise of Premeditatio malorum* or negative visualization. Without slipping in to morbid contemplation I will visualize scenarios that “might occur”. For example I will entertain losing my job due to redundancy, getting in to arrears on my mortgage and losing my house. This of course leads to stress on my marriage which might culminate in separation and divorce. Rather than causing anxiety and panic for something that seems rather common today, I train myself mentally to accept the outcome in advance and continue to do my best in life.  I accept that it will suck and it will hurt and cause a lot of hardship but I also know that I’ve been through worse and things will turn out OK.

The exercise also reminds me to be grateful for my job, car, house, marriage and life. All of these things being transient and impermanent. They are still important at least to me, however I have to be prepared for the worst.

In my line of work we are constantly doing risk assessments. “”What If” scenarios are used to factor in unforeseen outcomes and hidden hazards. We cannot premeditate every thing but we take the time to think things through, develop a plan and add flexibility to account for surprises. We plan to succeed but we also prepare for failure. This is something that any one can apply in to their lives. Being sober is accepting that life is not going to be “happily forever after” all the time.

The Power of Now

We have the power through our own choices to affect our own lives and the lives of others. Powerlessness suggests the opposite and being recovered, being sober is being empowered.

I am powerfully recovered” – Anne Wayman ”Powerfully Recovered”

The best we can do is to live moment to moment in accordance with our principles. It is true that we cannot not know the Future. I personally don’t believe that a crystal ball or the morning paper horoscope reveals anything credible. I don’t use that to plan my day.

“We can plan, hope and dread the future”, but perhaps it is better to focus on how we can make a better future through the choices that we make in the present. You can make goals and plans and dream of a better future but action happens in the now. Get to work and adjust your sails when you need to as the winds of fate will change. Embrace that.

Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.” – Buddha

*Further information on Negative Visualization can be found here

Mindfulness and Meditation

Your focus determines your reality” – Qui-Gon Jinn (The Phantom Menace)

Spiritual practices such as prayer and meditation have been shown to improve psychological well-being and reduce depression and anxiety. Prayer while mostly associated with religious practice is also used by people to help them cope with difficult situations or to seek guidance from a Higher Power. Meditation is also often associated with monastic or religious practice but is also increasingly being recommended as a natural treatment to those who are recovering from alcoholism and drug abuse, the survivors of childhood abuse and trauma, the bereaved and those with anxiety and depression. Mindfulness is probably one of the most ubiquitous and popular methods used today to address almost any undesired mental state.

Feeling anxious or hurried? Try focusing on the breath and bringing yourself to the moment. Irritated by the driver who just cut you off in Traffic? Be mindful and smile inwardly, do not allow thoughts to cloud the serenity of the moment…Breathe…

Mindfulness, meditation, contemplation and prayer are essentially the same thing but practiced in slightly different ways and each carries a different connotation. At the basic level all are exercises in bringing the mind to the present moment and giving it the full attention that it deserves. Over the next few months we will explore each.

Besides the clear benefits to mental and emotional well-being, mindfulness practices have also been shown to effectively change the brain through neuroplasticity. Research has shown that people who devote 20 minutes daily to quiet prayer or contemplation, meditation or mindfulness will have an effect on the neural pathways of the brain and in time the organizational structure of the brain and the patterns of thought and behavior in a person will gradually change.

Meditation

Meditation is generally accepted as a formal practice of being completely aware through a process of focus on an internal or external source for a period of time. Some people imagine that meditation is a form of relaxation and reverie. Meditation is actually being completely aware of every sensation in the body, every passing thought and the external environment and having no judgment either good or bad to any of it. The body is completely relaxed and the mind is sharpened and aware. Thoughts recede in the background and awareness expands inward and outwards. A sense of joy emanates from deep within as if the body has re-discovered its natural state of being. Through Meditation you are being completely mindful. Although meditation is seen more as a formal practice of sitting in a lotus position and either focusing on the breath or repeating a mantra, Mindfulness is the state that is being achieved.

Mindfulness

You can experience and practice mindfulness in almost any situation and should strive to do so. Washing dishes, brushing your teeth, walking or running, eating food or making love are all acts that if done mindfully becomes an experience in to which you immerse yourself rather than a mindless exercise. Book stores these days are abound with coloring books that promote the practice of mindfulness through the simple act of coloring in pictures.

Being mindful in your thoughts, words and actions is also important as it clears the mind and places emphasis on purpose and in staying calm particularly during times when emotions may be charged. Mindfulness is simply applying focus and attention to the present moment. Our mind often resembles a tree full of chattering monkeys. Meditation, mindfulness and prayer silences those monkeys and puts us in touch with our higher self.

Focus is the Key

Whatever it is you are doing today, give it the full attention that it deserves. If you are conversing with a friend or family member, listen intently and notice their facial expressions, the tone of their voice and their subtle movements. Experience the food and drink you put in your mouth, taste the flavor, feel the texture and smell the aroma. Take a moment to breathe in fresh air when you step outside in the morning and pause to appreciate the sights and sounds around you rather than being preoccupied with distracting thoughts.

Say a short prayer of gratitude or affirmation to center yourself. Take a moment to breathe deeply three or four times and then to scan your body from head to toe allowing each part of the body part of relax in turn. Focus on your breath, count breaths if required and if your mind drifts gently bring it back to the breath and continue for a minute or more.

The beauty with this practice is that you can do it almost anywhere, anytime whether you are sitting in a waiting room or waiting for a Bus, walking or even running. The ego would prefer that we remain disconnected from the present and confine our mind in the past or projected to the future, anywhere but now. That is the state that most people find normal, however the reality is that the opposite is true, a state of Zen is the most natural state of being that a human can achieve and it is in all of us waiting to be tapped.

Patience

“A great leap forward sometimes requires two steps back” – Obi wan-Kenobi

The uncommon virtue

Patience is a virtue and is often viewed as an ideal Jedi trait. The calm and passive Obi wan-Kenobi deliberate in his words and actions and the meditative Yoda an epitome of patience whether consulting with fellow members of the Jedi Council on Coruscant, discussing strategy in a battle briefing or training Luke Skywalker in the ways of the force on Dagobah show the merit of the virtue. Jedi were patient, it was in their nature and in their training to show patience regardless of the circumstances.

Often the Jedi could also be impulsive and reckless wanting to rush off in to battle. Quinlan Vos was not your usual Jedi and is seen as a maverick by Obi wan-Kenobi in the hunt for Ziro the Hutt. Quinlan Vos later joins Asajj Ventress in a plot to assassinate Count Dooku where his impulsive nature eventually leads him to make choices that run counter to the Jedi Path. Luke Skywalker is also impatient throughout his adventures barely reined in by the advice of Obi wan Kenobi and later Yoda. Anakin on the other hand is the least patient of all the Jedi and while his insistence for direct action all the time and doing things his way gets results during the Clone Wars it does come at a price which in the end costs him everything.

“Patience Master Patience” – Ahsoka Tano to Anakin in the Clone Wars “Blue Shadow Virus”

Patience was never a virtue of mine and it is rare among alcoholics and other addicts. Once we want something and our mind is fixed on it we have a single minded purpose that ignores the consequences. Our thirst for whatever is desired overrides reason and logic. We cannot be told to wait and to stop us from getting what we want is akin to being prevented oxygen. Our lack of patience extends to people, places and things.

One thing to another

We grow tired of our relationships or we are never satisfied with the people in our lives always demanding more from them and often more than they can give or are prepared to give. Our jobs become a revolving door affair, soon impatient with co-workers, conditions or the lack of recognition in our many talents we either quit or force our employers to remove us. Some of us are constantly on the move seeking the “geographic solution” and then become quickly bored or disillusioned with new places and situations after a short honeymoon. Our possessions no matter how greatly desired or paid for soon lose their shine and we want to move on to new things. Never content, never satisfied, least of all with ourselves.

In some ways the lack of patience is a good thing. For example it can drive one to succeed and arrive at their goals sooner. An impatient man is rarely satisfied with mediocrity and demands better. As an alcoholic my impatient nature led me to some major successes in my life but not without cost to relationships, principle, pride and health. I burnt people along the way as well as bridges and compromised on my integrity time and again until I was morally bankrupt.

Stop, Think, Assess and Rectify

Patience is a virtue and it is hard won and easily lost but every moment we live in patience is a moment lived well as it allows you to enter the flow of life and for once not fight against the stream. Time slows down and we start to connect with others and find our true inner self. Being sober has taught me a lot about patience; to slow down and allow things to happen as they will without forcing them along especially in recovery and with my relationships. To live and let live and to “Let Go and Let God”.

Doctors are correct when they advise Patients to be patient with their healing, that is because nature (including your body, mind and soul) require time to heal when injured or sick. Oddly enough the word Patient comes from the Latin “to suffer” and to have patience no less means to show calm endurance and overcome base impulses to react, even if it means to suffer in silence to do so.

As the sense of urgency and impulsive instinct to act or speak rises today, take a step back as Obi wan suggested to Anakin and take a moment to consider your next step. Would you raise your voice in impatience at a child who doesn’t understand? Do you run a red light because you want to get home to put your feet up? Do you make enemies at work by being rude and impatient because things aren’t going as you want?

You rarely have to react in an instant to what is around you and things can wait. There is no need to get upset or angry at slow traffic because doing so will not make it move any faster. Time will move at its own pace and what better time to spend practicing the virtue of patience. Slow down, be calm, at peace, passive and let the Force in the moment flow through you.

Mindful what you Wish for

There was an old proverb his grandfather had taught him when he’d been a boy: Take care what you wish for, Tenn- you might get it. Now he understood exactly what that meant. He had wanted to fire the big gun, and he had gotten to do just that. The only man in the galaxy who had shot it for real, at real targets, and look what it had brought him: misery beyond his ugliest dreams.” – Tenn Graneet “Death Star”.

Gunner Graneet

Tenn Graneet was not a Jedi but he was a career soldier who did his duty and rose through the ranks of the Imperial Navy as a Gunner. Graneet had a military career which included action in the Clone Wars. With the rise of the Empire and the outbreak of the Galactic rebellion Graneet was promoted to Chief Gunnery Officer on the newly commissioned Death Star. This was everything that the Graneet had ever dreamed of.

During testing of the Death Star Tenn Graneet was responsible for the deployment and firing of the super laser system and witnessed first hard its destructive capacity on Rebel battle cruisers. As the weapon was upgraded to be able to destroy moons and planets Graneet began to question whether the Empire could wield such power responsibly. Graneet found himself questioning the morality of his role. Called upon to destroy the planets Despayre and then Alderaan killing billions of sentients Graneet suffers a crisis of conscience regretting his actions yet unable to defy his Commanders for fear of certain execution if he disobeys orders.

During the battle of Yavin Graneet is ordered to destroy the planet from which a Rebel Force including Luke Skywalker has set out to destroy the Death Star. Realizing that the Rebels have unlocked the secret to destroying the Death Star, Graneet freezes unable to fire when the planet presents as a target, giving the Rebels an opportunity. With those few moments Luke is able to destroy the Death Star. Graneet is killed with tens of thousands of other Imperial troops but countless lives are saved.

What do you Wish For?

How often have you wished for something and regretted it later? Sometimes we pursue a goal or a dream and when it is realized we find ourselves disappointed and disillusioned. In some cases we wish we had chosen differently or never had the idea in the first place. The cost of free will is that with every choice, every decision comes with consequences. Our choices may not be as drastic as the example above but they do carry weight on our conscience.

Drinking always seemed like a good idea even when it was obviously not. I could still easily rationalize the consequences of some poor choices if I could not blame someone else or provide a lame excuse. At the end of the day, no one was forcing me to drink. I still had fun and where’s the harm? Then why did I always feel like somehow it wasn’t my fault? Why did I feel like I was the target of a bad joke? How did I wish all of this? I would not wish it on my worst enemy!

Over the years I have said “I want to” or “I’m going to” many times. I wished for a better life, a meaningful existence and a sense of purpose, just something better than this. The problem was how. I wanted an easy end like in the final scene of Trainspotting when Renton (Ewan McGregor) marches off into the sunrise with satchel of money over his shoulder declaring with a wide grin:

“The truth is that I’m a bad person. But, that’s gonna change – I’m going to change. This is the last of that sort of thing. Now I’m cleaning up and I’m moving on, going straight and choosing life”.

Of course that’s not exactly how it happened for me but I did start changing. How? Well, I started to wish, actually pray for stuff and it came, just not in the way I expected.

I started to pray for patience and the Universe gave me plenty of opportunities to practice without resorting to anger, obstinacy and frustration;

I prayed for courage and my Higher Power was with me when I started to make amends and face people with some difficult confessions;

I prayed for compassion and I learned to identify with the addict I used to look down on;

I prayed for humility and my Higher Power had me eating humble pie till I got to like it;

I prayed for understanding and in time my eyes were opened;

I prayed for a better life and I learned to be grateful for the life I have.

Learning the truth can be painful and hard as can change. I have also learned the truth in the saying “old dogs can learn new tricks”, in my case it took a bit of work. We learn to shed our old selves and cultivate something new. I have also learned to be mindful for what I wish for as the Universe has a twisted sense of humor. There is a good chance the Universe will oblige.

 

The Jedi Mind Trick and the Happiness Trap

Jedi Mind Tricks

The Jedi Mind Trick was used by the Jedi in Star Wars to influence and alter a person’s belief or perception of a certain thing. In “A New Hope” Obi-Wan Kenobi uses the Jedi Mind trick to get past a Storm Trooper check point with the Droids being hunted by the Empire as they contain the stolen plans to the Death Star. Using suggestion, Obi-Wan is able to persuade the Clones that the two Droids are not the one’s they are looking for.

Jedi Mind tricks are used on several occasions by the Jedi as an alternative to direct action. The Mind Trick had its limits. It was useless against life forms with a strong sense of self will and mind. The winged Toydarians for example, were immune to it, probably because they were so good at selling spare parts to Bounty Hunters. The closest thing to the Jedi Mind trick in the real world is persuasion and suggestion. I can think of many times I was convinced to purchase something that I didn’t really need probably due more to my own gullibility rather than the Force.

“I am not the Drunk you are looking for”

Over the years I tried to apply a version of the Jedi Mind trick on others and found my powers lacking. People usually don’t want to do something unless they see personal benefit.  People are generally persuaded to something through reason, fear or the offer of reward. Once the motivating factor is removed, they stop doing it.

Jedi Mind tricks do not work in reality, I can’t wave my hand in front of a Police Officer and say “You have only had one beer, there is no need for a sobriety test”. I can try but I’ll probably get laughed at and then arrested. In some states they probably throw the book at people attempting to “Jedi mind-trick” law enforcement Officers.

So if I can’t “Jedi Mind Trick” my boss to give me a pay rise or a day off, my teenage daughter to tidy her room or my wife to cook my favorite dish can I use it on myself? That is, can I use a form of Jedi Mind Trick to help me achieve a sense of equanimity and balance? How can I mind trick myself to happiness?

“Wishful Drinking”

There are two ways to trick your mind in to a better state. One is based on a false perception of reality and only works for a short time because deep down you know it’s not real. We call that “wishful thinking” or in my case it was “wishful drinking”. That is, getting drunk to feel better and capture a fleeting sense of happiness, fulfillment and contentedness. The other way takes effort and requires mental training. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is one such method based on Mindfulness and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.

“Wishful Drinking” of course is also a book by Carrie Fisher where she recalls the story of her struggle with alcohol, drug abuse and depression. It is a humorous and at times sad portrayal of a woman we came to know and love as Princess Leia. The relevance of course is that Acceptance and Commitment Therapy is all about achieving equanimity and balance, not a shallow illusion of happiness. Happiness is your own personal view point and what makes you “happy” will change over time. I know it has for me. In the book, Carrie Fisher makes the following point about happiness which many of us can relate to.

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”.

Happy versus “Happiness”

We know of course that life is not a fairy tale and if we expect to be happy and fulfilled all the time we are setting ourselves up for disappointment. The concept of true “Happiness” seems elusive but it is not. I have seen the happiest and most contented people alive in some of the most modest of settings in the poorest countries in Africa, South America and Asia.

What made these “poor” people happy? Well, they know who they are, they feel connected with and valued by their community, they are surrounded by loved ones and they feel like they are making a contribution. They live simple and productive lives and realize what truly matters. Most of all they are committed to living in accordance with their principles and values.

Watch the Netflix documentary “Happy” if you don’t believe me.

People who are unhappy are unhappy about not being happy as they define it. This is called the “Happiness Trap” (Harris, 2008). Sound like a Jedi Mind Trick?

ACT

This is what Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is about. It is a mind hack that adjusts our perception of ourselves and our response to life in a realistic and honest way. It gets us out of the “Happiness Trap”. There is no simple and temporary “Jedi Mind Trick” to it. The idea is not to “fool” our brain but to train it in “right thought” through pragmatism and mindfulness. With practice ACT rewires how we think about ourselves and the things that bother us and with practice it takes barely any effort to apply in our lives.

The method has been used to help treat veterans suffering anxiety and PTSD and as an alternative to drug therapy. ACT is also gaining popularity with Psychologists and Therapists as a simple and easy way to treat addiction, anxiety and depression. The US DVA promotes ACT as one modality and offers a free app called ACT Coach to use in conjunction with therapy and meditation.

The core principles of ACT are acceptance, commitment and action. The key primer is mindfulness. All of these are key Jedi traits:

  • Defuse and reject beliefs and thoughts that do not serve;
  • Accept feelings, sensations and emotion and let them come and go without struggle;
  • Identify your values and commit to them;
  • Be present in the moment. Observe your thoughts and feelings without judgement;
  • Commit to action that demonstrates you values and those that improve yourself.

The wonderful thing about ACT is that it is so easy to do with practice and can be incorporated in to a meditation practice. The very essence of ACT is in the 12 Steps program so if you are working the steps alone, with a home group or a sponsor there is a good chance you are doing it already and reaping the benefits in your recovery. If not, discuss it with your Therapist and explore it as an option, try it and if it works for you keep doing it.

References:

Fisher, C (2009). Wishful Drinking. Simon & Schuster.

Harris, R. (2008). The Happiness Trap: How to stop struggling and start living. Boston, MA: Trumpeter.