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.

Common Sense

Source: Pinterest

The Uncommon Trait

“Common sense” is a term used to describe the application of reasoning and good judgement in one’s life. The way is seen as the most obvious and most applicable in most circumstances. In other words the approach most people would choose in taking a course of action. Human nature would be the guiding principle.

At the practical level common sense denotes behaviour which supports well being. For example most people wouldn’t use a blow dryer while taking a bath. Any one with common sense would not hand their credit card details to someone on the phone claiming to work for the IRS. Common sense prevents us from making some obvious and stupid mistakes.

Unfortunately “common sense” seems to be less common in the world than one would expect. It seems to be the exception rather than the rule. We all make some whopping mistakes and foolish blunders that defy common sense and leave us and others wondering what went wrong.

 

“Never tell me the odds” – Han Solo

 

In the Day

I have spent years working in high risk and hazardous environments both in the military and in the primary industries like farming, logging and mining. Years ago everyone relied on a fair degree of common sense to stay safe. There were basic safety rules which were cardinal and reinforced. If a person was a hazard to himself or others he usually got moved on before he killed himself or someone else.

Common sense was the vernacular of the old timers it was a skill passed down and respected by the younger generation. Ultimately you either had it or you didn’t.

 

Common sense is genius dressed in its working clothes.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

Not so common

In recent times “common sense” has been pushed out with the old timers. Safety has bought in safe systems of work underpinned by procedures, supervisor training, lead and lag indicators and micromanagement. Common sense is viewed as dated concept that doesn’t work. People can’t be trusted to use their own judgement and think for themselves.

Employers don’t advertise for candidates who will show “common sense” in their duties. The word is one to avoid using on resumes and in interviews. Never say “common sense” to a safety professional; they will chastise you and declare that it does not exist.

Yet common sense does exist. Most people just abrogate their personal responsibility to others. Blame is an easier option than admitting mistakes. As a result common sense is less than common, it is rare. The most common sense failure is to make the same mistake over and over again. One would think that once or twice would be enough and three times unforgivable but sure enough…

 

Common sense is not so common.” – Voltaire

 

Not so Smart

Most Alcoholics have intuition and many are smart and intelligent. Common sense however seems to elude us. We can be creative and carry “street smarts” to get along but where alcohol is concerned we become experts in a twisted sort of common sense that only enable us to get drunk and stay in addiction.

Our attributes of dishonesty and selfishness enable us to find ways to get drunk in the most devious and creative ways. We hide bottles in unusual places. I have kept stashes of booze around the house and forgotten where I put them. I have hidden liquor in empty shampoo bottles. We have told the most plausible lies and staged the most elaborate ruses to get drunk even when we were isolated from alcohol or barred from drinking.

 

By any Means

Prisons are porous; drugs, tobacco and alcohol still flow in. I managed to spend a bit of time in the Brig for AWOL among other offenses mostly related to alcohol. The regimental lock up was fairly tight sealed and its inmates closely monitored. We were kept busy around the clock till lock up.

Alcohol and tobacco were strictly forbidden yet I still had more than enough to keep me going while in jail. It took some covert operations type planning and execution and a bit of outside help. The MP’s tried to force me to reveal my method but I refused. Part of the fun was being able to buck the system regardless of the endless hours of digging holes, painting rocks white, parade, pack running and body blows I got for insubordination. If only I had applied myself in life with the same commitment and effort.

 

The three great essentials to achieve anything worth while are: Hard work, Stick-to-itiveness, and Common sense.” Thomas Edison

 

What Works

My skills also kept me out of trouble at home and work years later. I knew how to evade police patrols doing random alcohol checks. There were contingencies in place to ensure I always dodged alcohol screening in the workplace when I knew my breath would knock over anyone who came within five feet of me.

Common sense suggested that any number of means to control drinking would work. Drinking reduced alcohol beer, starting later, counting drinks, pacing, time limits, eating a big meal and snacks, taking vitamins, drinking only organic wine, never mixing drinks, fasting, planning, exercise, meditation, swearing off and taking a vow to name a few. None of them worked. In the end working the Steps and practicing principles worked. It works because it is a common sense approach as much as a spiritual one.

 

Most people die of a sort of creeping common sense, and discover when it is too late that the only things one never regrets are one’s mistakes.” – Oscar Wilde

 

 

Koinonoēmosunē

The Roman Stoic and Emperor, Marcus Aurelius called common sense “Koinonoēmosunē” using the Greek origin of the roman concept of “Sensus communis“. Marcus was a pragmatic and grounded man but also very spiritual. In my view he was the world’s first Jedi. Despite his status as Emperor he did not consider himself above his fellow man. He saw himself as being of flesh and blood and subject to the same limitations and nature as all human beings.

The Stoics believed that all people share a common perception, not only as animals that need to eat, water, shelter, protect their resources and breed but also as a rational human being that act for the good of the community as well as one’s own self. Behaviors that were not ethical in the sense that they did not serve that purpose of personal and common good were seen as contrary to the idea of Koinonoēmosunē. Acting contrary to one’s own mental, physical, emotional and spiritual well being or that of others is contrary to common sense.

 

Applying Common sense

Koinonoēmosunē is exactly what we do when we participate in active recovery and self improvement. We improve ourselves and we aim to help others. Common sense is lived rather than applied on rare occasions. We do not abrogate reason and logic to others, we think for ourselves and weigh up our actions and assess them against our personal values. Responsibility for our conduct is accepted as an unalienable part of who we are.

The goal of world betterment through self betterment is the intent in Jedi action. Therefore to apply common sense in our lives is very much a Jedi act as well.

 

Jedi Method

If we are having trouble deciding what common sense is remember that the fundamental rule is to “Keep it Simple Stupid”. That does not mean that we are stupid but we tend to over complicate our lives and act in ways that do not serve our interests in the long run. By breaking it down and applying the three basic questions of the “Jedi method” we are on our way to applying common sense in our approach:

  1. Intent? Why am I doing them? Does it conform with your personal set of values and adopted principles?
  2. Action? Is it correct? Should I take a different tact? Does it agree with ethical and moral principles? (In other words would it be reasonable for someone else to do it under similar circumstances without having to defend their actions to others later on? Would they be able to sleep soundly afterwards?)
  3. Outcome? What are the consequences long and short term? Do they serve not just one’s self but others?

You ultimately have to decide what common sense is. Just remember that it is not dead.

Things could still be worse

The State of the World

If you follow the news every day you are probably of the view that the world is in serious trouble. It seems that every day we are bombarded with more terrible news from around the world. Some of it affects us directly or we know people involved. News from further afield also touches us. We feel for the people that are caught up in a tragedy, their plight streamed to our computer or television. Their suffering becomes our suffering.

The world seems like a smaller place than it ever did. We are connected through the power of the internet and comprehensive news coverage. If something terrible happens in our town, city, state, country or on the other side of the planet we soon hear about it. Right now there are mass murders, genocide, environmental destruction, natural disasters and famine happening around the world in plain view. The world stands on the precipice of a nuclear disaster, war appears to be looming large as does an array of other global catastrophes. We feel helpless to do anything. Despite all of this, things could still be worse.

 

Reasonable to Good

Despite all the tragedy and calamity in the world we also get caught up in our own personal dramas. Our wants and needs still preoccupy our thoughts. Simple and day to day problems still arise. The car still breaks down, we have crappy days and nothing seems to go right. Except when it does, bad things usually happen to other people. Most of the time they happen to people we don’t know and believe it or not, the news does not cover every instance of bad news. Terrible things are happening right now that will never be reported, that we will never hear about.

That does not mean the world is falling apart around us. The chances of being assaulted, robbed or murdered remain low. Most of us will never be caught up in a natural disaster or a major accident such as a fatal car accident, train derailment or a plane crash. Hopefully, even less of us will be visited by war. Diseases such as cancer may happen but the odds might still be in our favor. Overall the outlook for a positive future seem reasonable to good. The world still has much beauty and peace.

 

Not the End

So why does it seem that things could not get any worse right now? Well they could. It’s simply a matter of perception. Things do not hurt us, only our perception and view of them does. I have heard people, myself included, declare “that’s it, it’s over, my life is finished!”. The reality is it’s not. We could lose our job, our house, our partner could abandon us, loved one’s could die but we are still here.

The sense of loss and grief that is felt does not mean that the world has ended or that we won’t see better days. The sun will rise again in the morning and the Earth will continue to turn on its axis. What assaults and bereaves us today will pass. It may seem hard to accept but it is true. Hurricanes and earth quakes destroy cities and wars upend entire countries, yet people still emerge and rebuild brick by brick. Soon enough children’s laughter can be heard and life goes on.

 

When you arise in the morning, think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive—to breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love.” – Marcus Aurelius

 

Life Goes On

The power of perception and gratitude kept James Stockdale alive in a North Vietnamese prison and it kept Viktor Frankl’s hopes and dreams alive in Auschwitz. Both of these men knew things could be worse. They were still alive and they owned their minds. The power of choice over whether to allow themselves to give in was theirs alone.

There are times when fate hands people a cruel and heavy burden. I could not think anything worse than the loss of a child. Yet I know people who have suffered that tragedy and who have come out the other side of hell more appreciative of life and love. They are more grateful for the things that they still have and grateful the for time they were blessed to have spent with their loved one. Life does still go on.

Putting things in to perspective allows us to find our balance. We can grieve and process our loss in a mindful way while appreciating what has been taken away. Loss is a reminder that all things are impermanent and transitory. Gratitude reminds us to value what we have more than what we expect or want. By accepting that life could still be worse we are in a way acknowledging that and letting go of our attachments without devaluing their importance in our lives.

 

Grace of God

A decade ago I was diagnosed with a tumor that resided within my skull. Unlike a brain tumor it was a mass that was non-malignant and could be surgically removed before it did any damage to my brain. At first I thought I had a brain tumor and panicked until the Doctor reassured me that my prognosis was good as it had been found before it could interrupt the blood supply to my brain. So I asked “it could’ve been worse?”, the Doctor replied that indeed I could have had a stroke at any time and lost a great deal of function if not my life, so yes “it could have been far worse”. That experience taught me a lesson. It gave me a new lease on life and a grateful appreciation for everything in it. Unfortunately I forgot that I was alcoholic and soon started the spiral downwards.

Recovered Alcoholic often surprise people with their spontaneity, humor and positivity. Some of them have been through the wringer, they have estranged or lost friends and family members, ruined their careers and lost everything they ever owned and suffered terrible health problems. Yet here they are, laughing and joking and enjoying life to the full. Even bad news seems not to unsettle them. They accept what comes with equanimity and peace. They realize that the only reason they are sitting there is because of the “Grace of God”.

My personal descent in to a hell I call “rock bottom” put me in an emotional and spiritual place I thought could not possibly be worse. The reality was, I was lucky; I found a Higher Power and made my way out. With renewed faith I started to clean myself up and begin recovery by taking the steps. I admitted my powerlessness to act against a disease and I surrendered my problem over to a Higher Power. By surrendering my life to the Force I was able to start putting my life in to perspective and finding that I still had a lot to be grateful for. I realized that things could have been far worse. Compared to others I got off lightly; I still had a family, my job and my health.

 

Leia

Leia Organa is very much the symbol of strength, pride and steely determination in the Star Wars saga. Leia suffered loss in her roles as a Princess, Diplomat, Rebel Leader, Jedi, General and Mother. Her life had been full of personal tragedies and bitter betrayals. Besides the loss of her biological parents at birth she endured decades of hardship in peace and in war. Whether you read Canon or Legends they included the death of her son Anakin and the loss of her Ben Solo to the First Order. She married and separated from Han Solo and then in “The Force Awakens” learned that he had been brutally executed by their own child. Despite all of this Leia never buckled, she never gave in.

In real life Carrie Fisher also dealt with personal hardships and tragedies that most people were unaware of. From an early age she was thrust in to the lime light due to her high profile parents. Star Wars launched her career and earned her unimaginable fame. That global recognition came at a price. Still a teenager Carrie Fisher was in an affair with her co-star Harrison Ford. The relationship was one sided, he a distant lover and she a an impressionable young girl who was infatuated yet awkward about her feelings and embarrassed about her body. She fell in to addiction and depression and struggled with the pain and self loathing that it bought on. The separation of her parents and death of her Father also had a heavy toll on her.

Despite all of the hardship and tragedy Carrie Fisher never wallowed in self pity. Although she had low self esteem she also had the tenacity, strength and courage to overcome her demons and emerge as a confident writer and spokesperson for mental health. She became like General Organa, tough and frank yet approachable and funny. Carrie Fisher had a common touch which connected with ordinary people. She had been through the wringer and like many recovered Alcoholics had a ferocious love for life and a healthy sense of humor born of humble irreverence for one’s own flaws.

The shared beauty of Carrie Fisher and Leia Organa was the knowledge that life is tough and it will get you down. Life can pick you up and throw you down again and again but it can always be worse. How we get through it and come out the other end largely depends on us. We can give up and weep bitterly in the dark or we can stand up and keep going one day at a time, one step at a time.

Despite all the tragedy and evil in the world it is still a wonderful place. There is more good in people than bad.

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.

The High Ground

 

Art of War

In War the advantage of the high ground is constantly sought out. Seizing and holding high ground is often critical in a military campaign. One only needs to look to history to show how choosing to defend a higher position has resulted in a decisive victory. Federal forces under General Meade defeated the Confederacy at Gettysburg by holding the high ground. Napoleon was able to defeat the Prussians at Jena by attacking in flanking maneuver from a higher position.

The advantage gave both Meade and Napoleon a better view of the battlefield and further reach for their artillery, it also made life harder for the enemy. The Vietminh were able to over run the besieged garrison at Diem Bien Phu during the Indochina War by attacking from and holding the mountains that surrounded the valley in which the French were “ensconced” and subjected to months of withering assaults until they cracked. The Mujahideen in Afghanistan managed to wage a war against the Soviets and Afghan national army by drawing them in to the mountains where they held the advantage with guerrilla tactics and American weapons. The contemporary version of the Mujahideen, the Taliban, today uses the same tactics against their former allies, the Americans.

 

Camp in high places, facing the sun. Do not climb heights in order to fight” – Sun Tzu

 

Sun Tzu in the Art of War advises that military commanders should always seek to use the high ground to their advantage. This ideal has come to be used not only in military planning but also in business decision making. Companies that secure the high ground in the field of innovation, use of technology and adopting modern and ethical approaches to business such as diversity, sustainability and a proactive safety culture will often hold a competitive advantage and an adaptable culture. Inflexible companies that refuse to adapt to change or are sluggish in their attempts to keep up and innovate are left behind and out competed.

 

A Battle Ground

Holding the high ground in a tactical sense however does not always make sense. In small units the high ground is avoided unless it is a defensive position. Normally a good commander will read the terrain and use it to the best advantage. On patrol we would often lay up on high ground at night. Before dawn we would silently break camp and withdraw to a position that offered better protection and a means of escape. The tactic also was designed to throw off an enemy planning to attack at dawn.

Patrol commanders would take in to consideration factors such as observation, concealment, and means of escape and avenues of attack; sometimes the high ground is the last place you wanted to be. The advantage of air power and use of drones however has removed some of the advantage of being a militia or guerrilla force ensconced in the mountains as the current war in Afghanistan has shown.

 

A Word Weapon

An often used term is “moral high ground”. In society we see it a lot in arguments. It is a weapon used by both sides of a debate. For example, both pro-life and abortion advocates believe they have a “moral high ground” on the issue of abortion. The same applies with the euthanasia and same sex marriage debate in many countries.In the military the assimilation of females in to combat roles and the acceptance of LGBT divided the population in and out of uniform. Both sides claimed the “moral high ground”.

Progressive movements will often claim the High Ground in these social issues. Very often the term “moral high ground” is also used to excuse violence or intimidation in the name of a contentious issue. Claiming the moral high ground does not mean that an argument is correct unless you are a Sophist.  It also does not justify the use of violence. Unfortunately violence is still used as the power of advantage rests with the side that holds the high ground.

 

Remember back to your early teachings. “All who gain power are afraid to lose it.” Even the Jedi.” – Chancellor Palpatine

 

A Point of View

In the Star Wars sage the Jedi often claimed the moral high ground in their campaigns both military and political. Mace Windu and Qui-Gon Jinn were often predisposed to blur the lines of ethical conduct in order to advance the cause of the Jedi. The argument often put forward by the Jedi was that the use of deception, betrayal and subterfuge was in the interests of the Republic and for the “common good”. The morality and ethics of such actions were tenuous at best. This fact was not lost on Palpatine who ironically often used and played the Jedi for his own nefarious ends.

We often hear such lines being used in the real world. Companies use it when they lay off hundreds of staff for the “common good”. When our government takes us to war they do it in the “national interest”. They use the moral high ground to place legitimacy over an irrational argument. Much later we are left wondering how it could have happened. The real question should be “what is the moral high ground”? Who defines it? Is it valid?

 

Good is a point of view, Anakin. The Sith and the Jedi are similar in almost every way, including their quest for greater power.” – Chancellor Palpatine

The false High Ground

Anakin had been in many fights over the years and many of these battles had seen him and his opponents seek to take advantage of higher positions. Whether on foot using a light sabre or in a fighter Anakin always vied to take the higher ground by out maneuvering and outwitting his opponents.

Confronting Ob-wan Kenobi on the lava flows of Mustafa, Anakin was faced with a dilemma and sought to counter it with a reckless move that almost cost him his life. Obi-wan had the high ground and offered Anakin the chance to surrender and live. Metaphorically speaking, Obi-wan also held the “moral high ground”. By confronting Anakin he was not only attempting to stop the rise of the Sith and the fall of the Jedi Order, he was also trying to save his friend. Both seemed to be noble causes in the context of what we believe. The outcome however was that Obi-wan Kenobi was unable to accomplish either of these objectives.

 

Casualties of War

Taking the moral high ground has pit falls. It can blind us to the “bigger picture”. We take one view and refuse to consider alternatives or opposing arguments. Very often a deep seated “righteousness” pervades an opinion. It does not matter if it is right or wrong, true or false, the only thing that matters is that it is must prevail. Objectivity followed by honesty is often the first casualties on the fight for the “moral high ground”. Arrogance is a flaw that often develops in the belief that a view is superior to all others.


The Higher Objective

Have the high ground means being better able to view the landscape and appreciate the situation for what it is. From a higher vantage we can look down at people or we can help them up to stand beside us. The goal should not to be to hold the moral high ground in order to defeat or belittle others. The goal should be to take that person to the higher vantage point so that they can see the truth for themselves.

Being recovered means we can place a high value on sobriety and clean living. We can also value virtues in ourselves and others such as honesty, humility, benevolence and selflessness. Although we are better we do not act better than others.

Being sober does not give me the right to take a moral high ground at the expense of others especially if I consider my history. No one has the right to take a moral view and consider others lesser than themselves because they fail to make the grade. It would be wrong for me to judge an alcoholic who is desperate and hopeless; I was near enough there once myself. It may be easy to judge a homeless person pan handing in the street who looks young enough and fit enough to be working but it would be wrong. We cannot know what fate put him there. Some of us have hit the skids before and know the bite of poverty and acute apathy. A few of us have slept rough, begged for booze and money or searched for food in rubbish bins.

 

Falling Down

We should always be mindful before taking the High Ground. The fall from our lofty tower might be great when our views are laid bare as false. Having strong opinions on matters can make us feel potent and powerful but they also leave us open to scrutiny and judgment by others. When we are forced to defend our position we can find that our argument does not hold and our defenses have major weaknesses. We fight to hold the high ground and we lose ground. As our defenses crumble so do our firmly held beliefs and with them our self esteem and confidence.

 

It’s over Anakin, I have the high ground” – Obi-wan Kenobi

In that dramatic scene on Mustafa, Obi-wan tells Anakin it is over. Filled with hate and rage, Anakin attempts to leap over Obi-wan and out flank him. The move is a fatal one and Obi-wan’s light sabre flashes and catches Anakin mid air amputating both his legs. Anakin rolls away and comes to rest by a lava flow his skin badly seared by the heat soon bursts in to flames. He screams in anguish, pain and rage.

 

Surrender the Higher Ground

In the end it did not matter who had the high ground on Mustafa. Anakin was reconstructed as Darth Vader and Darth Sidious assumed the role of Emperor. The Jedi Order was destroyed but for few survivors and a scattered rebellion emerged from the ruins of the Republic. Over the decades of war that followed both sides would claim the moral high ground in their struggle over the other. Obi-wan exiled and alone with his memories might have pondered the merit of his beliefs and questioned whether they had been firmly placed on high ground after all.

The idea of a moral high ground is based on what society values. Our parents, friends, teachers, religious instructors and leader, elected leaders and peers all help form our moral views. We hold on to them and build our fortress upon their foundation. How often do we question them, how often do we ask if they are right?

The first thing to ask is “what are my moral high grounds”. The next thing to ask is whether attaching ourselves to an inflexible view point helps or hinders our cause. Would it be better to loosen the bonds of opinion slightly and to critically assess them? Instead of focusing on the failings of others should we not be looking at our own faults? Where there is conflict and hate do we assign blame on the others only or do we also look at the part that we have played? Is there room for compromise and mediation, can common ground be found? Sometimes it can, sometimes it cannot but by engaging in dialogue there is always a chance of a spark of understanding to emerge. The only way to find out is to walk down from the high ground across no mans land and speak with the enemy. The way to peace and forgiveness may be to surrender the High Ground.

The best conversation is rare. Society seems to have agreed to treat fictions as realities, and realities as fictions; and the simple lover of truth, especially if on very high grounds, as a religious or intellectual seeker, finds himself a stranger and alien.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Jedi seek Balance

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

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

(33 Jedi Traits)

 

Purgatory

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

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

 

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

 

The Light and the Dark

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Find you Own Light

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

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

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

“What shall I find?” – Luke Skywalker

“Only what you take with you” – Yoda

 

 

The Light in Dagobah

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

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

 

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

 

In all our affairs

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

Clear your Mind

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

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

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

 

The Window

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

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

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

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

Jedi believe in destiny

Jedi don’t believe in coincidences, Jedi trust in the will of the Force and accept the fact that nothing happens by accident. Jedi believe in destiny, and that there is some method to what happens in the Universe. Things happen when they are meant to happen; there is perfection; nothing happens by accident. There is a ‘soul-plan’ for every person, but it’s hard to understand these things from our level.

(33 Jedi Traits)

Design or Accident

Is the Universe a product of intentional and intelligent design or is it simply the expression of natural laws? Does life have a  purpose or is it simply a random chance event, an aberration? Is there a destiny for all human beings, a type of Karma that has already been decided from past lives and a Divine will? Does determinism apply? What about time? Is it linear as we perceive it or circular? Do past event recur and have current events already played out? Is reality as it appears or an illusion? Are we divine being having a human experience or just evolved beings having no particular experience other than a mental one? Does the Force play a hand in our lives or are we all just here because of evolution and carry no inherent purpose at all?

For years Philosophy has grappled with these questions and come up with answers. Religion also provides answers on matters of life, death, after life and destiny. I was taught as a child that if I live a good life, say my prayers, follow the commandments and confess my sins I will go to heaven. Do the opposite and it is off to Hell.

I also learned that Buddhists believe in reincarnation and asked a Priest once if reincarnation and Karma were real. The reply I got was unsettling. Reincarnation did not exist and non-Christians were barred from Heaven. What of Dogs I asked surely they would join us in Heaven. I was assured they would not. My next question landed me in hot water; “Why then” I asked “Does the Bible say that all creatures are of God and will enter the Kingdom of Heaven”? I guess it was my destiny to let my mouth get me in to trouble.

Difficult to see. Always in motion is the future..” – Yoda

No Fate

In the Terminator 2, Sarah Connor wrote “No Fate” on a table before she went to assassinate the man who would bring about the rise of the machines. It seemed that history and the future had been set and could not be changed but we know that is not always the case. The past cannot be changed but our destiny can, if we choose.

“If once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny, consume you it will, as it did Obi-wan’s apprentice.” – Yoda

Anakin Skywalker seemed destined to fall to the Dark Side and become a Sith. Fate had played him a cruel hand and despite the efforts of Obi-wan Kenobi and the love of Padmé Amidala, Anakin could not be saved. Yoda seemed to think that Darth Vader was bound for eternity to Darth Sidious in perpetual suffering. That it was his destiny and would also be the destiny of Luke if he succumbed to his own dark emotions. We see in the “Return of the Jedi” that destiny can be changed.

“You cannot escape your destiny,” Obi-Wan tells Luke. “You must face Darth Vader again.”

“I can’t kill my own father,” Luke says, almost pleading.

“Then the emperor has already won.”

Luke chose not to destroy his Father; he cast his Lightsaber aside as well as his anger. Through forgiveness and compassion Luke released Anakin from his Karmic prison and destroyed the Dark Lord. Had Luke succumbed to his anger and killed Darth Vader he would have simply replaced him as an apprentice to Darth Sidious.

We not need follow a fateful path that leads to an unhappy end. We have the power in our hands to change our destiny and redeem ourselves. Life is not predetermined; we are not prisoners to some Fate.

 

Choose your Destiny

“If it pleases the Gods, so be it. They may well kill me, but they can’t hurt me” – Epictetus after Plato

A few years ago I stood teetering on a precipice and stumbled in to a dark chasm. At that moment I had a choice, my destiny had come to a fork in the road. I could continue down the path I had walked and probably continue to live a short life of fear and misery or I could grasp the hand of Faith and trust in a Higher Power to lead me down a higher path.

The choice I made finds me here today. Had I chosen the other way my life would probably be looking a lot different now. I have come to learn that Faith is not thinking “God” will protect us from the arrows of Fate but simply trusting in a process where we hand our lives over to a Higher Power and “Letting Go”. It worked for me.

Every moment we are tweaking our destiny. Each decision we make ripples through time carrying the residue of consequence. Karmic consequence is a natural law however we cannot know if Divine providence or a Cosmic Plan plays a part in our destiny. We cannot know if our actions will take us to some afterlife of bliss or burning souls.

If there is a Divine Plan and we each have a Soul Plan then it is up to us to trust the process and live out our lives as we feel best expresses the grandest version of ourselves. We cannot determine how the story will end. All we can do is play our part, accept what happens and exit the act when the time comes. Tolerance, flexibility and acceptance are also Jedi virtues, adherence to some doctrine of determinism is not.

 

Karma Sucks

“Karma’s a Bitch”, the guy who said it was partially hidden in shadow. The moon shone down on us and the surrounding desert was bathed in a pale light. I could see a mountain range beyond a wide plain of black volcanic rocks. Thorn trees dotted the landscape like tortured souls, bent and twisted. It was cold.

The man who spoke walked over and offered me a cigarette. I declined. My ears were ringing and I had a splitting headache. We were on guard duty, patrolling our Platoon harbor. The Platoon slept around us quietly snoring. Recon vehicles were parked in a circle like old west wagons. It was a “non-tactical” bivouac but smoking was still forbidden after a “black out” was ordered. My companion shrugged, put a smoke in his mouth and lit it in cupped hands. The cigarette flared and his face came in to view, dirty and stained with two day old camouflage paint starting to wear, stubble on his chin. His fingers were black from shooting. I could see him grinning broadly and eyeing me intently.

That day we had lost an Officer to a “friendly fire” incident. 81mm mortars were being fired in support of an assault platoon moving in to do a flanking attack on an enemy position. The mortar fire was intended to keep the enemies heads down. As soon as the platoon was in position they would give the signal and the mortar fire would be walked away from the enemy. The platoon would assault the position with small arms fire, grenades and shoulder fired rockets. Any fleeing enemy would be ambushed by another Platoon or get caught in the mortar fire depending on the direction they withdrew.

The problem was the order was somehow given to direct the mortars in to the path of the moving platoon. Two landed before someone realized the mistake and stopped the barrage. The Officer leading the assault took a piece of shrapnel and was currently fighting for his life. The irony was that this particular Officer was hated by everyone. Karma or bad luck had singled him out with an errant 81mm mortar. No one would miss him. My companion chuckled “Stupid Bastard had it coming anyway” he spat. I watched him wander away, rifle slung over shoulder, the smell of cigarette smoke lingering behind him.

There is no such thing as chance; and what seem to us merest accident springs from the deepest source of destiny” – Friedrich von Schiller

 

Fate is Fickle

I wondered about what he said. Was it Karma; a merest accident from the deepest source of destiny? The support platoon firing the mortars didn’t work with this Captain. They didn’t have to put up with his incompetence and decisions that made no sense and made everyone’s lives miserable. One of the Grunts had taken a fragment in the eye but was otherwise fine and had to be evacuated with the Officer. A few other guys had light wounds and were kept in the field. I personally felt it was poetic justice what had happened to the Captain but had divine fate played a hand?

A year later I ran in to the Captain. He was in my new Battalion. He had made a full recovery and was not only his old self, he was worse. The Brass had also decided to give him a medal and he was now a Major and on a career fast track. I thought of all the hundreds of miserable saps that he would command in the future. How many careers would he trample over to get his way. The accident had been a boon to his career. Yes, Karma really does suck.

Not long after I was court martialled and discharged for a drunken spree that included a pub crawl in four different countries and a run in with the police. I had been AWOL and it was not the first time. Karma strikes again.

Fate is a fickle bitch who dotes on irony.” – Glen Cook “The Black Company”

 

Breaking Samsara

Karma is an Eastern belief that differs to the “Heaven or Hell” coin toss of western religions. I say coin toss because some people still believe that masturbation will condemn a person to hell. I don’t believe that. Karma might suggest something different for that “sin”, like indifference. Hindus and Buddhists believe that we are in Samsara, a constant cycle of birth, death and rebirth. Where we end up in every life is largely decided by how we conducted ourselves in former lives.

We all have a chance to break that Karmic cycle by living virtuous lives or as the Buddhist suggest, taking the noble path. With more virtue and right living we get more Karma credits. Get enough and we are on our way to the end of Dukkha (suffering), we achieve a state of transcendence and arrive at “nothingness”. Simply put Karma means actions have consequences. We largely decide our own soul journey of endless lives through our actions. Determinism does not play a part.

 

No one gets out alive.

The weird thing is that every turn in my life which has seemingly appeared “bad” has turned out for the best. An unexpected life changing event occurs which sets us on a new trajectory. We end up in places and in situations we could never imagine. Sometimes fate appears to carry such design that we cannot help but wonder if we are exactly where we are meant to be despite the resistance we put up getting there. Is it fate or serendipity? Do we have a “Soul Plan”? Perhaps destiny, fate, free will and chance are all combined under some Cosmic Plan. We each have a destiny but it is ours to change it through Free Will.

Simple luck would explain a lot of injustices in the world. Perhaps someone is looking over us. God knows I should be dead fifty times over with some of the dumb shenanigans I have pulled over the years. Eventually my luck will run out.

One thing is for sure, I’m glad I was standing in the right place, at the right moment and was shielded from the blast by that Captain when the Mortar round hit. I like to think there was a reason for that.

“How people treat you is their karma; how you react is yours.” – Wayne Dyer

Jedi are Positive

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

Jedi Optimism

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

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

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

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

Jedi Pessimism

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

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

The Power of Positive Thought

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

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

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

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

Think and Heal

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

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

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

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

The Operation

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

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

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

Stinking Thinking

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

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

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

Waking Up

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

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

Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier” – Colin Powell

Get Positive

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Apathy

The longing you seek is not behind you, it is in front of you” – Maz Kanata

In philosophy we ponder existence and the meaning of creation. We ask questions like does life have meaning or is it a futile exercise of survival? Are we here to know our divine selves, to discover God or do we exist only to fulfill an evolutionary function through the law of gene preservation? Does life mean everything or nothing at all? I often ask myself these questions. Sometimes the questions are rhetorical as philosophy provides a response and Faith reassures me. Other times, especially when depression or apathy settles in the answers are less sure and doubt sets in.

In choosing recovery I made a decision to turn my life around. Sometimes I wonder if becoming sober and taking a spiritual view is not some sort of Jedi Mind trick on my self. That I’m not fooling myself. After all everything happens at the level of the mind. We can choose to believe whatever we want. The question of existential meaning in our lives can throw a spanner in the works. What is the meaning of life?

Psychology tells us the being able to modify our belief system from one perspective to another will in time change our outlook, our habits, character and ultimately our brain. The brain I had as a practicing alcoholic is not the brain I have now. Through nueroplasticity it has changed. Mediation and mindfulness are practices which have helped modify my cognitive and behavioral patterns. Indeed both are suggested by psychologists for that reason. Removing alcohol and working the steps also changes the brain. With a fresh set of eyes I see a world which is utterly different than what it was before.

“Even a thought, even a possibility, can shatter and transform us” – Friedreich Nietzsche

Red Pill, Blue Pill

In reality the world has not changed that much since I got sober only my perception of it has. Like a pilgrim on the road to Damascus I march along heading to a destination. Then on that road something happens. I stop look around me and ask the question that sometimes changes everything; “what’s the point“? Is there any point to any of this? Is life not just a futile exercise that ultimately means nothing and leads no where?

Nihilists premise that there is no existential meaning and all is for nothing. This idea suits many people but I have mixed feelings about it. Part of me embraces the idea that there is absolutely nothing I have to do or be. This means I can be whatever I want and not have to care.

I can take the blue pill and become a Nihilist. Hard reality crashes in. Virtue becomes entirely subjective; there is no right and wrong or good and bad about anything. Life is simply a choice between personal preferred and non preferred indifference. We can basically say “F&#k It” to anything, anyone and everything and sleep soundly at night.

On the other hand it is also bitter pill to swallow. Embracing a nihilist, albeit futile nature of existence view of the world throws the baby out with the bath water. It can leave us naked in a cold and barren world. The absence of philosophical and ethical tethers may feel good but apathy and depression doesn’t. Take the red pill and we jump in to the rabbit hole of endless possibility that could all be an illusion.

Life has no meaning the moment you lose the illusion of being eternal.” – Sartre

                  Source: Jean-Paul Sartre Existential Star Wars: Death Sartre

On a Mission

As a 12 Step Jedi I am supposed to champion virtues and uphold principles. There is supposed to be a point to everything. I know what’s right and wrong, good and bad. A philosophy based on both virtues and principles is to be practiced daily and lived. The Fictional Jedi took an oath to the code and dedicated their selves to that code no matter what the consequences. They lived by the code. A mission or cause could seem futile, even doomed to fail however the Jedi did their duty accepting whatever the outcomes.

Not all Jedi took that view. There were Jedi who chose to walk away and adopt a life that was more nihilistic in philosophy. These were the Gray Jedi. They had taken the proverbial blue pill.

 

The Gray Jedi

The “Gray Jedi” were not an order, there was no structure or organization behind them. These were Jedi who walked a solitary path free of any code but their own individual one. From a historical perspective they resembled the Ronin of feudal Japan. Unlike Ronin who were master-less Samurai and often mercenaries, the Gray Jedi were Jedi who had lost their Faith and had distanced themselves from the Jedi Order and Path.

Gray Jedi did not embrace the Dark Side, to do so would have made them Sith. Rather they walked a middle path between light and dark without embracing either. They were beholden neither to the Jedi or the Sith and were indifferent to both.

Master Jedi Qui-Gon Jinn was considered a Gray Jedi for his unorthodox ideas but was in fact a dedicated Jedi. In the old Republic there were true Gray Jedi like Jolee Bindo. Groups of Force users also arose that were essentially Gray Jedi. Quinlan Vos and Ahsoka Tano were never called Gray Jedi but both had lost faith with the Jedi. They survived as maverick rebels after the purge of the Jedi Order and destruction of the temple under Order 66. They saw the futility in their cause but with nothing else to do they carried on.

 

Losing my Religion

Luke Skywalker apparently suffers a loss of faith and becomes a Gray Jedi in the “Episode VIII: The Last Jedi”. Has he really become a Gray Jedi? Many seem to think that Luke has succumbed to an existential crisis. Luke is old and alone on Ahch-To. A self imposed exile with a lot of history. Despite his past he has never fallen to the anger and fear that swayed Anakin to the Dark Side. The futility of the struggle and a faith lost has made him a type of Nihilist. He finally said “F#%k It”. Sometimes I feel like Luke Skywalker, maybe it’s an age thing.

These days there is a real temptation to be a Gray Jedi. I’ve thought about it. I could also be apathetic and sober. I’m not sure how that would work though. Its not in my nature and apathy tends to go hand in hand with booze. Nihilism and apathy don’t always go hand in hand though but the latter is worth a mention because it figures prominently in the new type of nihilism emerging in society.

 

Generation Apathy

There is a growing trend for younger people to embrace a philosophy that claims a futility of existence and the absence of meaning. A type of hedonistic nihilism that dictates everything is going to hell so have the maximum amount of fun now with total disregard for the future. Mindless consumption is one of the symptoms, so is mindless sex and violence.

Society has become numb and dysfunctional. Religion is dying and spirituality is seen as less relevant. Nihilism, not even the true type as penned by Nietzsche, becomes the easier option to an apathetic and disenfranchised generation. The result is a general apathy and resignation that if nothing has any meaning so why should one pretend to care.

Social media posts, comments, likes and hastags have become the symbols of an uncomfortable apathy. We want to do something about all the wrongs we see on the internet, we feel anger, rage, inertia and finally apathy. A cognitive dissonance is continuously felt by people who feel they would do something if they could but won’t because it’s too hard. It’s in our face all the time. Saturation media and social isolation reinforces apathy and a sense of futility follows.

We are entering a post modern era. Truth and reality is now defined by the individual based on their own cultural, social and personal history as well as trending views that shift and polarize. The world is becoming over populated, culturally uniform, highly mobile, technologically connected and yet so very lonely and disconnected on a human level. Society has shifted from optimism based on scientific certainty and technology to one of pessimism based on uncertainty and anxiety. We are literally being conditioned not to care.

Everything has been figured out, except how to live.” – Sartre

 

 Snap out of it

Nihilism gets a bit of a bad rap for being the philosophy of Apathy, it isn’t. Nihilism simply states that nothing has any meaning, there is neither good nor bad. For many people this can be liberating. However we can depress ourselves when we ponder existentialism and start to question the meaning in our lives.

Right now I’m telling myself to snap out of my own sense of apathy. I need to get back on the road to Damascus and walk the Jedi Path again. I need to keep trudging the 12 Steps. Wallowing in self doubt and apathy won’t help. Perhaps a bit of media fasting will help. I can sit for five minutes and write a gratitude list. Try to keep busy and find a way to get outside of myself. There are a lot of things we can do when we start to question the very meaning of our lives.

Perhaps Nihilism provides a solution in part. Why be sad, apathetic or depressed about something that has no meaning?

But I still have to decide, do I take the red pill or do I take the blue?

The Duck Test

The Duck

Today while walking on the beach I encountered a Duck. Until that point I had been enjoying the strong cold wind, the hint of more rain to come and the wash of the surf breaking on the beach and rocks. The ocean was alive and it felt good to be there. I stared at the duck and the duck stared back. We were like a scene out of “The Far Side”.

There was something odd about this duck. For a start it did not seem to mind the wind or the cold, but then ducks are used to extreme conditions. It had all the features of a duck; plumage, shape and size were all distinctive. The Duck did not waddle or quack but based on my observations thus far I could surmise safely that this indeed was a Duck.

The oddity struck me. This Duck was not in its natural habitat. I was looking at a freshwater lake dweller far from home. For some reason the Duck had decided to join sea gulls on the beach. There were few other birds around and I started to feel worried for this duck. I asked myself, is this duck lost? Does this duck need help? How did it get here? Was it blown on the wind and separated from its group? Was it in fact a migratory duck? Could I see a tracker on its legs? Was it injured? Would it die? Should I call someone and report a wayward duck?

All of the sudden my mind was agog with concerns and questions about this duck. I had seen what I assumed was a duck and had made a whole lot of assumptions about it. It never struck me that perhaps this Duck was eyeing me in the same way; is that a human? What’s it doing on the beach in a storm? Is it dangerous? Should I leave now? Does it have food?

 Abductive Reasoning

There is a saying “If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck”. The phrase refers to a form of abductive reasoning commonly used by people to arrive at the most simple and logical conclusion. The Duck Test is based on observation and deduction. When we see something that appears to be what it is, we determine without much fuss that it is.

For example, if I see someone staggering down the street with a bottle of liquor in his hands, slurring his words and smelling of alcohol I can safely assume that this person is drunk. It would be a mistake for me to surmise that the person is also alcoholic without further proof. I can determine that the person may be unpredictable if approached because experience has taught me that people who are drunk in public can be unpredictable.  This does not make this person unpredictable, bad or a danger. I must simply be wary until we have passed and gone on our separate ways.

A ploy used by canvassers to get people to read their flyers is to hand them what appears to be a $100 bill. On one side is Benjamin Franklin and on the other side is an offer to sell something. I’ve fallen for it a number of times. Once I have scrutinized the piece of paper I realize it is a ruse. The canvasser is simply taking advantage of two things, human greed and the fact that everyone will do a Duck Test on a $100 bill to determine if it is real. We don’t keep the note hoping that it may somehow later prove to have monetary value. There are no assumptions made, we toss it away.

Rumors

Why is that we always make assumptions and jump to conclusions about the important things in our lives? The temptation is to wander away from the facts that are presented. We hear a rumor that things are going poorly in the market and then fear the calamity of an economic recession and unemployment. A lump is felt somewhere under our skin and we do a bit of “Dr Google” and convince ourselves that it is cancer. A news flash tells us that the Government has increased its Terror Alert and we react in fear and stay away from public places. A report of an escaped fugitive somewhere in the city and we stay indoors and arms ourselves. An article on social media tells us that the planets, current affairs and wild weather herald the coming end of the world and based on the comments some of us believe it.

I was recently pleased to hear that the people in Guam are continuing on with their lives and holidays despite ominous warnings in the media about nuclear Armageddon visiting the Island. I’ve been to Guam and the local reaction does not surprise me. Why be freaked about about something for no real reason?

Catastrophes

We alcoholics tend to be catastrophic thinkers. Over complication, dramatization and pessimism are alcoholic habits that die hard. We tend to tie ourselves in to knots over imagined fears. An argument is the end of a friendship or the start of a divorce. One missed repayment will cost us everything as we tell ourselves the banks will take the house. A mistake at work will surely blow our chances of promotion or cost us our job. This is the Ego representing itself as Fear. They are nothing more than mental impressions but have a powerful pull on us. In fear we do irrational things and make poor decisions. Through those actions we can realize our worst fears.

 Jedi Reasoning

In the Star Wars saga there are many examples where the Jedi use the Duck Test. The Jedi were cool headed under pressure, they saw things in plain view and worked in the now with the facts at hand. The Jedi had profundity, they had deep insight and knowledge as well as the Force guiding them. Yet the Jedi could keep their feet on the ground and “keep it real”. Decisions were often based on the simplest explanation of things.They did not over complicate things.

The Clones were soldiers who operated under very simple reasoning processes. It was in their genetic programming to see things as they appeared. Clone Troopers did not spend their time agonizing over unknowns. They had one purpose. Orders were passed down and obeyed without question. The Jedi used this to tactical advantage and led the Clones in to battle as an effective fighting force.

There were also many occasions where the Jedi were blinded by assumptions. Ahsoka Tano was framed and charged with attempting to destroy the Jedi Temple and was banned from the order with little chance to defend herself.

All of the Jedi Masters were fooled by the meticulous deception of the Sith. They were blindly led to the events which resulted in the end of the Galactic Republic. Obi-Wan Kenobi failed his student Anakin by refusing to accept the truth that his friend was straying from the Jedi Path. Darth Vader was fooled in to thinking that the Death Star was indestructible until a bold group of rebels were able to storm an impenetrable citadel and steal the master plans revealing the Death Stars fatal flaw.

We could argue that each of these events transpired because things “were not as they appeared”. In fact, the most decisive moments in Star Wars occurred because the characters failed to see things for what they were. There were no Jedi Mind Tricks to this, just failure to see superficial reality out of profundity when it mattered.

The Surface Appearance

Usually reality is nothing more than the surface appearance of things. Things happen and they happen as they appear. All of the other images of calamity and disaster might well be imagination. A Duck is really just a Duck. Who knows why it might be on a beach?

Sometimes it is better to stick with first impressions and allow the facts to reveal themselves as they do. For example, it would be ill advised to accuse someone of something based on a hunch or loosely held assumptions. The proper way would be to reserve judgement, allow the facts to present themselves, remove all doubt and then make a statement and present evidence. Allow the person to defend themselves; there may be more to it than is known.

 Superficial – out of profundity

Be Objective, stick with the facts and to quote Marcus Aurelius “don’t tell yourself anything more that what the initial impressions report”.  We are conditioned to judge, seek answers and work things out. Our cognitive abilities include critical thinking. Pragmatism should however never be compromised.

As Jedi we should be able to keep a cool head and see things as they are, we should reject the compulsion to automatically jump to conclusions. We should be, as Nietzsche referred to the Greeks, “superficial – out of profundity”. With insight and knowledge comes the ability to accept things as they appear without losing our minds. We should sometimes accept that a duck is just a duck and nothing more.