Exile

In to Exile I must go. Failed I have.” – Yoda

Exile is a harsh punishment often inflicted on people who have been forced to leave their homes. The choice to remain can be fraught with danger. Stay and face persecution or death or be uprooted and cast in to the Diaspora.

In recent years we have seen a surge in the number of people fleeing war, oppression, cultural upheaval, environmental degradation and poverty. There is a gravitational pull towards the west and the north as those places offer a measure of safety, financial security and welfare lacking in poorer countries. Many immigrants and refugees arrive in the new lands and many become disillusioned. The promise of a better life often fails to materialize. The tug of home conflicts with the desire to stay.

Our native soil draws all of us, by I know not what sweetness, and never allows us to forget.” – Publius Ovidius Naso

 

Land Lost

Exile has always been a part of the world. It follows on the heels of any sweeping change that befalls a country where events favor one group over another. Refugees are the living and desperate flotsam of war. Waves of peoples fleeing death and destruction in their homelands and seeking safe haven in a strange land is one of the faces of war.

The goal of the refugee has always been to return home and rebuild. In the past people held a strong bond to their homeland. The land that nurtured them was a part of who they were. A person’s identity was their culture, language, history, the land that carried their buried ancestors. The land was the mother that nurtured the people.

Identity creates an emotional and spiritual link to the ancestral land. This connection endures even to those born in the Diaspora who struggle with their identity. The desire to return and find home is an intangible tug for exiles.

“All writers–all beings–are exiles as a matter of course. The certainty about living is that it is a succession of expulsions of whatever carries the life force…All writers are exiles wherever they live and their work is a lifelong journey towards the lost land..” – Janet Frame

 

The Damned

The Stoic Philosophers Epictetus and Seneca were exiled by Roman Emperors. The Emperor Domitian banished all Philosophers from Rome. Nero massacred many. The rise of Christianity saw the banishment of classical Philosophers. Through the centuries exile was used as means to silence opposing and dissenting views. Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany forced many Philosophers to flee in to exile or forced in to concentration camps.

Exile can shape and define a person in different ways. For some it is a calamity to great to recovery from. For others it is a catalyst for growth. It was in exile that the ideas and talents of many Philosophers, Writers and Poets begin to blossom.

Socrates was never an exile but lived as one in his native Athens. The father of Western Philosophy held that all Philosophers should suffer exile at least once in their life. The existential catharsis that comes from being uprooted and foreign in a strange land would do the Philosopher good.

“Copper sun sinking low
Scatterlings and fugitives
Hooded eyes and weary brows
Seek refuge in the night”

 – Juluka “Scatterlings of Africa”.

 

Scatterlings

Exile is a recurring theme in Star Wars. After Palpatine released Order 66 resulting in the great purge of the Jedi Order and the rise of the Empire, those who survived the onslaught fled in to exile. Kenobi fled in to obscurity in the outer rim. Yoda waited on Dagobah for prophesy to be realized. The few Jedi and fledgling rebellion were scattered to all corners of the galaxy, relentlessly hunted by Darth Vader.

Exile grounded Obi-Wan Kenobi. In exile Kenobi found a new purpose and honed his skills in the Force. Yoda also became stronger and wiser in seclusion on Dagobah. The decades that passed were to their advantage. The day would come when they would have a sweeping impact on events and in their own way finally return home.

Luke Skywalker exiled himself to the remote planet of Ahch-To, The Last Jedi abandoned his family and friends vanishing as a new dark force arose in the galaxy. Fleeing his responsibilities he still chose an ancient Jedi temple to hide out as a recluse. This seems at odds with someone who wants to run away from his past and severe all ties. Why run to something familiar unless there is aching regret?

Unlike the Jedi who fled the power of the Empire, Luke was trying to flee himself. The guilt and remorse he felt for past mistakes effectively crippled his spirit and extinguished his flame. Luke was unable to function as a Jedi Master so he chose self exile as a punishment for his failures rather than rising above them.

“This is the most immediate fruit of exile, of uprooting: the prevalence of the unreal over the real. Everyone dreamed past and future dreams, of slavery and redemption, of improbable paradises, of equally mythical and improbable enemies; cosmic enemies, perverse and subtle, who pervade everything like the air.” – Primo Levi

 

Geography

In the recovery community you will sometimes hear the term “geographic solution”. Alcoholics have a habit of running away (literally) from their problems rather than facing up to them. They will isolate themselves from the people in their lives, change jobs suddenly, start and quit projects and sometimes vanish in a form of self exile.

My Father was such an alcoholic and addicted to the “geographic solution”. The next town or place will be better. A fresh start is all that was needed. Moving to a new place may work for a short time but eventually an immutable fact remains; wherever you go, there you are. If you are fleeing yourself you will find that no running away will solve that until the day you change yourself.

Luke may have sought to somehow redeem himself on Ahch-To. Perhaps he felt that his presence at home was so toxic that he needed to be away from everyone and everything in order not to ruin their lives. How often do we see alcoholic parents abandon their children for exactly the same reason? Out of some desperate need they think that removing themselves will save others. They fail to see the real way out.

The arrival of Rey was the spark that ignited a fire. Luke was forced to confront his past and deal with it. The truth of his actions was laid bare and he had to admit it at last. The final confrontation with his past was the shove that Luke needed to get past the rut he had found himself in. Once free of that burden Luke was able to transcend to a new level. Luke was able to be his true self and become one with the Force. Luke finally came home.

“Happiness is not only a hope, but also in some strange manner a memory … we are all kings in exile.” – GK Chesterton

 

Shallow Roots

I would not know what it is like to be an Exile in the classical sense as I never had roots to begin with thanks to an itinerant drunken Father. As long as I was aware of place I was always on the move. It was with this sense of having no “home” that I left the confines of childhood and set myself adrift in the world for many years. There were no roots to rip up. “Walking away” was easy.

Despite forever feeling the “stranger”, the “outsider” and the “other” my entire childhood and much of my adult life I always felt there was a place I belonged. Not knowing where felt like a gaping hole in my soul. I spent years searching. My travels took me across continents.

I sought a place I could call “home” and at last put down roots. What I was actually seeking was my own identity. I did not know who I was, what I was meant for or where my place was. I was Lost and tried to fill that hole with booze.

What I found on the road was frustration, anger, hate and suffering. Eventually I found that exile and separation is a state of being not a place. A personal catharsis is needed in that vital experience of exile to come home.

“Exile is not a time frame. Exile is an experience. It’s a sentiment.” – Marco Rubio

 

The Road to Damascus

The Bible tells the story of Paul. On the road to Damascus he is confronted by a vision of Jesus and “blinded”. Later as a newly converted Christian, Paul’s sight was restored. Forced in to exile he began the work of spreading the gospel until he was eventually martyred by the Romans like so many other Philosophers Christian and Pagan before and after.

I don’t know if the character named Saul existed or whether his catharsis on the road to Damascus and conversion as Paul was an illustrative parable of the power of epiphany leading to a radical shift in perception and character.  Saul led a selfish life that was blind to the suffering of others.

Saul was also blind to the hate and anger in his own heart and his spiritual void. Something huge happened on the road to Damascus that led to a blinding revelation and a deflation of ego. Paul emerged, a new man entirely devoid of his old character. With the hate, anger and fear stripped away Paul found “God” was there all along within him. Free of separation, Paul had found home.

Everyone must come out of his Exile in his own way.” – Martin Buber

 

Finding Home

My lack of identity of course was never the want for a physical location to call “home”. Like Paul I simply needed to find my own inner truth. I needed to learn who I truly was. I did not find it on some road in a physical sense but by facing myself, overcoming denial and surrendering my problems to a Higher Power. After decades lost I finally found home. Had I never experienced a type of personal and spiritual exile I would never had become that person. Socrates was right.

Exile need not be seen as a negative experience. Being driven from home can be traumatic but also cathartic. In exile one can sink in to despair or rise above the experience and become a better person. Philosophers like Epictetus and Seneca thrived in exile. Like the protagonist in Campbell’s “A Heroes Journey” the Exile is also on a journey that ends with the final and victorious return home.

“Exile is a dream of a glorious return. Exile is a vision of revolution: Elba, not St Helena. It is an endless paradox: looking forward by always looking back. The exile is a ball hurled high into the air. ” – Salman Rushdie

Build Resilience: Be Indifferent

Calm, at peace, passive” – Yoda

I try hard to be indifferent. This might raise eyebrows. Tell anyone you are indifferent and they immediately make the assumption that you don’t care. Being indifferent does not mean you don’t care. It means that you can care about something without attaching emotion to it. It means being without passion for that thing and free of the suffering of grasping attachment.

Building resilience and being a resilient person is about being able to accept that life is not fair. It is about being able to absorb punishment, loss and disappointment and brush it off. A resilient person knows that fate is uncertain. Life can be kind and cruel. With one hand it gives and then takes with the other.

The Taoist sage Chuang Tzu said that life is made up of 10,000 joys and sorrows. The nature of samsara means that we are caught in a karmic cycle of joy and sorrow for eternity or until we reach union with the Force. We experience painful times, happiness, laughter, victory and bliss but also sadness, grief, frustration, disappointment and despair. These experiences are a part of the human condition and we grow because of them. Through growth, understanding and compassion some of us achieve a sense of equanimity in our lives. We become indifferent and in doing so become free.

 

Compassion

Attachment is forbidden. Possession is forbidden. Compassion, which I would define as unconditional love, is essential to a Jedi’s life. So you might say, that we are encouraged to love.” – Anakin

Being indifferent and having compassion is the middle way. The road is the one that is traveled by spiritual seekers. It is a path that I embrace as a 12 Step Jedi.

Compassion is not to be confused with passion. Compassion means “loving kindness”, empathy and concern for others without attachment and suffering. Passion is the antonym of compassion. Compassion comes from the soul while passion come from the heart. Love that is born of passion is grasping and fears loss. It leads to suffering. Compassion is free of bonds and fear and sets free.

 

Passion

There is no passion, there is serenity” – Jedi Code

Epictetus said that all things outside of us are made up of the preferred and the non-preferred indifferent. Nothing is agreeable or disagreeable on its own. Only our impressions attached to that thing make it so. No one wants to lose their job, fall ill, and break up with a person they love or lose a loved one. The emotions that we attach to these events, grief, sadness, anger and denial are normal and healthy. Where they become excessive and cause us and others to suffer needlessly is when they become harmful.

What are you passionate about? I have to say I am passionate about nothing. I can’t afford to be. Alcohol was my passion and I know where that leads. Passion leads to desire then dependence which leads to fear and suffering.

Passion means “to suffer”. It is another word which has been misrepresented through the ages. Jesus faced his passion on the cross. It was through his pain and torment that the Bible tells us that he was able to transcend this material world and become one with God.

Those that have hit “rock bottom” realize a similar passion. It is by hitting “rock bottom” that they find the way out of the hell of addiction and abuse. By going through the darkness and pain we come out the other side to the light.

 

Preferences

“Strength of mind rests in sobriety; for this keeps your reason unclouded by passion.” – Pythagoras

Naturally we prefer that life is good to us and those we love. Ask most people what they would wish for and it would be along the lines of “world peace, happiness and prosperity”. Our preference is in those things that make life pleasurable and fulfilled. We can also become attached to pleasures and sensations. When those attachments become too great they can become a source of suffering.

Addiction is an extreme of attachment. An addict seeks to experience the elusive feeling of bliss and contentment that the drug provides. The sensation is pleasurable but the consequence is suffering. Anyone who has been dependent on anything or suffered an addiction knows very well the terrible cycle of desire, pleasure and regret followed by desire. We lived in abuse on a perpetual Merry-Go round that would not let us get off.

The way to get off the ride and be rid of the insanity is to realize what passion is and let it go.

 

Upekkhā

Equanimity is calamity’s medicine.” – Pubililius Syrus

The Buddhists use the idea of upekkhā (equanimity) to describe the state of being unwavering, unconcerned and neutral in the face of the eight worldly concerns (gain/loss, praise/blame, pleasure/pain, fame/dishonor).

A bodhisattva who practices the Eight Verses for Training the Mind begins to approach upekkhā. The path to enlightenment is followed for the betterment of all living things. Before one can even get close to upekkhā they must renounce worldly pleasures. Through long practice on the path, the bodhisattva cultivates equanimity and mental resilience.

 

Apatheia

The good are virtues and that share in them; the bad are the vices and all that indulge them; the indifferent lie in between the virtue and vice” – Epictetus

The Stoics speak of Apatheia, a type of indifference similar to upekkhā. Not to be confused with the modern mistranslation “apathy”. Apatheia suffered the same indignity of being deprived of its true meaning as did the word stoic.

Apatheia is a form of indifference as the Pagan Greeks and Romans knew it. A Stoic was able to engage in political or philosophical debate with someone who disagreed with his ideas and remain completely detached from the emotion of the debate. Truths and ideas were valued by the Stoics, not who was right or wrong or had the last word. Right and wrong were irrelevant.

In  Apatheia there are only the preferred and non-preferred indifferent. The person arguing with the Stoic may get flustered, angry and even abusive but the Stoic remains calm and indifferent. The only thing that matters is virtue.

 

Calm, at peace, passive

Imagine being like that? Always “calm, at peace, passive”? Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be free of the suffering? We could truly care for all things but not let things out of our control charge our emotions in destructive or unproductive ways. Without the passion.

To be in a mental and spiritual state which is indifferent to pain, to injury and insults, to success or failure, poverty or riches, health or illness. This is the essence of indifference. Accept what is with resolve and resilience. With an indifferent mind we can look beyond our failings and shortcomings as well as our successes, triumphs and failures. Indifference removes the emotions and the attachments and then we can learn, heal and grow.

 

Source: Lucas Films

Learning Indifference

Pass on what you have learned. Strength. Mastery. But weakness, folly, failure also. Yes, failure most of all. The greatest teacher, failure is.” – Yoda

 

My problem is that I try too hard to be indifferent. Ironically I suffer by applying effort in to being indifferent. My decisions to being indifferent are based on avoidance and struggle rather than acceptance. This brings on resistance and suffering. The feelings of equanimity and calm that should come with indifference elude me. I am beginning to understand now that the ego is at play. The ego has a way of tricking us.

The ego is ever present and in perpetual struggles with the inner and silent self that resides within. Ego is selfish and screams like a petulant inner child when it does not get the attention it wants or the last word. Indifference as most people understand it comes from the ego.

The inner self is an observer. It watches with indifference and non-attachment yet from it springs all the boundless love and compassion that we feel and know to be our true self.  The self wants us to realize our true nature not by force but through gentle awakening. That is the difference between indifference and apathy. One comes from the true self, the other from the ego.

 

Choose Lightly

How do we practice indifference? Whatever hand fate deals treat it with indifference. As Luke Skywalker did simply brush it off. Wear life like a loose cloak.

Continue to prefer what is preferable. Choose richer before poorer, health over sickness, success over failure, choose life over death. But be prepared for the non preferred and the unexpected and unintended vicissitudes of life. Make the most of them too and learn because it is the hard times that we truly test our virtues and apply our principles. It is in battle that we shine and become resilient.

“Pain is slight if opinion has added nothing to it;… in thinking it slight, you will make it slight. Everything depends on opinion; ambition, luxury, greed, hark back to opinion. It is according to opinion that we suffer…. So let us also win the way to victory in all our struggles, – for the reward is… virtue, steadfastness of soul, and a peace that is won for all time.” – Seneca

 

Further Reading

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F by Mark Manson

Build Resilience: Be Realistic

Many of the truths that we cling to depend on our point of view.” – Obi-Wan Kenobi

One of the mistakes I made when starting this journey was aiming for perfection. I wanted perfect practice. My principles had to be applied consistently and without fault. I became a religious zealot and almost fanatical in my approach to my recovery. Of course I could only sustain that for a short period of time. I grew frustrated that I could not always get my own way. Resentment and anger followed. I had to learn to be realistic with myself. Recovery requires a “take it easy” approach of just following the process and doing the work. That process turned out to be the gentle Middle Path.

We have to be realistic with ourselves and others. We cannot expect things to always turn out as we plan. Flexibility is a trait of the resilient person. Change is going to happen and you can either resist and fight it or adapt and live with it. Those that are resilient choose the latter.

No one is asking that we like everything that happens to us. Things happen in my life that suck which I cannot change. I have a hard enough time changing myself so what luck am I going to have changing people or circumstances. My happiness and progress in life should be independent of these things. By taking a pragmatic and realistic view we are less likely to be disappointed and more likely to contemplate, accept, adapt and bounce back.

No one can force perfection but we can accept things as they are.

 

Realism

“These thorns are all that is true, life is suffering, suffering is life, be happy with the small things that come to you” – Johnny Clegg & Savuka “African Dream”

Most recovered alcoholics and addicts I have met are realistic people. They can’t afford not to be. They may have spiritual ideas and beliefs but their feet are planted firmly on the ground. Life has made us that way because we lived in an illusion for so long and suffered for it. Experience has taught us the concept of dukkha and samsara. Suffering is life and life is suffering. Good things do come sometimes by chance but mostly through our own efforts.

Objectivity is also a Real World Jedi trait. We take an objective view of reality. Evidence based scientific method with healthy skepticism is generally accepted by Jedi. At the same time we accept that sometimes science has it wrong or lacks the answers we seek. We also cannot know all of reality. There are unknown unknowns and known unknowns. Reality also exists outside of the box of time and space. This we call the Force.

 

What Is

“Your eyes can deceive you; don’t trust them.” – Obi-wan Kenobi

What exists, exists independent of our views and conceptual ideas. A rock exists with or without our consent. The world revolves, the seasons change, things are born and die, a tree falls in the forest whether we are there to experience it or not. The past is gone beyond recall, the future is nothing more than an illusion and all that truly exists is the Now. The Now is where reality happens. The Force exists in and through all things.

Our senses provide us with awareness of the physical world. At the same time our senses are not always right or are incapable of sensing all of reality. We therefore only sense so much. Something deep within us knows that there is more to reality than what we can see, hear, touch and taste. We all have intuition, a knowing and impressions. When we take a moment to absorb a painting, a work of music, a star filled sky, a sunrise or a newborn child, something spiritual stirs within us and we know that we are more than “crude matter”. Our consciousness is present in the moment. We get a sense of a grander reality and who we really are.

 

In a Galaxy Far Away

“The Force will be my guide” –  Je’daii Lanoree “Into the Void”

The Jedi understood the chaotic nature of reality. They appreciated the randomness and unpredictability of events. In order to achieve their purpose they sought to balance the Force within themselves. Emotions were kept in check but not repressed. Opinions mattered but were not accepted as absolute truth. Absolutes were rejected and ideas welcomed and judged by their merits and not by prejudice.

Behind the chaos of reality was the duality of the Force, the energies emitted by the light and dark sides of Ashla and Bogan. The goal of the Jedi was to seek balance within themselves through the Force. By achieving balance they could come closer to bringing balance and harmony to the galaxy.

Those that achieved balance with the Force were united with it. Through transmutation of the physical to the Force they became one with it and achieved enlightenment. This is the Star Wars depiction of transcendence to perfection. It may be fiction but it is inspired by eastern and western philosophies and traditions that we can use in our own spiritual journey.

 

 

The Middle Way

“The Middle Path is the way to Freedom– Rumi

Seeking perfect practice backfired for me. I realized early in my recovery and now in my journey that perfection is a mirage. As we move closer to our idea of perfection we see it begin to vanish or move. Frustration replaces optimism. Fear begins to replace Faith and if we are not careful despair can overcome hope. I had to take the Middle Path and face reality or I risked falling back in to abuse.

Every day I see idealism taking precedent over realism in our society. I have largely tried to distance myself from the toxicity of it on the news and in social media. Dogmatic extremes shouting down rational and reasoned discourse has become the norm in our polarized world. Everything is out of balance. Realism has taken a back seat to extremism and the first casualties in this war have been objectivity, tolerance and global resilience.

The Buddha reminded us that we should all strive for enlightenment for the sake of all living things. Suffering is universal but with the right choices, it is optional. The Eight Fold Path can validate the Four Noble Truths in our lives and lead us out of suffering. At the same time the Buddha admonished those that chose the hard road to perfection. One who seeks enlightenment for his own sake can never find it. The Middle Way gives us a reality check. We can’t hope to progress with no effort or through a fanatical approach. Both lead to more suffering.

 

Transcend

“Luminous beings are we. Not this crude matter” – Yoda

Obi-Wan Kenobi, Yoda, Anakin and Luke Skywalker all transcended to the Force. Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda lived the Middle Path and transcended effortlessly. Anakin and Luke realized the truth more dramatically but it was their final acceptance of reality and surrender to the Force that led to their transcendence and enlightenment. They also chose the Noble Middle Path.

All humans have the potential to become enlightened but very few ever reach that summit of consciousness. Progress not perfection is the key in whatever journey we choose. Forgiving yourself for your mistakes and blunders will build resilience and compassion not anger and resentment. Accept that in reality things will rarely if ever go exactly as planned. We can only control our impressions, thoughts and opinions. What is not in our control is the body, circumstances, other people, money, status and the future. The important thing is using what we have to move forward in the Now. Faith, heart and resilience behind reason may not lead us to perfection but it will take us in that direction.

MTFBWY

 

Further Reading

“The Middle Way: Faith Grounded in Reason” by The Dalai Lama

Build Resilience: The Road Less Traveled

It is the rough road that leads to the heights of greatness.” – The Clone Wars “The Wrath of Ryloth       

In Seinfeld the character George Costanza discovers in an episode that doing the opposite of what he usually does opens doors for him. The lovable Loser realizes that he has been doing things predictably wrong his entire life. By doing the opposite of what he has always done, George suddenly starts to experience success in his life. It’s a staggering revelation. Being different, blazing your own trail and daring to walk the road less traveled may not be easy but it is worth it.

The Star Wars saga is about a young man who chooses not to conform. The myth follows the stages of the “Hero’s Journey”. On Tatooine, Luke dreams of leaving the planet and joining the Rebellion. There is a thirst, a call to adventure but he is tethered to his Uncles farm. Events out of his control but linked to him intervene. Luke is thrust in to an adventure and his life and the galaxy is forever changed.

Star Wars is full of those who choose not to conform and who choose to walk the road less traveled. In the Clone Wars, the Pirate Hondo quickly and easily switches sides and allegiances to suit his needs and ensure his survival and profitability. In one episode he is opposed to the Jedi and then as the situation changes he decides to help the Jedi without missing a beat. The Master Jedi Quinlan Vos also kept his fellow Jedi guessing with his unpredictable and unconventional style. There is no beaten path for the Resilient. Being resilient means being fluid, adaptable and being prepared to “take the road less traveled”.

 

“The Troubled One”

“Life is difficult.” – M.Scott Peck

My childhood was far from conventional. At times it was miserable but it was never boring or without drama. There was a drunken Father who became a widow and his children motherless. There were siblings in ill-fitting clothes shunted from home to home before they became separated. The endless moving from one place to another, one school to another. Shallow roots pulled up continuously until it seemed pointless to connect to any place or anyone. Being taken in to the care of the church, then the state and then back in to the Father’s.

Looking back it was a pitiful existence. “When I look back on my childhood I wonder how I managed to survive at all” is how Frank McCourt describes his childhood in “Angela’s Ashes”. I can relate to that. There was the hunger, fear and loneliness of neglect. The anger of betrayal and abuse. I fought a lot and ran away and was always in trouble. There were run ins with the law. Somehow my older brother kept me out of “Juvi” by beating some sense in to me.

I walked out of home as soon as I finished High School and joined the Army. Then there were the years of searching and roaming. Booze had now become the guiding path in my life. It buffered me from the world and put a wall up to others.

I would look at people who had the “normal” life and envy them while at the same time feeling resentment. They had a life I did not fit in to and I had had a life they could not understand. I was thrust on to my path and these people had choices. Not surprisingly I was different and always felt an outsider. Being a loner and an introvert I turned to alcohol in order to belong and be accepted. The feelings of awkwardness and inferiority were dispelled. I found that alcohol made me sociable and funny. All the sudden I was “normal” instead of being different.

 

The Long Road Back

“It is because of problems that we grow mentally and spiritually” – M.Scott Peck

Getting drunk and staying drunk for me was easy. No effort was required. There was no resistance although there was a degree of dissonance. Doubts were negated by a strong mental compulsion to take the easy path. Being sober and living by principle is hard in comparison.

Sobriety is walking a long and winding road back from despair and hopelessness. The path is one that is rocky and often a steep climb with lots of trips and falls. We stagger on. It takes discipline and heart and a lot of faith to stay on that path. There is pain and doubt. In doing so we build resilience. We also build a wisdom of ourselves and others that those who stay on the beaten path do not.

 

Choose your Path

These days I celebrate being different. I choose the “path less traveled”, avoiding the mainstream and mediocre where I can. Many of my life choices are “alternative”. I embrace a personal spirituality that is fluid and open to change. Instead of hitting the gym I train calisthenics at park gyms or with whatever I can find, whenever I want. My tastes in music and food are unconventional and open. I follow the Jedi Path and apply the philosophy in to my life. Politics do not interest me but I have views that are non-partisan yet reflect my own convictions. My career is considered unusual and presents a paradox which people find interesting and I find challenging.

I see the world in a very different light than I did years ago. Life is different and every day is a gift. I have changed as the “Hero’s Journey” changes those that walk it. Virtues are now highly prized. I don’t compromise on my values and I demonstrate them through principles.

Being sober and choosing life is taking the “road less traveled”. Had I not chosen that path I have no doubt that now years later my life would be profoundly worse. It was not the easiest path to take. I fell over a few times but I kept getting up and moving forward. The destination was and still is a mystery. That is the adventure, the unknown. Faith and resilience is needed and greatness is its reward.

Dare to be different. Walk your own path.

“To proceed very far through the desert, you must be willing to meet existential suffering and work it through. In order to do this, the attitude toward pain has to change. This happens when we accept the fact that everything that happens to us has been designed for our spiritual growth.”  – M.Scott Peck

 

 

Further Reading

“The Road less Travelled” by M.Scott Peck

“The Hero with a Thousand Face” by Joseph Campbell

Build Resilience: Overcome Fear

Facing all that you fear will free you from yourself” – The Clone Wars “Sacrifice”

Fear often stops us in our tracks. Of all the emotions it is the one which hijacks our hopes and dreams the most. Fear of the unknown, fear of failure and ridicule are reasons that prevent people from starting let alone achieving their goals.

Most of the things that we fear reside only in our minds. We spend time imagining different scenarios of what might happen without realizing that there is no evidence or rational argument that supports the fears we harbor. The more we try to resist, avoid or flee from the things we fear the larger they loom. By confronting our fears we often find that they fail to materialize or have been blown out of proportion by our imagination.

Fear can either be an obstacle or an opportunity. We can use our fear to demonstrate faith and practice principles. Through fear lies the potential for power. We must simply overcome our fear and demonstrate our strength, courage and resilience. In order to overcome fear we must go through it.

The more we push ourselves to confront what we fear the more resilient we become. A fighter who enters the ring convinced that he is no match for an opponent has already lost the bout in his mind. We can however choose to enter in to the unknown as best prepared as we can be and face down our fears.

 

The Dagobah Lesson

It is not death that a man should fear, but he should fear never beginning to live” – Marcus Aurelius

When Luke Skywalker stood at the entrance to the dark cave he was about to confront his deepest fears manifested as the Dark Side. Fear is the opposite of faith as dark is the opposite to light. Fear is little more than absence of faith in our own divine capacity to find the light within ourselves. Luke entered the cave and came face to face with his darkest fear, not his nemesis Darth Vader, but his own dark side. Dagobah showed Luke Skywalker that fear resides only within us. Faith or the Force can be used to light our way through the darkness of our Fear.

Fear can also drive us to do courageous things. When we hear of stories of heroism in war and peace we often hear it said that “fear” spurned them in to action. A war hero often can’t explain why he rushed a machine gun nest or ran under fire to recover a wounded comrade. Neither can the bystander who rushes in to a burning house to rescue those trapped inside. Fear can drive a reaction that defies the natural instinct for self-preservation. The mental and physiological effects of fear can produce incredible courage and almost superhuman powers for some while render others completely immobile or send them in to mindless panic.

Our response to fear is at times unpredictable and surprising. In the Army there were those who were outstanding peace time soldiers fall to pieces under fire and a complete disgrace of a soldier in the barracks who surprised everyone with exceptional courage in combat. Some very courageous veterans face the greatest challenges and fears not in active service but when they transition to civilian life and leave behind the protective shell of the Army. The fear is debilitating and devastating because it takes everything and leaves nothing.

 

Fear to Recovery

Fear not the future, weep not for the past” – The Clone Wars “Voyage of Temptation

Fresh out of the Army I was fearful so I got drunk a lot. When I was drunk I could be fearless one night and a pathetic coward the next. Fear riddled my being. The past haunted me and the future terrified me. In the present I found the solace of booze.

Be messy and complicated and afraid and show up anyways” -Glennon Doyle Melton.

In recovery I learned that courage comes in many forms. It is the person in the meeting who has lost everything including her dignity and self-respect and now sits before us holding back the tears and telling the story of how she came to be there. The amount of courage it can take for some to share their stories and seek to make amends in early recovery is in a way far braver than the instinctive compulsion to rush out and save a comrade while under fire. It is the sort of courage that will provide us the strength and resilience to stay sober.

 

An Insidious Rumor

“Fear is the path to the Dark Side. Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering.” – Yoda

The important thing to remember is that Fear is a natural response to a legitimate threat. Fear is what kept our ancestors alive. In modern society fear has a different nature and is not always legitimate or real. Fear today is mostly insidious and chronic such as the fear of retrenchment, poverty, rejection or illness rather than the acute and immediate threat of being torn apart by a lion.

 “Fear is a great motivator.” – The Clone Wars “Heroes on Both Sides”

Intangible fears have been created to control us better or get us to do what Governments and Corporations want us to do.  We are conditioned through media to fear the perpetual enemy, the existential threat. Be it the Terrorists, Commies or the Russians, someone is out to get us. Fear is the greatest motivator. It was an irrational Fear of mortality that spurned Anakin to seek to control the Force and led him to the Dark Side. The Empire used Fear to control the Galaxy, the Emperor used it to control Darth Vader.

Some of us suffer chronic fear and anxieties that require professional help while others rarely feel any fear at all but have specific phobias that send them to pieces. If we are asked to name our greatest fears many of us can’t. Some of them are like whispers in the dark, a cold draft or a passing shadow. We know fear when we feel it. It is what we do about it that matters most.

 

Own you Fear

“We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when are afraid of the light.” – Plato

When we know our fears we can face them. Resilient people have a healthy relationship with fear because they recognize those that are real and those that are false or misleading. Resilient people do not jump to the worst conclusions and automatically create fearful scenarios and doomsday outcomes. An overly positive and optimistic view is avoided as well. In the absence of clear evidence resilient people do not make immediate judgement and then charge them with emotions such as fear or anger.  Resilient people recognize that fear is a tool for them to channel in productive ways. Fear is only to be feared when it short circuits our rational mind and hijacks out capacity for reasoned choice. When fear controls us.

Let us not forget what happened to Anakin Skywalker. As a child he suffered fear and tragedy. A young man and Padawan, Anakin started to feel anger for the injustices of his past. In “The Revenge of the Sith” we saw that anger turn to hatred pushing Anakin to the dark side. Anakin never lost the fear. It was always there, growing stronger with time, controlling him and eventually possessing him. Even as Darth Vader he existed under perpetual fear. Only his son Luke Skywalker could redeem him through forgiveness and courage. It was not the absence of Fear that won the day but the ability to rise above it.

In order to overcome fear and build resilience we must know what it is and what it is not.

Fear is

  • A natural and healthy human response to perceived or actual threats
  • Often the product of imagination or falsehoods
  • Often magnified in our minds through ignorance
  • Contagious and can be manifested in society through prevailing attitudes (eg. Terrorism)

Fear is not

  • Always objective and rational
  • An abnormal responses to life
  • Unique to the individual
  • A weakness
  • A final reason to not do something we want to
  • Unnatural or shameful
  • Inherited and a part of your nature

 

Further Reading

Stoic Warriors by Nancy Sherman (2016)

Build Resilience: Embrace the Suck

I’ve got a bad feeling about this” – Han Solo

Voluntary Hardship is one thing but loving adversity is at an entirely different level. It sounds devious and twisted but it works and it is incredibly effective in building Resilience.

“Embrace the Suck” is a term used in the Military. I’ve heard it used in one form or another in three different Armies in three languages. The term was also adopted in CrossFit and you hear it in the Box around the World.

Embrace the Suck means diving in to the crap and wallowing in it with a grin on your face. You know you are going to hate it and you know it will suck badly but you flick a switch in your head that reads “Beast Mode” and you wade in. It is a process of turning a negative perception of an experience upside down by surrendering to it.

People who wade in to discomfort and vulnerability and tell the truth about their stories are the real badasses” – Brene Brown

 

Kokoro

When a man is beaten, tormented and defeated…He is ready to learn something.” – Emerson

The Navy SEAL former Commander Mark Divine calls Embracing the Suck the essence of the Warrior’s “Unbeatable Spirit” or “Kokoro Mind”. It is the essential ingredient for success and one that alludes 80% of candidates attempting the world renowned and feared BUDs course.

Those that pass selection the SASR or the Navy SEAL BUDs Operator training will tell you that the course was 80% mental and 20% physical. Those that somehow get through it all will admit that the key to success  was to drop all resistance to the experience and truly embrace it with every fiber of your being. This means total commitment and focus. The evolution is entirely mental, emotional and spiritual. The pain and discomfort is an illusion that is temporary and transitory. By “Embracing the Suck” the candidate for Special Operation Forces transcends to another level.

 

Winners are Grinners

The greater the obstacle, the more glory in overcoming it.” —Confucius

I can’t stand heights. Once during a course in the Army I had to traverse across a 50 meter canyon. A cable was suspended across a chasm that was at least 100 meters deep.

I attached my carabiner to the cable and swung on so that my body was lying on it with one leg dangling for balance. Pulling myself across the cable I kept my eyes on the Instructor on the opposite side of the canyon. Pulling myself closer and closer using my hands and mounted leg pumping to slide my body forward. I refused to look down. Suddenly I felt myself swaying to and fro. It became worse and worse and I realized the Instructor 30 meters in front of me was pulling the cable violently. I froze.

“Let go of the cable” the Instructor bellowed, “get the F__ off!” he yelled again.

I shook my head with a stifled no and the Sergeant swore and started to pull at the cable harder. “Let the F___ Go!” he yelled again. A Corporal standing near by laughing went over and also started to pull. The cable lurched back and forth and I felt like I was going to be flung off. I let go.

I was suspended above the void looking straight ahead as I swung with the cable above me. An old blue lanyard and a rusty carabiner was the only thing keeping me from falling to my death. My mind was racing in panic and I wondered if the lanyard and carabiner were going to hold. I heard my number being called.

“Student 67! look at me”, the Instructor yelled out. I stared at him. “Embrace the Suck and grow some balls Student 67! Now look down!”. I looked down and could see trees far below and a dry wadi bed. My stomach rose to my mouth. I heard my number again.

“Stand at attention and give us a smile”. I thrust my arms down and bought my feet together and gave a grin. There was laughter. “What are you waiting for dickhead?” the Sergeant yelled “remount and get over here”. I was back on the cable in a second and apparently broke the record for the fastest time across.

 

Image Source: Lucas Films

Bullet Proof Mind

“Misfortune is virtue’s opportunity.” – Seneca

For us mere mortals the lesson is clear. In order to build resiliency and then strengthen it we must relish any opportunity to put ourselves to the test. Rather than avoiding the unpleasant we must seek it out. This means turning up to training even when you don’t want to. Running the extra mile when you think you are going to puke. Putting your hand up for the most unsavory and unpopular jobs. Taking out the garbage or scrubbing the latrines. It might be filling in for someone’s shift when they can’t come in when you’d rather have the night off. This mean but not just doing it but doing it with enthusiasm and a sense of gratitude that people will start to wonder if you are not quite sane.

“Embracing the Suck” means “The Obstacle is the Way”. Any challenge faced is an opportunity to demonstrate virtues and practice principle. Someone hurls abuse at you in traffic? Give them a smile. You are having a real bad day and falling behind and someone comes to you asking for help on something trivial? Be patient and offer to help later. You have made an expensive blunder at work and fear getting reprimanded or losing your job? Owe up to the mistake, take responsibility and face the music. Making amends but too reluctant to face someone? Just do it anyway. Never compromising on your principles naturally builds resilience.

You have 100 Burpees to do and you want to quit at 40 and puke? I had a Platoon Sergeant in the Army that used to say that “Pain is weakness leaving the body”. Embrace the Suck and keep going.

 

Pain to Virtue

“Whenever you suffer pain, keep in mind that it’s nothing to be ashamed of and that it can’t degrade your guiding intelligence, nor keep it from acting rationally and for the common good.” – Marcus Aurelius

By embracing the adversity and unpleasantness of life as well as the good we are practicing the very concept of surrender. Buddhism teaches that what we resist persists. When we deny what is happening or throw up resistance to it we create suffering.

Every painful event, disappointment, lost opportunity, misfortune and missed chance can be a gift in disguise. We are given the opportunity to practice virtues and improve ourselves.

There is a choice in practicing Voluntary Hardship but in life we encounter hardships and responsibilities every day that “Suck”. A relationship may be on the rocks, work may be driving you crazy, you can’t get out of an emotional rut. Pause and reflect on what you can do to change the situation and get to work.

This means applying your principles and being true to your values even when your ego is telling you to do the opposite. Someone offended you? Suck it up and grin at them. Your look will tell them that you are no snowflake. Embracing the suck is also letting go of your fears. With the internal resistance gone we can flow through and with the experience. Over time things that used to seem daunting will no longer bother us. They will resolve themselves if we stop fighting them.

 

Lessons Learnt

“It takes discipline to focus only on high-value targets instead of giving in to the temptation of the low-hanging fruit life serves up daily.”  – Mark Divine

One of the reasons I failed in my attempts at staying sober for so many years was because I chose comfort over courage. I did not want to suffer and ironically I suffered more by not doing anything to change. My attempts involved trying to force change on others and fighting everything and everyone. I missed the fact that trying to control what is not of my own doing would only frustrate me more. Embracing the Suck meant taking full ownership and responsibility for my Life.

Admitting to a problem or fault takes honesty and humility, deciding to turn over your life to a Higher Power takes Faith, living your principles everyday takes Courage. None of it is easy of comfortable. You are choosing “Courage over Comfort” by taking the plunge. By “Embracing the Suck” you are fully committed and focused and using the experience as a chance to grow.

Imagine taking that attitude in to your daily life. How much easier things would seem. “People who wade in to discomfort and vulnerability” are the real badasses. Those that “Embrace the Suck” create an Unbeatable Spirit that cannot be beaten down.

Further Reading

Unbeatable Mind by Mark Divine.

 

Build Resilience: Voluntary Hardship

Life rises from the ashes. Fire brings renewed growth and  strength. The Forest is resilient. 

Voluntary Hardship is one of the ways we can build our resilience. The Stoics in Ancient Greece and Rome practiced Voluntary Hardship as a way to harden themselves to life. The practice could be as simple as missing a meal or sleeping rough. It was also about being exposed to uncomfortable situations, working with difficult and rude people and seeking out ways to test the limits of mental, emotional and physical endurance.

When I was 18 I decided to join the Army. I felt a need to test my mettle and prove myself a man. There was a need to expose myself to Voluntary Hardship in an environment where my choices were limited and I would be forced to grow. I thought that like a forest regenerating after fire I could be renewed by the furnace of the military.

 

“Lean into the discomfort of the work.” – Brene Brown.

 

Grunting

Being in the Army was like jumping in to a frying pan. Joining the Infantry was like jumping from the pan and in to the fire. It was uncomfortable and harassment constant. The work was dirty and hard. The lifestyle was close to Spartan. Material possessions were few. There was a greater chance of getting injured and suffering long term pain and disability. Knees and backs were shot after years of walking long distances with heavy loads. These are some of the reasons why men (and now women) still choose to do it.

Anyone who has ever been a Grunt knows that the Infantry thrives on a blend or order with random chaos. One minute everything is quiet and calm and then without warning a hurricane in the form of a snap inspection happens. Lockers are over turned, beds and mattresses are thrown about, gear is tossed out of windows and hosed down amidst screaming and yelling.

You find yourself at three am running around outside under a flood light dazed and confused. Grunting in the cold and wet while in your underwear, getting abuse hurled at you through a megaphone, you ask yourself in wonder “I volunteered for this shit?” The Army does this for one reason, to build resilience and prepare soldiers for war.

If you are not miserable, they are not doing it right. Voluntary Hardship works.

 

Yoda’s Method

Remember Luke Skywalker on Dagobah? Yoda pushed him to the limits of his mental, physical and emotional boundaries. The Jedi Master was showing Luke what he was capable of. By pushing Luke hard enough, Yoda was teaching him to find the Force within him and the resilience to meet his destiny.

Yoda: “Mysterious are the ways of the Force.”
Luke: “Did you just make me stand on my head for two hours because I was annoying you?”
Yoda: “Very mysterious.”

During the original trilogy we witnessed Luke evolving from an emotional and petulant Farm boy to a hardened and resilient Jedi. Voluntary Hardship was a Jedi discipline intended to prepare the Jedi for his or her mission.

 

Sane and Safe

Voluntary Hardship is all of these things but not all of us are going to commit to a personal Dagobah. We can do it as part of a sane and safe practice that suits our lifestyle. By constantly testing ourselves and by making life routinely uncomfortable in some way we are hardening ourselves for the day we may need to live it for real.

These days I rely on Voluntary Hardship to help me in my recovery. It is not safe to rest on my laurels and get too comfortable. Alcoholism is a subtle and cunning foe that preys on momentary lapses in reason and weaknesses.

By practicing Voluntary Hardship I am able to forgo things in a mindful way. By doing so I know that I am training myself to resist temptation and better absorb hardship when it comes without warning. I’m better able to deal with HALT* moments that arise and keep my serenity.

We need not deprive ourselves of basic needs. No one who is sane practices Voluntary Hardship by wandering through the wilderness without food or water for forty days or sleeping on a bed of nails. Doing anything at the expense of our health and well being is contrary to the purpose of Voluntary Hardship.

A voluntary hardship might be skipping a meal and going hungry for a night, having a cold shower, sleeping on the floor, leaving your jacket at home when you know it’s cold and raining out donating half of your clothes to charity. You could choose to go without Social Media for a few days or throw your Smart Phone in the drawer. Do it often enough and you begin to understand what scarcity and hardship feels like and that you can live with both if needed.

“The benefits of Voluntary Hardship far outweigh the discomfort.”

 

Easier

You began forcing yourself to get out of bed 6 am a month ago.  At first it was hell but you soon started to get used to it. Soon enough it became routine and then you thought, “why don’t I go for an early morning run?”.  You went from sleeping in till late and struggling out of bed to getting up at sunrise and going for a run.

After a few months you find yourself in the gym. All of the sudden you realize you look and feel great. Why? Because you chose to be uncomfortable.

Incremental improvements happen when we  challenge ourselves. We adapt and become conditioned to hardship and eventually we start to enjoy it.

 

Rewarding

When we were Kids some of us might remember having had “privileges” such as Television revoked for transgressions such as failing to make the bed. The denial was not voluntary but the sense of gratitude we got when the privilege was restored was real.

Imagine denying yourself the pleasures that you routinely enjoy. The truth is most of us don’t because we are on the hedonistic merry-go round. People are constantly seeking new pleasures and distractions. The things that we coveted and received soon lose their shine and we are left wanting for the next best thing. We have forgotten to appreciate the things we have and only want and expect the things we don’t.

What if we were to lose or have some of those things we have withheld? Could we do without them? My Daughter pleaded that she could not do without her Smart Phone until she found out she could. It taught her to value her things more. Still after the next model came out she “needed” that too!

Not having our endless demands met is healthy. Healthy denial teaches us to be grateful for what we have and take the time to enjoy them knowing that life can still be enjoyable without them.

 

Simpler

There is so much we can forgo in life. Peeling away the layers of materialism and settling for a simpler and less cluttered life frees us a lot of stress. Life become more about enjoying the experience rather than amassing possessions.

I do not equate a lack of material wealth as poverty or hardship. Some people do and they are physically and emotionally attached to their belongings in way that it creates a prison for them. By letting go of the clutter we think we need we start to break those bonds.

Wanting less also means having to spend less which means less debt and more money to do things that enrich your life experience.

 

Healthier and Happier

Less stress, more time and money to invest in your health and well-being, putting people before things all lead to a greater sense of self sovereignty, independence and happiness. If Voluntary Hardship leads to adopting a healthier diet, exercise program and positive outlook then all the better. All of these benefits result from having more resilience which results from Voluntary Hardship.

Use your imagination. Have fun with Voluntary Hardship. Remember it is training, not some form of penance.

*HALT: Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired. The four horsemen of the Apocalypse (Triggers) for Alcoholics in early recovery.

 

Further Reading

Ryan Holiday (2014): The Obstacle Is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph. Available on Amazon at http://amzn.to/29HvsMI

Meditations by Marcus Aurelius. Available on Amazon at: http://amzn.to/29R3Ysb

Letters from a Stoic by Seneca the Younger. Available on Amazon at: http://amzn.to/2mqd44A

Build Resilience

The six petal rosette is a symbol of life and resilience in many ancient cultures. Life is resilient and in a constant cycle of birth, death and rebirth. Even a fragile poppy will fall under a storm to re-emerge more vibrant than before.

Trigger Warning

I recently attended a workshop on mental health where a Psychologist opened the session by telling the captive audience that if they want to reduce the risk of suicide in their kids, teach them how to build resilience in life. He was blunt and direct.

The room was full of people who happen to be in the highest risk category for suicide; work-away white males between the ages of 35 and 54 with a good number of veterans and divorced Fathers in the mix. No one was triggered. The statement got everyone’s attention because it was confronting and hit close to home.

Resilience is more than a trait, it is a virtue. Probably the most underrated virtue. The reason it is a virtue is because the choice of how we respond to life remains largely within. We can choose to stay down when life floors us or we can pick ourselves up and keep moving. We can hide from the world or we can face it. The choice is ours.

 

Survivor

I am not what happened to me. I am what I choose to become” – Carl Jung

In recent years the idea of Resilience has been pushed to the background. Identity politics and the emergence of a victim-hood culture and ubiquitous trigger warnings have convinced many people that they do not need to change; society must change to accommodate them. Resilience helps some but not all some might argue. While it is true that many people around the world suffer injustices which should be addressed it does not mean that they should not strive to be resilient in the face of adversity as well.

Trigger warnings don’t happen in real everyday life and they don’t really help. Avoidance can be detrimental. One way to become resilient is to identify our vulnerabilities and expose them to our fears and obstacles.

There is a choice between being the perpetual victim and a survivor with a story to share. Do not fall for the victim-hood culture.

 

Vulnerable

Vulnerability is not weakness. And that myth is profoundly dangerous” – Brene Brown

People are not born equal. That is a fact of life. Society cannot change overnight. Cultural attitudes can take decades and longer to change. Paradigm shifts occur slowly. Sometimes they occur dramatically through revolutions and reformations. Much of this is determined by the social and cultural consciousness that drives the change. As the tide moves we are swept along with it or left behind.

We are also all born vulnerable. That is a good thing. It puts us where we need to be. As humans we are imperfect but we all have within us the capacity to change, to fail repeatedly and get up and try again and again.

Our lives are also largely out of our control. We are more vulnerable to change and chance that we care to admit. Most of us would find it hard if not impossible to recover from a major catastrophe such as the loss of a loved one, financial ruin or a relationship melt down. We are human and therefore vulnerable, we all suffer loss, illness, injury, heartbreak, grief and finally death. Our vulnerability can also be the source of our courage and resilience. How? By being more in tune with our emotions and understanding our relationship with them.

What of today? What can we do now? Regardless of who we are resilience can serve us. Some of us are raised to be resilient and it seems to be in our nature. Others less so but there are ways to build resilience in to our lives.

 

Nothing Ventured Nothing Gained

“Resilience is more available to people curious about their own line of thinking and behaving,” – Brene Brown

If we want to get fit and healthy we exercise regularly and eat nutritious food. We can stimulate our minds and ward of degenerative diseases like dementia by keeping mentally active. Our emotional state is kept in balance through meditation, socializing and spending time with family and friends. Without even thinking about it most of us look after our mental, physical, emotional and spiritual health. All of this helps us in building our resilience to adversity.

Resilience is a virtue that needs to be practiced. Waiting for the “accidental and the unforeseen” to happen is too late. Resilience is built through training and practice.

How do we practice resilience? None of us want to put ourselves in to real situations where we test our resilience. We are not going to upturn our lives so that we can assess our capacity to recover. That would be counter-intuitive. At the same time we can sometimes anticipate when bad things are going to occur. A loved one may have a terminal disease and while we dread it, we know the day will soon come when they will die. Our employer may warn us that retrenchments are coming due to an ailing economy. We are then told to prepare for bad news.

The “unforeseen and the accidental” of Marcus Aurelius is what we are least prepared for. This is where we need to train our resilience.

Over the next seven days we will be looking at 9 ways we can build resilience in to our lives.

 

Recommended Reading

Brene Brown (2017): Rising Strong: How the Ability to Reset Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead. Available on Amazon at https://www.amazon.com/Rising-Strong-Ability-Transforms-Parent/dp/081298580X

Eric Greitens (2016): Resilience: Hard-Won Wisdom for Living a Better Life. Available on Amazon at: https://www.amazon.com/Resilience-Hard-Won-Wisdom-Living-Better/dp/0544705262

Resilience

Never give up hope, no matter how dark things seem” – The Clone Wars Season 5 “The Wrong Jedi”.

 

Have you ever seen resilience in nature? Have you ever been in an extreme environment? The scorching heat and aridity of a desert at the peak of summer or the frozen wastes of tundra in winter are places that are hostile for life. Yet return to the desert after a heavy rain has soaked the ground and filled the wadis and salt pans and you will see an explosion of life. Wild flowers appear and come in to bloom and carpet the land. Life emerges from dormant hiding and seeks out water leaving tracks in the sand. Flocks of birds show the way to vast inland lakes teeming with life. In time the heat will evaporate the water and life retreats once again in to hiding. The tundra also shows life’s resilience as the snow and ice melts with the return of the sun. Life endures on this Earth floating in a cold and indifferent space because Life is resilient.

 

Down but not Out

People too are resilient. How we bounce back from life’s disappointments and tragedies reveals just how resilient we are. Like a fighter in the ring we are pummeled and beaten down. We rise and fight back and despite the set backs we somehow emerge at the other end. Beaten and bloodied we may not have won the bout but we are still in the fight for another day.

 

“The art of living is more like wrestling than dancing, in so far as it stands ready against the accidental and the unforeseen, and is not apt to fall.” – Marcus Aurelius

 

Life often does seem like a struggle. The less prepared we are to face the “accidental and the unforeseen” the harder it seems and the longer it takes us to recover. Sometimes life hits us in unexpected ways and we do not always respond in the way we or others expect.

 

Calamity

Jedi are resilient aren’t they? Luke Skywalker condemned himself to self-exile on Ahch-To where he passed the years in remorse and regret. It seems surprising. The hero of Yavin 4, the Master Jedi, takes the “accidental and the unforeseen” so badly that he preferred to isolate himself and ignore those that come seeking his help. It seemed unfathomable that a Jedi Master could lose his resilience. He must have suffered a terrible calamity for that to happen.

I’ve met and spoken to Farmers who have seen their life savings whittled away as one season after another brings drought and a meager harvest. Then a year comes and so do the rains. The heavens open up and the parched earth is soaked. Joy returns at last. The seed plowed in to the dry ground germinates and soon a blanket of fine green shoots covers the land to the horizon. The relief is palpable and once again the loan collectors are kept at bay. Then the unthinkable happens just before a rich harvest. A cold front forms and temperatures plummet. Frost strikes and blights the crop. All is lost and lives are ruined as farms are sold and families dissolved through separation, divorce and even suicide.

I have also seen Farmers who have met ruin pick up their “worn out” tools and their devastated lives and start from scratch. Hope never dies.

 

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal. It is the courage to continue that counts” – Winston Churchill

 

Nothings Final

Who can predict what will happen tomorrow? We like to think that our health, livelihood, relationships and life is secure and bullet proof from “accidental and the unforeseen” of Marcus Aurelius. Yet we know deep down that everything we possess, our health, jobs, status and the people in our lives can leave us in an instant. The only thing that remains is how we deal with the loss when it happens. How do we respond and then recover? What do we do when life has us in a chokehold and we are gasping for life?

Most alcoholics who have been through the wringer of alcoholism will understand how badly things can turn out. At the time few of us realized let alone were ready to place the blame at our own feet. Some of us continue on the downward spiral and never recover. Those of us that crawl ourselves out of rock bottom and begin to claim sobriety claim a new type of resilience. This resilience keeps us “on the beam” regardless of what life throws at us. Yes, we may stumble at times but what is important is we get up and keep trudging forward.

 

“God grant me the serenity”

 

A Spiritual Resilience

We who have recovered through the grace of a Higher Power recognize that our first priority in life is to remain sober one day at a time. We place our problems in the hands of a Higher Power and leave it there. Instead of struggling with the things we cannot control we learn to deal with life by having the “serenity to accept the things we cannot change and the courage to change the things we can”. We learn what is in our control and what is not. Then we get to work and make the change in ourselves.

 

“There are things which are within our power, and there are things which are beyond our power. Within our power are opinion, aim, desire, aversion, and, in one word, whatever affairs are our own. Beyond our power are body, property, reputation, office, and, in one word, whatever are not properly our own affairs.” – Epictetus “Enchidrion”.

 

Dichotomy of Control

With recovery comes resilience in dealing with the “accidental and the unforeseen”. We learn that life is made up of preferred and in-preferred indifference’s that are largely out of our control. Good health, a meaningful job, money and nice possessions and a loving partner are things we graciously accept in to our lives. But we learn to loosen our attachments. All things are transitory and fortunes change. We do not wish ill health, unemployment and poverty, loss and failure on ourselves or invite these things in to our lives but we recognize that they can happen.

No matter what happens we are resilient enough that nothing can force us to lose faith and drink again. We may end up with nothing but we always have our opinions and reasoned choices in how we think and respond. Our perception dictates the strength of our resilience and thereby our sobriety. Like the Farmer who rebuilds we pick up our “worn out” tools and keep working. We never lose Faith.

 

Change your Thoughts

Star Wars provides a lesson in the power of resilience and also the power of Faith. Resilience kept Ahsoka Tano fighting to prove her innocence to the Jedi Order. Faith kept the Rebellion fighting for decades for a cause. Resilience saw the Rebels rise up again and again after every set back and defeat against the Empire. Luke Skywalker stood alone against the Emperor and Darth Vader and he prevailed  because he was resilient and he had faith.

Alone and embittered decades later on Ahch-To Luke faced a moral and spiritual crisis. In the end something drew The Last Jedi back from the shadow of despair and apathy. Luke changed his perception at last and remembered that Jedi are resilient against all adversity. He changed his thoughts and the rest followed.

 

Be Resilient

There is a barren landscape. Nothing grows there. All is dead and gone. A lone tree on a rocky outcrop sways in the passing cold wind. A blizzard is coming. The tree is stunted and gnarled. The harsh environment has made it so. The Tree is also flexible and it will bend in the gale. It will not break. It will survive. Someday the sun will return and it will blossom and flower and grow. The desert around it will return to life because life is resilient. So are we.

Amathia

 

There is no Ignorance there is Knowledge” – Jedi Code

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

Amathia

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

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

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

 

A Stain

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

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

 

Defenseless

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

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

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

 

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

 

Ignoring Evidence

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

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

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

 

The Belligerent

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

 

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

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

 

A Contagion

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

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

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

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

 

A Modern Affliction

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

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

 

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

Independence

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

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

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

 

Self Wisdom

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

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

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

 

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

 

Evil is a Symptom

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

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

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

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

 

Liberation

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

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

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

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