Self Reliance (Part 1)

An Island

Self reliance is the ability of an individual to be able to function as a productive and balanced human being without being reliant on others. Imagine living in the wilderness or on a remote and uninhabited Island. You have all the tools and resources needed to survive indefinitely. Could you do it? Would you have the emotional strength, the physical fitness and the knowledge and skills needed to survive without outside help? Would you have the spiritual fortitude to overcome the periods of loneliness, self doubt and unhappiness? Being unable to share moments of personal achievement and happiness or having someone to share the burden of suffering would weigh on most people.

 

Jedi Reliable

The Jedi by nature and training were self reliant while also dependent on each other. Each individual was expected to be able to function effectively as an independent unit. This was critical as the Jedi often worked alone deep in hostile territory with limited support. Jedi were taught the skills needed to be effective. They had the mind set and resilience required to be able to work in isolation cut off from all support. If they got in to trouble behind enemy lines they were often on their own and had to find their own way out.

 

The Dude in Black

In “Return of the Jedi” we find Luke Skywalker a changed man. The black Jedi Gi made him look different but there was something in his eyes, the way he walked and carried himself. It was compelling.

Some years had passed since Luke confronted the truth of Darth Vader and realized who he was and meant to be. On Dagobah, Skywalker had faced his dark side and purged himself of weaknesses. Desperate to help his friends and driven by the fear of their loss he set out before he was ready. The events that unfolded later changed him forever.

In “Return of the Jedi” Luke has matured. Now a Jedi, he has become self reliant. He is competent and confident. This is apparent by his bearing and command of force powers. Luke can easily get past guards using Jedi mind tricks and can wield a light sabre with all the prowess of a master. But its more than mastery of skill.

In his maturity Luke has become calmer, more at ease within himself and confident in his decisions. Along the way he has lost the reckless and impulsive drive which we saw in the first two installments. The cockiness and impatience of youth are replaced by a humble and self assured resilience and character. Luke Skywalker is beginning to resemble Obi-wan Kenobi in some intangible way.

 

Growing Pains

Self reliance is something that comes early in some and later in others. For many there is a degree of self reliance but their wings are clipped. They are unable or unwilling to blaze their own trail.

Probably because of my upbringing I was self reliant by the time I was in my teens. My Father’s absence and alcoholism meant being able to look after myself at an early age. I barely had the skills to make it alone but life had taught me to fly early. As soon as I finished high school I flew the nest and I entered into the Army. It was out of the fire and into the frying pan.

 

Hurry up and Wait

The Army thrives on a paradox of inconsistent consistency. Nothing makes sense till it does. The strange thing about the Army is they teach you self reliance but preferred you didn’t have it. They want you dependent. We were taught the importance of improvisation and initiative but then punished when we used it. Skills and knowledge were drilled in to us which were handy in war but barely transferable in to the civilian world. With each year that passed I found myself less and less tuned to the world outside the gates and the people in it. In the Army you are caught in a sort of a paradoxical paradigm that stays with you when you leave.

Then the day comes when you are cast in to that world and all the escape and evasion training, combat survival skills, navigation, marksmanship, weapons handling and smart drill on the parade ground you learned means “sh*t” in the real world. You suddenly realize you know very little and are not so self reliant.

Fresh out of uniform I thought I would find civilian life easy. It came as a rude shock. Without the order, routine, support and discipline I soon fell apart. I would stay up half the night watching TV and sleep most of the day. My drinking crept from Friday and Saturday evenings into Sundays and then during the week. I could not hold down a job and would either get laid off or quit as my frustration and anger rose. I would lose my temper and get in to fights over trivialities. Women were a mystery unless they were strippers and hookers. People avoided me and friends disowned me. In the attempt to remedy the situation I sought a change of scenery and bounced about from one town to another and one job to another. In that time my drinking got worse as did my overall situation.

 

Booze Reliance

The problem with alcoholism of course is the dependence. With that dependence we lose any semblance of healthy self reliance. All of the sudden life becomes primarily a series of drunken episodes interspersed with periods of awkward sober time that invariably lead to another spree.

Everything and everyone has a utilitarian purpose in our agenda. We are reliant on our work to provide us with money to primarily buy booze. People are either facilitators or collaborators in our drinking or they are impediments. Friends are props to our drinking or sources of free booze and money. We think we are in control and self reliant when in fact we are a slave to our rampant emotions and addiction.

 

Becoming Self Reliant

Finding sobriety is about finding self reliance, often in the dark. For a start we have to stop being self centered and selfish. We need to stop demanding that the world cave to our demands and constantly make concessions. With a jolt we realize the time to grow up and act mature has arrived, albeit a little late in life. We have to stop relying on others and start taking ownership and responsibility. We may physically be adults but we have all the maturity of a child.

We pick up the pieces of our life and start to put them together with both hands. This means coming to terms with our faults. We resolve to be rid of them. Determined to set matters straight we seek out those we have wronged and we make amends where can. The past behind us we look to ways we can improve and grow becoming more and more self reliant as we do. We learn honesty and start to owe up to mistakes and fess up to blunders instead of allocating blame or making feeble excuses. With that new found freedom we look to where we can help others sharing the lessons of our own struggles.

 

Being Self Reliant

Luke Skywalker was a good example of everything that is positive and wholesome in self reliance. It was not the selfishness and arrogance of rugged individualism but a maturity born of hardship, self knowledge and sacrifice for others. Luke still needed others he cared for and he never sought to be a loner. The Jedi knew his purpose and like the Jedi before him he knew he could rely on the skills, knowledge and power that he had been given to make a difference in his life.

At the end of the day what good we draw daily into our own lives is largely up to us. If we rely on people, places, things, circumstances, money, status or the affection of others for our own happiness we are likely to be disappointed at some stage. All of these external factors are largely out of our control. The true source of happiness lies in self reliance. You are with you all the time whether you are in a city of 25 million souls or alone on a desert Island. The source of all your joys and sorrows resides within. Value that, it is all we really have.

 

God laid down this law, saying: if you want some good, get it for yourself“. – Epictetus

 

Next Blog: Skills for Self Reliance

 

Note: I dedicate this blog entry to the service men and women who face the daily struggle in their transition from service to civilian life. CONUS Battle Drills is a sometimes sobering, sometimes hilarious look at that struggle and provides some skills for veterans leaving the service or already ensconced in civilian life that can be used to improve their lives.

 

CONUS Battle Drills

 

CONUS Battle Drills (The Book)

 

 

The Jedi Mind Trick and the Happiness Trap

Jedi Mind Tricks

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

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

“I am not the Drunk you are looking for”

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

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

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

“Wishful Drinking”

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

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

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

Happy versus “Happiness”

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

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

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

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

ACT

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

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

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

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

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

References:

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

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