History

Alone? No. Always the past to keep me company. The creatures on the planet, and the Force. And now you. Annoying though you may be.” – Yoda to Luke Skywalker

 

Our History

In High School my History Teacher said that the whole point of studying history is to “appreciate the past, understand the present and predict the future”. A skeptical class listened on. What’s the point of History some asked. Why would anyone dedicate their lives to studying dead people? I was the one that had always enjoyed learning about history. We are after all a product of past time. Everyone has come from somewhere. The vicissitudes of history with its migrations, wars and technological advances all have a bearing on our lives today. History is being made in this very moment and we are all part of it. The past is our constant, sometimes annoying, companion as we make our own history.

You know you are starting to get old when events that you clearly remember are referred to in the history texts. The first news footage I recall was the fall of Saigon in April 1975. Barely 8 years of age, I asked someone in the room why people were running and why were people fighting to clamber on to a Helicopter. Another scene on the TV showed Helicopters being shoved off an aircraft carrier. It was only a few years later in school that I learned about the Vietnam War. There were children in my class who were refugees from that war. They had fled with their parents. With little more than the shirts on their back they had been become homeless and had had to move to another country far from home. Their story had become a “History” lesson.

 

Rise and Fall

Looking at the world today it would be easy conclude that people do not learn from History. Humans collectively have a short memory. As soon as one calamity ends and we declare that we have learned we set ourselves up to repeat past mistakes. Lessons are never learned and even Historians disagree on what the past has to teach us. One thing is for sure, we seem to be caught in some sort of endless loop where humanity is condemned to repeat the same mistakes over and over.

“History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce” – Karl Marx

 

The Roman Empire ultimately failed because it was too big and too powerful. Corruption was rife and a huge inequality existed among the people. The common folk were over taxed and struggled to survive while the elite amassed vast fortunes and consolidated power to benefit the few. As the barbarian tribes pushed in on Rome’s vast border driving it back, many of the citizens welcomed the new order. Eventually the Western Roman Empire imploded leaving only the East ruled from Constantinople. The Byzantine Empire also fell to Ottoman invaders in 1453 with the fall of Constantinople.

The Ottoman Empire in turn fell over 450 years later at the conclusion of the First War. The Empire had been decaying for more than a century due to corruption, negligence and incompetence in an Empire that reached almost to Vienna through the Balkans and Greece to Iran and Egypt to Algeria at its height. Why is this point significant? You can say that I am a product of these tidal changes of history. My heritage is from the central Balkans, the epicenter of the struggle between the Empires. This heritage has shaped much of my own personal history.

“We are not makers of history. We are made by history” – Martin Luther King. Jr.

 

How will our current great society fare in the coming decades? Will civilization decay slowly or will it be a cataclysmic event bought on by war or environmental collapse? Is the future of humanity hopeful? Does the world hold a brighter future, an enlightened age? Empires rise and fall with the tides of time. How will our great modern empires fare? What will be the impact on future generations?

 

Same as always

People centuries ago were pretty much the same as they are now. They had families, property, careers and civic or military duties. Children went to school and played. Women went to markets and shopped and cared for their kids. Men went to work and socialized with their peers. Young people grouped together and couples paired off, got married and began families.

People had essentially the same cares and concerns that we have now. They worried about having enough money to support their family and provide a roof over their heads and food on the table. There were concerns for security, law and order, the economy and health as there is now. We may live in more modern and affluent times but things have not changed that much. Everything that we see in our day to day lives and all the order and structure that makes up our society is a product of the past. People are born and die but much the same things apply.

 

Legacy

Most people can’t trace their family tree back very far. Perhaps four or five generations and then things get very blurry. A direct ancestor that lived 200 years ago is a unknown stranger to us. We would not him if we saw his face on a painting. It’s worth considering for a moment that in generations to come we will also be dead, buried and likely forgotten. All that will remain of our legacy are far off descendants who we will never meet. The question is, will they have learned from our mistakes?

“Appreciate the past, to understand the present and predict the future”

 

I remember my Father quite well even though it would be more than 30 years since we last spoke. The man provided me some important lessons in life however I largely failed to take them to heart. Following a similar path he had taken decades before I ended up, like him, alcoholic. I still wonder to this day how I could have survived the childhood that I did under the care of a reckless and abusive alcoholic only to fall in to the same trap. Someone once said that alcoholism is hereditary but I am skeptical about that. I had a choice, I knew the risks and the consequences but I chose to ignore the warnings and the lessons of the past. I had simply failed to learn from “His story”.

 

Use History

We cannot change the past. The Future on the other hand is an open book. What we decide to do this moment has a bearing on future events. So we choose mindfully our actions. This does not guarantee us the future we hope or desire but we can do our best with what we have within our control. We can try to navigate our lives as best as possible on a course that reflects the person we want to be. There is no good reason to repeat the mistakes of the past. Within us we have all the tools to ensure that we learn from our past mistakes and also take heed of the mistakes of others. We can learn from History.

Use Star Wars as an example if it helps. Fiction, like History, also provides a wonderful source of knowledge and wisdom. The rise and fall of the Republic and the Jedi are a metaphor for our own world and serves as a warning. The story of the fall of Anakin and the rise and fall of Darth Vader is a parable which remind us that our own inner demons can lead us to downfall. Giving in to Fear, Anger and Hate only ends in despair and death. Turning our lives over to Love, Hope and Faith leads to life, peace and serenity.

“Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall” – Confucius

 

Today I am recovered and I use my history and the history of others who have also walked the same path to avoid the pitfalls of the past. We need not be condemned to make the same mistakes again. If we have come out of a dark place we can recall what led us there and why and use that to help ourselves and others.

The choice is now. We either learn from the past and choose not to repeat the same mistakes or we continue down the well trodden path ultimately to our ruin. Make your History one worth remembering.

 

“I like the dreams of the future better than the history of the past” – Thomas Jefferson

 

Simplify

The Tree

Every autumn I take a chainsaw to a tree in the back yard and take back most of the branches. The tree is reduced from a tangle of foliage and branches to a short truck with a couple of main-stems left behind. Looking it after my hack job you would think that it will surely die but every spring it returns in full vigor. New branches reach out with sprouts of leaves. Flowers blossom and the trunk thicken. The tree is healthy and productive. By cutting back old growth and dead wood and leaving it almost bare I have allowed the tree to renew itself and continue to grow. Simplicity is like that.

 

Consumer Society

Life can get messy. We can fill our days with drama and complexity. Our time seems to get shorter as we are constantly distracted by new things. We fill our homes and garages and eventually a rented storage unit with so much stuff that we soon run out of room. Our attention hops from one thing to another. For a while we are interested in one thing and soon enough we get bored with that and move on.

The constant pull of modern consumerism sees us accumulating stuff that we don’t need or acquire mindlessly because we have been told that if we have it we will be happier, cooler or more popular. By having more and being constantly busy we think that our lives will be fulfilled and we will reach our desired state of happiness and contentment. All that happens is we find ourselves on a slippery slope and soon get overwhelmed by the tempo and shallow materialism of our lives. The environment suffers, we suffer and only big corporations win selling us stuff they tell us we need.

 

Hatchet Job

From time to time we need to take a pruning saw (or a hatchet) to our lives and cut back the excess. We should identify the dead branches and cut them away. Cut back the complexity and over activity. Simplify, simplify, simplify.

All monastic orders required their adherents to live lives of simplicity. Excess was avoided and attachment to material possessions and relationships eschewed. When I was in the Army the principle of simplicity and self discipline was constantly reinforced. We were expected to have few personal possessions and avoid the trappings of conspicuous consumption. Our job demanded that our first priority was the job. Some of the guys took it far and owned little more than one set of civilian clothes for going out; everything else they owned was issued or bought kit.

 

A Life of Purpose

The Jedi are an example of simplicity. Besides a Jedi Robe, a belt and boots and a light sabre what does a Jedi own? Seemingly nothing, they got funds to support themselves and their mission when required but otherwise a Jedi was discouraged from having attachments.

Allegiance to the Jedi Order demanded simplicity and purpose. By living simply, the Jedi were never distracted from their primary purpose. The Jedi also kept their internal world well ordered and simple. The Jedi demonstrated equanimity and dispassion.

 

Hording is Suffering

They say that what makes a person horde possessions and refuse to let them go is fear. They are suffering from over attachment. We have all seen the effect of severe hording on television shows that take us in the homes of chronic Hoarders.

People will horde and even refuse to throw out old newspapers and trash. Eventually their lives become unmanageable and desperate; they are drowning in an ocean of junk but refuse to let any of it go. Fear won’t allow them to lighten their lives and simplify. They feel by throwing their “treasures” away they are somehow losing a part of themselves. Inanimate objects hold them hostage. Attachment becomes real suffering to the point that they would rather die than toss out a box of old moldy magazines. The problem is not that they can’t do without their possessions, they can, and the problem is only in their mind.

 

Dead Wood

We might say, “Yeah but that’s pretty extreme. Most people aren’t like that”. The reality is that the ego is exactly like that. We may not be hording a ton of stuff we don’t need, we may even own very little. On the other hand we may be holding on to beliefs and ideas that do not serve us or represent who we truly are. Few people, if honest, would disagree. Most of us hold on to more than we realize. Every single experience, thought, word and action in our lives becomes a part of who we are. As the years pass, we find that we have become like an old tree; an over grown jumble of unruly branches and dead wood.

For more than a decade I lived out of a bag. My possessions were limited to a backpack with a few clothes, a sleeping bag, a pair of shoes and a camera. There were a few keepsakes I’d picked up on my travels, a couple of books and a sealed plastic bag full of photos. I was homeless and owned nothing. My home was wherever I found myself at the end of the day. Not having much meant I didn’t have a lot to lose. The freedom allowed me to indulge in my addiction without constraint. The problem of course was that inwardly I was a mess.

 

Handing it Over

Getting rid of unwanted excess is actually liberating. By handing over my problems to a higher power I started the process of pruning back my life. Writing an inventory of my character defects and misdeeds to others highlighted where I needed to make further changes and do amends. Sharing my inventory with another helped me take a weight of guilt off my shoulders. By coming clean I was able to throw off the dead wood that had been holding me back. I was free to move on.

The pruning back continued. There was years of growth that needed to be removed. I finally decided to do something about it and I asked my Higher Power to guide me. The work was up to me, but I left the outcomes to the Force.

One by one I hacked back the character defects and flaws through application of principle and changing my thought pattern and behaviour. Several years later with pruning being a constant and meticulous job I can look back at my work and see what I have become. The person I was is gone and a new man stands in his place. This is the feeling of freedom; to cast off the world like some dark cloak and walk through the gates in to another dimension of existence.

 

Daily Maintenance

Today I continue to take a pair of secateurs and prune away. My life is like a tree that requires daily maintenance to keep it healthy. Where I have made a mistake I admit it, where I have wronged someone I try to make amends. Each day is reviewed and where improvements can be made I do so where I have control. Life becomes a daily pursuit in simplicity and purpose, the Jedi way.

 

Inventory and Let Go

We don’t need to get rid of all of our stuff and live like a monk or a Jedi but we can simplify and reduce the clutter. One of the best ways of taking stock of our rampant and manic lives is to inventory. List all the things that take up our time and attention. What do you enjoy doing? Are you doing things which take up time but bring you no joy or return? Decide which you would be better off without and drop it.

Review your consumer patterns. Take a shopping list with you or decide on what you are going to buy and then buy it. Avoid making purchases on impulse and ask yourself whether you need it or just want it. Remember, wants are not needs.

 

Sort, Sift, Sweep, Sanitize and Sustain

Go through your wardrobe and garage. Do you really need all of the clothes hanging up? One way is to turn all your clothes and shoes to face one way. Every time you take something and put it back have it facing the opposite direction. After a year take all the items that were not moved and donate them to good-will. Take all of your horded clutter out on to the lawn and divide them in to categories based on their utility and purpose. If you have stuff sitting there since 1999 which has not been used, donate it if it may be of use to others or throw it out.

Occasionally review your life and take stock. Not just where you are financially, in your career, or on the journey to achieving your goals; review your internal values system. Are your values consistent with who you are and who you want to be? Ask what do you care about, what is your purpose and what do you want out of life. Decide whether your values match your principles and agree with your goals. Remember that values define you, principles are the way your express them and goals are where you want to take your life. Keep it simple.

 

Take what you Need

Sometimes we will find that a lot of ideas and assumptions that we had are no longer useful and we resolve to get rid of them. For example, we may have decided some time ago to be less stressed about life and worry less about material wealth and more on our self improvement but our actions may be the opposite. If our ideas no longer serve, we drop them and find those that do. We align ourselves to our purpose. Being Jedi is about being agile and adaptive. Its about being able to take what you need and leave the rest.

Life is like a tree. It is a living and breathing thing that grows and throws out branches in all directions. Sometime we need to do some pruning in our lives and re-calibrate ourselves so that we can continue to grow and get better.

The Cave

Five Years

Today marks five years of sobriety in my life. I look back at that time and I ask myself have I come far? Am I a better person? Is it worth it? If I am honest with myself I can respond with some conviction “yes” to all of these questions. When I look at the person am I now compared to whom I was five years ago the change is remarkable. This process of change has not been dramatic but gradual. Change has not come over night but has been achieved through incremental progress, “one day at a time”.

Has it been hard? It has been the hardest thing I have ever done. Becoming sober and trying to achieve a measure of emotional sobriety has been a roller coaster ride. The good news is that anything that we strive for, anything worth doing is rarely a walk in the park. Sobriety is no different. Most days we are getting by fine but we keep up the pressure and test ourselves. By never resting on our laurels and by applying principles in all areas of life and by being true to our values we prepare ourselves for those tough times when we need to dig deep. Philosophy helps us to get there.

 

“There is no success without hardship” – Sophocles

 

Life is a Wrestle

The Stoics understood the purpose of philosophy. They committed to applying their philosophy every waking hour. It was not a tool they used when they needed to draw inspiration or use a handy “get out of jail free card”.

 

“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

Marcus Aurelius compared life to a wrestling match. A wrestler is able to move gracefully and with purpose. The Wrestler is aware of his surroundings and can move through time and space with ease like a dancer. At the same time a Wrestler can anticipate an attack and if taken off guard can quickly recover from an assault, break a hold and turn the table in his favor. Using strength, flexibility, agility, momentum, technique, courage and intelligence the Wrestler prevails over his opponent.

Unless we take our philosophy for life and apply it, practice it and make progress constantly we will not benefit. We should learn from mistakes and strive to improve so that we do not become complacent and untrained. We are less likely to handle the adversities of life, be it an opponent in the ring, a sudden crisis, a tragic event or even a petty inconvenience that raises our ire if we are ill prepared.

Being sober has been five years of “train hard to fight easy”. I have had to wrestle mostly with my own failings. I have worked the 12 Steps and applied my principles and values in order to recover.   Working the Steps and being Jedi has enabled me to manage my anger, fear, anxiety, resentment and self pity.

 

The Cave

In many ways the last five years has been a solo journey.  I have had to face many challenges and confront many fears and a great deal of doubt and pain alone. My family has been there and there is also a fellowship to learn from but ultimately any one who passes through their personal Dagobah Cave must do so alone. When Luke Skywalker confronted his dark side in the Dagobah Cave he did so by himself. Yoda knew what Luke would face there; he too had faced his own personal Demons and conquered them.  Yoda also knew that Luke had to face the cave alone.

 

“What will I find in there”? – Luke Skywalker

“Only what you take with you” – Yoda

 

The Dagobah Cave scene was a symbol of the human need for self exploration and self knowledge. We all want to know what resides within ourselves every flaw and fault as well as every virtue. When I embarked on my journey or recovery I did not know myself. I thought I did but it was an illusion. The person I saw when I looked in the mirror was not the person that other people saw. What I believed others saw in me was not a reality either. I lived in self illusion and dishonesty.

Only by having the courage to confront myself and reveal all of my faults and flaws to another and to my Higher Power was a clear picture presented. I was appalled by what I saw but I also knew I did not have to be that person any longer.With self-knowledge  I could change but I had to want to and be prepared to do the work.

 

The essence of knowledge is self-knowledge” – Plato

Catharsis

In order to change sometimes we have to be prepared to undergo a personal catharsis first. For me it was hitting rock bottom and then finding a way out as I surrendered to a Higher Power. It was not the first time I had experienced a transformative experience. The death of my Mother when I was seven was traumatic and confusing. The years I spent in orphanages, juvenile foster care and living with an abusive alcoholic taught me about survival and the value of human dignity and justice. Service in the military and years as a homeless itinerant after discharge taught me about the wider world and showed me the best and worst in others and in myself. Alcoholism too was an important school of life.

 

“Hardships often prepare ordinary people for an extraordinary destiny” – CS Lewis

 

All of these experiences were personal Dagobah Caves; trials on the journey of life. All of them carried poignant and powerful impacts on my life that shaped my character and my destiny. Those experiences carried important life lessons which have made me who I am today.

 

“Self knowledge puts us on our knees, and it is very necessary for love. For knowledge of God gives love, and knowledge of self gives humility” – Mother Theresa

 

 

The School of Life

If my alma mater is the school of hard knocks, then the last five years of sobriety has been the most powerful graduate school I could have ever hoped for. The prize has been emotional, mental, physical and spiritual growth. Recovery teaches us a great deal about ourselves and others. We are taken beyond the limits of what we thought was humanly possible. Much of the time we are swimming against the tide.

There are  years or decades of reinforced behaviors, ideals, bias and sacred cows to overcome before we can progress. The requirement is a complete overhaul of who we thought we were. We have to stop looking outside ourselves for faults and excuses but look inwardly at how we have made our lives. For many this can be confronting and frightening. Some of us fight it and resist but we know that we must enter that dark cave and put trust in our Higher Power. We must enter alone and face the truth, only then can we emerge victorious.

“When you think everything is someone else’s fault, you suffer a lot. When you realize that everything springs only from yourself, you will learn both peace and joy.” – Dalai Lama

 

Life Contract

Tomorrow I will wake up to another sober day. God willing there will be many more. I like to believe that I will see this life through without sliding back in to alcoholism. The future is uncertain and far better people than me have relapsed so I don’t take my life for granted. Even the most promising Jedi can turn to the dark side and become Sith. If I can continue the upward march towards a higher vantage point that never ends till the final breath I will be contented. There is still much work to do; there is no five year contract on sobriety or personal betterment. It is a life contract with my Higher Power.

We should never be complacent. I will not rest because of a milestone. It is only another day. Aurelius believed that his Legionnaires should train as hard in peace as they did in war. So should we. As Jedi we are compelled to train and to improve ourselves, it is our personal duty. While we drop our guard our opponents are watching and waiting for an opportunity. Our addiction is outside doing push-ups while we get comfortable in our complacency.

If we work at it a little at a time, day by day, consistently without repose we see the change that we seek not just in ourselves but in others too. Improvement happens incrementally. We work and do what we have to do, rather than what we want to do.

A philosophy for life is for life and to live well is to do so without struggle and without rush. We only live one day at a time and deal with one obstacle at a time, with each step we climb higher. Consistency and commitment is everything. Faith keeps us there. Remember it took Yoda nearly 900 years to reach enlightenment. Enjoy the ride and also take the time to smell the roses, you worked for them.

Jedi have a mission in Life

Jedi are devoted to their mission in life.

Jedi are devoted to accomplishing their mission in life. Sometimes this requires great discipline, sacrifice, incredible focus, patience, inner strength, and a strong sense of duty for accomplishing the mission. But first, a Jedi must determine what his/her mission will be by deep soul searching and meditation. You determine and choose what your mission will be; you decide it for yourself. Then you prioritize or decide how important it is for you to accomplish your mission.

(33 Jedi Traits)

Life’s Purpose

If you were to ask anyone what their life mission was you would probably get blank stares or garbled responses. Most people would not have one. Sure they can convey their hopes and wants. They can describe their ideal life and include words such as “happy, wealthy and healthy”. This picture can include a comfortable existence in a nice home with a loving partner. Perhaps a family and pets to complete the dream. Does all of that really define who we are?

All of us want to feel validated and achieve a sense of self actualization. We want to feel valued and make a contribution. For many, their career is an important part of life. Your profession no matter how humble or high profile defines much of your life. We are remembered as much for our work life as we are in our family and personal life. Political leaders are remembered for their time in office, Actors for their acting and Musicians for their music. Is any of that our true purpose, our mission in life? What do you want to be your epitaph? What do you want to be remembered for?

Everyone has his own specific vocation or mission in life; everyone must carry out a concrete assignment that demands fulfillment. Therein he cannot be replaced, nor can his life be repeated, thus, everyone’s task is unique as his specific opportunity to implement it.” – Viktor E Frankl

 

Purpose and Plans

People can identify their aspirations and their desires easily enough. Career paths can be mapped out. We can set ourselves new year resolutions, specific goals and one year and five year plans. A financial advisor can draw a road map that takes us to comfortable early retirement with a generous income to age 90 (too bad if you live to 100). We can schedule our lives and set measurable goals. How many of us can actually define our mission in life, our purpose?

The company I work for has a mission statement. Most publicly listed companies do. Shareholders expect to see a mission statement in a company AGM document. They want to read what the company stands for and where it wants to take their money and hopefully make it grow. Read your companies Mission Statement if it has one. What does it say? More importantly what does it say about the company you work for?

From my very first day as an entrepreneur, I’ve felt the only mission worth pursuing in business is to make people’s lives better.” – Richard Branson

 

Don’t let others Dictate

To expect people to write a mission statement for their lives in 20 words or less might be seen as ludicrous. But is it? Conor McGregor the UFC champion has a personal mission statement along the lines of being the “greatest UFC fighter to have ever lived and who will ever live”. The statement is very bold as it assumes that no one will ever surpass his career and that he will continue to dominate the sport until retirement. McGregor knows he cannot control the sport and knows that someone may come along who will challenge him but he has the self belief and the confidence  to believe anything is possible. McGregor’s mission is to prove him right and his detractors wrong.

Conor McGregor’s philosophy is to train to win, all the time, no questions, no doubt. Losing is not in his vocabulary and he won’t let other dictate any different. McGregor refused to accept his defeat to Mayweather as a loss calling it a lesson instead. Love him or hate him, McGregor’s mission is to win. That mindset and approach to business has put him on Time’s list of most influential people in 2017 and made him a billion dollar brand name. There is a lesson to be learned in that.

 

Mission Success

The Jedi had a life mission to serve the Order in any way required. Anyone who has ever served in the military and law enforcement will understand the concept of duty and mission focus. Everything is geared towards ensuring mission success. Training and rehearsals are conducted. The right people are allocated tasks that best reflect their skill set and compliment the team effort. Objectives are set, equipment is obtained, tested and checked. Plans are reviewed and improved. Intel is checked and verified. Risks are identified and assessed. Controls are implemented and contingencies applied. The collective effort is dedicated towards achieving desired outcomes with minimal loss.

How does this apply to our personal lives? Consider that every day is a chance to progress towards success in our own mission in life. A practical philosophy for life is one of the tools we can use to help us achieve our mission, whatever we choose it to be. After all, being on a Path or having a personal philosophy for life is not much use unless it serves in some way.

Our mission in life may simply be to uphold our principles and apply virtues that we value at every opportunity. It may be as simple as getting through every day without succumbing to the temptation to drink. Taking care of our family may be our sole mission. We may choose a mission that is more personalized to what we want to achieve in our personal or professional life. That mission may be to achieve personal milestones such as academic, health, sporting or business success. It may be to help others or make a significant contribution to a cause you feel is important. Whatever it is only you can define it and make it happen.

 

To what service is my soul committed? Constantly ask yourself this and thoroughly examine yourself by seeing how you relate to that part called the ruling principle” – Marcus Aurelius

 

Mission Statement

My mission statement is simple; “Strive to be the best version of yourself everyday”. That’s it. Nothing fancy. I just have to act in accordance with my principles and commit on a daily basis.

Your own mission is yours and yours alone to embrace. In order to achieve your mission you must be 100% committed to it. To be even close to achieving the milestones on that mission you must be prepared to focus 80% of your energy or more towards it. This means dedication, commitment and sacrifice. It must also come with an unbeatable attitude. Without the correct mind set you may step in to the ring and last a couple of rounds but you will never win the fight or take the title. This formula applies to any type of mission in life. For me it is about sobriety and self improvement. Everything that I do somehow relates to my personal mission to become a better version of myself.

“Half measures availed us nothing” – Alcoholics Anonymous

Our Mission in life, our purpose need not be the stuff of legends. Luke Skywalker’s mission was to bring balance to the Force.  It was not a purpose he chose, it was thrust upon him by fate. Never the less his actions resounded across the entire Galaxy and changed countless lives. Our mission may not be as grand or predetermined as Skywalker’s but once we define what our mission in life is it can be still be significant in our lives and can also impact on others.

A small body of determined spirits fired by an unquenchable faith in their mission can alter the course of history” – Mahatma Gandhi

Define your Mission

Realizing our mission in life need not be difficult. Once we understand ourselves and know what our values are and commit to those a mission statement really only validates our purpose and takes it one step further. Grab a piece of paper and write down the answers to the following questions:

  1. What are my values?
  2. What are my core principles?
  3. What do I want my life to stand for?
  4. What are my unique qualities?
  5. What do I believe my purpose in life is?

Create a mission statement that reflects all of the above. Remember that we need not get it right the first time. In time it may change. Once you have a mission statement your purpose in life, whatever it is, becomes clearly defined.

A mission statement can be used as a constant reminder, a mantra for motivation and a defense against complacency and despair. Some days we question the point to everything and apathy can set it. Other days people will challenge your purpose and try to steer you away from it. Revisiting the questions above and thinking about your mission statement can serve as an anchor and a compass needle. Sometimes that is all you need to get up and keep fighting for another day.

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”- Theodore Roosevelt

 

Jedi use the Force for good works

Jedi have special powers and are encouraged to learn the ways of the Force, and to use the Force, but only for good works like training, defense, knowledge, and helping others who are in need.

(33 Jedi Traits)

The Purpose

Every thing we learn has a purpose. We can use experience and knowledge to improve our lives if we choose. The only sin is to be given the benefit of knowledge and not to use it. Worse is to go against what we have been taught and what we know is right.

The purpose of Jedi Philosophy is to seek knowledge, learn and apply it real life. Philosophy should always be a practical as well as an intellectual pursuit. Wisdom is shared so that it may benefit others in some way. To keep that knowledge for ourselves and to never use it is a waste and also a disservice.

Knowing others is intelligence; knowing yourself is true wisdom. Mastering others is strength; mastering yourself is true power.” – Lao Tzu

A River flows through

I have worked the 12 Steps now for five years. In comparison to many others it is a short amount of time. My time on the Jedi path has been even less. I have only started to grasp the concepts and lessons that I have learned on this journey. There is still much to learn. I view both as a life journey with no end point.

Faith without Works is Dead” – James 2:24-26

All the knowledge and experience that we attain is useless unless we try to share it in some way through works. We can help others. There are people only starting out on their journey and others who are seeking answers we can provide. Service comes in many forms.

If we can offer something that can help point someone in the right direction then it is worth it. A lake fed by a river that goes no where soon becomes stagnant. A lake that flows on remains vital. We only get to keep what we give away.

“Always pass on what you have learned.” – Yoda

Responsibility

The price of knowledge is responsibility. That responsibility extends to how we use the knowledge and skills we have learned and to what purpose. Do we use our training purely for selfish reasons or do we improve ourselves ultimately for the betterment of others?

One of the greatest misconceptions about military training is the idea that it produces “trained killers”. This is sometimes extended to people who train in martial arts. The belief being that some students will use their acquired skills for nefarious reasons. That martial training somehow glorifies and encourages violence. Certainly there are exceptions but they are rare. In my experience such personalities are quickly shown the door.

We should always remember that we bear a responsibility to use our skills and knowledge for Good Works. Whether the outcomes of our efforts are beneficial or adverse, we should always take ownership and responsibility for our actions.

Whatever happens, take responsibility” – Tony Robbins

 

Motives

In Buddhism the precept of Right Motive is paramount. An adherent seeking training towards eventual enlightenment does so to alleviate the suffering of all sentient beings not just her own. It is meant be selfless action.

We must ask ourselves what our motives are. Why am I doing this? For what purpose? Do I really want to change for the better or am I attached to some fantasy? Am I prepared to do the work and put in the effort or just pretend and coast along.

We can only judge our own motives and decide if they are right.

A moral being is one who is capable of reflecting on his past actions and their motives – of approving of some and disapproving of others.” – Charles Darwin

Right Effort

We only get out what we put in. Consistent application of practices and principles will get results and half measures will avail us nothing. In recovery I have found this to be true. Anything worth doing must be done consistently and with the necessary effort.

In recovery we sometimes see others lapse back in to active addiction. We see it as a loss but we never condemn the person. Any of us could fall at any moment, we cannot be sure that our sobriety is bullet proof. We can have all the tools and all the knowledge at our disposal and years of experience but still come undone. Never grow too arrogant or cock-sure.

The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Humility

As we improve ourselves and get better our self-confidence grows. We should never use that as an excuse to become arrogant or place ourselves above others. Remaining humble while retaining a healthy degree of self esteem is a virtue.

One does not need to boast and brag about their achievements. We can be inwardly proud of what we have achieved without succumbing to pride. One should never forget why they decided to start the journey in the first place. Was it for self improvement or was to prove themselves to others?

Humility is not thinking less of your self, just thinking of you self less” – CS Lewis

Live your own Life

You should only stop drinking for yourself and no one else” was the first thing someone told me at a 12 Step meeting. I had said that I was getting sober for my family so that I could be a better person for them. The lesson was important. I had made a decision to quit drinking before in order to please others and I had always failed.

It was only when I decided that it had to be my choice alone that I started to get it. No one could do this but me. Our purpose is our own and from that should flow benefits that cascade to others.  Through self betterment comes world betterment. Always get yourself sorted out before you try to save the world.

Don’t let others dictate your life. Take advice and wisdom but make your own choices.

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.” – Steve Jobs

Timing is everything

With the purge of the Jedi following Order 66 the survivors fled in to exile. Rather than seeking to retaliate immediately and lead a counter attack on the Empire, the Jedi withdrew and let the rebellion take it’s own course. The Jedi chose a path of non-intervention realizing that their time was not at hand and they would need to wait to re-emerge and restore balance to the Force. After 900 years Yoda had the wisdom to accept the turn of events and not to allow self interest to make matters worse.

Sometimes the best strategy is to do nothing but wait. Life is not a race. We do not have to rush to achieve our goals. At times we are forced to make a major life changing decision. We must always ask ourselves; “am I ready for that”. The Force will let us now when we are.

A couple of years ago I was offered a Management role and looking at the scope I decided to turn it down for the simple reason that I did not feel ready to accept that level of responsibility. I put off a lot of things over the years and fortunately they were wise decisions.

In exile Yoda and Obi-wan Kenobi dived in to their studies and training. Their knowledge of the Force expanded as did their connection with it. When the time came they played a pivotal role in the future of the Galaxy. Deciding not to act can be as important as choosing when to as Yoda revealed to Luke Skywalker on Dagobah.

Decide you must how to serve them best. If you leave now, help them you could, but you will destroy all for which they have fought and suffered.” – Yoda

Keep Improving

We should never stop learning. Even the most experienced Veteran can learn something new. Old dogs can learn new tricks. Keep seeking and never box yourself in to some dogma that enforces one world view point rejecting all others.

Take what you need and leave the rest. With time comes improvement and change. Old ideas will be replaced by new. We should turn the soil of the mind over once in a while to keep ourselves open and fresh.

Accept criticism with grace and be ready to critique yourself. Always admit mistakes and work on improvement rather than on blame. Ask “how can I fix this” rather than “why did it happen”.

If evil be said of thee, and if it be true, correct thyself; if it be a lie, laugh at it.” – Epictetus

Keep Going

I don’t know how one is exactly meant to “Learn the ways of the Force”. The best way I can apply it is to regularly say “Let Go, Let God” and “Thy Will be done not mine”. These are affirmations to direct myself in to the moment where everything happens. We can only do our best every day to be the person we want to be. Turn the outcomes to a Higher Power, the Force. Let the Force work through you.

We can continue to look at where we are lacking  and make adjustments there. We can review our daily practices of being Jedi and assess where work need to be done. When others request help, we give it within our capacity. We can treat people as we expect to be treated. Commit to our principles always and without compromise.

There are things we can control and many more things we cannot. Always focus on where your control resides and accept that a lot of mistakes will be made along the way. Being Jedi is all about the little every day acts. It is about the mundane and the mediocre as much as it is about the big and important things. It is also about falling down but getting up and trudging on.

You simply have to put one foot in front of the other and keep going. Put blinders on and plow right ahead.” – George Lucas

Be True to Thyself

Every one of us must decide what their “Good Works” is. We must all decide how we spend each day and what we want out of life. People generally know what they must do to live a good life. Some of us face a tension between where we want to be going and where we seem to be heading. Remember, you are the Master of your own vessel, the Pilot of your own ship. Take it where you want to go and be true to thyself first.

MTFBWY

To thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man” – Shakespeare

Jedi believe in destiny

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

(33 Jedi Traits)

Design or Accident

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

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

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

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

No Fate

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

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

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

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

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

“Then the emperor has already won.”

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

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

 

Choose your Destiny

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

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

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

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

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

 

Karma Sucks

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

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

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

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

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

 

Fate is Fickle

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

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

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

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

 

Breaking Samsara

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

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

 

No one gets out alive.

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

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

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

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

Jedi practice Martial Arts

Most Jedi know at least one form of martial arts or self-defense.

(33 Jedi Traits)

It goes without saying that the fictional Jedi were accomplished Martial Artists. One only has to remember the epic battles between Yoda and Count Dooku or Darth Sidious to appreciate the martial powers of the Jedi. Like the old Shaolin Kung Fu Monks harnessing chi, the Jedi could also harness the Force to aid them in self defense.

Most real world Jedi train in one form of martial arts or another, however while it is not a requirement it is encouraged for personal growth. The advantages are obvious; increased focus and attention, self discipline, agility, strength and coordination.

In addition martial arts provide practitioners with a form of self defense to use when needed. It is not about learning to beat someone up. In Martial Arts I have learned that the best form of self defense is not to get in to a fight in the first place. Martial arts provide a structured platform for emotional, physical and spiritual development.

Committing is Hard

Prior to getting sober the extent of my martial arts was the “hand to hand combat” taught in the Army and through general “bar room brawling”. I had tried to join various clubs. I figured that the self discipline, commitment and physical conditioning of Martial Arts would keep me out of bars and trouble.

Being an alcoholic is to be adverse to commitment, particularly when it gets in the way of discretionary drinking time. Consistency was never my thing. I showed up to training once or twice half drunk and had to be sent off the mats by disgusted instructors. In short time I would quit and move on.

Never look Back

Anything worth doing takes commitment and practice. We must dedicate our time and effort if we want results. I see recovery as similar to advancement in a martial arts discipline. We start off at white belt, completely new. The white belt is an empty vessel waiting to be filled with knowledge and skills, not booze. Our training starts and we grapple with the basics and try to find our feet. We view the old timers with awe. They give us advice. We advance one small step at a time. Some people decide to quit. We stay.

As our confidence advances we move to Yellow and then Blue belts. Occasionally we stumble and fall over, we get knocked on to our ass but we get back up and keep going. More people disappear. We graduate to Green Belt, that’s a tough one. Still we learn more about recovery and ourselves we have been sober for years now. We start guiding others on their journey as we are becoming old timers too. We reach Brown Belt  and as we claim contented sobriety we become Black Belt. Having come so far, we never look back.

What I have learned

At three months sober I joined a  Martial Arts club and continue to train. Some nights I come home bruised and battered. My middle aged body feels like it has been hit by a bus. There are times when I don’t feel like going but I know that I’ll later regret it if I don’t. I know that every training session we go to we come out better not worse. In the time I have practiced I have learned some important lessons:

1. Anything is possible

Training has taught me that we don’t know what we are capable of until we try. We can sit at home and convince ourselves that we won’t be any good and make excuses. The other option is to just get out there and do it. You may surprise yourself.

2. Be Humble

As a younger alcoholic me I would go to a Dojo and end up getting laid out on the floor by another student. The problem was my Ego. I refused to leave it at the door. Being arrogant and cocky I needed to prove myself and when I stepped a little too far over the line I was quickly reminded by a senior rank to respect others. Martial Arts teaches respect and humility. We leave our Ego and problems at the door.

3. Learn from Mistakes

Some nights you learn new skills. Other nights you seem to have two left feet and cannot get it. To look silly is fine as long as we are trying our best it doesn’t matter. Even the most talented Martial Artist struggled at some point. Learn to embrace failure as a lesson. Keep trying.

4. Control Fear and Aggression

Training hurts and can be confronting. I have learned that it is OK to have fear and aggression but to channel it in the right way. Control of fear and aggression is a must in Martial Arts. For success in recovery it is imperative.

5. Pace yourself

Sparring teaches a Fighter strategy, pace and control. A two or three minute round does not sound like much until you step in to the ring. Getting control of breathing, pacing yourself and keeping presence of mind is essential to making it to the next round. Scenario drills also teaches all round awareness which is needed in real life confrontations on the street.

The beauty of Martial Arts is we can translate the skills and attitudes that are developed in to every aspect of our lives. Most who practice for years will tell you it has made them a better person mentally, physically and spiritually.

A way of Life

They say a Black Belt is a White Belt who never gave up. Some forms of Martial Arts view the Black Belt, or equivalent, as the start of a life as a martial artist. The training never ends, there is always more to learn. Being a vessel filled one must also pass on what one has learned and so the cycle continues. Martial arts is a metaphor for life.

We should view every day of our lives in a similar way. Some days we don’t feel like getting out of bed to face the day. Sometimes life smacks us around and we end the day physically and mentally exhausted and emotionally shattered. We somehow get through it “one day at a time”. Every challenge we face and get through makes us tougher and stronger.

Aim for your Black Belt, whatever it is. Know what you want to get out of life and go and get it. If you choose to take up Martial Arts, best of luck. My only regret is that I did not take it up seriously earlier and stick with it.

The Hero

“I, I will be king
And you, you will be queen
Though nothing, will drive them away
We can beat them, just for one day
We can be heroes, just for one day” – Bowie

The Hero’s Journey

When George Lucas wrote Star Wars he based the story on the mythical Hero as described by Joseph Campbell. “The Hero with a Thousand Faces” describes the “Hero’s Journey”, a narrative monomyth which has existed since the dawn of story telling. The Monomyth follows the story of one who answers the call for adventure, the Hero archetype. Departing home the Hero encounters and overcomes the fear of the unknown and sometimes with a mentor learns the path to overcoming challenges and obstacles that lay ahead. Towards the middle of the story the Hero meets resistance and facing peril must overcome  an enemy or nemesis and finding strength and the help of others is able gain the prize.

The story continues and we think the Hero is safely home but encounters even greater challenges that bar the way. Unable to escape the Hero battles in a climactic struggle. Victorious at last  the Hero claims the final prize and discovers a revelation that restores the balance. The Hero is transformed and returns home or continues the journey.

The “Hero’s Journey” can be seen as a metaphor for life. We all face similar milestones in our personal Journey through Life. In recovery, we know the path quite well.

The Hero

People have always been inspired by the Hero. Legends and Myths are full of them. Since the Babylonian tale of Gilgamesh written in 18 century BC, the human story has included Odysseus, Hercules, David and Jason. Our contemporary fiction is full of them and include unlikely heroes like Harry Potter, Bilbo and Frodo Baggins and Luke Skywalker and Jyn, Rey and Finn. Each of the characters became swept up in events greater than themselves. They  became accidental heroes who went far beyond what they believed they could achieve for the greater good. Their stories followed the classic “Hero’s Journey” as described by Campbell. The Hero provides humanity with an example for others to follow. We carry our Heroes on shields and decorate them with awards and medals.

No Ordinary Hero

Sometimes the Heroes of the world are right in front of us but we don’t even recognize them. These are not like the Heroes in the Ancient or Modern Sagas. They have committed themselves when action was needed with no time to think or plan. The bystander who jumps in to perform CPR, the one who instinctively jumps in to a swollen river to rescue a drowning child and the person who races in to a burning building to pull out survivors are the ones we sometimes hear about in the news. They remind us that there are still people out there who are willing to risk their lives for others. We think their acts are exceptional and rare while in fact they are in most people. The instinctive need to help and to protect and preserve life. It’s in our DNA.

We often hail our sporting achievers as “heroes” yet what have they done other than win a title, medals or a trophy, usually for great monetary reward and fame? Society tends to overlook underpaid and overworked care givers like Paramedics, Nurses, public health care Doctors as well as Police Officers and Fire and Rescue for their daily heroic deeds. Volunteers who dedicate their time and money to helping the poor, looking after the environment or taking care of animals are rarely considered “Heroes”. Not many people would count School Teachers, Hospice Workers, Aid Workers and Volunteers as Heroes. Soldiers are treated as “Heroes” and lauded for their military feats in some wars and derided or condemned for fighting others.

The Classic Hero as described by Joseph Campbell is a rare gem and one that primarily exists in literature and movies. Real Hero’s are are actually everywhere.

The Accidental Hero

Luke Skywalker was a hero of my childhood and for me had all the ideal traits that made such. I could also relate to Luke Skywalker on a personal level as I had also suffered loss. Skywalker gave many kids a dream that they could reach for the skies and achieve incredible feats if they only believed. Not long ago someone pointed out that Luke was no Hero. Why I asked? Well, he had destroyed an artificial planet with many thousands of lives. This “atrocity” had not ended the war, in many ways it had extended it and the untold suffering it caused.

The Death Star was moments away from ending the Rebellion and the war but instead it was destroyed. The Empire suffered a crushing military defeat with the loss of important Admirals and the ultimate weapon of deterrence. The war raged across the galaxy for years after and so did the death and the destruction. My Friend kind of had a point.

My Friend also pointed out that Luke Skywalker was not only against the established rule of law and active in an illegal Rebellion but he was indoctrinated in to an ancient religion. This religious belief compelled him to destroy the Death Star and continued to drive him to carry out attacks in the war and eventually topple it. Does this not sound at least a little like a terrorist?

The Modern Hero Dilemma

I thought about the many recent conflicts I had become acquainted. In these wars I had taken sides. One side was “Right” and the other “Wrong”. More than once I had called people I knew “Heroes”. They had traveled to Syria to join the Kurds and fight ISIL, an extremist and brutal regime. While I believe my friends to be Freedom Fighters and “Heroes”, other people, many decent and intelligent, called them “Terrorists” or “Criminals”. It made me realize that the word “Hero” can be a little ambiguous at times. In fact not everyone can agree on what, let alone who, a Hero is.

Then  what is a Hero? How would we define it? Many Real World Jedi have their own definition of what a Hero is and they diverge as much as people in any other part of society. This is a Jedi Philosophy Blog so I will take the words of Joseph Campbell to help define what a Hero is here:

A hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself.“- Joseph Campbell

Then that would mean that anyone who has died for a cause that he or she considered bigger than themselves fits the definition of a Hero…Obviously this cause problems as it would firmly validate the phrase “one man’s freedom fighter is another man’s terrorist”. The cliché in fact contradicts itself as we know that no terrorist can be a Hero and no Hero can be a terrorist then neither can exist as they cancel each other out. To me a Friend in Syria is a Hero fighting for Freedom from tyranny, to many people in Turkey and  the Arab world he is a Terrorist as he happens to be fighting under a Kurdish Flag. Being a Hero can be complicated.

The Journey

As a recovering alcoholic I know that things never appear to be black and white. Every ideal and bias that we hold is a product of our Ego. The human psyche pushes many of us to embark on the “Heroes Journey”. In a perfect world there would be no need for Freedom Fighters or Terrorists. Heroes on the other hand, we need those angels like the Paramedics, Nurses, Cops and Soldiers who put others before themselves. The recovering Alcoholic in a 12 Step Meeting who comforts and consoles a newcomer who is at the end of his wits is a Hero. Each of us can through simple act of kindness and love in our daily lives also be Heroes.

“Saruman believes it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found. I found it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay… small acts of kindness and love.” –  Gandalf “Lord of the Rings”

Marcus Aurelius admonishes us to stop “Waste no more time arguing about what a good man should be. Be one” There are five common traits found in a Hero. They are courage, selflessness, humility, patience and caring. These are the virtues which the Stoics like Aurelius found so important if one was to achieve the “good life”. They are also the virtues that a Jedi was expected to demonstrate consistently. The 12 Steps require all five virtues for recovery to be built on a solid foundation:

Courage

Courage is when a person does something in spite of their Fear.

Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear” – Mark Twain.

Selflessness

Selflessness is doing something for others without expecting anything in return, indeed often with personal sacrifice.

selflessness is the only way for progress and prosperity” – The Bhagavad Gita

Humility

Humility is acting in a way that shows you respect yourself but never place yourself above others to look down.

Humility is not thinking less of yourself but thinking of yourself less” – CS Lewis

 

Patience

Patience is being able to accept that things to happen at their own pace even when we wished they wouldn’t. Good things do come to those that wait.

Patience is bitter but it’s fruit is sweet” – Aristotle

 

Caring

Caring is showing to others the kindness and concern that they deserve. Caring is in the little acts that we do every day.

Caring The simple act of caring is heroic” – Edward Albert

 

Can we be all of these things? Can we be the Hero that we are meant to be? We can be Heroes not in the big causes that we take up but in the simple every day acts of life.

Creativity

Right or wrong, this is my movie, this is my decision, and this is my creative vision, and if people don’t like it, they don’t have to see it.” – George Lucas

Carrie Fisher once joked that George Lucas had made her alcoholic. Alcoholics can be very creative. Some of the most prolific writers, poets, playwrights, actors and artists were alcoholic. Aeschylus, Poe and Hemingway, Oscar Wilde and Hunter S Thompson were writers whose deaths were attributed to alcohol. Cobain and Van Gogh were also alcoholic. Beethoven, Byron and Tesla were all drunks. Alcoholism has many distinguished luminaries.

Alcohol, taken in sufficient quantities, may produce all the effects of drunkenness.” – Oscar Wilde

An article  by Jarosz et al. (2012)* (cited in Psychology Today), did indeed find that alcohol can contribute to creativity. By being at least partially intoxicated test subjects were found to be less side tracked from a task and also less constrained in their approach to it. Researchers found that the working memory improves and so does the ability to think outside the box.

During my studies I drank heavily. Assignments were written while I drank several bottles of wine. I would stagger in to exams half inebriated. Alcoholism did not seem to hold me back from academic achievement; in fact it seemed to facilitate it. My results were generally in the high range.

Here’s to alcohol, the rose colored glasses of life” – F Scott Fitzgerald

High Spirits

Everyone knows that a disproportionate number of alcoholics are high achievers. Some even argue that booze is an element of that success. Drinking fires the imagination and inspires us in almost a divine way. The word spirit comes from the Latin spiritus, meaning “inspiration”. The ancients drank heavily to acquire creativity and a connection with the Divine.

Alcohol only seems to inspire creativity. We all have an innate need to express ourselves and creativity is a natural gift that comes with being human. Of all the creatures I have seen in the wild only the bower bird seems to be able to create a work of art with random items that include broken beer bottles and bottle caps. This does not mean that Bower Birds get drunk while nest building. Humans are otherwise unique in the capacity to create for the sake of it.

There is still no scientific study out there that suggests Alcoholics are more creative in active abuse compared to while in recovery. Carrie Fisher was alcoholic and had mental health problems, she became recovered and continued to act successfully until her death in 2016. Responding once to a question on what people should do on chasing their dreams despite mental illness, Fisher said:

Stay afraid, but do it anyway. What’s important is the action. You don’t have to wait to be confident. Just do it and eventually the confidence will follow.” – Carrie Fisher

Be Original

Having worked for a Grunge band that toured from one seedy bar to the next, I can attest that booze did not help the musicians play better. They were lousy when drunk on stage. Being drunk did help them not care whether they played well or not and when the audience was also drunk it didn’t really matter. Especially when its Grunge, being drunk and not caring was sort of expected.

Perhaps that’s it. Drunken Artists get awards for not caring. I only wrote great assignments and blitzed exams because being drunk gave me permission not to care. Isn’t that why many of us started drinking in the first place? Because we wanted to feel normal, less self conscious and more uninhibited? Those are the traits of creative people. Like selling your soul to the Devil for fame or fortune there is always a heavy price to pay.

I’ve never seen anyone drink themselves smart, successful or happy. Most end up broke, bitter and alone.” – Anonymous

Addiction does teach us to be creative in other ways. Here are some of the things I did to be original and creative:

  1. Conceal bottles in the most unlikely places
  2. Get drunk despite a limit of two drinks
  3. Manage to get drunk despite only going out with enough money for one or two
  4. Get away with the most ludicrous excuses for being late or absent
  5. Master the skill of being able to tell half truths and plain lies with a straight face
  6. Clean up and hide the effects of an out of control party
  7. Sneak out of Barracks to get drunk and then still manage to sneak back in through concertina wire despite being drunk
  8. Walk several miles from an unknown location to home with no recollection of doing it
  9. Arrive in another country hundreds of miles away with little to no recollection of events that got me there
  10. Wake up with clothes that were not my own
  11. Wake up with a stranger I have no recollection of ever having met
  12. Juggle three Girl Friends without them being aware of each other
  13. Convince everyone I was “on the wagon” while still drunk.

Such as the nature of Alcoholism that we have throw out scruples and self respect and get creative in order to get Drunk.

Outside the Box

The Fictional Jedi were also creative. They did not write poetry or books, sing songs or paint master pieces however they were creative in applying a simple philosophy of life. They lived to a code but the rule book encouraged “thinking outside the box”.  Jedi had to be creative in order to survive their missions and work effectively with limited resources. The light sabre for example was a personal weapon of choice it was also the ultimate multi-tool. It took creative use to make it effective in all situations. The Light Saber would be used to down large Battle Droids, disable star fighters, penetrate through doors and walls, topple mega structures and deflect lasers.

The Jedi used mind tricks to avoid confrontation and used creative initiative to complete missions. In the Clone Wars “The Citadel”, the Jedi are sent on a mission to rescue captured Jedi and military commanders holding vital intelligence. The Jedi reprogram Battle Droids to infiltrate a heavily guarded separatist planet. In order to avoid detection by life scanners, the Jedi and Clones put themselves into carbon freeze until they have landed on the planet. The approach was reminiscent of the subterfuge the Greeks used to dupe the Trojans and enter the city inside a wooden horse.

George Lucas is one of the most creative people of our times. He is considered a creative genius by many. Lucas created an entire global franchise based on his imagination, an idea. In turn it has inspired countless others including a global philosophy. George Lucas is a reminder that it is only ourselves that limit our own creative powers.

Be Creative

Being sober has taught me to be creative in other ways. One of the main ways of doing that is to break patterns and try something new or different. Here are some examples:

  1. Wear something different;
  2. Try a new type of food or  restaurant;
  3. Take up a new hobby;
  4. Learn a new language;
  5. Resolve to learn a new skill;
  6. Do something that’s creative.

What will you do different today?

*Jarosz, A.F., Colflesh, G.J.H, Wiley, J. (2012). Uncorking the muse: Alcohol intoxication facilitates creative problem solving. Consciousness and Cognition, 21, 487–493.

Commitment

A Jedi must have the deepest commitment, the most serious mind.” – Yoda “Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back”.

The Noble Path

In the Noble Eight Fold Path of Buddhism the virtue of commitment is inferred twice. Right Resolve is the first practice and is the act of making a conscience decision and acting on it. This may mean renunciation of a former way of life and the acceptance of a new path. Old habits and modes of thought are put aside and replaced with a philosophy and system of belief.  The mendicant would be adopting a new way of life which would involve renunciation of property, family ties and romantic love.

The second practice is Right Effort, having accepted the new way of life and training, the mendicant then applies consistently the principles underpinning their practice. This may include meditation, mental discipline, physical training, study and devotion.

Right Resolve and Right Effort both demonstrate commitment.

Commitment was crucial to the Jedi. Right Resolve was taking the vow to enter the Jedi Order and accepting the Jedi Code as the tenet governing behavior. As the Jedi progressed through training their resolve was continuously tested. The Jedi Trials were used as rituals to assess the progress of the Jedi Padawan on their journey to Knighthood.

The Trials of Life

Trial of Skill, the Trial of Courage, the Trial of the Flesh, the Trial of Spirit, and the Trial of Insight were used to test the Jedi. In “The Empire Strikes Back” Luke Skywalker undergoes Jedi Trials before he leaves his training early to rescue his friends and confront Darth Vader.

Right Effort was applied throughout the life of a Jedi to the moment of death. Every thought, word and act of the Jedi was to be in accordance with the Jedi Code. Mindfulness in every aspect of life was applied. The effort  to achieve this would require great commitment and self discipline.

Commitment to a Philosophy of Life takes effort and resolve. Being Jedi is not easy. Applying valued principles from the Buddha, Jesus and the Stoics takes self discipline. I sometimes wonder if I’m not playing some joke on myself and then I remember that one of the virtues is  also humor.

“If you commit to philosophy, be prepared at once to be laughed at and made the butt of many snide remarks. “ – Epictetus, Enchiridion 20.

Effort is Rewarded

Commitment is also tested in the real world. Our resolve and effort in staying sober is tested daily. We are assessed by our loved one’s, our friends and our employers. In the Army some of the guys I served with applied to enter in to the elite special forces community. The selection courses they completed were in many ways like the Jedi trials. They were continuously tested for their physical, mental and emotional fitness, their ability to make decisions under pressure, their perseverance and resolve and ultimately their character was under the microscope.

Those who failed returned devastated. Those who passed were moved on through their training as SF Operators and rarely seen again. When they were encountered they seemed different and they were different, they were better versions of themselves. I stood in awe and respect at what they had achieved.

I now stand in awe at what I have achieved in the last few years of recovery. My life is “a daily reprieve” and I owe it to the “Grace of God”. My effort was only to hold up my end of the bargain and not pick up a drink. I also made the commitment of “drop the rock” through Steps 6 and 7 and let go of my character faults and live in accordance with my values. This takes effort. I know what it takes and when I encounter another recovering addict I know the pain they have gone through and I stand in awe and respect.

“I believe life is constantly testing us for our level of commitment, and life’s greatest rewards are reserved for those who demonstrate a never-ending commitment to act until they achieve. This level of resolve can move mountains, but it must be constant and consistent. As simplistic as this may sound, it is still the common denominator separating those who live their dreams from those who live in regret” – Tony Robbins

One Day at a Time

Commitment starts at Step 1. The moment we admit our disease and powerlessness over our addiction is the moment we commit to taking the first step to claiming the power to recover. What does it take? Everything. Do you need Right Resolve and Right Effort? Everyday and “one day at a time”.

But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. – Corinthians 15:10

The commitment required to stay sober and to live a life of continuous self improvement is by its very nature a hard slog. We trudge along in our recovery, one step at a time, one moment at a time. In our way appear obstacles and pit falls. We go down and we get back up and we keep going. Sometimes our mind is screaming for us to stop, yet out hearts and something more powerful within us keeps us going. We keep going because to stop and to quit is to die.

Go Hard

Every day we are on selection. Everyday we are working for our special forces tab. We get up, we get through the day, we thank our Higher Power and we claim renewed strength to get through another day. It takes effort and commitment all day every day.

The only limit to your impact is your imagination and commitment…there is no abiding success without commitment” – Tony Robbins
Your only limit is the boundaries that you set yourself. You are far more powerful than you know and it shows with your commitment in everything that you do. Today when you get up, own the day, commit to that and gut it.
Hooah!” – Army Slogan