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

Leadership

You don’t have to carry a sword to be powerful, a leaders strength is inspiring greatness in others” – Ahsoka Tano

A Rare Quality

To be Jedi is to be a Leader. Jedi choose to lead even if they are reluctant at first to do so they know it is their duty and responsibility as Jedi. The Jedi lead by example not by Force.

The Fictional Jedi were given leadership roles in the Republic. Positions of authority were granted as part of the Jedi title. A young Padawan student might have been given command of a battalion of Clone Troopers and was expected to lead them in to battle. The reality of war service demanded that they be willing to put aside hesitation, control their fear, reject their doubt and do their duty. They had to put the mission and the welfare of their troops above themselves. Quite a demand!

On our world I have met barely 21 year old men and women in the Israeli Defense Force with the rank of Captain or Major. Their dedication to duty and willingness to sacrifice themselves and lead others from the front is what makes their Defense Force and the country so united, resilient and strong. The young Young Kurdish female fighters of the YPG also lead men into battle against the Islamic State fanatics today. Their bravery, optimism, love of life and courage has gained the admiration of the world and continues to as they march to final victory.

“I am not afraid of an army of lions led by a sheep; I am afraid of an army of sheep led by a lion.” – Alexander the Great

False Leadership

Being Alcoholic and arrogant I had a false sense of superiority and an inflated ego that demanded respect without earning it. I expected simple length of service and appointed rank sufficient to define me as a leader. My subordinates at work may have obeyed my orders but it was out of fear and with resentment.

In my role as a Leader I was demanding standards in work and conduct from my charges that I was not applying to myself. Where there was failure or mistakes the blame would cascade down. Any credit for hard work and success went to me. My double standards negated my mandate to lead however the system kept me in charge and my team did what they could to resist and undermine me. To defy poor and incompetent leadership is a natural thing to do despite what we are told by society.

In my Regiment in the Army obedience to command was paramount but insubordination was common and also a natural response to incompetence. A corporal seemed to have the power of life and death over a private. Sergeants were a class above and Officers were like Gods. You did not even look at Officers unless you wanted a NCO to march over and literally rip your face off.

Leadership is solving problems. The day soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you have stopped leading them. They have either lost confidence that you can help or concluded you do not care. Either case is a failure of leadership” – Colin Powell

Fear and Coercion

The entire ethos in my regiment was one of fear and intimidation. Through coercion and harsh discipline we were shaped in to an effective fighting force but there was no love or respect for command. With few exceptions they did not inspire us. If they told us to fight we did because we loved the fight anyway not because we respected them. We did what we did for each other and true Leaders stood among us in the ranks.

Operations were interesting. They say what “goes in the field stays in the field”. A number of unpopular NCO’s met “accidents” on patrol and were badly injured and repatriated. If a squad or platoon leader was a cluster in the field he was a liability and if not removed by echelon then he was removed one way or another by the Grunts.

Leaders that only care for themselves are not leaders. They may hold rank through some community, civic or military authority and enforce it through fear and intimidation but they are not Leaders.

People ask the difference between a leader and a boss. The leader leads, and the boss drives” – Theodore Roosevelt

Lead by Example

Being sober and recovered gives us the opportunity to demonstrate that we are leaders in the truest sense. At home, work and in the community we can lead by virtue of example. We can demonstrate our principles consistently and in all of our affairs.

Being firm but fair in our approach we can adopt an attitude of transparency and openness. We look to where we can serve others before ourselves. People become drawn to our humility and selflessness. They recognize these virtues as leadership qualities and they gravitate to us. The respect is mutual and trust is established.

Leaders do this not for rewards or credit but because it is the right thing to do. It is their duty.

“If serving is below you, leadership is beyond you” – Anonymous
In the program there are no leaders, just persons appointed in to certain support functions needed to ensure the fellowship works. It is a egalitarian system that fosters trust and respect. All the same every person who shows up to help his fellow is a Leader in their own right.
Being given the opportunity to Lead is a privilege not an entitlement as I once imagined. Whether you hold that responsibility at home, at work or in the community remember we lead in order to serve others, not ourselves. By being sober and living in accordance with principles you lead by example. In doing so you help others strive to be better.

Be the Leader you are meant to be.

“A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.” – Lao Tzu

Training is Life

 

Training to be a Jedi is not an easy challenge, and even if you succeed, it’s a hard life.” – Qui-Gon Jinn

Life is Suffering

Life is hard and so is recovery. Our daily practices, applying principles and proactively working on self improvement all take effort. Change was never meant to be easy. It can be damn hard. Sometimes it can take everything you have.

The Jedi had a training program which included years of Temple Study in Lore, Ethics, History and Diplomacy as well as physical and martial arts training. There were long hours of meditation and light saber combat. The Jedi student was assigned to a Jedi Knight who acted as mentor and teacher. The apprenticeship lasted as long as was required to satisfy the Jedi Council of the Jedi’s competency. There were also trials the Jedi student had to pass. Training continued for life and Jedi rose in rank as they demonstrated mastery and skill. The Jedi also realized that even after hundreds of years of dedicated training they had not learned everything there was to know.

In recovery there is no graduation day or total mastery where we claim a cure from alcoholism and the problems of life. We may be recovered and strong in our sobriety however we are not immune from life. We can never truly rarely say we are cured and then return to drinking assured that we will be able to drink normally. There is always doubt, we might relapse back in to alcoholism. We don’t know everything and we never will. There is always more to learn so even the wisest and most experienced old timer never stops learning. If one is wise he will not grow arrogant and drink again.

To claim “complete mastery” over any subject and announce that there is nothing more to learn is fool hardy at best, dangerous at worst.

The Best School in the World

I like to say that the only alma mater that matters is the “school of hard knocks”. After years of formal study and training in various professions my greatest life lessons have come out of the hard experiences in life. The let downs, the disappointments and rejections, the failures and falls. The Buddha said that life is comprised of 10 000 joys and 10 000 sorrows. We shed a torrent of tears in a life time. We all experience the suffering of life. The experience makes us smarter and stronger. We learn from our mistakes and our misfortunes. In doing so we grow.

Some of these times in our life truly sucked, they were hard and tough but we got through them and they made us a better person. An old Martial Arts instructor once told me that anyone can wear a black belt. They cost a few dollars but only the person who has poured heart and soul in to their training can claim any meaning to that milestone. Its not the belt, but the pain, suffering and perseverance that it represents which matters. The black belt takes years to earn through dedicated training and application but only a moment to lose through poor choices. The Sensei can take it away at anytime, it is a distinction not an entitlement.

You only get out of life what you put in. Hard work will always pay off in the end.

In the same way I view sobriety. My sobriety is a “daily reprieve contingent to the maintenance of my spiritual condition“. What exactly does that mean? To me it means I must work daily to ensure that I get through each day. My aim is to improve with every day, to rise each day a better person than I was yesterday. I do this through Training and practical application of what I have learned. I know that if I become complacent and drop the ball I may backslide, I can end up back in the hole I put myself in all those years ago.

Daily Practice

My daily routine is a simple one but it does take effort. The benefits cannot be understated. Very often what we most need is routine and a set of goals. The best way to set goals is to break them down. With simple and achievable targets that challenge you, you will progress. Over time you ratchet up the effort a little. Always start slow but be consistent and work to improve.

My daily routine comprises of practices I have adopted from the 12 Steps, the Jedi Path and the Stoics. Feel free to come up with your own program and stick to it for a while, then modify if required to suit your lifestyle, limitations and needs.

Morning

  • On rising, practice a short period of gratitude. Remind yourself of one or two things you have to be grateful for as you come in to this day.
  • Welcome the  day. A new day means new opportunity. Be thankful for it. Every morning I try to greet the sunrise in its splendor. Otherwise I take a quiet moment and imagine the sun coming up over the horizon. I take a moment to contemplate the grand scale of the cosmos and infinite time and to remember that I choose life.
  • Spend a minute as you get ready for work or your days activities to plan the day. Set in your mind or on paper three things you aim to achieve today.
  • Consider the things that may go wrong. Remind yourself that through the day you will encounter people who are rude and obstinate and your plans may get derailed. Resolve not to let them beat you down.
  • Do my daily Readings.

During the Day

  • Do one act of kindness every day to someone. It can be anything, random or predetermined; an offer of assistance or help to someone struggling with a load, giving up my seat on the bus, a simple courtesy such as opening the door. A smile or kind word or an act of charity.
  • Deny myself something nice or practice some form of denial to remind myself not to get too attached to comforts and ease. I practice periodic intermittent fasting on occasion. In addition to reminding myself that food is a precious resource not to be taken for granted I find that occasional fasting makes me feel better. I may decide to leave my jacket at home on a cold day. Run the occasional cold shower!
  • Take a moment to undertake negative visualization. Consider a realistic scenario that might occur which could ultimately change your life or at least make it unpleasant. This could include ill health, unemployment, poverty, ridicule or hate from others, betrayal by friends or colleagues. Imagine yourself dealing with the situation and overcoming it; see yourself practicing acceptance and equanimity.
  • Do at least 30 minutes of exercise or physical training (this can also be in the morning or evening). Remember to have rest days to avoid over training (Stretch / Yoga on off days).

Evening

  • Spend at least 20 minutes in meditation (this can also be during the day or in the morning).
  • Review the day, what went right, what went wrong and consider how I can improve.
  • Journal my thoughts.
  • Take some quiet time, relax.
  • Thank the Force for another day.

Adventure

Adventure. Excitement. A Jedi craves not these things.” – Yoda

Probably the coolest thing in the world when I was a kid was the thought of being a Jedi. There seemed no grander ambition than to be a Jedi Knight.  I would defend the weak and fight against tyranny and seek out adventure. The Jedi was a boys own adventure and like boys and girls around the world we played at pretend. I remember I used to run up one hill to see what was on the other side and seeing another hill I would run to that one. The horizon had an appeal, it called to me.

I grew up craving adventure. If I had been honest during my interview with the Army I would have said I was there for the adventure. Years later I left because the experience had not satisfied my urge. With my childlike yearning to go beyond the next horizon I wandered the world for years seeking adventure and excitement.

The need for excitement extended to alcohol. Booze gave that sense of freedom and adventure that many of us seek. It was addictive. With a drink I was alive, my imagination was fired. I could be anything I wanted to be. No matter where I went I found a party and friends to drink with and toast life. I would mix with people of all walks of life, cultures and languages and immerse myself in incredible experiences.

It would be dishonest if I said that some of these times were not some of the most enriching and enjoyable of all my years on Earth. I would not trade them in for anything. There was a darker side to the story, as there always is.

Meaning or Hedonism

When life is all about shallow and transient sensual experiences and indulgences it suddenly loses meaning. I always thought that the whole point of life was to live the fullest life imaginable. An enlightened form of Hedonism.

Alcohol, drugs and sex were part of that rich tapestry of experience. I convinced myself that I was being deep and spiritual as I got stoned and drunk or sought out one night stands with complete strangers. I was simply using people, place and things for my own pleasure.

The decades rolled on and I can say I have lived a full life but it is not without regret. My quest for experience and adventure led me astray for many years. Alcohol robbed me of the opportunity for meaningful experiences. There are so many things I could have done, so many places I could have seen and people I could have got to know was it not for the desire for instant and mindless gratification.

True Experience

There is no sin in adventure and excitement. Any meaningful experience that enriches our lives is worth it. It can be as simple as getting up early enough to see the sunrise or sleeping under the stars in the desert. My most memorable moment was seeing my daughter’s eyes for the first time and feeling something in me I had never felt before; a mix of complete awe and unconditional love. Having children is the greatest adventure.

At times I get the urge to embark on another boys adventure. I guess I will always have the Gypsy blood, the yearning for the horizon.  Like the poem by Robert W Service I will always be one of the men “who don’t fit” in:

There’s a race of men that don’t fit in,
A race that can’t stay still;
So they break the hearts of kith and kin,
And they roam the world at will.”

Reece

Two years ago the 23 year old son of a Friend of mine was killed by an IED in Syria. He was a young man seeking adventure and a purpose greater than himself. So telling his Parents he was volunteering abroad to work with refugees he made his way to Syria and joined the Kurdish militia fighting Islamic State. Two months later he was dead. I can only imagine the shock and grief his parents must have felt.

“If they just went straight they might go far;
They are strong and brave and true;
But they’re always tired of the things that are,
And they want the strange and new.
They say: “Could I find my proper groove,
What a deep mark I would make!”
So they chop and change, and each fresh move
Is only a fresh mistake.”

I envied that young man when I heard he had gone over. My wish was that I could’ve gone in his place. I deeply wanted to do something. I’m not sure if that urge in me stemmed from a desire to fight the injustice and barbarity of Islamic State or from a selfish need for adventure. Would I have gone only to satisfy a craving that cannot be satisfied and which would have only bought regret later on? Like alcohol, one drink was too many and a thousand is not enough. I still don’t always trust my motives, even now. I’m alcoholic.

“And each forgets, as he strips and runs
With a brilliant, fitful pace,
It’s the steady, quiet, plodding ones
Who win in the lifelong race.
And each forgets that his youth has fled,
Forgets that his prime is past,
Till he stands one day, with a hope that’s dead,
In the glare of the truth at last.”

True Sacrifice

In the case of the young man, my friend’s dead son, I’m sure he went because he genuinely needed to help. He could not stand by and do nothing any longer. Without any military experience he went on his own accord. He died a selfless death in a devastated village on a lonely and dusty plain in Northern Syria by a bomb left behind by evil cowards who wanted to kill innocent civilians returning to their homes. In the time he was there he cleared dozens of IEDs left behind by the retreating Islamic State.

A martyr to the struggle against tyranny, his picture is displayed in buildings, in tanks and on memorials by his adopted people, the Kurds. In his home country he is considered a misguided child who craved excitement and adventure. In Kurdistan he is considered immortal and honored and loved. Both of his parents remain devastated, both are also deeply proud of their son’s sacrifice. Their child Reece sacrificed his life out of unconditional love.

“He has failed, he has failed; he has missed his chance;
He has just done things by half.
Life’s been a jolly good joke on him,
And now is the time to laugh.
Ha, ha! He is one of the Legion Lost;
He was never meant to win;
He’s a rolling stone, and it’s bred in the bone;
He’s a man who won’t fit in.”

Rest in Peace Heval Bagok. Sehid Namirin.

Problems

The Best Botanist on the Planet

“The Martian” with Matt Damon is about an astronaut Mark Whatney who is left marooned on Mars after his team leave him behind presuming him to be dead. I watched intently looking for something that I could take from the film beyond 2 hours of entertainment. The movie is after all about a Scientist, more specifically a Botanist, who survives some 549 sols (565 days) on Mars. How does he do that? He solves one problem after the other and later shares his Philosophy:

At some point, everything’s gonna go south on you… everything’s going to go south and you’re going to say, this is it. This is how I end. Now you can either accept that, or you can get to work. That’s all it is. You just begin. You do the math. You solve one problem… and you solve the next one… and then the next. And If you solve enough problems, you get to come home.”

That was the take home message right there. If you solve enough problems you get to come home.

One of the things that will unhinge an alcoholic is problems. Dramas seem to pop up one after the other. As soon as one is resolved, another jumps up in its place to test our patience and ultimately our sobriety. This week for example I’ve dealt with a string of nuisances and annoyance one after the other. I’ve watched myself get worked up with amusement and a little concern. In my drunken years I would’ve tossed the lot aside and found a drink instead.

The Over-Watcher

Wait a minute? How can I be watching myself? Everyone has a silent over watcher. Call it the conscience, he was the guy that was watching on with sadness when I used to get messy drunk and roll from one disaster to the next as I tore through peoples lives like some drunken whirlwind. He’s still there, but I listen to him more and more and I’m beginning to think he sounds and acts a lot like Matt Damon when he’s not sounding like Obi-Wan Kenobi.

The guy is my guardian Angel and he’s a problem solver. I’m beginning to morph in to that guy. That is, I’m growing up at last.

You see like Mark Whatney, I solve problems now rather than let them get to me. I have to in order to live. The choice is clear. Either let things get to you and roll over you or “get to work”. Do what you can with your mind, your two hands and whatever tools you have at your disposal. Do the math, hit the floor and give it a shot.

Problem or Opportunity?

The beauty of life as a sober person is you know that things can always be a hell of a lot worse. Things can also “go south” fast and in a big way. In one scene on “The Martian” you would think that Mark Whatney would give up. He doesn’t, he loses it big time for a moment and pounds the roof of the Mars Rover and screams in frustration a lot and then…you guessed it…he gets to work. Mark goes to Plan B and gets on with it.

The Jedi also thrived on unpredictability. They would adapt to the circumstances and solve the problems; there was always a Plan B. If your mind is on solving the problem you don’t have time for self misery, you don’t have time to think about how bad things are. You are too busy to despair. This is one of the reasons in the Army we were forever kept busy, a Soldier with something to do will have his head where it needs to be, not in the pity pot.

Perception also has a lot to do with how we handle problems. Can you remember what tipped you over last week? Probably not. The truth is, most situations are only a problem if we let it be one. Many can in fact be opportunities, even if its just to practice principles.

Every problem is an opportunity in disguise.” – Benjamen Franklin

Get to Work

My sobriety is a daily reprieve only. It is contingent on the maintenance of my spiritual condition. My sobriety is not a “Get out of Jail Free” card from Life’s problems. We are not exempt. I no longer have the excuse that stuff is “not my problem”. When things “go south” I can’t say “not my job” anymore. I must simply get to work and use it as an opportunity to beat the odds, solve the problems and get home. I already have practice, like Mark Whatney I’m a survivor.

Fight for your Life

In the Face of Betrayal

When the newly self-crowned Emperor Palpatine gave Order 66 the directive was executed swiftly and brutally. Thousands of Jedi were immediately killed by their Clone subordinates and guards without question or hesitation.  The Temple was razed. The Jedi Order was destroyed and very few Jedi survived and those that did either went in to hiding or left the order for a life as a bounty hunter, smuggler or Rebel and continued to struggle. The Jedi went down fighting.

Many of the Jedi who survived fought their way out as their brethren died around them. None surrendered; all died fighting or overcame their adversaries and escaped. The Jedi endured the betrayal and suffered their fate with valor and courage and yet they refused to go quietly and went down fighting  without fear. They had faith in the Force and did not fear death.

Bravery in adversity is not only a Jedi trait. Although not a Jedi, Chirrut the blind warrior in “Rogue One” called upon the Force to gather his strength as he completed his mission and was killed as were all the other Rebels raiding the Scarif Citadel for the Death Star Plans and the future of the Rebellion. Their mission was a success.

Never say Die

It may not be the plans to the Death Star, but in life some things are worth fighting for no matter the odds. Sometimes it’s no longer important what happens to us or whether we succeed or not but how we navigate through the crisis and meet our end. Its the fight that counts.

All of us are engaged in a futile battle to stay alive. Eventually every single human alive including you and I must face death. That does not mean we should not fight while we can.

The manner that we can choose to respond to each moment is a personal choice. How we greet each day and the manner in which we engage in the struggle for life is entirely up to each individual. We must eventually succumb to our mortal end. The goal is still to live a good life before we reach that end.

Never Give Up

Several years ago I was a very sick individual. I had had a tumor discovered inside my cranial cavity on the acoustic nerve. The growth was non-malignant but due to its mass and location was life threatening and needed to be removed. At the time I was also drinking heavily. My response to the news of my condition was not as I expected, I was scared and upset and all the sudden I was determined to live and grab a second lease in life. I was going to fight this.

The Doctor was very impressed with my attitude but did ponder my “3-5 alcoholic drinks per week” response on my health questionnaire with a raised brow. The Doctor reassured me that patients who have a fire in their belly and a “never say die” attitude to the surgery usually come out better than those that don’t. I underwent the surgery, had the tumor removed, was out of hospital in a few days with severe facial palsy and loss of inner ear, but I was alive and would recover.  After another health scare involving leaking brain fluid I was back to work within a month.

I had won the fight. The surgery had certainly saved my life. I now had a chance to see my kids grow up and achieve my dreams.

Never Surrender

The surgeon was surprised at the speed of my recovery, but then he didn’t know that we Alcoholics are extremely mission orientated and often over-achievers. We are simply held back and held hostage by booze. Our main struggle is with ourselves, we are torn and sway between hope and despair and our response is to resist and fight with everyone and everything. I saw my fight with my tumor as a sign that I had to change and turn a new leaf. Despite all of my goals to grab this as an opportunity to look after my health and become a better person I was soon drinking and worse than ever. The Booze had me.

The same “never surrender, never say die” attitude did not extend to my addiction. Alcohol is where my reasoning powers failed and where the main kink in my armor laid, an Achilles heel. My “Good Fight” did not lay there.

In the end, admission of defeat and surrender was exactly what was needed. I had won against a life threatening brain tumor but lost in the battle against my other disease, alcoholism. Surrendering it to a power greater than my self was the only way out.

Through grace I was freed from my compulsion to drink. My reprieve over addiction gave me a sense of purpose and “quiet resolve”. I no longer needed to fight everything and everyone; I was done with fighting at least the way I had done all my life. All I had to do was take life one day at a time and resolve not to drink and trust in the Force. The fear of death left me and I was determined to live and Fight for Life. There is no going back to what I was before, the Force is with me and I am one with the Force.

I’m one with the Force, the Force is with me” – Chirrut “Rogue One”.

Choose Life

Some things cannot be avoided, death cannot be dodged for eternity, neither can illness or heartbreak or pain, they are all part of the human condition. How you choose to perceive these things and what you intend to do about what resides within your control is largely up to you. You can choose to go quietly in to the night or you can choose to go down fighting. You can choose to surrender to the Dark Side as Anakin and Ben Solo did or you can Choose Life and fight for that.

Always Have a Plan

Sunset

“I have a Plan” – Anakin

“Oh Really?” – Obi-Wan Kenobi

Anakin Skywalker and Obi-wan Kenobi were very different in their approach to carrying out an assigned task. Obi- wan Kenobi insisted on strategy and planning his actions and holding back to ascertain the situation before deciding. Anakin Skywalker on the other hand was far more impulsive and relied on his instinct and force sensing abilities to help him quickly decide on what required to be done. In most cases Anakin was able to achieve his mission but the methods were often described as unconventional or reckless. For Anakin the ends were more important than the means even if it meant stretching the ethical and moral boundaries of his Jedi training.

Where do you reside in Life? What is your habit to approaching and completing a task? Are you more likely to jump in without hesitation or do you plan your approach and consider scenarios? Are you a risk taker or risk averse? Or are you a bit of both?

I know some people who are very careful with their financial affairs and far from impulsive with their spending but in other areas they lack all wisdom and forethought. Some people in life will plan their day, month and life to the finest detail but will not hesitate to dash across the street through traffic rather than walk the extra hundred yards to a cross walk.

My life was like that for a very long time. I lacked wisdom as well as foresight. In some areas I was well organized and intelligent, my organizational skills at work being an example. In other areas I was completely reckless, without direction and no plan. Alcohol was one area where I lacked complete reason. I could step in to a bar with the fullest intention of having single drink before heading home to work on an assignment that was due the next day and still find myself at the bar at closing time pondering where I could go next to continue drinking. People were baffled how I could lack total self-control and good judgment. I had no plan, not for life or for one day to the next. I was simply rushing mindlessly through life in a downward spiral.

Make Plans but avoid projecting outcomes

That is why you should always have a plan and all plans should lead to one goal. Everything I do now is geared towards my recovery and self-betterment. I plan each day to be part of a grander plan for life. I train, meditate, work and write as part of a plan towards progression. Along the way I collect wisdom; one peal of wisdom to remember is to make plans but avoid projecting outcomes. Do what you can do to the best of your capacity and what is under your control. Leave the outcomes to that.

Take a few minutes every morning to plan your day, no matter how mundane it may seem, step in to the day with purpose and realistic goals whether it is to complete a major assignment or simply do the laundry. List them in your daily journal if you keep one. I keep a list of my daily tasks and check them off as I complete them one by one adding a sense of achievement even if the tasks seems insignificant. I also keep a training dairy which records my completed works outs and shows my progressions over time. Benjamin Franklin wrote “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail. Jump in to life but plan your journey ahead without projecting the outcomes.

Purpose

Remain on purpose

Do or do not. There is no try.” – Yoda (Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back)

In the scene in “The Empire Strikes Back”, Yoda was referring to purpose and single-minded intent when he advised Luke Skywalker on how he should not attempt to lift an X-Wing Fighter out of the swamp of Dagobah. The scene is a reminder of the power of the mind in achieving almost anything by simply focusing your intent and concentration on a given objective.

In life we often have the luxury to simply “try” at something, make an attempt and if it fails we can simply let it go and move on with the next thing. This is an acceptable and appropriate approach to most things in life and since childhood many of us would have heard the words of parents and coaches “Do the best you can” and “It’s not win or lose but how you play the game” and of course “Try your best”. As long as we try our best and give it our best shot we can be assured that the opportunity was not wasted whether we succeeded or failed.

In some cases it would be fair to say that “to try” is not good enough. For example would we be happy if we boarded a plane and the Pilot said he was going to “Try” to fly the plane and land at the destination? Would we be filled with confidence if before a major surgery our Doctor said he was going to “Try” to complete the operation without major complications? I would argue that in both cases the appropriate approach would be to go in with intent to succeed and a mindset that precluded failure as an option or not attempt it at all.

Jedi Philosophy requires that “We do or do not. There is no try” if we wish to succeed in its practice. A practical philosophy for life is not effective as a philosophy of life if we do not commit to its practice. One may simply “try” to apply a philosophy in their life and largely fail at the attempt, they are only really cheating themselves and missing out on the real benefits that consistent and disciplined application would bring.

Firstly we have to query our personal motivation for integrating Jedi Philosophy into our life. Determine whether it will work for you and commit to it if you want to honestly see if bring benefits. Any philosophy takes effort, energy and sacrifice to practice.

Jedi Philosophy if practiced diligently may not be as hard as say practicing Zen Buddhism and sitting for hours a day but it does still require self-discipline and dedication like anything else worth doing. If you simply “Try” to adopt some of the practices of being Jedi for a short period of time or do it inconsistently you will get some benefit but nowhere near someone who has adopted it as a way of life.

Focus, concentration and effort is the key. Someone who practices a musical instrument from time to time is not going to master it as fast as someone who practices diligently for an hour or more a day. The same goes with sports, martial arts, languages and behaviors.

Once I heard that it takes 1000 hours of practice and application to be proficient in something and 10,000 hours to master it. The point is, the more effort you apply to something, the more you get out. Tony Robbins was once asked how it was that he was such a great public speaker, his reply was “I just do it a lot”. Doing something for an hour a day will take a lot more commitment to do than one hour a week but it will lead to mastery quicker.

Ask yourself today, will you simply “try” to achieve what you set out to do  or will you give your tasks (and training) the mindfulness and purpose that it deserves? Will you give it the time that it deserves?