Mindful Relationships

Have you ever thought about your relationships? I mean really sat down and thought long and hard about what your relationships mean to you, where they are at and where they are going. Have you ever considered the part that you play in the success or failure of past and present relationships and how they played out?

The Garden of Love

The Stoics believed that a rational and reasoned human being sought to derive the best possible outcomes in a mutually beneficial relationship. People do not exist for our own sake, we exist for the sake of each other. We are meant to be interdependent units that live in a system that depends on cooperation and collaboration between us and others; between human beings.

One could argue that the Stoics advocated “mindful relationships”. They believed that relationships were cultivated like a garden. With mindful effort and the correct amount of attention, sunlight, water and nutrients the garden will grow and prosper while the garden that is neglected will wither and die.

 

Mindfulness and People

Relationships can be challenging but also very rewarding. People that actually take time to reflect on their relationships and the way in which they manage them are more likely to create positive partnerships. One of the ways which we can recover a failing relationship or improve an existing one is through mindfulness. First we need to consider what kind of relationship we are in and where improvements are required before we can take meaningful action to improve them.

There are three types of relationships which exist and each is directly correlated to the degree of mindfulness generally applied:

1. Co-dependent relationships

Co-dependent relationships are based on an imbalance between two people that results in a dysfunctional dynamic. Usually this manifests as one person being over reliant on the approval of another. Without that recognition and approval the person feels invalidated, unloved or unwanted. Often these relationships are prone to subtle or open abuse by one party on the other usually without much resistance. The abuse is tolerated for the sake of the relationship. Because the person feels trapped in it they are unwilling or unable to demand change or leave. Mindfulness is not a factor in these relationships.

 

2. Independent relationships

Independent relationships are those in which both parties in a relationship are happily going about their own business without requiring the consent or support of the other. Often people in an independent relationship will appear to be living “separate lives”. They are on different wave lengths in their respective professional lives, personal interests and even family activities. A stable medium may exist for years but such couples generally drift apart after a while and find that they have little to nothing in common when they are forced to confront their relationship and face each other.

Married couples who dedicate all of their time and effort to raising kids and pursuing career and financial goals for example fit in to this category. When the kids flight the nest and retirement looms they are virtual strangers as they have failed to nurture their own relationship over the years. The degree of mindfulness in this relationship is low and based on ensuring that the other person is there and capable of functioning in their “role”. Life is purely one of routine and rushing from one thing to the next.

 

3. Interdependent relationships

Interdependent relationships are mindful relationships because partners understand, know and appreciate each other for who they are and what they bring to the relationship. Each is free to be their own person but at the same time they are there to support, validate and nurture the other in their own aspirations. Communication is the key foundation in the interdependent relationship as is the acknowledgement of the others views and needs. An open team approach resides over the relationship where each works with, not against the other. A dominant party does not exist as each are equal partners. Mutual trust and respect is a natural outcome. Such relationships are compassionate and honest and built to last.

Mindfulness for Life

In 2004 a study conducted by the University of North Carolina found that couples who practiced mindfulness saw real improvements in their relationships. The practice of mindfulness meditation also resulted in significant reduction in levels of stress and interpersonal conflict within the relationship. It could be argued that mindfulness could be the relationship therapy that many of us need.

A book was published in 2016 on the subject called “Mindful Relationships” (Exisle Publishing) by Dr Richard Chambers and Margie Ulbrick. The book explores “how we can use mindfulness to:

  • develop a more compassionate, friendly relationship with ourselves and others
  • increase awareness of our own and others’ relational patterns
  • calm and soothe our emotions and be there for others
  • communicate more effectively
  • enhance connection and empathy
  • reduce defensive patterns, allowing for more authenticity, and
  • work effectively within families and larger systems such as workplaces.

Case studies are included throughout to highlight key principles, as well as practical exercises to enable the reader to develop their mindfulness skills”.*

 

ACT

Mindfulness meditation** and recent modalities like Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) ***are two easy and practical ways to improve quality of life.  Mindfulness techniques can be applied to help with physical, emotional, mental and spiritual well being and personal development. To draw a Star Wars parallel, Yoda would have been an expert in mindfulness and given his age and general happy disposition and vitality the benefits of the practice clearly paid off!

By practicing mindfulness we are more likely to be in tune with our own feelings and the feelings of others. This opens the way for understanding and empathy. We begin to appreciate the needs of the other person and focus less on our own needs. As we start to pay more attention to our partner we find that it is reciprocated in return. Emotions can be played out in constructive ways. Rather than getting angry and resentful about our partner we can actually express ourselves in an open and transparent way. Through effective communication and active listening we engage in dialogue and come to mutual understanding. No one likes to be shut down or blocked out by their loved one. Mindfulness encourages us to engage with our emotions and with people in a calm and measured way without compromising our values.

 

Meditate

Meditation is the most effective approach to cultivate mindfulness. The beauty about meditation is that it can be done alone or in group or as a couple. The intimacy and shared experience of meditation can build a stronger bond between people. The practice allows us to pay attention to our thoughts and remove the noise from our mind allowing us to be more open to others. We achieve a greater sense of inner peace and tranquillity. If those around us also meditate and practice mindfulness we begin to reside on similar mental wavelengths. Harmony is created. I believe that partners who meditate together are more likely to stay together. So if your partner is up for it, meditate and tend to your garden

 

You will know (the good from the bad) when you are calm, at peace, passive” – Yoda

 

* https://www.exislepublishing.com.au/Mindful-Relationships.html

** https://www.exislepublishing.com.au/Mindfulness-for-Life.html

***https://thehappinesstrap.com/ (The Happiness Trap Book)

Codependency

Codependency is often described as a dysfunctional relationship that exists between two persons one or both of which may be in addiction such as alcoholism. The other person tolerates and facilitates that behaviour by remaining within the relationship despite the emotional, mental and even physical abuse that they suffer. Both participants in the relationship believe that they cannot live without the other. Both condemn themselves to a partnership that is built on anything but true love.

In reality Codependency is much more. A relationship that is held together out of fear or loss is a form of codependency. One person may lean on another person emotionally and be unable to validate themselves without the person. This is compounded if the other person also has emotional or psychological issues which compliment those of her partner.

Two damaged people bought together do not necessarily provide a solution or salvation. One of two things may happen; one of the individuals may grow emotionally and awaken to the fact that they are in an unhealthy codependent relationship that does not allow them to flourish. Otherwise the relationship may endure but simply out of a fear of being “alone”. The opportunity to find true love and to live a free and fulfilling life is compromised. This is not love but a form of bondage that ends in regret.

 

A Painful Truth

Some years ago I realized I am in a codependent relationship with my partner. I thought couples just had their disagreements and got over them. During my drinking these disagreements were fairly often but then I was very selfish and obstinate and only saw my side. Despite getting sober and working the steps I found I could not break this cycle of codependency. The relationship remains dysfunctional.

I found that despite the decades I spent being on my own I was now a virtual prisoner to my need to belong. I now find myself questioning the authenticity and honesty of the relationship but uncertain on  how to act. Is it fair to be in a relationship where deep within our own heart we know that whatever true affection and love existed has long been replaced with a mutual need for stability, security and familiarity? Is not being in the world alone more important than being in a true and nourishing relationship?

 

Emotional Maturity

There is nothing wrong with stability, security and familiarity. All of these are important in a healthy relationship. However a codependent relationship is categorized by an imbalance between two people. There are power struggles and each attempt to assert their control over the other. Disagreements occur and concessions are made by one side or another in order to maintain the peace. The result is resentment and anxiety. Open and honest communication breaks down. Couples become distant harboring private resentment for the failings they perceive in their partner. They blame each other for the unhappiness in their lives but they are unwilling to do anything. Despite all the ill feeling and pain both know that they cannot function alone. Freedom and happiness is traded in for stability, security and familiarity.

Emotional maturity was not a part of my sobriety in the beginning. I am still growing up. In other words I had not matured as an emotional person during my decades of alcoholism. I still had all the emotional maturity of a traumatized teenager and a lost young man trying to make sense of the world. Much to my surprise I realized not long ago that everything decent I had ever done was to get approval and love from others. To be accepted. Every spiteful or indecent act I had ever committed was to get back at them or others for perceived wrongs. This included getting drunk.

 

Child

Codependency in my case did not just happen later in life. I grew up with an alcoholic Father who himself had all the emotional maturity of a deprived child. Without another role model to learn from and no outside support becoming an accepting and active participant in the abuse was assured. A child will adapt quickly and learn to survive. As a child I begged my Father to be reasonable, sane and sober. I would put him to bed in the dead of night when he stumbled in to whatever doss house we lived in and pull off his boots. In the morning I woke him up and pressed him to go to work as he swore at me through a hangover. I hated him but he was still my Father and as such I needed him.

Natural emotions such as empathy and joy were dulled and replaced with fear, then anger and finally apathy. With apathy and time people start to identify with the negative influences in their lives and also begin to act them out. Emotional abuse, violence and cruelty become a part of who we are. I remember the cruelty I afflicted on my siblings as a child and on hapless victims in the school yard. I suffered at home and others had to suffer. Bullies beat me so I had to bully those that were weaker than me. The bullied often become the bullies. This still wears down on me heavily at times.

Growing up without a Mother and in the care of an abusive alcoholic Father had left me angry and vulnerable as a kid. We were thrown in to the State Care system as the Child Welfare people intervened. My sullen disposition attracted the wolves at school and being small in stature I was an easy target for bullying. I fought regularly and was in trouble often. I shoplifted and was smoking and drinking by age 11. The world looked like a hostile place to me and I was out in the cold. Desperate to find a place I could call home, I ran away and joined the Army as soon as I finished High School.

 

A Home

I took that anger in to the Army and they molded it and beat my vulnerability out of me. My weaknesses were removed and they built me up in to something useful. I cut all contact with my Father and never spoke to him again. The Army gave me a roof over my head, three meals a day, medical and dental, training and told me what I had to do and when to do it. It was simple and structured. For a long time I felt empowered and protected. I also felt like a bad ass. I was extremely fit, tanned and trained. Being part of something bigger than oneself does that. So does extra muscle mass and being trained in unarmed combat and Infantry skills. But it was shallow; there was a gaping hole there. I knew I didn’t belong in that world and rebelled. I found alcohol.

After an ignoble and unceremonious discharge from the Army a few years later I was back out on the street and completely alone. The Army had probably saved me from destitution and a hopeless future but I had barely matured in to an adult. I was dependent on the system to support me. I felt like an important part of me was torn away when I stepped outside the gates for the last time and the cord was cut. They had taught me to be a Soldier but not a functional and mature adult fit for normal life. I had entered barely 18 and at 23 I was on the street while many of my High School Friends were graduated from University and already in professional careers earning close to 6 figure salaries. I had no transferable qualifications other than in heavy drinking.

 

Barely Functional

Functioning and surviving in civilian life alone was an enormous challenge. People around me were phony and shallow. Their concerns and priorities were petty and made little sense. Employers seemed only to use and exploit young employees. The Jobs I took were mind numbing and low paid and I soon made enemies. There was no comradeship or mutual benefit. It was a dog eat dog world and I felt completely maladapted to it.

My anger and frustration would boil over and I quickly alienated and scared off people. Friends and acquaintances distanced themselves. I could not re-enter the Army, I had well and truly burned my bridges there. The answer was to move around a lot and get drunk as often as possible. I tried the Geographic solution and drowned it in alcohol. In order to eliminate any reliance on others and be completely independent I vanished overseas taking my problems with me as far as I could take them.

 

A Wife to the Grave

My relationship with booze took a new turn in civilian life. For a start I didn’t have to worry about trying to fit drinking around the Army. I learned I could arrange life to suit my drinking. As I did so I found myself becoming more dependent and less flexible with people, places and circumstances that got in the way of that relationship.

Alcohol is cunning and has a way of intruding in every aspect of life like a demented and obsessive lover. We know that the relationship is doing us harm but we remember the good times too. We cannot imagine being separated from alcohol. Our disease adopts a persona that is omnipresent and absolute in our lives. She is like a Succubus, a lover turned Demon who will not let us go. The relationship becomes entirely one sided. Alcohol will eventually take everything unless we break that hold first.

 

Emotional Sobriety

Recovery of course is breaking that dependence. The 12 Steps provided the pathway for me to do that. As my sobriety strengthened my personality began to change. Self honesty and humility allows us to review our actions in life and identify where we have been lacking. This provides the impetus to start maturing as a person. Emotional sobriety is the eventual outcome of practicing principles and working the steps.

Along the way we begin to review our relationships. Some of them present themselves as being dysfunctional or toxic and are ended. In my case my sobriety began to reveal dimensions and aspects of my relationship with my partner that I had never considered before. In our journey we take an honest view of our life and question where authenticity is lacking and where fear or resentment resides. We make amends for the harm we caused where we can.

Every major change in life comes with costs and benefits and recovery is no different. I began to realize that I had been in a relationship simply because I needed it when I was drinking and alone. The need to fulfill the need for a place to finally call home and to find someone was a way of addressing the void that had existed in me my entire life. It’s a trap many of us fall into, we think that others will complete us and we rely on them to carry us when we can’t carry ourselves. Once we get sober and sane the world becomes a different place and so do we. The illusions that we created for ourselves start to fall away and we see life in plain view.

Having emotional sobriety is realizing that only we can fill the void that resides within us with something deep and spiritual. We look at ourselves and realize we no longer need anyone. We may want them, but we no longer need them. It can come as a bit of a shock to realize that a long term relationship is built on the shifting sands of codependency. The sands are slipping away, being eroded with time. The trick of course is what to do about it. Do we let it go or start sand bagging?

 

Interdependency

I have a friend who is also sober and in a relationship that is interdependent, that is the opposite of codependent. I envy them. The couple compliment each other perfectly and neither is dependent on the other to be the person they want them to be. They support each other and understand each others needs. They are together because they want to be, not because they have to be or need to be. Both are free to express their own individual qualities in the way that best defines them.

The outcome is a trusting and mutually beneficial partnership built on mutual love and respect. Both are empowered, self sufficient and self determinant because the nature of their relationship encourages it. Communication is open and honest; laughter is a daily part of their lives. The relationship is vital like a breath of fresh ocean air.

 

Accept the things

I don’t have a definitive solution for my situation. My strategy is acceptance and to take the view “this too shall pass and better times shall come”. I keep my side of the street clean and live in accordance with my principles. Realizing that one’s relationship is in trouble is a good start but knowing is not doing. Being unable to do much about it without the willingness of the other person is a problem. Then things could always be much worse.  Things can seem bad and cause us pain but actually it is not the thing that does us harm but our reaction to it.

Being Jedi as well as being sober has taught me that we cannot force people to be one thing or another. They will decide for themselves and so should we for our own selves. We can try to improve situations through our own choices. If we are separated or divorced we can choose to be polite and civil to our estranged partner. There is no reason to answer one person’s bad behaviour or harsh words with more of the same. Promises should be kept and obligations met even if we would rather not comply. If someone lies to us we should not use it as an excuse to be dishonest in return. Children should never be used as a bargaining chip or held for ransom; they are innocent parties.

We may be stuck in a relationship that is dysfunctional and even terminal but we can still treat the other person with care, dignity and respect. Han Solo and Princess Leia set a good example. Married at the end of one war, separated decades later at the start of another. There was no animosity or blame between them. The fortunes of war and a shared love and concern for a very troubled son reunited them for a brief time. No matter what circumstance we find ourselves in our relationships, we still have a choice to be a good person.

 

Jedi are mindful of the Force

Jedi are always mindful of the Force.

Our satisfaction comes from our personal connection to the Living Force; material things, fame and wealth don’t bring lasting peace, happiness, and satisfaction. Only our daily, and conscious connection to the Living Force brings lasting peace and happiness. If we lose the awareness of our connection to the Force, then we slowly lose our happiness

 

The Daily Reprieve

Recovery is a daily reprieve contingent on the maintenance of our spiritual  condition. I say this to myself almost every day and several times a day when things get hard. I say it because it is true. The spiritual foundation of our recovery should never be forgotten. Our connection to a Higher Power not only keeps un sober, it maintains our relationships and our well being.

I have found that to lose conscious contact with the Force even for a short time soon leads me in to self doubt, anxiety and depression. The loss of that connection begins to impact upon my attitude and confidence. My relationships start to strain and I find myself more negative and less happy. Soon after I can feel it affecting my physical health. I get worn down and start feeling sick.  When one part of our being is not well, the rest of the whole soon follows in the same direction.

If you be sick, your own thoughts make you sick” – Ben Jonson

 

Once I realize that I am the author of my own misfortune and have the power to adjust my own thinking and my own life I start to reconnect with the Force. This takes effort and self discipline. As a rule I take a daily Step 3; I acknowledge my Higher Power and the spiritual basis of my life and I surrender my will to that Force. If I am sincere and apply effort in exercising my spiritual principles I get through the day not only intact but in a better state than when I started.

“We are spiritual beings having a human experience” – Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

 

Soul Sickness

Soul sickness is something we all feel. In the 12 Step Program we believe that soul sickness stems from a loss of faith in one’s self and in one’s Higher Power. Fear, anxiety, anger, depression and self pity are all normal responses to life. The problem is we often revert to these emotions even when there appears to be no reason. We may also invent our own crisis and talk ourselves in to feeling negative. Some days we awaken to dark clouds and we struggle to get through the day emotionally and mentally. We feel weaker and less motivated. Life loses its gloss. This is soul sickness, a temporary loss of connection with our Higher Power.

 

A sad soul can kill you quicker than a germ” – John Steinbeck

 

In active abuse I all but extinguished my spirit. Anger, fear, resentment, obstinacy, self pity and arrogance all cast shadows over my life. Alcoholism eclipsed my connection to the divine and halted my spiritual and emotional growth for decades. It was only through a realization of my addiction and the surrender of my will to a Higher Power that I was able to awaken and experience what can only be described as a spiritual experience.

 

Illusion of Separation

The idea that our Higher Power has abandoned us or has broken contact is an illusion. We are always connected with our divine source, we can never not be. The Force does not choose to cut me off.  I simply forget that I am a child of the Force and that bond can never be broken. The choice is ours whether to maintain conscious contact or not.

 

I am one with the Force and the Force is with me” – Chirrut Imwe

We all live in an illusion of separation. Not just from our Divine Source but also from each other. Our ego creates a false reality that we are all separated and divided. This creates fear and conflict and a state of lack. We deny our spiritual legacy and choose to ignore who we truly are and where we have come from. Most of us are in a deep slumber, unable to awaken to the truth.

There is in most people a sense that there is “something more”, that we are more than “crude matter”. Fewer of us have began to awaken by walking the path and living our purpose. Meditation and good works has helped us awaken a little more. Some of us begin to see the nature of reality and the source of all creation. Fewer can and will achieve enlightenment in their lifetimes.

 

“The reason many people in our society are miserable, sick and highly stressed is because of an unhealthy attachment to things they have no control over” – Steve Maraboli

 

Waking Up

The spiritual author of “Dying to Wake Up”, Dr Rajiv Parti, was a respected MD and a very materialistic man who lived to use people and get things. Falling ill to pancreatic cancer he slipped in to drug addiction and depression. One day in 2010 he developed an acute infection and was rushed to hospital where he was put in to a coma and experienced a “near death experience”. That experience completely transformed him in every way astounding his family and colleagues.

Dr Parti encountered a fantastic realm and was presented with the truth of his life and was given a mission for his return to Earth. Rajiv Parti  writes that enlightenment is nothing more than the realization of one’s true nature. If Love is the creative Force of the universe than in essence our fundamental nature is Love. We are “luminous beings”.

 

Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter” – Yoda

 

We do not need to have an NDE to begin to realize the truth. At times though we do need something big to jolt us out of our false paradigm. For some people it is survival from a life threatening condition such as cancer. For others it can be spending time in solitude in the wilderness. I have met people who returned from war with a completely new appreciation for the sanctity of life and peace. These veterans were changed men and had seen something few us ever will. I simply spiralled in to my personal “rock bottom” as many alcoholic do. Through the grace of a Higher Power I was able to emerge from that dark place. I had seen the truth of what I was and the harm I had done. I knew what I had to do to survive and live my purpose.

 

Golden Key

The Golden Key is a technique I use. The method was developed by Emmet Fox during the height of the Great Depression. It is a strong spiritual and psychological tool which we can use to help us see past our perceived troubles and centre us. The Golden Key is used to reconnect us to our own chosen Higher Power. The exercise is simple and can be done at anytime and anywhere. Keep the Golden Key as your own.

 

If you are thinking about your difficulty, you are not thinking about God” – Emmet Fox

The Golden Key reveals the power of prayer. Using vital prayer, that is speaking with Higher Power, Force, Divine Source, Om, God should always be vital not a bunch of scripted words repeated over and over. Prayer comes from the heart, from the seat of the soul, a place deep within us. The intent is to consciously connect with our Divine Source. Doing so not only removes focus from our problems which energizes them and makes them solid and real in our mind it can ultimately resolve them at the mental and physical level.

Imagine having a head ache. The pain is distracting and gets worse the more we think about it. If we allow ourselves to relax and affirm that the headache is free to go, imagine a white light in our mind and watch the headache dissipate we will soon discover that all is left is a numb sensation where the headache was. Call it divine power or the power of mind, it does not matter, what matters is that it works. Try it on any problem big or small. Through surrender of our attachment to a problem we remove the energy which keeps it vital. A conflict cannot survive if we walk away from it and remove our input in to the energy.

  1. Stop thinking about the problem or the situation;
  2. Release any emotional tension, relax;
  3. Think about your Higher Power as you imagine it;
  4. Allow that thought to pervade all others, meditate on it.
  5. Claim through affirmation; a solution. Have faith that things will turn out for the best.

 

Do Prayer?

Obviously none of this absolves us from reality. If we have a problem at work or in the home we must do our duty. Prayer alone will not fix a leaking roof or stop the banks from seeking to foreclose if we file for bankruptcy. We can’t pray away the loss of a job due to a failing economy. We must act within our principles and refuse to make matters worse through our own thoughts, words and actions. Prayer does help however. Learning to communicate with our Divine Source at a level beyond basic words but with the heart and soul raises us to another level of consciousness.

You  must feel the Force flow around you, Here, between you, me, the tree, the rock, yes even between the land and the ship” – Yoda

Harnessing the Force may not give us the power to move objects and perform super human feats like Yoda. The Golden Key and Prayer can however be used in much the same way to focus our spiritual and mental energy towards the change we want to make. True miracles happen at the mental level. Estranged families reunited, hopeless medical cases who prove their Doctors wrong, the addict given up for dead who recovers her life and turns tragedy in to victory are examples. All are miracles that happen at the level of the mind and spirit.

Resolve to address problems mindfully. Do not give it oxygen by feeding it negative energy. Complaining about your problems and airing grievances only energizes them further and makes them worse. By surrendering the problem over to a Higher Power that you conceive and then applying principles in any actions you take you are moving the problem to a solution. Be prepared to be surprised because sometimes things do work out in the most unexpected ways. What seems to be a loss or a crisis at the time can eventually reveal itself to be a blessing.

Question

What if the democracy we thought we were serving no longer exists, and the Republic has become the very evil we’ve been fighting to destroy?” Padme Amidala, Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith

During “Clone Wars” series the plot by Chancellor Palpatine to undermine the war effort and manipulate the Republic through deception and subterfuge is revealed piece by piece. Like a jigsaw that eventually reveals the face of Darth Sidious the true picture begins to unfold. The veil is finally removed and it becomes revealed that the enemy was within the gates all along.

Nothing was ever as it seemed, all was an illusion and everyone was being played. I love the “Clone Wars” but sometimes wonder how blind the Republic and especially the Jedi could be to not have seen it before everything went to hell in “Episode III: The Revenge of the Sith”. Didn’t anyone on Coruscant but Senator Padme Amidala have the presence of mind to ask the question? Padme was after all in the worst kept secret of the entire Republic. Where there’s smoke, there’s fire…well almost always.

Sleep Walking

How often do we open our eyes and see things as they truly are? We realize that for years we have been misled or fooled in to believing one thing over another. For many people the revelation can be life shattering and turn their lives upside down, conversely it can also be liberating and free them from living a lie.

Imagine being in a relationship built on a lie. Many people remain together but they are scared of losing what they think they have when in fact it does not exist. Love does not exist in a loveless relationship that is meant to be based on mutual affection and love. Worse, people remain attached even though it means a life of pain and suffering. The reality of domestic abuse whether physical or emotional is an example. The heartbreak of co-dependency being an another example where people are tied together because of an addiction.  The question “why” has to be asked.

That starts with waking up to reality and letting go of denial.

The Fog of Ignorance

Alcoholism made me a cynic and a skeptic, I would question everything but myself and reserve suspicion of even the most innocent of intentions. If a friend came up to me and said, “I got sober because I put my faith in a Higher Power”, I would have laughed along like it was a good joke and then tried to ply him with booze. I would then have got resentful because deep down I knew that he has something I want but can’t (won’t) get, I would tell myself that he “thinks he is better than me” and reason “if he doesn’t want to break bread (get drunk) with me, then to hell with him”.

Sitting back and exploring the personal implications of what he had said would not enter my mind. Instead I would create my own reality and color that with arrogance, anger and resentment. I would dismiss it without any consideration. This is the type of person that soon finds himself alone.

Asking questions is always a good start. Like Padme we should be critical of self as well as others. In her statement she is actually making the admission that she is part of the system, not someone standing to the side in opposition or neutral but as an active player. Yes they have been all fooled by the insidious penetration of the Sith in to the Republic but they had also bought in to the rhetoric and had blindly marched along, especially Anakin. War does that to people.

The Nazis in Germany rose to power in similar fashion riding on a wave of post War discontent. They built confidence and trust with the people over years before the reality of what they had facilitated became apparent. Dissent and opposition had been silenced and the mass psyche manipulated to giving executive power to a Dictator who killed millions. We read our history and we wonder, how could they have been so blind to fall for it? How could we let it happen again?

Waking Up

Recovery removes denial and reveals us in ways we would rather not know. We can see who we are as clearly as if someone held a mirror up to our lives. Recovery  changes who we are and very often the people close to us do not like those changes. With clarity we are also able to perceive the world with fresh eyes and we may come to the conclusion that our situation is not right and we need to change our relationships, our job and interests as well as our habits.

Change is never easy and I have met some people who regretted changing their lives for the better because it forced them to make decisions that they did not want to make. Life was hard before but then it seems to get harder and more complicated as we set higher standards for ourselves and adopt principles that others cannot accept. They must choose and so must we.

I know the sting of disillusionment very well. It seems I have gone through life anticipating disillusionment with people, place and circumstance. As an alcoholic it is to be expected, we tend to project perfection on everything but ourselves and when things don’t go our way we become resentful and allocate blame.

In sobriety however we apply principles that underpin our recovery. This requires objectivity and the acceptance of reality, we no longer live in a fool paradise but see things as they are. If a relationship is healthy we value it, if a relationship is toxic we do not lie to ourselves and claim that it is “fine”. We stick to our principles and the number one principle is  rigorous honesty with self and others.

The Jedi Method

Disclaimer, I can’t and I won’t give relationship advice, that is not my intent here. The point is simply to avoid knowingly being dishonest with ourselves and others. This of course means that sometimes we must make painful decisions. Let us not forget that the intent of the 12 Steps is to recover. One of the steps requires that we seek to make amends where it would not cause harm to self or others (Step 9). This means we must review our life in an objective and honest manner and determine what our intent is before deciding on an action. The Real World Jedi provide a solution to this conundrum in the Jedi Method (Trout, 2012).

Jedi Intent + Jedi Action = Jedi Outcome

Intent

What is our motivation behind any decision? Is it selfish, self centred or self seeking? Is our intent virtuous? Are we being objective and reasoned? If the intent is in accordance with our personal system of values then it is usually on solid ground.

 

Action

Deciding what to actually do in any situation will be largely determined by the desired outcome. The adage “means do not justify the ends” applies; one cannot undertake a course of action that is reprehensible, unlawful or unethical even in the name of a noble cause. We cannot take a course of action at the expense of others unless it is wholly justified. This principle can be hard to swallow but for us it is paramount for our sobriety. Any action we take we can sleep comfortably with and not have to justify to ourselves or others.

 

Outcome

Working out the outcome can be difficult. Take a scenario, a person is in an unhappy relationship at home. She has quit drinking and is maintaining her sobriety, her partner quit for a while but relapsed and continues to get drunk. She has tried to get him to go to meetings but he won’t and doesn’t want her to either. This places an inordinate amount of pressure on the relationship. One is working, the other is spending and not working and arguments are making an unhappy household worse.

The person in recovery decides enough is enough, no more begging, no more excuses or tears. She is grabbing her stuff and walking out. In my view the intent is solid, the action is reasonable under the circumstances but the outcome is largely unknown. That is, we may know the short term outcome but what of the long-term consequences, the direct and indirect impacts?

Will he improve in her absence? Does this mean life will get harder for her now being single and homeless? There are consequences for every action which is why it is important to carefully consider every possible outcome before proceeding. The mistake is to abandon the cause because of the fear of uncertainty, we must be agile enough to adapt without compromising our principles. Sometimes we have to take a difficult course of action that serves our best interests we can still make sure that decision is consistent with our values.

 

Setting Priorities

In my world there are three main priorities they are the “The Force”, Sobriety, Family. If I lose my faith in my Higher Power and forget that my recovery is a daily reprieve contingent on the maintenance of my spiritual condition I will drink again and lose my sobriety. If I lose my sobriety I ultimately lose my family, job, home and health. I can however lose my family, job, home,health and family without losing my sobriety because it is not contingent on those things, it is contingent on my Faith.

One of the reasons Anakin lost the plot was because he had his priorities upside down and feared losing the things he loved. Unable to be honest with himself or others he was easy prey to the Dark Side. We can never be certain if the Jedi Council were aware of his marriage to Padme Amidala, another deception which came at a price. The tragedy is that lies and deception destroyed them all. Its a recurring theme in mythology, in Star Wars and sometimes in real Life.

My focus then is working on what I need to stay mentally, physically and spiritually fit and sober. In recovery we only really have three things that are ours to keep or lose; our mind, our Faith and our choice. Everything else is largely out of our control. That doesn’t mean that we should not care about what we treasure in our lives but we should always keep eyes open and to quote Larry King on RT; Question More.

Ask the Right Questions and Demand the Right Answers” – Larry King

Friends and Fools

Who’s more foolish, the fool or the fool who follows him?” – Obi-Wan Kenobi “Episode IV: The New Hope”.

Most parents take an active interest in who their children hang out with. They know from experience that the people they choose to spend time with and call friends will ultimately shape their character. If we are honest we can still hear our parents mumbling misgivings about some of our friends and admit they were right. We chose to ignore their advice thinking we had our friends worked out and besides they wouldn’t do anything to betray us. Until they did. The old question remains, who is the more foolish, the fool or the fool who follows?

The Fool

For some reason I seemed to attract a lot of bad characters when I was a kid. Everyone said I was smart so why did I fall in with the wrong crowd and bring bad attention my way; surely I was smarter than that? For some reason everyone also seemed to breath a sigh of relief when it was known I’d run off and joined the Army. Except for my Father that is; he had been an “expert judge of character”, so why did he hand around dead beats? Simple answer, he used them and “birds of a feather do flock together”.

In my case I was an impressionable young fool seeking an example to look up to. I was easily led. It’s a common theme with boys in a society where Fathers are facing an identity crisis and seen as having a diminished role in their children’s upbringing.

Regardless of the underlying causes such as alcoholism and violence in the home, unemployment and crime in the neighborhood and peer pressure at school, the common theme between everyone I knew that fell in with the wrong crowd was an absent Father. It is simply the inherent need to belong to something that pushes us in to the arms of fools. That is why kids that end up in crime gangs, joining extremist groups or doing drugs and alcohol are usually the ones with dead beat or absent Dads.

So in the military I found discipline and purpose but I also found belonging. I also found alcohol. Led by a need to feel accepted in the ultimate boys club I learned how to drink and as a result began the long spiral towards alcoholism. I was the greater fool for falling for it.

“Do not be misled, bad company corrupts good character” – I Corinthians 15:33

Friends v’s Drinking Pals

In taking the first steps in to recovery we start to enjoy a moment of clarity. We see what Fools we were and how we made a mess of things. Given a new lease on life we resolve to do things differently. Before we had been sailing blind, we knew where we wanted to go but were too foolish to take advice on how to get there. In recovery we open our selves up to learn from our past. One of the things we learn is that we have been a fool led by other fools for a long time.

One of the key things we consider during recovery is our choice of friends. Are they real friends or just drinking pals? Some of us are blessed to be surrounded by a supportive group of friends and family who enrich us and care about us. Some of us are alone or have few friends either by choice or circumstance. The rest are in their predicament partly because of the people they associate with. The question to ask in recovery is what do I keep and what do I let go? Very often we need only search our heart for the truth. As painful as it is we must let go of people who no longer serve our purpose in life or match our values.

Breaking off

One of the toughest decisions most of us make in choosing sobriety is deciding to break off relationships that are toxic or detrimental to our recovery. I see the issue raised often in the recovery forums; “I really don’t want to drink tonight but my friends have invited me to a party”. True friends respect our decision  not to drink and they support us.

A poor choice of a friend will try to talk you in to doing something you know is not right. In my opinion if you are in this predicament, ask yourself is it more important to make your friends happy and go drinking with them or stay sober? If your friends respect your decision and support you, they are friends worth having.

I moved around a lot as a kid and then grace of alcohol I never learned to develop true and meaningful friendships of the type that never age. Most of my friends were drinking buddies, the common love of getting mutually wasted and shenanigans kept the friendship vital but shallow. Take the booze and parties out of the equation and there was nothing left, just a sketchy myriad of recollections that resemble the “Hangover” movies.

If I meet my old Drinking Pals now the interaction is awkward. I guess we all grow up eventually. In the interceding years I missed the whole formula for creating meaningful friendships based on mutual trust, respect and interest. That’s the inglorious reality of booze; you are fooled the whole time.

An intelligent man is sometimes forced to be drunk to spend time with his fools.” – Ernest Hemingway

No Fool

In the separation of friends and drinking buddies we can feel lonely and alienated as our circle diminishes. Take comfort that we have raised ourselves above the level of fools and are left with keepers. No longer do we keep ourselves fooled we have taken a step in being honest with ourselves and others.

We have stopped fooling others by showing our genuine self. By being recovered I am someone new to the people I once got drunk with. Not the guy they thought they knew, but the real me. They recognize me but they don’t. Some no longer want to drink and they resent me for the fact that I remind them that they won’t change. Others approach me and ask what I did and decide they want what I have, sobriety.

Each person has a choice, almost daily, on who they want as their friends. For some there is no greater treasure than the dearest of friends. Others are happy with a great many friends. Others prefer to keep a small company of friends. Choose the company of friends that enrich your life, who you enjoy, whom you inspire and are inspired by. Most of all be content in your own company. Be your own best friend.

Associate yourself with people of good quality, for it is better to be alone than in bad company.” – Booker T Washington

Obi-Wan Kenobi was not a loner and he was no sociopath, he had a keen sense of humor, a keen intellect and was a good judge of character. He was also a Jedi who was as comfortable in his own company as well as in the company of others.

The question “Who’s more foolish, the fool or the fool who follows him?”  was a rhetorical one that fooled Han Solo but not Chewbacca*. Perhaps Obi-Wan was a little unfair on Han Solo in the beginning, after all the Commander of the Millennium Falcon did prove himself more than once in the end. Han Solo was certainly no fool even if at times he was foolhardy.

*In the scene Chewbacca clearly says “The Fool” in response to Obi-wan Kenobi’s question.

Love

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

One Word

Of all the words in existence the the word used to mean “Love” carries the most meaning to people.

What is Love? What does it mean? Countless songs, poems and stories have been written about it. Most of us intuitively know it but few can articulate in words what it is even to themselves. We know how it feels and we also know that Love comes in different flavors.

The Fictional Jedi were forbidden to love another in the ordinary sense. They were in fact expected to Love all sentient beings. The key role of the Jedi was service to others. Buddhism carries the same precept called “Loving Kindness” (Mettā). A Buddhist seeking enlightenment does so for the benefit of all sentients, so that they may be released from samsara, the eternal karmic cycle of life and death. Enlightenment is not sought for the benefit of the Bodhisattva but for all to ease suffering (Dukkha). Yoda and Obi-Wan Kenobi demonstrated a similar commitment when they abandoned the “crude matter” of their bodies and surrendered their souls, bringing balance to the Force.

The goal of Jedi Philosophy is to provide the path for people seeking to improve themselves. We realize that the way to achieve fulfillment and happiness is through service to others. Selfless service and giving of self requires Love not love.

World betterment through self betterment” – Kevin Trout “The Jedi Circle”

Love and love

Love with a capital “L” is unconditional Love. It is the Love that transcends personal concerns and the Ego. Love is all embracing, liberating, all forgiving, all encompassing, omnipotent and omnipresent. It binds all of creation together. It atones completely and sets free. All life is an expression of the Force. Love is the Force.

The Love of a mother for her child, the love of sacrificing one’s life for another, the love between comrades in arms and the deep and enduring love between two people that transcends the physical and life. That is unconditional Love.

Are you allowed to love? I thought that was forbidden for a Jedi.” – Padme Amidala “Episode II: Attack of the Clones”

When Padmé Amidala challenged Anakin on his capacity to Love another she was right but she was also wrong. Anakin could not attach to carnal love but he could express unconditional Love.

Love with a lower case “l” is called ordinary love. It binds, controls and fears loss. Jealousy is harbored in ordinary love and grasping attachment keeps it moored there. Ordinary love cannot sail, it is not free and it is controlled by the Ego.

Love as Suffering

It was the ordinary love that destroyed Anakin. The attachment and fear of losing Padme, his wife and the anger that burned in him was exploited by the Dark Lord. Unconditional Love would have allowed Anakin to set Padme free and defeat Darth Sidious. Instead he chose to control something that cannot be controlled and lost it all.

Anakin also loved Obi-Wan Kenobi like a Father. Perhaps because he never had a Father and had lost his mother Anakin grasped at anything that gave him meaning. It was a need that consumed him and others. As an Orphan myself I can appreciate the pain, fear and anger, the grasping attachment.

Why do I get the feeling you’re going to be the death of me?” – Obi-Wan Kenobi

Don’t say that Master… You’re the closest thing I have to a father… I love you. I don’t want to cause you pain. ” – Anakin “Episode III: Revenge of the Sith”

Obi-Wan Kenobi also loved Anakin but he was able to fight him because of that Love. I can only surmise that Obi-Wan’s pity and compassion for what little remained of his friend prevented him from slaying Anakin on the lava flows of Mustafa. Anakin was dead already and only Darth Vader remained. Obi-Wan felt unconditional Love for what was left of his beloved friend and could not take Life in such a way no matter how twisted and evil it was.

In the fight between Love and Hate, Love will prevail.

In the final confrontation between Luke and Darth Vader on the Death Star II it was unconditional Love that reunites Father and Son and destroyed the Dark Lord. Love does conquer all.

False Love

Alcoholism was the Dark Side in my life. Love was a word I used but it was not real. We may feel what we believe is Love but it is only an object that we desire and grasp on to. Love that is grasped and bound cannot breath and it cannot last.

“I can’t live without you”, “I need you”, “You complete me, I’m nothing without you”, “You belong to me”, “I hurt you because I love you” were the kinds of words I used. In reality I only loved myself and the bottle. I would choose booze over the feelings of others. Love in thought does not match Love in action.

We weep at love lost because it was never about the other person but what we wanted and were attached to. Addiction does not allow unconditional Love to flow. It stifles it.

If you love someone, set them free.” – Richard Bach

Love sets Free

I found Unconditional Love in the most unexpected place. In the mental and psychic black hold of “Rock Bottom” I imagined myself dying in suffering, self pity and self hate. I called for help and my Higher Power saved me and set me free from my addiction. It was unconditional Love that bought me back to sanity and in to recovery.

The feeling glowed within me for days. I felt like I had the deepest Love for all things. Every rock, tree and animal I saw, every person I passed I felt unconditional Love for. I believe I had transcended to another dimension of existence. At the fundamental level we are spiritual beings having a human experience and we are all made of unconditional Love.

In the rooms you feel compassion and Love for the fellow suffering alcoholic. You feel it when you see those that suffer. It is not pity, it is unconditional Love. Our Ego is the only filter, the only limitation to that pure Love.

In recovery we learn who we were, who we are and who we will likely be if we stay on the beam. Love like spiritually is a personal journey. We can seek advice on affairs of the heart but it is up to each of us how to use our intrinsic capacity to love. Love is who you are so you can’t go wrong.

I believe that Love never dies. We take it with us. The ego dies and so does ordinary love but Love with a capital L is eternal.

Love, not time, heals all wounds” – Anonymous

Brother’s Keeper

You were my Brother Anakin, I loved you!” – Obi-wan Kenobi (The Revenge of the Sith).

The Padawan – Master relationship as depicted in the Star Wars fiction was a special one. The bond that formed between Padawan and Master was more than professional; it was a strong and unbreakable partnership that transcended normal boundaries. The Padawan relied on the Master for mentorship and guidance on the Jedi Path but also in every aspect of living as a Jedi. The Master protected the Padawan to the risk of his own life and the Padawan did all she could to support her Master. Over time the bond became great and an affection and love evolved transcending even death.

When Yoda assigned Ahsoka Tano to Anakin he knew that the Jedi Knight would do all he could to resist being encumbered by a young Padawan. Yoda knew that Anakin needed to take on a Padawan to teach and mentor for his own good. By watching over someone with less experience than he, Anakin would learn patience, compassion and empathy. Anakin would also have to face attachment as Yoda knew that he would eventually grow fond of his Padawan and be reluctant to let her go.

Obi-wan Kenobi had watched Anakin grow and had taken him through the academy on Coruscant and then taught him to be a Jedi in the field. In that time, Obi-wan considered Anakin as a brother. Despite Jedi training in non-attachment, Obi-wan grew attached to Anakin. In time a similar relationship would grow between Ahsoka Tano and Anakin. The many differences, disagreements, competitive nature and strong personalities between the two ensured that a strong “Brother-Sister” bond would form.

Brother’s Keeper

In the Army I first learned the concept of “Brother’s Keeper”.  It is also a term I hear today out on the Rigs. In the Army, all of my buddies were “Brothers”. Some of us had come through boot camp together and had been posted to the same battalion. The others had arrived at different times. Some had been there for months, some for years.

In the beginning “F***n New Guys” were treated like crap. We got the short end of every situation and assigned the crappiest details. In the field we were given extra guard, got the latrine duties and were “volunteered” for the worst tasks. You cleaned your weapon and then got all the support weapons to clean too and maybe the NCO’s. You got extra guard duty and less sleep. At the end of the day you accepted it, the biggest mistake you could make was to shirk your duties or complain. You took it with a grin.

Months passed and something happened; new guys arrived to replace those who had moved on and the pressure dropped off. All of the sudden you start to get treated differently. They cut you slack at last, you began to feel accepted. You had started to prove your worth.

More time passes and you go out on long exercises and then you might deploy. The fragile bonds that had existed previously now get stronger. The shared experience of discomfort, pain, hunger, fatigue and fear create an indelible bond that transcends normal friendships.

You know the guy next to you more than your own brother back home. You call him all sorts of names and occasionally trade blows but you love him like a Brother and share everything. If you had to you would lay down your life for him and you know he would do the same. This is “Brother’s Keeper”. There is nothing like it in the “real” world that comes close outside of family with the exception of the Police and Emergency services.

“I watch you, you watch me”

On the Rigs “Brother’s Keeper” is a term they used for safety. There are three types of safety in the workplace. The first is “I expect you to look after me”, this is called dependence. The second is “I look after me”, this is independence, the most common form you see “safety is your responsibility”. The third and most mature evolution is “we look after each other”, I watch your back and everyone else. This is known as “Brother’s Keeper” and it is the norm in the highly dangerous environment of the industry. It is the closest thing I have found to the warrior-brother bond outside in the civilian world.

Survivors on a Life Raft

There is one exception where “Brother’s Keeper” applies and that is in the rooms and halls of recovery. In recovery we are not in isolation. There are millions of others who also suffer. Every time I meet an alcoholic in recovery, someone who has gone through the same wringer as me and hit “rock bottom” but found his or her way out, I feel a sense that this is my brother or sister. We are united by a common bond of shared experience, despair and hope. The relationship that exists between the Sponsor and Sponsee embarking on the 12 Steps can also be powerful. There is mutual trust, respect and need.

But there exists among us a fellowship, friendliness, and an understanding which is indescribably wonderful. We are like the passengers of a great liner the moment after rescue from shipwreck when camaraderie, joyousness and democracy pervade the vessel from steerage to Captain’s table. Unlike the feelings of the ship’s passengers, however, our joy in escape from disaster does not subside as we go our individual ways. The feeling of having shared in a common peril is one element in the powerful cement which binds us. But that in itself would never have held us together as we are now joined” – The Big Book Chapter 2.

More than 25 years after leaving the Army I still feel a strong bond to my “Brothers in Arms”. It is unspoken and never celebrated openly but it is tangible during the rare times we reconnect. Years may have passed, people change but we remember what it was like and how we relied on each other to get through. I now rely on the recovery community for the inspiration and strength to help guide me through the high and lows of my journey to recovery. They are my “Brothers Keeper” and I am theirs.