Hate

Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering.” Yoda

“Strike me in anger and I will always be with you” – Luke Skywalker

 

Hatred is a powerful emotion. Unlike anger which is a transitory emotion eventually burning out, hatred will endure the test of time and be as potent as the day it rose. I have personally seen and felt the results of ethnic and religious hatred that had lay buried beneath the surface for generations simmering but never extinguished finally exploding into life. Entire communities wiped out, former neighbors and friends turned enemies ready to slaughter each other with impunity.

Hatred flows in the blood. Hate is a living thing; it is passed on like a curse from one generation to the next. Endless wars and bloodshed are fueled by Hatred.

More than a quarter of a century ago I went to my Father’s homeland. The country was tearing itself apart in an orgy of ethnic and religious hatred that shocked the world. In that beautiful country I was surrounded by people who hated “them” and wanted to see “them” suffer a cruel fate. I belonged to an ethnic group that had a historic vendetta against another group who shared the same language, history and culture but had been at war for centuries.

Standing there none of it made sense to me. It seemed insane. I began to question the war and my own motives. Rather than take up arms I decided not to add to the insanity seeking instead to work with Aid groups. I could not find any animosity or hatred in me for an entire people based on their ethnicity.

 

Affliction

People do cruel and obscene things to each other out of Hate. Sometimes these acts are done without a hint of anger or pride. Hatred is justification enough for torture, murder, rape, genocide. The very emotion removes all humanity and commonality with the object of ones hatred. To Hate is to separate.

Wrath, the ultimate manifestation of Hatred is considered a deadly sin because of its raw and total destructiveness that eventually and utterly consumes itself to oblivion.

Hatred is a uniquely human emotion. There is no other creature in existence that knows hate. Animals will display anger, aversion, fear and aggression but never deep rooted hate waiting to spring in to acts. Why is that? What is the possible evolutionary advantage of being capable of and having the potential for Hate?

Why do I still feel resentment, righteous indignation and  sometimes even hate towards others?

 

You have hate, you have anger, but you don’t use them.” – Count Dooku

 

 

With Extreme Prejudice

In the Army they taught us to “Hate” the enemy, whoever they decided it was at the time. The reason was simple. Killing another human being is much easier if you hate them. You will no longer see the enemy as a fellow human being who shares the same hopes, fears and dreams as you filtered through the lens of hate.

In the course of the training the Hate grows. You learn to hate the instructors and senior ranks because they treat you with cruelty and contempt. In turn you turn that Hate on others. Eventually war gives you an outlet and a target for that hate. Aggression and a willingness to do violence are multiplied through hate.

People are not naturally primed to kill. Killing is not in our nature. The mental and spiritual barriers that prevents a human from killing another is broken down by Hate. A person might kill out of the pure instinctual drive to survive or in a fit of rage where all sense and reason is momentarily lost. Hatred, on the other hand, provides the “sense” and the “reason” for committing the worst of atrocities.

I Hate You!” – Anakin

I Loved You!” – Obi-wan Kenobi

 

 

Consumed

Anakin was driven to the Dark Side through the hatred that grew within him like some insidious tumor. The fire of Mustufar ravaged his body but hatred utterly consumed his soul.

Anakin’s Grandson, Kylo Ren, suffered the same affliction. Ren’s hatred was so deep that he became a psychopath. Hatred had driven Luke to almost kill his nephew Ben Solo. Believing himself entitled to Justice Kylo Ren derived sadistic pleasure and satisfaction in hunting and murdering those who had been close to him, who had hurt him. Hatred spurned him on but as it grew deeper it consumed him.

Anakin driven to insanity and complete loss of identity with his transformation to Vader suffered deeply. Vader was tortured physically, mentally and spiritually with every breath. The Hatred was complete and transmutated itself into raw power. The Dark Side. Vader no longer hated anyone or anything other than himself and his Master. In Vader lay no festering ordinary hatred. There was only a will to control all that is within a closed fist of absolute power. All of Vader’s intent was directed there.

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that” – Martin Luther King

 

The Insanity

Alcoholism leads to Hatred. An alcoholic not only feels regret, remorse and disgust at their behavior but also deep seated Hate. The Hate can be all consuming. Our disease, other people and especially the self are all objects of our Hate. Refusing to take blame for our condition we lay it on others and our resentment turns to Hate. I wanted to hurt others when my hate grew so big but most of all I wanted to hurt myself. There is absolutely no logic or reason to it, but to the alcoholic is makes perfect sense.

In short it’s a form of insanity.

A man can feel both love and hate in his heart and still function. Alcohol distorts everything. The sufferer will love and hate more passionately but in a way that seems unreal. The disease afflicts our view of the world and twists emotions in such a way that we no longer resemble the person we once were. Nothing is normal and everything is to excess.

 

“Darkness is a lower energy than light, and when you bring light to the presence of darkness you don’t have to warn it, you don’t have to tell it that it has to get away. It can’t survive. Light dissolves darkness. And so does love dissolve hate and so does joy dissolve sadness and so does faith dissolve doubt and so on” – Wayne Dyer

 

 

Water

Recently a friend told me about the “memory of water”. The controversial theory is that water retains a memory of what resided within it. Water will also store the vibrational energy of emotions directed towards it. The idea sounds fanciful and experiments which have attempted to demonstrate the theory have been unable to be replicated using scientific method.

As a believer in the Force I have to agree that every action, word, thought and emotion carries potential energy. Hate and Love each carry energy. One is dark and the other is light. Love fosters and upholds life while Hate brings war and destruction. Both emotions have consequences.

I attempted to replicate the experiment at home to test the memory of water. Every morning for the first week I woke up and filled my mind with negative thoughts. Suitably wrapped in a foul mood I approached a glass of water on my desk and said the following words; “I hate you! Die! Kill! War!”. I poured all of my malice and anger in to the glass and walked away. Strangely enough the rest of the day did not go well for me. I repeated this every day for a week. By the end of it I was tired and edgy.

I allowed two weeks to pass and poured a new glass of water. This time I paused on awakening to fill my mind with positive thoughts. I approached the glass of water brimming with optimism and said to it “Love, Peace, Calm”. This I repeated every day for a week and sure enough my week went better than during the previous experiment.

What was the final outcome of the experiment? The first glass of water seemed discolored and tasted tepid and stale at the end of the week. It was unpleasant to drink and I felt slightly nauseous afterwards. The second glass of water exposed to loving emotions was fresh and tasted good. I felt no ill effects. As compelling as it seemed it was also inconclusive.

Obviously my experiment was not undertaken using scientific rigor. Any number of variables could have affected the outcome. The fact remain however that if we go through life carrying negative emotions such as Hate it does affects our mental and physical health. In turn Hate cascades in to every aspect of our lives, affecting our relationships and our potential. Hate literally poisons life.

Hate begets hate; violence begets violence; toughness begets a greater toughness. We must meet the forces of hate with the power of love.” – Martin Luther King

 

Power of Love

As children we learn to Love before we learn to Hate. Within our true self resides unbounded Love. That is why when we carry Hate we know that it is not who we are. It feels unnatural and heavy like a sickness within us. The feeling of “righteous indignation” and anger it gives us is shallow and leaves us feeling hollow and in conflict with who we truly are.

When we open our eyes to the illusion of Hate, it becomes exposed for what it is. Hate is a wall that separates us completely from our inner divine more than any emotion. Hate separates us from our true nature and from other people. Like a cancer it grows and ultimately it destroys us from the inside out. If you strike with hatred in your heart it will stay with you forever like a dark stain.

Love conquers Hate. It was an act of Love that redeemed and saved Anakin from his living hell. Love stayed Luke’s hand from inflicting a fatal blow on Ben Solo. Luke invited Kylo Ren to strike him down but warned him to do so with Hate would afflict him forever. Perhaps Love will be the final act which will save Kylo Ren and bring order to the Force.

 

Hatred does not cease by hatred, but only by love; this is the eternal rule” – Buddha

 

I’m done with Hate and you should be too. Hate begets hate. Love begets love. Meditate on that.

Jedi avoid acting on Anger

Jedi avoid acting on dark side emotions like fear, anger, aggression and hate.

We can’t control which emotions we will feel, but we can always choose to control our actions. We might feel anger from time to time, but we don’t have to act on that feeling of anger or rage.

 

A Sword

Anger is a double edged sword. The emotion is primal and inherent in our nature. Anger triggers an adrenal reaction in the face of a threat. As a biological creature we are primed to use anger to compete successfully and to survive. As a rational human being anger also serves to motivate change. For example, revolution is a societal reaction to common anger. Had it not been for anger among the masses there would never have been a French Revolution or an American War of Independence. Both historic events ushered in a world hunger for social justice and democracy. Anger can be beneficial, even essential to the human condition.

Controlled aggression is the tool used in the Martial Arts and by Soldiers to counter and defeat an opponent. There is a line between controlled aggression and cruel savagery. As Jedi we know not to cross it. Sometimes that line becomes blurred and we risk crossing in to the darker side of our natures.

Anger is a short madness.” – Horace

 

A Madness

Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned”- Buddha

I have seen the other side of the anger. There is a reason why it is one letter from Danger. Anger is a poison which does more damage to the vessel which carries it than on which it is poured.

Unfettered anger can lead us to do terrible things. It can cause us to make the greatest and most memorable speeches we will later regret. In moments it can destroy a lifetime of effort, love and creation in a torrent of catabolic rage. In the biblical parable it was jealousy which turned Cain against Abel but anger which led to murder. Anger has been the trumpet call for countless wars, genocides and murders. The madness continues unabated.

 

Born to Anger

Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering” – Yoda

The character emotion of Anakin through the prequels was Anger. Anakin was angry at fate and what it had put his family through. For years he held resentment against those who had enslaved him. Anakin hated himself for being unable to save his Mother. Eventually the Jedi became his object of anger and hatred. The dark emotions consumed him and carried him to the Dark Side where he submitted to Darth Sidious and suffered as Vader.

I inherited my Father’s anger as he inherited his Father’s before him. Anger runs through the paternal side of the family. It is an emotion embedded in our make up and carried in our souls. They are an angry people made to suffer in the crucible of the heart of the Balkans.

Centuries of war and occupation by brutal Ottoman occupiers who enslaved the population, forced conversions and removed children for the Janissary was passed down from one generation to the next as a deep anger and bitter hatred that fueled ethnic and religious divisions, war and genocide.  I saw that country explode in to war in the early 90’s and was horrified by the expression of raw anger and hatred between former neighbors and friends.

The pure savagery of the war still haunts me to this day. Entire communities on all sides were wiped out. Whole families snuffed out including relatives. I lamented the war but I understood the anger that fueled it. That anger was in me like some curse. It still simmers there in that old country.

“How much more grievous are the consequences of anger than the causes of it”. – Marcus Aurelius

 

A Heavy Burden

Anger took me to alcohol and kept me in her clutches. The promise that it would ease the pain of loss and history were false. Alcohol made it worse. Anger and seething resentment cast a dark cloud over the brightest days. It would simmer and occasionally boil over.

I lived in perpetual fear at what I might do if it exploded in to blind rage and consume the people around me. The memories of seeing anger and hatred in its worst shades would haunt me. My own anger lay brooding within and it remains there to this day buried deeper than it was before.

Men in rage strike those that wish them best” – Shakespeare

 

Its not Enough

Being sober is one thing. Everyone thinks that abstaining from alcohol is enough. Everything else must fall in to place and life will be rosy thereafter. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Take away our substance, our addiction and we lose our physical crutch. The spiritual must fill the hole that is left behind otherwise it is soon replaced with fear, anger and hatred. This is exactly what happened to my Father.

An alcoholic, my Father quit drinking and became a dry drunk. Unable and unwilling to accept the self honesty and humility required, my Father’s anger and hatred consumed him. At times his anger would terrorize and control I and my siblings. We lived in fear of physical and emotional harm.

That anger drove us away. One later took his own life, the rest of us survived as best we could. My Father later died with that anger a skid row drunk, alone and embittered. We still carry that ancient anger within us but we chose to stop the cycle. The anger will not be passed on. There is no need for the sins of the Father to be visited on the son. Love heals anger.

If we were to live, we had to be free of anger. The grouch and the brainstorm were not for us. They may be the dubious luxury of normal men, but for alcoholics these things are poison.”

— Alcoholics Anonymous

 

The Red Flag

Anger is a red flag for the recovering alcoholic for everyone else it is the “convenient emotion”. Of all the emotions which will carry me back to drinking and using, anger and resentment are the most dangerous.

I still get angry. It is a normal emotion and a normal reaction to certain situations in life. We would be foolish to laugh off something that any normal person would claim righteous anger. The difference is that we choose how to respond to anger as we do any other emotion. That’s a normal response to anger.

Do we act out our anger in destructive ways or do we carefully consider a proportionate response knowing that forgiveness and compassion might be one option. If anger visits us for trivialities such as a minor slight like a rude remark or a spilled drink do we allow it to affect our mood or simply brush it off as an event not worth an elevated heart rate?

Know what ticks you off. Manage your response to those triggers. Take time out when you feel your anger rising and find ways to stay calm and in control through relaxation and mindfulness techniques. Seek professional help if anger is derailing your life and relationships.

Remember Anger is our birthright as a species. It will serve us well if we use it wisely. Anger can also be terrible tool capable of the most heinous acts. Whether we use Anger to build or destroy bridges and light wild fires is largely up to each of us. The world is a very angry place now and mostly for the wrong reasons. Do we add to that global anger? We all have a choice in how we use this blessing and curse of being human.

The sharpest sword is a word spoken in wrath”. – Buddha

Fools Rush In

No! Unfortunate that you rushed to face him… that incomplete was your training. Not ready for the burden were you.” – Yoda

In “The Empire Strikes Back” Luke Skywalker departs Dagobah against the advice of his teacher and mentor Yoda. Luke is driven by the need to help his friends and seeks to confront the evil that is Darth Vader. At this time Luke is unaware of the truth about Darth Vader, he is untrained and mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually unprepared for the challenge he has set himself. All of this matters not to Luke, like his father Anakin, he has a strong will and wants to prove himself. There is the compulsion in him to rush things and reach his goals before he is ready. In the Cloud City of Bespin Luke is lured in to a trap and meeting Darth Vader learns the terrible truth of his past before narrowly escaping. The revelation nearly destroys Luke.

Later in “The Return of the Jedi” Luke returns to Dagobah seeking to resume his training and finds there a frail Yoda, close to death. Luke broaches the subject of his Father and it is revealed that indeed Darth Vader is his Father, Anakin. Yoda then admonishes Luke that he was bound to fail in his confrontation with Vader, he was unprepared and not ready for the strong psychological and spiritual burden of knowing the truth and resisting the Dark Side. Yoda reminds Luke that sometimes in life we must realize we have much to learn and farther to go in our personal growth before we are ready to enter the next stage of our life.

The Stages of Life

Life happens in stages. We all know this. Babies are born and grow, Children bloom in to Teens and young Adults and then enter Adulthood. Eventually they find their chosen profession, find a partner and perhaps begin a family. Along the way they reach and surpass typical milestones in life mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually. Eventually their own kids grow up and leave the nest and they enter in to the middle years of life possibly with Grandkid. There is retirement and contemplation and eventually the twilight years before succumbing to old age. That is how an “ideal” or “typical” life is meant to look, or so we are told.

The life experience of one person will differ to another. This can be due to a range of factors including age, gender, cultural upbringing and education. We may find ourselves getting impatient with other people or disagree with their views. Often times we have to consider that they may be at a stage in their life which we have passed or yet to reach. We have to make allowances for that. Remember that life is a progression, a journey in which we learn and grow over time often in stages. Sometimes we guide others, like our kids and sometimes we take advice from those with more life experience and wisdom than us.

It takes a long time to bring excellence to maturity.” – Publilius Syrus

Growing Up

Everyone ages and matures at a different rate. I have met 16 year old kids living in less developed countries who were more mature and grounded than some middle age professionals I have encountered in the corporate rate race. Maturity does not necessarily correlate  with age, position, address or size of pay check. Indeed as an active alcoholic I was emotionally and socially immature, a child in a man’s body. I stopped growing as a person once I started to rely on alcohol as a social stimulant and then a requirement. That did not stop me from being relatively functional but I needed booze to function. In sobriety I discovered that I lacked the basic tools to interact with people and handle situations normally. The crutch had been removed and I had to learn to stand on my own two feet with nothing more than a basic comprehension of a program for recovery and an even dimmer understanding of the concept of a ‘Higher Power”.

“Every difficulty in life presents us with an opportunity to turn inward and to invoke our own submerged inner resources. The trials we endure can and should introduce us to our strengths.” – Epictetus

I would not expect someone who has just hit rock bottom and looking for a way out of alcoholism to know everything there is to know about recovery. It takes time, patience, effort and a lot of faith to build the experience, knowledge, wisdom and skills required to attain “contented sobriety”. Deciding after 6 weeks of “white knuckled” abstinence that we are cured is deceiving one’s self. We can try to test that idea and perhaps get away with it but it is a huge gamble and one that rarely pays off in the long run. Believe me I tried.

The Long Curve

There are many things in life which present as a steep learning curve, parenting is one of them, bringing a baby home for the first time can seem daunting and even terrifying to new parents. There is all this stuff you have to do and know that no one tells you about and the books don’t even mention. Nothing prepares you for it. Babies don’t wait if they are hungry or need a diaper changed or run a fever for us to figure it out the first time.  By child number two you are a bit more settled and after that it’s a doddle. Now you are a veteran in child raising and you look at new parents going through the same steep learning curve and you smile knowingly. Parenting is stressful but most parents cope fine and learn a lot about themselves. Recovery is sort of the same, it is a learning curve but it’s not steep, its long and its all up hill.

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit”. – Aristotle

Fools Rush In

One of the things I learned is that we cannot rush our recovery. There is no well defined point that can be reached where one declares “That’s it! I’m cured”. To take the view that a cure exists is to decide there might be short cuts and seek arrival at the desired destination of a subjective “normalcy” sooner. This is called the merry-go-round approach to life. We may change seats and try different ways of but we are still on the same ride and nothing changes.

What is “normal” anyway? Some would argue for alcoholics it is the ability to “take it or leave it” and to respond to life in an appropriate and proportionate manner. I am recovered but I will never be fully recovered and being honest would not even be able to define what “recovered” is. If I make it to the end of the day in a better condition than yesterday it’s a win.

The important thing to remember is that although we can claim the power to recover, we remain powerless over alcohol but we are never powerless to act. Many people might dispute this and claim a definitive cure but I err on the side of caution and set the cardinal rule as it applies to my addiction. I may be ready to take up a lot of challenges in life now and in the future but I will never be able to drink normally again. I won’t make the same mistake that Luke did and rush in to confront my addiction by feeding it.

Wise men say, Only Fools Rush in” – Elvis Presley

 Reaching Victory

Will I ever reach a stage in my life where I can claim victory? If recovery is a journey where the final destination is the end of life then it would be fair to say yes. If I can reach the end of life without having relapsed in to who I was before and can hopefully look back on a life “well lived” and accept death with equanimity, that is a victory in my book. There is no desire in me to declare a “cure” and return to drinking or arrive at a point that can be defined as “happily ever after“. I would not return to the illusion if I could, even if assured of being able to indulge without fear or anything worse than a hangover. That is a sane and a mature approach to something as insane as addiction. Live on life’s terms.

The final battle between Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader provides a lesson in victory. Surrendering control, accepting what is, embracing reality and letting go of what does not serve through action leads us there:

Luke Skywalker departs Dagobah and on the Planet Endor surrenders to Darth Vader. Taken to the Death Star II Luke is tempted to the Dark Side by Darth Sidious. The Emperor forces Luke to  battle Darth Vader and urges his to succumb to anger. Luke has grown and is able to resist falling to the Dark Side. His actions ultimately save his father and destroy the Dark Lord. Like Luke we must be willing to confront our own darker side not by use of force or resistance but by surrendering to what is, accepting who we are, embracing change and finally letting go. That is the path to victory. Luke had reached the end of his training and could now call himself a Jedi.

There is no “happily ever after” but Luke does find some closure, for now.

There must be a beginning of any great matter, but the continuing unto the end until it be thoroughly finished yields the true glory.”- Sir Frances Drake

Needs

 Maslow’s Theory

The theory of motivational needs by Maslow states that there is a hierarchy which must be ascended like a ladder in order for an individual to achieve higher level needs. Simply stated, basic needs like food, water, shelter must be met first. The need for a safe and secure environment is followed by the need to be in healthy relationships, family and friends. The self worth of a person, their self esteem is also a need that must be met in order for them to have the confidence to achieve self actualization, the realization of one’s potential. Viktor Frankl suggested the highest need was to rise above the ego through self transcendence or enlightenment.

Alcoholism tends to skew our hierarchy of needs. The compulsion to drink will over ride basic needs such as nutritious food, sleep and basic health care. We often put our safety and security at risk and as well as our relationships. Being riddled with self pity, self hate, fear and anger our self esteem is near to non-existent or presents as a facade of arrogance and “big shotism”. Our primary need is satisfying our addiction. Everything else falls in to some fumbled order that rejects Maslow’s theory.

The Recovery Ladder

In recovery I’ve become acutely aware of my personal hierarchy of needs. Some times they seem selfish. I often ask myself if I’m putting my own needs before others. Is my recovery so important that the way I live my life is neglectful of others. Have I replaced one addiction for another in the form of a program of recovery? Sometimes I get confused as to why my need to self actualize and improve through the daily practices of meditation, study and physical exercise seems to be at odds with loved ones. Even with compromise there seems to be a tension. Am I missing something? What are my needs and how to I reconcile those with the needs of others? Am I being selfish and self centered?

In recovery we adopt a principle of “Live and Let Live” and “Let Go and Let God”. We surrender much of the control we once struggled to maintain. Trying to control people, places, things and circumstance put as at odds with the flow of life and when we didn’t get our way we drunk to get even. We grew resentful and bitter that the world did not conform itself to our expectations. Then in recovery we focus on self improvement and are left feeling guilty asking if self improvement is self indulgence.

The Me Reality

Look around you. Everyone is doing what they want. Not only that they are making their cake, eating it and posting the entire event on Face Book or Instagram. Right now there is a global phenomenon of highly visible but false self actualization going on. People have become so fixated in gaining acceptance and validation that they follow fads or what ever is trending that day and fish for likes for everything from the mundane to the insane.

Society is obsessed with instant gratification and entitlement. The effort required to achieve real self esteem and self actualization is sabotaged by a pervasive attitude of easy access and discouragement. People want the gains but they are not prepared to work for it and are confused when life does not grant them their wishes. In the perpetual search for approval and validation they will accept ‘Likes” on Social Media as a surrogate. From the moment kids were given “participation trophies” for showing up and the words “winning and losing” were banned from school age competition we created a society that screams “me, me and me”.

The Other Side

It seems people are too busy judging each other or trying to validate themselves on social media. They have forgotten the motivating factor behind their actions or it has been reduced to “Likes”. Does it really matter what other people think? Do we really need to be so obsessed with widespread approval?

What happens on the other side of the street is not as important as what happens on our side. Sobriety is largely contingent on how we feel about ourselves and how we think moment to moment. If our words and actions are consistent with our personal values then we are on steady ground. When we allow conflicting needs and expectations to confuse our own primary goal of staying sober and we start to fall off course.

Jedi Needs

The needs of a Fictional Jedi were very clear and very simple. Basic needs were met without fuss or fanfare. Jedi would eat when hungry, drink when thirsty, sleep when tired and seek shelter from the elements when required. They dressed to suit the environmental conditions they expected to operate in. The safety and security of others was more commonly placed before their own. Jedi were still cautious when required and did not take unnecessary risks. With the exception of Anakin and one or two others, the Jedi were mindfully daring but not foolhardy or reckless. Decades of rigorous training meant that actions and reactions were drilled in to them.

The Jedi formed close bonds with their own and with other sentient beings. While grasping attachment to individuals was not allowed they were encouraged to form positive and productive relationships with all life forms. The Jedi knew that all life is interconnected and belongs to the Force and they identified strongly to that non-dualistic belief.

Jedi naturally had self esteem and self confidence that comes with achieving excellence. The Jedi Order was a meritocracy and Jedi were promoted from Padawan to Knight and finally to Master and Council Member when they demonstrated they were ready. There were no free lunches and no short cuts.

Self actualization was the outcome of Jedi training. The harsh conditions under which they trained and operated, the supportive nature of the Jedi Order and the focus on personal development and self improvement through training, mentorship and experience produced individuals who were mentally, physically, emotionally  and spiritually highly evolved. The Jedi could also reach transcendence and unite with the Force.

Realities and Needs

The goal of “world betterment through self betterment” in Jedi Philosophy strongly advocates self actualization. Real World Jedi are expected to demonstrate virtues and qualities in all their affairs which are consistent with the Jedi Code. This means that real world Jedi, like the fictional Jedi we take inspiration from, have the following qualities:

  • they are tolerant and accepting of others. Being easy on others but hard on themselves;
  • they are humble without being self deprecating or lacking self esteem;
  • they seek meaningful and rewarding relationships based on mutual respect for each other needs and opinions;
  • take a realistic and objective view of life that understands that good and bad things happen;
  • understand that hard work and effort is needed to get results;
  • accept that sometimes we do not get what we want;
  • simplify and take a minimalist approach to possessions and wants;
  • can be self reliant and not have to depend on others for needs including approval and validation;
  • show creativity through expression or through action;
  • take an active interest in the environment and community, thinking global, acting local;
  • Jedi seek practical and sane solutions to problems as they arise.

When I look at this list I see many of the virtues and principles that underpin the 12 Steps. Being a 12-Stepper and a Jedi is not that much different. We know who we are and we know what our needs are and we can define them. Our hierarchy of needs are re-established. We take care of ourselves and care for others. We build meaningful and deep relationships. Our self esteem improves over time and we remain humble. With spiritual growth we  go beyond single spiritual experiences and start to realize transcendence.

We seem different to other people, because we are; we are survivors. Having values and principles that keep us sober is not a drawback, it is a great asset in these times of instant gratification and discouragement. Of all the people out there, it is those that have survived the trials of life be it trauma, tragedy, addiction or mental illness that truly understand the climb up the ladder of the hierarchy of needs. The blessing is we can use that to pass a hand down and help others up.

Cognitive Dissonance

The Elephant in the Room

One of the things that hold people back from making meaningful and lasting change is cognitive dissonance. Its like ignoring the Elephant in the Room. Take a smoker for example or an alcoholic. Both are aware that their habits are harmful. The smoker is cognitive of the fact that smoking causes lung cancer and the alcoholic is aware that drinking is doing her harm; however both will persist in the habit. We won’t talk about it. Why?

The theory of cognitive dissonance states that individuals do not like their actions to conflict with their attitudes. The divergence results in tension called cognitive dissonance. People will find ways to reduce the dissonance by adjusting their behavior, seeking information that contradicts their beliefs or deciding that on the balance of things the habit is worth it. Life is too short so why give up the pleasure of smoking, drinking or drugs.

From the time I started drinking I knew that it was doing me harm. I had seen the effects and I knew that based on a family history of alcoholism I was at high risk of becoming alcoholic. I experienced a high degree of cognitive dissonance expressed as regret and remorse at my drinking.

Making Excuses

Over the years I tried to control my drinking and stop many times without luck. I was trying to cure the cognitive dissonance just not the drinking. If I could drink without all the bad stuff then it would be OK.

Often it’s a close call that gets us to re-evaluate. Fear of death seems to spike dissonance. After almost getting run over by a Semi Trailer I decided to quit drinking. The actual driver approached me in a bar and said that he would have run me over had he not recognized me. Pulling to the side had almost caused him to leave the road. His suggestion was that I quit drinking or probably die. Three things happened:

  1. I quit deciding that I had run out of chances and would lose my life if I continued. This lasted for a day and I decided to substitute starting with light beer and then moving to half measures before deciding that taste is more important than dissonance.
  2. After a while I decided that as long as I stayed off the roads drunk I should be okay. I reassured myself that despite some close calls in the past the odds were still on my side. Anecdotal evidence strongly suggested this. Cheers!
  3. There was still doubt (dissonance) and alcoholic obstinacy kicked in to compensate. Drinking with a head full of doubt is no fun, so more drink is required. We all know that once a drink is taken a chemical reaction takes place in the brain which over rides logic. I would quickly convince myself that I was harming no one by drinking. Alcohol made life pleasurable and was therefore worth the small risks it carried. I could always quit whenever I wanted to, just not now.

Almost being flattened by a Semi Trailer had me readjust my attitudes in a manner that reduced my cognitive dissonance but allowed me to continue to drink unabated.

The Bleeding Obvious

Being alcoholic creates a new type of cognitive dissonance, the tension that exists when we refrain from drinking and our body and mind is addicted to it. The thought of refraining from alcohol is bad enough let alone imagining a life time without it. In addition we can easily justify what we do to ourselves and others. We become trapped in a paradigm that can shift to ignorance and conflict with others. The opinions of others no longer matters. We become resentful of those that disagree with us or worse, try to change us. Addiction at its worst will see people do anything to protect it.

Alcohol may be man’s worst enemy, but the bible says love your enemy.” – Frank Sinatra

Nothing less than a fundamental change in mindset bought on by a psychic shift bought on by a spiritual experience worked for me.

Storm Trooper Finn’s Dilemma

Star Wars has many examples of inner and outer conflict. Luke Skywalker was a case study in cognitive dissonance as was his father Anakin. They both suffered from a lack of rationality bought on by conflicting ideals and motives. Anakin wanted to be a Jedi but at the same time he wanted to control people, places and things. Anakin wanted to bring order to the Force in his own fashion and overcome mortality. The tension eventually pushed him to the Dark Side. Luke on the other hand was conflicted as to his role. Is he a moisture farmer or a rebel, does he fight his father or side with him? The story of Luke is a classic “Heroes Journey”.

We see the same type of dissonance in the “The Force Awakens”, Storm Trooper Finn has a crisis of conscience. Being a merciless killer for the Empire does not gel with him and he deserts his post to join the Rebellion. Soldiers who decide to desert on grounds of morality don’t usually do it at the spur of the moment as Finn suggests. There is usually months if not years of dissonance. What they do does not agree with who they are. Something eventually has to give and they leave.

“I’m not Resistance, I’m not a hero, I’m a stormtrooper. Like all of them, I was taken from a family I’ll never know. And raised to do one thing. But my first battle, I made a choice. I wasn’t gonna kill for them. So I ran.” – Storm Trooper Finn “Episode VII: The Force Awakens”

Source: www.knowyourmeme.com

Stay or Go?

I know a few deserters and there is one thing in common with all of them. All quit because they were deeply dissatisfied and disillusioned. Some were close to suicide. They could not stay no matter how hard they tried. They were still torn at leaving their comrades behind. All of them to this day regret their decision. Cognitive dissonance can suck. No matter what we decide to do, it is going to hurt and there will be regrets even if it was the right thing to do.

So how does one deal with Cognitive Dissonance? No one likes to feel lousy about what they are doing especially when they know that it is the right thing to do. A person can be sober and still have Cognitive Dissonance. Despite being dry they may have adopted habits or attitudes that are maladaptive or destructive. The “Dry Drunk” can eventually relapse.

Emotional sobriety is about accepting ourselves and embracing who we are. It is about rejecting denial and being willing to see things differently. Often this means rejecting our previously deeply held prejudices and attitudes. Recovery means being willing to explore new ideas and adapt to life readily instead of being attached to one way or another.  When we know who we are, commit to values and act in accordance with them in a spirit of non-attachment we are unlikely to suffer dissonance.

Be gentle with yourself, Let Go of what does not serve, especially limiting prejudices and adopt an attitude of “Live and Let Live”.

Part II: Overcoming Cognitive Dissonance

Absolutes

Only a Sith deals in absolutes” – Obi-wan Kenobi

When Obi-Wan Kenobi faced Anakin on the Planet Mustafa his friend and apprentice had fallen to the Dark Side. Obi-Wan Kenobi was dealing with a persona who had changed dramatically and who could not be reasoned with. Anakin had previously been a maverick, someone who bucked the system and stretched the rules.  He had been a Jedi who at times thumbed his nose at protocol and used intuition and initiative to get the job done however he was never uncompromising.

As Anakin fell to the Dark Side he became the complete opposite and accepted only an extreme and uncompromising view. There was no longer tolerance or a grey area but all the hard and narrow absolutism and narrow mindedness of a Sith, the sworn enemy of the Jedi. Darth Vader would only deal in absolutes, dogma, total submission, complete and blind obedience and the unquestioning acceptance of extreme ideology. The Absolutism of Power absolute.

If you are not with me, then you are my enemy!” – Anakin

Human Nature

Life is not about absolutes. The very nature of the Universe reveals anything but an absolute system. Everything is evolving and changing in nature and change is the nature of things. Human nature as well is contrary to absolutism nobody is hard wired to resist change. If humans were that inflexible and resistant to change we would not have lasted as a species. It is through a willingness to accept change, to explore new things and to question accepted norms that we have been able to grow and evolve.

I had an absolute and inflexible approach to my disease for a long time. Despite the obvious physical, mental and spiritual harm that it had caused I ignored the signs and the warnings from others. I was convinced that I was right and resented anyone who challenged that assumption. My anger and hatred for those who suggested I had a problem only worsened as my life unraveled.

A type of moral absolutism also applied in other areas of my life. I was never one to accept a differing opinion. I was closed minded. Even if the opposing view seemed reasonable, pride would not let me relent in an argument and accept that I might be wrong. In Recovery too I may have dropped the denial but I became inflexible and “righteous” in other areas. I adopted the manners of a person who had gone “God Crazy”. My spiritual fervor did not extend to tolerance of others and I set standards on myself that were inflexible and childish. I was missing the point and thinking in extremes only created negativity and unhappiness. I was missing out on life by boxing myself in.

Sanity in all Areas

Sobriety means finding one’s sanity in all areas of life. That means putting prejudices aside and reconsidering strongly held beliefs and opinions. I had to surrender many assumptions and adopt an open mind if I was to remain sober. I had to start to relax and take it easy. Even now I catch myself getting caught up in issues and becoming highly passionate about them. I see the old Alcoholic tendency of over doing it coming out and I have to rein myself in. Passion is good, but when passion over takes objectivity and starts to dominate us, we are in dangerous territory.

There is no Passion, There is Serenity” – The Jedi Code

Life is not completely black or white but millions of shades in between the two extremes. To take a hard line and extremist approach to anything means chaining yourself to that mindset and ignoring the endless opportunities that exist within the complexity of life. We can set ourselves principles and boundaries that give us more freedom without building walls around ourselves at the same time. For example, I am absolute in my abstinence and will not compromise on that however I do not enforce my standards on others. If someone has a problem with alcohol and seeks out my help, I am at their service but I will not preach or lecture. All I can do is offer advice. The Big Book does not offer absolutes and never said “Thou Shalt”, it made suggestions for recovery only.

“Our hope is that when this chip of a book is launched on the world tide of alcoholism, defeated drinkers will seize upon it, to follow its suggestions.” – The Big Book

Do question, challenge assumptions, avoid dogma, be open minded, get out of your comfort zone, be skeptical of Gurus. These are some of the things I have learned from the Steps and from walking the Jedi Path. I take what I need and I leave the rest.

The Middle Path

In the world today there is so much extremism. Whether it is religious, racial or nationalist in nature any form of extremism leads to tension, division and conflict. We only have to look and see how it is tearing the world apart. Within every person also resides a tension between opposing views and between our better nature and darker side. How we reconcile ourselves to the extremes in our lives and in our hearts is a personal choice.

The Stoics (like the Jedi) always sought the positive angle in every bad situation. Extremes in emotions were discouraged and avoided and the outcome was a deeper sense of serenity and acceptance in their lives. Gautama Buddha and Saint Francis of Assisi also lived to extremes of self deprivation and belief and found that it did not work so they taught their followers to walk a middle path to spiritual enlightenment.  To be Jedi is also to walk a middle path.

If we take a step back when things go awry and objectively consider every angle we will often find that our initial reaction may not have been warranted and things are not as bad as they appear. Extremist views and extreme emotions are rarely justified and seldom serve in any situation.

What are your views? Where might they be extreme or unyielding? How does that affect your life and the lives of others? Now ask yourself: Does it serve me?