Resolutions

“Do. Or do not. There is no try” – Yoda

If you want to be successful in a particular field, perseverance is one of the key qualities.” – George Lucas

Resolutions

Every year without fail I make New Years Resolutions which never stick. This is a tradition of a mine along with millions of other people. Some of my resolutions include goals such as “learn a new language” or “learn to play the guitar” or “train for and run a marathon this year”. These are defaults which always false start. I set the bar higher; exercise more, eat better, cut out sugar, train more rigorously and the list goes on.

Last year I wrote a list of goals and set targets around them. By the second week, as usual, I’ve slipped or not even started on my resolutions. One year later I went back to that list and realized that I had only met one of five personal goals I had set for myself. Perhaps I had set the bar too high.

I could say there were other noteworthy achievements which I had achieved but which were not on the list. Life still happens and goals change are all excuses. Having resolve is also important if we want resolutions to stick.

 

“Write it on your heart that every day is the best day in the year.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Clean Slate

We are not alone if we tend to view the New Year as a clean slate with which to start a new beginning. Ever wonder why we are bombarded with advertising from companies trying to sell diets, nicotine gum, personal training and gym equipment? Ever wonder why the local gym puts on early starter membership deals to entice people to sign up? Marketing people are not stupid. People grab at a new lease of life in the New Year.

Some of us want to change how we look and feel. We decide we want to improve ourselves through study or training. On reflection we decide we want to spend more time with our family and friends. Things that matter to us stick out. Some of us decide to change our jobs or start a new career. We all seek change.

The trouble is that most of these resolutions falter before the first steps are taken and we abandon them. Why do most people fail to stick to their resolutions? They fail within days or weeks because any meaningful change worth making requires effort.

Did you make a resolution on 31 December? Where is it now?

 

Momentum

The inescapable fact of New Years resolutions is that they rely on momentum, desire and self efficacy to achieve. People generally only stick to goals that are easy to accomplish or derive a quick and pleasurable outcome. Goals that propagate themselves work best.

Resolutions that require dropping a pleasurable habit tend to be less successful. This includes pleasures that may cause harm such as smoking or drinking. Resolutions that also require a substantial investment of time, money and energy in to something challenging but potentially rewarding in the long term also tend to slip. We also suffer from cognitive dissonance. Our intent is noble but “it’s just too damn hard”.  A tug of war rages in our minds between what we ought to do and what we want to do.

One of my recurring resolutions used to be “No more drinking after tonight” and “quit smoking”. I would see in the New Year with beer or champagne (or both) in hand and call in the New Year. Being that I had resolved not to drink ever again after that night I would take it to excess. Why not? It was one last big bender to see out the year and herald in a new and sober one. Naturally my resolution would not last. Within a few days I was off the wagon. Along would come the caveats and the exceptions before long the resolution was forgotten and I would decide to try again at a later date.

 

There is no scarcity of opportunity to make a living at what you love; there’s only scarcity of resolve to make it happen” – Wayne Dyer

 

 

Effort and Excuses

I was missing two important points every new year. Firstly, one does not need a particular day to do anything that they can do now. Picking New Year to do something is somewhat of a cliché and not only that we secretly know it. Most people are cynical of the merits of New Years resolutions let alone resolutions at any other time.

Secondly, making a decision to change is not a passive exercise. If we decide to quit drinking or cigarettes we act that out by refusing to drink alcohol or smoke. A decision to start exercising means exercise, not more procrastinating and waiting for the right opportunity. Points one and two are excuses and if honest we know that they are poor ones.

When I eventually did quit smoking it was on receiving the news that I was going to be a Father. I could no longer reason a justification for indulging in a habit like smoking if I were to be responsible for another life. I got patches and went on a program to quit and never lit up again.

Alcohol however is a “cunning and subtle foe”. We can easily reason that moderation in drinking is reasonable and possibly even healthy, certainly socially acceptable. The problem of course is that moderate alcoholism is an oxymoron. Controlled drinking is a concept that works for some but not for all. A fact most of us readily deny.

 

His resolve is not to seem the bravest, but to be.” – Aeschylus

 

The First Step

It finally took hitting “rock bottom” for me to finally come to the realization of my problem. Surrendering my will to a Higher Power broke the delusion completely. There were no resolutions, no specific start date and no “taking an oath” or “swearing off”. I simply turned over my problems to the Force and let it go. All I had to do was surrender control and admit I had made my life a mess.

By turning my life over I was given the power to start living a new life “one day at a time”.  Action started that moment on a day in September. It continued every day.  I saw the New Year in sober and have since seen five more. God willing this tradition will continue till I die. I found my Resolve.

 

Wise to resolve, and patient to perform” – Homer

 

 

Jedi Resolve

Being sober on a daily basis is a conscious decision. I get up in the morning and resolve not to drink that day. I also resolve to be Jedi as I define it. “Jedi Resolve” extends to everything I do. Once a decision is made steps are put in place to lay the foundations for the practice. Making a decision to do or be something is not a once a year exercise, it is conscious and daily process. Done often enough it becomes automatic and a part of us. Habits form. We feel better for it and eventually we miss it if we stop for any reason.

Want to learn a new language? Start today. Want to play the guitar? Pick one up. Resolve to eat better? Start making healthy choices. Decided to start exercising? Put on your shoes and start moving. It’s as easy as that. Just keep doing it until it becomes a priority over the alternative. With the right intent and the right effort, you have Jedi Resolve. Outcomes are largely out of our control. What is in our control is our resolve.

 

On Day at a Time

Facilitating and forcing new behaviors helps in forming habits. Plan, set and commit to a routine, involve other people and set daily goals. Take a one day at a time approach but resolve to do it. Alter your environment if needed to facilitate the change. Remember to reward your efforts and celebrate your milestones.

One study found that 71% of people who succeeded in achieving their resolutions slipped in the first month. Lack of self control, discipline and will power led to the early slip. The good news is that the respondents did not quit and realized their goals. They absorbed the slip and kept going until their efforts paid off. If we fall off the bike while learning to ride, we brush ourselves off and get back on.

This year I made no New Years Resolutions. I’ve realized that if we want change in our lives that is worth having we must simply do the work to make that change. Why wait until the New Year if we can do it anytime? And what better time is there than now.

 

“You have to find something that you love enough to jump over hurdles and break through the brick walls.” – George Lucas

Simplify

The Tree

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

 

Consumer Society

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

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

 

Hatchet Job

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

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

 

A Life of Purpose

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

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

 

Hording is Suffering

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

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

 

Dead Wood

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

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

 

Handing it Over

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

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

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

 

Daily Maintenance

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

 

Inventory and Let Go

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

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

 

Sort, Sift, Sweep, Sanitize and Sustain

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

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

 

Take what you Need

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

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

Jedi practice Lightsaber

 

 

Lightsaber dueling is the Jedi’s sport of choice.

Jedi duel with lightsaber replicas to practice living in the present moment. It’s hard to think about the past or the future if you are dueling with a lightsaber! Lightsaber practice actually has a multitude of benefits. Dueling helps improve a Jedi’s coordination, flexibility, and balance because when dueling with a lightsaber, it becomes an extension of you. It’s a good form of cardiovascular exercise too. The real lightsaber only exists in the Star Wars Universe, but for the Jedi the lightsaber is a powerful symbol that represents alertness, mindfulness, agility, discipline, skill and living in the present moment.

(Jedi 33 Traits)

Elegance and Power

Mention Jedi and the first thing that comes to mind is the beautiful and elegant Lightsaber. The primary weapon of defense of the Jedi was a symbol of the order for thousands of years. The Lightsaber was also lethal and bought the Jedi close to their opponent.

Unlike a blaster or a support weapon a Jedi had two choices with the Lightsaber. They could deflect lasers back to their origin striking the opponent alternately they used it as a sword. The Jedi would close in and bring the Lightsaber to the enemy.

A Symbol

The Lightsaber was also a symbol of hope and light. When Lucas invented the Lightsaber perhaps he intended it to be a symbol of the chivalry, courage and decorum of the Jedi. Throughout the Star Wars saga the Lightsaber remains the most poignant symbol of the struggle between good and evil. The Lightsaber inspires awe and wonder as much as the swords of the old Knights did during the Middle Ages.

(The Lightsaber) is the weapon of a Jedi knight. Not as clumsy or random as a blaster. An elegant weapon for a more civilized age. For over a thousand generations, the Jedi knights were the guardians of peace and justice in the old Republic. Before the dark times. Before the Empire. – Obi-wan Kenobi “A New Hope”.

There is no such thing as a Lightsaber in our Universe, at least not yet. Even if it were created it is unlikely to be used as a close quarter weapon for the simple reason that anything that gets close to a Lightsaber gets burned. It would be too dangerous to wield. Real world Jedi use replicas and schools have sprung up in Europe and the United States that teach the art of Lightsaber dueling.

 

French Cane Fighting

I don’t train with a Lightsaber replica, in fact I don’t even own one.  Fortuitously my martial arts uses a weapon of defense which is as elegant but far less conspicuous than the Lightsaber; the humble cane.

Cane Fighting is an integral part of the French martial art called Savate. The cane was historically used as a training device to teach Officers in saber fighting. With the banning of carrying swords and long knives by the French Emperor the public adopted the cane as a suitable alternative. The cane became an accessory to the French gentleman. Across the channel the British caught on. Canes with hidden blades were sold, some could fire a small caliber round as a last resort.

Today we seldom see people in the street with canes unless they are infirm or elderly. The cane is still taught as a form of defense along with other stick forms however it has limited use as an able bodied person carrying a cane would likely attract as much attention as a person wearing a robe and replica lightsaber.

 

Rapide, Aesthetique et Lethale

My first cane lesson went like this. I was taught the “salute”, “en garde” and the basic strikes, blocks and feints. Then there were the basic foot movements, advancing, moving side ways, retreating. In cane fighting one is always moving, never stationary. It is similar to fencing but far more dynamic.

The French have a codified version in which points are awarded for “touches” and which illegal moves are penalized. The street version (Canne de Defense) however mixes cane strikes with lethal booted kicks and sweeps, grappling, holds and punches. When the opponent is down the handle can be used to pommel the opponent until he is senseless. The hook of a walking cane can be used to lock, hold and sweep an opponent.

The sport known as “Canne de Combat” is probably the closest thing I have encountered to Lightsaber dueling. It is fast, fluid and requires aerobic fitness, agility, stamina and presence of mind.

The cane has served to remind that one should always lead with their sword hand and sometimes it is smarter to “riposte” than “lunge”. It is also handy to know when to withdraw. These lessons are useful in other areas of life as well.

Verbal Fencing

“The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.

Proverbs 12:18

 

Our words are also like Lightsabers. They can do harm or bring light and healing. We can us our words to rally people together or we can use them to create rifts and division. Words are powerful. We must know when we use our words that they may cut as deep as a Lightsaber. They may wound others but also ourselves.

The art of communication is mastered over time and with many mistakes. It seems simple enough though. One person speaks, the other person listens and responds.

An ideal exchange involves active listening with feedback and validation. Listen without judgement and keep silent resisting the urge to cross talk. Speak clearly using unambiguous language and are conscious of nonverbal cues such as body language. Seek understanding and we provide the listener with the chance to make their case. Accusations without evidence and value judgements are avoided. Focus on the issue at fault not the person.

Words are like swords, if you use them the wrong way, it’ll turn into ugly weapons.”  – Gosho Aoyama

Sheath your Pride

When we communicate be mindful of Verbal Fencing. In the past I could not stand to be corrected and contradicted. A divergent opinion to my own would spark disagreement, argument and resentment. In recovery I have learned to swallow my pride and avoid tit for tat exchanges. An argument should remain objective and not intended to hurt. There are no points for “touché”, “riposte” and “counter attack” in an argument. No one wins in a bout of verbal fencing.

Always remember that the tongue is the only part of the body which gets sharper with use.

 

The Lightsaber within

We may not carry a Lightsaber on our belt but we can carry one in our heart. For me the symbol of recovery is three lightsaber joined in to a triangle and surrounded by a circle. The Lightsabers represent Humility, Respect and Temperance, the circle represents Faith. These are my cardinal principles which I measure myself against. They are my swords with which I use to recover and improve every day.

What is your Lightsaber? How do you use it?

 “For the word of God is alive and exerts power and is sharper than any two-edged sword and pierces even to the dividing of soul and spirit, and of joints from the marrow, and is able to discern thoughts and intentions of the heart.” – Hebrews 4:12

Jedi stay physically fit

Jedi stay physically fit for many reasons.
Jedi stay physically fit in order to accomplish their mission in life. Fitness is a part of Jedi philosophy, but the level of fitness depends on the individual. Fitness effects your mental health and over-all well being.

(33 Jedi Traits)

Jedi Fit

Jedi Philosophy is one of the few practical philosophies eastern or western outside of the martial arts which have a strong emphasis on the importance of physical fitness. Most other philosophies focus on the mental and spiritual state of the individual and overlook the holistic nature of the being must encompass the body. Jedi Philosophy considers spiritual, mental, emotional and physical well being. A holistic approach is taken that focuses on each element. To focus on the spiritual or the mental without training the body is counter intuitive to the Jedi. The elements are treated as one.

For obvious reasons the physical fitness was important to the fictional Jedi. The physicality of the Jedi trials is an example of the level of fitness required to be a Jedi. Light sabre combat skills and the ability to move quickly and with instinct were all part of Jedi training. The Jedi had incredible endurance. If we compare the fitness of a fictional Jedi to the real world we would have to look to professional athletes or top tier elite special force operators to come even close.

 

(Source: Lucasfilm)

Get Motivated

Obviously few of us are going to aim for a supreme level of fitness to the level of an elite athlete or a SF operator. For a start most of us don’t have the time to dedicate to that level of training. We also don’t have professional instructors, nutritionists and allied medical professionals like physiotherapists and exercise physiologists to support our progress. That’s no excuse though. Many of us sitting on the couch right now or eating a doughnut in front of the computer know we can do something for our health and fitness.

At this minute I am glancing out the window looking at the sky for the tell tale signs of rain. I’m asking myself “is it going to rain? Should I go to the park to train?” The problem many of us is motivation. Body may be willing but mind makes excuses. If we can get our mind willing, the body will follow.

Keep it personal

I can share my fitness regime but it’s not for everyone. Most of what I do is a mixture of Army PT meets Street Workout. I run once or twice a week up to 5 miles and train most days doing body weight exercises. Occasionally I do free weights in a gym or a session of high intensity interval training which is a series of exercises followed by kickboxing on a heavy bag. The regime works for me.

How you choose to keep fit is up to you. The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends a minimum of 5 days of moderate intensity aerobic exercise for 30 minutes or more such as walking or light exercise. More vigorous or intense aerobic exercise should be undertaken 3-4 days a week for 25 minutes.

The AHA also recommends 2 sessions a week of strength building activity. These are guidelines and individual programs will vary depending on age, overall health and personal goals. If you plan to run a marathon your fitness goals and training will differ to starting a weight lifting regime to bulk up or lose fat and put on lean muscle.

 

Just Do it

Physical exercise for me has been a panacea in my recovery along with the 12 Steps. When I got sober I was hypertensive and overweight.  I looked unhealthy. With exercise I started to get my blood pressure and weight under control and the activity made me cope better with the symptoms of withdrawal. Exercise has kept me sane as well as fit. Some days I just want to get away so I will go for a run.

Exercise allows us time to process our emotions and clear the mind. Endorphins are released and we feel better. Our mood starts to improve and life becomes more enjoyable and fun. Park Run is an example where running brings both fitness and social benefits. You can meet people and have fun. Who needs a bar to meet people unless its the local park pull up bar?

The health benefits of physical exercise cannot be understated. Exercise will not only change your life it might even save it and give you decades of quality life to look forward to.

These days I am as fit as I was in the Army around 25 years ago. Age is an illusion as are your self imposed limits. Men and women of all ages and body types can turn their life around by simply deciding to take action. Every day I see incredible results and lives transformed. The ball is in your court.

Ok the sun is out and I have time to do something. I’m off to the park to get some reps in on the bar. Get moving Jedi!

Jedi practice Martial Arts

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

(33 Jedi Traits)

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

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

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

Committing is Hard

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

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

Never look Back

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

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

What I have learned

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

1. Anything is possible

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

2. Be Humble

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

3. Learn from Mistakes

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

4. Control Fear and Aggression

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

5. Pace yourself

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

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

A way of Life

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

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

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

Jedi have patience

Jedi choose to act with patience, and not to react with anger.

(33 Jedi Traits)

Patience..

Patience is a virtue. How many times have we heard it? The times we want to jump the gun and rush headlong in to something without a second thought. We can’t stand waiting for anything we think worth having now. It can take real presence of mind and self discipline to take a step back and patiently wait.

Patience is what we exercise when we listen to people when we want to speak. It is being able to sit when we want to stand. Being patient is willing to wait for our turn and graciously letting others go before us. Patience is knowing that things often happen in their own time and we must allow for that.

“Patience my young Padawan” – Yoda

 Learn Patience

In The Empire Strikes Back, Yoda encounters Luke Skywalker who has crash landed on Dagobah and is seeking a Master Jedi, a great warrior. Luke is brash, rude and impatient and has little time for Yoda’s antics and gets frustrated in Yoda’s hut. All at once Yoda speaks to no one in the room “I cannot teach him. The boy has no patience”. A disembodied voice responds;

The boy will learn patience” – Obi-wan Kenobi

Patience is a virtue and a discipline. It is the simplest lesson to learn but the hardest to practice.

I was always impatient in life. Whether it was people, place, jobs, circumstances, money, relationships there was never a time other than the right now. Bar attendants were never quick enough with service. A plane that was running late was a unforgivable inconvenience. Subordinates who could not deliver on time were useless. People I instructed who failed to catch on quickly were stupid. Someone who took their time explaining something was not worth the time. There was a perpetual sense of urgency and impatience. I had to be getting, going or being right now. No time to wait.

“Do you have the patience to wait until your mud settles and the water is clear. Can you remain unmoving until right action arises by itself” – Lao Tzu

Are we there yet?

One of the most important virtues we learn in recovery is patience  with our selves. It pays to understand that progress takes time. Often the journey to that destination makes it all the worthwhile. A long rain that soaks in is far better than a fast and heavy rain that washes off.  I have found that trying to rush my physical training leads to injury. Attempting to achieve milestones without taking enough time leads to failure and frustration. So it is with most things.

In recovery we take it “one day at a time” and handover the outcomes of our efforts to our Higher Power. To try to rush emotional and spiritual growth only leads to disappointment and frustration. Lack of progress or failure in one area can lead to despair or anger and force us to make reckless decisions.  Progress, not perfection should be the key. Take it slow and steady. Give yourself time.

No great thing is suddenly created” – Epictetus

Show people the same courtesy and patience that you expect from others. Especially those that are further back in their life journey. They have a lot to learn and we can help and guide them on the path. We must also learn to be patient with people who are rude, obnoxious or obstinate. There was a time not long ago when we were like that and were given allowances. We can be patient and respectful with others no matter who they are. Our principles and our self esteem must also be respected. We are no one’s s door mat.

Be patient, be Jedi

Next time you find yourself getting impatient with someone or are sitting in traffic ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Why am I impatient?
  2. Is it worth the stress?
  3. Can I do anything about it?

The answer to the first question will reveal that the situation is largely out of your control. You probably can’t do anything to make the person change and the traffic jam exists despite your frustration. The first answer should lead to the second answer which should be no unless it is a “life and death emergency”. If there is nothing that can be done about it, why get angry?

If the last answer is yes then consider that option and take action. Otherwise give the person time or space and take time out yourself. Allow yourself to move through the traffic. Eventually it will clear. Deal with any consequences as they arise.  Lastly  take deep breaths and smile. What’s the hurry?

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

Cognitive Dissonance (Part II)

Part II: Overcoming Cognitive Dissonance

Several days ago a Friend of mine who runs a martial arts business posted a poignant piece on the psychology and the consequences of quitting. My Friend was not talking about quitting a destructive habit such as compulsive drinking, gambling or drugs but on the perennial challenge of seeing new students quit within two weeks of signing up.

The truth is that quitting is a hell of a lot easier than sticking if the activity is difficult but beneficial. This is why the majority of candidates on the BUDS program for the Navy SEALS bomb out in the first 48 hours. They figure to themselves “this is harder than I thought”, “why don’t I quit now and save me further pain”. The training Staff are experts in picking up doubt and mental weaknesses and pounce at any sign of it. They actively encourage the candidates to quit, to ring the bell and throw in the towel. The SEALS want men who are mentally and emotionally resilient and who stay the course. Physical toughness is only about 30-40% of BUDS. Mental and emotional strength is the key to getting through.

The opposite is true for things that are seemingly bad for us or contrary to our cause. These things seem extremely hard to quit particularly if the habit is addictive or reinforced in any way. Drinking and taking drugs for example is extremely difficult to quit despite the obvious harm they do us. If anyone had asked me which would be easier, quitting smoking and drinking or getting through something like BUDS I would have said BUDS. Most of us want to quit but cannot find the mental, emotional and spiritual resilience to last the distance. We relapse when we try on will power alone.

The Serial Quitter

I can sympathize with my Friend for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I was a serial quitter and know all about it. I have taken up a number of activities and made up excuses and quit. Cross Fit, Kickboxing, Gym memberships and even martial arts. Those were sporting and recreational pursuits. I also gave up on jobs, career paths, studies, relationships, sobriety, life….The excuses were less than adequate but it all boiled down to two things; fear of commitment and intractability.

For some reason I have always feared commitment. Most things I ever did I did so because I felt under pressure in some way. When it came to applying effort under my own steam voluntarily and without obligation I would find something else to do and eventually give it away. This was because it was easier to default to the softer option. I also imagined that I was not good enough, or I looked stupid or having stumbled and failed once I decided what was the point. In this state a person suffers a crisis of self confidence and fails to commit. Alcohol or drugs provides a convenient remedy as it dulls our sense of accountability and reassures us that we are better than we actually are.

Intractability

Intractability is being obstinate and difficult to manage. Alcoholics generally have a rebellious streak and we are rooted in our flawed belief system. Self discipline and the ability to commit are concomitant in sticking with a program of recovery, martial arts or BUDS selection. Alcoholism on the other hand tends to throw self discipline to the wind as soon as the first drink is ingested.

The mind set is reinforced in Alcoholics to reject opinions or information that is contrary to our world view. We may be brilliant when we want to be but the second something tips us over or someone gets in our way, we throw the whole lot in, stamp our feet and quit. We proclaim that “they don’t know that they are talking about”. Our only Master is Booze, she is the one we ultimately take orders from.

In a Dissonant World

In today’s society we are increasingly left feeling isolated, in conflict and under tension. Technology dominates every aspect of our lives. Morality seems to have fallen by the way-side or at least replaced by a type of righteous political correctness which stifles discourse and counter views. Society has become polarized. People are feeling less connected within the community and despite the prevalence of social media are feeling increasingly marginalized. This environment has given rise to an unprecedented level of cognitive dissonance in society. Fortunately there are ways to break free from it:

1. Question your views.

In a critical and objective manner dissect your belief system. Challenges assumptions and question everything. Ask if you are not holding on to beliefs that are flawed. Do you have your hand in a Monkey Trap?

The Monkey Trap requires a monkey to place it hand inside a box with a small opening large enough for a hand to fit through but not a balled fist. The Monkey will reach for the treat inside the box and clutching on to it is unable to free itself. If it could only let go of the treat is would be free. This is how some of us hold on to our ideas and prejudices. We convince ourselves of a reality that does not exist and we hold ourselves to that despite evidence to the contrary. Seek evidence and reject what does not hold true.

In the case of Martial Arts, the belief that “I can’t do this” is self perpetuated by quitting. If we break down a problem in to smaller portions and focus on achieving milestones the challenge does not seem so momentous. With a change of perception we entertain the possibility we can achieve. As they say in AA, “take it one day at a time”, the miracle may happen tomorrow.

2. Get out of your Comfort Zone.

Trying new things is absolutely essential to growing as a human being. Have you ever observed a child? A two year old will explore everywhere it can, pick things up and make a mess. She is learning at a phenomenal rate about her world and place in it. We never stop learning and the best way to keep growing as a person is to expose ourselves to new things that are outside of our comfort zone.

The British SAS has advice for candidates on its selection course; “embrace the suck”.  They reason that the cold, hunger, fatigue, uncertainty and exhaustion are guaranteed so might as well embrace it. The course is undertaken in a manner where the candidates never know what is happening or going to happen. If one approaches the course with a “Can Do” attitude rather than a fearful one they are already half way through.  It is a mind-game. With practice and perseverance we arrive at confidence that we can do this. Start off with a “Can Do” attitude.

We all define our “own impossible”. If our mind can imagine something then its possible that it can be done. It is about convincing ourselves that we can take the first step and put one foot in front of the other. Eventually we get to our destination if we keep going.

3. Simplify

One of the reasons we stall in recovery or in any other challenge is because we often over complicate it. Most challenges look complicated because we frame it that way in our mind and the easiest option is to abandon the idea. We also seem to use the word “But” to excess. For example, “I want to stop drinking BUT I’ll lose my Friends” or “I would go to Train BUT [insert excuse here]”. We often complain that people get in our way when most of the time it is our own selves that sabotage our efforts.

In every decision there is an opportunity cost. Only the person can decide if it is worth it? Would I rather be sober or get wasted with Friend? Is sitting at home on Face Book instead of attending training a worthwhile use of my time? All we need to do is ask ourselves what is more important; there is no need to complicate. Decide and choose that. If there are obstacles that complicate your decisions either work around them or manage them out. Yes, this includes “Friends” that pull you away from your goals.

4. Keep you eye on the Goal

Visualize the person you want to be. See yourself standing there in a year’s time having accomplished the goals that you set. Keep that image in your mind and if required draw up a battle plan to get there. In that plan set a strategy, determine the resources you will need and set achievable milestones along the way. Keep the Plan fluid and adaptive so it can to survive the unforeseen. Just because you have a plan does not mean that life will come along and try to upset things.

If you stick to your (rough) plan and keep track of progress you will see improvement over time. For the last 6 months I have stuck with a fitness regime which has resulted in significant gains. Daily application and commitment to the program has been the formula. At first I made excuses not to workout but reminded myself of the reasons I was doing it.

Self Discipline and effort are two Jedi traits that are required to keep on track in any endeavor including sustained recovery. Remember that all you really control is the effort that you put in. An Olympian can train as hard as humanly possible but that does not guarantee a Gold Medal at the Games. If we achieve our goals in the time and manner we set, great, if not we should still recognize the effort we put in.

Luke Skywalker suffered Cognitive Dissonance on Dagobah while was being trained by Yoda. The effort and time needed to get through the trials and the study to becoming a Jedi were obviously more than he was willing to invest at that time. The need to be Jedi conflicted with his need to “be elsewhere”. Luke Skywalker lacked patience and the tension forced him to leave his training early and confront Darth Vader before he was ready…Which brings me to the last point:

5. Is it Worth It?

My Friend has taught Martial Arts for 40 years and has been in countless confrontations which he managed to defuse or resolve using skills drawn from decades of training. On quitting he asks his students one basic question to help with their Cognitive Dissonance; he asks “is it worth it?” The price of not learning Martial Arts might mean that they do not acquire the skill set and discipline to confront an attacker trying to kill or rape them. The price of learning Martial Arts will mean years of dedication, hard work, pain and sacrifice.

When we put it that way it often seems more stark. In the context of life and death it does not get much more clear. Some people need more proof than others.

Do I pick up a drink and most likely relapse in to active alcoholism or do I work the program?

Every one of us must decide what we value and act in accordance with that. No one can force us, we must decide ourselves.

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

Speak

The ability to speak does not make you intelligent” – Qui-Gon Jinn “Episode 1: The Phantom Menace”

Jar Jar Binks was one of the most annoying characters created by George Lucas in the prequels. Many Star Wars fans cringe at the Gungan buffoon and derided the prequels for introducing him. Jar Jar Binks is actually like a lot of people we meet and not all of them act that way when they are drunk though they may at times sound like him. They are usually drawing a lot of attention their way and speaking a lot without actually saying anything useful.

How often do we kick ourselves after we have said something better left unsaid. We often catch ourselves too late. It would be better to think before speaking. There are also times when we wish we had said something but we didn’t. Not speaking up also seems at times as bad as saying the wrong things at the wrong times.

Silence

Silence is a virtue or so we are told. The teachers in my catholic school would remind us often that children are seen and not heard. Silence was imposed and voicing an opinion was discouraged. I have discovered that often the greatest wisdom comes from the mouth of a child. Plain truth belies innocence. One should always speak their truth quietly and clearly. Listen to your kids or Grand kids often.

Learning when to speak and when to keep silence is an art. We all want to be heard. Sometimes we are not given the chance. The loudest and most assertive speakers generally get the floor. Passive and quiet people are usually not heard above the din.

The Power of Quiet

I’ve usually found the loud, gregarious and boorish types who insist on being heard above others have the least to say. The ability to speak does not always imply intelligence. In our society it seems that the most vocal and the loudest get the most airplay time. There is nothing wrong with that as it is a sign of open discourse which keeps Democracy alive. This is true as long as others are not silenced and forgotten. The loud and arrogant have a right to be heard but so do the quiet and humble.

Usually the quiet types are the ones we need to listen to. Their silence might not hide ignorance but a reluctance to speak. They may also know that saving your voice for when it’s required is often the best approach. You see them in the back of the room at meetings. They are also the silent person at work and the quiet achiever in the team. When they speak up I usually listen intently. The quiet ones usually have something I often lack; diplomacy, wisdom and tact.

“[The Spartans] conceal their wisdom, and pretend to be blockheads, so that they may seem to be superior only because of their prowess in battle … This is how you may know that I am speaking the truth and that the Spartans are the best educated in philosophy and speaking: if you talk to any ordinary Spartan, he seems to be stupid, but eventually, like an expert marksman, he shoots in some brief remark that proves you to be only a child”. – Plato

Who would’ve thought the Spartans were the silent types? Many guys I met who were Special Forces Operators were quiet and unassuming but also sharp as a tack. The mark of a true warrior. A lot of people mistake being quiet for being weak, often a big mistake! The guys you met in a Bar who were loud and telling war stories were usually from rear units or had never served. Big mouths are usually compensating for some deficiency.

Speak Up!

Francis Bacon said that “silence is the virtue of fools”; this is true for those who remain silent when they should have spoken up.  Never remain silent when to do so would be an injustice. If we speak up and learn that despite what is apparent we are wrong then we can make amends. It is too late after something wrong happens that we could have otherwise prevented by raising our voice. It often stuns me when I learn that an accident has happened in the workplace and I hear someone say “I could see that was going to happen”. My first question is “Why didn’t you say anything?” . We all have a responsibility to speak up when it is required.

The fictional Jedi by nature were not gregarious, they were assertive and they did speak up when it was required. They did however speak mindfully; they measured their approach and considered their words particularly over delicate matters. The Jedi used tact and diplomacy. Words were not wasted. They said a lot in few words.

Listen Up!

We have two ears and one mouth, so we should listen more than we say.” –Zeno of Citium

Being a good listener is also a virtue. When we speak we are moving from the known to the known. Listening takes us from the unknown to the known, we learn something. Then in order to communicate effectively one must actively listen and respond being mindful of what we say and how we say it. Language is only partially verbal; body language, facial expressions, eye contact, hand motions, tone and the most subtle cues often communicate more than words. By listening actively we are communicating.

Women in particular are expert at picking cues and know when a guy is not listening. So for the sake of serenity, Listen!

A good listener is not only popular everywhere, but after a while he knows something.” –Wilson Mizner

Meesa throw it all together

Knowing how to listen and when to speak and when to hold tongue is an exercise in self discipline and mindfulness. As an alcoholic I often feel compelled to allow my emotions to drive my tongue. It takes real presence of mind to catch myself. A speech injected with anger or resentment may get an impact but it is one we learn to regret later. Angry or yelling we don’t hear anything, not even ourselves making a mess of things. In recovery we learn that anger and resentment does not serve us. To throw anger at others through our words makes us feel worse not better.

“”First learn the meaning of what you say, and then speak.” – Epictetus

Jar Jar Binks eventually made it to the Galactic Senate and despite his clumsiness with words and actions still proved to be a worthy ally up until the fall of the Republic. The fact that he became a politician seems a parody of our own society where sometimes the politician with the biggest mouth ends up in the highest office. We should still be willing to give those people the benefit of the doubt when they say things that are less than intelligent. After all many of us said things that we wish we hadn’t and expected the same courtesy from others.