The Impulsive (Part II)

Part I: The Impulsive

Be Kenobi

If we conduct ourselves in a way where an action is taken with little forethought and consideration it can be either spontaneous or impulsive. An impulsive action will usually be triggered by emotions such as fear, anger or sadness. There is a sense that the action is wrong but lack of self control enables it.

Spontaneity on the other hand might be triggered by creativity, imagination, happiness, joy or contentment. Love is a trigger for spontaneity. Flowers or a diamond ring for someone special is bought with a spontaneous heart. Deciding on a whim to get drunk after an argument is impulsive.

So how can we be less Impulsive and more Spontaneous like Obi-wan Kenobi?  Before you do anything “at the drop of a hat” or on an impulse you should try to do the following:

1. Think, think, think

Ask yourself why am I doing this? What are the motives? Does it serve? Gun shops in most states in America must impose a “cooling off” period before selling a firearm for the simple reason that the disgruntled looking man who has walked in all red faced and shaking may be intending to do something regretful.

If we are having a bad day and we decide impulsively to get “get back” by getting drunk, we need to chill for a moment and think it through. Think before reacting on social media or posting a comment or photo that will come back and bite in unexpected ways.

 

2. Look before leaping

So you have decided to do something, there is no turning back. If that’s the case, then may as well do it properly. What’s the rush? Instead of walking to the boss’s office right now to deliver a resignation in colorful language why don’t we sit down and write it out clearly spelling out our reason. Once written, read it back and perhaps even read it to a co-worker. Once you have finally decided to go ahead with it, do it but in a way where you don’t let your principles down and add another person to your amends list. Never burn bridges.

Taking a moment to think rationally and objectively may also help you decide on another outcome. Never draft an angry email and send it straight away. Leave it in the “draft” folder for a night and return to it the next day. You may be surprised how different you feel about what happened “yesterday”.

 

3. Speak to someone

Speak to a friend, partner or confident about your plans to gauge their reaction. You may be decided to act but their input may provide food for thought. Also ask yourself if acting in a certain way is consistent with your values and principles. Is it who you want to be?

 

4. Weigh up the Consequences

Impulsive people rarely consider the implications or the consequences of their actions. Losing one’s temper and quitting a job can lead to financial hardship and going out and getting drunk after an argument may lead to further bad decisions such as drunk driving or violence. Spontaneous people generally weigh things ups before they commit where as impulsive people don’t.

 

5. Know your triggers

Impulsive reactions are often the product of emotions that we have trouble processing such as anger. It is easy to make rash decisions when emotional. An argument with a spouse or a bad day at work may “force” us to make impulsive decisions. Sometimes we act on impulse when someone cuts us off on the road or we encounter a rude person.

When having a HALT moment (Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired) it is a good idea to delay action and pick up a phone. By knowing our triggers we can be prepared to avoid an unpredictable response.

 

6. Trust yourself

Impulsive people ultimately do not trust themselves. We know that history has shown that impulsive decisions lead to poor outcomes however we seem to never change. With recovery we becomes more confident and in control of our emotions. We learn to trust ourselves more in the decisions we make. Usually we know if a decision is spontaneous and good or impulsive and poor by looking inward and being true to our principles.

Childlike

While sometimes it is inappropriate to be spontaneous and other times acting on impulse is the right move the opposite is usually true. Emotional maturity and sobriety means being able to resist acting on impulses particularly when the triggers are emotions such as fear, anger or frustration.

Being able to act with spontaneity can bring enjoyment, fulfillment and creativity to many people who are “free spirited” when they act with discernment, good judgement and a bit of “common sense”.

Being Jedi is not about being bland and boring where every decision is based on thorough assessment and approval. We do not go through life like automatons, inflexible and afraid to make decisions because of fear of consequence of the opinions of others.

Being Jedi is being open minded, flexible and agile enough to respond quickly to a rapidly changing environment without allowing emotions to dictate actions. Good outcomes are based on good choices and follow through. Ultimately when we are confronted with a choice we must first ask “does this add value” and “is this what I want”. The decision should be simple without resorting to impulse.

Life can be full of spontaneity if we choose. Research has shown that spontaneous people are happier. If you watch children at play you will remember a younger you when the world was so vibrant and the moment exciting and fun. Kids are spontaneous because it is in their nature. It is in our nature too. Being spontaneous expresses who we are and reflects our true divine self. Recapture that feeling of spontaneity in your life.

 

Once we believe in ourselves, we can risk curiosity, wonder, spontaneous delight, or any experience that reveals the human spirit” – EE Cummings

Self Sufficiency

A Shield

Self Sufficiency is the state of feeling secure and complete in one’s self. While Self Reliance is complete acceptance of one’s abilities and limitations and being able to regulate one’s response to emotions self-sufficiency is feeling “good” about yourself. More so it is about being in control and balanced. To be in a state of self-sufficiency is to experience mental, physical, emotional and spiritual well-being and a feeling of “completeness” and wholeness.

Imagine Yoda and Obi-wan Kenobi when they were confronted by their arch rivals Darth Sidious and Darth Vader. Did they seem perturbed, were they upset or visibly afraid? Did self-doubt cloud their judgement and affect their actions? Both Jedi Masters demonstrated a high degree of self-sufficiency. Faced with insurmountable odds they did not flinch. Even insulted and berated by their opponents they refused to let it affect their actions giving up neither to passion nor anger. They refused to lose control. Jedi had strong self-sufficiency, it was the shield that protected them.

Anakin on the other hand had weak self-sufficiency and was sensitive to assaults on his character or perceived slights to his honour and values. Luke Skywalker also faced an internal crisis that reflected a sensitive character and lack of self-sufficiency. Luke was easily roused to anger and jealousy as was his father particularly over matters of the heart. Over time Luke became more accepting of himself and sure in his decisions and actions thanks mainly to his Jedi training.

 

There is no passion; there is serenity” – Jedi Code

 

 

Heart on a Sleeve

Alcoholics are sensitive people, we take everything personally. I have often been told that I wear my heart on my sleeve and true to that I have often proved them right. Unfortunately my alcoholism never helped me in regulating my emotional response to perceived injustices or even trivial slights. With a family heritage that originated deep in the mountains of the Balkan powder keg it seemed my genes did not favor me either. I would often lose my temper over the slightest of insults or loss of control.

Alcoholics are often control freaks by nature, we need to be in order to feed our addiction, unfortunately that trait and the emotional toll of not getting our way seems to cross over in to all aspects of our lives. We alkies get “butt hurt” easily.

 

Self Defense

Self-sufficiency is being able to handle rejection well, it is also being able to let an insult slide without even a blink. If we find ourselves in a situation where our character or integrity is attacked we do not feel the need to react with defiance and attack in return. We can shrug off verbal and physical assaults and quickly forget them. We harbour no grudges. Resentments and self-pity born of damaged pride is not for us. This does not mean that we are everyone’s door mat either, far from it. Strong self-sufficiency means being able to defend one’s self in a calm and collected manner without feeling the need to defend one’s honour or pride at the same time. Self-defence means protecting our physical self from harm and setting boundaries on the actions of others, it is not about seeking punishment or taking revenge.

 

Nothing to Prove

Self-sufficiency is also not requiring constant validation from others. I know people who live for attention. They always have something to prove to others. If they post something on social media and don’t get the requisite set of likes they expect they act confused and hurt. They must always be the centre of attention and anything less than public adulation reduces their self-esteem. If we want to be validated we validate ourselves by working harder and striving to be a better person every day. We do not need the praise of others to feel good about ourselves. Praise and ridicule are the sides of the same coin to us and neither mean anything in the long run.

 

In Balance

Having self-sufficiency means having complete internal balance and sense of control. It is not about being an unemotional machine that feels nothing like a rock. Self-trust and resilience are synonymous with self-sufficiency. We are able to make our own decisions without being swayed by others. Opinions can be formed without defaulting to the latest collective mind-set on a particular issue. We can trust in our judgements and stick by them if challenged.

 

Being authentic means being yourself, not someone you imagine other people will like better or accept more readily. For decades I tried to be someone else and it only bought me depression and a lack of identity. Even know I am still working out who I am.

 

Open and Honest

Most of all we appreciate honesty, we want people to tell us what they think and to be truthful with us even if we might not like what we hear. Being self-sufficient means being able to acknowledge the opinions of others, especially those about ourselves without allowing it to damage our self-esteem or balance. We listen to others and we accept the truth when we hear it.

 

Self-sufficient people enjoy time alone but are not loners. They also enjoy the company of others and are engaged in life rather than isolated from it. We may be preoccupied with our own problems but we also preoccupy ourselves with others. Empathy with others and connection to community are important to those with strong self-sufficiency.

 

People not Things

Material possession and status are not as important to people with strong self-sufficiency. We do not need possessions to compensate for deficiencies or to prove to others our worth. We may enjoy and appreciate nice things but we are not reliant on them. A nice car, house, designer clothes and shoes and excess cash do not define us or even impress us. We believe that rank and status are earned and not granted out of entitlement however titles do not bother us, we know who we are and what we’ve done. Medals and awards are graciously accepted when earned but rarely worn.

 

Practice Self-sufficiency

Some people think that being self-sufficient is in some ways being cold and unemotional or stoical. The Jedi were none of these things and being sober is not the dull, boring and somber existence that many imagine. The Stoics themselves were similar to Jedi, they were entirely self-sufficient and were able to achieve a strong emotional, mental and spiritual balance in their lives. Stoicism is still practiced today and strongly influences Cognitive Behavioral Therapy used to treat acute low self-esteem and mild depression. Here are some practices that can be used to improve self-sufficiency:

Reframe the situation:

Have you ever been dumped by a girlfriend / boyfriend? Did you ever get fired from your job? Perhaps both happened in a single week. How did it feel? If you felt terrible about it for a long period or too it worse than you now feel was appropriate now it is probably because your emotional response to the event upset you more than the event did. Later on you meet someone and land a job that fits you far better and you wonder why you were upset all along. The belief that you would never find another love or find a suitable job proved to be irrational and false. If you were to reframe the situation to something like “I’ve been dumped but I’ll be alright and will meet someone new” and “that job paid the bills but it was clearly not meant to last, something better will turn up”, you will find that the emotions tied to the situation are not as acute and consequently you won’t take it as bad.

Change what you can, accept what you can’t:

The serenity prayer is read at AA meetings for a reason; it reminds those in recovery that acceptance and action are hand in hand. We must take action where we have control in our lives and we must be prepared to accept that there is much which happens in life which we have no control. It is worthwhile asking the following questions when confronted with a challenge or problem in your life:

  1. What aspects do I have control over?
  2. What do I have come but not all control over?
  3. What areas do I have no control over at all?

For example, if you lose your job you have no control over that. You can try to get the company to reverse their decision. Failing that you can put a positive spin on it and spend time tidying up your resume. You can get out and start job hunting. Being unemployed can be hard but being sad and miserable about being unemployed is a choice. It is better to accept the loss of the job and get busy finding another one rather than staying passive and impotent by wasting time in denial and regret.

Pick you Role Model:

My role model is Ob-wan Kenobi. When I find myself in a difficult situation or I need to inspiration in the best way to achieve a desired outcome I consider how someone with the presence of mind, skill and self-discipline like Obi-wan Kenobi would have handled it. Obi-wan is not a real person, I cannot use him as an actual mentor. Fortunately many of us have access to mentors and in the 12 Step program we can approach a potential sponsor to help guide us. In the Jedi community a dedicated mentor is important in guiding those seeking to learn the philosophy of being Jedi.

Set Daily rituals:

The Stoics used daily rituals to centre themselves. In the morning they would take time to plan their day, they would “welcome the day” by observing or imagining the rising sun. They would consider all the hardships and challenges they could expect to face. These are handy practices. In addition to those I also remind myself of something to be grateful for. During the day I do spot checks to assess my mental and emotional state. In the evening I consider the day’s events and assess my conduct noting opportunities for improvement. Meditation and daily readings are also an integral part of my daily routine as is exercise.

 

Self-reliance and Self-sufficiency are two of the greatest assets a person can possess. Not only will it make you more resilient and adaptable to life it will also improve emotional, mental, physical and spiritual well-being. An owner of a major company commanding billions of dollars’ worth of assets and having a vast personal wealth may actually be poor if she lacks self-reliance and self-sufficiency. Life is no more than a hollow and meaningless existence compared to the peasant who is both self-reliant and self-sufficient. All of the things we own or control are transitory and impermanent, they have no intrinsic value. To be in command of one’s own emotions and to be the master of one’s own life, on the other hand, is a treasure far greater than a mountain of Gold. Therein lies true serenity.

Silence

There are worse things than Silence” – Padmé Amidala

 

The Silent Cure

In silence there is peace and serenity. To be silent is to be like a still calm lake. Nothing disturbs us on the surface of things or within. Imagine being alone on that lake. The sun is shining. The only disturbance being the slight rock as you shift your weight. The hum of a passing dragon fly. That is what silence sounds like.

We also feel silence. By being silent we connect with something deep within ourselves. The watcher within emerges as the mind clears of thoughts and we become present in the moment. As our breath rises and falls we feel ourselves in tune with nature, the pulse of life. We are part of the cosmos on a tiny boat.

Silence is a true friend who never betrays.” – Confucius

 

The Inner Silence

The world is full of noise. To escape the hum of civilization one must either seek solitude far from home or withdraw within themselves.

Seneca once said that we could escape to a mountain retreat or a secluded place on the coast. Unless silence is within us, we bring our mental noise with us. One can be on Mars in a lifeless wilderness and still not be in silence. Silence is within, it is not just to hold one’s tongue but to silence the mind and heart as well.

If our emotions are in turmoil, so is our mind and we feel forced to speak. Often it is in silence that we find the inner peace we seek. In silence we find the right things to do and say.

 

Speak softly

How often had we said a thing and wished we had held our tongue instead. Once words ill spoken leave our mouth they are beyond recall. Thoughts and feelings too can betray us as we yield to turbulent emotions.

To be Jedi is to know when to speak and when to hold silence. Emotions can be tempered, we can choose when to speak and what to say. While anger, fear, exuberance, impatience and annoyance may rise and fall within us whether we choose to energize those emotions is up to us. We decide how play out those emotions. You can keep calm and silent when angered or resort to harsh words and rash action.

“Silence is a lesson learned from the many sufferings of life” – Seneca

Silence is Golden

Jedi know the value of inner and outer silence. In recovery too we learn that silence is golden. We meditate to restore our balance and recharge ourselves. When others speak we listen in silence and without judgement. We also speak with clarity and purpose and express our thoughts calmly. Like Jedi we can guard our words but we do not ignore our convictions. Sometimes more is said with less.

Speech is silver and silence is golden. – Thomas Carlyle

Once upon a time I feared silence. Even as I sought to isolate I needed noise around me. If there was none my mind was agog with rampant activity. I could be alone but with enough alcohol there was a noisy party going on inside my head. Around people I spoke without thought or care. My words betrayed jumbled thoughts, anger, fear and hate. The more I spoke the worse I made things.

The more you say, the more likely you are to say something foolish” – Robert Greene

In conversation I barely heard the other person. I would cut in and talk over people. Ignore their point of view and use words to shore up my position. I betrayed my immaturity and inexperience. I would blow opportunities, put people off side and build obstacles for myself. As I dug a deeper hole I became resentful and found respite in isolation.

 

Return to Silence

These days I seek silence often. Finding turmoil and noise within me I settle it down. When I want to say something, I ask myself like Cato did in the Roman Senate “Is this better left unsaid”? Will silence serve me better than to speak my turn? If not speak mindfully and with confidence. To be silent could be a disservice. Sometimes speaking up is a duty.

“In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends” – Martin Luther King

Today we are driven to be heard. There is a perception that to be silent is to not exist. Social Media demands our attention and we want to be heard. We join the din of the forum. Everyone is yelling but no one is listening.

Our ancestors lived in silence compared to us. Life was closer to nature and simpler. Words had more value. The ancients would find our world confusing, frightening and distracting. The natural state is to reside in tranquility. Our hearts yearn peace. There we find truth.

“Learn to get in touch with the silence within yourself, and know that everything in life has purpose. There are no mistakes, no coincidences, all events are blessings given to us to learn from” – Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

Find Silence amidst the Storm

Imagine a still lake in the mountains if you will or a calm sea at sunrise. There is barely a ripple on the face of the water. You can hear your own breathing. A soft breeze touches your face. The silence encompasses all for an eternal moment. The light of sunrise falls on distant hills. Even the birds are subdued in the peace and serenity of the morning.

Close your eyes. Look into your mind and listen intently. Let the voices and echoes fade in to silence. Passing like clouds in the wind. Peer in to your core where the seat of emotions resides. Feel what is there. Let any tension in your body and residual emotions relax and release. Let go of any pain and fear. Relax in to the silence. Hold the moment.

You are one with the cosmos and one with all creation. You are a child of the Force.

Joy (Part 2)

The Happy Trap

In the book the “Happiness Trap” the author suggests that one of the greatest impediments to achieving a “good life” is the expectation that we must always be Happy. The mistake that we make is we confound “Joy” with “Happiness”. Once again, the two are different; one is an emotion, the other is a state of being. The book reveals that we often beguile ourselves by falling in to a “Happiness Trap”.

We have convinced ourselves that life is meaningless and defective unless we are “Happy” so we set ourselves up for stress and disappointment when we fail to achieve “Happiness”. We may be happy in the beginning but then the love of our life leaves for our best friend, we get passed over for that promotion at work, someone steals the car, the computer blows up taking all our work. World crashes in, our life is crushed and we think it’s over because we are now unhappy. Life is not over, life is both pleasure and pain and even this too shall pass. Don’t feel unhappy about being unhappy. Embrace the wonderful tapestry of emotions which make us human.

“The walls we build around us to keep sadness out also keeps out the joy” – Jim Rohn

The “Good Life”

Monks and Mystics do not give the impression of being a “Joyful” bunch, neither do Jedi. We imagine them to be serious and humourless and everything that resembles devout. Then we are surprised when we see religious leaders, devout people like the Dalai Lama, Thich Nhat Hanh, Desmond Tutu and even Pope Francis cracking a joke and being playful and funny. How could that be when the world is so full of misery, war and strife aren’t they supposed to be sombre and righteous? What is the secret?

St Francis of Assisi was also a spiritual leader who eschewed all the pomp and ceremony of the Church and chose a life of poverty, simplicity and service as Jesus of Nazareth had. Francis of Assisi is known as the patron saint of Ecology for his love of animals and defense of the Environment. At the Vatican Francis presented in front of the Pope in his simple habit and rags and instead of bowing and supplicating before the Pontiff he danced and sang in Joy to the complete shock of the watching hierarchy.

Francis preached in rapture about the beauty of nature and the wonder of the cosmos and the Joy of the Divine. Later Francis traveled to Egypt in the midst of the Crusades to broker peace and understanding with the Arab Caliphate. Instead of being killed or taken as a hostage he was honored by the Sultan and bestowed gifts. Francis returned home and preached that Christians and Muslims could learn from each other and co-exist peacefully as members of one big family. Francis took love, reconciliation, humility and respect with him and it was welcomed and embraced.

In our obsession with original sin we often forget original innocence”  – Pope Innocent III to Francis of Assisi

Saint Francis of Assisi was 46 when he died. The years of attempting to live as an ascetic in self imposed poverty and deprivation had caught up to him despite later admitting that a middle road of simplicity was the path to spiritual Joy. Francis suffered terribly during his death but his Joy never left him, the light that he held within him was strengthened by his strong spiritual faith and beyond. Jesus and Gautama Buddha died in the same way, as did Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Sri Chin Moy and Bill W, they all took their Joy with them. They transcended life.

The Stoics believed that one could be deprived of everything but keep their sense of Joy at living, even condemned to death a person could meet their fate with peace and Joy of knowing they had lived a “good life”. Nothing can take that away. I believe we take our Joy with us when we die.

“Joy is not in things, it is in us” – Wagner

 

End of Joy

Today’s Pope has attempted to emulate the historic Francis by trying to broker peace again in the Middle East. This has largely gone no where. The Pope also tried to encourage a global consensus on climate change and environmental destruction as well as address inequality and rampant consumerism, to no avail. Technology may have moved on, borders have been drawn and erased and Empires have risen and fallen but still the same problems remain.

There is a detachment, a disconnect between what we think is joy (pleasure) and what is true joy in our society and as result a deep discontent prevails. This disconnect has resulted in endless war, poverty, inequality, environmental degradation and global angst. Perhaps this is because we have become more distanced from nature than at any time in our history. Material and individual pursuits have replaced the spiritual and the collective. It is no longer “we” but “me”. Many people feel entitled to happiness but do not realize only they have the power  to make themselves happy, no one can do it for them. We need to stop living in a “feel good” society and start living in a “do good society”.

The Art of Joy

Joy in comprehending and looking is natures most beautiful gift” – Albert Einstein

Yoda and the Jedi were similar in many regards to the spiritual leaders who have genuinely tried to make a positive difference in the world. The Jedi were not void of Joy, in fact they were probably the most content sentient beings in the Galaxy but just didn’t show it much. The fictional Jedi had a deep and abiding connection to the Force, they knew they were part of a greater whole and they were at complete peace with who they were.

Death did not fear them as they knew ultimately they would return to the Force and become one with it. The Jedi lived austere and simple lives based around duty, virtue and discipline and as a result they knew Joy.  Jedi realized that the pursuit of happiness in the shallow way eventually led to grasping attachment, which lead to fear, anger and hatred and ultimately the Dark Side.

In the Clone Wars “Lost Missions” Yoda travels to a mysterious world that is intense with the Force. Yoda seeks the wisdom to be able to unite with the Force after death in with his living consciousness. That is, Yoda seeks enlightenment and immortality of consciousness. In this mysterious realm he encounters the spiritual manifestation of the five states of being that are said to survive death; anger, sadness, confusion, serenity and joy. Each of the forms guide Yoda through the trials he must face to achieve his goals.

Yoda survives the trials and having gained the wisdom he seeks, he returns to Coruscant. The Jedi Master has changed and in the place of the fear, doubt and regret which has plagued him through the Clone Wars, emerges serenity, peace and Joy. These three unified states define Yoda for the remainder of his life until he is able to leave behind his tired physical form and his consciousness unites with the Force.

Find a place inside where there’s joy, and the joy will burn out the pain.” – Joseph Campbell

Simple as ABC

Not many of us are in a position to change our lives to an extent necessary for significant spiritual, mental, emotional and physical improvement. We have lives, commitments, careers and families to attend to; responsibilities. Fewer want to completely leave their former lives and adopt a life as a Mystic or Monk in a monastery or retreat. We must all work out what works for us as an individual and try to maintain a balanced life that satisfies our personal needs with the needs of others.

Simple lifestyle changes can make a lot of difference, they do not need to be drastic. In sticking to them we find that the effort and time we put in to acquiring “Happiness” through the pursuit of shallow and meaningless pleasures and material possessions can be better served by going back to the basics, the “ABCs”.

A is for Act: always act in accordance with your identified values. Know what they are, they will guide you in every aspect of your life. Be spiritually, physically, socially and mentally active. This means take up a hobby or interest you enjoy, exercise within your limitations, socialize with like-minded people and build a network of friends.

B is for Belong: be part of something, join a club or community group or get more active if already involved.

C is for Commit: volunteer, engage in a cause, take up a course, accept a challenge.

It’s that simple.

only those who have learned the power of sincere and selfless contribution experience life’s deepest joy: fulfillment” – Tony Robbins

 

Children

Truly wonderful the mind of a child is.” – Yoda “Episode 2: Attack of the Clones”.

Do you remember what it was like to be a child? That sense of wonder at discovering new things, the fascination and joy. Everything seemed bigger and brighter and your senses were alive soaking up every experience. As we grew up something happened; the veil came down. We started to lose our innocent sense of wonder, acceptance and trust. As we entered in to our teens the world started to lose its magic and color. We no longer cared for the same things in the same way as we did when we were little. The Ego expanded and we started to see ourselves as apart from everything.

Children are remarkable for their intelligence and ardour, for their curiosity, their intolerance of shames, the clarity and ruthlessness of their vision.” – Aldous Huxley

Losing my Childhood

When I was a kid I would escape in to my own world. In that place lived Obi-Wan Kenobi and Luke Skywalker. There was Han Solo, Princess Leia and Chewbacca.  Darth Vader was also there. Outside of my imagination there was all the misery of a childhood lost. The mind of a child is an amazing thing. Unlike adults they seem to be able to accept things more readily and handle life better.

For me the final death of my childhood was when I got drunk the first time and felt something within me expand. It was a feeling of power and independence. I could finally close the door on my childhood. It had been after all a miserable one. Here I was with my Army buddies in a bar, chest thumping and making bloody oaths. I was now a Man, at least in my own eyes. The veil slammed down and the fog drifted in.

Rip Van Winkle’s Sleep

Alcoholism is a twilight that exists between two phases in our life, the time before it and the time after it. During that time we are in a form of mental stasis. We do not seem to move forward in our emotional development. For me I stopped growing up in that seedy bar with my drunken and loud comrades by my side. Like Rip Van Winkle, I would only really wake up from my emotional and spiritual slumber 25 years later.

At that dark emotional and spiritual low point in our lives some of us call “Rock Bottom” I discovered something incredible. I found that the way out was to reclaim a child like sense of wonder and trust. Without even being aware of the 12 Steps I found my Higher Power in that place and felt within me the inner child stirred. It lifted me up and I came out of the pit renewed. The world looked…different. Everything was clean and fresh and new. I was seeing the world in a completely different way as if through the eyes of a child.

“Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” – Matthew 18:2-4

Awaken the Inner Child

We adults must seem inflexible and obtuse to children at times. I can still hear my children imploring me to get dressed up as Pirate, Spider Man or a Fairy. They would be disappointed when I would refuse and delighted when I would drop my ridiculous sensibilities and play the part in their game. Those children are now teenagers and to them I am an old “Fart”now, barely worth a side ways glance. The veil came down for them some time ago. Kids these days grow fast or at least they seem to. Obviously I don’t get called upon to get “dressed up” any longer. They have grown and so have I.

Yet the inner child never dies. If you look within you will find it is still there. That sense of awe and wonder, a long forgotten innocence remains. There is forgiveness and boundless love that sweeps over you like a fresh morning breeze in the sun when you find your inner child. I think it is the inner divine or at least a facet of it. Seek it out often; try to remember what it was to be 7 years of age all over again. You will find joy and inner peace there.

The pursuit of truth and beauty is a sphere of activity in which we are permitted to remain children all our lives.” – Albert Einstein

Photo Credit: United Press photographer Arthur Sasse in 1951

Adventure

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

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

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

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

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

Meaning or Hedonism

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

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

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

True Experience

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

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

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

Reece

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

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

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

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

True Sacrifice

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

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

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

Rest in Peace Heval Bagok. Sehid Namirin.

Fear

Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering“. – Yoda

Fear is a pervasive element in the Star Wars saga. The symbolism of the Death Star is a classic example of fear and terror manifested. Imagine such a weapon; the immense size of the Death Star foreboding alone would strike abject terror as it filled the sky with its ominous presence. The Death Star was also able to destroy entire planets with the simple flick of a switch. It was the Dark Lords ultimate weapon against his enemies and its true power was Fear.

As a child I grew up under the shadow of the Cold War. The threat of nuclear war a was a pervasive fear  that I remember as a young child. It seemed that the Soviets and the West were committed to destroying each other with scant regard for life. It may have been saber rattling and perhaps we came close to midnight a couple of times. I remember laying at wake at night barely 11 years of age imagining that missiles were arching through the night sky toward their intended targets. The thought was terrifying and with world events and the current trajectory we find ourselves in I wonder what my children imagine when they lay in bed at night.

The Black Dog

Being an alcoholic is to live in a perpetual state of extremes.  We are either in a state of buoyant optimism and hope or we are filled with anxiety and ridden with fear. Sometimes both in the same day. Our hearts will leap with a sense of renewed purpose and a sense that all is well and then slowly the cold wind and grey skies of fear and morbid reflection creep in. It’s no wonder that we drink to gain an even keel and try to feel half decent.

Neither of those extremes, false hope or undefined terror, were valid or accurate perceptions of reality when I was an alcoholic. They were simply the symptoms of a diseased mind and a depressed mental state that bordered on bipolarism. The other way to look at it was it was simply rampant imagination. I was simply a victim of the alcoholics ability to create a world in his or her own mind. A perception that is completely untrue if viewed objectively. I would swing between fear, sadness and elation and self medicate with booze to celebrate the euphoria or chase the “Black Dog” away. I would stall in depression for days. Thoughts of hopelessness and suicide would drift in and out like passing dark clouds.

Reclaim your Sunshine

With admission and acceptance of my disease and surrender I started to reclaim my sanity. I had been insane all of this time and now the fog was lifting. Reality had been distorted. Sobriety taught me that the fear of uncertainty is a normal human emotion when it is rational. Fear and dark imaginings can also be illusions. We needn’t let fear rule us and steal the sunshine from the day. When can face fear and watch it melt away like a phantom and realize it was all in our head.

We suffer more in imagination than in reality.” – Seneca

Today things are better. I still get sad, angry or down on occasion but these emotions I feel are appropriate and healthy. I don’t need to feel sad for feeling sad. I can also decide what is real and what is imagined. My disease still tries to play “Jedi Mind Tricks” on me but I’m one step ahead. The monsters have receded in to the background. I view the threat of a nuclear war or the sudden appearance of a Death Star in the morning sky in an objective and rational fashion. One I hope is still highly unlikely and the other is almost (but not entirely) impossible. I won’t be losing any sleep over worrying about either.

Control the things you can

Control is Serentiy

Accept the things you can’t….

Jedi were renown for having control over their emotions and staying in control seemingly when others were losing their minds. They were calm and completely at peace but behind that serenity was the potential for decisive action. Jedi were also adept at manipulating and controlling the Force with their minds and at times also controlling the minds of others through “mind-tricks”.

One could almost describe a Jedi Master as a sort of Warrior-Monk Stoic, completely devoid of inner disturbance and completely present in a state of equanimity and purpose amidst a raging storm. Of course this is fiction and only an ideal, not reality. The truth is that few but the most disciplined practitioners and adherents of a monastic order could achieve the same measure of internal emotional control and then they would still be subject to the vagaries of the world. Very few people would be able to achieve the same level of self control as a Jedi Master.

The main difference between a Jedi and an ordinary person is their ability and the wisdom to discern what resides within their control and what lies outside of it and to respond accordingly. Jedi have the serenity to accept the things they cannot change and the courage to change the things they can. More importantly a Jedi will know the difference between the two and reflect that in their decisions and actions.

It is important to remind ourselves that despite our best efforts sometimes we do not achieve our goals in life for a number of reasons. Life is not so simple and often the path is convoluted and beset with traps and pit falls most of which we have no control over. Awareness of control is important as it will lead to acceptance of failure and humility in success and ultimately a greater sense of serenity and peace.

What is intrinsic to you is what you have control over. Your thoughts, actions, words, motivation and your response to emotional stimuli ultimately reside entirely within your sphere of control. As you move from your inner world to your outer world your degree of control over your world diminishes. You have partial control over your health but not complete control, you exert partial control over the behaviors of people close to you but ultimately every person has free will to choose how they think and feel.

Remote events whether local or internationally happen with or without our consent, the planet revolves on its axis and orbits around the sun and the cosmos evolves and expands utterly indifferent to our existence or cares. Take some time to appreciate the difference between what is within your control, what is partially within your control and what is completely outside of your control. Act with purpose where you can and be prepared to accept the outcomes with equanimity and grace.

Grant me serenity

To accept the things I cannot change

Courage to change the things I can

And wisdom to know the Difference

The serenity prayer is one of the most profound prayers written and it one that I read daily as part of my 12 Step practice in acceptance. I understand that I cannot expect the world to revolve around me, I accept that things may not go the way I plan. However what choices I do have is how I will respond to life every moment. I know that in the course of the day I will feel a wide range of emotions some of which may feel unpleasant however I still decide how I respond to and act out those emotions. Do I allow myself to feel anger? Yes, as a human being I will feel anger or disgust in certain circumstances, however I choose how to respond to those emotions. I can lash out or attack another person or I can remain calm and explore the emotion, allow it to take its course and then choose how to act in an appropriate manner.

As an active alcoholic I had no realistic grasp on emotions and rarely applied control. In addition I had no concept of the fact that some things were not in my control and I lived in a false reality where it was normal that the world should make allowances for me. Of course this continued in early sobriety when I thought that being dry gave me some sort of entitlement to be treated special and I would rebel when people did not conform to my expectations. Society does not function for me, I am a part of society and a small part at that. Over time I began to realize that I needed to focus on what I can change (myself) and do my best with what I had partial control over. I have to be prepared to accept and let go of the things I have no control over at all.

Understanding our limited influence, the impermanence of our impression upon the world and the fleeting amount of time we have to spend in the material plane within our limited bodies is both humbling and liberating. We realize that we are a minuscule part of the whole which makes up the Universe, that we are each a single beautiful note within the expanse of the grand symphony of life. The part of the whole. With your feet planted firmly on the ground ask yourself these three questions as it applies to what is happening in this moment, in your life and with what you hope to achieve:

  1. What is in my control?
  2. What is outside of my control?
  3. What are my choices and how do I act?

Then go out and act and do so with mindfulness, purpose and single-minded intent.