The Gathering

He who faces himself, finds himself.” – The Clone Wars “The Gathering” Series 5 Episode 7

Ilum

In the Clone Wars (Series 5, Episode 7 “The Gathering” ) a group of Jedi Younglings are taken to a the planet of Ilum where they will complete a challenge called the Gathering. The Gathering is a rite of passage in the journey to becoming a Knight. The purpose of the challenge is to unite the young Jedi with the crystals that will form the heart of the light sabres they are expected to fashion on completion of the challenge. Each of the sacred Kyber crystals found within the protected Jedi caverns of Ilum amplify the Force and are tied spiritually to the essence of the Jedi it chooses to wield it. The Light Sabre becomes part of the Jedi as it contains their crystal and harnesses the energy of the Force. This is one of the reasons a personal light sabre is such an important part of a Jedi.

As the six Younglings arrived with Ahsoka Tano they are greeted by Yoda who explains the purpose of their mission. They are to enter the caves and each find the crystal which is matched to them. Yoda does not only want the young Jedi to find their crystals and fashion light sabres. The hidden purpose of The Gathering is to test each individual and push them to face and overcome their weaknesses by working as a team but ultimately each facing the ordeal alone. Like the cave on Dagobah where Luke was tested, the caves of Ilum can sense and manifest the fears and weaknesses of those that enter it. Each Jedi is being judged by his or her actions during the challenge. How they conduct themselves determines whether they pass or fail the test in the next step to becoming a Jedi Knight.

As the Youngling Jedi watched on, Yoda uses the Force to turn the ice wall in to water as the sun rises illuminating the cavernous chamber. The entrance to the Jedi cave opened Yoda warns the Younglings to use their skills and the Force to locate their Kyber Crystals. This they have to do as quickly as possible. As the sun begins to lower the ice wall will form over the entrance closing them in the cave for a full rotation of the planet. Facing their doubts and fears the Younglings enter in to the cave.

 

The March

Twenty of us were gathered in the early morning chill shivering in the dark. There was a hint of the sunrise on the horizon and birds had began to call in anticipation of a new day. The men around  me spoke  in hushed tones. There was a sense of anticipation, dread, fear and hope mixed with bravado. A few smoked last cigarettes and told jokes. Water was guzzled from canteens and a ration energy bar eaten hurriedly. Packs and weapons were propped up nearby having been checked and weighed by the instructors.

This was the final week of Basic Training. There had been thirty two at the start and now we were half of the original Platoon. Recruits had dropped off along the way from injury or failing tests and had been back squadded to Platoons farther back in training. A few had decided to leave the Army completely and requested to cancel their contracts and with some pulling teeth had been granted a dismissal. One had gone AWOL one night and had never returned. Three of the men in our final platoon had been back squadded from earlier platoons. One had been trying to reach graduation for almost a year.

Today was the last test of nearly six months of Basic Training. Over the last few days we had done route marches over 100km of terrain, completed physical fitness tests, completed navigation exercises, run obstacle courses and expended thousands of rounds of ammunition on the range. We had been tested on field craft, first aid, military history and tradition, weapons handling, basic infantry skills and radio communications. Today we had to speed march over 42 kilometers of trails and roads through farmland, heath and forest to a destination where we would be given our corps badges and welcomed in to the family.

We had less than 7 hours to do walk the distance carrying 40 pounds of kit and every one had to cross the finish line as a unit. It was explained that we were being assessed as a team and as individuals. We were to leave no man behind and carry or drag anyone that could not keep up or who fell aside. The pace was going to be brutal because the Officer leading the march was a fitness freak who did these just for the fun of it. Given that none of us had slept that night it was a tall order. It was emphasized, there would be no quitting.

A short safety brief done, the platoon sergeant ordered us to shoulder our packs. I groaned under the weight and cursed as I felt an item stick in to my kidney. Jumping up and down I managed to get it sitting comfortably. I knew within a few kilometers the straps of the pack and webbing would be cutting in to my shoulder stemming circulation. The pouches on my belt would rub at my hips and I’d be feeling heat sores and blisters forming on my feet and crotch. I had tapped up raw patches and was prepared physically and mentally. But I was still anxious and doubted myself.

Over the next few hours there would be nothing but the sound of feet stamping the ground and labored breathing. There would be the urging on by the instructors which would alternate between gentle pressure and frustrated yelling. I would be alone with my thoughts, my self-doubt and fears and would have to push through one pain barrier after the next. This was the final test and the key was to focus on the prize at the end. As light rose above the horizon we set off, silhouettes on the road. I settled in to the pace my eyes locked on the figure in front of me and I started to day dream.

 

The Crystal Hunt

During the hunt for crystals inside the Jedi Cave on Ilum, the young Jedi face their weaknesses one by one and overcome them individually but also as a group. Petro is selfish and impatient and in his haste to find a crystal almost fails the task and also abandons Katooni trapped behind in chamber behind an ice wall. It is only at the last moment that he becomes selfless and rescues Katooni. Petro then works through his task mindfully. He finds wins his crystal and frees himself from the cave. Katooni was at the beginning full of self doubt but her courage and determination sees her overcome her fears. Hesitant at first she scales a sheer rock face to claim her crystal and also finds her self confidence. When Petro abandons her she realizes her fate is sealed and accepts it with equanimity.

Meanwhile the Rodian, Ganodi is despondent in being unable to find a crystal. Her lack of Faith in the Force and her own ability leads her to search aimlessly. It is by finally being present in the moment and turning over the process to the Force that she  is able to identify her crystal and claim it. Ganodi finds Faith and allows the crystal to find her.

Zatt, a Nautolian Youngling also seeks aimlessly and is distracted by technology during his search. Rather than using his intuition he was relying solely on a device to help him find his crystal. Zatt has failed to understand that technology may help but it does not complete missions alone or win wars. His senses and intuition cannot be replaced by a computer. It is only by destroying his personal computer that Zatt is able to open himself to the Force and find his crystal. By doing so Zatt finds his inner intuition and begins to sense with his feelings, not only his thoughts.

The Wookiee Gungi soon finds his crystal in the middle of a frozen subterranean lake partially bathed in sunlight. Attempting to cross the lake Gungi almost falls through the ice. It is apparent that he must wait for the sunlight to recede off the lake allowing it to freeze solid. The Wookie is impatient by nature and forces himself to settle in to meditation and resist the urge to act. As he waits the sunlight recedes from the lake and it freezes over. At last he is able to claim his crystal. Gungi also claims patience as his prize.

Byph, the Ithorian encounters his crystal guarded in a cavern that appears to burn with some malign presence. The Ithorian is terrified of monsters and must muster all of his courage to enter the chamber and take the crystal. When he does he realizes the imagery he had encountered was nothing but the product of his own fears. It was his imagination, the irrational fear of the dark.  Failure is often the product of fear and fear is more often than not completely unjustified. The best way to overcome fear is to face it up close. The “monsters of our imagination” vanish in  to thin air if we refuse to give them power through our mind. Byph does exactly that and also finds his courage.

 

The Last Mile

The platoon was now moving at a canter. My reverie had long been replaced with pain and mental anguish.  Everything was burning. My lungs, legs and back begged for the pace to slow or stop. The last short rest break had been over an hour before and we were now pushing the pace to make up time. A soft rain drizzled down which was a blessing and a curse because it cooled down bodies but made everything wet and heavier. Everyone wheezed around me, coughed and spat as we labored forward. No one had fallen out yet. I knew from the road and passing country we were coming towards the end. We rounded a corner and there it was, two trucks and an ambulance about 400 meters ahead. The finish line! Hearts soared and a cheer went up from the platoon. We sped up in to a run.

We drew closer and the vehicles suddenly roared in to life and drove away disappearing in a cloud of smoke. I stared in disbelief and horror. Someone groaned and swore loudly. Everyone’s hopes were dashed. I wanted to fall to the side and collapse in to a road side drain and cry like a baby. One of the instructor yelled at us “keep Effin moving, this is it, this is why you have been working!”. Soon enough the vehicles reappeared further down the road and we ran up to them gasping for air. Our Platoon leader directed us to drop our packs and form up. We had finished and passed the test.

 

The Tally

In the space of 6 hours and 20 minutes  to complete the march every emotion had swept over my consciousness. I felt as if I had to grapple with every dark and negative thought that visited to keep putting one foot in front of the other. My mind tormented me constantly, egging me to quit. During moments that seemed like hours I hated myself and the men around me and wanted to be anywhere else but there. Self pity filled my senses and I wallowed in the mud of a personal misery. Someone started to falter and fell behind and the instructors fell on him like hyenas, yelling and cursing him to move it as he begged that he couldn’t go on. My heart filled with rage and hate as we were halted, did a 180 degree turn and ran back to him so he could find his place back in the pack before we turned around and resumed the march. Fantasies started to fill my mind, some pleasant and others terrifying and disturbing. My mind screamed through the pain. We were barely at the 20 kilometer mark.

As the march progressed past that half way mark and we came closer to the finish line the mental burden started to ease a bit and I started to get numb to the pain. The time we were making was encouraging and everyone was keeping up the brutal pace. As the mental fog started to lift a ray of sunshine started to filter through. I felt renewed confidence and self belief. Doubt and self pity was replaced with a sense of hope, courage and determination. “I can do this” I thought. We started to encourage each other and those that were suffering more than others. With words of encouragement came a renewed drive to push through the mental and physical barriers of the march. We were working as a cohesive team that cared for each other and wanted each other to succeed.

 

The Will to Succeed

All of the Younglings had made it outside of the Cave except Petro and Katooni. The four Younglings wanted to re-enter the cave but Yoda told them to not to move. There is a time to act and this was not one of them. The Younglings in the cave had to face their peril alone as Jedi often must. Katooni appeared as the ice wall was closing and manages to slip through with inches to spare. Petro was not with her. By rescuing Katooni, Petro had lost precious seconds and was now trapped behind by the ice wall. The cave entrance was sealed. The Younglings stared at the wall in realization of the loss of their friend who would certainly freeze to death in the cave. Yoda and Ahsoka did not seem concerned. A moment later, Petro smashes his way through the ice wall and presents his crystal to Yoda. The ice wall could be broken. It was only impenetrable if the mind allowed it to be.

After the March and back in Barracks, one of the Instructors said that the final march was a mental challenge more than a physical one. The march was intended to test character as much as fitness and force each recruit to face their weaknesses and overcome them. They had no doubt that after six months of training most of us were fit enough to have been able to turn around and march back to the start line if we had been ordered to do so. That was our job. In war time under horrific conditions, wounded and exhausted soldiers are force marched over far worse terrain for days, not hours.

The Sergeant revealed that Recruits did not quit because they physically could not handle training, they quit because they lost the mental game. They quit because they built walls in their minds and sabotaged themselves along the way with self defeating talk and attitudes. The vehicles had been parked a kilometer short of the finish line on purpose. They had been instructed to move on as we approached. The reason for this was simple, a person’s character is revealed when you give them hope and then snatch it away. Spirits that were soaring had now hit rock bottom. This is the moment when most will give up and quit, at the very end of the road. The Sergeant asked us all; “What were you going to do? Keeping going or lay down and die?”. The Instructors wanted to know if they were sending Lambs or Lions to a unit that could go to war.

No Limits

The limits we imagine that we have only exist in our mind. We are actually capable of far more than we give ourselves credit for. Most of the time we are only fighting ourselves and the internal dialogue that says “I can’t do it”, “I’m not good enough” and “This is too hard”. Like the ice wall in the Jedi cave our obstacles only appear impenetrable because we convince ourselves that they are. We can smash through the barriers that we think block our way.  The march was a final test because it revealed to the Instructors and to each recruit their true nature. It tested the mental, emotional  and physical boundaries and exposed weaknesses within the individual. Over a few hours we learned more about ourselves than most of us had in our short lives.

 

Easy to break (the wall) if you have the will” – Yoda (The Gathering)

 

The end of Basic Training was not the end but only the beginning of our journey. Each of us graduated and went on to our units where we faced greater challenges as individuals but also in our teams. Likewise the Gathering on Ilum ultimately led the Youngling Jedi to further trials on their journey to Knighthood. As Jedi each of the Younglings would grow and face their own challenges. The ordeal in the caves of Ilum was but the first.  Each Jedi proved they could go past their self imposed limits.

 

The Gathering

My Platoon was also a Gathering of young men who wanted to be warriors and do greater things. We all wanted to test ourselves. Together we faced a challenge that most would find daunting if not impossible. For many of us it was the hardest and most important challenge we had ever faced. By digging deep and finding the power within we found the key to success. As individuals we fought our own internal battles during the march but we made sure that everyone of us got over the finish line and we finished  as one.   We each won the coveted brevet, our own personal Kyber crystal.

The Jedi Path is a journey in spiritual, mental and physical development and growth. The challenges are increased in intensity and difficulty with one level to the next in order to push the Jedi to the limits of their capability. The intent is not to break the Jedi or push them to quit but to show the Jedi what they can do if they have confidence in themselves and in their training. Fantasy often reflects reality in many ways. The march, the Army and the decades of stumbling through life and my eventual recovery from alcoholism has taught me that life is a similar journey. Along the way we face challenges some hard and some seemingly impossible. Somehow we find a way and even failure carries lessons that we can use. Every day is an opportunity to learn and practice the values we hold dear and the virtues that we value.

The virtues which Yoda offered to the Younglings in the “The Gathering” are the same virtues I aspired to in the Army. They were the values that our Instructors tried to drum in to us during Training and the fuel which got us over the line during the final march. The virtues of patience, quiet determination, fearlessness, confidence, courage, faith, humility, team work, responsibility and selflessness won the Jedi their crystals. These same virtues can help us daily meet our own personal challenges in life if we embrace them. We also recognize that most of the barriers and walls we encounter are only in our minds. We can chose to breakthrough them if we really want to.

OODA

Your focus determines your reality” – Qui-Gon Jinn

The Loop

The OODA Loop is a handy tool. OODA is the acronym for Observe, Orientate, Decide and Act. The acronym is used by Fighter Pilots to help them instinctively assess a situation and decide on a course of action in time and space. The Pilot is fully aware of his surroundings and can plan ahead rapidly orientating themselves in a better position to defeat an opponent in an aerial combat. US Fighter pilots used the strategy effectively in the Vietnam War.

A modern fighter jet may have all the technological advantages to assist with threat detection and guidance. They may have on board weapons systems and defenses however individual skill, prowess and instinct are still a major asset to a Combat Fighter Pilot. The OODA Loop is a cycle which allows a person to constantly re-assess a changing environment and act accordingly.

 

KO by the Force

When Luke Skywalker was engaging Imperial Tie-Fighters during the Battle of Yavin he was being assisted by on-board computers, Rebel command and a Droid that was constantly feeding him information on the battle situation and threats. The combat environment was extremely volatile and fast moving. Fighters and Bombers weaved in space around the Death Star like hornets around a hive. Blaster rays from Fighters and Death Star cannons formed a web that Rebel pilots had to skillfully maneuver through as they sought to out-skill and outmaneuver Imperial Fighters. The enemy were Clones who were trained, battle hardened and supported by superior systems on the Death Star. Situational awareness and fluidity of precise movements as well as full commitment once a decision was made were key to survival. One small mistake and the X-Wing Fighter was obliterated.

 

“Use the Force Luke” – Obi-wan Kenobi

What saved the day for day for Luke was his willingness to put aside the technological tools he had been given to target the fatal flaw of the Death Star. To the final moment  as he approached his target, a combination of pluck, instinct and situational awareness and technology had kept him alive. The final enemy Fighters had been knocked out of the fight but so had all the Rebels. The Death Star was moving into a firing position with the Rebel Base, the planet of Yavin coming in to view. The Death Stars planet killer weapon was being charged and primed to fire.

There was not a second to lose. One mistake and Luke could miss his last chance to destroy the Death Star and save the Rebel alliance from final destruction. The voice of Obi-wan Kenobi came into his mind telling him to trust in the Force. With a clear mind and his aiming system put aside, Luke put trust in the Force and in his own abilities and delivered the fatal blow that destroyed the Death Star.

Was it the Force or OODA which had won the day? Perhaps both.

 

Being Aware

The OODA Loop is a combination of situational and self awareness. It is being completely aware of what is happening around us at any given time and knowing what is happening within us. OODA is also being agile and fluid enough to adapt with change. An environment can change rapidly and OODA allows us to detect the change, orientate ourselves to it, adjust our level of alertness and make the necessary adjustments based on sound judgement. Decisions are not reactive but guided by a mixture of intuition, instinct, experience and the rapid processing of information coming in. The OODA Loop relies on the user being adaptable and agile in their decision making.

 

“Remember your training, trust your instincts” – Qui-Gon Jinn

 

 

Scenarios

Consider OODA in an everyday setting. You are driving through town at night and come to a red light. The neighborhood is not a crime hot spot but you do a quick scan of your surroundings and make sure your doors are locked. At this point you are relaxed but still alert to the task at hand, driving. A car pulls alongside, you saw if approach in your rear view mirror. Slightly more aware now you glance at the driver and see nothing amiss. The light turns green and you look both ways and carry on, relaxed again.

Along the way you see a bank and decide to stop to draw money from the ATM. Before getting out of the car you do a quick scan of the area. You are now alert assessing your surroundings, looking for threats and anything out of place. It’s very quiet and there is no one on  the street. You get out of the car do another quick scan and lock the car checking the door before walking to the ATM.

On arriving at the ATM you hear laughter and raised voices and notice a small group of guys further up the street. They are walking in your direction. You don’t stare but you can tell they are drunk; you drove past a bar farther up the road and they have probably come from there. At this point your awareness is acute and your senses have heightened. The situation is delicate, alone and unarmed, at an ATM with your card, this puts you in a vulnerable position. You glance up and see a security camera looking down at you so you have that. The guys are getting closer and have got quieter as they have noticed you standing there. Making a quick getaway at this point is not appropriate. A threat has not presented itself yet, lets not over react. You reach for your phone and put it to your ear pretending to speak to someone while not losing track of the situation.

 

Fight and Flight

The guys are almost on top you now. At this point you are more aware, time seems to have slowed down, adrenaline has started to flow and you are ready to respond to any verbal or physical assault. There is no fear just a heightened awareness. All your senses are now completely engaged. You know you can outrun them if you have to, you are fit and they are drunk. They will be surprised and thrown off balance by any fast movements you make. Most people who assault soft targets don’t expect them to charge with confidence and aggression. People who train in Krav Maga use this principle to get out of a scenario involving multiple attackers. Speed and aggression is the key.

They are three guys, age you guess at late teens or early twenties, one has a tattoo on his lower arm, a rose and dagger. They have short hair cuts; soldiers or college kids on a night out maybe? You keep your guard ready and quickly take a mental picture of their faces and clothes as they pass by barely looking at you. They move on and disappear down the street. Breathing a short sigh of relief you go to the ATM and looking around once more you key in your pass code and draw out the cash you need before going back to your car. You are aware that your alertness level has fallen from hyper-alert back to alert. Congratulations you have just used the OODA loop about five times in the space of a couple of minutes. Both at the lights and at the ATM you went through the OODA Loops. Your level of alertness moved from Green, to Amber to Red seamlessly and then back to Green without losing focus.

 

Staying Alert

The scenario was innocent benign but it may not have been. It could have changed in an instant and quickly turned violent. One of the guys could have doubled back while you focused on the ATM or walked back to your car and charged you delivering a  king hit and a rain of kicks as you fell while his friend grabbed your wallet and keys. The third guy on the lookout. Could happen, how would you respond?

How often do we see people at the ATM headphones in, staring at their phones and barely aware of what is going on around them? People are often seen wandering out in to traffic as they check their phones. Some people barely look both ways as they cross the street or blindly walk out at a crossing when the Red Man is flashing. A car slams on the brakes and lays on the horn. The driver might yell “Wake up Moron!” and is thanked with an “Up Yours” and a middle finger. It’s little wonder that accident related trauma is on the rise, we have become a society that is no longer attentive to what is going on around us.

I’m not suggesting that we should be constantly in a state of high alert, no no one needs that level of stress. We should be more aware of our surroundings and others as well our physical, mental and emotional state moment to moment. If we are observing what is going on we can orientate ourselves in time and space and adjust ourselves accordingly.

In this day and age people are suffering from chronic stress because they are constantly exposed to stimuli through media which elicits fear and anger. The fight or flight response is constantly activated but never processed in a realistic or appropriate way. Out on the street we are however oblivious to the world until someone or something enters our space and comes in to our consciousness. With a jolt we wake up and react rather than respond proactively to the situation . Many of us have also been conditioned to avoid any type of conflict, confrontation or even disagreement because we don’t know how to handle it mindfully or proportionally.

 

 

Reactivity

If someone cuts us off in traffic and we lose it and lay on the horn swearing, we might feel strangely good but it hasn’t done anything. We might drive on and realize we were in the wrong and then berate ourselves. If the offending driver slams on his brakes and gets out of his car with a baseball bat and starts walking over we panic and go into the fight, flight or freeze mode. Some of us would literally soil ourselves as we sat there mute and terrified completely clueless about what to do in this situation.  Being Jedi is having self and situational awareness. We respond mindfully rather than reacting mindlessly. We are constantly applying the OODA Loop in our day.

Making the slow transition from drunk to recovered alcoholic has been a journey in raising personal self and situational awareness. It’s been a hard slog. Observe anyone who is inebriated and they are not only oblivious of their surroundings, unless it punches them in the face. They are also largely unaware of their own thoughts, words and actions in the context of their impact on self and others.

With recovery comes self honesty and a lot more mindfulness. Instead of reacting to situations, we take the time to observe what is going on and orientate ourselves fully. This means being aware of our inner,  as well as outer world and applying our principles. We can then make decisions based on mindful appreciation and good judgement rather than reacting on assumption and instinct alone. Actions become effective and justified rather than being half cocked, out of proportion and requiring explanation and justification.

 

Keep Calm and OODA

The OODA Loop can be used for more than just rapid changes in a situation like aerial combat or a possible threat to personal safety. Situations will change constantly while we are driving, working or negotiating a transaction. Relationships with people evolve and can sometimes change rapidly. Every aspect of our lives is subject to gradual or sudden change which we may or may not be ready for. By training yourself to be agile enough to respond mindfully to those changes you can reduce the chances of being caught unaware and off guard.

The OODA Loop may not resolve problems and issues but it does allow us to make timely decisions on how to act based on principle. OODA takes in to consideration all available information. Instead of going in blind and full steam or half cocked we are going in using all of our senses and if you believe, as I do, with the Force.

Grease the Groove

Strength is a Skill

Pavel Tsatsouline was the Russian fitness guru who popularized the Kettle Bell in the west and trained Soviet Special Forces he also coined the phrase “Grease the Groove”. Pavel argued that “Strength is a Skill” and like any skill it needs to be practiced continuously and consistently.

Greasing the Groove” Pavel argued is training smart, not hard. If an athlete such as a gymnast is trying to increase strength and flexibility one of the ways is to keep training through the day not just during routine training sessions. The Gymnast would practice moves and stretches anywhere and anytime. She may be  waiting for the bus, watching TV or having a break at work. Rather than being idle she takes the opportunity to practice her skills. This keeps the muscles activated and adds to incremental improvements over time. In addition it keeps her mind on the game.

While the rest of us in bed sleeping, the Gymnast and others who “Grease the Groove” are up before sunrise training and practicing to be better.

 

In the Fight

Conor McGregor practices the principles of “Greasing the Groove”. In the lead up to a fight he is constantly training and getting himself ready mentally, physically and spiritually. Between fights he continues to train not only in the gym and in the ring but in all other aspects of his life pushing for continuous improvement. McGregor is never not “Greasing the Groove”, his mindset is geared towards constant and incremental improvement and winning at all costs.

The author of “Rome’s Last Citizen”, a biography of Cato, Rob Goodman keeps a Kettle Bell next to his desk at Huffington Post. Goodman explains that the Stoics practiced a type of “Greasing the Groove”, every couple of hours he arises from his desk and does Kettle Bell reps. The Jedi would also train when ever they got the chance and did not wait for an opportunity, they made them.

 

Anytime, Any Place

I practice calisthenics as my primary form of personal fitness. I love it because I can do it anytime, any place. It costs nothing and it gets me outdoors and keeps me active. At the beginning I could barely manage a few pull-ups and over the months my strength has increased way beyond what I was capable of.

Through the practice of “Greasing the Groove” I have managed to improve form and fitness incrementally. I set small goals through the week and congratulate myself on achieving them. My training sessions are recorded and I make a point of doing a few dips or pull-ups when ever and where ever the opportunity presents itself. These exercises are never done to exhaustion but to about 70% of maximum effort. The break in routine to do 30 seconds of exercise makes the day go faster and keeps me motivated.

 

Anything

Greasing the Groove is a principle we can obviously apply in every aspect of our life. If our aim is to be good at something we should practice consistently. Learning a new language, a musical instrument or a sport like surfing does not come over night. It takes a lot of effort and time. When we see someone who is accomplished in those areas and ask them how they got so good, their answers is always “practice and consistency”.

 

Every habit and faculty is confirmed and strengthened by the corresponding actions, that of walking by walking, that of running by running.” – Epictetus

 

No Excuses

We all want to be better people for our own sake and for others. Demonstrating our principles and core values is one of the ways in which we express the person we want to be. Often we find that wanting to be a better person and actually being that person are two different things. A cognitive dissonance exists; we know we shouldn’t lose our temper or treat people unfairly but we do anyway. Our diet is poor and we know we should eat healthy still we default to the tasty but unhealthy options. We want to change and act in accordance with our values rather than just see them as pillars we aspire to achieving at some point in the future. We should as Yoda says “Do or do not, there is no try”.

 

Break and Make Habits

Greasing the groove would be taking every challenge and using it as an opportunity to practice our principles. For example instead of getting impatient with someone who is having a difficult time understanding we should remember that once we were learners too. Rather than getting angry or offended when someone insults us, we should make light of it and laugh it off. Words do not harm us unless we choose to allow them to. When we have the urge to act on impulse or emotion we should take a step back and take a moment to collect ourselves and think rationally or seek advice. Instead of grabbing a soda we can drink water, an apple can be eaten instead of a doughnut. The more often we break from old patterns and habits and act in way that is more consistent with our values the more ingrained they become. We form new habits.

 

Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics and to practice these principles in all our affairs” – AA Step 12

Challenge Yourself

Epictetus (and perhaps Yoda) would challenge us to go a day without anger. Then he would challenge us to go another day and then another without getting angry. They would say “find the counter habit to our anger and use it”. That’s all it takes, find what works and apply it, one day at a time, one moment at a time.

Alcoholics also take a “one day at a time” approach to abstaining from drinking. To consider a life time without drinking can seem daunting and even impossible in early recovery. With enough sober days under our belt we form new habits and our recovery strengthens. We have to continuously “grease the groove”; even now I never say “I will never drink again”.

I only choose to not drink today and let tomorrow look after itself. When I get to tomorrow I will ask the Force to give me strength for the day to meet challenges head on. At the end of the day I reflect on the day and thank the Force for letting me have another sober day. I never forget that my sobriety is a daily reprieve contingent on the maintenance of my spiritual condition. By practicing my principles daily in all things I am “greasing the groove”.

Being a better person and living a good life is a skill that is not acquired without effort, it is gained through consistent repetition and practice. So “Grease the Groove” where you want to change.

Jedi use the Force for good works

Jedi have special powers and are encouraged to learn the ways of the Force, and to use the Force, but only for good works like training, defense, knowledge, and helping others who are in need.

(33 Jedi Traits)

The Purpose

Every thing we learn has a purpose. We can use experience and knowledge to improve our lives if we choose. The only sin is to be given the benefit of knowledge and not to use it. Worse is to go against what we have been taught and what we know is right.

The purpose of Jedi Philosophy is to seek knowledge, learn and apply it real life. Philosophy should always be a practical as well as an intellectual pursuit. Wisdom is shared so that it may benefit others in some way. To keep that knowledge for ourselves and to never use it is a waste and also a disservice.

Knowing others is intelligence; knowing yourself is true wisdom. Mastering others is strength; mastering yourself is true power.” – Lao Tzu

A River flows through

I have worked the 12 Steps now for five years. In comparison to many others it is a short amount of time. My time on the Jedi path has been even less. I have only started to grasp the concepts and lessons that I have learned on this journey. There is still much to learn. I view both as a life journey with no end point.

Faith without Works is Dead” – James 2:24-26

All the knowledge and experience that we attain is useless unless we try to share it in some way through works. We can help others. There are people only starting out on their journey and others who are seeking answers we can provide. Service comes in many forms.

If we can offer something that can help point someone in the right direction then it is worth it. A lake fed by a river that goes no where soon becomes stagnant. A lake that flows on remains vital. We only get to keep what we give away.

“Always pass on what you have learned.” – Yoda

Responsibility

The price of knowledge is responsibility. That responsibility extends to how we use the knowledge and skills we have learned and to what purpose. Do we use our training purely for selfish reasons or do we improve ourselves ultimately for the betterment of others?

One of the greatest misconceptions about military training is the idea that it produces “trained killers”. This is sometimes extended to people who train in martial arts. The belief being that some students will use their acquired skills for nefarious reasons. That martial training somehow glorifies and encourages violence. Certainly there are exceptions but they are rare. In my experience such personalities are quickly shown the door.

We should always remember that we bear a responsibility to use our skills and knowledge for Good Works. Whether the outcomes of our efforts are beneficial or adverse, we should always take ownership and responsibility for our actions.

Whatever happens, take responsibility” – Tony Robbins

 

Motives

In Buddhism the precept of Right Motive is paramount. An adherent seeking training towards eventual enlightenment does so to alleviate the suffering of all sentient beings not just her own. It is meant be selfless action.

We must ask ourselves what our motives are. Why am I doing this? For what purpose? Do I really want to change for the better or am I attached to some fantasy? Am I prepared to do the work and put in the effort or just pretend and coast along.

We can only judge our own motives and decide if they are right.

A moral being is one who is capable of reflecting on his past actions and their motives – of approving of some and disapproving of others.” – Charles Darwin

Right Effort

We only get out what we put in. Consistent application of practices and principles will get results and half measures will avail us nothing. In recovery I have found this to be true. Anything worth doing must be done consistently and with the necessary effort.

In recovery we sometimes see others lapse back in to active addiction. We see it as a loss but we never condemn the person. Any of us could fall at any moment, we cannot be sure that our sobriety is bullet proof. We can have all the tools and all the knowledge at our disposal and years of experience but still come undone. Never grow too arrogant or cock-sure.

The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Humility

As we improve ourselves and get better our self-confidence grows. We should never use that as an excuse to become arrogant or place ourselves above others. Remaining humble while retaining a healthy degree of self esteem is a virtue.

One does not need to boast and brag about their achievements. We can be inwardly proud of what we have achieved without succumbing to pride. One should never forget why they decided to start the journey in the first place. Was it for self improvement or was to prove themselves to others?

Humility is not thinking less of your self, just thinking of you self less” – CS Lewis

Live your own Life

You should only stop drinking for yourself and no one else” was the first thing someone told me at a 12 Step meeting. I had said that I was getting sober for my family so that I could be a better person for them. The lesson was important. I had made a decision to quit drinking before in order to please others and I had always failed.

It was only when I decided that it had to be my choice alone that I started to get it. No one could do this but me. Our purpose is our own and from that should flow benefits that cascade to others.  Through self betterment comes world betterment. Always get yourself sorted out before you try to save the world.

Don’t let others dictate your life. Take advice and wisdom but make your own choices.

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.” – Steve Jobs

Timing is everything

With the purge of the Jedi following Order 66 the survivors fled in to exile. Rather than seeking to retaliate immediately and lead a counter attack on the Empire, the Jedi withdrew and let the rebellion take it’s own course. The Jedi chose a path of non-intervention realizing that their time was not at hand and they would need to wait to re-emerge and restore balance to the Force. After 900 years Yoda had the wisdom to accept the turn of events and not to allow self interest to make matters worse.

Sometimes the best strategy is to do nothing but wait. Life is not a race. We do not have to rush to achieve our goals. At times we are forced to make a major life changing decision. We must always ask ourselves; “am I ready for that”. The Force will let us now when we are.

A couple of years ago I was offered a Management role and looking at the scope I decided to turn it down for the simple reason that I did not feel ready to accept that level of responsibility. I put off a lot of things over the years and fortunately they were wise decisions.

In exile Yoda and Obi-wan Kenobi dived in to their studies and training. Their knowledge of the Force expanded as did their connection with it. When the time came they played a pivotal role in the future of the Galaxy. Deciding not to act can be as important as choosing when to as Yoda revealed to Luke Skywalker on Dagobah.

Decide you must how to serve them best. If you leave now, help them you could, but you will destroy all for which they have fought and suffered.” – Yoda

Keep Improving

We should never stop learning. Even the most experienced Veteran can learn something new. Old dogs can learn new tricks. Keep seeking and never box yourself in to some dogma that enforces one world view point rejecting all others.

Take what you need and leave the rest. With time comes improvement and change. Old ideas will be replaced by new. We should turn the soil of the mind over once in a while to keep ourselves open and fresh.

Accept criticism with grace and be ready to critique yourself. Always admit mistakes and work on improvement rather than on blame. Ask “how can I fix this” rather than “why did it happen”.

If evil be said of thee, and if it be true, correct thyself; if it be a lie, laugh at it.” – Epictetus

Keep Going

I don’t know how one is exactly meant to “Learn the ways of the Force”. The best way I can apply it is to regularly say “Let Go, Let God” and “Thy Will be done not mine”. These are affirmations to direct myself in to the moment where everything happens. We can only do our best every day to be the person we want to be. Turn the outcomes to a Higher Power, the Force. Let the Force work through you.

We can continue to look at where we are lacking  and make adjustments there. We can review our daily practices of being Jedi and assess where work need to be done. When others request help, we give it within our capacity. We can treat people as we expect to be treated. Commit to our principles always and without compromise.

There are things we can control and many more things we cannot. Always focus on where your control resides and accept that a lot of mistakes will be made along the way. Being Jedi is all about the little every day acts. It is about the mundane and the mediocre as much as it is about the big and important things. It is also about falling down but getting up and trudging on.

You simply have to put one foot in front of the other and keep going. Put blinders on and plow right ahead.” – George Lucas

Be True to Thyself

Every one of us must decide what their “Good Works” is. We must all decide how we spend each day and what we want out of life. People generally know what they must do to live a good life. Some of us face a tension between where we want to be going and where we seem to be heading. Remember, you are the Master of your own vessel, the Pilot of your own ship. Take it where you want to go and be true to thyself first.

MTFBWY

To thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man” – Shakespeare

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 serve the Living Force

Trait 3/33

Jedi serve the Living Force and never serve the dark side, in any way, shape or form. Jedi are serious about their service to the Force, and are not thrill seekers or adventure seekers. They are serious about following the Jedi teachings in their own lives, because the Jedi teachings lead to personal growth, and help them to be conscious of their connection to the Living Force, which is within.

(The 33 Jedi Traits)

This statement provides a number of key requirements to being considered a Jedi. One does not entertain the Dark Side, we take the path seriously, this is not a game but a way of life. Practiced consistently the Jedi Path will lead to spiritual, physical, emotional and mental health and well being. The Trait provides a point of reference for those embarking on the Jedi Path.

I could just as easily take this comment and apply it to the 12 Steps.“The only requirement is a desire to recover from alcoholism. This means abstaining from drinking. Treat the program seriously as to fail could mean relapse and insanity or death. Integrating the principles of recovery in to all personal affairs the 12 steps becomes a way of life. If practiced  consistently the principles will lead to recovery and personal and spiritual growth. Life will take on new meaning”. This has been true for me so far.

I serve the Living Force  when I apply the underpinning principle that my recovery is a daily reprieve contingent on the maintenance of my spiritual condition. That is, I serve the Force in the manner which I choose to live and be Jedi.

 

The Noble Way

The first two of 33 Traits identify the cause of suffering and the solution to our suffering. The Dark Side points to suffering and the Force reveals redemption. The statement “Jedi serve the living Force” means simply to live in accordance with our values every day. This Trait reveals the simple truth, that if we live in accordance with our principles we will grow as a person. To put this in to real world context let us consider the fundamental teachings of Buddhism the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path.

The Four Noble Truths teach us that we all suffer, our suffering is caused by our attachment to impermanent states and things. Freedom from attachment ultimately leads to freedom from suffering. The Noble Eightfold Path provides the road map that must be followed to free one’s self from suffering. This is achieved through application of virtues and temperance in our lives, cultivating self discipline and practicing mindfulness and meditation. The Eightfold Path consists of eight practices: right view, right resolve, right speech, right conduct, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right meditation.

 

The Road Map

Being a real world Jedi does not mean that we must enter in to Monastic Life and take vows of service, poverty and chastity. Being a practicing Buddhist does not mean we have to either. Many people imagine the 12 Steps to be some sort of cult with secret handshakes and rigid dogma. It is nothing of the sort. Buddhism, the Jedi Path and 12 Step recovery are essentially personal paths that we follow on our own two feet.

All these paths have one thing in common. They all provide a road map that take different routes but all end up at essentially the same destination; freedom from suffering. If we have a map but do not embark on the journey or decide to head off road or  take another direction we will not arrive at the destination. If we stick to the road map and take our time but remain consistent in our practice we see progress and in time we get to where we are going.

Arriving at the destination we set off again seeking new milestones, new challenges. Over time we improve and become better. We leave behind ideas and things we have outgrown or no longer need. We pick up fresh ideas and tools along the way. This is the cycle of continuous improvement, an endless cycle of planning, doing, checking and correcting.

Our goal is progress not perfection as reality teaches us that perfection in life is an unattainable goal. We should only compare ourselves to who we were yesterday. Compare ourselves to others and we usually find ourselves lacking or we develop an arrogance that eventually trips us up.

 

An endless Journey

Metaphorically speaking recovery and the Jedi Path is a life journey there is no “Finish Line” that proclaims we have arrived. I can’t plod along for years and get to a point and say “I’m cured” and decide that’s it I can put all of this 12 Step stuff away, find my slippers and a bottle of Port. In short time I will be rudely awakened to the fact that I shouldn’t drink. I will soon be back where I started if not worse.

A philosophy for life is by definition “for life”, we live it day by day, one day at a time. We cultivate our practice and harvest the rewards as we move through life. By practicing this philosophy I serve the Force. Calling myself Jedi is optional. Doing so helps remind me constantly where I am headed and keeps me on track.

 

Keep at it

The beauty of the 12 Steps is that they never ever end. We can work them, work them some more and keep going. The Steps can be worked formally with a Sponsor or alone. The real work happens through the little things that we do every day.

The Jedi Path is no different. There are online courses that one can complete if they have the time and inclination. Some Jedi groups offer rank and hierarchy and knighthood ceremonies. A new documentary called “American Jedi” is to soon be released which reveals that side to the community. However anyone can be a Jedi if they commit to the Path and stick to it as a philosophy for life. It is a philosophy for life, not just a “in case of emergency” tool kit. We also only get out what we put in.

Ask yourself; “what can I do to improve myself today?”. If you are in a 12 Step program ask “what step am I on today and where do I need to work?”. Those who commit to the Jedi Path should also ask themselves “am I being true to the Jedi Code and which of the Jedi virtues and practices do I need to apply more effort?” . Keep climbing the stairs, go to work and serve the Force by being the best version of yourself that you can be.

Practice what you Preach

“Prove your words by your deeds.” – Seneca the Younger

The only worth a philosophy has is whether it can be applied in life. If our philosophy can be applied then we should practice what we preach. A practical philosophy means not only knowing what must be done but actually doing it. Without practice, a philosophy is conceptual and not a tool. We can sit in a university café (or online forum) for hours and debate the merits of one philosophy over another. One can bring forward the moral and ethical strong points of their chosen philosophical flavor but unless they have practiced it in real life then there is nothing much to say.

We go to a doctor or psychiatrist if we are feeling physically or mentally unwell. A psychologist or therapist is visited for counseling. Some of us visit a Priest, Rabbi or Spiritual Advisor to help us grapple with problems or questions. Who these days goes to a Philosopher for advice on how to live in accordance with a particular philosophy? We do not live in ancient Greece or Rome where we can engage in conversation with Socrates, Epicurus, Zeno, Seneca or Epictetus. We will not find Stoics, Skeptics or Ascetics to confer with and take away a formula for living.  If I were to walk in to the Philosophy Department of the local University and ask a professor for some sage advice on how to manage my affairs, handle cravings or deal with emotions he would probably not be able to offer anything practical.

The Philosophers

The ancients had words of advice on all these matters. Today we have many philosophies to choose from. The libraries are full or books written by the classic, renaissance, contemporary and modern philosophers. One can easily create an account on an online forum and engage in debate on Philosophy. The Stoics hold an annual conference and a “Stoic Week”*. The event draws people from around the world in an online experiment on living like a Stoic for a week. I participate in the event and continue to apply many of the practices as part of my own Jedi training throughout the year. You only get out of philosophy what you put in.

I consider myself a student of Jedi Philosophy. This means not only do I read widely on Jedi Philosophy but I broaden my knowledge in others as well. I participate in online forums and read posts to understand what other followers of the Jedi path think and how they live their lives.  The fiction is also there to draw inspiration from. Jedi philosophy is a recent phenomena and an evolving trend. The focus of Jedi Philosophy is similar in many ways to the ancient schools of philosophy. Students are encouraged to study and question but most of all to practice what they have learned every day. The Fictional Jedi was all about action and deeds, not words.

Deeds not Words

This emphasis on a practical philosophy for life agrees with recovery from addiction. The 12 Steps is also all about action. By accepting our disease and embracing certain principles in to our life we embark on a program of recovery that requires action. Reading books, speaking to people and attending meetings is not enough. Recovery occurs outside of that, in the day to day things that we do. We commit to mapping our faults and doing something about them. Addressing the past and seeking to make amends. Action includes daily maintenance of our practice through meditation, prayer and study. Service to others is also a form of direct action that helps us.

It is the same for any philosophy. One can say they are a Stoic but yet live like a Hedonist and allow their emotions and desires to govern their every decision. We are judged by our actions not our words. I can not say I am Jedi if I am rude and obnoxious to people, dishonest in my dealings and commit illegal acts like theft or physical assault no matter what the reason. Would I be able to stand up in a meeting and tell people I follow the 12 Steps and the principles of honesty and humility if in fact I continue to drink when I’m not there?

You are the Master

We can argue and debate about how one should act and what one must do to live a “Good Life” however unless we do these things none of that matters. It is only a rhetorical practice. No one is watching us all the time but ourselves. If there is a “God” and it resides within then the old scripture which tells us “God knows all that we do” is true. It may not be some deity outside of us looking down but our own inner conscience. If I question whether I am consistent with my personal philosophy of life usually checking in with my heart reveals the truth. We can fool ourselves in to thinking that we are something but deep down we know we are faking it. We can be dishonest with others, but to be dishonest to our self is far worse.

If I am unsure of how I must think, speak or act in any given situation there is usually no sage standing by. There are books and forums but usually we must decide on how to proceed from advice given in general terms. We must also filter what works for our unique circumstances and what doesn’t. I know what my principles and values are; I know which virtues to practice when faced with challenges. My philosophy for life gives me that tool kit and I decide how to use apply the tools.  There is a general rule of thumb when we get stuck or are caught with our pants down; we can react and possibly go against our principles or we can stick to the basic rule that Marcus Aurelius set him self every day:

If it is not right do not do it; if it is not true do not say it

Jump In

The practice of Kabbalah teaches students to just go out and practice; “first do it, then understand”. Don’t get lost in the detail or the semantics just pick up the tools and get to work. Trying to learn everything there is to know before practicing means never practicing. One must simply jump in. I did not wait to read the Big Book and the 12×12 and a myriad of other literature before I decided to abstain from alcohol, I did that first and then read the books.

At the moment I am trying to learn the guitar. A part of me thinks that I will be able to learn simply by reading the books, understanding theory and watching some you-tube videos. Unless I pick up a guitar and play I will never learn. Philosophy is no different. Even mistakes are useful, in fact making mistakes is essential.

Go out and practice being the person you want to be. There is no need to be a Philosopher or even to have a firm philosophy of life. Simply be the person you want to be and the rest will fall in to place. Practice what you Preach.

*http://modernstoicism.com/stoicon-stoicism-conference/

Experience

 

During a lull in the battle to hold the planet Christophsis from an invading Separatist Droid Army, Ahsoka Tano is bought to Anakin Skywalker and introduced as his Padawan. Ahsoka Tano is spirited, feisty and keen, she is also trained. However she lacks experience and is seen as a burden by Anakin. Palmed off to Captain Rex, Ahsoka Tano learns that in order to survive as a Jedi she will need to benefit from the experience of others.

So you’re a Captain and I’m a Jedi then technically I outrank you right?” – Ahsoka Tano to Captain Rex

In my book, experience outranks everything” – Captain Rex, 501 Legion

Then if experience outranks everything, I better start getting some” – Ahsoka Tano

The Value of Experience

The Jedi were seen a leaders and advisors not just in war but also in diplomatic and political spheres. Many would argue that the Jedi intrusion in to the governance of the Republic was akin to a theocracy. Interference by a religious elite at best. In fact it was no such thing.

The Jedi only offered their assistance to the Republic when it was asked. Jedi were skilled and experienced in diplomacy, etiquette, military strategy and organization and served the Republic. Jedi were invaluable as Advisors and Leaders. Most Jedi were also exceptional fighter pilots. What made the Jedi so invaluable was their versatility, discipline, mission mind set and most of all their experience. Jedi were doers. They learned by doing not by pretending and bluffing.

The only source of knowledge is experience” – Albert Einstein

Inexperience

Experience and mastery was seen as vital to achieving Knighthood in the Jedi Order. The Jedi were a meritocracy; the Council assigned missions and tasks that matched the competency and experience of an individual. Throwing an inexperienced Jedi into a complex and dangerous mission was avoided until the Jedi was considered ready. This is an ideal we rarely see in the Real World.

Often we see people assume roles and responsibilities that surpass their experience. They may be qualified and have knowledge but they lack experience in application in the real world. Sometimes we also see people leap frog past others in rank or title. Through good political play, favoritism or sheer ambition they have ascended the ladder quickly.

Experience is the teacher of all things” – Julius Caesar

Muppets

In the Army we had the type who had the rank but not the experience. We called them Muppets. They usually signaled their ineptitude eventually and were often “managed” out. In some cases truly incompetent individuals were given responsibilities that included leading men in to situations they barely understood let alone had experience in. Failure in that responsibility could cost lives.

Oftentimes the individuals who held on to their roles did so by getting their way and removing obstacles. Otherwise they were protected by the “Higher Ups” for reasons that included right family and schooling.

You cannot create experience, you must undergo it” – Albert Camus

The Conscious Incompetent

In my unit I was trained as a corpsman. In the role of Patrol Medic my job was to attend to a squad. If someone got shot or kicked an IED the job fell on me. When I got back from the course I marched up to my Squad leader and told him I was qualified but inexperienced and in my view “not ready”. He thanked me for my honesty and said with time and confidence competency would come. “Just do your best and never be too proud to say you don’t know or to ask for help” he said.

The last comment was reference to some of the Officers who having been through University and Officer school considered themselves above asking ranks below for advice. They saw rank as more important than experience.

Experience is the one thing you cannot get for nothing” – Oscar Wilde

The Evolution of Competency

In almost any group you get people who fall in to one of four stages of competency. There is the unconscious incompetent who does not know what he doesn’t know. In a high stakes game these guys are dangerous. They believe they know it already and have nothing more to learn. Certain Officers fell in to this category.

The conscious incompetent is the guy who knows what he doesn’t know and recognizes his limitations. I was that guy taking the job as Patrol Medic. Everyone was aware and while they weren’t happy they respected my right to ride with trainer wheels. I was given a chance to prove myself.

The conscious competent is the person who knows what he knows and is continuously learning to get better. We see demonstrated proficiency. The last stage is Mastery, this is the unconscious competent. The level of skill and experience surpasses proficiency. They have reached the upper percentile in expertise. People in this category actually don’t know how awesome they are at what they do.

“Experience is the most brutal teacher. But you learn, my God do you learn” – CS Lewis

Easy does it

In recovery it is important to know which stage in our evolution we are. By taking the view that one is ready to test the limits of their physical, mental and spiritual carrying capacity before they are ready is to risk failing in recovery. There is a reason we say “easy does it” and “one day at a time”. Recovery as in a profession or art is mastered over time, slowly and with experience.

Where are you at this moment? Are you competent? Do you have the experience required or is it built on over confidence? As my Sergeant said to me all those years ago, “don’t be too proud to admit you don’t know, don’t be too proud to ask for help”.

No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man” – Heraclitus