Ashes

“I felt a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror, and were suddenly silenced. I fear something terrible has happened.” – Obi-wan sensing the destruction of Alderaan “A New Hope”

“No one’s ever really gone” – Luke Skywalker “
The Rise of Skywalker”

In the more than half century I have been on this planet I have always noticed change in the world around me. In 1977 Star Wars was released and climate scientists claimed the world was entering another ice age. This year the ninth and final episode of Star Wars is being released and the world is warming. Everywhere I look I see change and one thing replacing another. Ashes and memories remain.

Star Wars is one of those things that has changed and evolved over the years. The teaser for the last installment of the last trilogy of Star Wars has been released. “The Rise of Skywalker” is the final act in a mythology that has been loved for more than forty years. The teaser is a welcome distraction from the chaos that seems to be pervasive in the world at present. I also feel sad because Disney has stated that it has decided to enter a hiatus with Star Wars. Many herald the “Rise of Skywalker” as the end to the saga. Many fans will now have to struggle with further change and loosen their attachments. Even Star Wars has to end someday.

“It matters which side we choose. Even if there will never be more light than darkness” – Qui-Gon Jinn


Burning Temples

While I write this the fires at the Notre Dame Cathedral are smoldering. I spent much time in Paris and admired the cathedral more for its longevity than its religious symbolism. I can’t help but take notice and feel emotion of loss and regret. Why? Distraction, impermanence and attachments all lead to suffering. Lately we have seen a lot of suffering in the world. Why should I feel nostalgia for something that will soon be rebuilt and perhaps in better condition than before? It’s just a building of stone and wood after all.

Many Jews lament the loss of the Second Temple in Jerusalem and that memory runs at the heart of the long running Israeli-Arab conflict . The destruction of the Temple of Artemis by the Greek arsonist Herostatus for notoriety is also still remembered and gave rise to the term “Herostratic fame”. Many of the worlds greatest shrines are built over the ruins and ashes of destroyed places of worship, including Notre Dame.

In Star Wars Jedi Temples across the Galaxy were destroyed by the Empire. The Great Temple on Coruscant, built on the ruins of a Sith Temple, fell and became the seat of power to the Emperor Palpatine. The Temple that Luke Skywalker built was destroyed in revenge by his own Nephew. As I contemplated the Notre Dame engulfed in flames I wondered how the Jedi who survived Order 66 felt about the loss their Temple on Coruscant after thousands of years. Did they care? The Jedi who survived put their emotions aside and continued to resist the Empire.

I remembered how I reacted to the Planet Alderaan being destroyed in the original Star Wars release in 1977. The theater reacted in horror and awe. Princess Leia, possibly the greatest Force sensitive ever, reacted to the destruction of her home in true Jedi fashion.

So why should concern myself with the loss of an old stone building? Change and impermanence is nature.

 

Old for New

Is a vintage car that has been continuously restored for decades with new panels and engine parts the same car as the one which was originally built? Will the rebuilt Notre Dame be the same as the one which was constructed 850 years ago? Much of the structure of the building has been replaced over the centuries during renovations and to think it is the same and original structure would be incorrect. Notre Dame has been on fire before.

The Spartans kept a Tireme, a battle vessel which had fought in the Persian Wars, for centuries to remind them of the glorious victory. Over time the Tireme was completely replaced and not a fiber of its wood remained from the original vessel. Has the Tireme then not been completely replaced? Is it nothing more than a physical memory, a mere replica of the original? When it was finally destroyed did they lament an object that no had longer existed in the first place?

 

Boiling Frogs

People are attached to objects and to the “way things are”. Because change can happen so gradually we often fail to notice until we sit down and contemplate it (see Negative Visualization). When something happens that is confronting and transformative we are shaken and reminded of impermanence. It hurts badly. The death of a loved one, the mortality of our own flesh, sudden illness, the loss of a treasured possession and the sweeping change of events that shape human society are constant reminders of impermanence and our own human fragility.

The fable of the boiling Frog reminds us that we can tolerate and accept change in our environment gradually but not suddenly. This can be detrimental as it leaves us blind to reality.

The premise goes that if you place a frog in a pot of boiling water it will immediately try to jump out because the shock is too sudden and survival instincts kick in. If the frog is placed in a pot of tepid water and allowed to slowly boil it will remain in place until eventually it dies.

The premise is false, at least for Frogs that is. Humans fall for it all the time. Amphibians are more receptive to changes in their environment than humans. Biologists use frogs as “canaries in a coal mine” as an indicator of ecological damage from climate change, pollution and habitat destruction. Frogs will move or die when conditions become adverse. Humans tend to react when things become unbearable. Rather than adjust to warning signs we miss or ignore them and slowly boil in our own ignorance.


“I’ve seen what I become… and I cannot let that happen.”
– Anakin Skywalker on seeing a vision of his role in the destruction of Alderaan

Gone Forever

In the time it takes me to write this sentence 38 acres (15 hectares) of rain forest were removed permanently somewhere in the world, never to regrow in human time scales. Did anyone notice? Because deforestation is progressive like a slow spreading cancer we barely notice until the “frog in the rain forest” vanishes. The “canary” is in trouble but the world has its eyes elsewhere. 21 children under five died of starvation and preventable illness in the time it took me to write this paragraph. No one noticed that either. Unlike frogs in a slowly boiling pot of water we are sleep walking to our collective destiny.

Yet we lament and donate a billion dollars to a Cathedral owned by one of the richest institutions in the world. Palpatine would be cackling in delight. Jesus would be appalled.

 


Wake Up

I know something of the “boiling frog” principle. My career as an alcoholic was time spent in a pot of slowly boiling water. Alcoholism is a progressive disease, changes creep in to our persona as our character slowly morphs. All the clear warnings are ignored. Eventually a slippery slope evolves and we are carried away. For many the spiraling free fall is terminal. For the rest of us there is the chance of recovery and redemption. Having been through the wringer and spat out finally humbled, we are wiser for it.

The Boiling Frog is a metaphor warning people to never be complacent and to be mindful of the consequence immediate and long-term of gradual change. This includes our own decisions and behaviors. We can’t allow sudden and catastrophic events to spur us in to action alone. These events can be a late sign or distracting from the real problems. We must be constantly vigilante to gradual change and question it.

 

Think again

Distraction is a modern day problem. Humans are becoming less attentive and aware despite the greatest accessibility and wealth of information available in history. We are becoming more reactive. As a result civilization is literally the frog in the slowly boiling pot of information. We tend not to see the forest for the trees and we feed from media misinformation like pigs at a trough rarely questioning what we are being fed. The digital noise is incredible and distraction has become a postmodern drug, to our collective detriment. Information is in abundance yet wisdom is scare.

Distraction is dangerous for an Alcoholic. It leads to unruly emotions and bad decisions. In recovery we are taught the “think think think” mantra as a way to pause and center our attention when we become distracted by thoughts or things that trigger us. We think our way out of a drink by being aware of what we are doing, about to do or have done. We have become wiser as a result.


Distracting Injuries

I kneel next to the patient and start a rapid initial assessment. “Hello can you hear me?”, “Can you tell me what happened”. “My arm… it hurts” comes the pained reply in short breaths. This means the airway is open and the patient is breathing. Eyes open means level of consciousness acceptable for now. Move on to a rapid trauma assessment. There’s a tear in a sleeve and a bone is protruding from it. The radial bone has fractured clean and there’s not much blood. The injury is not pretty and draws my attention. The patient groans. I begin to create a padded bandage to place around the bone before immobilizing with a splint and tell the EMT to get an IV set up so I can manage the pain. The watching on instructor stops me.

“What are you doing?” she asks.

“I’m doing my trauma assessment and treating as I go”

“Are you sure that’s the most serious problem he’s got?” she points her chin that the arm.

I look at the patient, again and think hard, his breathing is shallow, lips are blue, he’s pale and he is not really with it anymore.

I take a quick blood pressure and pulse, the instructor tells me its “80/40” and “140 but feeble”

Bloody hell he’s in shock! I need to move! my mind races.

I bare his chest and there is a large smudge of moulage that would indicate the massive bruise from a sudden and catastrophic impact of a chest with a steering column during a head on collision.

I auscultate his chest with my stethoscope.

“Breath sound absent on the left side. You see a unilateral rise in the chest and tracheal deviation” the Instructor says

“Patient has a tension pneumothorax and is going in to shock, probably internal injuries” I say feebly feeling sick.

“And….?” she is getting impatient, prodding me.

“Treat the tension pneumothorax with needle decompression, manage shock, priority 1, treat on route to Hospital” I respond.

“Crack on” she smirks and moves to the next Paramedic student working on his patient in this motor vehicle accident scenario.

My patient winks at me and grins “Gotcha!”.

Damn! I think to myself. Rookie mistake, distracting injuries!


Accept, Adapt, Act

One of the strengths of a Jedi is that she is adaptive to change and never rests on her laurels. The Jedi must be ready to modify her behavior with changing circumstances and be ready to adapt quickly as the situation remains in flux. Distractions are recognized and filtered out. Small tell-tale signs are considered, nothing is ignored. Her life may depend on it.

A Jedi holds no attachments and quickly accepts loss even when it is painful and final. Without reservation the Jedi accepts the impermanence of all things. All that is belongs to the Force anyway and returns to it. Everything that is will one day cease to exist in physical form. Nothingness is the only true reality.

Princess Leia quickly accepted the loss of her home Planet, Alderaan, when it was destroyed by the Death Star. The loss of her friends, family and the home she loved were felt but it did not break her resolve to resist Vader. As tragic as it was for Leia she did not let it compromise the Rebel mission to destroy the Death Star and save countless other lives in the Galaxy. Luke also felt the loss of Obi-wan Kenobi and expressed his remorse openly but accepted it. Ironically Obi-wan was still with him and had not died. The Force is constant and does not change.

 

 

“Nothing is lost where the Force dwells, and the Force is everywhere.” – Obi-wan Kenobi


Ashes in the Mouth

When the Notre Dame was burning I was shocked and saddened at seeing the images on the screen unfold. Then I put it in to perspective. No lives were lost, the event was likely an unfortunate accident. Paris has endured far worse. It’s a building and can be rebuilt. Do we allow the impermanence of things to upturn our lives when they are taken from us suddenly? Do we allow ourselves to be distracted by small scale events that we would normally ignore if they weren’t beamed to us live via the internet while remaining oblivious to the creeping destruction of our planet, injustices and starving children?

It suddenly struck me that the loss of the Notre Dame was not the problem. The real problem is that people (myself included) have trouble accepting change. We are afraid of the sudden demise of things that are familiar, safe, secure and solid because our lives are fragile in comparison. Humans are insecure. If great monuments and institutions can fall what chance do we have? We start to sense chaos, the darkness crowds in and with it our anxieties and most base fears emerge.

The Buddhist Monk Ajahn Chah one day held up a tea cup “To me this cup is already broken. Because I know its fate, I can enjoy it fully here and now. And when it’s gone, it’s gone.” The lesson here is to enjoy what life offers but to accept it without excessive remorse when it is gone. Uncertainty, randomness, impermanence and loss is a part of life and we must accept that if we are to have serenity.

All temples eventually crumble to dust. Do we grasp at our attachment to things that only carry the meaning that we give them? A church does not contain God. The Force is everywhere and most of all it resides within us all. Let nothing distract us from that.

Remember; accept the impermanence of things, loosen your attachments and avoid being distracted from what’s really important.

 

Λόγος

Λόγος: Logos (reason / meaning)

 

“I want to be a Jedi, like my Father” – Luke Skywalker to Obi-wan Kenobi “A New Hope”

 

“Being a Jedi is a hard life” – Qui-Gon Jinn to Anakin Skywalker “The Phantom Menace”

 

Is being Jedi an occupation, a job, an avocation, a lifestyle or a discipline? Can someone really call themselves a Jedi or claim the title of Master? Is being sober a lifestyle choice, a path, an avocation? Is it an actual job for some? Do we seek meaning in the things that we do or do the things that we do give our lives meaning? Do we give our lives meaning or the other way round? Are we nothing more the total sum of our existence at any given moment? Are you merely your job, possessions, responsibilities, car, where you live, your clothes and the image you put on for others or something more?

When Luke saw the bodies of his Uncle and Aunt and the smoking ruins of his home on Tatooine he knew that everything had changed. There was only one thing to do. Luke’s destiny was to become a Jedi and his actions from that moment would resound across the Galaxy. Being a Jedi was his calling, his purpose and the meaning he gave his life. Luke embraced his destiny. Being a Jedi was more than a Job it was the very essence of Luke, his purpose and calling.

Anakin was rescued from slavery. Anakin was a mere boy when he met Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-wan Kenobi. Because Anakin was special he was taken from his home and mother to become a type of Galactic “Janissary” and serve the Jedi Order for life.

From the day he was born Anakin knew Fear, now he would learn to be a Jedi. Being Jedi was not what Anakin really wanted. A conflict between his heart’s desire and his duty raged relentlessly within Anakin. The imbalance tore him apart. Anakin was meant to be the “chosen one” but how could he? That’s what others wanted, not him. Anakin could not save himself let alone those he cared for. Eventually Anakin turned against the very people that bought him out of slavery and he destroyed everything in his path.

Luke found meaning as a Jedi. Anakin failed as a Jedi because he found no meaning in it other than the mission at hand. Anakin was never meant to be a Jedi.

 

“It’s only after we’ve lost everything that we’re free to do anything.”  – Chuck Palahniuk, “Fight Club”

 

Fight Club

Recently I read “Fight Club” by Chuck Palahniuk it remains the defining novel of my Generation. A “Catcher in the Rye” of Gen X. The story got me thinking about things. In many ways “Fight Club” is also a meditation for those in recovery from alcoholism. We lived in an illusion that was self imposed. We knew that that our lives were a shambolic prison. Like the Narrator we sought “something different”.

In the Fight Club the narrator is attempting to escape the hollow materialistic and hedonistic world he is bound to as a mindless consumer and wage slave. The Narrator is completely unsatisfied with his life and finds no meaning it any part of it. In his insomnia induced psychosis the Narrator creates an alter ego, Tyler Durden, the man he wishes to be. Tyler Durden is contemptuous of society and wants to destroy it and create a nihilistic utopia from its ashes. The consequences of letting Tyler in to his life are devastating for the Narrator.

The “Fight Club” is a call to our inner primordial self, a place where one can be completely unfettered. My alcoholic self was my alter ego, a personal Tyler Durden who eventually took over every aspect of my life. Like the Narrator I became hateful and I wanted to fight everyone and everything. In some ways it was a bliss, a refuge from the mediocrity and meaningless of living in the modern world. Complete abandon. In my aggression I thought I was enlightened. Booze set me free but like Tyler’s persona in the story it was nothing but a delusion, an escape from reality. I was riddled with angst.

Tyler forced the Narrator to end himself but in doing so he ended Tyler. The Narrator emerged a new person, a transcendent version of himself. He awoke to reality at last. My Alcoholic self tried to destroy me and I found my Higher Power and also emerged stronger for it. I also awoke to reality, not a utopia full of rainbows and unicorns but a cold hard slap in your face reality. It was pure relief.

 

Today is the sort of day where the sun only comes up to humiliate you.”  – Chuck Palahniuk, “Fight Club”

 

A Living

I work for a living. Since I left school I have worked first to provide for myself and then to support others. In many ways my purpose in life has always been to work. In the absence of alcohol my career took precedence. Work became a surrogate for booze in sobriety. Often my career came at the expense of things that matter more. Now I realize I am not made to work. I do not live to work, I work to live.

We put so much emotional investment in to defining and shaping our identity. One of the first things people ask is “what do you do (for a living)? Your answer will usually set the impression that people will have of you. Their profession defines who they are and your work defines you if not something else you spend a lot of time doing.

Meaning and status are vital for the human need of social acceptance. People need to know where they reside within the social hierarchy and what their purpose within it is. A profession, career, work provides all of these things. Those who are happy in their work and find meaning and purpose in their position are more likely to have positive emotions. Those who are dissatisfied with their position, their work and their status are more likely to carry negative emotions. Those that find themselves in an existence that conflicts with their inner purpose are conflicted within themselves.

 

“This is your life and it’s ending one moment at a time.”  – Chuck Palahniuk, “Fight Club”

 

 

Lobsters

Having status within the hierarchy is a human need rooted in a biological imperative that is hundreds of millions of years old. We have evolved to seek to climb the hierarchy and when we arrive at our potential we guard it against threats and defend our position from attack. This same behaviour is noted in every social animal from Humans to Wolves to Lobsters. Jordan Peterson in his seminal work “12 Rules for Life” talks a lot about Lobsters and describes this human need for self actualization in detail and how much of our emotional health and well being is tied to our social standing and our work.

The Human need for existential meaning goes beyond the need for a place within the social hierarchy or as Peterson call it the “Dominance Hierarchy”. We are more than Lobsters. Humans most of all yearn for meaning and seek purpose in their lives.

Even in the midst of calamity and tragedy a meaning to one’s suffering can be derived. This fundamental truth of human nature kept the Vienna Psychologist Viktor Frankl alive during his darkest years of captivity in the Nazi concentration camps. Because he deeply believed that he could define meaning from his suffering.

Commander James Stockdale spent seven years in a North Vietnamese prison suffering torture and the worst of deprivations but yet came out of it morally and spiritually intact. Despite the years lost, Stockdale claimed that the experience was life transforming. They found meaning through their experience and survived against the odds.

“You are not your job, you’re not how much money you have in the bank. You are not the car you drive. You’re not the contents of your wallet.”  ― Chuck Palahniuk, “Fight Club”

 

Finding Meaning

Viktor Frankl relates in his book “Man’s search for Meaning” the story of a leading Viennese Doctor who arrested by the Gestapo began to proclaim his many credentials and qualifications. Showing the Nazi Officer his papers the Doctor emphasized his point that he was a man of great esteem and standing in the community. The German Officer took up all the papers and tore them up stating “Here this is all you are now! You are nothing!”.

The Doctor striped of his suit, his identity, dignity and privileged position in society died soon after in Auschwitz. The Doctor lost the will to live as he could find no meaning and purpose in life. In the Hanoi Hilton the communists did the same to their American prisoners and those who abandoned hope and lost meaning in the experience and purpose to their lives soon succumbed.

Those who shared the same experience but accepted it as an opportunity to find a deeper meaning and purpose survived and even thrived. They may have been beaten, tortured, starved and constantly humiliated but they kept possession of their mind and inner self. The Jailers could break their bodies but not their spirits. The prisoners had something that their tormentors could not take away; their will to meaning.

 

“If I could wake up in a different place, at a different time, could I wake up as a different person?”
– Chuck Palahniuk, “Fight Club”

 

 

Logos

Frankl went on to publish his treatise on “Logotherapy” a therapy based on the “will to meaning”. The fundamental truth that people seek meaning in their lives to survive and grow. Self actualization through meaning is the leading motivator in a person’s life. Inner conflict and negative emotions are assured when an individual fails to find a sense of meaning in their life or when it is frustrated. It can also result when a person is forced in a direction that conflicts with his inner purpose, like Anakin.

Logotherapy was the result of Frankl’s experience in the camps and came together from scraps of paper that he kept hidden within his prison uniform. Commander Stockdale finished his career in the US Navy and contested the US presidential elections. The experience of his internment never stopped him from achieving his goals and made him a better person.

 

“The lower you fall, the higher you’ll fly.” ― Chuck Palahniuk, “Fight Club”

 

 

Trudging On

I work for a living. I have a career. One day I will stop working but life will not stop. Hopefully I will be able to retire to books and gardening. Perhaps there will be Grandchildren. In time the memory of my working years and the importance I placed on my position, education and career will fade. They call this retirement.

Tomorrow I could also get a call from my employer telling me that I have been made redundant. Like anyone else I could find myself on the street without position, status, money or a home. I could remain unemployed for months or even years and fall in to destitution. Would this loss of security and upending of my plans for a long career diminish me as a person? Am I my job, position, the model of car I drive, the clothes I wear and the house I call home? Do these things have any more meaning than what I give them?

 

“I’m breaking my attachment to physical power and possessions, because only through destroying myself can I discover the greater power of my spirit.”Chuck Palahniuk, “Fight Club”

Down but never Out

Although I’m ashamed of many things that I did as an Alcoholic in active abuse I have to concede that I’m glad I went through that and came out sober. Those years taught me a lot about my self. I had to fall to Earth to fly higher than before.

My career has provided a certain degree of financial security and pride in my abilities but it is my recovery that has and still gives my life real meaning. If I lose everything I can still choose to be sober. I can still find purpose and meaning in a Higher Power. Although they are all important, I am not my position, my status, education, property, relationships and I am certainly not my job.

 

“Look up at the stars and you’re gone.”Chuck Palahniuk,“Fight Club”

Be You

Sometimes I need to remind myself that I work for a living and I don’t work to live. I have to remind myself to loosen any attachments I have to my job, position, status, property or relationships. Any of these things could end at any time. A bad day could trip me up and find me back to drinking.

Being Jedi has meaning. Frankl said that the meaning of life is to find meaning and purpose in it even on the darkest of days. We have to start by taking responsibility for ourselves and for others. Jordan Peterson was also right in suggesting we should always stand up straight with our shoulders back. Tyler Durden ultimately had it wrong. The Jedi Order was definitely wrong about Anakin.

I have to be like Frankl or Stockdale and accept that the winds of fate may not blow in my favor but they will blow me somewhere. I should know they will and be prepared for that. That is the nature of Logos. I may call myself many things in this life, I will be many things but I am and always will be a recovered Alcoholic in training. That’s where I find meaning and purpose every day.

 

I let go. Lost in oblivion. Dark and silent and complete. I found freedom.” ― Chuck Palahniuk, “Fight Club”

Hope

Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope” – Opening crawl 1981 Theatrical re-release of Star Wars

He who surrenders hope, surrenders life.”  – “Altar of Mortis, the Clone Wars”

 

March heralds the return of spring in the Northern Hemisphere. Spring is a time of rebirth and renewal. Trees begin to put out new shoots. Flowers begin to emerge. The sun seems to rise from a place of exile. Snow starts to melt and the days grow steadily longer and warmer.

Since our Pagan ancestors the return of spring has been celebrated and is the most holy time in the cycle of the seasons. The sun has risen, reborn and is ascending to beat back the darkness of winter.

Spring was a celebration of renewed hope and rebirth. The vernal equinox heralded a new year in the ancient Roman calendar and still does in many cultures. Epitaphs of the Goddess of winter were burned to purge the darkness and welcome the return of the life giving Sun. People dedicated themselves to cleaning and purification, a tradition that persists to the day.

The crucifixion and resurrection of Christ is a symbol of victory of life over death and eternal hope. It is no accident that the Early Christian Romans chose spring to celebrate Easter as a time of renewal. Ostara, the ancient festival is still celebrated as the renewed promise of spring.

 

The day the Lord created hope was probably the same day he created spring” – Bernard Williams

 

The Eternal Cycle

Life is an endless cycle that never ends. Birth eventually leads to death which is followed again by birth. Trees sprout leaves which crown the tree. Eventually the leaves brown and fall to the ground. In time so does the tree and another grows in its place. In the same way we are born, grow from children to adult, age and eventually succumb and return to the Force.

Everything is a cycle. Our planet turns on its axis as does the Galaxy. Stars explode in to life and eventually burn out. The cosmos turns in an endless arc to whatever end. One day our Universe will end and another will emerge to replace it. So is the nature of creation.

 

One should count each day a separate life.” – Seneca

 

 

A Daily Reprieve

Recovery is like a perennial spring day. Every day is a reprieve from a nightmare. Each morning we rise to greet the new day. We put our lives in to the hands of a Higher Power and commit to another sober day.

In the day and throughout our lives we will experience hope and fear, gain and loss, praise and blame, pleasure and pain, fame and dishonor. We wake up every morning and renew ourselves.

By surrendering our problems to a Higher Power we are reborn. In the beginning it felt as if the clouds had finally parted and the sun shone through in all its splendor. My soul seemed to be bathed in a golden light. The gloom which hung over my life seemed to lift. I was filled with a sense of hope. I felt as if I could see the end of the day without a drink. Everything would be OK. Just for today and tomorrow would look after its self. Everything was going to be fine.

Every day we have the opportunity to start fresh. Yesterday is done and there is no recall on the things we said or did. Tomorrow is no guarantee. All we have is today, this now, a new day. Recovery happens in 24 hour increments then so does life if we choose to live in the Now. We can still hope for a better tomorrow if we live right by whatever Higher Power we put our faith in.

There was never a night or a problem that could defeat sunrise or hope.” – Bernard Williams

 

 

A New Hope

From within the Star Wars mythology springs a tale of hope for the future against all odds. When it was originally released in the 1977 the movie was simply called “Star Wars”. George Lucas could not foresee the unbridled success of the film and had it renamed “Star Wars: A New Hope” for it’s re-release in 1981. The reason was marketing for the trilogy but the title was fitting.

“A New Hope” was chosen because the leading character, Luke Skywalker, was chosen for a greater destiny. Luke didn’t know what his purpose was and neither did audiences.

The hope for the future had been passed on to a new generation. A new star has risen and hope was renewed that the darkness which had befallen the Galaxy would be beaten back. When I saw it in 1977 as a 10 year old it also gave me hope.

In Star Wars, our heroes go through one trial after the other on their journeys. Eventually they reach redemption and where there was confusion, clarity, where there was despair, hope and where there was darkness, light. Anakin, Yoda, Kenobi, Luke and Leia all found the Force in the end. They found their perennial and eternal spring.

 

“Perhaps the earth can teach us as when everything seems dead and later proves to be alive” – Pablo Neruda

 

 

A Promise of spring

Every new day is a promise. Each day is a check waiting to be honored. It is up to you how you spend it.

Every March is a reminder that light follows darkness and spring follows winter. The sun will always rise again renewing hope. All things are reborn and death is never final. Our Ancestors knew this inherently; they were part of nature and belonged to the Earth. We have lost conscious connection to the natural Force but it remains deep within us. Accept each day as a gift. Push your reset button and renew yourself. What better time to start than in the spring.

 

Look at this day,

For it is life,

The very life of life.

The realities and verities of existence, The bliss of growth, The splendour of action, The glory of Power.

For yesterday is but a dream,

And tomorrow is only a vision,

But today, well lived,

Makes every yesterday a dream of happiness

And every tomorrow a vision of hope.

Look well, therefore to this day.

Such is the salutation to the ever-new dawn!

– Kalidasa

Changed

You can’t stop change any more than you can stop the suns from setting” – Shmi Skywalker, The Phantom Menace.

 

Do people truly change? I was once told a leopard never changes its spots. Do we then remain essentially the same person our entire lives only modifying our behaviors and ideas? Is permanent and complete transformation even possible? Despite walking the Jedi Path and being sober, have I changed?

I used to think a certain way. My actions conformed to my thoughts. Today I think a different way and my actions still conform to my thoughts. What changed?

I used to be a practicing alcoholic now I’m just an alcoholic. I removed the booze and opened myself up to change. . I’m still the same man but I have changed. People can change.

 

Who we are never changes, who we think we are does.” – The Clone Wars “Bounty”

 

Saul of Tarsus said “we are changed by the renewing of our minds”. You also hear people say “people don’t change”. Which actually means people can but won’t change. Mohammed Ali said “A man who views the world the same at fifty as he did at twenty has wasted thirty years of his life.” This is true.  Fear, complacency and rigidity are the things that prevent change and stifle growth.

Change can be hard. For some it’s almost an impossible proposition. We all want to change for the better but find the effort too great. Sometimes it’s easier to stick with what we know and stay in our comfort zone. For an alcoholic seeking a way out, change is the only proposition. We are compelled to reflect, learn, modify, adapt and change.

 

None of the stories people tell about me can change who I really am.” – Luke Skywalker

 

Has the last six years of sobriety taught me much? Am I better person? Are things really different now? Have I really changed? Can I be pleased with that progress? Has the effort paid off?

I’m sober now. Seven years ago I wasn’t. Does this make me a better person? I’m not really sure. Perhaps in certain ways I am a better man. In other ways perhaps I have replaced one obsession for another, one fault for another. Sometimes we are blind to our own faults especially when we believe our lives are virtuous.

At times I catch myself falling into old habits and patterns of thought. I still feel resentment, anger and fear. They are echoes of the past. Shades of the person I once was are still there in the background. I look in the mirror and see the same eyes I’ve always seen. My hands bear the same scars. They are the same hands that have carried a rifle, held a new born baby, treated wounds, loved and grasped at a bottle. Only now my hands are steady and my eyes do not betray the fear that once gripped at my soul.

So perhaps I am the same person today but different. I’m just someone trying to stay sober. Thinking about change and doing life in your head does not lead to change, changed thinking and behavior does.

 

Obi-Wan. Now there’s a name I’ve not heard in a long, long time. A long time” – Obi-wan Kenobi

 

Obi-wan Kenobi is the eternal archetype in the Star Wars mythology. Kenobi is compelling because while he changes over the years from a young Padawan to an aged Jedi Master he remains essentially the same character. Despite a lifetime of war, tragedy, loss, defeat, exile and isolation Kenobi remains the same man. Kenobi had a dry sense of humor and a sarcastic wit yet he was also humble and sensitive. At times audacious, headstrong and defiant Kenobi was the calm in the storm and rarely lost his cool or moral compass. While Anakin could show outbursts of emotion and impulsiveness, Kenobi was patient, objective and cautious in his approach. The Jedi Master developed tact and a measured countenance seeking diplomacy before the Lightsaber as the preferred solution.

Kenobi could be described as Stoic but not stoic. He was bold and cunning yet conservative and reliable. Wiley yet honest. The affection he felt for others was real yet it did not blind him to his duty. Duty also did not excuse him from doing what he knew was right. Kenobi was sworn to the Jedi Order but did not blindly and rigidly follow orders. Remaining true to self, Kenobi never compromised on his principles but was prepared to bend the rules when necessary.

When we first met Obi-wan Kenobi in a “New Hope” he was the mysterious Hermit living in the harsh and hostile wilderness of Tatooine. The “crazy old Ben” was seen as an eccentric loner, a wizard who avoided others. This old man survived on his own and seemed to be tolerated and feared by the “Sand People” who lived in the desert preying off travelers and settlers. Obi-wan Kenobi was older but remained the same Jedi with the same character we met in the prequels. Still there was something different; Kenobi was a deeply changed man. Kenobi was scarred by the past but he was also at peace with the past and his destiny. A life of pain, loss and suffering had bought him to final acceptance and a place of peace and serenity.

 

 

Disobedience is a demand for change.” – The Clone Wars “Tipping Points”

 

Change is constant. When I arise tomorrow I will not be the same person as the man who went to bed the night before. A man never steps in to the same river twice. Leopards do change though their spots remain the same. So change is inevitable and we only guide that change to an extent. The world also changes us. Life changes you. Your thinking changes you.

The neural pathways in your brain are constantly reorganizing themselves in response to change. A “renewing of the mind” can lead to a healthy life, spiritually, physically and mentally. How you go about changing your thinking and thus your inner world is up to you. Religion, spirituality, philosophy, meditation, mindfulness based therapies and counselling are all different paths. They won’t change your outer world but they will change how you think. As your inner world changes so gradually will your circumstances change.

 

If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.” – Obi-Wan Kenobi

 

Real change happens inwardly. We literally renew ourselves by the changing of our minds. We are made to change and adapt and continuously learn. How we perceive the world and frame our reality is everything. That perception will change with time. The way we saw things then are not how we see them tomorrow.

Change is inevitable. You can submissively go with the flow or you can swim against it screaming and be dragged. The third option is to direct how you change despite the changes around you. Have the courage to change what you can, the serenity to accept what you cannot and the wisdom to know the difference. You steer your own path. You become the change you want to see in the world. This starts by caring for yourself.

 

Further Reading: Change

Ghosts

 

You have grown strong and powerful, just as I imagined.” – Qui-Gon Jinn’s Force Ghost appearing to Anakin (“Ghosts of Mortis”, The Clone Wars)

 

Ah, Skywalker. Missed you, have I” – Yoda’s Force Ghost appearing to Luke (The Last Jedi).

 

Ghosts exist. I believe they do because I’ve seen them. There was an apparition I saw as a child when I was kept at a Catholic Home for boys. I saw another in a home for wards of the state when I was twelve. On both occasions the figures seemed to pass completely oblivious to my presence. I was wide awake when I saw these apparitions and remember how the room was cold before and during. The first was a Nun in an old habit; she stood as if in prayer, her face was down, I blinked and she was gone. The second was a shadow of a man who seemed to drift like grey smoke across the room before vanishing.

I don’t remember being scared when I saw them. I was upset and deeply sad. The figures seemed to imbue a deep sense of melancholy. Perhaps they were real maybe they weren’t. In the orphanage we also played with Ouija boards and scared ourselves silly with our imaginations. The region in which the old children’s home was built had many Ghost stories. In such an environment it was easy to imagine what was not there.

 

 

Sensitive

Many years later I learned that my sister was sensitive and told me she had seen Ghosts her entire life. They didn’t scare her at all and never had.  To this day she practices as a psychic medium and has investigated Ghosts, Poltergeists and other phenomenon. Some of her “cases” have turned out to have a rational explanation. Others have been very strange. I’ve seen her bring a sense of relief to people who thought they were losing their minds. It’s amazing what a few words and some burning sage can do for a family’s sense of sanity.

When my daughter turned eight she began reporting that there were “others” in our house. I had to admit at the time I did find a few things odd. There were smells such as old pipe tobacco. Batteries would go flat in devices soon after being replaced. Objects would go missing and then reappear in odd places or not at all. Doors would open and curtains would move although there was not the slightest breeze. There were cold patches and sometimes the house just felt cold. I thought I saw shadows.

According to our daughter there was a boy she spoke to, a sad lady and a tall angry man whom were both silent. I asked her to draw them and she drew a boy with a white shirt, black trousers held up with braces. She drew a large happy smile on a wide face. In the bubble and stick fashion, she drew a thin woman with a long black dress that went to her neck. The man had a vest, a long mustache, a pipe and a large hat. The man had an angry face.

Of course I was skeptical. I had been trained to be. A degree in science demanded empirical evidence. I wanted to believe that such things were not really possible. The supernatural might be fanciful or hypothetical, but not indisputable. Without empirical evidence based on quantifiable data derived from replicable experimentation one could entertain that Ghosts might exist but still hold a healthy amount of skepticism.

 

 

Voices

We went to see a psychic medium that has a reputation of being anything but a charlatan. I was impressed the moment I saw him. For a start the man looked extremely fit and well groomed. Wearing smart jeans, a shirt and leather jacket he met us cordially. I was expecting some sort of facade and a bit of melodrama but this medium was just an every day guy. The sort of guy who barbecues on the weekend, goes to football matches and drinks beer.

Our Medium explained that he had been able to see Ghosts since he was a child and could get impressions from them sometime faint, sometime strong. Our visit would allow him to determine if there was anything attached to us “psychically”. Whether we were haunted or not.

We were instructed to keep our answers to questions as yes or no in order to reduce any suspicion of mentalism or “fishing for answers”. He also warned us we could go home empty handed if he failed to “channel” anything.

Without much effort he gave me a run down on my personal history, my dead parents, my fears and he pretty well told me without saying it aloud that I was alcoholic and headed for a fall. He told me that I was perched on a wall waiting to either topple to oblivion or fall in to the arms of safety and sanity. I could feel panic and denial welling inside of me. He sensed that and moved on.

Touching the right side of his head he told me that I had had a major operation and had actually been pushed “from the other side” to seek help when I’d started noticing symptoms instead of ignoring them. This floored me. It was true that I had had a tumor growing in my head. It was quite large and the specialist had told me if I had left it another month I would have probably suffered a stroke and died. The Medium said “second chance” with a blank face as if he was remembering something. I looked at him strangely, indeed I had seen the experience as a “second chance” at the time. The problem of course is that I had not embraced it and was soon drinking heavily again after a short pause.

 

 

Glimpses

The conversation turned to our house. The Medium would pause and sort of look up or to one side. Once or twice he seemed to not even to be there but in some sort of trance. We had not mentioned we had children but he told us that we had “entities” in our house and that our young daughter could see them and had interacted with a “child spirit”. Sensing our alarm he told us not to worry. The spirits were harmless and tied to the house or rather the land. The way we view time is not how time is. Reality is an illusion and sometimes, depending on things we don’t understand, our dimension touches the next.

This didn’t reassure us much and we asked about a cleansing to which he replied it could be done but not by him. He went on to say that the spirit who was “looking over me” when I was sick was my mother. He said that she was also “watching over” our children. Soon after a subtle change came over his face as if a curtain had come down and the Medium announced that the meeting was over.

It’s an understatement to say that I had trouble seeing the world the same way after that brief visit. Was it all real? Had I been played and fleeced out of my money? If it were true then everything I thought about reality was up for debate. My mind reeled and everywhere I looked I saw Ghosts hiding in shadows. I needed a stiff drink.

 

 

Smudging

A couple of weeks later I called my sister and she came over. I explained some of the events that had taken place but omitted our meeting with the Medium or any specific details. It was the middle of the day and she walked though the house pausing in our daughter’s room a little longer. Finally she reported that there was family tied to the house. The land the house sat on had been a farm. The farmer had been cruel to his family and had died in an accident. The woman and child had lived out their lives.

With sage in hand she walked from room to room, trailing smoke, inviting the entities to “go to the light”. I watched with fascination. Sure enough a peace seemed to fall over the house. It felt completely different. From that day there were no further “disturbances”. Whatever had been there was gone and I had to admit I was sort of sad about it. The house was clear but a dark shadow fell over me. I responded with alcohol.

 

 

“Second Chances”

As the Medium predicted my “second chance” soon ran out and I hit rock bottom. I realized when it happened what it meant. Ghosts of the past held me down. I felt myself sink in to a dark place and was utterly haunted. I could take my real “second chance” now and climb out to safety or I could fall to oblivion and never emerge. Doing so required a type of Faith and belief in something that cannot be proved through empirical science. By that stage, I already knew that. If anything the last few years had taught me was to keep an open mind, even if it meant accepting there is more than we can see and measure.

 

“No live organism can continue to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality” – The Haunting of Hill House

 

 

The Red Door

Recently I decided to watch the Netflix series The Haunting of Hill House. I’ve always been a fan of psychological supernatural movies. There are few that rank as truly great. The Haunting (1963) and The Legend of Hell House (1973) are both timeless classics.

I have to admit that the new Netflix release of a retelling of Shirley Jackson’s Hill House story was excellent. The experience was not unlike jumping into some Rabbit Hole. Over ten episodes the series explores the dark inner psyche of a family haunted by events that occurred a quarter of a century earlier. Against the brooding backdrop of Hill House, a short and terrifying childhood summer is played out. There are secrets and the house  is calling them home.

The series was compelling and terrifying not so much for the Ghosts, which there are many, but because it was a reminder that people suffer the Ghosts of their pasts and fears. Eventually one must return to face them. Doors that are locked and contain sinister and dark secrets must be opened. Sometimes we must peer in to the dark recesses of our soul. In order to be free we must confront our darkest and most terrifying fears.

 

A ghost can be a lot of things. A memory, a daydream, a secret. Grief, anger, guilt. But, in my experience, most times they’re just what we want to see.” – The Haunting of Hill House

 

 

Force Ghosts

Why is it that the “Force Ghosts” of Star Wars aren’t scary? Even Casper the Friendly Ghost was a little creepy. The story goes that when Jesus first appeared to his disciples after the resurrection they were terrified to see him returned from the grave and walking among the living. Any manifestation of the dead is naturally disconcerting. Cultures demand that the dead stay dead. Ghosts are not welcome.

I’ve learned that Ghosts are not scary (unless we want them to be) but they are definitely not something you want to turn a corner and see standing there. So why is no one concerned with “Force Ghosts”? After all they have all the trade mark features of a Ghost. They shimmer, glow pale and appear out of nowhere and start dispensing practical philosophy, yet they comfort those they appear to. If Socrates were to appear again in Athens and start approaching people the city would lose its mind and try to evict him.

 

Dreams they’re like an ocean and the big dreams can spill out sometimes” – The Haunting of Hill House

 

 

Visions

“Force Ghosts” are a product of fiction obviously. The religious equivalent would be called “Visions”. Most people who have claimed to have had visions of Mary, Jesus, Saints or departed relatives reported feeling an overwhelming sense of love and peace. What causes these experiences is a matter for debate however there is no disputing the fact that visions have a lasting and often life changing effect on those who witness them.

“Force Ghosts” are the heavenly visitations to the Jedi. The “Force Ghosts” are the spiritual experiences that guide the Jedi from the edge of the Dark Side and back to the Light. The “Force Ghosts” appear because they are summoned in some way by those that need them and they change those they visit in profound ways.

 

Fear is the relinquishment of logic, the willing relinquishing of reasonable patterns…” – The Haunting of Hill House

 

“White Light”

Occasionally I run into people I haven’t seen since I got sober. They give me strange look. The comment I get is that I have changed and somehow different. They remark how fit and healthy I look but there is something else they can’t quite name, something intangible.

When people learn that I no longer drink they ask what bought it on. It’s very hard to explain “what happened” to anyone who has not hit rock bottom and had a spiritual experience. To try is to risk being labelled a religious nut. Its also hard to articulate to those that have had a similar experience. Words can’t really describe it. Whether it’s a “burning white light” experience or something that happens at a deeper level the end result is that there is no seeing the world the same way ever again. Everything changes.

The only way to describe what happened to is that in a flash I felt I was catapulted to an elevated level of consciousness. It felt as if I were inside of me but at the same time outside of me and looking down at me. I was had a clear vision of who I was at that moment and a vision of what I could become. I sat perched on a wall between heaven and hell. There was no doubt in my mind I could topple either way. At some deeper level I reached out to whatever spiritual source there was and grabbed the flimsy reed that was offered. I knew at that moment the ultimate truth; there is nothing to fear but fear itself and the fear was gone. So were the Ghosts.

 

“…But so, it seems, is love. Love is the relinquishment of logic the willing relinquishing of reasonable patterns. We yield to it or we fight it. But we cannot meet it halfway…” – The Haunting of Hill House

 

 

Impressions

I’ve learned that it is rarely the “Ghosts” of departed souls that haunt us. Certainly the memory of those who have passed will linger in mind and subconsciousness. It is not unusual for people to speak to the dearly departed, it’s normal. We can find solace and comfort feeling that not even death can separate us from those that we love.  More often it is an impression, a word, a thought or a memory that materializes like a phantom in our mind. We can see it clearly as if it were there in front of us. For a moment we are projected through time and place to that moment. Like a Ghost it begins to fade and then vanish. We are left with the feeling like you get when you come out of a dream. There was a truth, clarity and enlightenment in that moment and then it is gone beyond recall.

Perhaps that is what the “Force Ghosts” of Star Wars represent. They symbolize the resolving of inner conflict and the realization of a deeper truth or a moment of joy. At the moment when Luke feels the most vulnerable and has the greatest doubts born of fear and anguish he is centered and given courage and guidance by the vision and words of Yoda and Obi-Wan Kenobi. In his happiness Luke also see’s his Father and his former mentors smiling down on him approvingly on Endor.

 

…Without it (Love), we cannot continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality” – The Haunting of Hill House

 

 

Believe or Not

Whether you believe in Ghosts or not and care for Ghost stories or not, all people are visited by Ghosts of some form. The very act of living allows them to permeate our lives in every way. I’m still visited by the Ghosts of my past but I don’t let them affect me. They serve as reminders of where I have come from. I acknowledge them and let them go. They appear and fade away and I know they are impressions. I sometimes speak to my dead relatives and ancestors. Perhaps they hear me, maybe they don’t. It comforts me the same way the apparition of Yoda and disembodied voice of Obi-wan Kenobi comforted Luke.

I also believe in Ghosts, the “active” type that stare out of windows in darkened houses, the “residual” Ghosts that play out their lives and deaths like some old movie reel on a constant loop. The “phenomena” Ghost Hunters seek out in cold and desolate places at the dead of night. Ghosts do exist, in our minds and in the world. I don’t doubt it for a second.

 

“Silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House. And those who walk there walk together.” – Steven Crain “The Haunting of Hill House”

Victim

“It’s not my fault!” – Han Solo

 

The famous line “It’s not my fault” was said four times in the original trilogy of Star Wars. The quote is used by Han Solo and Lando Calrissian to dismiss any blame for screwing up at precisely the wrong moment. For example when being chased by Imperial Star Destroyers or making excuses to Jabba the Hutt. Rogues and smugglers do not easily admit their mistakes even when the odds are that everyone is about to be killed because of them.

 

Pulling Hair and Eating Dirt*

Growing up I always felt the victim. It felt as if I was born to suffer injustices. The blame for every problem that I ever had could be placed squarely at the feet of others. With the years that attitude solidified. I was arrested for shop lifting as a child and blamed those who were with me, my home and an alcoholic Father. My troubles at school were due to a broken home, a dead mother and being taken into state care.

I fought a lot because other kids provoked me. I was the “same old backside again” for the Head Masters cane. I didn’t do well in School because of a disruptive home. My grades were poor because we had moved around a lot. We were poor migrant working class. None of it was my fault. I was a Victim.

Being a skinny and awkward kid who lacked confidence I was never popular with girls. I was one of those kids that sat on the sidelines at school dances waiting and wanting someone to ask me but dreading it at the same time. Being like that, the sullen pale skinny kid, inevitably attracting bullies and trouble at the same time. I was miserable and for every slight, insult, slap across the head and wedgie my self-pity and indignation grew. Every screw up that happened seemed to be blamed on me. I hated the world and wanted to fight everyone and everything.

 

Baseless victimhood is usually the last stage before outright aggression.” ― Stefan Molyneux

 

Baggy Trousers, Dirty Shirt

I was shocked when the Captain signed a document committing me to five years in the Army. I barely notice he did so with a perceptible sigh of resignation as if he had suffered a slow day and needed to fill a quota before he could leave for the Officers mess. The Captain passed over a contract which I signed. I thanked him for the opportunity and he looked at me with mix of humor and pity and said with a grin “Good Luck Son”! My lack of self-confidence and self-esteem was obvious. Perhaps he thought the military might save me from something worse than death.

Getting in to the army felt like I had finally been accepted in to a family that mattered something. Even as my scalp still burned from being roughly shaved clean and I stood shorter than everyone else in my over-sized new fatigues, I felt like a man at last. A Corporal said I looked like a “bag of shit tied in the middle”.

They called me “Sprog”, “Grommet” and “Cluster”. For the first year I was the guy who got the worst jobs and suffered the most offerings of Punishment. My Team harangued me for every fault in barracks, field or range. They were also getting “beasted” for my mistakes. I could do nothing right and when I tried my best it was rejected and ridiculed. Soon on overseas on deployment I sometimes contemplated deserting in to the night or turning my rifle on myself. None of this was my fault. This is not what I wanted. Why couldn’t I fit in?

 

Stop validating your victim mentality. Shake off your self-defeating drama and embrace your innate ability to recover and achieve.” – Dr. Steve Maraboli

 

Bend not Break the Rules

Propped up at a bar nursing a whiskey and chasing that with beer I suddenly felt like I belonged. My “Muckers” were around me buying rounds of tequila. I slammed a few and staggered outside to throw up. Everyone howled with laughter but I came back for more. At last I could do something right! A face blurred came in to view. I smelt perfume and felt a hand between my thighs. She whispered something in my ear and I nodded. Next a cab ride to a hotel with a prostitute.

Waking up with a hangover and realizing that I had missed parade and was officially AWOL. Still drunk stopping at a bar for a drink to steady nerves before grabbing a cab ride to Base. My gut churning from booze, lack of food and fear I face the OC. There is the mandatory reprimand and smack broadside across the head from the CSM then a week in the guard house. In jail there are slaps, yelling, drill and ruck runs and digging holes under a burning sun. It’s a chance to sober up a bit. I’ll do it again, probably next week.

Rinse and repeat many times as my career went down the toilet. Each time it gets easier, not caring because it was never my fault. I started enjoying the Army. My attitude stunk.

They throw me out saying I’d had too many chances. I can’t accept its anything I did. The years pass by. I wander from place to place and job to job. I can’t hold down a job for long. Relationships never last more than a few days or weeks. But none of that was my fault. I’m the victim in that story, right?

 

Self-pity is spiritual suicide. It is an indefensible self-mutilation of the soul.” ― Anthon St. Maarten

 

Dark Legacies

Anakin fell to the dark side because he was primed for the fall not by Palpatine but by his own set of beliefs. Anakin believed that he was a victim of circumstance. Born in to slavery, never knowing his Father. Taken from his mother to become a Jedi. Finding his mother years later on her death bed. The horror of war and losing friends and allies. Building anger and hatred over the years. Anakin never learned to accept things as they are. None of it was his fault but he did have a choice in how he allowed these events to shape his character and destiny. The choices he made and the suffering they bought to him and others were on him. Becoming Darth Vader was his fault not Obi-wan’s, Yoda’s or Padme’s.

Ben Solo is another complex character who wallows in the self pity and aggression of the victim. Being force sensitive from his mother Leia, Ben also had the darker traits of his grandfather Anakin. Eventually it was Ben’s feelings of abandonment that made him ripe for grooming to the Dark Side by Snoke. Both of Ben’s parents failed to provide him with the attention he needed as a child.

Han Solo was unable to settle and be a good Father. Leia had enormous responsibilities as a civil and military leader and was often absent. The marital problems and clashes between his parents left Ben Solo feeling further abandoned. As an adult Ben was finally told of the truth of his grandfather Anakin and it affected him deeply. In the end it was his revered Uncle, Luke Skywalker, betrayal of his trust that finally pushed Ben Solo to the Dark Side. As a servant to Snoke he became Kylo Ren. Blaming his parents, the Jedi and the New Republic for his pain, Kylo Ren set out to destroy them all.

A Victim Mentality seems to span generations of the same family. While a victim mentality is a learned and acquired behavior It seemed to run in the Skywalker family like some mental illness. As children we learn from the example of our parents and peers and form beliefs. Later we surround ourselves with like minded people which reinforces those beliefs. If we allow ourselves to fall to the narrative and act out we become Victims. The only way to break free of it is to reject the narrative as false and retrain the mind to let go of the negative mind set that Victimhood perpetuates.

 

Wet the Bed

Alcoholics act the perennial victim. So it was with me. We have a tendency to make a mess of our lives and blame others. We wet the bed and blame the sheets. Alcohol blinds us to the truth that most of our problems are of our own making. We blame our parents, teachers, friends, partners, the system, the government or “God” for our problems. Ultimately we fail to take responsibility and do what is within our power to make things right.

My own set of beliefs kept me in denial and victimhood for decades. It’s easier that way, to blame others for our problems. Blaming others absolves us of responsibility to take action. If anyone should take action, we believe, it should be others. After all it is not our fault.

 

“Your life is the fruit of your own doing. You have no one to blame but yourself.” – Joseph Campbell

 

The Victim

Victimhood culture is a scourge of the modern era. So many people today embrace the idea that being the victim gives them the justification to blame their misery on others. “Victims” carry an attitude that life is against them and that society is somehow bent on pushing them down and holding them there. They and only they have a monopoly on injustice. Believing they are being denied the tools to help themselves they refuse to take steps to analyse their beliefs or change in any positive way. Without realizing it they hold themselves down and attack others for it. Even when things do improve it is never enough. There is always fault to be found and someone to blame.

Victims will always complain, criticize, blame, gossip. They can’t take a joke and find attitudes or opinions that differ from theirs offensive. Victims are easily triggered and emotionally incontinent. Society and its institutions seem to encourage and facilitate this perpetual sense of entitlement and victimhood. Victims tend to draw upon each other in order to validate their status as victims. This culture creates a mindset of powerlessness. Rather than being empowered to create the change needed the victim is disarmed by a sense of self-pity, frustration, anger and unfulfilled entitlement and potential.

 

I am not what has happened to me. I am what I choose to become” – Carl Jung

“I can fix this” – Poe Damerone

 

Victim to Victor in 12 Steps

In the 12 Steps, the first step addresses the mental chains of a “Victim Mentality”. While Victimhood taught me I was powerless in all aspects of my life, Step 1 showed me I was only powerless where alcohol was concerned. I had the power and only needed to claim it fully to overcome my addiction and become the person I wanted to be. Instead of being a Victim I could be a Victor by committing to some principles and practices;

  1. Turning problems over to a Higher Power I call the “Force”;
  2. Framing “obstacles” in a rational manner rather than with emotions such as anger and fear. Learning that it is only our perceptions that matter to us, not the thing itself.
  3. Identifying those things that are in my control and those that are outside of it. Focusing energy on those that reside within my locus of control without investing emotional energy to the outcomes.
  4. Using “negative visualization” and “voluntary discomfort” to remind me that things can always be worse and to be prepared physically, mentally and spiritually.
  5. Having the courage and resolve to make amends where appropriate.
  6. Accepting that mistakes will be made and being prepared to admit them and make amends.
  7. Accepting that things do not always turn out as planned. Being grateful for what does.
  8. Entertaining thoughts, feelings and impressions but choose which to accept as valid and useful.
  9. Using mindfulness to remain in the present while avoiding projecting in to the future or ruminating on the past needlessly.
  10. Removing focus from self by helping others within means and where that help is welcome.
  11. Daily review. Identifying what went well and where improvements can be made.
  12. Striving for continuous self-improvement and learning.

Han Solo loved to deny fault especially at the worst possible times. Blaming a failed Hyperdrive systems error on someone else while an Imperial Star Destroyer is bearing down is not going to fix the situation. Han knew that. In the end Han does what Han does best, he takes decisive action and gets out of his predicament by the skin of his teeth and with panache. Han was a Rogue but also a Victor after all, not a Victim. Be like Han…

 

Leia –

What did you have in mind for

your next move?

Han –

Well, if they follow standard

Imperial procedure, they’ll dump

their garbage before they go to

light-speed, then we just float

away.

Leia –

With the rest of the garbage.

Then what?

 

*Acknowledgement to “Baggy Trousers” by Madness – the anthem of my childhood.

Exile

In to Exile I must go. Failed I have.” – Yoda

Exile is a harsh punishment often inflicted on people who have been forced to leave their homes. The choice to remain can be fraught with danger. Stay and face persecution or death or be uprooted and cast in to the Diaspora.

In recent years we have seen a surge in the number of people fleeing war, oppression, cultural upheaval, environmental degradation and poverty. There is a gravitational pull towards the west and the north as those places offer a measure of safety, financial security and welfare lacking in poorer countries. Many immigrants and refugees arrive in the new lands and many become disillusioned. The promise of a better life often fails to materialize. The tug of home conflicts with the desire to stay.

Our native soil draws all of us, by I know not what sweetness, and never allows us to forget.” – Publius Ovidius Naso

 

Land Lost

Exile has always been a part of the world. It follows on the heels of any sweeping change that befalls a country where events favor one group over another. Refugees are the living and desperate flotsam of war. Waves of peoples fleeing death and destruction in their homelands and seeking safe haven in a strange land is one of the faces of war.

The goal of the refugee has always been to return home and rebuild. In the past people held a strong bond to their homeland. The land that nurtured them was a part of who they were. A person’s identity was their culture, language, history, the land that carried their buried ancestors. The land was the mother that nurtured the people.

Identity creates an emotional and spiritual link to the ancestral land. This connection endures even to those born in the Diaspora who struggle with their identity. The desire to return and find home is an intangible tug for exiles.

“All writers–all beings–are exiles as a matter of course. The certainty about living is that it is a succession of expulsions of whatever carries the life force…All writers are exiles wherever they live and their work is a lifelong journey towards the lost land..” – Janet Frame

 

The Damned

The Stoic Philosophers Epictetus and Seneca were exiled by Roman Emperors. The Emperor Domitian banished all Philosophers from Rome. Nero massacred many. The rise of Christianity saw the banishment of classical Philosophers. Through the centuries exile was used as means to silence opposing and dissenting views. Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany forced many Philosophers to flee in to exile or forced in to concentration camps.

Exile can shape and define a person in different ways. For some it is a calamity to great to recovery from. For others it is a catalyst for growth. It was in exile that the ideas and talents of many Philosophers, Writers and Poets begin to blossom.

Socrates was never an exile but lived as one in his native Athens. The father of Western Philosophy held that all Philosophers should suffer exile at least once in their life. The existential catharsis that comes from being uprooted and foreign in a strange land would do the Philosopher good.

“Copper sun sinking low
Scatterlings and fugitives
Hooded eyes and weary brows
Seek refuge in the night”

 – Juluka “Scatterlings of Africa”.

 

Scatterlings

Exile is a recurring theme in Star Wars. After Palpatine released Order 66 resulting in the great purge of the Jedi Order and the rise of the Empire, those who survived the onslaught fled in to exile. Kenobi fled in to obscurity in the outer rim. Yoda waited on Dagobah for prophesy to be realized. The few Jedi and fledgling rebellion were scattered to all corners of the galaxy, relentlessly hunted by Darth Vader.

Exile grounded Obi-Wan Kenobi. In exile Kenobi found a new purpose and honed his skills in the Force. Yoda also became stronger and wiser in seclusion on Dagobah. The decades that passed were to their advantage. The day would come when they would have a sweeping impact on events and in their own way finally return home.

Luke Skywalker exiled himself to the remote planet of Ahch-To, The Last Jedi abandoned his family and friends vanishing as a new dark force arose in the galaxy. Fleeing his responsibilities he still chose an ancient Jedi temple to hide out as a recluse. This seems at odds with someone who wants to run away from his past and severe all ties. Why run to something familiar unless there is aching regret?

Unlike the Jedi who fled the power of the Empire, Luke was trying to flee himself. The guilt and remorse he felt for past mistakes effectively crippled his spirit and extinguished his flame. Luke was unable to function as a Jedi Master so he chose self exile as a punishment for his failures rather than rising above them.

“This is the most immediate fruit of exile, of uprooting: the prevalence of the unreal over the real. Everyone dreamed past and future dreams, of slavery and redemption, of improbable paradises, of equally mythical and improbable enemies; cosmic enemies, perverse and subtle, who pervade everything like the air.” – Primo Levi

 

Geography

In the recovery community you will sometimes hear the term “geographic solution”. Alcoholics have a habit of running away (literally) from their problems rather than facing up to them. They will isolate themselves from the people in their lives, change jobs suddenly, start and quit projects and sometimes vanish in a form of self exile.

My Father was such an alcoholic and addicted to the “geographic solution”. The next town or place will be better. A fresh start is all that was needed. Moving to a new place may work for a short time but eventually an immutable fact remains; wherever you go, there you are. If you are fleeing yourself you will find that no running away will solve that until the day you change yourself.

Luke may have sought to somehow redeem himself on Ahch-To. Perhaps he felt that his presence at home was so toxic that he needed to be away from everyone and everything in order not to ruin their lives. How often do we see alcoholic parents abandon their children for exactly the same reason? Out of some desperate need they think that removing themselves will save others. They fail to see the real way out.

The arrival of Rey was the spark that ignited a fire. Luke was forced to confront his past and deal with it. The truth of his actions was laid bare and he had to admit it at last. The final confrontation with his past was the shove that Luke needed to get past the rut he had found himself in. Once free of that burden Luke was able to transcend to a new level. Luke was able to be his true self and become one with the Force. Luke finally came home.

“Happiness is not only a hope, but also in some strange manner a memory … we are all kings in exile.” – GK Chesterton

 

Shallow Roots

I would not know what it is like to be an Exile in the classical sense as I never had roots to begin with thanks to an itinerant drunken Father. As long as I was aware of place I was always on the move. It was with this sense of having no “home” that I left the confines of childhood and set myself adrift in the world for many years. There were no roots to rip up. “Walking away” was easy.

Despite forever feeling the “stranger”, the “outsider” and the “other” my entire childhood and much of my adult life I always felt there was a place I belonged. Not knowing where felt like a gaping hole in my soul. I spent years searching. My travels took me across continents.

I sought a place I could call “home” and at last put down roots. What I was actually seeking was my own identity. I did not know who I was, what I was meant for or where my place was. I was Lost and tried to fill that hole with booze.

What I found on the road was frustration, anger, hate and suffering. Eventually I found that exile and separation is a state of being not a place. A personal catharsis is needed in that vital experience of exile to come home.

“Exile is not a time frame. Exile is an experience. It’s a sentiment.” – Marco Rubio

 

The Road to Damascus

The Bible tells the story of Paul. On the road to Damascus he is confronted by a vision of Jesus and “blinded”. Later as a newly converted Christian, Paul’s sight was restored. Forced in to exile he began the work of spreading the gospel until he was eventually martyred by the Romans like so many other Philosophers Christian and Pagan before and after.

I don’t know if the character named Saul existed or whether his catharsis on the road to Damascus and conversion as Paul was an illustrative parable of the power of epiphany leading to a radical shift in perception and character.  Saul led a selfish life that was blind to the suffering of others.

Saul was also blind to the hate and anger in his own heart and his spiritual void. Something huge happened on the road to Damascus that led to a blinding revelation and a deflation of ego. Paul emerged, a new man entirely devoid of his old character. With the hate, anger and fear stripped away Paul found “God” was there all along within him. Free of separation, Paul had found home.

Everyone must come out of his Exile in his own way.” – Martin Buber

 

Finding Home

My lack of identity of course was never the want for a physical location to call “home”. Like Paul I simply needed to find my own inner truth. I needed to learn who I truly was. I did not find it on some road in a physical sense but by facing myself, overcoming denial and surrendering my problems to a Higher Power. After decades lost I finally found home. Had I never experienced a type of personal and spiritual exile I would never had become that person. Socrates was right.

Exile need not be seen as a negative experience. Being driven from home can be traumatic but also cathartic. In exile one can sink in to despair or rise above the experience and become a better person. Philosophers like Epictetus and Seneca thrived in exile. Like the protagonist in Campbell’s “A Heroes Journey” the Exile is also on a journey that ends with the final and victorious return home.

“Exile is a dream of a glorious return. Exile is a vision of revolution: Elba, not St Helena. It is an endless paradox: looking forward by always looking back. The exile is a ball hurled high into the air. ” – Salman Rushdie

The Lightsaber

What is it?
It’s your father’s Lightsaber. This is the weapon of a Jedi Knight. Not as clumsy or random as a blaster. An elegant weapon, for a more civilized age.

―Luke Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi

On the road to becoming a Jedi a Padawan is expected to build their own Lightsaber. The Lightsaber is more than a weapon it is an extension of the Jedi. The form, color and design of the Lightsaber reflects the character, persona and qualities of the Jedi wielding it. The Kyber crystals that provide the heart and power of the Lightsaber are earned through the ingenuity and resolve of the Padawan. The crystal chooses the Padawan through attraction. In many ways the Lightsaber is the Jedi and the Jedi is her Lightsaber. The Jedi wields the Force through the blade of the Lightsaber.

In “The Force Awakens”, Rey finds Luke Skywalker’s long lost Lightsaber. The same Lightsaber wielded by Anakin. Learning the location of the missing Jedi Master she finds him at the ancient Jedi Temple on the planet Ahch-To. In the last scene of the movie Luke is looking out over the ocean and turns to face Rey. The Jedi Master has aged and his eyes are wise but it is still the Luke Skywalker of old. Rey holds out the Lightsaber in front of her and he looks at it and then at her. The scene fades and the movie ends. The moment was memorable and spell binding. Luke is found and reunited with his Lightsaber, an indelible part of his history. The hero’s Journey begins to blossom once again.

 

The WTF moment

Fast forward to “The Last Jedi” and we find Luke and Rey still standing on the rock overlooking the windswept cliffs. They face each other. Luke takes the Lightsaber from Rey’s hand looks at it and then tosses it behind his back without a saying word. Rey stands speechless and watches the Jedi Master she has heard so much about, the Legend, storm off. I watched the scene unfold completely stunned as millions of others around the world did. Why would Luke do something like that? Was he mad?

I began to ponder that question over the months after I watched “The Last Jedi”. There have been many theories that have been raised online as to the cause of Luke’s actions. Some said that he was disillusioned with the Jedi Path and had turned in to a grumpy old crank and shut out the Force. Others thought that he had embraced a philosophy of non-violence and no longer required a Lightsaber.

I then began to explore the personal relationship between Luke and the Lightsaber in an attempt to understand the scene. If my personal conclusions satisfied me, then perhaps I could derive some philosophical meaning that could be applied in my life as a Real World Jedi. The story arc would have then served a purpose as Mythology should; to use story telling in explaining the world and passing on life lessons.

Luke Skywalker never built his first Lightsaber as Jedi normally do. He inherited his father’s, Anakin’s Lightsaber. In “A New Hope” Obi-Wan Kenobi presented Luke Skywalker with the Lightsaber. In the same scene he revealed to Luke that his father was a great Jedi who had been killed by Darth Vader. It was a defining moment in the entire Star Wars saga but the significance was barely noted. By handing Luke his father’s Lightsaber, Obi-Wan handed over a legacy and ignited a flame that would eventually grow in to an inferno that was ultimately felt across the Galaxy.

 

No, I’m your Father

Luke carried the Lightsaber in many battles and trained with it on Dagobah. The Lightsaber eventually had an unexpected ending. Luke lost it when his hand was removed during the infamous Lightsaber duel with Darth Vader on Bespin in “The Empire Strikes Back”. As Luke grappled with the grief of losing his treasured heirloom and the pain of losing his hand his world was further shattered. With impeccable style and timing, Darth Vader put some important untruths to end. Obi-Wan and Yoda had been lying along along and the man Luke thought had killed his beloved Father was in fact his Father.

What a way to end a very bad day.

The heirloom was Luke’s destiny but it was not his Lightsaber. Luke did not find the Kyber crystal through his own trial. The Lightsaber had not been forged, built and wielded solely by him. In essence the Lightsaber still belonged to Anakin. It was an orphan. Obi-Wan had given him the Lightsaber and perhaps that was the Force at play or pure emotional manipulation. The heart of the Lightsaber still belonged to Anakin as much as Excalibur belonged to King Arthur and  the sword Anduril belonged to Aragorn in the “Lord of the Rings”.

The loss of the Lightsaber on Bespin was undoubtedly a good thing. Luke was better off without it. The Lightsaber held within it the essence of the fallen Jedi, his Father. Every stroke and battle, every emotion of loss, pain, anger, hate and fear which Anakin had been through was tied to the Lightsaber. Luke could pick up the Lightsaber and use it. But ultimately he was wielding a tool that had inflicted suffering. The blade been used to massacre innocents including the Younglings at the Jedi Temple when Anakin was turned by Palpatine. Had Darth Vader said his famous “I’m your Father” line while Luke still had his hand I have no doubt the Lightsaber would have been tossed in to the void in a reaction of revulsion and horror.

 

Where is your lightsaber, Lord Vader? Use its power! Defend yourself!
Lost in the fight with… Obi-Wan. He…took it.
That blade belonged to another. A Jedi. You are a Sith.

―Darth Sidious and Darth Vader

 

The Baton of Guilt

This makes me wonder if Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda were not a little irresponsible if unethical for withholding intimate truths from Luke and not disclosing the dark past of the Lightsaber he wielded. No doubt the truth would have been too great for Luke to bear. Perhaps both Jedi Masters were terrified that the chosen one would fall like his Father if he knew. They did what they had to do.

Luke did build a Lightsaber and it first appeared in “Return of the Jedi”. The Lightsaber would ultimately bring Darth Vader to his knees. The weapon became an extension of Luke. It carried his very essence but like his Father’s before him it also carried his fear and doubts.

Many years later in a moment of insanity Luke ignited his Lightsaber over his sleeping nephew Ben Solo. Luke had sensed a dark evil in his apprentice and in revulsion reacted with anger. Ben awoke and in his rage joined the Knights of Ren and became Kylo Ren. Later he destroyed the second Jedi Temple. Racked with guilt, Luke fled in to self-imposed exile deserting his family and friends.

Anakin’s long lost Lightsaber was found again decades after it had been lost in the Cloud City. The vision of it had appeared to Rey in her dreams. There was a connection. On the Planet of Takodana it hid and when by fortune or fate Rey found herself there in the very castle it lay hidden, it called to her and she took it up.

Later Rey used the blade in battle against Kylo Ren. The Force awakened, she wielded the Lightsaber with the skill of an experienced Jedi during the assault on Star Killer Base. Learning the location of Luke she traveled to Ahch-To and there returned the long lost Lightsaber to Luke. This was the very moment millions of fans had waited decades to see. Luke would at last take his Lightsaber like Aragorn took up Anduril and reclaim his destiny.

Wouldn’t he?

 

Credit: SW-daydreamer.tumbler.com 

No he would not.

 

When I left you, I was but the learner; now I am the master” – Darth Vader to Obi-Wan

Letting Go

Luke tossed the treasured heirloom off a cliff.…As shocking as that appears who can blame him? I can’t. Luke by now would have learned the full tragic story of his Father and Mother. The Lightsaber had its own story. It had been wielded for good and evil but ultimately it was tainted. I would not want such a reminder of a dark and painful past in my possession. Although an object can neither be viewed as “good” or “evil” on its own there is no denying that as humans we do attach associations, memories and stories to objects that give them a tone of “light” or “dark” and “good” or “evil”.

Alcoholics carry such a legacy of guilt. This is why making an inventory of faults and wrongs is so important. By confronting our dark past we can acknowledge the harm we have done to self and others. Sharing that burden with those we trust and a Higher Power gives us the strength to let go of those faults and finally “turn them over”. The guilt and shame dissipates. Forgiveness and amends sets the past right and allows us to move on with our lives free from past mistakes. We are no longer hostages to our past and tethered there emotionally and spiritually.

Given a few years of recovery you look back and no longer recognize the person you once were. The selfish Drunk of the past becomes as complete stranger. We would not go back even if we were promised heaven on Earth. That person, that past is nothing to us now. We have tossed that part of us over the proverbial cliff.

 

This one is mine. I no longer use yours.

―Luke Skywalker, to Darth Vader

 

The Unwanted

There is the possibility that Luke discarded the Lightsaber because he no longer attached any value to it. The Lightsaber was now simply a tool that provided no use to him. Given his utter indifference on seeing the Lightsaber held up to him it may have been possible that he simply rejected the return of his Lightsaber for no other reason than it was mere junk to him. Luke felt nothing for dusty heirlooms. The past was dead to him. It was nothing to him.

People evolve and grow and the things that were important to us in the past might not hold any value in the future. No matter what significance or meaning we attach to things, they are still things and nothing more. It is the perception in our mind of the thing which elicits attraction or revulsion. People fall out of love with things as often as they fall out of love with other people. Ideas and beliefs are no different. We are not tied to them and compelled never to challenge, revise or dismiss our ideas, biases and beliefs.

There is the final possibility that Luke recognized Rey as his pupil although he resisted it. Luke may have sensed that the Lightsaber was no longer his, but now hers. Rey was exasperated by Luke’s cantankerous and dysfunctional antics on Ahch-To.  What if Luke’s antics were nothing of the sort and simply intended to throw Rey completely and test her? After all did Yoda not play “games” with Luke on Dagobah? Anything is possible.

The Jedi Master reminded me of an Alcoholic who had been sent to rehab on a desert Island where there was no possibility of him getting any access to booze. Rey hands him his Lightsaber in the scene in “The Last Jedi” and there is a brief flicker of hope as if a stranger has bought him a bottle of Chivaz. When Luke looks down and sees its no malt whiskey in his hand but a Lightsaber he throws it behind his back in disgust and disappointment and skulks away to his hut to cry. That’s what I would have done back in the day.

Rey’s first reaction was to retrieve the Lightsaber and begin training with it. It may have been rejected by Luke but she saw purpose in it. Unbeknownst to her she had claimed a legacy which spanned more than half a century. Rey held in her hands a weapon which carried immense history and no doubt carries a purpose in the final conclusion of the Third Trilogy. There is the real possibility that she was meant to have it. The Lightsaber had become her destiny.

Luke, we are what they grow beyond. That is the true burden of all masters.” – Yoda

 

Memories

The relationship between Luke and his father’s Lightsaber is in many way an analogy of the relationships that people have with their past including people. If someone walked up to me and handed me my alcoholic past I would probably recoil and cast it aside as readily as I would reject the offer of a drink. For decades I tried to forget the first 18 years of my life and used booze to help. I own nothing from my childhood, not even a photo as a result. I threw away all mementos of that past away.

I don’t know if I could have faced my  Father again when he was alive because of those painful memories. For more than 25 years we never spoke or saw each other again. I had shut him out utterly. I’ve since made amends and forgiven him although he died before I had the chance to do it in person. That’s all I can do.

I know my past and at times I glance there when it serves to remind me of what I was but I avoid staring too long. Memories can be painful and sometimes we want to be rid of not only the memories in our minds but also the physical reminders of them. At some point we have to accept and move on.

Heirlooms are there to remind us of where we come from. They are passed from generation to generation and as long as they hold significance they are kept and treasured. Once things lose their meaning, they lose significance and they are thrown in the attic or end up in a garage sale. Luke simply rejected that symbol of his past by tossing it off a cliff. So it is with versions of ourselves. As humans we are made to shed older versions of ourselves, let go of old ideas and grow. Growth can be painful. When we were little children our bones lengthened and we ached and cried in pain. As we grow older it is the shedding of old ideas and habits for the new which is sometimes painful. It means the treatment is working, we are growing as a person.

I never forget where I came from and how I got to where I am. By confronting the past rather than ruminating on it I never forget what I need to do. I remind myself of the consequences should I fail. By learning rather than regretting we train ourselves to stand strong and resilient rather than being passive in self-pity and remorse. I have tossed the old Lightsaber of an alcoholic past over a cliff in the journey to be a better version of myself.

 

I see you have constructed a new Lightsaber. Your skills are complete. Indeed you are powerful, as the Emperor has foreseen.

―Darth Vader examining Luke Skywalker’s Lightsaber.

 

The Lightsaber Project

When I got sober I began building my new Lightsaber. It remains a lifelong project and is a metaphor for a Good Life. The goal is to continuously improve upon the old design to make something better. Aiming for but never reaching perfection.

The component parts of the Lightsaber are values and principles I have collected over time. Some of those parts have been upgraded and replaced as they wore out or were no longer in harmony with the rest. The assembled Lightsaber represents the combination of virtues I demonstrate. The Kyber crystal holds in its core the spiritual heart and soul of my Lightsaber. The form of the Lightsaber is the product of martial and physical training.  The weapon within my hands feels light, agile, confident and strong. I know it is my own Lightsaber, a reflection of me. I have built from the wreckage of the past and the trials of my own life.

In “The Last Jedi” Rey carries the broken Lightsaber on to the Millennium Falcon. The weapon was broken in two halves as Kylo Ren and Rey used the force to each claim it. As the Lightsaber split exposing the Kyber crystals the it exploded as the Force held within was released. Rey managed to grab the weapon and flee.

We don’t know yet whether we have seen the last of Anakin’s Lightsaber but my guess is that Rey will rebuild it in to something new and more powerful.

Each of us struggle with our own “Light” and “Dark” sides. Those two halves that perpetually struggle for ascendancy within our ego. Many who suffer from addiction fight a daily struggle between attraction and aversion, light and dark. Over time one side eclipses the other and the result is either recovery or relapse. We ultimately choose which path to take. A broken Lightsaber can be repaired and a lost Lightsaber can be replaced with one that is better. Life is no different, wear it like a loose cloak and be prepared to toss out the old for the new, pick up the pieces, rebuild, replace, learn and finally move on.

Build Resilience: Pay it Forward

Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi. You’re my only hope.” – Princess Leia

In the opening act of Star Wars we see the Corvette “Tantive IV” under attack by an Imperial Star Destroyer. On board the Tantive IV is Senator Leia on a diplomatic mission from the Imperial Senate to her home planet Alderaan. Moments before the Tantive IV is seized by Imperial Storm Troopers Leia hides a desperate call for help inside the Droid R2D2. The message, along with information crucial to the survival of the rebellion, would find itself to Luke Skywalker on Tatooine and to Obi-wan Kenobi. It was a call for aid that would trigger a series of events that would change countless lives and ultimately the destiny of an entire Galaxy. One call for help would ultimately prove an ancient prophecy true and bring balance to the Force.

 

Comrades

A common perception is that we must tough life out by ourselves. This is a common view among men. The “suck it up Princess” mentality is something I see every day in my line of work. In the Army we were expected to rely on each other as a team to get the job done. There was no shame in asking for help from the man beside you when you could not help yourself. We had each other’s back.

There were caveats. If a guy in the Platoon was having personal issues or going through an emotional crisis it was different. Showing weaker emotions was not accepted and everyone was expected to sort themselves out. If a guy had had a bust up with a girlfriend for example we took him out and got him drunk. That was the protocol for a broken heart or other emotional issues. Booze was the ultimate remedy. If a person could not carry their emotional baggage on the job, they were a liability.

Emotions not expressed as aggression, pride, competitiveness and other Alpha Male qualities were not welcome in our midst. It was the overpowering and addictive pull of masculine toxicity which defined us.

Don’t be ashamed to need help. Like a soldier storming a wall, you have a mission to accomplish. And if you’ve been wounded and you need a comrade to pull you up? So what?” – Marcus Aurelius

 

The Wounded

The fact that so many wounded warriors are now struggling with PTSD and depression is no surprise. Around 22 veterans in the United States commit suicide every day. Even invincible heroes have scars that lie hidden and run deep. “Suck it up Princess” no longer cuts it and it probably never did.

Suicide is one of those topics we don’t like to talk about. Even today it is still a taboo subject among many. Most of us know of someone who has lost a battle with depression and taken their own life. It goes without saying that we are only human. People are vulnerable and fragile even beneath the physical and mental armor.

Suicide was one of those “options” that tugged at my sleeve. The “Black Dog” would visit and suicidal thoughts would pass like a dark cloud. The truth was I enjoyed wallowing in self-pity and imagining how I could hurt others. I had the insane notion that I would gloat in self-satisfaction after expunging myself from existence. The reality was that I was far too much of a morally bankrupted coward to take the idea past depraved mental masturbation.

Accepting things as they are. Surrendering to a Higher Power. Recognizing the harms done to self and others. Taking steps daily to improve one’s self. Helping others. Who has time for self-pity with all of that? With recovery, thoughts of suicide dissipated along with the depression and anxiety.

Sometimes, accepting help is harder than offering it.” – The Clone Wars “Legacy of Terror”

 

Ask and Give

Recently on “Temple of the Jedi Order” I saw a thread about suicide. A number of people related how people known to them had committed suicide. They had “felt” something was wrong and now regretted not saying anything or doing anything. In many cases they had simply failed to recognize the signs and warnings. Most people aren’t trained to identify warning signs. Many times they may be subtle or absent.

Many people also don’t like to ask for help. They want to work it out alone. Speaking to others is a last resort. There could be a large number of reasons for this social, cultural or personal. Once help is sought it can turn everything around. Being alcoholic I shunned any offer of assistance and resented it. If I needed help then I had a problem. If there was a problem, change was needed. The problem was admitting to a problem in the first place. So we stay in a hole until life becomes so uncomfortable we are forced to seek help. Finding it we start to see the doors in our mind open and we begin to help ourselves.

Compassion and empathy are Jedi virtues. Jedi are expected to be willing to render aid and provide support where they can  and where it is needed. We listen with an open heart and without judgement. We can give our undivided attention without imposing conditions. It may not seem much but it might be all that’s needed to make all the difference.

Being Jedi is not forcing help on others. We help those willing to listen. In the 12 Steps we only “carry the message”. We listen and offer what assistance we can. Whether or not it is accepted or if our aid helps is out of our control. Be mindful that an offer of help does not mean “I will carry your burdens for you”.

Never forget that It is not unusual for us to neglect our own needs in meeting the needs of others. Be prepared to ask for help as well. By speaking to someone, a family member, a friend, a counselor or a sponsor it could make all the difference.

Remember. In Star Wars it was a lonely plea for help from a stranger that pushed Luke Skywalker in to action and ultimately into a journey of self-discovery, redemption and triumph.

I know God will not give me anything I can’t handle. I just wish that God didn’t trust me so much.” – Mother Teresa

 

Pay if Forward

The book “Pay it Forward” by Catherine Ryan Hyde and the movie adaptation inspired many people when they came out in 1999. The story tells of a twelve year old boy who’s simple and brave actions in helping a stranger starts a movement that changes the world. It starts with an idea and then a simple gesture of kindness to a fellow human being. By “paying it forward” the flow of energy expands outwards, snow balling in to something that captures the world’s imagination.

“Pay if Forward” is a work of fiction as much as “Star Wars: A New Hope” is. The message is that every person has the power to help another. We are all on this rock together and have more in common than we know. Help, selfless altruism is a universal virtue. The power of help is universal.

Listening to others share their troubled and sharing our own is the basis of group therapy as used in the fellowship of AA.  Likewise being Jedi is being receptive to others and providing support where we are able. We know what goes around comes around. “Paying it Forward” is more than a catch term, it is the ballast that keeps society afloat. It also keeps many Alcoholics from sinking back into abuse.

Helping others without expecting anything in return keeps the energy flowing. Being of service, small acts of kindness replaces anger and fear with empathy and a sense of purpose. Those acts then take a life of their own. When help is offered to those that need it we are making a positive change, if only for a short time. By helping others we help ourselves. We pay it forward but we get to keep it too.

Because it proves that you don’t need much to change the entire world for the better. You can start with the most ordinary ingredients. You can start with the world you’ve got.”  – Catherine Ryan Hyde

 

Self Help Exercise: Storming the Wall

We are conscious of our own thoughts and emotions. Some of us have trouble responding to extremes of emotions or unruly and chaotic thoughts. Emotions are meant to tell us how our internal world is coping with life. The mind is meant to help us to make choices congruent with our values. The trick is not acting on impulse or allowing emotions to rule our judgement and decisions.

I sometimes take a moment to shine a light on my thoughts and feelings. It’s a method I learned from Eckhart Tolle’s “Power of Now”. Especially when troubled I will pause and ask myself “what am I thinking?” and “what am I feeling? I become an impartial observer to my own thoughts and feelings. A light is thrown on my inner world and any negative thoughts are reasoned with and let go. Negative emotions exposed by the light are transmuted and dispersed through a simple act of mindfulness. There is no struggle. I have helped myself over the wall. I am returned to the power of the moment.

We may be resilient but like the soldier storming the wall we could use the occasional hand to help us up.

 

 

Build Resilience: Be Prepared

“Han Shot First” – The Jury

“Last Resort” is a word I often hear in martial arts and in everyday life. Simply put it is to use martial arts when unable to defuse or deescalate a situation or when evasion is no longer an option. If the situation deteriorates further you may need to then resort to whatever means are available to take an opponent out of a fight. It has become a fight for survival, the last place you last wanted to go. Playing by the rules no longer applies. Are you prepared to do whatever it takes?

You sometimes have to be prepared to resort to actions that might shock or appall you and others. The alternative might be serious injury or death. Are we trained and ready to handle  emergency situations in life?

Police Officers, Paramedics and Soldiers get training in dealing with situations that would leave most people unable to act mindfully. Most people faced with a crisis will go into an automatic fight, flight or freeze response none of which may serve. Most of the time its because they are unprepared.

 

The Cantina

That’s the idea. I’ve been looking forward to this for a long time” – Greedo
“Yes, I’ll bet you have”. – Han Solo

When Han Solo faced Greedo in the Mos Eisley Cantina he did not hesitate to shoot the Bounty Hunter first. It was a casual and cold blooded act at odds with the Solo we are presented with in the backstory movie “Solo”.

Han knew that Greedo would have just as easily killed him. Instead of waiting he put a blaster laser bolt in to the Rodian and casually walked out of the Cantina tossing a coin to the Bar Keep.

Earlier, Obi-wan Kenobi had not hesitated to take off the arm of an aggressor with his Lightsabre when the trouble maker was trying to start a fight with Luke. The Master Jedi realized that it was pointless trying to talk down the Alien Pirate when Ponda Baba reached for his blaster.

 

Ready and Able

Sorry for the mess” – Han Solo

Han Solo did not react in panic. When he reached for his blaster and shot Greedo it was an instinctive reaction that had been drilled in to him after years of living the life of a smuggler. Dealing with scum bags like Greedo came with the territory.

Obi-wan was also acting out a trained response to a threat. The only difference between Obi-wan Kenobi and Han Solo was the intent and the outcome when faced with a crisis. Ponda Baba lost his arm, Greedo lost his life. Violence for Jedi was a last resort while for Han it was a simple case of “kill or be killed” and worry about the consequences later.

Whatever the difference Jedi and Smugglers had to keep a cool head in a Galaxy where a multitude of enemies were out to get them.

Han was never not ready and able. Neither was Obi-wan. Alone in the desert Kenobi came face to face with his old foe, Darth Maul who had come seeking final revenge. Decades had passed. As Lightsabres flashed, Darth Maul was cut down by the old Jedi in three short moves. Kenobi was more prepared than the angry and hateful Dathomirian.

Han Solo  decades later faced his son Kylo Ren ready for whatever might happen but seeking forgiveness. Obi-wan sought out his old friend and apprentice and was cut down by Darth Vader. The Jedi Master was prepared for the final act and perhaps planned it.

 

Ill-Prepared

If you define yourself by your power to take life, to desire to dominate, to possess, then you have nothing” – Ob-wan Kenobi

I have been in fair number of fights, none of which I’m proud of. Most of them I was drunk and the scene was never pretty. My last punch up was probably 25 years ago. Fortunately even as a heavy drinker I eventually learned that fighting was a last resort activity. It was something that could ruin a good night and disrupt a night of drinking.

Anger and frustration played at a world in which I could not find peace. Without calm I was ill prepared for life so I fought against the tide.

I also scared myself. If I lost it I could do something that was beyond a last resort but a primal and mindless act I would wake up to and regret forever. Knowing my inner Demons helped in many ways to keep them on a chain if not completely at bay. Unfortunately this meant largely isolating myself from others and getting drunk alone in exile with my Demons, the greatest of all was Fear.

Fear of the present, fear of the future and fear of not knowing what I would do when “it” happened.

 

Get a Grip

One way to build enough resilience to remain calm in a crisis is to rehearse and play out possible scenarios in your mind before they happen. Imagine how you might react in a situation. Observe yourself remaining calm and focused. Be prepared.

Decide what you would do in the situation. See that playing out in your mind’s eye. It might be any type of scenario. You may have a difficult meeting to attend at work, disagreement with a co-worker which has the potential to explode, a run in with an aggressive drunk in a Bar, an altercation in traffic, a medical emergency on the street, being a bystander (or a victim) of a robbery, getting dumped by your girlfriend or boyfriend, news of a personal loss and so forth. There are countless scenarios that could play out. We cannot rehearse them all but we can work on being prepared for the worst case scenario and respond in a way that does not make it worse.

 

Wrestling Demons

“The art of living is more like wrestling than dancing, in so far as it stands ready against the accidental and the unforeseen, and is not apt to fall.”  – Marcus Aurelius

Being able to deal with “scenarios” by keeping a cool head is essential in recovery. Most alcoholics know what their triggers are. The difference between someone in abuse and someone in recovery is how they handle those triggers. Everyday we wrestle with Demons that clamor to rise to the surface.

If I didn’t run into issues that provided me with an excuse to get drunk I created them out of my own design. I would start a disagreement or act in a way that attracted drama and controversy. It was partly attention seeking and partly contempt for those around me. I could manipulate people well enough to achieve the desired outcome. Being selfish, disagreeable, offensive and belligerent, it wasn’t hard! Soon enough I had the opportunity and the excuse to get drunk.

Recovery is an exercise in self-discipline, crisis management, conflict resolution and finally impact mitigation. We do not try to hide from life in order to avoid scenarios where our virtues may be tested to their limits. Instead we engage with life head on expecting that daily we will encounter difficulties.

Never forget that we are only human. We may be able to convince ourselves that we are ready for the “accidental and the unforeseen” and then get blindsided by something we weren’t prepared for. It could be a snide remark at the wrong moment or a major catastrophe. Adding to the drama only makes it worse. Being sensitive people it might be enough to tip us over in to relapse.

 

One Day at a Time

When you wake up in the morning, tell yourself: the people I deal with today will be meddling, ungrateful, arrogant, dishonest, jealous and surly .” – Marcus Aurelius

Marcus Aurelius had a way of dealing with difficult people and the constant challenges of being Emperor. Being a realist Marcus realized that he could not avoid them and that the best way to deal with it was to fully accept his day would be beset by difficulties. This does not mean he was an eternal pessimist who was resigned to every day being as bad as the last. In fact he welcomed the day because he realized it for the gift it is, another day to improve and hopefully make a difference not in spite of the inevitable challenges and difficulties but because of them.

Ancient Rome was a complex and treacherous place to be a ruler. Rome would devour those that were not ruthless enough or wise enough to navigate it safely. The Star Wars universe was no different. The world today can be that way too. The lesson that I take from the Star Wars mythology is to be constantly aware and to expect the unexpected especially when everything seems to be going well and as planned.

 

Stay Calm, Be Ready

When you arise in the morning, think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive – to breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love.” – Marcus Aurelius

Being prepared is not only being switched on to what is happening around you, but also what is happening within you. It is also being conscious of the present moment. Being attuned to change and being able to anticipate what it going to happen next. It is about allowing our intuition to do its work and being one step ahead of Jabba the Hutt or the “accidental and the unforeseen” of the Stoics.

Hopefully we never find ourselves in a situation where our resolve is put to the test beyond our known limits. I for one sometimes wonder how I might deal with an immediate threat and use self talk and visualization to rehearse a mindful response.

We can also rehearse scenarios through practice. Practicing poverty through self denial and voluntary hardship is one way. Negative visualization is another daily practice. Taking up martial arts which uses reality based scenarios is another way to prepare for the unthinkable. Any form of mental or skills training which prepares us for the worst case scenario is never wasted.

None of us can truly know our selves inside out. We don’t know what we might do as a “last resort”. What we can do is be ready for the “accidental and the unforeseen”. The world is chaotic and the Greedo’s and Ponda Baba’s sometimes impose themselves in to our lives if we are ready or not. It can be a predator or it can be getting blindsided by life. Be ready to reach for you light saber or blaster if you can’t avoid or defuse. Keep your cool and most of all your humanity but be ready to leap in to action.

Always be prepared.