Build Resilience: The Road Less Traveled

It is the rough road that leads to the heights of greatness.” – The Clone Wars “The Wrath of Ryloth       

In Seinfeld the character George Costanza discovers in an episode that doing the opposite of what he usually does opens doors for him. The lovable Loser realizes that he has been doing things predictably wrong his entire life. By doing the opposite of what he has always done, George suddenly starts to experience success in his life. It’s a staggering revelation. Being different, blazing your own trail and daring to walk the road less traveled may not be easy but it is worth it.

The Star Wars saga is about a young man who chooses not to conform. The myth follows the stages of the “Hero’s Journey”. On Tatooine, Luke dreams of leaving the planet and joining the Rebellion. There is a thirst, a call to adventure but he is tethered to his Uncles farm. Events out of his control but linked to him intervene. Luke is thrust in to an adventure and his life and the galaxy is forever changed.

Star Wars is full of those who choose not to conform and who choose to walk the road less traveled. In the Clone Wars, the Pirate Hondo quickly and easily switches sides and allegiances to suit his needs and ensure his survival and profitability. In one episode he is opposed to the Jedi and then as the situation changes he decides to help the Jedi without missing a beat. The Master Jedi Quinlan Vos also kept his fellow Jedi guessing with his unpredictable and unconventional style. There is no beaten path for the Resilient. Being resilient means being fluid, adaptable and being prepared to “take the road less traveled”.

 

“The Troubled One”

“Life is difficult.” – M.Scott Peck

My childhood was far from conventional. At times it was miserable but it was never boring or without drama. There was a drunken Father who became a widow and his children motherless. There were siblings in ill-fitting clothes shunted from home to home before they became separated. The endless moving from one place to another, one school to another. Shallow roots pulled up continuously until it seemed pointless to connect to any place or anyone. Being taken in to the care of the church, then the state and then back in to the Father’s.

Looking back it was a pitiful existence. “When I look back on my childhood I wonder how I managed to survive at all” is how Frank McCourt describes his childhood in “Angela’s Ashes”. I can relate to that. There was the hunger, fear and loneliness of neglect. The anger of betrayal and abuse. I fought a lot and ran away and was always in trouble. There were run ins with the law. Somehow my older brother kept me out of “Juvi” by beating some sense in to me.

I walked out of home as soon as I finished High School and joined the Army. Then there were the years of searching and roaming. Booze had now become the guiding path in my life. It buffered me from the world and put a wall up to others.

I would look at people who had the “normal” life and envy them while at the same time feeling resentment. They had a life I did not fit in to and I had had a life they could not understand. I was thrust on to my path and these people had choices. Not surprisingly I was different and always felt an outsider. Being a loner and an introvert I turned to alcohol in order to belong and be accepted. The feelings of awkwardness and inferiority were dispelled. I found that alcohol made me sociable and funny. All the sudden I was “normal” instead of being different.

 

The Long Road Back

“It is because of problems that we grow mentally and spiritually” – M.Scott Peck

Getting drunk and staying drunk for me was easy. No effort was required. There was no resistance although there was a degree of dissonance. Doubts were negated by a strong mental compulsion to take the easy path. Being sober and living by principle is hard in comparison.

Sobriety is walking a long and winding road back from despair and hopelessness. The path is one that is rocky and often a steep climb with lots of trips and falls. We stagger on. It takes discipline and heart and a lot of faith to stay on that path. There is pain and doubt. In doing so we build resilience. We also build a wisdom of ourselves and others that those who stay on the beaten path do not.

 

Choose your Path

These days I celebrate being different. I choose the “path less traveled”, avoiding the mainstream and mediocre where I can. Many of my life choices are “alternative”. I embrace a personal spirituality that is fluid and open to change. Instead of hitting the gym I train calisthenics at park gyms or with whatever I can find, whenever I want. My tastes in music and food are unconventional and open. I follow the Jedi Path and apply the philosophy in to my life. Politics do not interest me but I have views that are non-partisan yet reflect my own convictions. My career is considered unusual and presents a paradox which people find interesting and I find challenging.

I see the world in a very different light than I did years ago. Life is different and every day is a gift. I have changed as the “Hero’s Journey” changes those that walk it. Virtues are now highly prized. I don’t compromise on my values and I demonstrate them through principles.

Being sober and choosing life is taking the “road less traveled”. Had I not chosen that path I have no doubt that now years later my life would be profoundly worse. It was not the easiest path to take. I fell over a few times but I kept getting up and moving forward. The destination was and still is a mystery. That is the adventure, the unknown. Faith and resilience is needed and greatness is its reward.

Dare to be different. Walk your own path.

“To proceed very far through the desert, you must be willing to meet existential suffering and work it through. In order to do this, the attitude toward pain has to change. This happens when we accept the fact that everything that happens to us has been designed for our spiritual growth.”  – M.Scott Peck

 

 

Further Reading

“The Road less Travelled” by M.Scott Peck

“The Hero with a Thousand Face” by Joseph Campbell

Build Resilience: Overcome Fear

Facing all that you fear will free you from yourself” – The Clone Wars “Sacrifice”

Fear often stops us in our tracks. Of all the emotions it is the one which hijacks our hopes and dreams the most. Fear of the unknown, fear of failure and ridicule are reasons that prevent people from starting let alone achieving their goals.

Most of the things that we fear reside only in our minds. We spend time imagining different scenarios of what might happen without realizing that there is no evidence or rational argument that supports the fears we harbor. The more we try to resist, avoid or flee from the things we fear the larger they loom. By confronting our fears we often find that they fail to materialize or have been blown out of proportion by our imagination.

Fear can either be an obstacle or an opportunity. We can use our fear to demonstrate faith and practice principles. Through fear lies the potential for power. We must simply overcome our fear and demonstrate our strength, courage and resilience. In order to overcome fear we must go through it.

The more we push ourselves to confront what we fear the more resilient we become. A fighter who enters the ring convinced that he is no match for an opponent has already lost the bout in his mind. We can however choose to enter in to the unknown as best prepared as we can be and face down our fears.

 

The Dagobah Lesson

It is not death that a man should fear, but he should fear never beginning to live” – Marcus Aurelius

When Luke Skywalker stood at the entrance to the dark cave he was about to confront his deepest fears manifested as the Dark Side. Fear is the opposite of faith as dark is the opposite to light. Fear is little more than absence of faith in our own divine capacity to find the light within ourselves. Luke entered the cave and came face to face with his darkest fear, not his nemesis Darth Vader, but his own dark side. Dagobah showed Luke Skywalker that fear resides only within us. Faith or the Force can be used to light our way through the darkness of our Fear.

Fear can also drive us to do courageous things. When we hear of stories of heroism in war and peace we often hear it said that “fear” spurned them in to action. A war hero often can’t explain why he rushed a machine gun nest or ran under fire to recover a wounded comrade. Neither can the bystander who rushes in to a burning house to rescue those trapped inside. Fear can drive a reaction that defies the natural instinct for self-preservation. The mental and physiological effects of fear can produce incredible courage and almost superhuman powers for some while render others completely immobile or send them in to mindless panic.

Our response to fear is at times unpredictable and surprising. In the Army there were those who were outstanding peace time soldiers fall to pieces under fire and a complete disgrace of a soldier in the barracks who surprised everyone with exceptional courage in combat. Some very courageous veterans face the greatest challenges and fears not in active service but when they transition to civilian life and leave behind the protective shell of the Army. The fear is debilitating and devastating because it takes everything and leaves nothing.

 

Fear to Recovery

Fear not the future, weep not for the past” – The Clone Wars “Voyage of Temptation

Fresh out of the Army I was fearful so I got drunk a lot. When I was drunk I could be fearless one night and a pathetic coward the next. Fear riddled my being. The past haunted me and the future terrified me. In the present I found the solace of booze.

Be messy and complicated and afraid and show up anyways” -Glennon Doyle Melton.

In recovery I learned that courage comes in many forms. It is the person in the meeting who has lost everything including her dignity and self-respect and now sits before us holding back the tears and telling the story of how she came to be there. The amount of courage it can take for some to share their stories and seek to make amends in early recovery is in a way far braver than the instinctive compulsion to rush out and save a comrade while under fire. It is the sort of courage that will provide us the strength and resilience to stay sober.

 

An Insidious Rumor

“Fear is the path to the Dark Side. Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering.” – Yoda

The important thing to remember is that Fear is a natural response to a legitimate threat. Fear is what kept our ancestors alive. In modern society fear has a different nature and is not always legitimate or real. Fear today is mostly insidious and chronic such as the fear of retrenchment, poverty, rejection or illness rather than the acute and immediate threat of being torn apart by a lion.

 “Fear is a great motivator.” – The Clone Wars “Heroes on Both Sides”

Intangible fears have been created to control us better or get us to do what Governments and Corporations want us to do.  We are conditioned through media to fear the perpetual enemy, the existential threat. Be it the Terrorists, Commies or the Russians, someone is out to get us. Fear is the greatest motivator. It was an irrational Fear of mortality that spurned Anakin to seek to control the Force and led him to the Dark Side. The Empire used Fear to control the Galaxy, the Emperor used it to control Darth Vader.

Some of us suffer chronic fear and anxieties that require professional help while others rarely feel any fear at all but have specific phobias that send them to pieces. If we are asked to name our greatest fears many of us can’t. Some of them are like whispers in the dark, a cold draft or a passing shadow. We know fear when we feel it. It is what we do about it that matters most.

 

Own you Fear

“We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when are afraid of the light.” – Plato

When we know our fears we can face them. Resilient people have a healthy relationship with fear because they recognize those that are real and those that are false or misleading. Resilient people do not jump to the worst conclusions and automatically create fearful scenarios and doomsday outcomes. An overly positive and optimistic view is avoided as well. In the absence of clear evidence resilient people do not make immediate judgement and then charge them with emotions such as fear or anger.  Resilient people recognize that fear is a tool for them to channel in productive ways. Fear is only to be feared when it short circuits our rational mind and hijacks out capacity for reasoned choice. When fear controls us.

Let us not forget what happened to Anakin Skywalker. As a child he suffered fear and tragedy. A young man and Padawan, Anakin started to feel anger for the injustices of his past. In “The Revenge of the Sith” we saw that anger turn to hatred pushing Anakin to the dark side. Anakin never lost the fear. It was always there, growing stronger with time, controlling him and eventually possessing him. Even as Darth Vader he existed under perpetual fear. Only his son Luke Skywalker could redeem him through forgiveness and courage. It was not the absence of Fear that won the day but the ability to rise above it.

In order to overcome fear and build resilience we must know what it is and what it is not.

Fear is

  • A natural and healthy human response to perceived or actual threats
  • Often the product of imagination or falsehoods
  • Often magnified in our minds through ignorance
  • Contagious and can be manifested in society through prevailing attitudes (eg. Terrorism)

Fear is not

  • Always objective and rational
  • An abnormal responses to life
  • Unique to the individual
  • A weakness
  • A final reason to not do something we want to
  • Unnatural or shameful
  • Inherited and a part of your nature

 

Further Reading

Stoic Warriors by Nancy Sherman (2016)

Build Resilience: Voluntary Hardship

Life rises from the ashes. Fire brings renewed growth and  strength. The Forest is resilient. 

Voluntary Hardship is one of the ways we can build our resilience. The Stoics in Ancient Greece and Rome practiced Voluntary Hardship as a way to harden themselves to life. The practice could be as simple as missing a meal or sleeping rough. It was also about being exposed to uncomfortable situations, working with difficult and rude people and seeking out ways to test the limits of mental, emotional and physical endurance.

When I was 18 I decided to join the Army. I felt a need to test my mettle and prove myself a man. There was a need to expose myself to Voluntary Hardship in an environment where my choices were limited and I would be forced to grow. I thought that like a forest regenerating after fire I could be renewed by the furnace of the military.

 

“Lean into the discomfort of the work.” – Brene Brown.

 

Grunting

Being in the Army was like jumping in to a frying pan. Joining the Infantry was like jumping from the pan and in to the fire. It was uncomfortable and harassment constant. The work was dirty and hard. The lifestyle was close to Spartan. Material possessions were few. There was a greater chance of getting injured and suffering long term pain and disability. Knees and backs were shot after years of walking long distances with heavy loads. These are some of the reasons why men (and now women) still choose to do it.

Anyone who has ever been a Grunt knows that the Infantry thrives on a blend or order with random chaos. One minute everything is quiet and calm and then without warning a hurricane in the form of a snap inspection happens. Lockers are over turned, beds and mattresses are thrown about, gear is tossed out of windows and hosed down amidst screaming and yelling.

You find yourself at three am running around outside under a flood light dazed and confused. Grunting in the cold and wet while in your underwear, getting abuse hurled at you through a megaphone, you ask yourself in wonder “I volunteered for this shit?” The Army does this for one reason, to build resilience and prepare soldiers for war.

If you are not miserable, they are not doing it right. Voluntary Hardship works.

 

Yoda’s Method

Remember Luke Skywalker on Dagobah? Yoda pushed him to the limits of his mental, physical and emotional boundaries. The Jedi Master was showing Luke what he was capable of. By pushing Luke hard enough, Yoda was teaching him to find the Force within him and the resilience to meet his destiny.

Yoda: “Mysterious are the ways of the Force.”
Luke: “Did you just make me stand on my head for two hours because I was annoying you?”
Yoda: “Very mysterious.”

During the original trilogy we witnessed Luke evolving from an emotional and petulant Farm boy to a hardened and resilient Jedi. Voluntary Hardship was a Jedi discipline intended to prepare the Jedi for his or her mission.

 

Sane and Safe

Voluntary Hardship is all of these things but not all of us are going to commit to a personal Dagobah. We can do it as part of a sane and safe practice that suits our lifestyle. By constantly testing ourselves and by making life routinely uncomfortable in some way we are hardening ourselves for the day we may need to live it for real.

These days I rely on Voluntary Hardship to help me in my recovery. It is not safe to rest on my laurels and get too comfortable. Alcoholism is a subtle and cunning foe that preys on momentary lapses in reason and weaknesses.

By practicing Voluntary Hardship I am able to forgo things in a mindful way. By doing so I know that I am training myself to resist temptation and better absorb hardship when it comes without warning. I’m better able to deal with HALT* moments that arise and keep my serenity.

We need not deprive ourselves of basic needs. No one who is sane practices Voluntary Hardship by wandering through the wilderness without food or water for forty days or sleeping on a bed of nails. Doing anything at the expense of our health and well being is contrary to the purpose of Voluntary Hardship.

A voluntary hardship might be skipping a meal and going hungry for a night, having a cold shower, sleeping on the floor, leaving your jacket at home when you know it’s cold and raining out donating half of your clothes to charity. You could choose to go without Social Media for a few days or throw your Smart Phone in the drawer. Do it often enough and you begin to understand what scarcity and hardship feels like and that you can live with both if needed.

“The benefits of Voluntary Hardship far outweigh the discomfort.”

 

Easier

You began forcing yourself to get out of bed 6 am a month ago.  At first it was hell but you soon started to get used to it. Soon enough it became routine and then you thought, “why don’t I go for an early morning run?”.  You went from sleeping in till late and struggling out of bed to getting up at sunrise and going for a run.

After a few months you find yourself in the gym. All of the sudden you realize you look and feel great. Why? Because you chose to be uncomfortable.

Incremental improvements happen when we  challenge ourselves. We adapt and become conditioned to hardship and eventually we start to enjoy it.

 

Rewarding

When we were Kids some of us might remember having had “privileges” such as Television revoked for transgressions such as failing to make the bed. The denial was not voluntary but the sense of gratitude we got when the privilege was restored was real.

Imagine denying yourself the pleasures that you routinely enjoy. The truth is most of us don’t because we are on the hedonistic merry-go round. People are constantly seeking new pleasures and distractions. The things that we coveted and received soon lose their shine and we are left wanting for the next best thing. We have forgotten to appreciate the things we have and only want and expect the things we don’t.

What if we were to lose or have some of those things we have withheld? Could we do without them? My Daughter pleaded that she could not do without her Smart Phone until she found out she could. It taught her to value her things more. Still after the next model came out she “needed” that too!

Not having our endless demands met is healthy. Healthy denial teaches us to be grateful for what we have and take the time to enjoy them knowing that life can still be enjoyable without them.

 

Simpler

There is so much we can forgo in life. Peeling away the layers of materialism and settling for a simpler and less cluttered life frees us a lot of stress. Life become more about enjoying the experience rather than amassing possessions.

I do not equate a lack of material wealth as poverty or hardship. Some people do and they are physically and emotionally attached to their belongings in way that it creates a prison for them. By letting go of the clutter we think we need we start to break those bonds.

Wanting less also means having to spend less which means less debt and more money to do things that enrich your life experience.

 

Healthier and Happier

Less stress, more time and money to invest in your health and well-being, putting people before things all lead to a greater sense of self sovereignty, independence and happiness. If Voluntary Hardship leads to adopting a healthier diet, exercise program and positive outlook then all the better. All of these benefits result from having more resilience which results from Voluntary Hardship.

Use your imagination. Have fun with Voluntary Hardship. Remember it is training, not some form of penance.

*HALT: Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired. The four horsemen of the Apocalypse (Triggers) for Alcoholics in early recovery.

 

Further Reading

Ryan Holiday (2014): The Obstacle Is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph. Available on Amazon at http://amzn.to/29HvsMI

Meditations by Marcus Aurelius. Available on Amazon at: http://amzn.to/29R3Ysb

Letters from a Stoic by Seneca the Younger. Available on Amazon at: http://amzn.to/2mqd44A

Resilience

Never give up hope, no matter how dark things seem” – The Clone Wars Season 5 “The Wrong Jedi”.

 

Have you ever seen resilience in nature? Have you ever been in an extreme environment? The scorching heat and aridity of a desert at the peak of summer or the frozen wastes of tundra in winter are places that are hostile for life. Yet return to the desert after a heavy rain has soaked the ground and filled the wadis and salt pans and you will see an explosion of life. Wild flowers appear and come in to bloom and carpet the land. Life emerges from dormant hiding and seeks out water leaving tracks in the sand. Flocks of birds show the way to vast inland lakes teeming with life. In time the heat will evaporate the water and life retreats once again in to hiding. The tundra also shows life’s resilience as the snow and ice melts with the return of the sun. Life endures on this Earth floating in a cold and indifferent space because Life is resilient.

 

Down but not Out

People too are resilient. How we bounce back from life’s disappointments and tragedies reveals just how resilient we are. Like a fighter in the ring we are pummeled and beaten down. We rise and fight back and despite the set backs we somehow emerge at the other end. Beaten and bloodied we may not have won the bout but we are still in the fight for another day.

 

“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

 

Life often does seem like a struggle. The less prepared we are to face the “accidental and the unforeseen” the harder it seems and the longer it takes us to recover. Sometimes life hits us in unexpected ways and we do not always respond in the way we or others expect.

 

Calamity

Jedi are resilient aren’t they? Luke Skywalker condemned himself to self-exile on Ahch-To where he passed the years in remorse and regret. It seems surprising. The hero of Yavin 4, the Master Jedi, takes the “accidental and the unforeseen” so badly that he preferred to isolate himself and ignore those that come seeking his help. It seemed unfathomable that a Jedi Master could lose his resilience. He must have suffered a terrible calamity for that to happen.

I’ve met and spoken to Farmers who have seen their life savings whittled away as one season after another brings drought and a meager harvest. Then a year comes and so do the rains. The heavens open up and the parched earth is soaked. Joy returns at last. The seed plowed in to the dry ground germinates and soon a blanket of fine green shoots covers the land to the horizon. The relief is palpable and once again the loan collectors are kept at bay. Then the unthinkable happens just before a rich harvest. A cold front forms and temperatures plummet. Frost strikes and blights the crop. All is lost and lives are ruined as farms are sold and families dissolved through separation, divorce and even suicide.

I have also seen Farmers who have met ruin pick up their “worn out” tools and their devastated lives and start from scratch. Hope never dies.

 

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal. It is the courage to continue that counts” – Winston Churchill

 

Nothings Final

Who can predict what will happen tomorrow? We like to think that our health, livelihood, relationships and life is secure and bullet proof from “accidental and the unforeseen” of Marcus Aurelius. Yet we know deep down that everything we possess, our health, jobs, status and the people in our lives can leave us in an instant. The only thing that remains is how we deal with the loss when it happens. How do we respond and then recover? What do we do when life has us in a chokehold and we are gasping for life?

Most alcoholics who have been through the wringer of alcoholism will understand how badly things can turn out. At the time few of us realized let alone were ready to place the blame at our own feet. Some of us continue on the downward spiral and never recover. Those of us that crawl ourselves out of rock bottom and begin to claim sobriety claim a new type of resilience. This resilience keeps us “on the beam” regardless of what life throws at us. Yes, we may stumble at times but what is important is we get up and keep trudging forward.

 

“God grant me the serenity”

 

A Spiritual Resilience

We who have recovered through the grace of a Higher Power recognize that our first priority in life is to remain sober one day at a time. We place our problems in the hands of a Higher Power and leave it there. Instead of struggling with the things we cannot control we learn to deal with life by having the “serenity to accept the things we cannot change and the courage to change the things we can”. We learn what is in our control and what is not. Then we get to work and make the change in ourselves.

 

“There are things which are within our power, and there are things which are beyond our power. Within our power are opinion, aim, desire, aversion, and, in one word, whatever affairs are our own. Beyond our power are body, property, reputation, office, and, in one word, whatever are not properly our own affairs.” – Epictetus “Enchidrion”.

 

Dichotomy of Control

With recovery comes resilience in dealing with the “accidental and the unforeseen”. We learn that life is made up of preferred and in-preferred indifference’s that are largely out of our control. Good health, a meaningful job, money and nice possessions and a loving partner are things we graciously accept in to our lives. But we learn to loosen our attachments. All things are transitory and fortunes change. We do not wish ill health, unemployment and poverty, loss and failure on ourselves or invite these things in to our lives but we recognize that they can happen.

No matter what happens we are resilient enough that nothing can force us to lose faith and drink again. We may end up with nothing but we always have our opinions and reasoned choices in how we think and respond. Our perception dictates the strength of our resilience and thereby our sobriety. Like the Farmer who rebuilds we pick up our “worn out” tools and keep working. We never lose Faith.

 

Change your Thoughts

Star Wars provides a lesson in the power of resilience and also the power of Faith. Resilience kept Ahsoka Tano fighting to prove her innocence to the Jedi Order. Faith kept the Rebellion fighting for decades for a cause. Resilience saw the Rebels rise up again and again after every set back and defeat against the Empire. Luke Skywalker stood alone against the Emperor and Darth Vader and he prevailed  because he was resilient and he had faith.

Alone and embittered decades later on Ahch-To Luke faced a moral and spiritual crisis. In the end something drew The Last Jedi back from the shadow of despair and apathy. Luke changed his perception at last and remembered that Jedi are resilient against all adversity. He changed his thoughts and the rest followed.

 

Be Resilient

There is a barren landscape. Nothing grows there. All is dead and gone. A lone tree on a rocky outcrop sways in the passing cold wind. A blizzard is coming. The tree is stunted and gnarled. The harsh environment has made it so. The Tree is also flexible and it will bend in the gale. It will not break. It will survive. Someday the sun will return and it will blossom and flower and grow. The desert around it will return to life because life is resilient. So are we.

Duty

Impossible to see … The Dark Side clouds everything. But this I am sure of…Do their duty the Jedi will” – Yoda

 

Duty is a word that is synonymous with the Jedi. The purpose of the Jedi was to serve the Republic. Duty was at the forefront of Jedi training and conduct. Even as the Jedi Order collapsed and only Luke Skywalker remained alone on the ancient Jedi Refuge of Ach-To the call to Duty was strong and could not be denied. Luke finally answered the call to action because he was Jedi and bound to do his Duty.

 

We are born for cooperation, as are the feet, the hands, eyelids, and the upper and lower jaws” – Marcus Aurelius

 

Call of Duty

Whether we know or not, each of us has a duty to perform. As human beings our first duty is to live in cooperation and collaboration with others. We are social animals and it is in our nature to depend upon each other. In fact our survival as a species relies on it.  No person is entirely an Island by nature.

We also have a duty to ourselves.  As competent adults each of us has a responsibility to safeguard and maintain our own physical, mental, emotional and spiritual well-being. This is necessary for us to function in our roles within society.

Our final duty is that which society accords us in our role. People who earn a living have a duty to their employer. Businesses have a duty to their customers. Teachers a duty to their students and school. Doctors to their patients. Parent a duty to raise their children. All of us interact within the relationship obligations and expectations of duty. We all have a role to play whether we like it or not.

 

Waste no more time arguing about what a good man should be. Be one.” – Marcus Aurelius

 

Do your Duty!

When I was a Soldier I understood the concept of Duty. Through school I had been instructed in the merits of being a dutiful student. We were taught to respect the flag and honor country and God. Duty it was explained was the most honorable virtue bestowed on Man. Without it we were less than savages and had no honor or belonging. We owed it to our families, school, community, country and the church to be dutiful.  I thought that to be a good person one was duty bound to serve.

The Army reinforced this concept. To shirk one’s duty was seen as a crime. The worst offence was to abandon one’s duty through desertion or “by refusing to soldier”. Insubordination was one thing but conscientious objection or “abandoning one’s weapon” while in uniform was seen as the worst betrayal of duty. There were those who felt it was their personal moral and ethical duty to object to orders by “refusing to soldier”. Some expressed that through desertion.  Either way was punished by imprisonment.

 

Into exile, I must go. Failed, I have.” – Yoda

 

Dereliction of Duty

I was not one of those men who saw duty to personal values as being more important than following insane orders. My constant insubordination and eventual desertion was driven by alcohol and a selfish and destructive attitude. As I got deeper in  to the mess of alcoholism I faced one charge for dereliction of duty after another. I found more ways to infuriate the system even more. Eventually I learned that I could not beat the system. Full of anger and resentment I went AWOL.  With little ceremony I was discharged on return and unceremoniously cast out back in to the world. I had failed in my duty. The rejection was a deep blow.

The years after my dishonorable discharge followed a similar pattern. I seldom remained in one place for long. With little warning I would leave. My loyalties were near non-existent or they lasted as long as the booze did. I could swear a blood oath to complete strangers in a Bar but not recognize them the next day. I could not hold down relationships unless they benefited my drinking and gratified my desires. None lasted long. Duty seemed like a foreign word. In the end I despised the notion of duty as it evoked control, obligation and restriction to my freedom.  Duty did not go with drinking.

 

Happiness is the natural flower of duty” – Phillips Brooks

 

Deon

Deon is the Greek word for binding moral and spiritual duty. It is also means “Of Zeus”. The Ancients placed great importance on personal duty marking it as almost holy. Coming in to recovery I had to embrace a new kind of Duty. This was a spiritual duty I owed to myself and others. Unlike the Duty that I had known in the past there was no need for self-sacrifice or submission to others. I was not compelled to do anything I did not want to do. I only had to follow my heart and act in accordance with my own principles and values.

What was required was a willingness to change and putting faith in a Higher Power I call the Force. I had the freedom to think for myself. My Duty was to not pick up that first drink and to follow some simple principles like self-honesty, humility and gratitude. Others showed me that they had a duty to help me stay sober because it also helped them. In time I could also help others and it would help me stay sober. Duty in that sense made complete sense to me.

 

The reward of doing one duty is the power to do another” – Rabbi Ben Azai

 

 

Duty of Care

These days we sometime hear the word “Duty” thrown about. People use it to remind society that it owes them a duty around their personal security, health, welfare and education. The Police, Military, Emergency Services, Hospitals, Teachers and Public Servants are there to provide us with a “Duty”. We live in a hedonistic and individualistic society where personal pursuits are valued more than the collective good. Many people seldom consider what Duty they owe to others and to the community.

Over the recent decades society has seen a decline in personal responsibility and accountability. Self-Discipline is becoming a rare commodity as is faith. Virtues are increasingly considered less importance than entitlement, celebrating diversity, political correctness, instant gratification, fame and physical appearance over character. We can still care about all of these things if they are important to us but we should find a sense of duty and purpose in our lives.

 

Do your duty and a little more than the future will take care of itself” – Andrew Carnegie

 

Ancient Wisdom

The Stoic and Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius wrote a lot about finding one’s Duty in life. Forgoing a life of luxury and pomp in Rome he sought instead to make his contribution in the defense of the Empire in the wilderness of the northern frontiers. In his works “Meditations”, the Emperor records his doubts and anxieties at the enormity of the task.  A sense of moral duty re-calibrates his resolve.

Luke Skywalker consumed by self-pity on Ach-To finally came to his senses and sought to fulfill his Duty as a Jedi. The Last Jedi only had to remember his purpose and his purpose was service.

Luke Skywalker and Marcus Aurelius shared common traits of responsibility, self-discipline, faith in a Higher Power and belief in a cause greater than themselves. That’s all we need. When you know what it is go out and do your duty.  In that pursuit you will achieve the greatest gift; the feeling that you have fulfilled a purpose and lived life well.

 

It is our duty as men and women to proceed as though the limits of our abilities do not exist” – Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

Forgiveness

Image: We can Forgive Lucas for Jar Jar too.

 

The Emperor is not as forgiving as I am” – Darth Vader

 

In the last post we explored the “Abundance Mindset” and how it is drawn from gratitude, acceptance and surrender. By having an “abundance mindset” we come to realize an abundant life. Our attachments to people, places and things loosen. We readily consider new ideas and refuse to be tied down by dogma. Life becomes fluid. Rather than focusing on life’s scarcity we focus on what we have. People who have arrived at a contended state of sobriety will often have an ‘abundance mindset’ that pervades their life rather than a “scarcity mentality”.

However an “abundance mindset” is sometimes not enough. Despite a solid mental and spiritual foundation the past can revisit and turn our lives upside down. Many of us live on the edge of a dark place. We believe our past is behind us yet at times we are haunted by it. Old habits and resentments threaten to ambush us and drag us back in to a pit of self pity, depression and anger. We still blame ourselves and others for past transgressions. This is when we need to forgive most. Forgiveness is the key to our salvation.

 

Scar Tissue

I have an introverted character that is often mistaken for being cold and insensitive. In fact the opposite is true, I am a sensitive person and wounds cut deep. Scars take a long time to heal, if they heal at all. I tend to carry the weight of my history on my back. I don’t forget old injuries and insults. In fact I can clearly recall what was said and done years and decades ago. Old memories of feelings and fear come flooding back. With that hurt and fear comes anger.

 

Fear is the path to the Dark Side. Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” Yoda

 

 

Digging up the Past

Recently I was at a conference where I saw some familiar faces. The last time I had seen many of them was a decade or more ago. When we had last met I was a different person. Alcohol had dominated my life and my relationships. I treated people in a certain way and they responded accordingly. As a result I was shamed or hurt. I reacted with anger and resentment. This of course made matters worse. Ten years or more later I see these people and can’t bring myself to speak with them. I avoided them and did my best to fade in to the background.

Later I considered my behaviour and realized my actions were driven by false impressions and self imposed fears. People generally don’t hold grudges for decades. They don’t have a catalogue of hurts like I do. Whatever had passed between I and these people was in a different life and they (being normal human beings) had long forgotten our petty disagreements of the past. People get over stuff and move on.

I realized that I was largely isolating myself out of shame. I knew the person I had been and did not want to be seen that way. This of course is ego based on fear. Why should we care what others think of us? Should we be paralyzed by the opinions of others? Do those opinions really matter so much that they keep us in doors?

 

It never ceases to amaze me: we all love ourselves more than other people, but care more about their opinion than our own.” – Marcus Aurelius

 

 

Isolating

It suddenly occurred to me that I had not acted like a person stable in his sobriety. I was avoiding people, places and situations because I was afraid of how I  would be seen and treated and mostly how I would react. The fear of being “triggered” by a remark or a memory and possibly doing or saying something that I would later regret paralyzed me and forced me to isolate. Had I hung around and engaged the very people I had crossed in the past perhaps I would have made friends. But I chose to flee, hide and stoke my ego.

The problem of course lies in the failure to forgive. This has held me back for much of my life. As an alcoholic I was reluctant to forgive as it meant dismantling my defenses and leaving me open to attack. I also could not believe that others were capable of forgiveness. How could they be if I was not? If people said sorry it was only words. My cynical and paranoid outlook on life kept me incapable of forgiving or being forgiven. As a result I suffered and hid in the shadows. People were treated with suspicion.

 

 

Making Amends

Step 9 of AA suggests that we go out and seek to make amends to those we have harmed where it does not injure them or others. It is a selfless act. Through amends we right the past, forgive others and seek to be forgiven, if that is possible. We cannot force people to accept our amends. Their response, positive or negative, is accepted with grace and equanimity. Our task is only to do what we have in our control.

In Step 10 we are reminded to appraise ourselves on a daily basis, admit mistakes and make amends where required. The goal is constant and continuous self improvement.

Amends are not just for others. We must also never forget to forgive ourselves. Our lives cannot be held hostage by the mistakes of the past. We acknowledge the past and resolve to learn from our mistakes and not repeat them. The past is neither shunned nor ruminated upon. We look at the past as one glances in the rear view mirror. Regarding it mindfully and occasionally.

Never let the past hold you as hostage in the present.

 

Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery. None but ourselves can free our minds” – Bob Marley “Redemption Song”.

 

 

Emancipate Yourself

Star Wars is a tale of personal redemption based on Joseph Campbell’s “Hero’s Journey”. The theme of redemption is repeated throughout the mythology. We see it in the tale of Anakin, the trials of Luke Skywalker, the adventures of Han Solo and in the tragedy Asajj Ventress and Quinlan Vos. Through forgiveness each of the characters is able to reconcile the pain of their pasts and find redemption and final peace.

Our lives are no different. We are all on our own “Heroes Journey” of redemption. Learn to forgive yourself and others. The path will clear and we can live in the Now.

Abundance

 

“The Force may not have a Light or Dark Side, but we do… and we must choose.” – Luke Skywalker

 

That Crait Scene

Over the last year of writing “The Daily Jedi” the concepts of acceptance, gratitude and surrender have been recurring themes.  In the Star Wars mythology we often see all three played out in the same scene.

Obi-wan Kenobi raising his lightsabre in a final move which had him cut down by Darth Vader was not an act of defiance or suicide but an enlightened gesture of acceptance, gratitude and surrender to the Force.

When Luke Skywalker appeared in “The Last Jedi” as a Force projection on the salt flat of Crait and challenged his former Padawan in a game of “Cat and Mouse” it was not a just a ruse to delay the First Order and give the Resistance a chance to escape it was an enlightened act using non-violence over brute force.  Luke Skywalker was emulating the philosophy of Obi-wan Kenobi and Yoda.  Luke accepted his fate without struggle and with gratitude and surrendered to the Force with complete trust. Meditating far away on Ahch-To, Luke was then able to transcend in to the Force and leave the physical realm behind. One can only imagine the implications of his transcendence in the coming final struggle. A great paradox was proven, there is great power in acceptance, gratitude and surrender and that power is called Abundance.

Luke said “The Force is neither Light or Dark”. The Force simply is. The Dark and Light that exists resides within us. We have a choice. You can also call it a choice between scarcity or abundance.

 

Pause

Look around you. What do you see? Are you surrounded by the trappings of modern living? Does your work and making money take priority in your life? Do you often stop to reflect that the days and months are flying past and the years growing shorter? Are you a “glass half full” or “glass half empty” type of person? Do you regret the lack or scarcity in your life or do you appreciate and enjoy what you have? One type of person has a “Scarcity Mentality”, the other person has an “Abundance Mindset”.

 

Glass Half Empty

The “Scarcity Mentality” type is the person you meet who is always complaining. There is never enough or things are just not good enough. They bemoan the lack of opportunity in their life and recite one regret after the other. Blame is seldom placed on themselves but on others. The World and life seems to have played them a rough hand and let them down. They always have excuses to explain their misfortune. Rather than seek opportunity they wait for it to come beating down their door.

The “Scarcity Mentality” type is never happy, even in the midst of abundance. They may be financially well off, even wealthy and own all the material possessions most could only dream of. It’s never enough. They may have a nice house, several cars, a great career and a loving circle of friends and family around them but they see fault and lack. We see example of it all the time. The glossy tabloids are full of the “rich and famous” miserable in their existence. No amount of material possessions or money can fill the vast spiritual hole in their life. We shake our heads in disbelief and wonder how someone who is so rich, so famous and popular could be so unhappy. The person with a “Scarcity Mentality” has a “glass half empty” view on life.

To live a pure unselfish life, one must count nothing as one’s own in the midst of abundance.” – Buddha

 

Glass Half Full

“Abundance Mindset” is the opposite to a “Scarcity Mentality”. The person who has claimed an “Abundance Mindset” is willing to accept the fortunes of life with gratitude but also accepts with equanimity that everything may be taken away in an instant.  As a result this person is perpetually grateful for what she has and will spend more time appreciating her blessings rather than focusing on the scarcity in her life. These people do not worry so much about what they don’t own.

The person with an “Abundance Mindset” accepts that all things are transient and by nature impermanent. We do not get to keep our possessions, our family and friends for ever. Our health will fade and eventually everyone will surrender to nature and the Force. This is the natural cycle of life and death. Rather than waste life regretting the things that were lost or opportunities missed or squandered focus is placed on being grateful for what was given and making the most out of what is on offer. Abundance Mentality people don’t mind sharing or giving credit to others and see opportunity everywhere.

Not what we have But what we enjoy, constitutes our abundance. – Epicuros

 

Peering in to the Glass

Alcoholism, like any addiction is a form of “grasping attachment” gone mad. All people grasp at things and seek attachment. It is the nature of suffering to do so. The human condition. Few learn to truly surrender themselves and let go of all of their attachments and in particular in life itself. Addicts are an extreme example because personal health, security and mental and spiritual well-being, relationships, career and money are all dispensable when it comes to getting the next drink, fix or hit. We Alcoholics did not care who we hurt or what we did to get drunk and keep drinking.

The “Scarcity Mentality” of the Alcoholic dictates that there is never enough. The old adage “one drink too many and a thousand not enough” comes to mind. Our dissatisfaction also extends to other areas of our lives. We see scarcity everywhere. Our jobs are not good enough, we don’t make enough money. All the people in our lives have glaring faults while we have none. People are not to be trusted and only used. There is fault in everything. Eventually we see the glaring truth in ourselves and rather than confront it we commit ourselves to the abyss.

 

“The Fall”

Think “Sith” and you have a good example of the “Scarcity Mentality”. The “Sith” sought only power and were addicted to it. They craved it above all else. The complete domination of others was an exercise in power. Having the power of life and death over entire planetary systems was ultimate power. Absolute power is addictive. Ascendancy was the ultimate objective to the Sith. A Sith apprentice would serve his Master and then at the right opportunity would seek to usurp him. If the Master was wise he would kill his Apprentice before his Apprentice killed him.  The Sith played a cyclical Zero Sum game where only one could assume ultimate power at the expense of all others.

The fall of Anakin was the tale of a man with a “Scarcity Mentality”. The desire to excel as a Jedi and bring order to the Galaxy and balance to the Force dominated Anakin’s life. Anakin only wanted to do good but Inwardly Anakin was a mess. There was a gaping hole within him. The tragedy of his childhood and the death of his Mother affected him deeply. The Clone Wars also left deep scars, not all of them visible. Many of his friends had been killed in the fighting or betrayed by the Republic. The Jedi Order had evolved in to something that was no longer true to itself. Fear and anger began to consume Anakin. Obsessed by visions of the death of his forbidden love and wife Padme he sought ways to control the Force. Driven by hate he was finally driven to the Dark Side and became a Sith. The Fall led him to nowhere but a life of suffering and servitude to an unforgiving Master.

You can see how mastery over a few things makes it possible to live an abundant and devout life – for, if you keep watch over these things, the gods won’t ask for more” – Marcus Aurelius

 

“Abundance Mindset”

The Jedi Path is one where an “Abundance Mindset” is necessary to succeed as a Jedi. Obi-wan Kenobi, Yoda and finally Anakin and later Luke Skywalker learned to deal with life and tragedy with acceptance, gratitude and surrender. Through pain and suffering they found a way out and the door led them to enlightenment and unity with the Force. As Sages they learned that life is a gift to live and finally surrender with equanimity and complete acceptance.

Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter.”  – Yoda

Being a real world Jedi does not mean we will achieve enlightenment in our life time. Some of us may have the potential but few will ever reach the spiritual, mental and physical level of a Jedi Master let alone a Sage. We can try however and having an “Abundance Mindset” of acceptance, gratitude and surrender is a start.

An “Abundance Mentality” is also a virtue and an asset in recovery. In fact it is necessary for our sustained sobriety as it throws a light on the fear, regret  and anger inherent in a “Scarcity Mentality”.  Our goal is to find no use for these destructive emotions. Psychology Today lists a number of ways we can cultivate an “Abundance Mindset”:

  • Every blessing is a gift. We can take them for granted but small acts such as walking the dog, playing with the kids, spending time with family and friends, helping someone out are all moments that will never be repeated the same way. Each of these moments is a gift so give them the mindfulness they deserve.
  • Practice equanimity. Being mindful also mean practicing equanimity. With self-awareness it is possible to remain composed and calm even in the midst of chaos. This means keeping an even keel and not getting carried with emotional impulses whether “positive” or “negative”. This does not mean forcing control, shutting down emotionally or turning in to a Robot. The goal is to be mindful of our thoughts, emotions and body on a moment to moment basis. This can be achieved by simply observing ourselves and by asking “What am I thinking and feeling right now”. Acknowledge, accept and let go of those thoughts, emotions and feelings that do not serve. By casting a light on runaway thoughts and emotions we can calm the inner storm and be measured in our responses.
  • Be prepared to share. Sharing allows life as energy to flow like a river instead of becoming stagnant. Whether it is food, time or something else that is scarce be prepared to share. Sharing is an important part of the 12 Steps. By sharing our stories we are helping the person who is struggling and helping ourselves at the same time. It sounds counterintuitive but you get to keep what you give away.
  • Try reframing a situation. Instead of saying “there is not enough” try “there is enough to get by”. You will surprise yourself with what you can achieve even with far less than you thought you would need. Avoid comparing yourself to others, only compare yourself to who you were yesterday.
  • Turn obstacles in to opportunities. The Stoics say “The obstacle is the way”. They sought adversity and challenge to better themselves. If life was easy and presented no challenges we would barely be able to learn, progress and improve. Use obstacles and problems as an opportunity to practice principles that overcome them.
  • Show gratitude. Thankyou is a word seldom heard these days. It costs nothing and can make all the difference in a person’s day. If a Waitress did a good job getting you coffee, thank her and leave a tip if appropriate. Show those around you that you value their contributions. Offer words of encouragement. Politeness even to rude and obnoxious people is a virtue worth having.
  • Choose your company wisely. “Scarcity Mentality” people rub off on others as do those with an “Abundance Mindset”. Surround yourself with the latter and avoid people who have a toxic view on life.
  • Letting Go. Sometimes life does not go the way we planned. We can find ourselves out of work, or a relationship in an instant. Bad things happen. Fortunes will turn suddenly. How we respond to these events is important. We can wallow in self-pity or take the time to grieve the loss mindfully and then move on with life. Surrendering to the flow of life and letting go keeps us moving forward.
  • Reflect and Meditate. Daily reflection is important as is daily meditation. Try a meditations of gratitude or loving kindness. This opens the heart to the beauty of existence and abundance. It connect us to the Force. Journaling (or Blogging) is a great way to put your thoughts down and make sense of life. Consider how far you have come on your journey. Rather than ruminate on mistakes, resolve to correct them and improve on a daily basis. Never stop learning.

 

You Choose

Remember that people with a “Scarcity Mentality” have a Zero-Sum view of life. They are like the Sith. In Star Wars we see Anakin and Luke Skywalker both grappled with attachments and emotions to their detriment. They wanted to control and possess. As an alcoholic I suffered the same way. An abundance mindset based on gratitude, acceptance and surrender means ridding yourself of the grasping attachment of a “Scarcity Mindset” and setting yourself free. Choose now. Will your glass (of a non-alcoholic beverage) be “half full” or “half empty”?

Doing what you love is the cornerstone of having abundance in your life.– Wayne Dyer

May the Fourth

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May the Fourth is celebrated every year by Star Wars Fans as “Star Wars Day”. The movie “A New Hope” was released in 1977 on May the 25th however May the Fourth has long been considered an unofficial annual holiday for Star Wars fans around the world. On the day fans offer each other each other the greeting “May the Fourth be with you”.  This play on “May the Force be with you” reminds Star Wars fans of the immense impact that the saga has had on people’s lives over the last 41 years.

As a ten year old I was captivated by the heroic deeds of Luke Skywalker and Han Solo in “A New Hope”in 1977. The enigmatic Obi-wan Kenobi and the mysterious Jedi Order inspired me. Darth Vader was terrifying yet compelling. Leia was a new kind of Princess. She was resourceful,  independent and strong instead of the helpless and weak sort that needed rescuing by a White Knight.

The special effects, while primitive by today’s standards were completely mind blowing at the time. The Droids added a new whole dimension to the saga. Instead of being menacing robots, they had characters that were cute, comical, innocent and loyal. Droids were human but better, like dogs. Everyone wanted a pet R2D2.

Four decades later I see old school friends, middle aged Fans, who still get excited over Star Wars merchandise and eagerly await the next instalment of movies and books. The Fandom is a global phenomenon and always will be. The Star Wars legacy is for young and old, male and female and every race and nation on Earth. No other work of fantasy unites us more than Star Wars.

Star Wars is made for our times. The Star Wars universe may be set in a “Galaxy far far away” yet it as human a story as the myths and epic tales which define our species throughout history. Star Wars defines the human story as much as the legends of Ulysses, Gilgamesh, King Arthur and Robin Hood through their archetypes and meanings.

Star Wars also offers a philosophy through the fictional Jedi. The Jedi Code is a starting point on the journey to peace, serenity, knowledge, harmony and living in the Force. As a philosophy it is meant to be lived on a daily basis. In our universe one may not be recognized as a Jedi by society but we can still be Jedi. Every day we can commit to improving ourselves by being Jedi.

For some of us it runs even deeper. Years ago as I met my personal “Dark Side”, it was the 12 Steps that pulled me out of the pit of “Rock Bottom”. The Steps led me to the Jedi Path. The Jedi Path has kept me working the Steps and sober.

May the Fourth is another day on the calendar. It is one day where the global Fandom of Star Wars celebrate the creative genius of George Lucas and show their appreciation. For anyone who has taken Star Wars to influence their life at a deeper and more spiritual level, the day is a simple reminder of our inspiration. We pause to celebrate the fictional creation of Lucas. It inspired us to be Jedi. At the same time we keep our feet on the ground while our heads may reside for a time in the clouds.  Philosophy is for life and living in the real world one day at a time. Being Jedi is a real world task.

 

So May the Fourth be with you.

May you have Peace

May you find Serenity

May your Knowledge grow

May your life know Harmony

May the Force be with You.

Amathia

 

There is no Ignorance there is Knowledge” – Jedi Code

There is, he said, only one good, that is, knowledge, and only one evil, that is, ignorance” – Socrates

Amathia

People do stupid things. We can all admit to behaviour that in retrospection and on reflection seems illogical, irrational, self-destructive and just plain stupid. Being alcoholic I am qualified to attest to this. Looking at my past I could easily write the book “On Stupidity”. I still remind myself that people are not purposely stupid any more than I was. People just do stupid things. To quote Forrest Gump “Stupid is as stupid does”.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German pastor and Anti-Nazi dissident, wrote that while the reasoned may protest against “Evil” and be inoculated against it there is no such defense against the person who does stupid. Even the person who does “evil” feels a unease with their acts (unless of course the person is a psychopath). “Evil” is however a result of stupidity and ignorance.

The Greeks called such “Stupidity” Amathia, a sort of preventable intelligent “Stupidity”. Amathia is different to the “dull witted” who lacks the mental capacity to know virtue from vice. Socrates considered Amathia the root of evil acts in people. Epictetus described Amathia as anti-wisdom. A spiritual malady that afflicts those that could know and should know better.  Worse than ignorance, Amathia is choosing not to know, the worst type of stupidity.

 

A Stain

Stupidity never receives a clinical description or medical diagnosis. As an affliction it resides outside the realm of psychology. In the Army, “Stupid” or variations of was the worst label one could suffer. Being labelled “Stupid” was like a stain. It marked the unfortunate as “incompetent, unreliable, a liability and a bullet magnet”. “Stupid” was someone who could not be taught because he was incapable. Unable to learn not because of a lack of ability but because of a lack of willingness. Such was a lost cause, a “Cluster”, a “Gomer Pyle”.

Reading Bonhoeffer’s description of stupidity I am stunned by the familiarity to my own behaviour around alcohol. I never considered myself “Stupid” however I did stupid things and refused to learn from them. I was a “Cluster” in the true sense of the word. This flaw was a stain and it touched everyone who came close to me.

 

Defenseless

Bonhoeffer wrote a letter while awaiting his fate in a Nazi prison. I will quote extensively from it as it serves as a wake up call. Bonhoeffer writes “against stupidity we are defenceless” and goes on; “Neither protest nor the use of Force accomplish anything here; reasons fall on death ears

Most alcoholics are defenseless against the power of alcohol. They are hopeless when it comes to being convinced by others of their condition. Loved one’s and friends try to intervene without success. Employers, work mates and medical professionals try to reason with them. All efforts avail nothing.

Not only addicts are affected. People in general tend to grasp on to their system of beliefs and tightly held opinions that an alternate view cannot and will not be entertained. Extremists come in many shades but all share a common refusal to budge on their beliefs even in the face of evidence to the contrary. Some are even prepared to die for them.

 

“facts that contradict one’s prejudgment simply need not be believed- in such moments the stupid person even becomes critical – and when facts are irrefutable they are just pushed aside as inconsequential, as incidental.”

 

Ignoring Evidence

Even in the face of declining health, lost employment, repossessed house, broken family and destitution an alcoholic will continue to insist that the source of his problems is the fault of others. She will refuse to admit fault or accept being alcoholic. Despite the inevitable cognitive dissonance suffered the person will reject all evidence. This denial and reinforcement of enabling behaviour counteracts any impetus for change.

We call this person sick. Indeed they have a mental, physical and spiritual illness rooted in Amathia.

How often in other areas of life do we put our blinkers on and cherry pick the truth believing only what we want to hear and rejecting opposing views and contradictory evidence as “false”, “fake” or “baseless”? We would rather ignore and reject out of hand ideas or evidence that challenges our perceptions than give them a moment’s thought.

 

The Belligerent

“In all this the stupid person, in contrast to the malicious one, is utterly self-satisfied and, being easily irritated, becomes dangerous by going on the attack.”

 

When we are pushed to consider a view point that challenges our sense of self and potentially destroys everything we believe we can become extremely defensive. Pushed hard enough we may defend our beliefs to the point of violence. It happens with addicts who are forced in to a corner.

Violence is also used by  people who have inflexible and dogmatic views on religion, politics and other contentious issues. Are our valued ideas and concepts worth defending or advancing to the point we need to attack others who challenge us? Do we have the right to smother dissenting views and criticism?

 

A Contagion

Somehow people “become stupid” over time. Progressively they adopt attitudes and beliefs that eventually translate in to habits and character. The element of “Stupidity” is demonstrated in the traits described above. The outcome for an alcoholic is gradual loss of control of their lives and eventual descent to a personal hell. I know this because I lived it.

Stupidity is contagious. Bonhoeffer believed that those that felt a strong need to belong  to a group whether social, political or religious tended to be more willing to accept ideas than those who are happier to find their own path. Ideas and attitudes are fueled by people who share similar mind-sets and views.  As a drinker I sought out Drinkers to socialize and associate with and avoided people who did not drink. People tend to seek out the company of those that validate their character and values and avoid those who don’t.

In many ways recovery is a “Solo” mission. We can get advice and direction from people and seek what fits our own individual needs. There is no “one size fits all”. Most spiritual paths and philosophies are similar. There is a community but we are free and encouraged to go out and find our own way. There is nothing wrong with embracing an ideology however never grasp it so tight that it becomes a tether to the mind and soul. Be free to explore and seek new ideas and thoughts.

“Upon closer observation, it becomes apparent that every strong upsurge of power in the public sphere, be it of a political or of a religious nature, infects a large part of humankind with stupidity.”

 

A Modern Affliction

Bonhoeffer was imprisoned for many years by the Nazis. Despite his long incarceration Bonhoeffer believed that “stupidity” more than “evil” attracted many people to the Nazi doctrine. The rise of populism, “identity politics”, the “social justice warrior”, nationalism, religious extremism and “alt-left” and “alt-right” movements are all facets of the same thing when observed impartially from above. “Right” and “wrong”, “good” and “bad” are subjective.

We live in a world that is becoming increasingly polarized, intolerant and “stupid”.  The argument for reasoned discourse has been drowned out by the noise of divisiveness. People are being conditioned not to think, not to question. At the same time supporters of opposing views claim the moral high ground and possession of the truth. In truth the lack self ownership and independence of thought.

 

it seems that under the overwhelming impact of rising power, humans are deprived of their inner independence, and, more or less consciously, give up establishing an autonomous position toward the emerging circumstances.”

Independence

Alcoholism like any type of dependence is a complete loss of self-autonomy and independence. It is also attachment and ego run riot. We forget how to think critically and with reason. Our actions are guided by something stronger than our own free will. Our inner world no longer belongs to us.

Ask yourself what are you dependent on? People, places, things, ideas and beliefs can all be our sources of attachment and dependence. Despite ourselves we find our own values and ideas are no longer our own, we are simply reciting the ideas and values of others as our own and “preaching to the converted”.

In conversation with him, one virtually feels that one is dealing not at all with a person, but with slogans, catchwords and the like that have taken possession of him. He is under a spell, blinded, misused, and abused in his very being.”

 

Self Wisdom

A person who is self-reliant, independent and emotionally intelligent and capable of critical analysis is unlikely to follow a “false prophet”. Our ego and fears seems to push as that way. Most people want to be part of the crowd. No one wants to be a contrarian. People want to be able to give themselves a label which expresses who they are and what they value. I was no different. Being alcoholic I made many claims and had an inflated sense of self-importance. My disease and the problems it presented defined me.

Recovery has taught me how to be self-reliant and independent. I can differentiate between what is in my control and what it outside of it. My inner world belongs to me. I have command over my proper faculties, my thoughts, perceptions and responses. The tone and attitude I bring in the day is up to me. Opinions and beliefs are mine alone. My spirituality is unique and my own. I choose my values and the principles I live by.

I have little control over people and circumstances. There may be some influence but the world is largely out of my control. Even my body is not entirely under my control. I can choose what to eat and drink from what is before me. My health may fail despite best efforts to be healthy and fit. Cancer or heart disease may still cut my years short. I am my own being and belong to no one but myself.

 

“Having thus become a mindless tool, the stupid person will also be capable of any evil and at the same time incapable of seeing that it is evil. This is where the danger of diabolical misuse lurks, for it is this that can once and for all destroy human beings”

 

Evil is a Symptom

Bonhoeffer witnessed with dismay the rise of the Nazi Party in Germany. Being an opponent of Hitler he was imprisoned and persecuted. Accused of association in the plot to kill Hitler he was interned in a concentration camp and executed during the closing days of the war. Bonhoeffer would not have justified killing, even Hitler. Violence was not in his philosophy.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer suggested that the nature of the “Stupid” person is not an “intellectual” deficit but a “human” one. People are not born “stupid” any more than they are born “evil”. Some people are less intelligent than others, even “dull”, but are less “Stupid” in their nature than those with high intellect. History has shown some remarkably talented and brilliant minds who were ultimately betrayed by their own “Stupidity”.

People believe “Evil” is an independent and a tangible concept. That it has a life of its own. “Evil” is what most people perceive to as the really bad things that people do.  No one considers themselves to be inherently “evil”. Bonhoeffer  believed that people were not evil but only capable of doing evil because of their ignorance. Evil is a symptom of Socrates’s Amathia. Bonhoeffer also believed people could change for the better.

Yet at this very point it becomes quite clear that only an act of liberation, not instruction, can overcome stupidity

 

Liberation

In many ways Bonhoeffer was a real world Jedi Master. Bonhoeffer challenged the Lutheran church with his ideas of spirituality and religiosity but did not alienate himself from it. His views and philosophy of non-violent resistance influenced Martin Luther King, anti-communism in East Europe and the anti-Apartheid movement in South Africa. In his letter from prison Bonhoeffer offered his friends some advice; “Liberation can overcome stupidity“.

More than 2200 years before Bonhoeffer, Socrates suggested  the same thing. Salvation from the worst flaw, the real human evil, Amathia is through the spiritual and psychological liberation that self knowledge brings.

Each of us has the key to our own liberation. Our own reasoned choices determine who we are. We can submit to our own vices or we can embrace virtue. Do we choose to abide by the will of others or make up our own minds? Do we walk the path we want for ourselves or do we follow others blindly? At the same time we can be understanding and compassionate with others, even the “Stupid” that we meet everyday.

In the week the world remembers the Holocaust it is perhaps timely that we reacquaint ourselves with the word Amathia.

 

Make Bed Change World

Never give up hope, no matter how dark things seem” – The Clone Wars “The Wrong Jedi”

 

Making the Bed

US Navy SEAL Admiral William H. McRaven delivered a commencement address to the graduating class of the University of Texas on May 17, 2014. In that speech the Admiral  McRaven told his audience “If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed”.

 

The video of the speech was posted on YouTube and went viral with over 10 million views worldwide. McRaven shared ten simple principles he had learned as a Special Forces Operator and Naval Officer. Those principles can be applied in everyday life and recovery as they can in the meat grinder of Navy Seal Hell Week.

In simple terms they boil down to the principles of humility, courage, perseverance, patience, knowledge, simplicity, self-control, self-belief, selflessness, team work and a healthy sense of humor. We never ring the bell and quit. “Embrace the Suck”. Through principle and actions you can change not only yourself but the world as well. The first step is making the bed.

 

 

The transcript is here: https://www.realclearpolitics.com/video/2014/05/22/10_lessons_to_help_change_the_world.html

 

If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed”.  – Admiral William H. McRaven

 

The video is a timely reminder of the power of small daily rituals in our lives. Making a bed may seem like a fairly trivial thing to do. I for one don’t feel right not making the bed in the morning. Decades of habit since childhood reinforced in the crucible of the military ensures that the bed is made as soon as my feet hit the floor in the morning.

Not only is the bed made but the top sheet is folded over and the corners are tucked in and the cover smoothed over. This is a conscious act I do every morning no matter what.  Even if I achieve nothing else that day at least I have made the bed. I start the day with purpose. This purpose hopefully carries on in to other tasks.

 

If you make your bed every morning you will have accomplished the first task of the day. It will give you a small sense of pride and it will encourage you to do another task and another and another.” – Admiral William H. McRaven

 

Ritual

Being Jedi is about having daily rituals as well as the discipline to carry them out. In time these rituals become habits. We are conscious that  meditation, exercise and being aware and mindful in our daily activities and interactions with others are all constructive and healthy habits. These are called disciplines for a reason. Like rolling out of bed every morning and taking a minute to make the bed, it takes conscious application, effort and purpose. No trivial or mundane feat.

 

Making your bed will also reinforce the fact that little things in life matter. If you can’t do the little things right, you will never do the big things right.” –  – Admiral William H. McRaven

 

 

Bad Habits

Negative habits also become ritual. Going for a drink was part of a ritual. It started off small but soon took over.  If I had had a good day, a bad day or a mediocre day it was all good enough reason for a drink. Bitter disappointments and sorrows were dispelled with alcohol. Celebrations, victories and wins were all good reasons to get drunk. There was no excuse, no ritual and no reason not to have a drink. If I drank, I got drunk and reasoned that those times were justified even when I knew they weren’t.

After living like that for years and decades you begin to realize that your ideas and beliefs may be flawed. Addiction over rides rational thought and reasoning. Soon you discover that most of the rituals, routines and habits you have come to develop have become part of your character. You discover that your character has evolved over time to tolerate, normalize and then defend some very nasty attributes.

What we might have once been considered unacceptable in our selves soon becomes the new normal. We soon find ourselves on a downward spiral trajectory to rock bottom unless we change direction.

 

Break the Chain

Breaking the addiction cycle is an exercise in forming new habits. I found that it is easier to form new habits than break old ones. The new habits will simply over time phase out and replace the old ones. Knowing what your thought patterns are, being aware of triggers as well as the rituals that lead to abuse and knowing how to avoid them or respond effectively is the key to breaking free. We have to train ourselves in to a new way of thinking and acting. Embracing new habits and rituals that replace old destructive habits is the key.

Addiction is a habit, so is a healthy and sober life. Replacing one with the other is simply about choosing and taking action. Action is repeated. In time action becomes habit and habit becomes character. In time changes happen that in hindsight seem nothing less than miraculous.

Here are ten ways that change may manifest if we extend the principle of making the bed every morning to other areas in our lives as well:

  • Instead of blaming others we start to look at what role we had played in our problems;
  • Rather than insisting others apologize we begin to forgive and let go of resentment;
  • Instead of being focussed on the harm others did to us we start to consider the harm we have done to others;
  • We seek to make amends to others rather than expect special treatment;
  • An attitude of entitlement is replaced with simple acceptance and gratitude;
  • Words such as honesty, humility, patience, temperance and respect became personal principles and strengths;
  • People become more important than things;
  • Spirituality instead of our attachments begin to define us as human beings;
  • We begin to see ourselves as part of the whole rather than separated from it;
  • We begin to feel a conscious connection to the Living Force.

 

Start by making the bed today and every day. Eventually other tasks will become easier to do. Quitting even when things seem hopeless is no longer an option.

 

Embrace the Suck, Change the World

Some of us start to make the bed every morning, some of us just continue to make the bed as we had always done. In a way I’m glad now that I kept making my bed even during the darkest days. Perhaps while I still did there was a glimmer of hope that I would one day accomplish much more.

Every morning some people roll out of bed to face the day. They stumble to the bathroom, get dressed and have breakfast before immersing themselves in  the noise and distraction of the day. They stare at the mirror blankly as they brush their teeth, mind preoccupied with mental chatter. Food is shoved in to mouths while scrolling through the news feed on phones or staring at the morning show on the Television. Some people lurch outside of the door and barely notice the world around them as they head off to work. They rinse and repeat every day. Those are some people, not Jedi.

Some of us wake up, pause and then put our feet on the floor. We turn and make the bed and begin our morning routine. Same routine as ever. The day begins with a simple and mindful act. A task is completed. We take that moment in to the day no matter what it has in store for us and complete more tasks. To quote the Navy Seals we “Embrace the Suck” and in doing so we change the world.

 

And, if by chance you have a miserable day, you will come home to a bed that is made—that you made—and a made bed gives you encouragement that tomorrow will be better.” – Admiral William H. McRaven

https://www.amazon.com/Make-Your-Bed-Little-Things/dp/1455570249