Carrie

WARNING: This article contains Spoilers to “The Last Jedi”

 

You know what’s funny about death? I mean other than absolutely nothing at all? You’d think we could remember finding out we weren’t immortal. Sometimes I see children sobbing airports and I think, “Aww. They’ve just been told.”
― Carrie Fisher, “Wishful Drinking”

Shakespearean

Star Wars has been called a classic Hero’s Journey and a Shakespearean Tragedy. The Story of Luke Skywalker in the first trilogy was based on Joseph Campbell’s a “Hero’s Journey”. Anakin’s story in the prequels was essentially a Shakespearean Tragedy.

So many people hated the prequels. I loved them. It was a tragic story with a warning. Anakin was driven to madness and eventually to the dark side. The noble Jedi Order became a shadow of its glorious and chivalrous self as it was dragged in to the final fall of the Republic and destroyed. There is revenge and murder and in the tradition of a Shakespearean Play everyone dies or is lost.

Anakin becomes Darth Vader, Padmé Amidala dies of a broken heart. Palpatine gives Order 66 and the Clone Legions massacre every Jedi they can find. The temple is destroyed and all in it are slaughtered. What is left of the Republic submits to Emperor Palpatine or flee in to exile. Some join the Rebellion. The Jedi and the Force become mere Legends.The memory of them is suppressed in the Galaxy.

 

New Hopes

Luke was an ordinary boy who was unexpectedly and reluctantly thrust in to the “Hero’s Journey” at the beginning of  “A New Hope”.  Obiwan “Ben” Kenobi is the mentor who initially guides Luke on the journey. Luke gains confidence and courage and the will to destroy the Death Star.

In “Empire Strikes Back”, Luke is trained further by Yoda as he stumbles along on the path always learning. Luke goes on to confront his fears and his foes throwing himself in to peril. At first Luke fails but in “Return of the Jedi”, he has become a Jedi Knight and through wisdom and love defeats the Sith Lord and redeems Darth Vader. This was Luke’s final test on his journey.

At the end of the adventure Luke has reconciled with the truth of his past and has helped restore balance to the Force. With knowledge Luke goes on to rebuild the Jedi Temple and resurrect the order.

The third trilogy breaks from this tradition. I did not know what to make of “The Force Awakens”.  The movie bought back the old characters. It was a love letter to the original fans while introducing the future of the franchise. I recently watched “The Last Jedi” and after the initial shock and confusion I realized that the movie is a Tragicomedy. If you know anything about Carrie Fisher you would agree that  the dedication of “The Last Jedi” to her was entirely appropriate. Carrie Fisher’s life was a Tragicomedy after all as was Leia Organa’s.

She wondered if she was in the midst of an anecdote that, for reasons of proximity, she was not yet able to perceive.” – Carrie Fisher, Postcards from the Edge

The Raddus

There is a scene in the Last Jedi which is pivotal to the movie. For me it is possibly one of the most compelling scenes in the entire Star Wars saga. The act comes after The Resistance, led by General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher), has been tracked through hyperspace by a battle fleet of the First Order. The Resistance had jumped after they had mounted a successful attack destroying an enemy Dreadnought. The remnants of the Rebel Force had evacuated the base planet of D’Qar and were able to narrowly avoid being destroyed. Now after coming out of hyperspace they find themselves facing a vastly superior enemy force led by Kylo Ren.

Kylo Ren is leading a Fighter attack on the Resistance command ship Raddus but is conflicted when an opportunity arises to fire laser missiles in to the command bridge. Kylo Ren was once Ben Solo, the son of Han Solo and Leia Organa. At this moment Kylo Ren knows that his mother is on board the Raddus and he hesitates. Kylo recently killed his Father and seems unsure of himself once again. A moment later Kylo Ren’s wingmen fires on the Bridge.

The movie cuts to the bridge where General Leia and much of the commanding officers of the Resistance are present. An explosion fills the screen and we see Leia and what is left of the Bridge sucked in to the void of space. The scene is dramatic and shocking. We have just witnessed General Organa killed in the most unexpected way; blasted in to the space in a violent and final act.

 

Leia’s Near Death Experience

I stared in stunned disbelief at the screen and almost applauded. The scene was pure genius as devastating and heart wrenching as it was. Soon after General Leia’s body appears floating in space as a battle rages behind her. The face of Leia fills the screen and she looks serene and at peace. She is beautiful and compelling. Ice has begun to form on her face and we know she will be preserved forever like that in the void. It is a touching and heartfelt moment. Final. I knew I would carry this moment in my heart for the rest of my days. This is the way I would remember the Princess. It is a good ending to a magnificent and treasured character and a beloved actress…then something unexpected happens which is truly comical…

The slightest movement ripples across Leia’s face and she opens her eyes! My mind is utterly confused. What the hell is going on? How can anyone survive such an ordeal Force or no Force? General Leia then orientates herself and begins to fly through space back towards the gaping hole in the Bridge of the Raddus. Like some haunting scene out of Mary Poppins she floats through the destroyed remains of the Bridge to a vacuum lock. There is pandemonium on the Raddus as the crew realize what is happening and they manage to open the air lock and bring Leia on to the safety of the ship. Soon she is on a stretcher being taken to the Infirmary.

 

The Problem

I shook myself out of stunned disbelief as someone a few seats away guffawed loudly. There was laughter in the theater and I found myself laughing at the absurdity of the scene.  At this point the movie seemed to get worse and worse. I could no longer take it seriously and viewed the entire experience as some sort of bizarre joke.

It suddenly occurred to me that the Director Rian Johnson had created a completely unexpected Star Wars movie. No one saw this coming. He had also inadvertently blown away a chance for a serendipitous ending to Princess Leia and had kept her alive presumably for the next film. Ironically Carrie Fisher would tragically pass away soon after filming the scenes in “The Last Jedi”, exactly one year ago on 27 December, 2016. I wonder if the producers at Disney secretly kicked themselves afterwards. The death of Fisher leaves them with a plot predicament. Its almost funny an a tragicomic way.

 

Life is a cruel, horrible joke and I am the punch line.” – Carrie Fisher “Postcards from the Edge

 

Retrospection and Punch lines

Retrospection is a wonderful thing as is a good punch line. Carrie Fisher did a lot of both in real life. Some say her real career was storytelling, comedy and critiquing her own life. Despite a life filled with heart break, tragedy, drug and alcohol abuse and mental illness, Carrie Fisher never felt sorry for her self or sought out public sympathy. If anything she made light of her trials.

In her books Fisher often uses wit and humor to highlight her character flaws and lighten the tragedy around much of her life. Reading some of the hundreds of obituaries written for her I am reminded how was she was an incredibly talented and intelligent person with a sharp wit, beaming personality and a sometimes dark humor. Without a doubt she was much loved but also respected as a strong woman and a tough character who always stuck to her guns. Carrie Fisher was very much like her Princess Leia.

 

I think I am Princess Leia and Princess Leia is me, It’s like a Mobius striptease” – Carrie Fisher

 

“Wishful Drinking”

Carrie Fisher had her demons. She had been abusing drugs and alcohol since her teens. Despite her addictions, Carrie Fisher never self-destructed or wound up dead at a young age. She kept her humanity in an industry where people lose their soul and prey easily on others. It is a wonder Hollywood did not grind her down utterly. She was small in stature but had the heart of a giant.

Carrie Fisher was irreverent and extremely funny. She was described as the person you would most want to sit next to at a wedding or a funeral. Is it any wonder? Many people who have gone through the wringer of alcoholism and drug addiction find a dark but refreshing humor in recovery. We who have survived learn to laugh at ourselves most of all.

Carrie Fisher could raise a laugh in any situation. In her book “Wishful Drinking” she describes how George Lucas insisted she not wear a bra under her dress during a scene as “there is no underwear in space”. On this Carrie Fisher asserts that while bodies in space expand, bras do not, therefore one could be strangled by their own bra in outer space. Carrie goes on to say that she would like her obituary to be thus:

 

Now I think that this would make a fantastic obit- so I tell my younger friends that no matter how I go, I want it reported that I drowned in moonlight, strangled by my own bra.” – Carrie Fisher “Wishful Drinking”.

 

The Last Laugh

For that reason I find the “Mary Poppins” scene and the many faults of “The Last Jedi” almost a cheeky nod and wink to Carrie and her fans. She would have loved the comedy of it. The irreverence towards the original movies and the ridiculous plot holes which have divided the fans like no other Star Wars movie would have delighted her. Carrie Fisher would have laughed her head off if she had lived to have seen the final cut.

The “Mary Poppins” scene would have become a central piece to her comedy shows. For a start there is no way she could have been wearing a bra as she floated in space. Wearing brassiere would have certainly killed her even if she could survive in a freezing vacuum. At the very least it would have made the entire experience of Force  flying back to the Raddus extremely uncomfortable.  I wonder if the scene was Carrie Fisher’s idea for a bit of fun and whether George Lucas was in on the joke.

 

“From here on out, there’s just reality. I think that’s what maturity is: a stoic response to endless reality. But then, what do I know?” – Carrie Fisher “Postcards from the Edge”

 

Thanks for the Laughs

“The Last Jedi” closes the coffin lid on the original trilogy and passes the baton on to the next generation. The movie heralds an end to a story that has endured for 40 years. To paraphrase Carrie Fisher I feel like the child at the airport who is weeping inconsolably after being told the unthinkable; Luke, Han and Leia are all dead and the Star Wars as we knew it is no more.

I’m not sure I will ever like the movie “The Last Jedi”. Perhaps it will grow on me now that I can view it as a Tragicomedy. I can’t hate Disney or the movie, which would be un-Jedi like. Jedi do not hate after all. We can still lament George Lucas sold the rights.

Kylo Ren says in the film “It’s time to let old things die”. Luke Skywalker exclaims to a confused Rey “I know only one truth. It’s time for the Jedi to end.” As hard as it is to let go of the things we treasure and move on, we ultimately must. Change is essential and keeps things vital. Change is also inevitable.

I’m wondering if Carrie wanted to add the line “I drowned in moonlight, strangled by my own bra” in to the movie. That would’ve been her style. Rest in Peace Carrie Fisher, Princess.

 

No motive is pure. No one is good or bad-but a hearty mix of both. And sometimes life actually gives to you by taking away.”
― Carrie Fisher, “Wishful Drinking

 

The Gathering

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

Ilum

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

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

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

 

The March

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Crystal Hunt

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Last Mile

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

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

 

The Tally

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

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

 

The Will to Succeed

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

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

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

No Limits

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

 

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

 

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

 

The Gathering

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

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

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

Evil

 

The Face of Evil

Supreme Chancellor Palpatine or better known as Darth Sidious is portrayed as an evil character in the Star Wars saga. The very essence of the Dark Lord brings a dark and sinister air to the story. Darth Vader is also depicted as menacing and evil. The musical score which announces the entrance of Vader in “A New Hope” and more recently in “Rogue One” leaves one with little doubt that this is a figure of some dark and diabolical evil.

As children we are taught to fear. Evil is defined as something real and tangible. Our childhood religions personified it in the image of the “Devil” and blamed him for human errors. Evil is given names and made into a label we can assign to almost anything. We are never asked to question whether our impression of what appears Evil is valid or false. Indeed few of us are ever told that we might also be considered evil by others whom stare at us across a social, racial, ethnic or political divide. Should we be surprised? It is human nature. Our perceptions do not make us or anyone else “evil” in reality.

 

Evil by Name only

What is evil? Is it some metaphysical embodiment that exist like some dark mass existing in the ephemeral plane ? Is it something real and tangible which can be identified through empirical science and a dichotomous key? We need not think too hard. Society, our teachers, parents and friends give us plenty of examples to consider evil.

In my childhood I was taught that certain religions and entire nations of people were to be considered evil as it is in their very nature. Communism, I was assured was the epitome of evil spawned by the Devil himself. Of course none of this was correct. I have since learned that a person’s religion, political views and race does not make them either “good” or “evil” by definition. There are preferred and non-preferred indifferences but people are just people. What makes a person “good” is no more set in stone as to what makes them “evil”.

A matter of Opinion

Emperor Palpatine in the true form of Darth Sidious, did not believe that he was evil. The Dark Lord could justify his actions plainly and convincingly. Whether it was a delusion on his part or a blatant lie the (then) Supreme Chancellor Palpatine suggested to Anakin that the Sith were misunderstood and that the polar opposite of the Force is needed to ensure balance in the cosmos. According to Palpatine, the Jedi also could not be considered a true “Good” as the Sith could not be considered a manifestation of evil. Both descriptions were he argued were too simplistic and misleading;

ANAKIN: The Jedi use their power for good.

PALPATINE: Good is a point of view, Anakin. And the Jedi point of view is not the only valid one. The Dark Lords of the Sith believe in security and justice also, yet they are considered by the Jedi to be—

ANAKIN: Evil.

PALPATINE: From a Jedi’s point of view. The Sith and the Jedi are similar in almost every way, including their quest for greater power. The difference between the two is the Sith are not afraid of the dark side of the Force. That is why they are more powerful.

ANAKIN: The Sith rely on their passion for their strength. They think inward, only about themselves.

PALPATINE: And the Jedi don’t?

 

Devil’s Advocate

Supreme Chancellor Palpatine had a point which struck a chord with Anakin. Skywalker had long questioned the apparent inconsistencies and hypocrisy he had experienced in the Jedi Order and had grown disillusioned.  Palpatine recognized this slither of doubt and used it to his advantage widening the apparent cognitive dissonance which Anakin grappled with constantly.

Palpatine was not indoctrinating Anakin in to “Evil”, he was making him look at things from a different angle. Anakin was led to question everything he believed. The end result was that he abandoned the Jedi Order and became Sith. At no point did Anakin declare “I want to be Evil”. It did not enter in to his decision. Anakin was angry and upset and hateful but that did not make him “evil”. Anakin felt he was doing what was “right” at the time. He picked his side and acted out.

PALPATINE: Or so you’ve been trained to believe. Why is it, then, that they have asked you to do something you feel is wrong?

ANAKIN: I’m not sure it’s wrong.

PALPATINE: Have they asked you to betray the Jedi code? The constitution? A friendship? Your own values? Think. Consider their motives. Keep your mind clear of assumptions. The fear of losing power is a weakness of both the Jedi and the Sith.

 

Source: http://swfanon.wikia.com/wiki/Darth_Sidious_(KHS)

Uncomfortable Truths

A concept of good and evil does not belong in a discourse on the conflict between Sith and Jedi as neither concepts exist in reality. Good and Evil is simply a construct that is arbitrarily defined by society at a given point in time. Those that accuse another of “Evil” are often guilty of the same crimes. History often fails to record this fact.

Obi-wan Kenobi also believed that the belief in “good” and “evil” was ultimately a matter of perception and not entirely based on knowledge. In reality the polar opposites of the Force “Light” and “Dark” exist in harmony with each other. A Jedi does not (or should not) believe in “Good” and “Evil” as absolutes or intrinsic elements within a system.

Many of the truths that we cling to depend on our point of view.” – Obi-wan Kenobi

 

 

Horrors

Emperor Palpatine went on to commit horrific crimes with his ascension to supreme executive power and dissolution of the Senate. Order 66 was given resulting in the complete purge and eradication of the Jedi Order without mercy. Force sensitive children in the temple were massacred without pity.

The Death Star was later created to impose Imperial rule on the galaxy. Entire planets with billions of lives were destroyed without warning as leverage or in punishment. The Death Star destroyed worlds to test the weapon. A brutal war of attrition raged between the Empire and the Rebel alliance for decades at an immeasurable cost in sentient life and treasure.

We can argue that the Empire was evil beyond any doubt. Who perpetrates such horrors? The Empire under Darth Sidious was also simply doing what it felt was necessary in war time to impose its will over its dominion and enforce its authority. The Rebel alliance were viewed as terrorists and the Jedi an extinct brand of religious fanatics that preached some fantasy and brainwashed children to their cause. The Republic and later the Rebels also saw their cause as noble and just. If we are objective we can conclude that neither side was inherently “Good” or “Evil”. Such is often the case in war here on Earth. Atrocities and mistakes are committed by all sides.

 

“I’m not a terrorist. I’m a patriot. And resistance is not terrorism.” – Saw Gerrera (The Clone Wars – Season 5, Episode 4)

 

Manifest Destiny

Hitler believed that his philosophy of racial purity and a manifest destiny for the Germanic-Aryan people was “good”. Millions of people embraced that ideology and as a result genocide and horrid atrocities were justified. Today there are few people who would not agree that the Nazi doctrine was evil. Likewise Stalinism is widely considered evil but is still practiced in some countries which are likewise labelled “Evil” by our Governments.

Saddam Hussein gassed Kurdish civilians as the world watched on in 1988. Up to one million Iraqi civilians subsequently died in the two punitive wars against the Saddam regime and the economic sanctions imposed during the intervening years. Again the Saddam regime was blamed for these deaths, making him even more evil in the eyes of the west. More recently atrocities are being committed by both sides in the Syrian conflict.

We decry these acts as “evil” and indeed they are by our definition. Yet if we seek an explanation from a prominent Nazi, a senior member of the Iraqi Baath party or current players in the Syrian conflict we will be assured that the acts committed seemed reasonable and justified to them at the time. At the war crimes tribunal in the Hague most of the perpetrators of ethnic genocide in former Yugoslavia were unrepentant and without remorse because they believed they were in the right. We rarely consider how different our own statesmen and politicians are in their motives for going to war. Evil is something the other side does, we don’t back that team. Do we?

Master or Slave

George Washington kept slaves yet he freed a nation from colonial rule and eventually his own slaves. Thomas Jefferson owned hundreds of slaves and may have even raped a few. Jefferson was also an advocate for emancipation. It does not change the fact both men profited off slavery. We all agree that slavery is vile and evil however two hundred years ago the practice was common and accepted in the very countries that strongly advocate for human rights and social justice today. Washington and Jefferson unlike many other landowners of the time, suffered a degree of cognitive dissonance about keeping slaves. That much is certain. They preached that all are “created equal” yet had people in bondage. Both still accepted that change had to come and dared to rise above the common view of the time and take action to reduce that internal dissonance.

Views changed over time and the emancipation movement grew until slavery was abolished in the United States. Modern day views do not change the past or excuse them. We can only learn from history and avoid judgment using the standards of our day over times and people we will never entirely understand. By our standards that Washington and Jefferson were slave owners is clearly objectionable today but few would dare call the revered founding fathers “Evil”. In their day, both would have been considered remiss by their associates and peers not to have carried slaves. Let us not forget that the Native Americans like indigenous populations everywhere also suffered terribly under a doctrine of racial supremacy and industrialization “at all costs”.

 

For if one shows this, a man will retire from his error of himself; but as long as you do not succeed in showing this, you need not wonder if he persists in his error, for he acts because he has an impression that he is right” – Epictetus. (Discourses, II.26)

 

Framing Reality

Psychologist use the word reification to describe the apparent human need to embody inexact human traits in to an independent and metaphysical symbol. “Evil” is seen as “out there” when actually it is just people doing really bad things they rationalize as “right”. Failure to recognize wrong or to justify actions that could be deemed morally wrong or even “evil” is sometimes called rationalization. It is not that people are blind to wrong but they can frame it differently and convince them selves that what others might consider to be  wrong or “Evil” entirely justifiable if not “Good”.

Psychologists also point out that reification allows people to justify singling out groups of people, organizations, religions or entire races or countries as “Evil”. I know white people who grew up in apartheid South Africa. They recall the lessons in race they received as part of the mandatory curricula in school. Black people they were taught were a lesser race, not because they were bad people but because they were considered genetically and physiologically inferior. Black people it was argued could not help it as they are born that way.

Entire generations of white South Africans have since realized that this form of reification was completely wrong and engineered by a regime desperate to remain in power out of fear of what would happen if black people were allowed to gain majority rule. The regime rationalized that their theories on race were correct and segregationist policies justifiable. Even the most intelligent and rational human being would accept this ideology. Many Governments survive by creating an imaginary foe or enemy that threatens the common good. At the same time they use the psychology of fear to breed division. Our differences rather than our commonality are used to control us and dehumanize people who are no different to us.

 

Be Rational don’t rationalize

Rationalization diminishes the extremely uncomfortable association with cognitive dissonance. It allows us to be manipulated and to manipulate ourselves. Cognitive Dissonance is the feeling you get when you know what you are doing is wrong but you can’t or won’t stop it. Your actions or behavior are contrary to your belief system or set of personal values and principles. This creates an inner tension and conflict. People will rationalize their behavior in order to reduce that tension. For example a rapist will convince himself that women “want” to be raped and will use reification to convince himself that all women are inherently “loose”.  A Nazi will reify Jews as some sort of global cabal bent on world domination. Rationalization then further demonizes Jews to the level of subhuman and justifies the use of violence against innocent people.

Rationalization and reification can be used to create almost any paradigm the human mind desires and justify almost any means to an end. Almost anyone can be turned in to a pariah and labelled as Evil. Certainly the world has seen megalomaniacs, psychopaths and narcissists commit atrocities and horrific crimes. Are these people actually “Evil” or are they just sick? Do they fail to grasp reality as the vast majority do? Why do some of these people assume positions of power and are able to direct society toward their view and gain widespread support if not quiet acquiescence from the masses for their actions?

Dealing with the Dark Side

How do we deal with this “dark side” of human nature? Do we destroy “Evil” people only to see another rise up and take his or her place? Should we pity them and try to rehabilitate and reintegrate them into society? Is forgiveness and acceptance the key or revenge and restitution? Let us not forget that all of us have a “dark side” but no one gets up in the morning and says “I’m Evil” unless they are severely afflicted with psychosis and delusional personality disorders.

As thousands of “Foreign Fighters” return home to the west from service in the ranks of terrorist organizations such as “Islamic State” in Syria it is a question we need to ponder mindfully. What do we do with these people? People are now asking the question why did this fanaticism, this “Evil” emerge and why were so many seemingly intelligent and talented people drawn to it? As ISIL draws it final agonal breaths another group rises to replace it with as hard and unforgiving a doctrine thanks once again to the actions of western powers that claim to stand behind “universal” concepts of human rights.

 

Ignorance is Hell

We have all done things that in hindsight we regret. At the time we committed the offense we probably had a justification for doing it. That justification may have been largely influenced by personal views and biases that were a product of upbringing, education, peer pressure, experience or even delusions of the mind. Despite our reservations about our actions we would reduce any cognitive dissonance by finding justification no matter how flimsy to excuse our behavior. We would seek affirmation in the world that further validated our views and in finding we would select what to take as the truth, setting aside all evidence contrary to that preferred view. Ignorance trumps knowledge.

 

“There is no Ignorance, there is Knowledge” – Jedi Code

 

The Stoics argued that the concept of “Evil” is too simplistic and an easy card to draw. People are not born evil and are not evil by nature. Acts that appear “evil” are rooted in ignorance or as the Stoics believed lack of wisdom. The Stoics also believed that the only “good” were “virtues” such as justice, courage and wisdom. Evil acts are therefore the product of lack of wisdom. Ask any perpetrator of “evil” acts for a justification of their actions and they will affirm that they were right and refuse to accept an alternate view. The person may be otherwise intelligent and articulate but within them resides an impenetrable wall which refuses understanding and forgiveness and is mired in a deep rooted conviction in the righteousness of their cause. Hitler, Saddam Hussein, Kaddafi and Pol Pot are among a parade of despots and dictators through history who were all highly intelligent but suffered from this mental deficiency. Is it right to call them “Evil”?

 

There is only one good, knowledge, and only one evil, ignorance.” – Diogenes Laertius

 

 

Taming the Beast

What keeps most addicts in abuse? You guessed it rationalization.  Alcoholism can lead people to do horrific things. Should we call them “Evil” or merely sick and ignorant? As an alcoholic I used reification and rationalization to justify my actions and reduce my own cognitive dissonance. The beast was given free reign. I did some bad things but do not consider myself “evil” then or now. I do not claim to be “good” either.

Consider the process of recovery is the progressive reversal of an insidious disease using a spiritual remedy. When an alcoholic or addict accepts that she is afflicted with a disease that is reversible but incurable there is a move from ignorance to knowledge. When  that addict also recognizes their faults and accepts their part in the damage their actions have caused others they move further along the trajectory from ignorance to knowledge. By taking responsibility for her actions and seeking to make amends she is proving that knowledge can be converted in to action. Those around her begin to realize that what appeared to be a “lost hope” can be saved and forgiven. People can climb out of the pit they dug themselves in to and bathe in the light of the world once more if they find a spiritual cure.

 

A spiritual solution

I take comfort in the promise that with enough practiced principle and a solid spiritual foundation a relapse into active abuse and destructive behavior is  unlikely. Cognitive dissonance is reduced. To quote someone in  a 12 step meeting, “it’s impossible to get blissfully wasted and turn in to an asshole with a head full of program”. If we adjust our mind away from the patterns of thought that we grapple with, our actions will eventually align with our beliefs. Cognitive dissonance through knowledge and honestly makes it hard for us to think one way and act another. With the Force behind us it’s even harder.

“Evil” may be nothing more than a temporary affliction requiring a spiritual cure. Remember that before judging others and condemning them as “Evil”. Like Anakin, we all have a dark side that can come out to play if we let it. If we convince ourselves enough that what is false is true we open ourselves to error and very bad decisions. Only knowledge and virtue prevents that. We should be Jedi and be forgiving of others as we are self forgiving but also accept only what is true. We should seek to understand before we judge others. By accepting ignorance we are not “Evil” but we may allow “evil” to perpetuate itself in ways we cannot foresee or imagine.

Do these things

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

Try Hard

In the scene in “The Empire Strikes Back” on Dagobah, Yoda admonishes Luke for stating that he would “try” to lift his X-Wing out of the swamp. The audience is given the impression that “trying” is not good enough and Yoda expects nothing less than a winning performance from Luke. This is not entirely the case. Yoda is teaching Luke a lesson about “right effort”.

Yoda was not admonishing or challenging Luke Skywalker. He was showing him that the Force did not require effort and anger to be harnessed. A small amount of focus and concentration could direct the Force to do anything Yoda desired including moving an X-wing out of the swamp. Luke was trying too hard and getting flustered and frustrated before giving in.

Anakin had used anger to direct the force but it was clumsy and ugly. There was no need to “force” the Force. All Anakin and Luke had to do was relax and just do it.

Yoda was not a perfectionist. Unlike Anakin and Luke he had reasonable expectations of himself and others. Yoda saw no point in forcing things. Yoda knew that slow and steady wins the race. Living by a philosophy of life is like that. It is easier than we realize. We just have to do it and do it easy.

 

Do it Easy

Having a philosophy for life need not be hard or even complicated. When we embark on a journey of self improvement we often want to change everything about ourselves. We throw ourselves in to the work and try our hardest to put in to practice the things that we have learned. It becomes difficult to keep a track of all the precepts, principles and rules that we set for ourselves. As we stumble and fail we get frustrated and start to force change, making things only worse.

“What” you say, “but I thought right effort was everything”. Right effort need not be over-effort or making earth shattering changes. Let us not forget that none of this is about trying to save the world or changing others. We are only improving ourselves so that perhaps we can in some small way make a positive difference in the lives of others. Through self betterment we lead to world betterment. There is no need to break ourselves getting there. We should apply the “easy does it” or rather the Pareto principle in our lives.

Sometimes  just doing a few things well makes all the difference. Not just in our own progress but also in positive outcomes for others. Applying the Pareto Principle often works in our favor.

 

Pareto

The Pareto principle, also known as the 80/20 rule, is a theory maintaining that 80 percent of the output or success from a given situation or system is determined by 20 percent of the input. The idea was proposed by an Italian economist who noticed that 80% of property was owned by 20% of the population. People started to notice the same 80/20 rule appearing everywhere.

If we apply approximately 20% of the effort towards change we will get 80% of the way there. The Pareto principle works everywhere, in business, physical training, study and nature. For example:

  • 20% of clients produce 80% of a companies turnaround
  • 20% of effort produce 80% of a target output
  • 20% of exercises and habits produce 80% outcomes in physical training
  • Natural systems are efficient with energy and default along a line of “least resistance” effectively the Pareto principle demonstrated in ecology
  • Going over the key points in a subject (20% of the volume) will cover 80% of the material required to pass an exam
  • Trying too hard when attempting to attract the opposite sex ends in them losing interest resulting in a 80% strike out rate.
  • 80% of mistakes are caused by 20% errors. 80% of accidents are the result of 20% hazards.

 

Work Smart

What all this means is that we should strive to work smart not hard for change.  We can get by with little. Yes change can be difficult but we do not need to hang ourselves on a cross to get the optimal results that we seek. Instead of going over the mountain we can sometimes go around it or through it. 20% of the effort will get us 80% of the way there so there is really no excuse for not doing something. We don’t try, we do, but we do it easy not hard.

 

Low Fruit

Having a philosophy for life by definition means we want it to serve us in some tangible and practical way. Jedi philosophy like the 12 Steps is not meant to be something that we memorize and commit to in such a way that it makes our lives inflexible, difficult or complicated. It is not a book on the shelf outlining unreachable goals that we exhaust ourselves trying to reach. A practical philosophy for life can be applied without much effort if we are willing to do the work. The benefits of doing so can be immediate and significant.

The idea is to harvest the low hanging fruits. Take away the key ideas and points of our chosen philosophy that are easy to remember. Use them in such a way that they accord with your internal value system and set of personal principles. Nothing could be easier than that.

 

Take Homes

Let’s break it down. What are the few things that we should strive to do? What are the take home jewels that stem from all this talk and contemplation of philosophy? I have boiled it down to five key areas for consideration:

  1. Treat your body like a temple; it’s the only one you have and you need it to function on this plane. Science has not yet offered replacement bodies that you can trade in your old one for in order to keep living indefinitely. In practical terms this means being mindful of what you put in to your body. It also means we should exercise regularly, meditate and rest when we need to.
  2. Respect your self and others; treat others as you would want to be treated with respect and dignity. Give others the love and compassion that they deserve. Work for the common good. Strive for synergy and cooperation.
  3. Be objective and rational in all things; defer to reason where opinions differ. The truth may be a matter of opinion but accept only what is true as you believe it. Accept that the truth can change and we must change too. Don’t hold on to ideas or beliefs so tight that you can’t let them go when they are proven wrong.
  4. Embrace your full spectrum of emotions as they make you fully human; but take charge of how you respond to your emotions moment to moment. Let emotions go that do not serve you.
  5. Learn what is in your control and what is not; align your wants and needs to that. Be ready to accept the things you cannot change and learn to let go of attachments including people, things and circumstances. All things eventually return to the Force. Embrace change, do not fear it.

 

Progress not Perfection

Remember we are not here to be perfect people or perfect Jedi or to achieve a level of spiritual perfection. We want continuous and incremental progress that never ends. Aiming for perfection is likely to lead to disappointment while deciding to coast along will ultimately see us regress and slide backwards. The objective is to trudge slowly uphill but without getting worn out. There should always be enough gas in the tank and fire in the belly to keep going.

 

A Journey

Follow your heart and whatever code you call your own, be it the Jedi Code or 12 Steps or anything else. This is your journey and no one else. We all have free will and we make of our lives as we see fit. There is nothing we have to do. No one is judging you but you and if there is a God it does not mind. You are already forgiven, you were never not.

You accept the consequences of our decisions as the natural order of things determine. By learning from our mistakes, we can only resolve to do better and not repeat or regret them. The ball is in our court and it is our game till the day we die. So let’s make the most of it and enjoy this grand adventure of life. We really only do get one shot at it so don’t waste 80% of your time when 20% will do. Do not “try”, just do it but do it easy.

OODA

Your focus determines your reality” – Qui-Gon Jinn

The Loop

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

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

 

KO by the Force

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

 

“Use the Force Luke” – Obi-wan Kenobi

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

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

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

 

Being Aware

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

 

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

 

 

Scenarios

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

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

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

 

Fight and Flight

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

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

 

Staying Alert

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

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

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

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

 

 

Reactivity

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

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

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

 

Keep Calm and OODA

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

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

History

Alone? No. Always the past to keep me company. The creatures on the planet, and the Force. And now you. Annoying though you may be.” – Yoda to Luke Skywalker

 

Our History

In High School my History Teacher said that the whole point of studying history is to “appreciate the past, understand the present and predict the future”. A skeptical class listened on. What’s the point of History some asked. Why would anyone dedicate their lives to studying dead people? I was the one that had always enjoyed learning about history. We are after all a product of past time. Everyone has come from somewhere. The vicissitudes of history with its migrations, wars and technological advances all have a bearing on our lives today. History is being made in this very moment and we are all part of it. The past is our constant, sometimes annoying, companion as we make our own history.

You know you are starting to get old when events that you clearly remember are referred to in the history texts. The first news footage I recall was the fall of Saigon in April 1975. Barely 8 years of age, I asked someone in the room why people were running and why were people fighting to clamber on to a Helicopter. Another scene on the TV showed Helicopters being shoved off an aircraft carrier. It was only a few years later in school that I learned about the Vietnam War. There were children in my class who were refugees from that war. They had fled with their parents. With little more than the shirts on their back they had been become homeless and had had to move to another country far from home. Their story had become a “History” lesson.

 

Rise and Fall

Looking at the world today it would be easy conclude that people do not learn from History. Humans collectively have a short memory. As soon as one calamity ends and we declare that we have learned we set ourselves up to repeat past mistakes. Lessons are never learned and even Historians disagree on what the past has to teach us. One thing is for sure, we seem to be caught in some sort of endless loop where humanity is condemned to repeat the same mistakes over and over.

“History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce” – Karl Marx

 

The Roman Empire ultimately failed because it was too big and too powerful. Corruption was rife and a huge inequality existed among the people. The common folk were over taxed and struggled to survive while the elite amassed vast fortunes and consolidated power to benefit the few. As the barbarian tribes pushed in on Rome’s vast border driving it back, many of the citizens welcomed the new order. Eventually the Western Roman Empire imploded leaving only the East ruled from Constantinople. The Byzantine Empire also fell to Ottoman invaders in 1453 with the fall of Constantinople.

The Ottoman Empire in turn fell over 450 years later at the conclusion of the First War. The Empire had been decaying for more than a century due to corruption, negligence and incompetence in an Empire that reached almost to Vienna through the Balkans and Greece to Iran and Egypt to Algeria at its height. Why is this point significant? You can say that I am a product of these tidal changes of history. My heritage is from the central Balkans, the epicenter of the struggle between the Empires. This heritage has shaped much of my own personal history.

“We are not makers of history. We are made by history” – Martin Luther King. Jr.

 

How will our current great society fare in the coming decades? Will civilization decay slowly or will it be a cataclysmic event bought on by war or environmental collapse? Is the future of humanity hopeful? Does the world hold a brighter future, an enlightened age? Empires rise and fall with the tides of time. How will our great modern empires fare? What will be the impact on future generations?

 

Same as always

People centuries ago were pretty much the same as they are now. They had families, property, careers and civic or military duties. Children went to school and played. Women went to markets and shopped and cared for their kids. Men went to work and socialized with their peers. Young people grouped together and couples paired off, got married and began families.

People had essentially the same cares and concerns that we have now. They worried about having enough money to support their family and provide a roof over their heads and food on the table. There were concerns for security, law and order, the economy and health as there is now. We may live in more modern and affluent times but things have not changed that much. Everything that we see in our day to day lives and all the order and structure that makes up our society is a product of the past. People are born and die but much the same things apply.

 

Legacy

Most people can’t trace their family tree back very far. Perhaps four or five generations and then things get very blurry. A direct ancestor that lived 200 years ago is a unknown stranger to us. We would not him if we saw his face on a painting. It’s worth considering for a moment that in generations to come we will also be dead, buried and likely forgotten. All that will remain of our legacy are far off descendants who we will never meet. The question is, will they have learned from our mistakes?

“Appreciate the past, to understand the present and predict the future”

 

I remember my Father quite well even though it would be more than 30 years since we last spoke. The man provided me some important lessons in life however I largely failed to take them to heart. Following a similar path he had taken decades before I ended up, like him, alcoholic. I still wonder to this day how I could have survived the childhood that I did under the care of a reckless and abusive alcoholic only to fall in to the same trap. Someone once said that alcoholism is hereditary but I am skeptical about that. I had a choice, I knew the risks and the consequences but I chose to ignore the warnings and the lessons of the past. I had simply failed to learn from “His story”.

 

Use History

We cannot change the past. The Future on the other hand is an open book. What we decide to do this moment has a bearing on future events. So we choose mindfully our actions. This does not guarantee us the future we hope or desire but we can do our best with what we have within our control. We can try to navigate our lives as best as possible on a course that reflects the person we want to be. There is no good reason to repeat the mistakes of the past. Within us we have all the tools to ensure that we learn from our past mistakes and also take heed of the mistakes of others. We can learn from History.

Use Star Wars as an example if it helps. Fiction, like History, also provides a wonderful source of knowledge and wisdom. The rise and fall of the Republic and the Jedi are a metaphor for our own world and serves as a warning. The story of the fall of Anakin and the rise and fall of Darth Vader is a parable which remind us that our own inner demons can lead us to downfall. Giving in to Fear, Anger and Hate only ends in despair and death. Turning our lives over to Love, Hope and Faith leads to life, peace and serenity.

“Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall” – Confucius

 

Today I am recovered and I use my history and the history of others who have also walked the same path to avoid the pitfalls of the past. We need not be condemned to make the same mistakes again. If we have come out of a dark place we can recall what led us there and why and use that to help ourselves and others.

The choice is now. We either learn from the past and choose not to repeat the same mistakes or we continue down the well trodden path ultimately to our ruin. Make your History one worth remembering.

 

“I like the dreams of the future better than the history of the past” – Thomas Jefferson

 

What would Kenobi do?

Making up Legends

We often look to historical figures to guide us in how we should act and conduct our lives. Religious icons such as Prophets and Saints are often used as examples we can follow. Their stories are told so that others can take meaning of their work and emulate it some way. Historical and religious figures are raised on to a pedestal of greatness and perfection  Very often the person that is represented is not a true and accurate image of who that person was in reality. History becomes distorted over time and the accounts of some of the most revered figures are often disputed. Sometimes they were never recorded when the person was alive but afterwards. Historical figures essentially become legends based on a great deal of myth. Figures that had a resounding impact on the world; people that lived, breathed and were often martyred for their cause essentially become fictional characters in a story over time.

The reality of the who a person was and who they weren’t becomes insignificant in the light of the story. What is important is the story and the role that the character played within it. Whether it agrees with historical fact is irrelevant. Many nations and religions are built on this paradox of reality and fiction.

Star Wars is a work of fiction. There is no doubt about that. There was never a Darth Vader, Obi-Wan Kenobi or Luke Skywalker. The Star Wars saga is a complete fantasy based on the journey of the hero. It was written by a man who has turned his creation in to a global phenomenon spanning more than forty years and destined to continue to enthral and entertain hundreds of millions of people for decades to come. If anyone was to suggest in the beginning that the story might become the inspiration for a philosophy for life or a contemporary religion they would have probably been called mad. But that is the case and it is growing daily.

 

One’s Fantasy, One’s Faith

But why not? Religion is essentially based on myth and fantasy. Stories depicted in the religious texts of the main world religions are for the most part not historically verifiable. At the very least they may be loosely based on events that actually happened but distorted to such an extent over centuries that they became fiction. The religious figures, whose names are known by almost everyone, are depictions based on the descriptions of people who knew them and wrote accounts on their lives as they remembered it. Many of the stories were also written much later by people who never knew the characters involved. We cannot be sure that the icons who have influenced the world are real or based on pure myth no more factual than Star Wars.

If many of the world’s religions, beliefs and philosophies are based on myth than why would it seem so strange that people would look to a modern day space saga for inspiration? All the elements are there. There is the struggle between good and evil, light and dark. Characters which stand in almost biblical stature abound the Star Wars Universe. The Sith and Jedi present to great forces opposing each other. There is also the omnipresence of the Force which brings a strong spiritual essence adding hope and destiny to the story.

 

Knowing and not.

Recently I heard someone ask another person what they thought a particular religious figure would have done if faced with a situation that required  a lot of soul searching. The question struck me as odd as there is no way to know how that person would have acted in that situation or in any situation. All we have is an image, assumptions about a man who lived a long time ago and for which no reliable and historically verifiable accounts exist other than those written by men decades or centuries after he lived. For all intents the man, if he existed at all, may have been a very different character to the one depicted today. We just don’t know for sure.  Assumptions can be made on how he would have acted based on our personal beliefs and what we have been taught or read.

To a 12 Stepper one might ask, “What would have Bill W done”? Again, we can only surmise. Bill W was a complex character not without fault; he was human after all as were all of the Saints, Gurus and Prophets in all the religions of our world. No less, our most revered historical figures, philosophers and leaders, modern and ancient, were and are also human. They were exceptional but they also had faults. To surmise how they would apply principles in all circumstances is a rhetorical question; we can only imagine how they might of.

 

Kenobi

Call me a Geek or worse, I ask “What would Obi-wan Kenobi do” when presented with a problem. Go ahead and laugh but I have found a remarkable tool. Obi-wan Kenobi is entirely fictitious. The story of Obi-wan Kenobi has been largely told. We have a recorded history of his life from the time he was a young Padawan with Qui-Gon Jinn to the moment he was felled by his old apprentice and friend on the Death Star. Later we know Obi-wan as an ethereal figure who lives on after “death” and continues to mentor and guide Luke Skywalker in his quest to bring balance to the Force. There is nothing hidden about Obi-wan Kenobi. We know his character and unless future writers decide to distort and twist the persona in movies and books we have a fairly clear image of who he really “was”.

Unless a person is living under a rock or has no access to modern audio-visual entertainment they would have at least seen one of the Star Wars movies. Many people under the age of 60 are also more familiar with the Star Wars saga than they are with religious stories or doctrine. Whether this is a sign of the times or a complete accident, “Star Wars” may well one day be called the “greatest story ever told”. It seems that almost everyone knows or has at least has heard of Obi-wan Kenobi. Inspiration need not be drawn from someone who actually lived, it can be the idea of someone that didn’t.

 

What would you do?

If people are asked to describe Obi-wan Kenobi you will likely get words like “patient, calm, friendly, witty, intelligent, wise, reliable, loyal, astute and kind”. For me, Obi-wan Kenobi represents a good role model. The fact that he never existed does not matter. If we can relate to a character and find qualities and wisdom in that person worth emulating in our own lives then it should not matter whether the person existed or not. I’m glad Obi-wan Kenobi is a fictional character as history will never uncover facts which challenge my perception. The world is changing and the role models of the past are being swept away as history is revised to align with attitudes of the day. Rationality replaces dogma while extremism replaces wider tolerance. Obi-wan stands aside from all of that and provides a perfect role model for me. Even Disney can’t change that.

If on the other hand you are no fan of Obi-wan Kenobi you can also ask “What would Yoda do?”.  More importantly ask, “What should I do”.

MTFBWY

Reliable

Reliability

Reliability is a word that is used in many different contexts. In engineering it can refer to the ability of a process, system or component to perform its required functions with little to no variability over a period of time. In research reliability can mean the quality and precision of data presented, the degree of certainty and variability derived from method used in an experiment.  Psychologists also use the word reliability to describe the validity of data measured from a population and the ability to replicate it in multiple tests.

Human reliability is the study of the capacity for human beings to perform without error in a particular role under different conditions. Pilots for example are screened for their ability to operate with reliability and without error. Reliability is also a word that we come to associate as a desirable trait in a person. Someone who is reliable is trustworthy, dependable and competent among other things.

 

A Reliable Mentor

If just one word can be used to describe a Jedi it would have to be reliable. Consider Obi-wan Kenobi or Yoda. Both Jedi Masters were loyal, dependable, trust worthy and committed to the Order and to their own values. Obi-wan was a reliable mentor to Anakin for years and then watched over Luke from his hideout on Tatooine. Obi-wan Kenobi’s reliability as a mentor extended beyond life as he continued to guide Luke after his transcendence to the Force.

Jedi could be agile and adaptable as the situation dictated but they were firm in their convictions and application of principle. They talked the talk and they walked the walk. The Jedi Code rejected killing for the sake of killing. A Jedi could not take another life unless it was in absolute necessity and in self defense. Being reliable also meant that the Jedi were predictable in their response. To the Sith this was a weakness and one which Darth Maul, Darth Sidious and Darth Vader all exploited in their individual battles with the Jedi.

 

No Reliance

Those that view reliability as a flaw are unlikely to follow through with commitments or be true to their word. Promises are broken, contracts are breached, debts are dishonored and decisions are changed on a whim without consideration of others. Lies are covered with lies and more lies to keep the ship afloat. I can describe the hallmarks of unreliability with some authority because they are those that denote an alcoholic personality. People in active alcoholic abuse are not only unreliable but they take advantage or exploit people that are reliable. The people who are the most trusted by the alcoholic are the people that are most harmed by his selfishness.

Over the years our actions reveal our twisted nature. People learn that they cannot rely on us any longer. We lose our jobs, friends start to abandon us and our partners leave with broken hearts.  Banks foreclose and debt collectors call in our debts. In the end we cannot not even rely on ourselves to manage our own lives any longer.

Through reliance in a Higher Power we begin to find our sanity. At some point we wake up and start to get honest with ourselves and regain our self respect. Gaining the confidence of others with time and effort we begin to appreciate the virtue of reliability in ourselves and in others. Our actions start to align with our values. We no longer view people’s trust as a weakness to be exploited or used but as a treasured gift.

 

 A Rare Virtue

Despite what the Sith thought, reliability is a virtue, not a weakness. Ralph Waldo Emerson lamented that to find a reliable friend was the hardest thing. Reliability seems to be the rarest of virtues. Perhaps that is why Obi-wan Kenobi is the archetype of the reliable mentor and guardian in the Star Wars saga. The lifelong commitment he puts in to protecting and teaching the “chosen one” marked him as the most reliable Jedi . In this universe and in this life how can we aspire to the same level of reliability as a person? What are the traits of a reliable person and what are the benefits?

  1. Commitment: Reliable people do what they say they will do.
  2. Honesty: Reliable people tell the truth, even when they would rather not. If we can’t deliver on a promise or commitment we should be upfront about it.
  3. Realistic: Reliable people don’t try to bend reality but tell it as it is. If a situation is bad, they call it bad but do not play the pessimist either.
  4. Humility: Reliable people don’t “big note” themselves nor do they put themselves down. Reliable people know where they stand in the world and do not need to be at the center of attention or above anyone.
  5. Team: Reliable people work as part of a team for a team rather than solely for their own personal advantage. They are ready to help.

What are the advantages of being reliable?

  1. Deeper relationships that are built on mutual trust and appreciation.
  2. Greater opportunities for work and business. Reliable people get known and are sought out by recruiters, employers and customers.
  3. More autonomy and independence in life as reliable people do not need to be constantly monitored and scrutinized by supervisors, partners and peers.
  4. More sleep. Being reliable means that we don’t have to lie awake at night in guilt or in worry about the things we did or said. Reliable people are more confident and happy as they know they have nothing to hide or excuse themselves for.
  5. Tolerance and simplicity because reliable people know that the world is a place of diverse views, opinions and people and they can live with that. Life becomes simpler and beset with less drama. Reliable people can achieve peace and equanimity that others only dream about.

Think of all the people you know who you would consider reliable and compare those to people you have known who were unreliable. The differences are pretty stark. To be Jedi is by nature to be reliable. By our very nature and through our conduct people will automatically see whether we are reliable or not. We may fool them once or twice, but I guarantee, you will not fool them for long.

Higher Power

It’s (The Force) an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us; it binds the galaxy together.” – Obi-Wan Kenobi

 

The God Question

What is God? Who do you imagine God to be? Do you believe in “God” or choose to reject the notion of a supernatural force? Would you consider yourself religious, spiritual, agnostic or atheist? Are your beliefs or non-beliefs categorized by a label? For example do you identify with a religion and call yourself Christian, Jew, Muslim, Buddhist, Pagan or other? Perhaps a blend of all of the above. Consider that there are Christians who also consider themselves Buddhist. Chrislam is also a growing religion in some countries.

Religion not your thing? Do you practice a personal spiritual path that is void of any religious doctrine and prefer to reconcile with your own view of “God” as you imagine it to be? Spirituality may also be a part of a philosophical world view that might be humanist in nature and may be non-theistic in nature. Then like many you may have long abandoned any notion of God or spirituality and take the hard and pragmatic view of new atheism.

 

“Close your eyes. Feel it. The light…it’s always been there. It will guide you.” – Maz Kanata

 

 

No Religion

For some reason the concept of a “Higher Power” or spiritual source in our lives has become taboo for open discussion. If we broach the subject in conversation we do so at times reluctantly or we skirt around the topic completely. Conscious not to offend or appear like some religious bore we prefer to avoid the topic. Certainly there are religious communities out there that congregate and worship together but to a large extent in the west organized religion is in decline. Depending on where you live and the people you associate with you may be rarely exposed to any formal religious ritual or gathering.

Slowly but surely the hall marks of religion are being removed from public places in the west. Christmas is being secularized and sanitized for mass public consumption. Schools in the west are down playing or removing the traditional aspects of the holidays to avoid alienating or offending people of non-Christian faiths or the growing number of atheist families. We live in a society that on one hand promotes multiculturalism but on the other hand is uncomfortable with outward displays of religious faith in the event that someone may be offended.

 

Sinner

I was taught in several catholic schools and was indoctrinated somewhat unwillingly in to the church. I also spent years in catholic “boys homes”. My experience was enough to question at a very young age the apparent hypocrisy between what was taught and what was being practiced. For example, Jesus taught living simply and frugally, of giving willingly to others and sharing with them. It struck me as some type of enlightened communism. The reality was far different. The church seemed to horde money and property for itself. The Brothers and Nuns seemed to eat quite well while us children were fed more humble offerings. We were taught to be kind, gentle and patient with others and yet were often subjected to capital punishment that often crossed the line between “discipline” and “abuse”. I was a product of original sin and therefore eternally a sinner.

By the time I was 11 I had a strong distrust for anyone wearing the accoutrements of religion. Despite this experience I always felt intuitively that there was something bigger than myself. It was not the sometimes angry, sometimes merciful God who had been taught in religious lessons. This was something else. It was like a deeper consciousness, an inner light and a mystery that transcended all existence. The notion could not be described but it felt like I had been born with it and that feeling never left me. It was only much later that I somehow made the connection that this might be the essence of what “God” is.

 

Remember the Force will be with you always.” – Obi-Wan Kenobi

 

 

As “I” Define

In the 12 Steps we are asked simply to consider that there might be a “Higher Power” that can lift us out of addiction. Many people have a problem with this, because the word “God” is used. No definition of God is offered. We are asked to define our own “Higher Power” that makes sense to us.

When I contemplated “God”, I started to explore religion and seek answers there. While religion has much to offer I was missing the point, this was meant to be how “I” defined my “Higher Power”, not someone else. For the first time in my life I was given the keys to the Kingdom, I could go out there and decide for myself and that was fine.

Some people in the program choose a religious concept of “God” to define their Higher Power. Others look to nature and the natural order of things and realize that they are not the cent re of the universe but a small part of the whole. Those that struggle with or resist any spiritual concept explore other ideas such as a “Higher Self” that transcends the Ego. The fellowship itself might become the “Higher Power”. A group of people together is stronger than the individual. The whole point of the Higher Power is not to direct anyone to a set of beliefs but rather to introduce the alcoholic to the concept of surrender.

 

“For my ally is the Force, and a powerful ally it is.” – Yoda

 

Letting Go

Surrender is a dirty word for some. In fact when I first heard the word it sounded like I had to roll over and submit. Childhood memories were rekindled. The opposite was true. By “surrender” we are saying “I’m not the center of the Universe”. We are learning the very essence of “letting go”.

At last we realize that trying to control people, places, things and our own lives has been a futile exercise that has gotten us nothing but grief. By turning it over to a “Higher Power”, we are letting go of the insane idea that we have total control of our lives. We learn to accept the things we cannot change and gain the courage to change the things we can. By surrendering we are breaking the shackles of our egocentric thinking. Call it whatever you want, religion, spirit or “Jedi Mind Trick” psychology. The only thing that matters is a fundamental change of thinking that deflates the ego and results in a positive change to our lives.

 

I am with the Force. The Force is with me” – Chirrut Îmwe

 

 

Force Aware

Real world Jedi are also diverse in their concept of the “Force”. There is no uniform definition. Some people compare the Force to Chi or Prana as depicted in the eastern philosophies. The Tao is often used as philosophical and spiritual reference for the Force. Those that adhere to Christianity, Judaism or Islam might see God in the “Force”. There are also Pagans and Animists and New Age Spiritualists who fill the Jedi community and apply their own principles to the Force.Atheists and Agnostic sometimes have a scientific explanation to the Force and use concepts such as the Higgs boson theory and quantum mechanics to explain it.

Few, if any, Jedi choose to ignore and reject the Force. We are Jedi; the Force is an indelible part of our philosophy. To be Jedi and to reject all notion of the Force is like a cloud trying to reject the sky or a fish rejecting the existence of water. We do not need to agree with anyone’s concept of the Force. The beauty of being Jedi is we can decide for ourselves what the Force is and what it means to our lives.

 

Smile

Lately I came across a definition of “God” in an annotated edition of the spiritual tome, “A course in Miracles”. I discovered it at random as I flicked through the pages. The words jumped out at me. I don’t know if I accept it as it is but if asked to articulate “God” in my own words, I will call it the “Force”.

I don’t have to do anything or be anyone or believe anything, it is up to me to take what I need and leave the rest. Everyone is free to do the same. If asked to explain the Force I can default to Obi-wan Kenobi’s definition of an energy field or I can simply smile. I don’t need to define the Force but I can feel it. In a smile we can feel the essence of Force within us, that’s what I believe.

God or source energy is the First Cause. This “Force” always was and always will be. This “Force” is everywhere and in everything. This “Force” cannot be lost or destroyed. This “Force” is constantly moving in, out and through form. Theologians call this “Force” God. Scientists currently choose to call this “Force” energy. Both define it the same way; Call it whatever makes you feel most comfortable”. – ACIM

Micro Habits

You must unlearn what you have learned” – Yoda

 

Want Change?

So you want to change. You have reached a point where you have decided this is it. The time has come and you are committed. There is a clear vision of the person you want to be and even a plan on how to get there. It’s a massive undertaking, probably the biggest challenge you have every faced. That’s OK because you are going to take a deep breath and steam right in. Right? Are we ready? Let’s do this. Wait for it, wait for it…

Something happens and we balk. Our best laid plans are scuttled. The best of intentions are not enough. There was right intent and right motivation but the bar was set too high. We couldn’t do it. What happened?

 

A journey of a thousand miles beings with a single step” – Lao Tzu

 

 

Fail to Launch

Some years ago I embarked on a fitness campaign that was meant to go for months. It lasted precisely one day. I had a program written and had received good advise from a fitness expert. Because I was desperate for fast results I set off at break neck speed on a program that was way above my limitations. The next day I was too sore to move. I tried again and the work load was so high I could not complete the routine. The experience was anything but enjoyable. Motivation lost I decided to drop it and I never returned to the gym.

 

I never explain myself, it’s a bad habit” – Han Solo

 

Change is rarely an easy endeavor particularly when old habits must be replaced by new habits. We have to overcome entropy and inertia. It is easier to sit and watch television than it is to go for a run. Buying and eating fast food is easier than taking the time and effort to prepare a wholesome and healthy meal. Even if we decide to get up and go for a run we may set off at sprint committed to five miles and gas out at 200 yards, turn around and go home, defeated and deflated. Our brain resists our best intentions and we quit because we lose confidence.

How many times have you made a new years resolution to learn a language, exercise more, spend less, eat better or quit smoking and after a few days have found yourself back in your default routine? The problem is not intent or motivation it is strategy. If we are trying the same thing over and over again and not getting the desired results, it is time to change tact. Micro Habits may be the solution.

 

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then is not an act but a habit” – Aristotle

 

One small step

Every marathon begins with a single step. A strict muscle up starts with an assisted pull up. One single push up done often enough will eventually build up to many. A major change in our character or habits starts with small and incremental changes. Each drop of water adds to the bucket of gains over time.

 

Easy does it

 

Micro habits are baby steps. Psychologists call it behavioral momentum. Once you start something and keep chipping away at it over time eventually it becomes a habit. This can apply to both good and bad behaviors. For example, we can form a positive habit of reducing sugar intake over time and reap the benefits of weight loss. Instead of cutting out sugar completely we reduce it slightly and cut back a little every day. Eventually our sugar intake is minimal.

 

Bad Habits

The same principle applies in reverse. We can form bad habits incrementally. At one stage in my drinking career I got in to the habit of having a glass of wine in bed as I watched television. This turned in to two glasses and eventually a bottle. After a while I was passing out after consuming two or three bottle of wine while sat up in bed. I developed hypertension and put on about 20 pounds. The ramp up was gradual over a couple of months. That is how fast habits can become ingrained and reinforced. Eventually the habit becomes an addiction.

As an alcoholic I am painfully aware that I have an addictive personality and form habits very quickly and find breaking “pleasurable” habits difficult. If I were to try controlled drinking the experiment would likely backfire and I would soon find myself in full blown abuse as the habit reestablished itself.

 

“Whenever you are angry, be assured that it is not only a present evil, but that you have increased a habit.” – Epictetus

One Day

Getting sober in the beginning was a “one day at a time” endeavor for me. Alcoholics Anonymous asks a new comer if they can go one day without a drink. Not forever, just a single day. Most alcoholics can go one day without a drink. That’s all that is asked, just one day and let tomorrow take care of itself.

The next day we ask the same question and “God Willing” we get through another day. These baby steps get us through the early days. Eventually the days without a drink pile up. At this point we can start to plan ahead and turn our short term gains in to a long term program of recovery. Micro Habits become life long habits.

“One Day at Time”

 

Future Shock

Micro habits can be used to counter every day habits. For example many people will automatically reach for the smart phones if they are idle for more than a few seconds. The trigger to reach for the phone is that moment when our attention is not drawn to something or we are not deep in thought or reverie. Who rolls out of bed in the morning and instinctively checks their messenger and social media feed? I do!

Rather than mindlessly follow those mental urges we can stop ourselves and apply self awareness. Having a moment to do nothing but breathe and take in the moment we find ourselves in is a far better use of time than peering at our Face Book feed* (see foot note). Instead of defaulting to social media as the primary form of interaction with other human beings we should seek to connect with those around us in some meaningful and tangible way.

 

“You leave old habits behind by starting out with the thought, ‘I release the need for this in my life” – Wayne Dyer

Rewire

Micro Habits can also be used to address anger, depression, anxiety and resentment. We can identify triggers that cause us to react in ways we would rather not. If bad drivers cause us to rage at the wheel or rude people raise our ire and resentment we can work towards accepting that they exist and only we can choose how we react to them. Instead of acting out negative emotions we can form habits that convert challenges in to opportunities to practice principle. We can turn patience and equanimity into a habit. Instead of getting angry and snapping at someone, try smiling and offering some kind words. It might be hard at first but eventually it will get easier and there is real pleasure in disarming an unpleasant person with a sincere compliment.

 

“It is easier to prevent bad habits than to break them” – Benjamin Franklin

Micro Habits may not be the cure to addiction or serious psychological issues but when we are focused on a positive habit we crowd out a bunch of negative one’s. We can get drunk while in recovery but doing so with a head full of program is a miserable proposition. Small, incremental and constant changes in our habits re-wire the brain. Through repetition our responses change and over time so does our character.

 

Tiny Habits

So you want to change. You have tried everything to achieve your goals but have so far stumbled and failed. Micro Habits can help because anyone can take a baby step. All it takes is that single step out of the door, one push up or one pull up attempt. Anyone can try meditating for a minute. If we were honest about wanting to learn a language we would be able to find 5 minutes a day to spend on a language app. If we are committed to reading more and browsing less we can read a page and day and work up to two. With practice you will soon be sitting in meditation for 30 minutes or more and spending more time on your exercise, language studies and reading or whatever else we want to do but keep failing to launch.

 

  1. Incorporate your activities in to current daily routine. For example, meditation can be done anywhere. If you take the train or bus to work, start doing mental body scanning and focusing on your breath. You don’t need a “meditation room’, soft music and incense to meditate. It can be done anywhere. I practice calisthenics and never have a problem finding time or floor space to do some push ups or sit ups. A bench or chair can be used for dips. A branch or sign post can serve as a bull up bar. I have Memrise on my smart phone and can complete a language lesson on the fly anywhere there is a signal. All of my readings are on a Kindle which is rarely out of reach.
  2. Don’t stop it swap it; I have a habit of drinking a coffee every night before bed and eating some chocolate. A few months ago I switched to 85% dark chocolate and organic coffee. Another option might be to have green tea and a carrot stick instead but let’s not get ahead of ourselves! The point is you can reduce or substitute. Read a book instead of click bait. Snack on a banana instead of a bag of chips.
  3. Be SMART; goals should be specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely. Decide to run a marathon? That’s a specific goal. Is it achievable? That depends. A training goal should have measurable outcomes such as incremental increase in distance ran every week in the months prior to the event. Be realistic, if you have never done long distance running there is little chance you will be ready in two weeks let alone six months. Timely; set yourself a time-frame to completion with plenty of room. Micro habits require time to show results.
  4. Journal your progress; I keep a training journal of my progress in calisthenics. A year ago my routines were basic and very modest compared to now. As I flick through the pages I can see the incremental improvements over time. Big gains take time and you may not notice them straight away because they are the new normal but they are very real. Many people do video or photos to journal their weight loss or fitness journey. Many recovering alcoholics blog their journey and the changes in their lives over time are astounding.
  5. Daily practices; daily practices such as exercise, meditation and reading can be scheduled in to our day. A morning routine of gratitude and planning, mindfulness and an evening review of the day followed by quite contemplation or meditation need not take hours. Set priorities. Which is more important watching reality TV or investing in your spiritual, mental, physical and emotional growth?
  6. Celebrate small wins; so we manage to complete our daily goal. Well done! Parents applaud in delight as their child takes her first small steps. Baby also celebrates, a little afraid but clearly proud and happy with her milestone accomplishment. We should also celebrate our small daily milestones and congratulate ourselves no matter how trivial it seems. One push up or pull up when you struggle with one is a million times better than not even trying. With small victories comes greater confidence in your ability. That’s the Jedi Spirit.

 

“Every habit and capability is confirmed and grows in its corresponding actions, walking by walking and running by running…therefore if you want to do something make a habit of it, if you don’t want to do that, don’t, but make a habit of something else instead” – Epictetus

Easy Does It

You will not find a perfect Jedi any more than you will find a perfect practitioner of any philosophy. I am definitely not an exemplary role model for either. My program of recovery also has many areas needing improvement as does my character. Micro Habits gives us the tool to make small but significant steps in the areas that we want to improve. By starting simple and easy we give ourselves a chance to get traction and gain momentum. Progress, not perfection is the goal.

In order to create habits they have to be routine, they should be triggered and there should be tangible reward for our efforts. To break a habit we must remove one of those three elements and preferably all three. Every morning I get up and drink a large glass of water. There is a trigger, routine and reward. In the past I would stop in a bar on the way home from work and have a few beers.  I stopped that habit once the cycle of addiction was broken.

Micro Habits may be Baby Steps but they still move us from where we are to where we want to go.

 

All I’m saying is don’t let having the Force in your arsenal lull you into a false sense of security. Don’t get into the habit of taking more credits from your bank account than you put in.“- Bail Organa

 “Jedi don’t have bank accounts.” – Obi-wan Kenobi

Foot Note: Facebookalitis

*Face Book addiction otherwise known as Facebookalitis is on the way to becoming described as an actual psychological disorder. Social Media is addictive as the reward centers in our brain are fired sending off dopamine every time we get a notification or like.

The more we use the platform the more addictive it becomes. The perception of social acceptance through likes and comments the reward. Our social media profile and personality can becomes someone we are not in real life. A type of multiple personality disorder evolves.

Our brains are re-wired through chronic internet usage. Short term memory and attention spans are diminished and the prefrontal cortex is altered. Emotional responses can change. Human emotions such as empathy, compassion and the ability to control aggression and anger can be reduced in people who are chronic users of Face Book.