Ghosts

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

 

Sensitive

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

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

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

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

 

 

Voices

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Glimpses

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

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

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

 

 

Smudging

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

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

 

 

“Second Chances”

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

 

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

 

 

The Red Door

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

Force Ghosts

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

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

 

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

 

 

Visions

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

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

 

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

 

“White Light”

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

Impressions

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

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

 

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

 

 

Believe or Not

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

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

 

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

Victim

“It’s not my fault!” – Han Solo

 

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

 

Pulling Hair and Eating Dirt*

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

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

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

 

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

 

Baggy Trousers, Dirty Shirt

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

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

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

 

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

 

Bend not Break the Rules

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

Dark Legacies

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

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

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

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

 

Wet the Bed

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

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

 

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

 

The Victim

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

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

 

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

“I can fix this” – Poe Damerone

 

Victim to Victor in 12 Steps

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

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

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

 

Leia –

What did you have in mind for

your next move?

Han –

Well, if they follow standard

Imperial procedure, they’ll dump

their garbage before they go to

light-speed, then we just float

away.

Leia –

With the rest of the garbage.

Then what?

 

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

Exile

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

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

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

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

 

Land Lost

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

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

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

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

 

The Damned

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

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

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

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

 – Juluka “Scatterlings of Africa”.

 

Scatterlings

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

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

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

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

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

 

Geography

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

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

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

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

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

 

Shallow Roots

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Road to Damascus

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

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

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

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

 

Finding Home

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

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

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

The Lightsaber

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

―Luke Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi

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

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

 

The WTF moment

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

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

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

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

 

No, I’m your Father

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

What a way to end a very bad day.

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

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

 

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

―Darth Sidious and Darth Vader

 

The Baton of Guilt

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

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

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

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

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

Wouldn’t he?

 

Credit: SW-daydreamer.tumbler.com 

No he would not.

 

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

Letting Go

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

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

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

 

This one is mine. I no longer use yours.

―Luke Skywalker, to Darth Vader

 

The Unwanted

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Memories

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

―Darth Vader examining Luke Skywalker’s Lightsaber.

 

The Lightsaber Project

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

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

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

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

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

Build Resilience: Pay it Forward

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

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

 

Comrades

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

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

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

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

 

The Wounded

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

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

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

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

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

 

Ask and Give

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Pay if Forward

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

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

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

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

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

 

Self Help Exercise: Storming the Wall

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

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

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

 

 

Build Resilience: Be Prepared

“Han Shot First” – The Jury

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

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

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

 

The Cantina

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

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

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

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

 

Ready and Able

Sorry for the mess” – Han Solo

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

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

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

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

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

 

Ill-Prepared

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

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

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

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

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

 

Get a Grip

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

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

 

Wrestling Demons

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

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

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

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

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

 

One Day at a Time

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

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

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

 

Stay Calm, Be Ready

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

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

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

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

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

Always be prepared.

Build Resilience: The Road Less Traveled

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

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

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

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

 

“The Troubled One”

“Life is difficult.” – M.Scott Peck

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

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

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

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

 

The Long Road Back

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

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

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

 

Choose your Path

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

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

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

Dare to be different. Walk your own path.

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

 

 

Further Reading

“The Road less Travelled” by M.Scott Peck

“The Hero with a Thousand Face” by Joseph Campbell

Build Resilience: Overcome Fear

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Dagobah Lesson

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

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

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

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

 

Fear to Recovery

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

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

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

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

 

An Insidious Rumor

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

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

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

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

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

 

Own you Fear

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

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

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

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

Fear is

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

Fear is not

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

 

Further Reading

Stoic Warriors by Nancy Sherman (2016)

Build Resilience: Voluntary Hardship

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

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

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

 

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

 

Grunting

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

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

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

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

 

Yoda’s Method

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

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

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

 

Sane and Safe

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Easier

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

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

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

 

Rewarding

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

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

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

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

 

Simpler

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

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

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

 

Healthier and Happier

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

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

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

 

Further Reading

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

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

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

Resilience

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

 

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

 

Down but not Out

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

 

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

 

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

 

Calamity

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

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

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

 

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

 

Nothings Final

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

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

 

“God grant me the serenity”

 

A Spiritual Resilience

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

 

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

 

Dichotomy of Control

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

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

 

Change your Thoughts

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

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

 

Be Resilient

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