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: Embrace the Suck

I’ve got a bad feeling about this” – Han Solo

Voluntary Hardship is one thing but loving adversity is at an entirely different level. It sounds devious and twisted but it works and it is incredibly effective in building Resilience.

“Embrace the Suck” is a term used in the Military. I’ve heard it used in one form or another in three different Armies in three languages. The term was also adopted in CrossFit and you hear it in the Box around the World.

Embrace the Suck means diving in to the crap and wallowing in it with a grin on your face. You know you are going to hate it and you know it will suck badly but you flick a switch in your head that reads “Beast Mode” and you wade in. It is a process of turning a negative perception of an experience upside down by surrendering to it.

People who wade in to discomfort and vulnerability and tell the truth about their stories are the real badasses” – Brene Brown

 

Kokoro

When a man is beaten, tormented and defeated…He is ready to learn something.” – Emerson

The Navy SEAL former Commander Mark Divine calls Embracing the Suck the essence of the Warrior’s “Unbeatable Spirit” or “Kokoro Mind”. It is the essential ingredient for success and one that alludes 80% of candidates attempting the world renowned and feared BUDs course.

Those that pass selection the SASR or the Navy SEAL BUDs Operator training will tell you that the course was 80% mental and 20% physical. Those that somehow get through it all will admit that the key to success  was to drop all resistance to the experience and truly embrace it with every fiber of your being. This means total commitment and focus. The evolution is entirely mental, emotional and spiritual. The pain and discomfort is an illusion that is temporary and transitory. By “Embracing the Suck” the candidate for Special Operation Forces transcends to another level.

 

Winners are Grinners

The greater the obstacle, the more glory in overcoming it.” —Confucius

I can’t stand heights. Once during a course in the Army I had to traverse across a 50 meter canyon. A cable was suspended across a chasm that was at least 100 meters deep.

I attached my carabiner to the cable and swung on so that my body was lying on it with one leg dangling for balance. Pulling myself across the cable I kept my eyes on the Instructor on the opposite side of the canyon. Pulling myself closer and closer using my hands and mounted leg pumping to slide my body forward. I refused to look down. Suddenly I felt myself swaying to and fro. It became worse and worse and I realized the Instructor 30 meters in front of me was pulling the cable violently. I froze.

“Let go of the cable” the Instructor bellowed, “get the F__ off!” he yelled again.

I shook my head with a stifled no and the Sergeant swore and started to pull at the cable harder. “Let the F___ Go!” he yelled again. A Corporal standing near by laughing went over and also started to pull. The cable lurched back and forth and I felt like I was going to be flung off. I let go.

I was suspended above the void looking straight ahead as I swung with the cable above me. An old blue lanyard and a rusty carabiner was the only thing keeping me from falling to my death. My mind was racing in panic and I wondered if the lanyard and carabiner were going to hold. I heard my number being called.

“Student 67! look at me”, the Instructor yelled out. I stared at him. “Embrace the Suck and grow some balls Student 67! Now look down!”. I looked down and could see trees far below and a dry wadi bed. My stomach rose to my mouth. I heard my number again.

“Stand at attention and give us a smile”. I thrust my arms down and bought my feet together and gave a grin. There was laughter. “What are you waiting for dickhead?” the Sergeant yelled “remount and get over here”. I was back on the cable in a second and apparently broke the record for the fastest time across.

 

Image Source: Lucas Films

Bullet Proof Mind

“Misfortune is virtue’s opportunity.” – Seneca

For us mere mortals the lesson is clear. In order to build resiliency and then strengthen it we must relish any opportunity to put ourselves to the test. Rather than avoiding the unpleasant we must seek it out. This means turning up to training even when you don’t want to. Running the extra mile when you think you are going to puke. Putting your hand up for the most unsavory and unpopular jobs. Taking out the garbage or scrubbing the latrines. It might be filling in for someone’s shift when they can’t come in when you’d rather have the night off. This mean but not just doing it but doing it with enthusiasm and a sense of gratitude that people will start to wonder if you are not quite sane.

“Embracing the Suck” means “The Obstacle is the Way”. Any challenge faced is an opportunity to demonstrate virtues and practice principle. Someone hurls abuse at you in traffic? Give them a smile. You are having a real bad day and falling behind and someone comes to you asking for help on something trivial? Be patient and offer to help later. You have made an expensive blunder at work and fear getting reprimanded or losing your job? Owe up to the mistake, take responsibility and face the music. Making amends but too reluctant to face someone? Just do it anyway. Never compromising on your principles naturally builds resilience.

You have 100 Burpees to do and you want to quit at 40 and puke? I had a Platoon Sergeant in the Army that used to say that “Pain is weakness leaving the body”. Embrace the Suck and keep going.

 

Pain to Virtue

“Whenever you suffer pain, keep in mind that it’s nothing to be ashamed of and that it can’t degrade your guiding intelligence, nor keep it from acting rationally and for the common good.” – Marcus Aurelius

By embracing the adversity and unpleasantness of life as well as the good we are practicing the very concept of surrender. Buddhism teaches that what we resist persists. When we deny what is happening or throw up resistance to it we create suffering.

Every painful event, disappointment, lost opportunity, misfortune and missed chance can be a gift in disguise. We are given the opportunity to practice virtues and improve ourselves.

There is a choice in practicing Voluntary Hardship but in life we encounter hardships and responsibilities every day that “Suck”. A relationship may be on the rocks, work may be driving you crazy, you can’t get out of an emotional rut. Pause and reflect on what you can do to change the situation and get to work.

This means applying your principles and being true to your values even when your ego is telling you to do the opposite. Someone offended you? Suck it up and grin at them. Your look will tell them that you are no snowflake. Embracing the suck is also letting go of your fears. With the internal resistance gone we can flow through and with the experience. Over time things that used to seem daunting will no longer bother us. They will resolve themselves if we stop fighting them.

 

Lessons Learnt

“It takes discipline to focus only on high-value targets instead of giving in to the temptation of the low-hanging fruit life serves up daily.”  – Mark Divine

One of the reasons I failed in my attempts at staying sober for so many years was because I chose comfort over courage. I did not want to suffer and ironically I suffered more by not doing anything to change. My attempts involved trying to force change on others and fighting everything and everyone. I missed the fact that trying to control what is not of my own doing would only frustrate me more. Embracing the Suck meant taking full ownership and responsibility for my Life.

Admitting to a problem or fault takes honesty and humility, deciding to turn over your life to a Higher Power takes Faith, living your principles everyday takes Courage. None of it is easy of comfortable. You are choosing “Courage over Comfort” by taking the plunge. By “Embracing the Suck” you are fully committed and focused and using the experience as a chance to grow.

Imagine taking that attitude in to your daily life. How much easier things would seem. “People who wade in to discomfort and vulnerability” are the real badasses. Those that “Embrace the Suck” create an Unbeatable Spirit that cannot be beaten down.

Further Reading

Unbeatable Mind by Mark Divine.

 

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

Build Resilience

The six petal rosette is a symbol of life and resilience in many ancient cultures. Life is resilient and in a constant cycle of birth, death and rebirth. Even a fragile poppy will fall under a storm to re-emerge more vibrant than before.

Trigger Warning

I recently attended a workshop on mental health where a Psychologist opened the session by telling the captive audience that if they want to reduce the risk of suicide in their kids, teach them how to build resilience in life. He was blunt and direct.

The room was full of people who happen to be in the highest risk category for suicide; work-away white males between the ages of 35 and 54 with a good number of veterans and divorced Fathers in the mix. No one was triggered. The statement got everyone’s attention because it was confronting and hit close to home.

Resilience is more than a trait, it is a virtue. Probably the most underrated virtue. The reason it is a virtue is because the choice of how we respond to life remains largely within. We can choose to stay down when life floors us or we can pick ourselves up and keep moving. We can hide from the world or we can face it. The choice is ours.

 

Survivor

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

In recent years the idea of Resilience has been pushed to the background. Identity politics and the emergence of a victim-hood culture and ubiquitous trigger warnings have convinced many people that they do not need to change; society must change to accommodate them. Resilience helps some but not all some might argue. While it is true that many people around the world suffer injustices which should be addressed it does not mean that they should not strive to be resilient in the face of adversity as well.

Trigger warnings don’t happen in real everyday life and they don’t really help. Avoidance can be detrimental. One way to become resilient is to identify our vulnerabilities and expose them to our fears and obstacles.

There is a choice between being the perpetual victim and a survivor with a story to share. Do not fall for the victim-hood culture.

 

Vulnerable

Vulnerability is not weakness. And that myth is profoundly dangerous” – Brene Brown

People are not born equal. That is a fact of life. Society cannot change overnight. Cultural attitudes can take decades and longer to change. Paradigm shifts occur slowly. Sometimes they occur dramatically through revolutions and reformations. Much of this is determined by the social and cultural consciousness that drives the change. As the tide moves we are swept along with it or left behind.

We are also all born vulnerable. That is a good thing. It puts us where we need to be. As humans we are imperfect but we all have within us the capacity to change, to fail repeatedly and get up and try again and again.

Our lives are also largely out of our control. We are more vulnerable to change and chance that we care to admit. Most of us would find it hard if not impossible to recover from a major catastrophe such as the loss of a loved one, financial ruin or a relationship melt down. We are human and therefore vulnerable, we all suffer loss, illness, injury, heartbreak, grief and finally death. Our vulnerability can also be the source of our courage and resilience. How? By being more in tune with our emotions and understanding our relationship with them.

What of today? What can we do now? Regardless of who we are resilience can serve us. Some of us are raised to be resilient and it seems to be in our nature. Others less so but there are ways to build resilience in to our lives.

 

Nothing Ventured Nothing Gained

“Resilience is more available to people curious about their own line of thinking and behaving,” – Brene Brown

If we want to get fit and healthy we exercise regularly and eat nutritious food. We can stimulate our minds and ward of degenerative diseases like dementia by keeping mentally active. Our emotional state is kept in balance through meditation, socializing and spending time with family and friends. Without even thinking about it most of us look after our mental, physical, emotional and spiritual health. All of this helps us in building our resilience to adversity.

Resilience is a virtue that needs to be practiced. Waiting for the “accidental and the unforeseen” to happen is too late. Resilience is built through training and practice.

How do we practice resilience? None of us want to put ourselves in to real situations where we test our resilience. We are not going to upturn our lives so that we can assess our capacity to recover. That would be counter-intuitive. At the same time we can sometimes anticipate when bad things are going to occur. A loved one may have a terminal disease and while we dread it, we know the day will soon come when they will die. Our employer may warn us that retrenchments are coming due to an ailing economy. We are then told to prepare for bad news.

The “unforeseen and the accidental” of Marcus Aurelius is what we are least prepared for. This is where we need to train our resilience.

Over the next seven days we will be looking at 9 ways we can build resilience in to our lives.

 

Recommended Reading

Brene Brown (2017): Rising Strong: How the Ability to Reset Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead. Available on Amazon at https://www.amazon.com/Rising-Strong-Ability-Transforms-Parent/dp/081298580X

Eric Greitens (2016): Resilience: Hard-Won Wisdom for Living a Better Life. Available on Amazon at: https://www.amazon.com/Resilience-Hard-Won-Wisdom-Living-Better/dp/0544705262

Duty

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

 

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

 

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

 

Call of Duty

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

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

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

 

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

 

Do your Duty!

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

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

 

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

 

Dereliction of Duty

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

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

 

Happiness is the natural flower of duty” – Phillips Brooks

 

Deon

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

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

 

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

 

 

Duty of Care

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

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

 

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

 

Ancient Wisdom

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

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

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

 

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

Fives

Source: Lucas Films

Look around! We’re the one and the same; same heart, same blood. Your training is in your blood. And my blood’s boiling for a fight!” – Fives

In doing nothing men learn to do evil” – Cato the Younger

There are many tragic themes in the Star Wars saga. The Fall of Anakin Skywalker is one and the death of Obi-wan Kenobi is another. The betrayal of Ahsoka Tano is also tragic lesson. The death of Padmé Amidala and the separation of Luke and Leia as orphans unaware of their past and common destiny is a sad and tragic story.

The death of the Clone Arc Trooper Fives towards the end of the Clone Wars is particularly tragic as he died trying to prevent a terrible conspiracy from being realized. What made it more poignant was that Fives was a Clone Trooper that was thrust in to a destiny he had no control over. One that would ultimately lead to the fall of the Old Republic and the rise of the Empire. The story is also similar to that of Cato the Younger, who sacrificed his own life trying to save the Roman Republic from descent in to dictatorship.

 

The Clones

Thanks CT-27-5555. That was close.”

It’s Fives. The name is Fives!” – Echo and Fives

Fives was a Clone ARC Trooper and a loyal member of the 501st Legion. He was called “Fives” because of his number (CT-5555). Surviving multiple battles and demonstrating uncommon bravery Fives quickly became promoted and accepted in to the elite Advanced Recon Commandos (ARC). The Kaminoans had engineered and manufactured the Grand Army of the Republic to fight without pity or remorse and to die without hesitation in service to the Republic.

The Clone Army was a military asset purchased by the Galactic Senate to be used against the military might of the Separatist Alliance, the Droid Army. Being Clones with one purpose they were expendable and the Kaminoans took pride in the precision  of their creation.  They had created the ultimate fighting Force. The Clone Fives was a shining example of the Kaminoan product line. Each Clone was a number, however there was a problem; Fives was more than a number, he was different.

Clones were made to be the same in every way; the model soldier. The Kaminoans designed them to display little variability in behaviour and to follow orders without question or hesitation. Any differences were the result of inevitable genetic drift and personality development during training. These were considered defects. Variations that could be tempered through discipline and control biochips.

The Clones also held a secret which only the Sith Lord Darth Sidious, his apprentice Darth Tyranus and the highest ranks of the Kaminoans knew. Each Clone carried an inhibitor bio-chip which contained the orders for Protocol 66.  When that order was eventually given, every Clone that still carried the biochip in his head suddenly turned his weapon on any Jedi in the area and executed them without hesitation and without pity. They were programmed to become Galactic Storm Troopers once that switch was thrown. Only the Clones who had removed their biochips refused to carry out the orders. Some joined the rebellion.

 

No Ordinary Soldier

Fives was no ordinary Clone. Throughout his career he had questioned the morality and sanity of orders. The Clones were connected by a common genome and considered each and every Clone to be his brother. For Fives it was more than that, he truly cared for his comrades and was willing to risk his life for them.  Fives also had a deep respect and admiration for his Jedi superiors and made it a personal mission to protect them. The sentiment was reciprocated by those Jedi closest to him. Anakin Skywalker, Obiwan Kenobi and Ahsoka Tano were amongst those he called friends.

 

Where is the honor in marching to our deaths?” – Fives

 

As Fives saw more and more of his comrades die and many for pointless reasons he began to question his identity and purpose. Fives believed that Clone were not expendable tools but living, breathing, sentients worthy of dignity, respect, free will and above all life. It was Five’s discovery of Protocol 66 which ultimately led to his demise as he sought to warn the Jedi of the plot to kill them. Fives had stumbled on an unspeakable truth and for that he could not be allowed to live.

 

The Last Roman

In much the same way Cato was betrayed by the corrupt Roman Senate.  The Rebel Army surrendered but was ordered slaughtered by Caesar. Cato had almost stopped Julius Caesar from becoming Dictator of Rome. Cato committed suicide rather than seek pardon from Caesar. The rebellion against Caesar  was defeated. This final defiant act was in line with his principles. Cato preferred to die than lose his liberty.

Had Cato succeeded the Republic would have survived. Caesar would never have taken power from the Senate and abolished the Republic.

 

In doing what we ought we deserve no praise, because it is our duty” – Cato (Joseph Addison Play “Cato”)

 

In the same way a single, solitary soldier who was meant to be programmed not to think exposed the greatest conspiracy in the Galaxy. The Jedi were blind to the truth and the Senate was easily manipulated. Only Fives saw it and he was a tragic figure when none believed him. If Fives had succeeded in his quest to unveil the truth, Protocol 66 may have never happened.  The Old Republic would have survived and Chancellor Palpatine would have been exposed for what he was, a Sith Lord.

 

I am not just another number! None of us are!” – Fives

 

The Power of One

Fives was the last known survivor of his Rookie Squad, “Domino”. Each of the Clones were genetically identical but also had unique personalities. When these personalities worked in tandem they were formidable warriors. Like Cato, Fives was the epitome of the Stoic and it carried him through the war.

Cato and Fives were both stubborn and tenacious, loyal and dutiful to their superiors and subordinates. Both soldiers displayed high moral integrity, resolve, strong leadership and led by example. Above all they distrusted corrupt politicians and incompetent leaders who only sought to serve themselves. Cato and Fives were sworn to protect the Republic. Living by principles was not an option but a duty. They both failed in their duties for reasons far outside of their control. The forces united against them were too great to overcome.

 

I know not what treason is, if sapping and betraying the liberties of a people be not treason.” – Cato the Younger

 

I’ve compared my own mental defect, the one where if I’m exposed to alcohol my personality undergoes a sweeping change, a sort of Protocol 66. With booze I am driven to do and say things that I have no control over. It’s like a switch is thrown in my head. I have to remember that alcohol was more powerful than me for most of my life and that only working the Steps and applying spiritual principle overcame it. Ultimately the only thing preventing me from another fall is reasoned choice and reliance on the Force.

Nations and Empires can rise and fall over night with or without our consent but one’s own mind is his own. It is the only thing we truly own. Every day we battle a cunning foe and that foe is our very self. Our better nature holds the high ground as long as reason prevails.

 

Do not expect good from another’s death.” – Cato the Younger

 

The Point

The point of mythology is to provide us with lessons through storytelling. The stories entertain us but they also provide a message. Sometimes that message is a warning. Star Wars serves that purpose and we take from it what we want. The fictional realm can hold a mirror to reality. We can also apply Philosophy to make sense of life. The tragedy of Fives teaches me that even someone who is just a number can still make a difference in the world. Even the most powerful can know the name of a humble soldier. No person is a number and freedom is a choice.

Star Wars is fiction but the story of the collapse of the Old Republic and the purge of the Jedi resembles the beginning of the death of the Roman Republic and rise of the Empire. Whether Lucas was aware of this historical similarity is irrelevant. The point is that it is in our power to change our own lives for the better, to seek truth and to challenge injustices like Cato and Fives did.

 

“Rex….this…it’s…bigger than any of us…than anything…I could’ve imagined….I never meant to…I only wanted to do my duty. The mission…the nightmares…they’re…finally…over….” – Fives

 

https://www.amazon.com/Romes-Last-Citizen-Legacy-Mortal/dp/0312681232

Amathia

 

There is no Ignorance there is Knowledge” – Jedi Code

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

Amathia

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

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

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

 

A Stain

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

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

 

Defenseless

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

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

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

 

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

 

Ignoring Evidence

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

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

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

 

The Belligerent

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

 

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

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

 

A Contagion

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

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

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

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

 

A Modern Affliction

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

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

 

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

Independence

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

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

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

 

Self Wisdom

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

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

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

 

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

 

Evil is a Symptom

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

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

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

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

 

Liberation

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

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

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

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

 

Animus

Courage begins by trusting oneself.” – The Clone Wars

 

An Expression

In France people often the use the word “Courage” or “Bonne Courage” to encourage a friend or an acquaintance that is facing a challenge large or small. It is not a word which is used in the English language as an informal expression of one’s hope that another will succeed or prevail. We will rarely hear someone say to another “Be Brave” or “Have Courage” as if we were saying “Good Luck” or “Have a nice Day”. In France it is used often and is meant to remind one of the virtues of courage and its universal application in all aspects of life. It is a reminder that self trust is the root of courage.

 

A Virtue

Courage was considered by the Stoics as one of the most important virtues that a person could attain. Along with wisdom, justice and temperance (self-control), courage was considered essential to living a good life. Perhaps with the adoption of the Stoic philosophy by the Romans and its eventual influence on Christianity the virtue of courage became embedded in the Romantic languages such as French.

 

Heart

The Latin word for courage is “cor” which roughly translates to “heart”. When people say, “He had the heart of a Lion” they mean he had courage which was exemplary. More than courage, the person had “heart”. “Heart” often refers to the inner resolve and spirit of a person which courage is a part of. A person may have the courage to face a fight and enter a ring to face an adversary but “heart” keeps him in the fight even when the odds are stacked against him. The person is not being reckless or suicidal; the person has the self trust to carry on past any fears and doubts.

 

Nihil tam acerbum est in quo non æquus animus solatium inveniat”

“There is nothing so disagreeable, that a patient mind can not find some solace for it”. – Seneca the Younger

 

Animus

The Latin word “Animus” was used to describe something more than “heart”. Animus roughly translated to the virtues of spirit, mind and courage. Animus entails the development of human mind, body and spirit and the transcendence of the human consciousness to higher levels.

Carl Jung believed that the masculine Animus and the feminine Anima are part of the collective unconscious in humans, transcending the personal psyche. Jung believed that humans evolved along a trajectory which culminates at transcendence, the expression of the rational soul. Seneca also described Animus to mean the rational soul expressed as the reasoned mind.

 

Anti-Ego

At the highest level Animus is the antithesis of the ego. The Ancient Greeks and Romans recognized that the ego was the greatest challenge that people faced. The root of all fears and doubts stem from the ego. The ego overrides reason and better judgement.

Cor (Heart) is needed to overcome that fear and arrive at a state of Animus which breaks us free from the grip of the ego. By finding Animus we overcome the barriers that we have built to stop us getting where we want to go.

 

Courage is not the lack of fear. It is acting in spite of it” – Mark Twain

 

Warrior Spirit

The Ancient Greeks and Romans considered Animus to be exemplified by the “warrior spirit” of duty, sacrifice, loyalty, honor and courage. When a warrior died in battle they had achieved the greatest feat for their nation. The Ancients believed that a warrior slain on the battlefield held an esteemed place in the underworld of the dead.

Even today we revere and honor our fallen heroes and use words such as courage, bravery and selflessness to describe them. Soldiers still use the slogan “Until Valhalla” in reference to the glory assigned to fighting with spirit and dying with honor. They are not fanatics, they trust themselves and their comrades beside them.

 

The Seeker

The purpose of the “Heroes Journey” is for the one “called to adventure” to find their internal Animus by overcoming the trials and challenges that stand before them. By venturing in to the dark and the unknown one arrives at light and knowledge. By sinking in to despair one finds hope. Through defeats and disappointments one finds the strength to overcome and the will to continue on to victory. The story has been told and retold through the myths and stories of the ages. We see it clearly in the saga of Star Wars. These stories inspire us.

 

“Bonus animus in mala re, dimidium est mali”

Courage in danger is half the battle.” – Plautus

 

Resolve

You do not need to be a hero on a life and death mission to discover your own Animus. I once thought the only way to truly test myself and find honor was by going to war. One does not need to do either to live a good and meaningful life. Life will test our courage and strength in many ways. It may be as simple as practicing principles even when others push the boundaries and provoke us. Staying sober is a daily and sometimes hourly test of resolve. We can express Animus in everything we do.

 

Bonne Courage

The French regularly say “Bonne Courage” as an offering of support to someone who is facing a challenge or difficult time. It is an odd expression to the English ear but it makes perfect sense. What the French are saying is much more than “Bonne Chance – Good Luck”. “Courage” is a reminder that everyone has an inner and sacred Animus that resides within. If one has the self trust to find heart and dig deep enough they will find it there and it will give them all the strength they need to prevail.

 

Gratus animus est una virtus non solum maxima, sed etiam mater virtutum onmium reliquarum

A courageous heart is not only the greatest virtue, but the parent of all the other virtues.” – Marcus Tullius Cicero

Intention

A Jedi uses the Force for knowledge and defense, never for attack.” – Yoda

 

Symbols of Intent

The first thing most people imagine when they hear the word Jedi is Luke Skywalker or Obi-wan Kenobi with Light Saber in hand rushing towards an enemy as they deflect laser bolts. The image of the warrior is prominent in peoples mind. It is true that the fictional Jedi are armed with light Saber the same way Monks of the east and west were armed with staffs and martial arts to defend themselves. To imagine the Light Saber as a weapon of offense is an error in fact it was a symbol of the Jedi principle of protection and defense. The intent of the Light Saber is its power. It was only used as a weapon as a last resort and never in anger.

In “Return of the Jedi” Luke casts aside his Light Saber during the final confrontation with Darth Vader. The act is symbolic. Luke decided to cast his anger aside and find the love and compassion within him. It is the only way he can defeat Darth Sidious and redeem Vader.

In “The Last Jedi” the ageing Luke Skywalker takes the Light Saber offered to him by Rey after she has found him living as a Hermit on the hidden planet of Ahch-To. With comical irreverence Luke throws his old Light Saber behind his back.

For years Obi-wan Kenobi resided on Tatooine watching over Luke from a distance. Although he still had his Light Saber it was kept aside. Even in confronting the Sand People who had captured Luke Skywalker in “A New Hope”, Obi-wan Kenobi chose only to use the power of perception and his own voice in driving the Tuscan Raiders away in fear. The Light Saber is symbolic of the Jedi only if it used with Right Intent.

 

Lethal Intent

I’ve often heard the statement that firearms kill people. A gun can be used to kill a person however it is not the weapon itself that decides its end use. The intent to kill resides with the wielder. A sword can just as easily be beaten in to a plow than used as a weapon depending on the intention of the user.

Intention is therefore everything in the “why and how” we conduct our life. I can choose to own a Light Saber, a Gun or a Pit Bull Terrier.  The Light Saber replica won’t have much use but how I choose to manifest my intent with a gun and an “aggressive” breed of dog is entirely up to me. I can keep the gun locked away and hopefully never ever have to use it and I can train the Dog to be a loving pet; gentle with people and other animals. There is still an element of uncertainty based on what I have control over and what I don’t. The Dog may unexpectedly bite a child and the gun might be stolen and used in a crime.

 

Reasoned Intent

With every decision we make there is always an intent, a purpose. Why do we make the choices that we do? What is our intent? When I left High School and presented to an Army recruiter the first thing he asked me was “Why do you want to join the Army”? He said my response was important and it had to be honest. The answer revealed my true intention and whether I was going to stick my contract or wash out.

Likewise when I first approached the Jedi community and revealed I wanted to train in Jedi philosophy I was asked to spend some time thinking about “Why Jedi”. What was the intent of my choice? Would it sustain my practice past a few weeks or months? Did I realize it was an internal path and one I would have to keep largely to myself? I found that being able to reason rather than rationalize my intent before doing something was more likely to align it to who I am and want to be.

 

First things First

One of the most important questions I had to ask myself when I was drinking to excess was “Why am I doing this? What is the purpose?” There was no reasoned or even rationalized response. In the beginning the intent of my drinking had been to feel better within my self, to fill some emptiness inside. I wanted to be accepted and loved like everyone else and drinking seemed to promise a way into fellowship, confidence and acceptance.

Drinking could make me feel part of something bigger than myself and to be somebody who could be respected, admired and sought out. Of course this was all a mirage and I fell in to the trap and it took me to a dark place after all the illusions I had created began to fall away.  Something entirely different was revealed. An image that was unbearable to confront.

In the end, the intent of drinking was to satiate a need that could not be satisfied and to keep the beast within fed. It had become a cage. Realizing true intent was like lifting the veil that had shrouded the truth for years. I began to understand the true nature of my disease.

 

Failed Intent

All the times I had tried to quit or at least control my drinking in the past had eventually ended in relapse. In going on the “wagon” I had had good intentions but I could not follow it up with meaningful actions. My intent was also conditional on certain loop holes in thinking. Like small cracks in a dyke they eventually split open and allowed the entire structure to collapse in a flood of booze. Intention was moderated by rationalization. I figured I could still achieve my goal of sobriety with the odd loosening of the belt. This of course was a form of “False Intent”.

 

A Daily Reprieve

Where do your priorities lay? What is important to you? What matters most of all? In the beginning my intent was to simply get through the day without taking a drink. The next day could look after itself and the next day after that. My commitment was for 24 hours.

I would renew my intent every morning and claim the strength from my Higher Power to achieve that. At the end of the day I would review how things had gone and on turning off the light thank my Higher Power for another sober day. My goal was sustained and long-term sobriety and my dream was to realize serenity.

My intent was simply to claim a daily reprieve and stay sober one day at a time through application of certain virtues and principles. This was a form of “Right Intent”.

 

What we really have is a daily reprieve contingent on the maintenance of our spiritual condition” – Alcoholics Anonymous p85.

 

Right Intent

The second step and virtue on the Eight fold path of Buddhism is “Right Intent”. Intention is more than resolve. Through resolve we decide to do something but it is not enough on its own. We must have “Right Intent” in order to stay the course. For example would anyone who resolves to marry another person bother if they did not intend to give the marriage their utmost for as long as possible?

Resolve and Intent are two different things and of course they work in tandem. Both must stay as strong as the day we set off for the duration of the journey. Yes there are days when we stagger and fall but intent keeps us moving forward even when resolve falters. We strive for outcomes but must also accept what is in our control as well as what is outside of it.

Intent in Action

Intention is flawed if our intent is;

  • To draw something to ourselves for selfish gain; or
  • to force something away through ill will;
  • or to do harm to ourselves or others.

To counteract flawed intention one’s intention must;

  • Be based on renunciation. We must be willing to let go of the causes of our suffering. Desires and clinging attachments to people, places, things, circumstance and flawed ideas tightly held all lead to suffering as they are impermanent and transient. Addiction is a form of rampant attachment. Luke Skywalker casting his Light Saber aside was a renunciation of attachment to old strongly held beliefs.
  • derived from good will. When we do things we essentially seek to serve others before ourselves. In the recovery program personal benefit is derived by helping others struggling with their addictions. Caring for others is a corner stone of Faith and many philosophies including Jedi Philosophy.
  • inherently harmless. In the 12 Steps amends are sought to people whom we have harmed wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others. The Hippocratic Oath compels Doctors to “primum non nocere”, first do no harm. Compassion is a Jedi trait.

Right intent is expressed through thought, word and actions. Therefore being mindful of intention is important. We should consider the impact of our thoughts, words and actions on self and others.  The potential consequences either immediate or delayed should be considered. We may do something with the best of intentions but not realize the consequences of our actions until much later. By contemplating our actions and looking beyond outward far beyond ourselves we become more mindful of the reach of our intent.

Always ask what your intent is and whether it serves or not.

 

The Jedi Method

The Jedi Method is a formula used to apply mindfulness in our actions. Our desire is for an outcome which aligns with our values. The method states:

 

Intent + Action = Outcome

 

If our Intent is right and our actions follow suit than there is a high likelihood, while never guaranteed, that outcome will agree with action and intent. Action and Intent is applied in a world in which we do not exercise supreme control over all external factors. We cannot foresee the future or account for every single possible variable. We only have what we control (Intent and Action).

  1. Ask yourself before committing to an action “Could this action lead to suffering?” If the answer is “yes” reconsider it after applying ethics and your personal value system to a decision.
  2. During the action ask “Is this action causing suffering?” if so, then reconsider the need to continue or make adjustments that correct the error.
  3. After the action consider “Will this action lead to suffering?” if so, then seek to remedy, learn from it and avoid repetition in the future.

We live in an imperfect system and everyone makes mistakes. All that one can reasonably expect is that we take due diligence in our actions. We are accountable and responsible for the choices we make. If our intent is challenged we can defend our actions with conviction and without hesitation.

We take charge of the things that we can control, work with what we can influence  and we willingly surrender the things over which we have no control.

 

Surrender at Last

A Light Saber can be a weapon or a door stop depending on the intent of the user. Perhaps Luke Skywalker had learned towards the end of his physical existence that the mind is far more powerful than a weapon. The Last Jedi decided he no longer needed his Light Saber even for the purpose of protection.

On the Planet of Crait Skywalker faced his old apprentice and nephew, Kylo Ren, who was bent on killing him. Luke showed that one can still achieve an outcome without reaching for a Light Saber or without even being there. Victory can be won with the mind.

Across the Galaxy on the Island Jedi Refuge of Ahch-To, Luke Skywalker awoke from his Force projection and surrendered himself to the Force. As he met his destiny the twin suns set over the ocean.

Intent is the key.

Our Intention creates our reality” – Wayne Dyer

The Gathering

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

Ilum

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

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

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

 

The March

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Crystal Hunt

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Last Mile

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

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

 

The Tally

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

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

 

The Will to Succeed

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

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

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

No Limits

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

 

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

 

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

 

The Gathering

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

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

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