Adapt

Probably because I grew up in an age when entitlement was not in common usage and the euphemism “no free lunches” was the order of the day. I have never expected much of either in life. In many ways “The School of Hard Knocks” was a blessing. I knew how it felt to go to bed with an empty stomach as a child. To be ridiculed by other children in the playground for coming to school day in day out with the same set of clothes. For being different and odd. To have the shame of being known as the kid, with the “drunk” as a Father.

The daily resignation that Father will come home soon, drunk and angry. The sadness and loneliness of constantly have to pack up and move so much that in the end you no longer try to make friends because you will soon have to say goodbye. Fronting the family court. Physical and mental abuse by care givers. These things hardened me for life from an early age. I learned to adapt to life early on.

Being given no quarter and cut no slack was an accepted part of Life. Later there was the revolving door of relationships, jobs and “easy come, easy go” existence. Money one day, broke the next. Rejection soon leads to dejection and apathy. You grow few attachments and in time the only constant and only friend is booze. The rest you could care less as nothing and no one is reliable. Booze carries the only promise.

Maladaptation

Being an alcoholic was a defence mechanism and a cover, it was a maladaptation. On one had it provided the sense of social acceptance among peers, it made me friendlier, more likeable and funny, someone other than myself. On the other hand it gave me courage and allowed me to rebel against the order of things. To stand alone and thumb my nose at the world and they be damned. Alcohol hardened an already hard exterior. I expected no quarter and gave none either. Life didn’t offer much hope so the philosophy of “hope for anything, expect the worst” seemed pessimistic but it also seemed realistic.

There is nothing wrong with believing that “serenity is preceded by pessimism”. It just doesn’t need to come with “stinking thinking” attached. Expecting inevitable adversity does not need to be accompanied with a confrontational attitude to life or resentment to others. Anger never served me then and it doesn’t serve me now. Neither does hating life because it seems to hate me. Life doesn’t do these things to us.

Accept, Adapt, Overcome

Today I still anticipate that life is going to dish out some unpleasant turn of events that knock me off my feet. It was Marcus Aurelius that said “The art of living is more like wrestling than dancing, because an artful life requires being prepared to meet and withstand sudden and unexpected attacks.” To that end I live by that precept. I may not know when the next kick in the guts might come but I know it will and I’m prepared to meet it with acceptance and resolve.

How does one train for the unknowable? For me, I have had to dig back in to my childhood for the answer. There I found a kid who had simply accepted things as they were and adapted to his environment and learned to survive in the face of a hopeless situation. I expected little from others and from life and what I did receive I was grateful for and considered a bonus. Kids are good at that.

Assume an attitude of being easily pleased and you will find that life becomes more pleasurable. The glass half empty becomes the glass half full. Be flexible and agile enough to absorb change when it comes, as it inevitably will. Be fluid like water.

In the Army I often heard the adages “Adapt, Improvise, Overcome” and “Train Hard, Fight Easy” it was handy then and still serves in a different context now. The slogans “This too shall Pass”, “One Day at a Time” and “Keep it Simple ” also provide daily reminders of a different kind. We can anticipate and prepare for adversity and difficulties and know they will come along with everything else that life throws at us. They will also pass. We should be on guard be we can also enjoy life.

PTSD

Some scars are invisible.

Being a survivor of childhood physical and psychological abuse, family tragedy, a veteran of military service and a recovering alcoholic I understand why people who go through different types of trauma in their lives can suffer from PTSD. For many years I expressed the anger, anxiety and depression so common among PTSD sufferers. I turned to alcohol for help as many do and self-medicated heavily. My scars ran deep but none were visible they were emotional and spiritual and they were scars that could not heal but festered and spread.

I was never diagnosed as having PTSD . Then I never sought professional help and would have refused it had it been offered. There was a stigma attached to it and like any self-centered alcoholic I felt I had myself under control. Treatment was for “lesser” people.

Denial runs deep. Convinced that people were my problem and rotten luck, resentment and self pity fueled my drinking.  Over time I became worse, more resentful, more bitter, more angry and more depressed. As a result I drunk more and suffered more and surrendered to a self-perpetuating loop of negativity and drinking. I was addicted to self-pity but I desperately wanted out of the hell I was creating for myself and at times contemplated suicide, although I knew I lacked the courage to try. So the suffering continued. I was sick and in denial.

Anakin’s Pain

Anakin provides a parable of a life not uncommon in the real world. A childhood that included a life of hardship and separation from his mother who remained on Tatooine and later died, a tortured slave of the Sand People. This would have been hard enough but Anakin later returned and tried to save her only to watch her die in his arms, a broken woman. The guilt eventually overcame him.

Anakin had no father figure until Obi-wan Kenobi came along and provided the closest thing to a father he could hope for. It was not enough to save him.

Anakin was brilliant, he was intelligent, healthy and was gifted with the Force. As a Padawan, Jedi Knight and Master he excelled in his duties and was instrumental in some of the Republics major military and diplomatic coups. He had the best training and mentorship the galaxy could offer. Even with the unwavering love of his wife Padme and their forbidden union, a dark cloud still hang over Anakin.

Anakin remained bitter and over time his struggle with his past and the attachments that he felt. His need for control and validation overcame him and he succumbed to the Dark Side and became a servant to it. If Anakin was average Joe he would have ended up an alcoholic or a drug addict and would have spiraled out of control as many of us do. His end would have been in an asylum, a prison or a grave. Anakin clearly suffered from PTSD.

Kenobi’s Resilience

Consider Obi-wan Kenobi, the epitome of equanimity and common sense, by middle age he was also suffering PTSD and like Anakin hid his own demons but handled it far differently. Obi-Wan relied on his training and self-discipline to master the burden service and war had taken.

During the third battle for Genosis Obi-Wan was nearly killed when his transporter was shot down and his team was pinned down under heavy fire and surrounded by battle droids. One by one his soldiers were killed around him as he lay badly injured. Reinforcements arrived and the tide of the battle turned. Obi-Wan and the surviving Clones were saved. The battle left a deep scar on Obi-Wan that would last the rest of the War and into his life as an exile and fugitive from the Empire.

The Scar of Alcoholism

Alcoholism never leaves us, we are never cured and the wringer that we put ourselves through leaves a mark on our soul that we can never remove entirely.  The disease not only remains within us but it also has an uncanny way of manifesting itself again in our lives. Alcoholics who have been sober for decades will take a single drink and in no time be as bad if not worse than they were before. Alcoholism remains attached to us like a shadow.

We may seem to be completely recovered but then we are reminded how fragile our sobriety really is. All recovering alcoholics suffer a form of PTSD in some way. Outwardly we may be living happy and contended lives but we never forget that dark place we came from. We never forget what lies in the shadows.

Learn to love yourself as well as the person who suffers beside you, we are all survivors in the same lifeboat. We can rejoice that we have not gone to the bottom and live but the experience stays with us forever as an invisible scar. Only through Love and Forgiveness can we overcome the pain of the past and heal the scars that run deep.

Mastery (and the Big Shot)

If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.” – Obi-Wan Kenobi to Darth Vader (Episode IV: The New Hope)

With practice comes competence and with reinforcement comes confidence and finally mastery. The process from novice to master can take years and result in a change of personality with every evolution. Along the way increased self confidence can lead to a greater sense of humility and gratitude or an inflated ego and arrogance. Anakin Skywalker was the Jedi version of the latter, a “Big Shot” in the Jedi Order.

How many times have we seen Sport Stars reach the pinnacle of their game only to fall victim to ego? Adored by fans, followed by the media and afforded a lavish lifestyle they eventually succumb to vice or ego driven scandal and fall from grace. The distraction of wealth, fame and glory eventually defeats them in the ring or on the field. At this point they retire in to obscurity, exist in notoriety or hopefully redeem themselves and find their way back to whatever source raised them from their humble roots.

In recovery too, an alcoholic with years of sobriety becomes over confident, cocky and grows in to some sort of “Big Shot”. Along the way he forgets his principles of humility and self honesty and chooses to ignore the warning signs that he is back sliding. Unless someone or something reminds him of where he came from he is soon questioning the nature of his disease and taking the first drink which finally leads to full blown relapse.

Never Forget your Roots

I never forget where I came from but I don’t let it define me either. Growing up with an alcoholic parent who could barely hold down a job and who never had money to pay the rent, utilities or buy food was a day to day reality for me as an elementary school age kid. My Father was a compulsive gambler and when he was sober he was angry and resentful and at time paranoid of everyone around him. At times he would resort to violence to discipline us and then feeling guilty would storm out of the house and not reappear for several days. When he did he was usually very drunk, remorseful and emotional. Most times he was busted up from a street fight. At around the age of 10 and 12, we would put him to be bed and he would sleep for days while we fed ourselves, laundered our clothes and got ourselves off to school.

There were visits from the Police both State and Federal, Eviction Notices, angry landlords, creditors seeking money, disconnected power, water and gas. No food in the cupboards and no heating in winter. We slept on the street, homeless shelters or in the toilets of churches kind enough to give us shelter. We moved from one end of the country to the next. Always running, trying to make a fresh start.

Eventually during one of his absences Welfare showed up at the door and I next saw my Father both angry and defiant in Family Court arguing why he should be able to take care of his kids. To make matters worse he threatened the court with revenge and screamed obscenities at the Judge and had to be removed. Even faced with the loss of his kids and the risk of being charged with child neglect my Father still played the arrogant “Big Shot” who was right and everyone else was wrong. Told he was to lose custody, now unencumbered, he vanished from our lives for two years as we were whisked away into State and Foster Care.

Learn from the Past

I spent the next three years as a Ward of the State and learned how to survive and ascend the school yard pecking order through a combination of diplomacy, strategy and willingness to use my fists and feet to settle arguments and claim my rank. Eventually my Father showed up sober enough for the State to grant conditional custody after a period of review. In no time we had fled out of jurisdiction to another State where we would find relative anonymity and he could resume his old ways of lying, cheating and gambling. At least he stayed sober though I wished at times he would drink so I got the reprieve of him being absent for days on a binge.

As soon as I finished High School I walked out of home and got on a train and headed to the Army. I never spoke to my Father again. I often reflect on my childhood and wonder how I never ended up down the same path as him. Then I ponder that I nearly did but my disease was arrested and I reclaimed my sanity. Putting it in to perspective like that keeps me grounded. I try not to get conceited or cocky with my recovery. My Father provided an important life lesson after all.

Anakin Skywalker was doomed to fall to the Dark Side and become Darth Vader. The analogy of the fall of Anakin teaches me that the more confident I become in my recovery, the more powerfully recovered I believe myself to be, the more I need to be mindful that I don’t fall off my pedestal. Mastery over anything, a profession, an art or a sport or even the game of life can cultivate a “Big Shot” attitude. All of the sudden we lose our humility and appreciation of place.

We forget where we came from. We expect to be treated special, to be given allowance, to be respected and we start to compare ourselves with others and find them lacking. We no longer see fault in our own conduct and stop trying to cultivate virtues and be better versions of ourselves. We forget that we should only compare ourselves with who we were yesterday.

As a mere servant of Darth Sidious, Darth Vader still claimed his Mastery and domination over others. In reality Darth Vader was a mere slave, a pitiful shell of a man he had been deep in pain and suffering. The utter delusion that his fall had condemned him played out in the scene where face to face with his old teacher and mentor Obi-Wan Kenobi, Darth Vader claims his supremacy.

“Now I am the Master” – Darth Vader

True Mastery

Obi-Wan Kenobi appeared to fall under the fatal stroke of Darth Vader’s light saber seemingly mastered by his old apprentice. However the opposite is true. Darth Vader  released Obi-Wan from the confines of the material plane and set him free, returning him to the Force and more powerful than ever. Darth Vader is aware that he has been fooled by his own arrogance and hatred. It is not the victory he sought but a defeat. Even knowing this Darth Vader continues to deny the truth until he is confronted by Luke in “Return of the Jedi”.

I learned a few years ago that my Father had died a skid row drunk, broke and alone. I sometimes wonder if in his final months, days, hours he realized his mistakes and at least came to acknowledge his part in a life of suffering he had imposed on others and his self and at last forgave himself. Did he instead take that anger, fear and arrogance with him as he defiantly stepped from this world to the next? It was 25 years after I had last spoke to him. I will never know but I hope it was the former, I pray he made peace with God and himself before he died.

My own struggle did not end there in 2011 with the news of my Father’s death. A year later, embittered and angry, facing my own “Dark Side”, I reached my own personal “rock bottom”. Instead of staying there I called on whatever “God” there was to help. I felt a hand reach out for me like a flimsy reed. I grabbed at it like it was my only chance for salvation and I was lifted out of my own despair. The arrogance and the denial swept away and I saw who I was with clear eyes. I saw my life in plain view and saw what I had done to myself and others. At last I admitted my alcoholism and began to believe in Faith. I forgave my Father and let go of my own fear, anger and arrogance and began to claim who I, who we, truly are.

Personal Dagobah

Only what you take with you” – Yoda

Life is hard and sometimes seems insurmountable. From time to time we question what we are doing and ask why? We need to validate our lives and justify to our deeper selves our choices and the sacrifices we make. This is part of the human condition and completely normal. Once we commit our minds and our hearts to something usually the body will follow. Often it’s taking the first step and then staying on the Path that presents the greater challenge.

We all confront self-doubt, self criticism and at times consider quitting. Jesus of Nazareth, Gautama Buddha, Saint Francis of Assisi and Bill W, the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous all had periods of the gravest doubt. In the end all of them achieved the peak of the human condition some call enlightenment. The paradox is that in order to arrive at our destination, in order to become who we truly are, we must pass through the darkest forests, our personal Dagobah on our personal journey.

Anakin Skywalker, Obi wan-Kenobi and Luke Skywalker also had moments of self doubt and personal anguish that they worked through and overcame. While Anakin had periods where he struggled with his inner Demons and emerged for a time, eventually he succumbed and fell to the “Dark Side”. Eventually through the love of his son, Darth Vader was vanquished and Anakin reclaimed his true self re-united with his son and died at peace.

Obi-wan Kenobi as a young Jedi was in love with Satine Kryze of Mandalore but forsake their relationship to pursue his life as a Jedi. At times he regreted the decision and the life he could have had as a Father and Husband. During the Clone Wars Obiwan experiences the horrid effects of war over and over again and witnesses many friends and allies killed and in the end the fall of his friend and apprentice Anakin to the Dark Side. Despite it all, Obi-wan Kenobi transcends his pain.

Following further adventures and solitude Kenobi at last meets his destiny and achieves an enlightenment which unites him with the Force. Luke Skywalker is also human and despite his loyalty and passion questions his purpose. Riddled with regret and disillusionment in his later years Luke questions the purpose of the Jedi Order and the cost it has imposed on his life.

Sometimes the dark places that reside within us are far worse than reality, but through it we must pass to get to the other side.

 

That place… is strong with the dark side of the Force. A domain of evil it is. In you must go.
What’s in there?
Only what you take with you….Your weapons … you will not need them.”

Yoda and Luke Skywalker (The Empire Strikes Back)

Hell is an Illusion

In my early recovery I would pray for patience, courage, understanding and tolerance and seek to apply these virtues. As things out of my control tipped me over I would succumb to a small personal hell of self-pity, anxiety and depression. I could feel the insanity creeping back in and was terrified that I would start drinking again. I railed against the world and God and could not understand why these things were happening to me. Was I not after all keeping up my end of the bargain? I was staying sober and trying my best to be a better person! Why could life not give me a break? I started to seriously doubt myself and wonder “what’s the point of it all”.

Then it hit me, nothing had happened to me, I was doing it to myself by perceiving life to be a struggle. I was fighting something that did not exist! Like Luke Skywalker on Dagobah I was confronting my own inner Demons and losing. I had asked for courage, patience, tolerance and objectivity and when I was given opportunities in life to practice these I failed!

I had to change my perception and stop fighting everything and everyone. I had to pick myself up and brush myself off and start having faith in myself and in the power of the Force. I had to accept that this journey was going to be hard and for good reason; in order to make gains and grow as individuals we must be prepared to overcome ourselves first.  This means stop fighting ourselves and others, accept what is and let go of things we cannot control “one day at a time”.

Greater in battle than the man who would conquer a thousand-thousand men, is he who would conquer just one, himself” – Buddha

Life is full of pitfalls and challenges that make us question our very purpose in life. We wonder if life has any meaning or is simply a futile exercise in self validation on a road that ultimately leads to our eventual demise. Sometimes we must take a different view and change our perception. We must remember that life does nothing to us; it is our perception and our response to life that matters in the end to whether we live a fulfilling life or a mediocre one. We can live in regret or learn from the experience, we can struggle and fight or we can accept and let go. No matter what you are feeling right now, it will pass and in time the purpose of your personal Dagobah will begin to make sense and you will emerge stronger for it.

This too shall pass” – Sufi saying.

Mindfulness and Meditation

Your focus determines your reality” – Qui-Gon Jinn (The Phantom Menace)

Spiritual practices such as prayer and meditation have been shown to improve psychological well-being and reduce depression and anxiety. Prayer while mostly associated with religious practice is also used by people to help them cope with difficult situations or to seek guidance from a Higher Power. Meditation is also often associated with monastic or religious practice but is also increasingly being recommended as a natural treatment to those who are recovering from alcoholism and drug abuse, the survivors of childhood abuse and trauma, the bereaved and those with anxiety and depression. Mindfulness is probably one of the most ubiquitous and popular methods used today to address almost any undesired mental state.

Feeling anxious or hurried? Try focusing on the breath and bringing yourself to the moment. Irritated by the driver who just cut you off in Traffic? Be mindful and smile inwardly, do not allow thoughts to cloud the serenity of the moment…Breathe…

Mindfulness, meditation, contemplation and prayer are essentially the same thing but practiced in slightly different ways and each carries a different connotation. At the basic level all are exercises in bringing the mind to the present moment and giving it the full attention that it deserves. Over the next few months we will explore each.

Besides the clear benefits to mental and emotional well-being, mindfulness practices have also been shown to effectively change the brain through neuroplasticity. Research has shown that people who devote 20 minutes daily to quiet prayer or contemplation, meditation or mindfulness will have an effect on the neural pathways of the brain and in time the organizational structure of the brain and the patterns of thought and behavior in a person will gradually change.

Meditation

Meditation is generally accepted as a formal practice of being completely aware through a process of focus on an internal or external source for a period of time. Some people imagine that meditation is a form of relaxation and reverie. Meditation is actually being completely aware of every sensation in the body, every passing thought and the external environment and having no judgment either good or bad to any of it. The body is completely relaxed and the mind is sharpened and aware. Thoughts recede in the background and awareness expands inward and outwards. A sense of joy emanates from deep within as if the body has re-discovered its natural state of being. Through Meditation you are being completely mindful. Although meditation is seen more as a formal practice of sitting in a lotus position and either focusing on the breath or repeating a mantra, Mindfulness is the state that is being achieved.

Mindfulness

You can experience and practice mindfulness in almost any situation and should strive to do so. Washing dishes, brushing your teeth, walking or running, eating food or making love are all acts that if done mindfully becomes an experience in to which you immerse yourself rather than a mindless exercise. Book stores these days are abound with coloring books that promote the practice of mindfulness through the simple act of coloring in pictures.

Being mindful in your thoughts, words and actions is also important as it clears the mind and places emphasis on purpose and in staying calm particularly during times when emotions may be charged. Mindfulness is simply applying focus and attention to the present moment. Our mind often resembles a tree full of chattering monkeys. Meditation, mindfulness and prayer silences those monkeys and puts us in touch with our higher self.

Focus is the Key

Whatever it is you are doing today, give it the full attention that it deserves. If you are conversing with a friend or family member, listen intently and notice their facial expressions, the tone of their voice and their subtle movements. Experience the food and drink you put in your mouth, taste the flavor, feel the texture and smell the aroma. Take a moment to breathe in fresh air when you step outside in the morning and pause to appreciate the sights and sounds around you rather than being preoccupied with distracting thoughts.

Say a short prayer of gratitude or affirmation to center yourself. Take a moment to breathe deeply three or four times and then to scan your body from head to toe allowing each part of the body part of relax in turn. Focus on your breath, count breaths if required and if your mind drifts gently bring it back to the breath and continue for a minute or more.

The beauty with this practice is that you can do it almost anywhere, anytime whether you are sitting in a waiting room or waiting for a Bus, walking or even running. The ego would prefer that we remain disconnected from the present and confine our mind in the past or projected to the future, anywhere but now. That is the state that most people find normal, however the reality is that the opposite is true, a state of Zen is the most natural state of being that a human can achieve and it is in all of us waiting to be tapped.

Death

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

Jedi do not fear death in the fiction as they know that the material plane is only one dimension of existence, that in time all life returns to the Force as all life belongs to the Force. Even as Yoda dies in the “Return of the Jedi” his body vanishes supposedly transcending to the Force.

Yoda struggles through his final breaths to pass on a final lesson to Luke Skywalker. Throughout the movies we are reminded of the continuity of existence after the death of the physical and in the “Return of the Jedi” as Anakin, Obi-wan Kenobi and Yoda appear before Luke Skywalker in their ethereal forms we get a sense of peace and hope that even in death, love endures.

To Live is to Accept Dying

Why do we fear death? I was terrified of death and sought escape and succour in a bottle knowing that by doing so was a slow death. I’ve heard that alcoholics are not afraid of dying but fear only the long slow death of alcoholism, yet they drink despite this fear so strong is the compulsion.

With recovery we begin to see the sunlight through the clouds and with time the fear of death is replaced by renewed hope and a sense of love for life and compassion for others. We begin to love ourselves again and express true love for others especially those that we have harmed through our actions. We begin to reconcile ourselves with God “as we understand him” and put together a plan of action to make amends and rid ourselves of our character defects and weaknesses.

Fear of death leaves us entirely after having got so close to death in the past, close enough to feel its presence in the early hours of the morning. We have faced our fears of some unknown thing that clawed at our being, we are no strangers to it and come to realize that death is also a part of life. It is not death that causes us fear, we only fear the thought of dying.

“We do not fear death; we fear the thought of death” – Seneca

The Circle of Life

Do we not begin dying at the point of birth? Our lives are simply a biological struggle to offset death long enough to ensure that our genetic make-up is passed on to the next generation.  Our descendants grant us a type of physical immortality that will one day invariably fade as does the very memory of our existence.

Perhaps, it is the fear of being forgotten that strikes at the heart of most people; that their short life will have little meaning in years, decades and centuries and that those they leave behind will eventually also die, turn to dust and be forgotten. Most of us prefer not to ponder such things until we arrive at our middle years, mostly in shock at how quickly the years have passed, deciding to make the most of our remaining years and “really live”. Does any of this matter?

The end of the Road?

Depending on your view of the Force and belief around life after death you may have decided that life does not end with our final breath but continues “on the other side of the veil” in the afterlife. Conversely you may take the view that one a person dies that is it, they are no more and will not care whether they are remembered or mourned or not. As they are dead and completely oblivious to anything as much as a lump of wood is.

It is the right of the living to mourn the dead and to remember them. Whether a person transcends to the spiritual plane or simply becomes nothing with brain death should make no difference to the departed. With death comes the end of the ego and also the end of Fear. The great mystery and hope for all is whether Love transcends death as in Star Wars, I believe it does.

Twilight is upon me, and night must fall. That is the way of things, the way of the force” – Yoda

I have felt the brush of death and know within me that death is not to be feared, it is the destination for all and a part of nature. We can all hope for a long and happy life but we should also be prepared for a good death and how we choose to face our ultimate and final destination is also within our power.

Patience

“A great leap forward sometimes requires two steps back” – Obi wan-Kenobi

The uncommon virtue

Patience is a virtue and is often viewed as an ideal Jedi trait. The calm and passive Obi wan-Kenobi deliberate in his words and actions and the meditative Yoda an epitome of patience whether consulting with fellow members of the Jedi Council on Coruscant, discussing strategy in a battle briefing or training Luke Skywalker in the ways of the force on Dagobah show the merit of the virtue. Jedi were patient, it was in their nature and in their training to show patience regardless of the circumstances.

Often the Jedi could also be impulsive and reckless wanting to rush off in to battle. Quinlan Vos was not your usual Jedi and is seen as a maverick by Obi wan-Kenobi in the hunt for Ziro the Hutt. Quinlan Vos later joins Asajj Ventress in a plot to assassinate Count Dooku where his impulsive nature eventually leads him to make choices that run counter to the Jedi Path. Luke Skywalker is also impatient throughout his adventures barely reined in by the advice of Obi wan Kenobi and later Yoda. Anakin on the other hand is the least patient of all the Jedi and while his insistence for direct action all the time and doing things his way gets results during the Clone Wars it does come at a price which in the end costs him everything.

“Patience Master Patience” – Ahsoka Tano to Anakin in the Clone Wars “Blue Shadow Virus”

Patience was never a virtue of mine and it is rare among alcoholics and other addicts. Once we want something and our mind is fixed on it we have a single minded purpose that ignores the consequences. Our thirst for whatever is desired overrides reason and logic. We cannot be told to wait and to stop us from getting what we want is akin to being prevented oxygen. Our lack of patience extends to people, places and things.

One thing to another

We grow tired of our relationships or we are never satisfied with the people in our lives always demanding more from them and often more than they can give or are prepared to give. Our jobs become a revolving door affair, soon impatient with co-workers, conditions or the lack of recognition in our many talents we either quit or force our employers to remove us. Some of us are constantly on the move seeking the “geographic solution” and then become quickly bored or disillusioned with new places and situations after a short honeymoon. Our possessions no matter how greatly desired or paid for soon lose their shine and we want to move on to new things. Never content, never satisfied, least of all with ourselves.

In some ways the lack of patience is a good thing. For example it can drive one to succeed and arrive at their goals sooner. An impatient man is rarely satisfied with mediocrity and demands better. As an alcoholic my impatient nature led me to some major successes in my life but not without cost to relationships, principle, pride and health. I burnt people along the way as well as bridges and compromised on my integrity time and again until I was morally bankrupt.

Stop, Think, Assess and Rectify

Patience is a virtue and it is hard won and easily lost but every moment we live in patience is a moment lived well as it allows you to enter the flow of life and for once not fight against the stream. Time slows down and we start to connect with others and find our true inner self. Being sober has taught me a lot about patience; to slow down and allow things to happen as they will without forcing them along especially in recovery and with my relationships. To live and let live and to “Let Go and Let God”.

Doctors are correct when they advise Patients to be patient with their healing, that is because nature (including your body, mind and soul) require time to heal when injured or sick. Oddly enough the word Patient comes from the Latin “to suffer” and to have patience no less means to show calm endurance and overcome base impulses to react, even if it means to suffer in silence to do so.

As the sense of urgency and impulsive instinct to act or speak rises today, take a step back as Obi wan suggested to Anakin and take a moment to consider your next step. Would you raise your voice in impatience at a child who doesn’t understand? Do you run a red light because you want to get home to put your feet up? Do you make enemies at work by being rude and impatient because things aren’t going as you want?

You rarely have to react in an instant to what is around you and things can wait. There is no need to get upset or angry at slow traffic because doing so will not make it move any faster. Time will move at its own pace and what better time to spend practicing the virtue of patience. Slow down, be calm, at peace, passive and let the Force in the moment flow through you.

Fear

Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering“. – Yoda

Fear is a pervasive element in the Star Wars saga. The symbolism of the Death Star is a classic example of fear and terror manifested. Imagine such a weapon; the immense size of the Death Star foreboding alone would strike abject terror as it filled the sky with its ominous presence. The Death Star was also able to destroy entire planets with the simple flick of a switch. It was the Dark Lords ultimate weapon against his enemies and its true power was Fear.

As a child I grew up under the shadow of the Cold War. The threat of nuclear war a was a pervasive fear  that I remember as a young child. It seemed that the Soviets and the West were committed to destroying each other with scant regard for life. It may have been saber rattling and perhaps we came close to midnight a couple of times. I remember laying at wake at night barely 11 years of age imagining that missiles were arching through the night sky toward their intended targets. The thought was terrifying and with world events and the current trajectory we find ourselves in I wonder what my children imagine when they lay in bed at night.

The Black Dog

Being an alcoholic is to live in a perpetual state of extremes.  We are either in a state of buoyant optimism and hope or we are filled with anxiety and ridden with fear. Sometimes both in the same day. Our hearts will leap with a sense of renewed purpose and a sense that all is well and then slowly the cold wind and grey skies of fear and morbid reflection creep in. It’s no wonder that we drink to gain an even keel and try to feel half decent.

Neither of those extremes, false hope or undefined terror, were valid or accurate perceptions of reality when I was an alcoholic. They were simply the symptoms of a diseased mind and a depressed mental state that bordered on bipolarism. The other way to look at it was it was simply rampant imagination. I was simply a victim of the alcoholics ability to create a world in his or her own mind. A perception that is completely untrue if viewed objectively. I would swing between fear, sadness and elation and self medicate with booze to celebrate the euphoria or chase the “Black Dog” away. I would stall in depression for days. Thoughts of hopelessness and suicide would drift in and out like passing dark clouds.

Reclaim your Sunshine

With admission and acceptance of my disease and surrender I started to reclaim my sanity. I had been insane all of this time and now the fog was lifting. Reality had been distorted. Sobriety taught me that the fear of uncertainty is a normal human emotion when it is rational. Fear and dark imaginings can also be illusions. We needn’t let fear rule us and steal the sunshine from the day. When can face fear and watch it melt away like a phantom and realize it was all in our head.

We suffer more in imagination than in reality.” – Seneca

Today things are better. I still get sad, angry or down on occasion but these emotions I feel are appropriate and healthy. I don’t need to feel sad for feeling sad. I can also decide what is real and what is imagined. My disease still tries to play “Jedi Mind Tricks” on me but I’m one step ahead. The monsters have receded in to the background. I view the threat of a nuclear war or the sudden appearance of a Death Star in the morning sky in an objective and rational fashion. One I hope is still highly unlikely and the other is almost (but not entirely) impossible. I won’t be losing any sleep over worrying about either.

Outward Display

 

Imagine a Jedi

“For philosophy doesn’t consist in outward display, but in taking heed to what is needed and being mindful of it” – Musonius Rufus, Lectures 16.75.15-16.

If we existed in the Star Wars Universe we would expect Jedi to be easily identifiable. They may be wearing the dress typical for a Jedi and bear the Jedi Order emblem. A light sabre would likely confirm a Jedi. However a robe, emblem and light saber does not necessarily mean we have a Jedi in our midst. We would need further proof, an example.

How would we imagine a Jedi to be in the absence of their uniform and other usual displays? Most would expect that a Jedi should be identifiable by his or her bearing, behavior and attitudes as well as their outer appearance. I imagine a Jedi would appear to be calm, approachable and confident and demonstrate virtues that are consistent with someone who is a Jedi. That is they would be humble without being self-effacing, polite and courteous, dignified and articulate and patient. They would display objectivity and conviction in their decisions, integrity in their conduct, courage, empathy, self-control, purpose and wit. Jedi would show empathy to others and be generous and helpful where their help was welcome.

Actions not Appearance

So if I call myself a Jedi how should I act? How should I speak to people and conduct my affairs? How should I train myself to think? What virtues should I cultivate within my character and which practices should I undertake to reinforce those virtues? Should I stick to my principles or decide when and where to apply them? How do you imagine a Jedi to be if you met one here in the Real World? Would you be able to identify that person as a Jedi if you met in the street? Would there be a secret signal, a handshake or a “drop word”?

I don’t feel that I need to advertise that I am Jedi. I prefer to act out how I believe a real world Jedi should be and demonstrate my principles consistently to support that. Virtues that I think are important are practiced as if they were a part of my nature and eventually they will be. I don’t need to have a rank of Jedi Knight or Master. Titles, robes and entitlement do not make a Jedi, actions, thoughts and words do.

I am an Alcoholic

As a Drunk I pretended to be someone I was not. I wanted people to think that I was a Big Shot and somehow special. Someone that demanded respect and admiration. Deep down I knew I did not amount to much, that I was mostly full of it and my personality was bravado and a façade. In reality I was miserable and no longer knew who I even was, I only knew that drinking made me feel somehow worthwhile but it was an illusion, a lie.

Getting sober made me realize that I could only ever be myself and strive to be a better version of myself. I threw myself in to the 12 Steps and worked at correcting my faults and being a better person. I realized only one label fitted me and I was comfortable every time I said, “my name is….and I’m an alcoholic”. I felt like I was being the most genuine version of myself that I had been in memory.

I am an alcoholic and I always will be. Do I appear to be an alcoholic? That is, do I have an alcoholic character? I hope I don’t but I will let others be the judge of my character. My part is simply keep my side of the street clear and work the steps and never pick up the first drink. That’s how I can demonstrate my recovery and growth one day at a time.

I am Jedi

I am also Jedi. Not a Jedi Knight or Master or even a Padawan but a person who is Jedi through the set of actions, attitudes and behaviors that are on display every day. Not through outward display and claims to title. I judge myself to be Jedi or not through an honest and rigorous assessment of my conduct. I can call myself a Jedi but my heart will betray the truth if I am being dishonest.

What do you want to be today? How will you demonstrate that?

Mindful what you Wish for

There was an old proverb his grandfather had taught him when he’d been a boy: Take care what you wish for, Tenn- you might get it. Now he understood exactly what that meant. He had wanted to fire the big gun, and he had gotten to do just that. The only man in the galaxy who had shot it for real, at real targets, and look what it had brought him: misery beyond his ugliest dreams.” – Tenn Graneet “Death Star”.

Gunner Graneet

Tenn Graneet was not a Jedi but he was a career soldier who did his duty and rose through the ranks of the Imperial Navy as a Gunner. Graneet had a military career which included action in the Clone Wars. With the rise of the Empire and the outbreak of the Galactic rebellion Graneet was promoted to Chief Gunnery Officer on the newly commissioned Death Star. This was everything that the Graneet had ever dreamed of.

During testing of the Death Star Tenn Graneet was responsible for the deployment and firing of the super laser system and witnessed first hard its destructive capacity on Rebel battle cruisers. As the weapon was upgraded to be able to destroy moons and planets Graneet began to question whether the Empire could wield such power responsibly. Graneet found himself questioning the morality of his role. Called upon to destroy the planets Despayre and then Alderaan killing billions of sentients Graneet suffers a crisis of conscience regretting his actions yet unable to defy his Commanders for fear of certain execution if he disobeys orders.

During the battle of Yavin Graneet is ordered to destroy the planet from which a Rebel Force including Luke Skywalker has set out to destroy the Death Star. Realizing that the Rebels have unlocked the secret to destroying the Death Star, Graneet freezes unable to fire when the planet presents as a target, giving the Rebels an opportunity. With those few moments Luke is able to destroy the Death Star. Graneet is killed with tens of thousands of other Imperial troops but countless lives are saved.

What do you Wish For?

How often have you wished for something and regretted it later? Sometimes we pursue a goal or a dream and when it is realized we find ourselves disappointed and disillusioned. In some cases we wish we had chosen differently or never had the idea in the first place. The cost of free will is that with every choice, every decision comes with consequences. Our choices may not be as drastic as the example above but they do carry weight on our conscience.

Drinking always seemed like a good idea even when it was obviously not. I could still easily rationalize the consequences of some poor choices if I could not blame someone else or provide a lame excuse. At the end of the day, no one was forcing me to drink. I still had fun and where’s the harm? Then why did I always feel like somehow it wasn’t my fault? Why did I feel like I was the target of a bad joke? How did I wish all of this? I would not wish it on my worst enemy!

Over the years I have said “I want to” or “I’m going to” many times. I wished for a better life, a meaningful existence and a sense of purpose, just something better than this. The problem was how. I wanted an easy end like in the final scene of Trainspotting when Renton (Ewan McGregor) marches off into the sunrise with satchel of money over his shoulder declaring with a wide grin:

“The truth is that I’m a bad person. But, that’s gonna change – I’m going to change. This is the last of that sort of thing. Now I’m cleaning up and I’m moving on, going straight and choosing life”.

Of course that’s not exactly how it happened for me but I did start changing. How? Well, I started to wish, actually pray for stuff and it came, just not in the way I expected.

I started to pray for patience and the Universe gave me plenty of opportunities to practice without resorting to anger, obstinacy and frustration;

I prayed for courage and my Higher Power was with me when I started to make amends and face people with some difficult confessions;

I prayed for compassion and I learned to identify with the addict I used to look down on;

I prayed for humility and my Higher Power had me eating humble pie till I got to like it;

I prayed for understanding and in time my eyes were opened;

I prayed for a better life and I learned to be grateful for the life I have.

Learning the truth can be painful and hard as can change. I have also learned the truth in the saying “old dogs can learn new tricks”, in my case it took a bit of work. We learn to shed our old selves and cultivate something new. I have also learned to be mindful for what I wish for as the Universe has a twisted sense of humor. There is a good chance the Universe will oblige.