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.

 

The Jedi Mind Trick and the Happiness Trap

Jedi Mind Tricks

The Jedi Mind Trick was used by the Jedi in Star Wars to influence and alter a person’s belief or perception of a certain thing. In “A New Hope” Obi-Wan Kenobi uses the Jedi Mind trick to get past a Storm Trooper check point with the Droids being hunted by the Empire as they contain the stolen plans to the Death Star. Using suggestion, Obi-Wan is able to persuade the Clones that the two Droids are not the one’s they are looking for.

Jedi Mind tricks are used on several occasions by the Jedi as an alternative to direct action. The Mind Trick had its limits. It was useless against life forms with a strong sense of self will and mind. The winged Toydarians for example, were immune to it, probably because they were so good at selling spare parts to Bounty Hunters. The closest thing to the Jedi Mind trick in the real world is persuasion and suggestion. I can think of many times I was convinced to purchase something that I didn’t really need probably due more to my own gullibility rather than the Force.

“I am not the Drunk you are looking for”

Over the years I tried to apply a version of the Jedi Mind trick on others and found my powers lacking. People usually don’t want to do something unless they see personal benefit.  People are generally persuaded to something through reason, fear or the offer of reward. Once the motivating factor is removed, they stop doing it.

Jedi Mind tricks do not work in reality, I can’t wave my hand in front of a Police Officer and say “You have only had one beer, there is no need for a sobriety test”. I can try but I’ll probably get laughed at and then arrested. In some states they probably throw the book at people attempting to “Jedi mind-trick” law enforcement Officers.

So if I can’t “Jedi Mind Trick” my boss to give me a pay rise or a day off, my teenage daughter to tidy her room or my wife to cook my favorite dish can I use it on myself? That is, can I use a form of Jedi Mind Trick to help me achieve a sense of equanimity and balance? How can I mind trick myself to happiness?

“Wishful Drinking”

There are two ways to trick your mind in to a better state. One is based on a false perception of reality and only works for a short time because deep down you know it’s not real. We call that “wishful thinking” or in my case it was “wishful drinking”. That is, getting drunk to feel better and capture a fleeting sense of happiness, fulfillment and contentedness. The other way takes effort and requires mental training. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is one such method based on Mindfulness and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.

“Wishful Drinking” of course is also a book by Carrie Fisher where she recalls the story of her struggle with alcohol, drug abuse and depression. It is a humorous and at times sad portrayal of a woman we came to know and love as Princess Leia. The relevance of course is that Acceptance and Commitment Therapy is all about achieving equanimity and balance, not a shallow illusion of happiness. Happiness is your own personal view point and what makes you “happy” will change over time. I know it has for me. In the book, Carrie Fisher makes the following point about happiness which many of us can relate to.

Happy is one of the many things I’m likely to be over the course of a day and certainly over the course of a lifetime. But I think if you have the expectation that you’re going to be happy throughout your life–more to the point, if you have a need to be comfortable all the time–well, among other things, you have the makings of a classic drug addict or alcoholic.”
― Carrie Fisher, “Wishful Drinking”.

Happy versus “Happiness”

We know of course that life is not a fairy tale and if we expect to be happy and fulfilled all the time we are setting ourselves up for disappointment. The concept of true “Happiness” seems elusive but it is not. I have seen the happiest and most contented people alive in some of the most modest of settings in the poorest countries in Africa, South America and Asia.

What made these “poor” people happy? Well, they know who they are, they feel connected with and valued by their community, they are surrounded by loved ones and they feel like they are making a contribution. They live simple and productive lives and realize what truly matters. Most of all they are committed to living in accordance with their principles and values.

Watch the Netflix documentary “Happy” if you don’t believe me.

People who are unhappy are unhappy about not being happy as they define it. This is called the “Happiness Trap” (Harris, 2008). Sound like a Jedi Mind Trick?

ACT

This is what Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is about. It is a mind hack that adjusts our perception of ourselves and our response to life in a realistic and honest way. It gets us out of the “Happiness Trap”. There is no simple and temporary “Jedi Mind Trick” to it. The idea is not to “fool” our brain but to train it in “right thought” through pragmatism and mindfulness. With practice ACT rewires how we think about ourselves and the things that bother us and with practice it takes barely any effort to apply in our lives.

The method has been used to help treat veterans suffering anxiety and PTSD and as an alternative to drug therapy. ACT is also gaining popularity with Psychologists and Therapists as a simple and easy way to treat addiction, anxiety and depression. The US DVA promotes ACT as one modality and offers a free app called ACT Coach to use in conjunction with therapy and meditation.

The core principles of ACT are acceptance, commitment and action. The key primer is mindfulness. All of these are key Jedi traits:

  • Defuse and reject beliefs and thoughts that do not serve;
  • Accept feelings, sensations and emotion and let them come and go without struggle;
  • Identify your values and commit to them;
  • Be present in the moment. Observe your thoughts and feelings without judgement;
  • Commit to action that demonstrates you values and those that improve yourself.

The wonderful thing about ACT is that it is so easy to do with practice and can be incorporated in to a meditation practice. The very essence of ACT is in the 12 Steps program so if you are working the steps alone, with a home group or a sponsor there is a good chance you are doing it already and reaping the benefits in your recovery. If not, discuss it with your Therapist and explore it as an option, try it and if it works for you keep doing it.

References:

Fisher, C (2009). Wishful Drinking. Simon & Schuster.

Harris, R. (2008). The Happiness Trap: How to stop struggling and start living. Boston, MA: Trumpeter.

Principles before Personalities

The Jedi were all about principles before personalities. The Jedi Order and the mission at hand were seen by the Jedi as far more important than the individual. Often in the Star Wars saga we are reminded of this important precept. Both Yoda and Obi-wan Kenobi accept the end of their lives with equanimity and carry no attachment to the existence that they leave behind caring only that those they leave behind can find the path to bringing balance to the Force and peace to the Galaxy.

During the third battle of Geonosis, Master Jedi Luminara Unduli admonishes Anakin who has become emotional and angry over potentially losing Ahsako Tano during an infiltration mission in to a Separatist Droid Factory. Jedi Master Luminara also has a Padawan who was with Ahsako and may also be lost. She accepts the situation as it presents itself and reminds Anakin that the Jedi do not form attachment to personalities and that the objectives of destroying the Droid Factory is of far greater importance.

When the two Padawan’s are rescued from under the wreckage of the ruined Separatist strong hold Anakin expresses his relief and having never given up. Luminara reminds him that one day he will have to let his Padawan go and asks will he be able to?

Anakin repeats this pattern many times, his guilt and fear of loss, his strong sense of loyalty to those he is attached controls him. As a result he consistently chooses to compromise on the principles he is meant to uphold for the sake of the many. Anakin’s strong need to be able to control circumstances and solve problems even at the sake of the Jedi Code ultimately leads to his down fall.

People before Principle

There is a saying reputed to be by Stalin that goes “one death is a tragedy and a million is statistic”. Sometimes the world will ignore the plight or millions but suddenly spring in to action at the image of one suffering child or the death of one animal splayed all over social media to finally find affinity to a cause and rage at an injustice. We look the other way until we know someone who is affected or we are personally impacted. Otherwise society rallies behind hashtags and for most it is as far as they will go.

If I look at the mass I will never act.” – Mother Teresa

On the flip side we sometimes allow our emotional attachments and our relationships with people to override our principles and perceptions on things and we lose objectivity and perspective. Often time we are expected to “look the other way” or make exceptions when it’s a friend, family member or an important associate. I see it all the time, friends of friends are given jobs that others may have been more qualified to take, standards that are applied to everyone are often loosened or ignored when it comes to accommodating a friend. Favors are rendered to the chosen few but are denied to those less in favor. Sometimes we do these things because we feel a sense of loyalty or duty to people, we expect something back or we want to be held in esteem and favor.

Drinking before Principle

For me it was drinking before principles. Anytime I was not drinking I thought that I was a person of principle and that personal biases or favorites did not count, that there were no exceptions when it came to drawn lines in the sand. The exception of course was booze. If I knew I had an important engagement the next day or an important assignment due I would work hard but if an opportunity came up to have a drink I would hesitate at first but soon find myself drunk. Reason and good judgement would be abandoned. I would know full well that to allow myself to have on drink would scuttle all good intentions and sure enough I would arrive at the appointed time ill prepared and somehow scrape through vowing never to do it again.

My skewed priorities applied everywhere. One relationship after another was ruined through my selfish indulgence and complete lack of consideration for others once I started drinking. I would meet someone I thought was really nice and for a short while I would control myself and then inevitably I would be away on a drinking spree and reveal the type of person I was. Eventually my relationships would end badly and I would blame the other person. Jobs were gained with a handshake and in good faith and end within months after my Employer saw that my work ethic and reliability was in doubt as much as my ability to turn up to work without a hangover. One promise was broken after the next.

In all our Affairs

I had principles (or at least I thought I did) and I could not understand how I could not up hold them while expecting others to up hold their own. Eventually I got sober and realized that besides new found sobriety and a spiritual foundation all I had was a few simple principles that if applied, could keep me sober and alive. The main  caveat was applying them in all of my affairs.

Weddings, Birthdays, Anniversaries, Christmas and Easter, New Years and so many other occasions I could have a drink but I won’t. I will not and I cannot. My best friend wants me to celebrate with him the birth of his Granddaughter, I land a new and lucrative job or I pass an important exam, all valid reasons for a beer or two. Still I won’t. I have to lie or cheat to get my way or help out a friend or family member? Honesty is a virtue and for me a principle, so I don’t. I’m forced to consider taking action which may be viewed as unethical or morally questionable in order to land a friend an important job or opportunity? Not anymore. I have to draw a line and say I can’t cross it and figure out a way to help in a way that is true to my values.

If all you have are your values and the principles by which you live then why would you compromise on them? Friends come and go, our family members sometimes let us down, our material possessions and present comforts are transient and impermanent. All you have is your inner life and your ability to decide what is right and what is wrong and to act according to whatever principles you hold dear. If your primary concern is your family and by principle you will do anything for them, no matter what the consequences or cost, then so be it, it is your choice. But always choose principles before personality always otherwise be prepared to compromise on who you truly are.

If it isn’t true don’t say it, if it isn’t right don’t do it, if it isn’t yours don’t take it” –  Unknown.

Size Matters Not

Size matters not. Look at me. Judge me by my size, do you? Hmm? Hmm. And well you should not. For my ally is the Force, and a powerful ally it is. Life creates it, makes it grow. Its energy surrounds us and binds us. Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter. You must feel the Force around you; here, between you, me, the tree, the rock, everywhere, yes. Even between the land and the ship” – Yoda (The Empire Strikes Back).

In this scene on Dagobah, Yoda challenged Luke Skywalker to use the Force and lift his X-wing Fighter out of the swamp where it was crash landed. Luke tries and at first seems to be succeeding and then he backs off and the X-wing sinks back in to the bog. “I can’t. It’s too big”, he says and then watches mouth agape as Yoda effortlessly lifts the fighter up and places it on dry ground. Luke has that look you get when you have just seen someone in the gym who is half your size easily benching twice your maximum weight capacity for more reps than you could imagine. “I don’t believe it!Luke says.

That is why you fail” – Yoda

A Short Tale

I’ve always lived by the premise that “size does not matter”, although it was a facade. At a modest 5’6” I would be considered short for a guy and indeed one of my many frustrations in life was trying to see what was going on past everyone in a crowded pub; everyone else being taller than me. Being short can suck, being short and skinny is worse.

Shorter guys usually get ignored by girls, get passed up for jobs or promotion and bear the brunt of “short guy” jokes. A mere few inches makes a world of difference in one’s self esteem and standing in society. We are as a species programmed to appreciate and admire what is tall, it is a ubiquitous fact with few exceptions. Short guys get the short end in life.

Since I first started getting conscious of my height in “High” School (no pun intended), I found ways to compensate. I played Rugby in my senior year because in my book Rugby was a man’s game played by real men. It was in my view the only true football code, soccer being a distant second because of skill. What better way than to prove my manliness than by playing Rugby?

The Pocket Rocket

My speed and agility on the field had me playing on the wing and I was also used as a Scrum Half and egged on by my team mates, “go for their ankles Pocket Rocket!”. My aggression was noted and in the last games of the season I was moved to Full Back as I was fearless in taking down much larger guys or picking up a ball and taking it all the way for a try. I was by far the smallest guy and weighed around 127 pounds, yet I was warned on several occasions to tone down my aggression or face the sidelines.

In the Army I chose the Infantry despite the jokes about my height not being adequate to get over the wall on the obstacle course. I was recommended for the Armor Branch where short guys are stuffed in to Tanks and Fighting Vehicles. In order to pass the Infantry course you had to negotiate a grueling obstacle course with weapon and webbing within a time limit. No small feat when you are shorter than everyone else and have to scale walls. I figured being a Grunt was what real men do.

In my unit I worked as hard, if not harder than anyone else refusing to let my size be an excuse. Coupled with my growing taste for alcohol I became immersed in the culture of “train hard, play harder, fight easy”. This was all to compensate for my insecurities and fears. I needed to feel accepted and fought the cruel joke God had played, handing me a sorry childhood and adding a small body as an insult.

Never to be outdone by my taller and bigger peers I would hit on the hottest and tallest girls in the bars and night clubs. Mostly my advances would be rebuffed but short guys know they can’t win the “tall gene” stakes so we go play the “hearts and minds” game. Fueled with alcohol and a cocky self confidence, I would either charm or amuse my targets in to submission. My friends would stare in wonder. Women would call me “cute”, it drove me nuts but who cares? All is fair in love and war. “Good things come in small packages”; I used that line more times than I care to remember. It worked.

Look at me. Judge me by my size do you?” – Yoda

Doesn’t Measure Up

As an alcoholic however I was no good at appreciating proportionality. For me it was “all or nothing”. Moderation was not part of my vocabulary, not in drinking or in anything else. There was no such thing as stopping at one or backing down. Drunk and faced with a larger opponent, I would go for the knees, never letting my size dictate my fighting weight. I would compensate by fighting dirty.I would more often than not be beaten in to the ground.

When I tried to stop drinking I would find that I needed to take out my excesses elsewhere. Addiction has a wide scope and rather than seeking temperance in all things I would simply seek to substitute one vice for another. In any case I would soon return to the booze and drink volumes that belied my stature and eventually left me drinking alone.

There is nothing more pathetic than a drunken fool. The image is even more pathetic when that drunken fool happens to be pint size. Like my father before me I started to lose weight and muscle mass as my drinking progressed and I neglected my health. My clothes hung off me, my skin tone was unhealthy and I regularly sported a three-day stubble and pair of blood shot eyes. I was lecherous and repulsive. My personality became progressively worse. I was bitter, angry and hateful and mostly with myself.

Learning to Stand Tall

One of the wonderful facts of recovery is acceptance. Not only do we accept that we have a disease and see the need to surrender our attachments and let them go, we also begin to accept ourselves, warts and all. We learn to accept and appreciate our entire being, mind, heart, soul and body.

In accepting who we are inside and out we also accept other people. We stop condemning ourselves and we stop comparing with others in order to feel better. Our focus becomes more inward, we lose the need to rely on external factors to make us feel complete. In short, I stopped feeling inadequate for being short. I started to accept and learned to embrace it. I learned the true meaning of “Stand Tall”.

And well you should not. For my ally is the Force, and a powerful ally it is.” – Yoda

Accept yourself

I started to realize that my body is not who I am. This body is a temporary cloak, an organic structure designed to carry me for a few decades on this Earth. I have learned to respect it more and utilize it mindfully and care for it. My body is on loan to me, invested for a time and it will grow old and one day it will die and return to dust.

In the meantime I treat it with the love and dignity it deserves and maintain it for the gift that it is. Why should I care if I stand shorter than anyone else? Within me resides something which is far grander and far more magnificent than can be imagined. That magnificence resides within all of us.

I still dress to look taller though ;).

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

Fight for your Life

In the Face of Betrayal

When the newly self-crowned Emperor Palpatine gave Order 66 the directive was executed swiftly and brutally. Thousands of Jedi were immediately killed by their Clone subordinates and guards without question or hesitation.  The Temple was razed. The Jedi Order was destroyed and very few Jedi survived and those that did either went in to hiding or left the order for a life as a bounty hunter, smuggler or Rebel and continued to struggle. The Jedi went down fighting.

Many of the Jedi who survived fought their way out as their brethren died around them. None surrendered; all died fighting or overcame their adversaries and escaped. The Jedi endured the betrayal and suffered their fate with valor and courage and yet they refused to go quietly and went down fighting  without fear. They had faith in the Force and did not fear death.

Bravery in adversity is not only a Jedi trait. Although not a Jedi, Chirrut the blind warrior in “Rogue One” called upon the Force to gather his strength as he completed his mission and was killed as were all the other Rebels raiding the Scarif Citadel for the Death Star Plans and the future of the Rebellion. Their mission was a success.

Never say Die

It may not be the plans to the Death Star, but in life some things are worth fighting for no matter the odds. Sometimes it’s no longer important what happens to us or whether we succeed or not but how we navigate through the crisis and meet our end. Its the fight that counts.

All of us are engaged in a futile battle to stay alive. Eventually every single human alive including you and I must face death. That does not mean we should not fight while we can.

The manner that we can choose to respond to each moment is a personal choice. How we greet each day and the manner in which we engage in the struggle for life is entirely up to each individual. We must eventually succumb to our mortal end. The goal is still to live a good life before we reach that end.

Never Give Up

Several years ago I was a very sick individual. I had had a tumor discovered inside my cranial cavity on the acoustic nerve. The growth was non-malignant but due to its mass and location was life threatening and needed to be removed. At the time I was also drinking heavily. My response to the news of my condition was not as I expected, I was scared and upset and all the sudden I was determined to live and grab a second lease in life. I was going to fight this.

The Doctor was very impressed with my attitude but did ponder my “3-5 alcoholic drinks per week” response on my health questionnaire with a raised brow. The Doctor reassured me that patients who have a fire in their belly and a “never say die” attitude to the surgery usually come out better than those that don’t. I underwent the surgery, had the tumor removed, was out of hospital in a few days with severe facial palsy and loss of inner ear, but I was alive and would recover.  After another health scare involving leaking brain fluid I was back to work within a month.

I had won the fight. The surgery had certainly saved my life. I now had a chance to see my kids grow up and achieve my dreams.

Never Surrender

The surgeon was surprised at the speed of my recovery, but then he didn’t know that we Alcoholics are extremely mission orientated and often over-achievers. We are simply held back and held hostage by booze. Our main struggle is with ourselves, we are torn and sway between hope and despair and our response is to resist and fight with everyone and everything. I saw my fight with my tumor as a sign that I had to change and turn a new leaf. Despite all of my goals to grab this as an opportunity to look after my health and become a better person I was soon drinking and worse than ever. The Booze had me.

The same “never surrender, never say die” attitude did not extend to my addiction. Alcohol is where my reasoning powers failed and where the main kink in my armor laid, an Achilles heel. My “Good Fight” did not lay there.

In the end, admission of defeat and surrender was exactly what was needed. I had won against a life threatening brain tumor but lost in the battle against my other disease, alcoholism. Surrendering it to a power greater than my self was the only way out.

Through grace I was freed from my compulsion to drink. My reprieve over addiction gave me a sense of purpose and “quiet resolve”. I no longer needed to fight everything and everyone; I was done with fighting at least the way I had done all my life. All I had to do was take life one day at a time and resolve not to drink and trust in the Force. The fear of death left me and I was determined to live and Fight for Life. There is no going back to what I was before, the Force is with me and I am one with the Force.

I’m one with the Force, the Force is with me” – Chirrut “Rogue One”.

Choose Life

Some things cannot be avoided, death cannot be dodged for eternity, neither can illness or heartbreak or pain, they are all part of the human condition. How you choose to perceive these things and what you intend to do about what resides within your control is largely up to you. You can choose to go quietly in to the night or you can choose to go down fighting. You can choose to surrender to the Dark Side as Anakin and Ben Solo did or you can Choose Life and fight for that.

Perception and the Drama of Life

“Men are disturbed, not by things, but by the principles and notions which they form concerning things” – Epictetus (Enchiridion).

Hardship is how you perceive it.

It is never the event or thing that upsets us but rather our perception of it. The Stoics taught this very fundamental of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy more than 2000 years ago. They stumbled on a universal truth which has been highlighted by Philosophers for centuries and Psychologists for decades, that we make our own reality with our own minds.

The drama of life is often just that, a drama and as Mark Twain said “’I’ve lived through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened.” Viktor Frankl in “Man’s search for meaning” wrote that it was only his resolve to put his reality in to perspective that got him through three years in a Nazi Concentration Camp. Frankl refused to be mentally beaten by the Nazis. Realizing he had a choice, Frankl kept the hope alive that he would survive and see his family again and that conviction kept him alive despite the harrowing odds.

The US Airforce Pilot James Stockdale shot down over North Vietnam and imprisoned for seven years in the Hanoi Hilton where he was subjected to mental and physical torture survived his ordeal in the same way. By applying the mindset of the Stoics he was able to put his situation in to perspective and accept his condition. Stockdale resolved never to give up.

We only get upset by events or circumstance because of our perception of it rather than the reality of it. Our society today expects drama, outrage and accordingly people do not take responsibility for their actions. How you respond to any given moment in your life is entirely up to you.

Order 66

The Jedi were completely eliminated as an Order in “Episode 3: The Revenge of the Sith”. Emperor Palpatine, having ascended to executive power effectively took control of the Galactic Senate and the Clone Army and ordered an immediate putsch of the Jedi under Order 66. Yoda and Obi-wan Kenobi both survived the brutal round up and execution of almost all the Jedi and escaped in to exile and hiding.

Both Jedi Masters accepted their fates but continued to struggle and work towards a re-balance of the Force knowing that in time the prophecy would be fulfilled. After having been at the very top of the Republics Elite and commanders of the most powerful force in the Galaxy, both Jedi Masters were reduced to fugitives and largely forgotten by all but the Sith. They became a rumor, a myth to all other life forms in the Galaxy.

Despite such a calamity Obi-wan Kenobi and Yoda continued to have an impact on events long after Order 66. They never gave up.

Life on the Merry Go Round

My life was run by complications and drama for decades. I blamed everyone but myself for my predicaments real and imagined. My stupid mistakes alienated friends, family and colleagues and over the years I found people leaving my life. Relationships crumbled or became toxic. I could not hold down a job for long without screwing things up because of my drinking, selfishness, obstinacy and lying. Seeking a “Geographical Solution”, I moved around a lot. From state to state, overseas, anywhere as far as I could to get away from myself.

I would think that if I could move and set myself up somewhere and find like minded people all would go well but I failed to realize that everywhere I went, there I was and over time I would repeat the cycle of a positive start, a slow descent to disillusionment and finally disgrace and an exit. I refused to apologize for my actions or recognize that I was largely to blame for all the dramas in my life.

None of it was reality, it was simply my alcoholic personality finding fault where there was none and managing to take a situation that was in control and messing it up sometimes in a pathetic and sometimes in a hilariously comical fashion. I was on a Merry-Go ride I could not get off.

Setting things Right

As I began recovery I underwent a shift in perspective and started to closely analyze where I had gone wrong in all my of failed relationships, lost opportunities and mistakes. I come to realize where I had failed and where amends were needed. I listed all my errors and faults and the litany of alcohol fueled failures that spanned decades and entire continents. My sprees had had a global reach.

I got honest with myself and with others and where I could I made amends and started to view the world and my place in it in a different light. I realized that I am the author of my own story and I make choices that impact on myself and others and carry a great deal of personal responsibility for my actions. The world is not trying to beat me down and it owes me no favors especially not an apology.

Life is a struggle and that is what makes it so compelling and so beautiful at the same time. I realized that the attitude you take in to any situation largely decides the outcomes. Whether or not you will overcome difficulties or succumb to them is largely a matter of choice. Reality is simply a projection of our minds and the ego will sully our perception and force itself on to who we truly are. Once you realize that nothing can truly hurt or harm you unless you allow it to you start to claim your freedom and find your inner truth.

Gratitude is the Attitude

When things aren’t going well these days I remind myself to be grateful that I am in a position to be annoyed or frustrated. Things could always be a whole lot worse I remind myself. Everyone has bad days so I allow myself to as well. As hard as it can be sometimes, I try to consider the issue at hand mindfully and objectively.

I ask myself is what I am feeling valid, is the situation that upsets me real or an illusion? Do I have all the facts? Is my response proportionate and what is within my control to make it better? I put the event in to perspective and realize that on the balance things aren’t as bad as they might appear.

I take hope in my own recovery and see how far I have come and take inspiration from the stories of recovery from alcohol, abuse, mental and physical illness I read or hear. Not to mention the whole spectrum of tragedies and challenges that confront people every day. Things are not so bad on my side of the street.

I also realize that the common element in all of the stories of Hope and Survival is the innate human ability to find a deeper inner strength to not only overcome but to rise above loss and tragedy and emerge stronger and better.

Never ever give up.

“”Seek not to change the world, but choose to change your mind about the world” – ACIM (T-21.In.1:7).

Luck

“We make our own Luck” – Obi-wan Kenobi

“No such thing as luck” – Mace Windu

The fictional Jedi believed in the will of the Force not Luck. They believed in the existence of fate however the future need not be predetermined. With free will comes the opportunity to create one’s own reality and thereby change the future. The Jedi prophesy of the coming of one who would bring balance to the Force depicts Jedi fatalism but also the power and change that one person could bring to the galaxy through the Force.

Jedi however did not place much credence on luck. They believed that luck alone can not save the day and that careful planning and completion of one’s duties mindfully ensured that desired outcomes were more probable.

Hard Luck

Anakin Skywalker grew up in the chaotic and lawless environment of Tatooine. Luck would have been a big part of surviving day to day in an environment where if Tusken Raiders did not get you, the Desert would. Existence on Tatooine was akin to the Wild West frontier;  Criminal gangs, Bounty Hunters, Mercenaries, Smugglers and Slave Traders and corrupt Merchants ruled while moisture farmers egged out a living from the terrain and tried to keep out of trouble and stay alive. Anakin depended on luck to survive. Much later as a Jedi Knight his penchant for dicing with chance continued.

“Luck of the Irish”

I used to joke that I had the “Luck of the Irish” due to the fact that I had survived many years of drunken misadventures. Fortune had smiled on me; I had not been killed or badly busted up in a fight, blown up or shot, hit by a car, mauled by a Bull in Pamplona or suffered a loss of limb in an industrial accident (although all of these things I had narrowly avoided). I still had most of my teeth, a straight nose, few physical scars and all my faculties and pieces in place. On most nights I could still drink most under the table and my liver had held up to the task. I was thumbing my nose to fate and claiming “luck” was on my side.

An honest gambler will tell you that eventually luck runs out. I had seen my gambling addicted father lose his pay month after month and still be believed that his “day would come”. It never did and he died a broke and broken man many years later.

My day however did come but not the way I expected.  In the span of a few years there were  stints in the Brig, a court martial and dishonorable discharge, run ins with the law, failed relationships, lost jobs, ailing health and a hospital admission in addition to everyday “bad luck”. These were just preludes to the eventual spiral to rock bottom.

I cursed whatever luck I had and damned God for dealing me a poor hand. I believed my “Irish Luck” had abandoned me or become “Mr Murphy”. I never once paused to think that perhaps I had made my own bad luck.

Reality Bites

Living in sober reality is accepting that some things go well and others don’t. We cannot control every single aspect of our lives or expect that things will turn out the way we want. What I have learned is it is not so much what happens to me but how I deal with it that matters.

I can view a bad turn of events as a loss or I can view it as an opportunity. If I did everything I could and things still didn’t turn out the way I planned I accepted that, picked up the pieces, salvaged what I could and went back to the drawing board or moved on.

Reverse Clause

The Stoics believed in the concept of “reverse clause” to deal with obstacles. The “reverse clause” is a back up option; it is the next best thing. In some cases it is the best thing. The treatment is entirely mental as at the end of the day all we have is our minds and the free will to choose how to respond to obstacles and misfortune. As an example if I’m on my way to the airport to catch a plane home and a traffic jam impedes my progress I can only do my best to find an alternate route. If I miss the plane, I don’t bemoan it as “bad luck” and get angry. I turn around and make the best of the situation and try to get home the next day. That’s life.

Despite everything that ever happened to me I still believe that I am “Lucky”. I still have my health and fitness, my career is going well and my family life although turbulent at times is doing well. Looking back at the times when I wallowed deep in self pity expecting life to do me favors, I can say that at the end of the day I simply made my own “Luck”. By working the steps and being true to the principles of honesty, humility, temperance and faith things started to work out.

Things do work out

Every moment in my life led me to this point. Had I never been a drunk and hit rock bottom I would never have discovered the steps and I would never have found Jedi Philosophy. I would not be the person I am today. More importantly, I would not be writing this and I would not be grateful for every sober day.

No matter what happens, fundamentally all is well. I play my part and leave it to the Force to determine the outcomes. Can you do the same or will you rely on Luck?