Appearances

“Size matters not.  Look at me.  Judge me by my size, do you?” Yoda

Who am I?

Image is important. People spend a lot of time trying to define who they are to the rest of the world. People seek identity through the clothes and symbols that they wear and the appearance that they keep. Like-minded individuals are drawn to each other and reaffirm their identity through the validation of others. Individuals will carefully choose and calibrate their appearances, their possessions and who they associate with to reflect their own sense of identity. Hair styles, body image, jewelry , tattoos are chosen to clearly state what is important to the person and how they want to be perceived. However are we really all of these things? Do external appearances really define who we are?

 

Trust not too much to appearances” – Virgil

 

The Ideal

Imagine two stereotypes. Firstly imagine a Jedi. What do you imagine a Jedi to look like? A Jedi might appear in your mind as Obi-wan Kenobi or Luke Skywalker. They wore Jedi robes or a black tunic of the type that Luke wore in “Return of the Jedi”. At the belt or in hand is a Light saber. Ignited the Light saber glows blue or brilliant white. The Jedi appears in excellent physical condition and radiates quiet confidence and purpose. Because of the Star Wars fiction we have come to expect Jedi to appear in a certain form and act in a certain way. When they don’t our perceptions are challenged and we either reject that image or explore and then accept the new “ideal” of what a Jedi should look like on the big screen.

 

You don’t have to look tough to be tough”. – Ahsoka Tano

 

Ahsoka Tano had a hard time convincing many of her abilities and worth when she first appeared in the Clone Wars ready for battle. She did not fit the Jedi stereotype with her small stature and young appearance. Neither did the enigmatic Jedi Master Quinlan Vos with his irreverence and laid back disregard for dress code and protocol.

 

Well, Quinlan Vos has that effect” – Obi-wan Kenobi

 

It is not the uniform or the Light saber that makes the Jedi. These are symbols that belong in the fictional realm. What makes the Jedi is being, not appearance. Being Jedi comes from within. Intent, commitment, discipline and action are words that define a Jedi in the Real World.

 

Terminally Unique

What does an alcoholic look like? Some people would describe a skid-row drunk character taken out of a photo from the Great Depression. A lean body with a gaunt face. Thread bare clothes and old worn out shoes. Hand clutching a bottle in a brown paper bag.

A man down on his luck and living on the street. Another stereotype might be the high functioning type with an office job. Deep lines mark his face. There is worn out look in his eyes and a two day growth. A perceptible tremor in his hands. It might also be the harried housewife dropping her kids off at school barely able to control her nerves. Her make-up hurriedly applied is unbecoming and her voice is raw from drinking. It could just as well be The Teacher that welcomes the Mothers child into the classroom or the Doctor she visits to talk about the pain in her side. Each is terminally unique. Each is also the same at a deeper level.

 

Appearances are often deceiving” – Aesop

 

Deception

I certainly never fit the stereotype of an alcoholic but that didn’t change the truth. Typical of many alcoholics I hid it from others and functioned well enough in day to day life. I made an effort with my appearance. Appearances are deceptive. On the inside I was torn and laid waste. The house of cards was crumbling. It’s no wonder people were surprised when I later admitted my addiction to them. Habits and character traits like obstinacy, dishonesty, belligerency, arrogance, impatience, intolerance and stubbornness did not come across as alcoholic behavior. People look for external signs like a disheveled appearance, alcoholic breath, shaking hands and inexplicable absences or accidents before they draw conclusions.

 

Religion is for people who are scared to go to hell. Spirituality is for people who have already been there.” – Bonnie Raitt

 

 

Recovered

What does recovery look like? It is different for everyone. I can meet a dozen other alcoholics in recovery and note that they look like people I might encounter anywhere. There are men and women, young and old with all body types. Some may identify as gay, straight or neither. Religious and political beliefs vary. Some wear casual clothes, others are more formal while some appear alternative. There are professionals, semi-professionals and the unqualified. Wealthy and poor. All races. There is no stereotype of what a person in recovery looks like. There is something common between us however, something that’s tangible and real. The feeling of a shared experience of survival from despair and addiction.

When I imagine a person in recovery I see someone who is calm, at ease with themselves, humble in their demeanor, attentive to others, honest and forthcoming and less self-centered but also self caring. I see someone who is in some way “spiritual”.  This might fit as a stereotype. Regardless, it is not how many days, weeks, months or years a person goes without a drink but the choices they make every minute and hour of the day which defines recovery. It is not in external appearances but one’s own internal world which defines contented sobriety.

 

Just as a candle cannot burn without fire, men cannot live without a spiritual life.” – Buddha

 

Life as You

You are not the clothes you wear, your hair style or the symbols that you carry. These things may be important to who you are but they do not define who you are. Politics, religious beliefs and philosophies can guide our lives but they are also not who we are. Status, career, profession, qualifications are all labels we value as a society but they do not mark a person as either a good or bad person. You are not your body, hair, image, possessions or ego. All of these things are transitory.  Our own choices and the common flame that burns within us is what makes us who we are.

 

You are not your body and hairstyle, but your capacity for choosing well. If your choices are beautiful, so too will you be.” – Epictetus

Right Effort

 

A Jedi must have the deepest commitment, the most serious mind.” – Yoda

 

Ten months ago I started Daily Jedi as a personal endeavor to progress in my training as a Jedi and to fortify my 12 Step Practice. I never imagined it would require as much effort as it has. It would be easier not to bother and use the time for something else. But where would the fun be? More importantly what would I lose? Without effort and application in action everything that came before leads to nothing. In order to be the change we must do the work. For the work to be effective there must be Right Effort.

Since I started down the Jedi and 12 Step Paths I have become acutely aware that without effort there can be no gains. We can read all the books we like, become informed and educated and have the desire and commitment to change. That only gets us so far. We can make the decision to move forward and put our plan in to action.

 

Faith without works is dead” – James 2:26

 

The Path on the Path

Right Effort is the sixth step in the Buddhist eight-fold path. Right Effort supports the practitioner through every step of the Path. Any serious practitioner of meditation will tell you that meditation takes concerted effort. Meditation is not idly sitting in the lotus position. The mind is ill disciplined and prone to constant interruption by thoughts and images that intrude. A practitioner must apply effort to ensure concentration and focus in applied. Discipline prevents the practitioner from being drawn in to reverie or falling asleep. Thoughts are allowed to pass through like clouds moving with the wind without attaching to them. There is a reason why most people falter in their meditation practice; it is not easy and it requires a lot of effort even though the ultimate goal is effortlessness and realization of the state of “nothingness”.

The one on the path to enlightenment knows that if Right Effort can be applied in meditation it can be applied everywhere else where virtue needs to be cultivated and faults of character discarded.

 

Effort is crucial in the beginning for generating a strong will.” – Dalai Lama

 

 

Starts with You

So it is with every aspect of our lives. In order to succeed in our personal and professional lives we must be willing to put the work in to achieving desired outcomes. Effort must be applied if we want our relationships to work. Our studies and careers will falter unless we dedicate ourselves with effort. We cannot expect to make gains in our physical fitness if we do not put in the hard hours on the track, the pool or in the gym.

Our preference can be to let things slide or procrastinate until our mood and fancy take us. We may not be trying to achieve enlightenment but we all want to be better. Being better takes effort.  The change starts with you and so does the effort.

There is no definitive guide that tells us how hard we should work at what we want to achieve. We can have the support, encouragement and guidance of coaches and mentors as well as friends and family on the sideline but ultimately it is up to ourselves to decide to put the effort in and how much. No one else can or should do the work for us.

As an example, it is my choice to abstain from drinking and follow the principles I have learned on this journey. I can access the help of the sober community and a sponsor, I can read books and practice virtues every day but in the end I do the work, no one else.  Each of us must ultimately decide how much effort to apply in our own lives. Others can show us the way but we do the work.

 

Moderate effort over a long period of time is important, no matter what you are trying to do. One brings failure on oneself by working extremely hard at the beginning, attempting to do too much, and then giving it all up after a short time.” – Dalai Lama

 

 

The Middle Way

We live in a world where many are choosing the easy path. For most there is no choosing the hard road which Roosevelt called “the Arena”. That way is rife with great risk, danger, hard work, self sacrifice and extraordinary effort. Very few choose to take that path but you will meet them usually serving others often to the sacrifice of their own lives. Those that choose what Buddha called the “Middle Way” of the Eight Fold Path see the benefits of effort without the hard way of self mortification or the easy path of self indulgence.

The Middle path requires discipline, commitment and a life time of effort to succeed. In our world today even that is too much for most people. They prefer the “Easy Way” which requires little effort for great return. People want something for nothing. Entitlement, free pass, medals for passive participation and mediocrity have become the standard of the day.

Mediocre effort produces mediocre results. Moderate effort over a long period brings tangible results.

 

Seek Balance but Do It

How should we achieve the “Middle Way” of effort? The secret is in balance and prioritizing. At the beginning of my recovery I was like a Zealot that devoted every waking hour to my practice. I became fanatical and a religious bore. With time I settled down and realized that I needed to relax and take it easy. I began to find balance in my life again and let my guard ease a little.

The unreasonable goal of perfection was replaced with reasonable progress over time. There were some cardinal rules, for example I chose to abide to my core values and principles, perform my daily practices, eat healthy, exercise, meditate and refuse alcohol. I still follow this regime. The fanatical zeal in which I strove to follow the path has been abandoned for something more temperate and spiritual; a “Middle Path”.

We don’t need to break records (or our neck) in our efforts. Which just get up in the morning and do the work. But we do it easy and with purpose.

 

Surround yourself with people who take their work seriously, but not themselves, those who work hard and play hard.” – General Colin Powell

 

 

Jedi Way

Consider the fictional Jedi. Obi-wan Kenobi and Yoda were never so intense and driven in the execution of their duties that they lost their way to destructive emotions like anger and frustration. The Jedi sought balance and harmony in all things. This meant that work was performed to a high standard but a Jedi also took time out to rest and recuperate between missions. If a mission could not be accomplished they learned from the failure and moved on. The Jedi could be playful and engage in fun but were also studious and serious in their studies and training. In my view the Jedi followed a “Middle Path”.

The Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh taught that Right Effort is meant to bring joy and interest not misery and exhaustion. The Jedi exemplified this. The Sith, in contrast, were more absolute and fanatical in their approach which bent them to the Dark Side of pain, suffering and self mortification. Suffering they also had a desire to inflict pain on others.  Choose the Middle Way and surround yourself with those that do as well and you will succeed.

 

The idea of Right Effort is to replace negative emotions with positive ones” – Larry Shapiro

 

 

Philosophy is Action

Philosophy aims for inner change which will over time be reflected in our external reality. When we talk about Right Effort it is not just training harder or greater application in meditation or any other endeavor it is about applying effort to making inner change.

Some of us find it hard to avoid getting angry, frustrated or resentful when things don’t go our way. We can lose patience with people who do not meet our expectations or have not reached our level of maturity. Despite our best intentions we can slip back in to bad habits and allow ourselves fall in to self indulgences which we later regret. In order to change we must be willing to be “on our game” and apply effort in which ever area we wish to change. We want to adopt virtues that are useful and discard unwholesome habits.

Change may require us to “fake it before we make it” for a while but by “acting out” to the best of our ability at least we are applying Effort. We will make mistakes and fall short many times but the important thing is we get back up and keep going. Eventually we become the change we seek.

Why else would we be interested in philosophy if our goal was not to use it to change for the better? For action? Why would we want to do something if it took no effort? Philosophy is of no use unless it drives effort and is translated in to real action through work.

Take action, do the work and harvest the rewards.

 

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” – Theodore Roosevelt

Intention

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

 

Symbols of Intent

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

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

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

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

 

Lethal Intent

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

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

 

Reasoned Intent

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

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

 

First things First

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

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

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

 

Failed Intent

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

 

A Daily Reprieve

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

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

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

 

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

 

Right Intent

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

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

Intent in Action

Intention is flawed if our intent is;

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

To counteract flawed intention one’s intention must;

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

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

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

 

The Jedi Method

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

 

Intent + Action = Outcome

 

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

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

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

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

 

Surrender at Last

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

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

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

Intent is the key.

Our Intention creates our reality” – Wayne Dyer