Things could still be worse

The State of the World

If you follow the news every day you are probably of the view that the world is in serious trouble. It seems that every day we are bombarded with more terrible news from around the world. Some of it affects us directly or we know people involved. News from further afield also touches us. We feel for the people that are caught up in a tragedy, their plight streamed to our computer or television. Their suffering becomes our suffering.

The world seems like a smaller place than it ever did. We are connected through the power of the internet and comprehensive news coverage. If something terrible happens in our town, city, state, country or on the other side of the planet we soon hear about it. Right now there are mass murders, genocide, environmental destruction, natural disasters and famine happening around the world in plain view. The world stands on the precipice of a nuclear disaster, war appears to be looming large as does an array of other global catastrophes. We feel helpless to do anything. Despite all of this, things could still be worse.

 

Reasonable to Good

Despite all the tragedy and calamity in the world we also get caught up in our own personal dramas. Our wants and needs still preoccupy our thoughts. Simple and day to day problems still arise. The car still breaks down, we have crappy days and nothing seems to go right. Except when it does, bad things usually happen to other people. Most of the time they happen to people we don’t know and believe it or not, the news does not cover every instance of bad news. Terrible things are happening right now that will never be reported, that we will never hear about.

That does not mean the world is falling apart around us. The chances of being assaulted, robbed or murdered remain low. Most of us will never be caught up in a natural disaster or a major accident such as a fatal car accident, train derailment or a plane crash. Hopefully, even less of us will be visited by war. Diseases such as cancer may happen but the odds might still be in our favor. Overall the outlook for a positive future seem reasonable to good. The world still has much beauty and peace.

 

Not the End

So why does it seem that things could not get any worse right now? Well they could. It’s simply a matter of perception. Things do not hurt us, only our perception and view of them does. I have heard people, myself included, declare “that’s it, it’s over, my life is finished!”. The reality is it’s not. We could lose our job, our house, our partner could abandon us, loved one’s could die but we are still here.

The sense of loss and grief that is felt does not mean that the world has ended or that we won’t see better days. The sun will rise again in the morning and the Earth will continue to turn on its axis. What assaults and bereaves us today will pass. It may seem hard to accept but it is true. Hurricanes and earth quakes destroy cities and wars upend entire countries, yet people still emerge and rebuild brick by brick. Soon enough children’s laughter can be heard and life goes on.

 

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

 

Life Goes On

The power of perception and gratitude kept James Stockdale alive in a North Vietnamese prison and it kept Viktor Frankl’s hopes and dreams alive in Auschwitz. Both of these men knew things could be worse. They were still alive and they owned their minds. The power of choice over whether to allow themselves to give in was theirs alone.

There are times when fate hands people a cruel and heavy burden. I could not think anything worse than the loss of a child. Yet I know people who have suffered that tragedy and who have come out the other side of hell more appreciative of life and love. They are more grateful for the things that they still have and grateful the for time they were blessed to have spent with their loved one. Life does still go on.

Putting things in to perspective allows us to find our balance. We can grieve and process our loss in a mindful way while appreciating what has been taken away. Loss is a reminder that all things are impermanent and transitory. Gratitude reminds us to value what we have more than what we expect or want. By accepting that life could still be worse we are in a way acknowledging that and letting go of our attachments without devaluing their importance in our lives.

 

Grace of God

A decade ago I was diagnosed with a tumor that resided within my skull. Unlike a brain tumor it was a mass that was non-malignant and could be surgically removed before it did any damage to my brain. At first I thought I had a brain tumor and panicked until the Doctor reassured me that my prognosis was good as it had been found before it could interrupt the blood supply to my brain. So I asked “it could’ve been worse?”, the Doctor replied that indeed I could have had a stroke at any time and lost a great deal of function if not my life, so yes “it could have been far worse”. That experience taught me a lesson. It gave me a new lease on life and a grateful appreciation for everything in it. Unfortunately I forgot that I was alcoholic and soon started the spiral downwards.

Recovered Alcoholic often surprise people with their spontaneity, humor and positivity. Some of them have been through the wringer, they have estranged or lost friends and family members, ruined their careers and lost everything they ever owned and suffered terrible health problems. Yet here they are, laughing and joking and enjoying life to the full. Even bad news seems not to unsettle them. They accept what comes with equanimity and peace. They realize that the only reason they are sitting there is because of the “Grace of God”.

My personal descent in to a hell I call “rock bottom” put me in an emotional and spiritual place I thought could not possibly be worse. The reality was, I was lucky; I found a Higher Power and made my way out. With renewed faith I started to clean myself up and begin recovery by taking the steps. I admitted my powerlessness to act against a disease and I surrendered my problem over to a Higher Power. By surrendering my life to the Force I was able to start putting my life in to perspective and finding that I still had a lot to be grateful for. I realized that things could have been far worse. Compared to others I got off lightly; I still had a family, my job and my health.

 

Leia

Leia Organa is very much the symbol of strength, pride and steely determination in the Star Wars saga. Leia suffered loss in her roles as a Princess, Diplomat, Rebel Leader, Jedi, General and Mother. Her life had been full of personal tragedies and bitter betrayals. Besides the loss of her biological parents at birth she endured decades of hardship in peace and in war. Whether you read Canon or Legends they included the death of her son Anakin and the loss of her Ben Solo to the First Order. She married and separated from Han Solo and then in “The Force Awakens” learned that he had been brutally executed by their own child. Despite all of this Leia never buckled, she never gave in.

In real life Carrie Fisher also dealt with personal hardships and tragedies that most people were unaware of. From an early age she was thrust in to the lime light due to her high profile parents. Star Wars launched her career and earned her unimaginable fame. That global recognition came at a price. Still a teenager Carrie Fisher was in an affair with her co-star Harrison Ford. The relationship was one sided, he a distant lover and she a an impressionable young girl who was infatuated yet awkward about her feelings and embarrassed about her body. She fell in to addiction and depression and struggled with the pain and self loathing that it bought on. The separation of her parents and death of her Father also had a heavy toll on her.

Despite all of the hardship and tragedy Carrie Fisher never wallowed in self pity. Although she had low self esteem she also had the tenacity, strength and courage to overcome her demons and emerge as a confident writer and spokesperson for mental health. She became like General Organa, tough and frank yet approachable and funny. Carrie Fisher had a common touch which connected with ordinary people. She had been through the wringer and like many recovered Alcoholics had a ferocious love for life and a healthy sense of humor born of humble irreverence for one’s own flaws.

The shared beauty of Carrie Fisher and Leia Organa was the knowledge that life is tough and it will get you down. Life can pick you up and throw you down again and again but it can always be worse. How we get through it and come out the other end largely depends on us. We can give up and weep bitterly in the dark or we can stand up and keep going one day at a time, one step at a time.

Despite all the tragedy and evil in the world it is still a wonderful place. There is more good in people than bad.

Jedi are Humble

Jedi are humble, and believe that they can always work on improving themselves.

Jedi are against being arrogant and consider arrogance to be a flaw.  Jedi embrace humility, and do not consider themselves better than others. Jedi don’t claim to know it all, and humbly believe in training and in personal growth.

(33 Jedi Traits)

Often it takes a great fall to build someone up. Arrogance never holds up when it matters. When life becomes difficult and we are presented with challenges that take us to the edge of our limits and beyond it is humility that gets us through. Sometimes the hardest and most rewarding lesson in life is realizing we don’ have all the answers. That we are flawed, vulnerable, fragile and very human.

“Like this cup, you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you wisdom unless you first empty your cup” – Nyogen Senzaki

Zero

In the Army we were humbled during the first days of selection. I remember the biggest and boldest candidates; the one’s with the big mouths and egos to match. Within weeks they had grown quiet. Some had silently departed never to be seen again, singled out by the Training Staff as “unsuitable”. Those that were humbled remained and became a part of the team.

Cold, tired, beaten and miserable and stripped down to nothing we were all reminded that everyone starts at zero. We were all the same, nothing. No one was better than anyone else and as far as the Training Cadre were concerned we were all less than the dirt on their boots until we did our time and proved ourselves. Five months later following graduation the same Instructors shook our hands and shared a beer with us. This is how something is broken down and built back up in to something better. How a cup is emptied and filled back up. The key is humility.

“Throw out your conceited opinions, for it is impossible for a person to begin to learn what he thinks he already knows” – Epictetus

Arrogance

Arrogance is a flaw which is striking and obvious. It demands attention and usually gets the wrong type. Everyone recognizes it and few people admire it as a trait. Most will avoid those that show arrogance. Eventually a tall poppy must come down either through self knowledge or by the will of others.

Add alcohol to self delusion and arrogance is created. Not an arrogance that comes with over confidence but a smug, self righteous arrogance that is built up to put others down so that we may feel better ourselves. It is a house made of cards. Deep down we know it is false. We don’t add up to much and have turned to alcohol to get that feeling of self worth.

“Arrogance diminishes wisdom” – The Clone Wars

The Golden Virtue

Humility is a virtue. It is probably the greatest virtue of all and is the foundation on which all others are built. Many people imagine that humility means self deprecation or putting one’s self down. To do so would be anything but humble. Being humble is having a healthy appreciation of one’s worth and ability without putting one’s self above others. It is being able to recognize that we may be better than others in some respects but that does not make us better people.

We only look down to people when we are helping them up. We never compare ourselves to others in order to feel superior. If we compare ourselves with anyone it is ourselves with who we were yesterday. We can critique ourselves without self pity and recognize our own flaws and work on them. The constant aim is self improvement over time. We do our best but we accept that perfection is unattainable, we can only progress.

 

Without humility, courage is a dangerous game” – The Clone Wars

Keep Perspective

Jedi feel neither high or mighty nor low and inferior. To be Jedi is to simply to live in the manner that we feel is best while remaining true to our principles. There are no prizes for being Jedi as there are no special prizes for being sober. We simply get to live a life style that we choose and which costs us nothing. The reward is a chance of living a good life and having few regrets at the end of it.

Everyone is born the same and everyone must eventually die. When we were born not even our parents could know where we would end up or how far we might go. Of course they cared for our future and played their part but ultimately each person blazes their own trail through life. In death we are as equal as in birth. Our memories and our legacy remain but at the end of the day we all ultimately end up as humble dust. Even our most idolized heroes, celebrities and leaders must one day die and ultimately turn to dust like the rest of us.

“Both Alexander the Great and his mule keeper were both bought to the same place by death – they were either received into the all generative reason, or scattered among the atoms” – Marcus Aurelius

Use Things Love People

Always remember that the adage “the higher you climb the harder you fall” rings true. Through life people are watching. They either want to build you up or tear you down. If our identity and our self worth is attached to our title, our social standing, our inner circle, pay check, zip code or status then it will certainly take a beating if we lose some or all of them through the vicissitudes of life.

We should always recognize that all of these things are largely out of our control and can be taken away at any time. We can be left standing with nothing but the shirt on our back in very quick time. Enjoy what we have, while we have it but be grateful and remember that what the universe provides, it can just as easily take away.

 

“I’m not in this world to live up to your expectations and you’re not in this world to live up to mine” – Bruce Lee

There is nothing wrong with ambition or trying to get ahead. I for one want to go as far as I can in my career and in my personal development. I never want to stop learning and feel that improvement can always be made. There should be no desire to attain knowledge, skills or experience in order to look better than the next person, to feel superior. Those that do eventually awaken to disappointment and realize that they have lived only in order to impress people who ultimately don’t care. We only do these things in order to be better people and to serve others.

If you want to be truly humble; use things and love people. Fill your cup to share with others.

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).