Build Resilience: Be Realistic

Many of the truths that we cling to depend on our point of view.” – Obi-Wan Kenobi

One of the mistakes I made when starting this journey was aiming for perfection. I wanted perfect practice. My principles had to be applied consistently and without fault. I became a religious zealot and almost fanatical in my approach to my recovery. Of course I could only sustain that for a short period of time. I grew frustrated that I could not always get my own way. Resentment and anger followed. I had to learn to be realistic with myself. Recovery requires a “take it easy” approach of just following the process and doing the work. That process turned out to be the gentle Middle Path.

We have to be realistic with ourselves and others. We cannot expect things to always turn out as we plan. Flexibility is a trait of the resilient person. Change is going to happen and you can either resist and fight it or adapt and live with it. Those that are resilient choose the latter.

No one is asking that we like everything that happens to us. Things happen in my life that suck which I cannot change. I have a hard enough time changing myself so what luck am I going to have changing people or circumstances. My happiness and progress in life should be independent of these things. By taking a pragmatic and realistic view we are less likely to be disappointed and more likely to contemplate, accept, adapt and bounce back.

No one can force perfection but we can accept things as they are.

 

Realism

“These thorns are all that is true, life is suffering, suffering is life, be happy with the small things that come to you” – Johnny Clegg & Savuka “African Dream”

Most recovered alcoholics and addicts I have met are realistic people. They can’t afford not to be. They may have spiritual ideas and beliefs but their feet are planted firmly on the ground. Life has made us that way because we lived in an illusion for so long and suffered for it. Experience has taught us the concept of dukkha and samsara. Suffering is life and life is suffering. Good things do come sometimes by chance but mostly through our own efforts.

Objectivity is also a Real World Jedi trait. We take an objective view of reality. Evidence based scientific method with healthy skepticism is generally accepted by Jedi. At the same time we accept that sometimes science has it wrong or lacks the answers we seek. We also cannot know all of reality. There are unknown unknowns and known unknowns. Reality also exists outside of the box of time and space. This we call the Force.

 

What Is

“Your eyes can deceive you; don’t trust them.” – Obi-wan Kenobi

What exists, exists independent of our views and conceptual ideas. A rock exists with or without our consent. The world revolves, the seasons change, things are born and die, a tree falls in the forest whether we are there to experience it or not. The past is gone beyond recall, the future is nothing more than an illusion and all that truly exists is the Now. The Now is where reality happens. The Force exists in and through all things.

Our senses provide us with awareness of the physical world. At the same time our senses are not always right or are incapable of sensing all of reality. We therefore only sense so much. Something deep within us knows that there is more to reality than what we can see, hear, touch and taste. We all have intuition, a knowing and impressions. When we take a moment to absorb a painting, a work of music, a star filled sky, a sunrise or a newborn child, something spiritual stirs within us and we know that we are more than “crude matter”. Our consciousness is present in the moment. We get a sense of a grander reality and who we really are.

 

In a Galaxy Far Away

“The Force will be my guide” –  Je’daii Lanoree “Into the Void”

The Jedi understood the chaotic nature of reality. They appreciated the randomness and unpredictability of events. In order to achieve their purpose they sought to balance the Force within themselves. Emotions were kept in check but not repressed. Opinions mattered but were not accepted as absolute truth. Absolutes were rejected and ideas welcomed and judged by their merits and not by prejudice.

Behind the chaos of reality was the duality of the Force, the energies emitted by the light and dark sides of Ashla and Bogan. The goal of the Jedi was to seek balance within themselves through the Force. By achieving balance they could come closer to bringing balance and harmony to the galaxy.

Those that achieved balance with the Force were united with it. Through transmutation of the physical to the Force they became one with it and achieved enlightenment. This is the Star Wars depiction of transcendence to perfection. It may be fiction but it is inspired by eastern and western philosophies and traditions that we can use in our own spiritual journey.

 

 

The Middle Way

“The Middle Path is the way to Freedom– Rumi

Seeking perfect practice backfired for me. I realized early in my recovery and now in my journey that perfection is a mirage. As we move closer to our idea of perfection we see it begin to vanish or move. Frustration replaces optimism. Fear begins to replace Faith and if we are not careful despair can overcome hope. I had to take the Middle Path and face reality or I risked falling back in to abuse.

Every day I see idealism taking precedent over realism in our society. I have largely tried to distance myself from the toxicity of it on the news and in social media. Dogmatic extremes shouting down rational and reasoned discourse has become the norm in our polarized world. Everything is out of balance. Realism has taken a back seat to extremism and the first casualties in this war have been objectivity, tolerance and global resilience.

The Buddha reminded us that we should all strive for enlightenment for the sake of all living things. Suffering is universal but with the right choices, it is optional. The Eight Fold Path can validate the Four Noble Truths in our lives and lead us out of suffering. At the same time the Buddha admonished those that chose the hard road to perfection. One who seeks enlightenment for his own sake can never find it. The Middle Way gives us a reality check. We can’t hope to progress with no effort or through a fanatical approach. Both lead to more suffering.

 

Transcend

“Luminous beings are we. Not this crude matter” – Yoda

Obi-Wan Kenobi, Yoda, Anakin and Luke Skywalker all transcended to the Force. Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda lived the Middle Path and transcended effortlessly. Anakin and Luke realized the truth more dramatically but it was their final acceptance of reality and surrender to the Force that led to their transcendence and enlightenment. They also chose the Noble Middle Path.

All humans have the potential to become enlightened but very few ever reach that summit of consciousness. Progress not perfection is the key in whatever journey we choose. Forgiving yourself for your mistakes and blunders will build resilience and compassion not anger and resentment. Accept that in reality things will rarely if ever go exactly as planned. We can only control our impressions, thoughts and opinions. What is not in our control is the body, circumstances, other people, money, status and the future. The important thing is using what we have to move forward in the Now. Faith, heart and resilience behind reason may not lead us to perfection but it will take us in that direction.

MTFBWY

 

Further Reading

“The Middle Way: Faith Grounded in Reason” by The Dalai Lama

Resilience

Never give up hope, no matter how dark things seem” – The Clone Wars Season 5 “The Wrong Jedi”.

 

Have you ever seen resilience in nature? Have you ever been in an extreme environment? The scorching heat and aridity of a desert at the peak of summer or the frozen wastes of tundra in winter are places that are hostile for life. Yet return to the desert after a heavy rain has soaked the ground and filled the wadis and salt pans and you will see an explosion of life. Wild flowers appear and come in to bloom and carpet the land. Life emerges from dormant hiding and seeks out water leaving tracks in the sand. Flocks of birds show the way to vast inland lakes teeming with life. In time the heat will evaporate the water and life retreats once again in to hiding. The tundra also shows life’s resilience as the snow and ice melts with the return of the sun. Life endures on this Earth floating in a cold and indifferent space because Life is resilient.

 

Down but not Out

People too are resilient. How we bounce back from life’s disappointments and tragedies reveals just how resilient we are. Like a fighter in the ring we are pummeled and beaten down. We rise and fight back and despite the set backs we somehow emerge at the other end. Beaten and bloodied we may not have won the bout but we are still in the fight for another day.

 

“The art of living is more like wrestling than dancing, in so far as it stands ready against the accidental and the unforeseen, and is not apt to fall.” – Marcus Aurelius

 

Life often does seem like a struggle. The less prepared we are to face the “accidental and the unforeseen” the harder it seems and the longer it takes us to recover. Sometimes life hits us in unexpected ways and we do not always respond in the way we or others expect.

 

Calamity

Jedi are resilient aren’t they? Luke Skywalker condemned himself to self-exile on Ahch-To where he passed the years in remorse and regret. It seems surprising. The hero of Yavin 4, the Master Jedi, takes the “accidental and the unforeseen” so badly that he preferred to isolate himself and ignore those that come seeking his help. It seemed unfathomable that a Jedi Master could lose his resilience. He must have suffered a terrible calamity for that to happen.

I’ve met and spoken to Farmers who have seen their life savings whittled away as one season after another brings drought and a meager harvest. Then a year comes and so do the rains. The heavens open up and the parched earth is soaked. Joy returns at last. The seed plowed in to the dry ground germinates and soon a blanket of fine green shoots covers the land to the horizon. The relief is palpable and once again the loan collectors are kept at bay. Then the unthinkable happens just before a rich harvest. A cold front forms and temperatures plummet. Frost strikes and blights the crop. All is lost and lives are ruined as farms are sold and families dissolved through separation, divorce and even suicide.

I have also seen Farmers who have met ruin pick up their “worn out” tools and their devastated lives and start from scratch. Hope never dies.

 

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal. It is the courage to continue that counts” – Winston Churchill

 

Nothings Final

Who can predict what will happen tomorrow? We like to think that our health, livelihood, relationships and life is secure and bullet proof from “accidental and the unforeseen” of Marcus Aurelius. Yet we know deep down that everything we possess, our health, jobs, status and the people in our lives can leave us in an instant. The only thing that remains is how we deal with the loss when it happens. How do we respond and then recover? What do we do when life has us in a chokehold and we are gasping for life?

Most alcoholics who have been through the wringer of alcoholism will understand how badly things can turn out. At the time few of us realized let alone were ready to place the blame at our own feet. Some of us continue on the downward spiral and never recover. Those of us that crawl ourselves out of rock bottom and begin to claim sobriety claim a new type of resilience. This resilience keeps us “on the beam” regardless of what life throws at us. Yes, we may stumble at times but what is important is we get up and keep trudging forward.

 

“God grant me the serenity”

 

A Spiritual Resilience

We who have recovered through the grace of a Higher Power recognize that our first priority in life is to remain sober one day at a time. We place our problems in the hands of a Higher Power and leave it there. Instead of struggling with the things we cannot control we learn to deal with life by having the “serenity to accept the things we cannot change and the courage to change the things we can”. We learn what is in our control and what is not. Then we get to work and make the change in ourselves.

 

“There are things which are within our power, and there are things which are beyond our power. Within our power are opinion, aim, desire, aversion, and, in one word, whatever affairs are our own. Beyond our power are body, property, reputation, office, and, in one word, whatever are not properly our own affairs.” – Epictetus “Enchidrion”.

 

Dichotomy of Control

With recovery comes resilience in dealing with the “accidental and the unforeseen”. We learn that life is made up of preferred and in-preferred indifference’s that are largely out of our control. Good health, a meaningful job, money and nice possessions and a loving partner are things we graciously accept in to our lives. But we learn to loosen our attachments. All things are transitory and fortunes change. We do not wish ill health, unemployment and poverty, loss and failure on ourselves or invite these things in to our lives but we recognize that they can happen.

No matter what happens we are resilient enough that nothing can force us to lose faith and drink again. We may end up with nothing but we always have our opinions and reasoned choices in how we think and respond. Our perception dictates the strength of our resilience and thereby our sobriety. Like the Farmer who rebuilds we pick up our “worn out” tools and keep working. We never lose Faith.

 

Change your Thoughts

Star Wars provides a lesson in the power of resilience and also the power of Faith. Resilience kept Ahsoka Tano fighting to prove her innocence to the Jedi Order. Faith kept the Rebellion fighting for decades for a cause. Resilience saw the Rebels rise up again and again after every set back and defeat against the Empire. Luke Skywalker stood alone against the Emperor and Darth Vader and he prevailed  because he was resilient and he had faith.

Alone and embittered decades later on Ahch-To Luke faced a moral and spiritual crisis. In the end something drew The Last Jedi back from the shadow of despair and apathy. Luke changed his perception at last and remembered that Jedi are resilient against all adversity. He changed his thoughts and the rest followed.

 

Be Resilient

There is a barren landscape. Nothing grows there. All is dead and gone. A lone tree on a rocky outcrop sways in the passing cold wind. A blizzard is coming. The tree is stunted and gnarled. The harsh environment has made it so. The Tree is also flexible and it will bend in the gale. It will not break. It will survive. Someday the sun will return and it will blossom and flower and grow. The desert around it will return to life because life is resilient. So are we.

Evil

 

The Face of Evil

Supreme Chancellor Palpatine or better known as Darth Sidious is portrayed as an evil character in the Star Wars saga. The very essence of the Dark Lord brings a dark and sinister air to the story. Darth Vader is also depicted as menacing and evil. The musical score which announces the entrance of Vader in “A New Hope” and more recently in “Rogue One” leaves one with little doubt that this is a figure of some dark and diabolical evil.

As children we are taught to fear. Evil is defined as something real and tangible. Our childhood religions personified it in the image of the “Devil” and blamed him for human errors. Evil is given names and made into a label we can assign to almost anything. We are never asked to question whether our impression of what appears Evil is valid or false. Indeed few of us are ever told that we might also be considered evil by others whom stare at us across a social, racial, ethnic or political divide. Should we be surprised? It is human nature. Our perceptions do not make us or anyone else “evil” in reality.

 

Evil by Name only

What is evil? Is it some metaphysical embodiment that exist like some dark mass existing in the ephemeral plane ? Is it something real and tangible which can be identified through empirical science and a dichotomous key? We need not think too hard. Society, our teachers, parents and friends give us plenty of examples to consider evil.

In my childhood I was taught that certain religions and entire nations of people were to be considered evil as it is in their very nature. Communism, I was assured was the epitome of evil spawned by the Devil himself. Of course none of this was correct. I have since learned that a person’s religion, political views and race does not make them either “good” or “evil” by definition. There are preferred and non-preferred indifferences but people are just people. What makes a person “good” is no more set in stone as to what makes them “evil”.

A matter of Opinion

Emperor Palpatine in the true form of Darth Sidious, did not believe that he was evil. The Dark Lord could justify his actions plainly and convincingly. Whether it was a delusion on his part or a blatant lie the (then) Supreme Chancellor Palpatine suggested to Anakin that the Sith were misunderstood and that the polar opposite of the Force is needed to ensure balance in the cosmos. According to Palpatine, the Jedi also could not be considered a true “Good” as the Sith could not be considered a manifestation of evil. Both descriptions were he argued were too simplistic and misleading;

ANAKIN: The Jedi use their power for good.

PALPATINE: Good is a point of view, Anakin. And the Jedi point of view is not the only valid one. The Dark Lords of the Sith believe in security and justice also, yet they are considered by the Jedi to be—

ANAKIN: Evil.

PALPATINE: From a Jedi’s point of view. The Sith and the Jedi are similar in almost every way, including their quest for greater power. The difference between the two is the Sith are not afraid of the dark side of the Force. That is why they are more powerful.

ANAKIN: The Sith rely on their passion for their strength. They think inward, only about themselves.

PALPATINE: And the Jedi don’t?

 

Devil’s Advocate

Supreme Chancellor Palpatine had a point which struck a chord with Anakin. Skywalker had long questioned the apparent inconsistencies and hypocrisy he had experienced in the Jedi Order and had grown disillusioned.  Palpatine recognized this slither of doubt and used it to his advantage widening the apparent cognitive dissonance which Anakin grappled with constantly.

Palpatine was not indoctrinating Anakin in to “Evil”, he was making him look at things from a different angle. Anakin was led to question everything he believed. The end result was that he abandoned the Jedi Order and became Sith. At no point did Anakin declare “I want to be Evil”. It did not enter in to his decision. Anakin was angry and upset and hateful but that did not make him “evil”. Anakin felt he was doing what was “right” at the time. He picked his side and acted out.

PALPATINE: Or so you’ve been trained to believe. Why is it, then, that they have asked you to do something you feel is wrong?

ANAKIN: I’m not sure it’s wrong.

PALPATINE: Have they asked you to betray the Jedi code? The constitution? A friendship? Your own values? Think. Consider their motives. Keep your mind clear of assumptions. The fear of losing power is a weakness of both the Jedi and the Sith.

 

Source: http://swfanon.wikia.com/wiki/Darth_Sidious_(KHS)

Uncomfortable Truths

A concept of good and evil does not belong in a discourse on the conflict between Sith and Jedi as neither concepts exist in reality. Good and Evil is simply a construct that is arbitrarily defined by society at a given point in time. Those that accuse another of “Evil” are often guilty of the same crimes. History often fails to record this fact.

Obi-wan Kenobi also believed that the belief in “good” and “evil” was ultimately a matter of perception and not entirely based on knowledge. In reality the polar opposites of the Force “Light” and “Dark” exist in harmony with each other. A Jedi does not (or should not) believe in “Good” and “Evil” as absolutes or intrinsic elements within a system.

Many of the truths that we cling to depend on our point of view.” – Obi-wan Kenobi

 

 

Horrors

Emperor Palpatine went on to commit horrific crimes with his ascension to supreme executive power and dissolution of the Senate. Order 66 was given resulting in the complete purge and eradication of the Jedi Order without mercy. Force sensitive children in the temple were massacred without pity.

The Death Star was later created to impose Imperial rule on the galaxy. Entire planets with billions of lives were destroyed without warning as leverage or in punishment. The Death Star destroyed worlds to test the weapon. A brutal war of attrition raged between the Empire and the Rebel alliance for decades at an immeasurable cost in sentient life and treasure.

We can argue that the Empire was evil beyond any doubt. Who perpetrates such horrors? The Empire under Darth Sidious was also simply doing what it felt was necessary in war time to impose its will over its dominion and enforce its authority. The Rebel alliance were viewed as terrorists and the Jedi an extinct brand of religious fanatics that preached some fantasy and brainwashed children to their cause. The Republic and later the Rebels also saw their cause as noble and just. If we are objective we can conclude that neither side was inherently “Good” or “Evil”. Such is often the case in war here on Earth. Atrocities and mistakes are committed by all sides.

 

“I’m not a terrorist. I’m a patriot. And resistance is not terrorism.” – Saw Gerrera (The Clone Wars – Season 5, Episode 4)

 

Manifest Destiny

Hitler believed that his philosophy of racial purity and a manifest destiny for the Germanic-Aryan people was “good”. Millions of people embraced that ideology and as a result genocide and horrid atrocities were justified. Today there are few people who would not agree that the Nazi doctrine was evil. Likewise Stalinism is widely considered evil but is still practiced in some countries which are likewise labelled “Evil” by our Governments.

Saddam Hussein gassed Kurdish civilians as the world watched on in 1988. Up to one million Iraqi civilians subsequently died in the two punitive wars against the Saddam regime and the economic sanctions imposed during the intervening years. Again the Saddam regime was blamed for these deaths, making him even more evil in the eyes of the west. More recently atrocities are being committed by both sides in the Syrian conflict.

We decry these acts as “evil” and indeed they are by our definition. Yet if we seek an explanation from a prominent Nazi, a senior member of the Iraqi Baath party or current players in the Syrian conflict we will be assured that the acts committed seemed reasonable and justified to them at the time. At the war crimes tribunal in the Hague most of the perpetrators of ethnic genocide in former Yugoslavia were unrepentant and without remorse because they believed they were in the right. We rarely consider how different our own statesmen and politicians are in their motives for going to war. Evil is something the other side does, we don’t back that team. Do we?

Master or Slave

George Washington kept slaves yet he freed a nation from colonial rule and eventually his own slaves. Thomas Jefferson owned hundreds of slaves and may have even raped a few. Jefferson was also an advocate for emancipation. It does not change the fact both men profited off slavery. We all agree that slavery is vile and evil however two hundred years ago the practice was common and accepted in the very countries that strongly advocate for human rights and social justice today. Washington and Jefferson unlike many other landowners of the time, suffered a degree of cognitive dissonance about keeping slaves. That much is certain. They preached that all are “created equal” yet had people in bondage. Both still accepted that change had to come and dared to rise above the common view of the time and take action to reduce that internal dissonance.

Views changed over time and the emancipation movement grew until slavery was abolished in the United States. Modern day views do not change the past or excuse them. We can only learn from history and avoid judgment using the standards of our day over times and people we will never entirely understand. By our standards that Washington and Jefferson were slave owners is clearly objectionable today but few would dare call the revered founding fathers “Evil”. In their day, both would have been considered remiss by their associates and peers not to have carried slaves. Let us not forget that the Native Americans like indigenous populations everywhere also suffered terribly under a doctrine of racial supremacy and industrialization “at all costs”.

 

For if one shows this, a man will retire from his error of himself; but as long as you do not succeed in showing this, you need not wonder if he persists in his error, for he acts because he has an impression that he is right” – Epictetus. (Discourses, II.26)

 

Framing Reality

Psychologist use the word reification to describe the apparent human need to embody inexact human traits in to an independent and metaphysical symbol. “Evil” is seen as “out there” when actually it is just people doing really bad things they rationalize as “right”. Failure to recognize wrong or to justify actions that could be deemed morally wrong or even “evil” is sometimes called rationalization. It is not that people are blind to wrong but they can frame it differently and convince them selves that what others might consider to be  wrong or “Evil” entirely justifiable if not “Good”.

Psychologists also point out that reification allows people to justify singling out groups of people, organizations, religions or entire races or countries as “Evil”. I know white people who grew up in apartheid South Africa. They recall the lessons in race they received as part of the mandatory curricula in school. Black people they were taught were a lesser race, not because they were bad people but because they were considered genetically and physiologically inferior. Black people it was argued could not help it as they are born that way.

Entire generations of white South Africans have since realized that this form of reification was completely wrong and engineered by a regime desperate to remain in power out of fear of what would happen if black people were allowed to gain majority rule. The regime rationalized that their theories on race were correct and segregationist policies justifiable. Even the most intelligent and rational human being would accept this ideology. Many Governments survive by creating an imaginary foe or enemy that threatens the common good. At the same time they use the psychology of fear to breed division. Our differences rather than our commonality are used to control us and dehumanize people who are no different to us.

 

Be Rational don’t rationalize

Rationalization diminishes the extremely uncomfortable association with cognitive dissonance. It allows us to be manipulated and to manipulate ourselves. Cognitive Dissonance is the feeling you get when you know what you are doing is wrong but you can’t or won’t stop it. Your actions or behavior are contrary to your belief system or set of personal values and principles. This creates an inner tension and conflict. People will rationalize their behavior in order to reduce that tension. For example a rapist will convince himself that women “want” to be raped and will use reification to convince himself that all women are inherently “loose”.  A Nazi will reify Jews as some sort of global cabal bent on world domination. Rationalization then further demonizes Jews to the level of subhuman and justifies the use of violence against innocent people.

Rationalization and reification can be used to create almost any paradigm the human mind desires and justify almost any means to an end. Almost anyone can be turned in to a pariah and labelled as Evil. Certainly the world has seen megalomaniacs, psychopaths and narcissists commit atrocities and horrific crimes. Are these people actually “Evil” or are they just sick? Do they fail to grasp reality as the vast majority do? Why do some of these people assume positions of power and are able to direct society toward their view and gain widespread support if not quiet acquiescence from the masses for their actions?

Dealing with the Dark Side

How do we deal with this “dark side” of human nature? Do we destroy “Evil” people only to see another rise up and take his or her place? Should we pity them and try to rehabilitate and reintegrate them into society? Is forgiveness and acceptance the key or revenge and restitution? Let us not forget that all of us have a “dark side” but no one gets up in the morning and says “I’m Evil” unless they are severely afflicted with psychosis and delusional personality disorders.

As thousands of “Foreign Fighters” return home to the west from service in the ranks of terrorist organizations such as “Islamic State” in Syria it is a question we need to ponder mindfully. What do we do with these people? People are now asking the question why did this fanaticism, this “Evil” emerge and why were so many seemingly intelligent and talented people drawn to it? As ISIL draws it final agonal breaths another group rises to replace it with as hard and unforgiving a doctrine thanks once again to the actions of western powers that claim to stand behind “universal” concepts of human rights.

 

Ignorance is Hell

We have all done things that in hindsight we regret. At the time we committed the offense we probably had a justification for doing it. That justification may have been largely influenced by personal views and biases that were a product of upbringing, education, peer pressure, experience or even delusions of the mind. Despite our reservations about our actions we would reduce any cognitive dissonance by finding justification no matter how flimsy to excuse our behavior. We would seek affirmation in the world that further validated our views and in finding we would select what to take as the truth, setting aside all evidence contrary to that preferred view. Ignorance trumps knowledge.

 

“There is no Ignorance, there is Knowledge” – Jedi Code

 

The Stoics argued that the concept of “Evil” is too simplistic and an easy card to draw. People are not born evil and are not evil by nature. Acts that appear “evil” are rooted in ignorance or as the Stoics believed lack of wisdom. The Stoics also believed that the only “good” were “virtues” such as justice, courage and wisdom. Evil acts are therefore the product of lack of wisdom. Ask any perpetrator of “evil” acts for a justification of their actions and they will affirm that they were right and refuse to accept an alternate view. The person may be otherwise intelligent and articulate but within them resides an impenetrable wall which refuses understanding and forgiveness and is mired in a deep rooted conviction in the righteousness of their cause. Hitler, Saddam Hussein, Kaddafi and Pol Pot are among a parade of despots and dictators through history who were all highly intelligent but suffered from this mental deficiency. Is it right to call them “Evil”?

 

There is only one good, knowledge, and only one evil, ignorance.” – Diogenes Laertius

 

 

Taming the Beast

What keeps most addicts in abuse? You guessed it rationalization.  Alcoholism can lead people to do horrific things. Should we call them “Evil” or merely sick and ignorant? As an alcoholic I used reification and rationalization to justify my actions and reduce my own cognitive dissonance. The beast was given free reign. I did some bad things but do not consider myself “evil” then or now. I do not claim to be “good” either.

Consider the process of recovery is the progressive reversal of an insidious disease using a spiritual remedy. When an alcoholic or addict accepts that she is afflicted with a disease that is reversible but incurable there is a move from ignorance to knowledge. When  that addict also recognizes their faults and accepts their part in the damage their actions have caused others they move further along the trajectory from ignorance to knowledge. By taking responsibility for her actions and seeking to make amends she is proving that knowledge can be converted in to action. Those around her begin to realize that what appeared to be a “lost hope” can be saved and forgiven. People can climb out of the pit they dug themselves in to and bathe in the light of the world once more if they find a spiritual cure.

 

A spiritual solution

I take comfort in the promise that with enough practiced principle and a solid spiritual foundation a relapse into active abuse and destructive behavior is  unlikely. Cognitive dissonance is reduced. To quote someone in  a 12 step meeting, “it’s impossible to get blissfully wasted and turn in to an asshole with a head full of program”. If we adjust our mind away from the patterns of thought that we grapple with, our actions will eventually align with our beliefs. Cognitive dissonance through knowledge and honestly makes it hard for us to think one way and act another. With the Force behind us it’s even harder.

“Evil” may be nothing more than a temporary affliction requiring a spiritual cure. Remember that before judging others and condemning them as “Evil”. Like Anakin, we all have a dark side that can come out to play if we let it. If we convince ourselves enough that what is false is true we open ourselves to error and very bad decisions. Only knowledge and virtue prevents that. We should be Jedi and be forgiving of others as we are self forgiving but also accept only what is true. We should seek to understand before we judge others. By accepting ignorance we are not “Evil” but we may allow “evil” to perpetuate itself in ways we cannot foresee or imagine.

InnSaei

I recently watched the documentary “InnSaei” on Netflix. InnSaei means intuition in the ancient Nordic language of Iceland. The literal translation of the word is “the sea within” and it can also mean to “see within” and to “see from the inside out”.  The word describes the human ability of being able to sense things from deep within, to perceive and understand the world beyond our five senses and rational mind.

The ancient Icelandic society was based on a maritime culture. The sea and the spiritual connection of the Vikings to it influenced their view of the world. Other ancient cultures had their own deeper understanding of reality and connection with nature. The Polynesians for example roamed the Pacific Ocean without the use of navigational tools other than maps made of sticks. The Australian aboriginals crossed the vast deserts finding water holes and direction by following the stories told by their ancestors in the dreaming and passed down. People had a strong sense of place which transcended logic and relied heavily on intuition and a spiritual connection to the land, sea and stars.

 

Intuition in a Left Hemisphere World

Everyone has intuition but few people can harness the potential power that it offers. Modern Western society is heavily reliant on logic and the application of objective reasoning. Our society favors the left hemisphere of the brain. The rational side of the psyche and the ability to accumulate knowledge and process data is preferred.

The right side of the brain is the center of intuition. It is where our ability to imagine and view the abstract and intangible resides. Creativity and spirituality as well as a deeper sense of reality originate in the right hemisphere. The “soul” of our character resides there. Combined with the rational left hemisphere the brain uses 98% of its mass to process the information and stimuli which the remaining 2% uses in all of our cognitive functions. The brain is a balanced organ, the left and right sides functioning in harmony to create the person you are. We are using a fraction of our capacity as human beings.

 

Rose Colored Glasses

Humans are less intuitive than ever before. The world is a different place now than it was in the past. Today we are bombarded with information and constantly distracted. The amount of data and stimuli processed by the average person who is connected to mass media and communications is staggering. This does not mean people are more intelligent or happier than they were in the past. The opposite is true. Humans are less connected in a tangible sense and more disconnected from their authentic selves and others. Wisdom is vanishing and being replaced with information overload. As a result people feel more alienated, less empowered and lost. Most don’t even know why and fall to drugs, alcohol and rampant consumerism to fill the void.

Sometimes it is also easy to feel that sobriety fails to deliver a perfect or fulfilling life. Being sober does not create an ideal utopia internally or externally. What it does do however is awaken intuition. We feel more aware of our surroundings and are more in touch with reality. The rose colored glasses that we wore as we were whistling in the dark of alcoholism are removed. Some of us land heavy on our feet. We have awoken from a slumber and before us lay the wreckage of our past and an uncertain future. All we have is this day, this moment to live.

Being intuitive is being in tune with the moment and everything that surrounds us. It is being able to imagine a transcendent state while keeping our feet planted firmly on the ground. Intuition is an inherent part of our psyche, a sixth sense that helps us function in this plane. It is the inner voice yearning to be heard. Combine intuition with experience, reason and logic and you ultimately have wisdom.

 

 

Blinded Jedi

The fictitious Jedi were intuitive. They could sense trouble before it appeared. To “sense a disturbance in the Force” was a highly tuned intuition at work. The Jedi could go further and apply the skill not only in their appreciation of others and assessment of situations but also in light saber fighting. To be effective in light saber, a Jedi had to be highly intuitive and be able to “sense” where an opponent would strike next. The Jedi had to fight as a combined physical, mental, emotional and spiritual unit completely in harmony. A light sabre duel was a battle that tested the intuitive power as well as skill, wit and “sangfroid”.  This is why is symbolizes the Jedi.

By sharpening their sensing skills with the use of a training helmet that blocked out vision and encouraged reliance on the Force, the Jedi were using intuition to act and counter a laser fired from a training aid. Over time the skill became so ingrained and refined that the light sabre could be used to deflect laser bolts fired from blasters back on to the enemy. The Jedi were able to close in with their opponents, evading laser bolts with nothing more than an ancient weapon and a use of their intuition and training.

 

 

Lead the Tail

Our intuitive powers may not be so sharp as to give us super human power but we can still make use of our intuition. To be Jedi is to use objectivity in dealing with perception but we should also use and trust our intuition. Emotions can often cloud our mind so we treat them mindfully. Passion is tempered in to something useful and constructive rather than being the “tail that leads the dog”.

With a heightened intuition we are more aware. Problems do not trouble us as much. We tend to find solutions without struggle. Relationships improve as our empathy and understanding of others improves. Self knowledge becomes broader and deeper. Not only do we know ourselves better but we know our selves in ways that evaded us before. We can anticipate life better and thereby our response to it. In the past we were uncomfortable in our own skin, now we are at ease with who we are. Every day we extend the boundaries and surpass our limits. Constantly improving we are able to redefine our own “impossible”. Decisions become more fluid and confident as we are able to blend calm logic with intuition. We are surer of ourselves.

Intuition becomes a big part of how we make decision and use our judgement. Sometimes we get our “gut feel” wrong but the more we use that inner compass the more skillful we are at applying it. With time and practice we are able to distinguish between subconscious bias and intuition which speaks to us at a much deeper level. Our Innsaei begins to speak to us as it spoke to the Vikings, the Islanders, the Aboriginals on Earth and the Jedi in the Star Wars Universe.

 

 

Sharpen Up

Five ways to improve and sharpen your intuition:

  1. Meditate: A formal practice of meditation clears the clutter and noise from the mind and allows ideas and thoughts to emerge which are fresh and unpolluted.
  2. Practice mindfulness: Be fully aware of your thoughts and actions as well as the sensations in your body. Listen to your gut as much as your logic and reasoning. Avoid jumping to conclusions or making rash decision. Intuition is not rushed or charged with emotion.
  3. Know the difference: Differentiating between bias and intuition can be difficult. If we encounter a guy who is 200 pounds, covered in tattoos and piercing and has a big beard our first impression might be negative. Then we find out he is a genuinely nice and generous guy who has a heart of gold. The initial impression was shallow bias, intuition means spending a bit of time to “suss” out people before tainting them with a lable based on stereotype or prejudice. Never judge a book by its cover.
  4. Spend time in nature: Reconnecting with nature re-awakens our intuition. Hunters and fishermen know this very well. As a surfer I can not stress the impact of nature on the psyche. A surfer is in tune with the ocean, she can sense the rhythm of the swell and anticipate how a wave will evolve, form and shape. It’s deeper than knowing, the ocean speaks to them. I know surfers who can sense when danger is about and will egress from the water finding our later that a shark was spotted close by.
  5. Trust your intuition: Sometimes we get a strong pull one way or another yet we ignore it. Later we realize our intuition was trying to tell us something. As a Medic I used to assess patients all the time. My questioning would provide answers that would direct my assessment and formulation of a treatment plan. I would dismiss a bit of epigastric pain as bit of indigestion and be ready to send them away but something would nag at me. Just to be safe I would apply a 12 lead ECG and probe further and realize that the person was having a silent MI (heart attack). “Gut Feel” in combination with good medical knowledge, experience and training is a valuable asset for Doctors, Nurses and Paramedics. Ignore your intuition at your own peril!

Common Sense

Source: Pinterest

The Uncommon Trait

“Common sense” is a term used to describe the application of reasoning and good judgement in one’s life. The way is seen as the most obvious and most applicable in most circumstances. In other words the approach most people would choose in taking a course of action. Human nature would be the guiding principle.

At the practical level common sense denotes behaviour which supports well being. For example most people wouldn’t use a blow dryer while taking a bath. Any one with common sense would not hand their credit card details to someone on the phone claiming to work for the IRS. Common sense prevents us from making some obvious and stupid mistakes.

Unfortunately “common sense” seems to be less common in the world than one would expect. It seems to be the exception rather than the rule. We all make some whopping mistakes and foolish blunders that defy common sense and leave us and others wondering what went wrong.

 

“Never tell me the odds” – Han Solo

 

In the Day

I have spent years working in high risk and hazardous environments both in the military and in the primary industries like farming, logging and mining. Years ago everyone relied on a fair degree of common sense to stay safe. There were basic safety rules which were cardinal and reinforced. If a person was a hazard to himself or others he usually got moved on before he killed himself or someone else.

Common sense was the vernacular of the old timers it was a skill passed down and respected by the younger generation. Ultimately you either had it or you didn’t.

 

Common sense is genius dressed in its working clothes.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

Not so common

In recent times “common sense” has been pushed out with the old timers. Safety has bought in safe systems of work underpinned by procedures, supervisor training, lead and lag indicators and micromanagement. Common sense is viewed as dated concept that doesn’t work. People can’t be trusted to use their own judgement and think for themselves.

Employers don’t advertise for candidates who will show “common sense” in their duties. The word is one to avoid using on resumes and in interviews. Never say “common sense” to a safety professional; they will chastise you and declare that it does not exist.

Yet common sense does exist. Most people just abrogate their personal responsibility to others. Blame is an easier option than admitting mistakes. As a result common sense is less than common, it is rare. The most common sense failure is to make the same mistake over and over again. One would think that once or twice would be enough and three times unforgivable but sure enough…

 

Common sense is not so common.” – Voltaire

 

Not so Smart

Most Alcoholics have intuition and many are smart and intelligent. Common sense however seems to elude us. We can be creative and carry “street smarts” to get along but where alcohol is concerned we become experts in a twisted sort of common sense that only enable us to get drunk and stay in addiction.

Our attributes of dishonesty and selfishness enable us to find ways to get drunk in the most devious and creative ways. We hide bottles in unusual places. I have kept stashes of booze around the house and forgotten where I put them. I have hidden liquor in empty shampoo bottles. We have told the most plausible lies and staged the most elaborate ruses to get drunk even when we were isolated from alcohol or barred from drinking.

 

By any Means

Prisons are porous; drugs, tobacco and alcohol still flow in. I managed to spend a bit of time in the Brig for AWOL among other offenses mostly related to alcohol. The regimental lock up was fairly tight sealed and its inmates closely monitored. We were kept busy around the clock till lock up.

Alcohol and tobacco were strictly forbidden yet I still had more than enough to keep me going while in jail. It took some covert operations type planning and execution and a bit of outside help. The MP’s tried to force me to reveal my method but I refused. Part of the fun was being able to buck the system regardless of the endless hours of digging holes, painting rocks white, parade, pack running and body blows I got for insubordination. If only I had applied myself in life with the same commitment and effort.

 

The three great essentials to achieve anything worth while are: Hard work, Stick-to-itiveness, and Common sense.” Thomas Edison

 

What Works

My skills also kept me out of trouble at home and work years later. I knew how to evade police patrols doing random alcohol checks. There were contingencies in place to ensure I always dodged alcohol screening in the workplace when I knew my breath would knock over anyone who came within five feet of me.

Common sense suggested that any number of means to control drinking would work. Drinking reduced alcohol beer, starting later, counting drinks, pacing, time limits, eating a big meal and snacks, taking vitamins, drinking only organic wine, never mixing drinks, fasting, planning, exercise, meditation, swearing off and taking a vow to name a few. None of them worked. In the end working the Steps and practicing principles worked. It works because it is a common sense approach as much as a spiritual one.

 

Most people die of a sort of creeping common sense, and discover when it is too late that the only things one never regrets are one’s mistakes.” – Oscar Wilde

 

 

Koinonoēmosunē

The Roman Stoic and Emperor, Marcus Aurelius called common sense “Koinonoēmosunē” using the Greek origin of the roman concept of “Sensus communis“. Marcus was a pragmatic and grounded man but also very spiritual. In my view he was the world’s first Jedi. Despite his status as Emperor he did not consider himself above his fellow man. He saw himself as being of flesh and blood and subject to the same limitations and nature as all human beings.

The Stoics believed that all people share a common perception, not only as animals that need to eat, water, shelter, protect their resources and breed but also as a rational human being that act for the good of the community as well as one’s own self. Behaviors that were not ethical in the sense that they did not serve that purpose of personal and common good were seen as contrary to the idea of Koinonoēmosunē. Acting contrary to one’s own mental, physical, emotional and spiritual well being or that of others is contrary to common sense.

 

Applying Common sense

Koinonoēmosunē is exactly what we do when we participate in active recovery and self improvement. We improve ourselves and we aim to help others. Common sense is lived rather than applied on rare occasions. We do not abrogate reason and logic to others, we think for ourselves and weigh up our actions and assess them against our personal values. Responsibility for our conduct is accepted as an unalienable part of who we are.

The goal of world betterment through self betterment is the intent in Jedi action. Therefore to apply common sense in our lives is very much a Jedi act as well.

 

Jedi Method

If we are having trouble deciding what common sense is remember that the fundamental rule is to “Keep it Simple Stupid”. That does not mean that we are stupid but we tend to over complicate our lives and act in ways that do not serve our interests in the long run. By breaking it down and applying the three basic questions of the “Jedi method” we are on our way to applying common sense in our approach:

  1. Intent? Why am I doing them? Does it conform with your personal set of values and adopted principles?
  2. Action? Is it correct? Should I take a different tact? Does it agree with ethical and moral principles? (In other words would it be reasonable for someone else to do it under similar circumstances without having to defend their actions to others later on? Would they be able to sleep soundly afterwards?)
  3. Outcome? What are the consequences long and short term? Do they serve not just one’s self but others?

You ultimately have to decide what common sense is. Just remember that it is not dead.

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 seek Balance

Jedi believe that they need to bring balance to the Force within

Jedi believe that they need to bring balance to the Force within, and not wait around for a Chosen One to do it. If our minds are negative, then the Force flowing through us will seem negative too; our consciousness will seem negative and dark. If our minds are clear and wholesome, then the Force flowing through us will be clear and natural; we will be full of goodness and light. Jedi are responsible for balancing their own minds, so that their minds are clear, good, positive, wholesome, and stay on the light side; this will serve “to bring balance to the Force” within us so that the light side is dominant.

(33 Jedi Traits)

 

Purgatory

The years I spent in alcoholic abuse were a journey through purgatory. Not in the literal sense but at the emotional and spiritual level. Drinking was meant to lift my spirits and bring pleasure to my life. I wanted the memories of my past buried and thought that the escape offered by alcohol could provide that. I was wrong on many levels.

It has been said that we addiction is the misguided attempt to fill a spiritual void in our lives. We seek direction, meaning and fulfillment. In the beginning alcohol seems to provide that and eventually we find that it has led us deep into a dark forest. We either lose ourselves there or find a way out. The darkness takes us or we follow the light out.

 

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

 

The Light and the Dark

Life is an experience that takes us along a wide spectrum of emotions between two extremes; Fear and Love. The natural order is one of opposites; Fear and Love, Joy and Sadness, Good and Evil. When we live in harmony our emotions exist but we choose how to engage and respond to them. We are not swayed by out emotions as much as we were in active abuse. We can know equanimity, peace and serenity.

 

You will know when you are calm, at peace, passive” – Yoda

 

Our emotions can resemble a boiling ocean under a dark and violent storm. We can be tossed about on the waves and pulled under by our emotions of fear and anger. We can also choose to stand like a like a lighthouse on a rock, solid and defiant against the howling wind and lashing waves. Our internal world can also resemble a serene pond disturbed only by the slightest breeze but otherwise calm. We can be the candle in the dark.

 

“It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness” – Eleanor Roosevelt

 

Life is mostly perception. The color and tone of our emotions depend largely on ourselves, not others. No one and no thing does harm to us any more than the harm that we perceive. A serene pond can be calming to some but not to all. Some people live in a perpetual storm. They crave drama and turmoil in their lives and constantly seek it out, creating it in their lives and drag other in if they can. This only causes suffering.

 

Find you Own Light

We can seek inspiration and guidance from those we call Gurus and Sages but the way we decide to live out lives is up to each of us. To blindly follow a message can be as bad as not having direction. A spiritual path is a personal journey to one’s own answers. We are all very much the same but every person is also unique. There has never been a you as you are now and there never will be again. Each of us has our own path to walk. We should only look to others for guidance.

Being Jedi and living sober has not solved all of my problems and it certainly won’t exempt me from life’s difficulties. What the path has done has taught me I always have a choice. I command my own thoughts, words and actions. Do I allow emotions to toss me like a boat beaten by waves in a storm or do I create my own shelter from the storm? Am I the person who loses his mind when crisis strikes or do I stand firm and resolute in the face of adversity?

The path has also given me a philosophy for life. The greatest tool we have is our mind. Philosophy trains both the mind and the soul. The 12 steps remind us constantly to raise to action, to never be idle and to do good works. The Jedi Path pushes us to strive further and to reach the limits of our potential and then go further.

“What shall I find?” – Luke Skywalker

“Only what you take with you” – Yoda

 

 

The Light in Dagobah

In life we face trials like Luke did on Dagobah. We must be willing to confront our doubts and fears and resolve to conquer them. Only by healing ourselves and putting our own lives in order can we start to be of real service to others. There we find our true inner light.

Our goal is world betterment through self betterment. How do we get there? One step at a time, one day at a time and one act at a time. Life is a string of moments, how we decide to use those moments is up to us. We can let the light in or we can choose to shut ourselves of from it.

 

“‘May the Force be with you’ is charming but it’s not important. What’s important is that you become the Force – for yourself and perhaps for other people” – Harrison Ford

 

In all our affairs

“Bringing balance to the Force”  is not just being more mindful of our emotions and learning how to respond productively to them. Finding balance in all aspects of our lives is important for our well being. We may look after our spiritual health but at the same time neglect our own physical well being.

People work tirelessly to help others without expectation of reward and neglect their own needs. In time they begin to suffer ill health and mental fatigue and an emotional toll sets in. Saint Francis of Assisi was an example of a very spiritual man who died because of the extent to which he neglected himself to help others.

This week the world has remembered the Emergency Workers who responded to 911 and continue to suffer. We are blessed to be protected and served by people who sacrifice themselves but we should always also care for ourselves and keep a healthy balance in our lives.

We are only human. Each of us is being comprised of a physical body, a personality with emotions, an intellect and a deeper spiritual essence. One can focus on one aspect of their being without working on the others and soon find an imbalance. Eventually all aspects of our lives begin to suffer. Always seek balance in your life be it work, family life, recreation, service, study and rest. The Force will flow better that way.

 

The best and safest thing is to keep a balance in your life, acknowledge the great powers around us and in us. If you can do that, and live that way, you are really a wise man.” – Euripides

 

Clear your Mind

Sit quietly and meditate on the moment. Allow you mind to go blank of thoughts. Be aware of every tremor and sensation within. Relax you body and take deep breaths and relax further. Allow emotions to gently fade.

Focus on the breath, the rise and fall of your abdomen as you breathe deeply. Let thoughts enter in like clouds, without struggle, without resistance. Some thoughts are light and others are dark. You can watch those clouds pass by and keep focus on the breath. Close your eyes and allow yourself to go in deeper….

Imagine a bight light deep within yourself. See it as a small candle surrounded by darkness. Watch as the light grows brighter pushing back the darkness. The light continues to grow brighter until your entire consciousness is consumed by it.  Open your eyes, how does the world look when you put yourself completely in the moment.

 

The Window

When I started writing this blog entry I was in a negative mental state. My mood was dark and I felt cold and distant to those around me. I felt that everything seemed pointless.  Despite my mood I knew that the feeling would pass. To wallow in my self pity and frustration is a form of self indulgence. Entertaining negative emotions closes us off from the Divine Source. It closes the shutters and draws the curtains on the light of the Force.

I dislike feeling that way. Stinking Thinking was the harbinger of some of my greatest drunks and biggest mistakes. Getting drunk now is out of the question, that has been handed over to a Higher Power. What I can do is choose to open the shutters of my heart.

I can open the window of my soul to a wide blue sky over a green meadow. The sun shines brightly and I can see the divine light of the Force in everything. I can feel that light filling my being. The dark clouds over my soul disperse and the Force touches me once more. I have regained my balance and dark thoughts are gone. The sea is calm once more, it has turned in to a calm pond bathed in soft light. The gentlest of ripples play across the surface as a light breeze passes. Everything is well.

We are the temple which houses a spark of the divine in each of us. Every moment we have a choice; do we shut the Force out or do we let it in?

Truths

Many of the truths that we cling to depend on our point of view.” – Obi-Wan Kenobi “Episode VI: Return of the Jedi”.

The Flatlanders

In the satirical novel Flatlanders by Edwin Abbot we learn how a Flatlander perceives reality in two dimensions and how he reacts to a third dimension when presented to him. To a Flatlander there is no height or depth to anything, everything exists in planar view. It is like imagining what it would be like to be a stick figure on a piece of paper going about its day, having breakfast, kissing the stick wife and stick kids good bye as it leaves to go to work on a two dimensional cart. To the Flatlanders the proposition of a third dimension was preposterous and dangerous. The reality of a Flatlander is hard to grasp as it would be hard for a fish to imagine a life on dry land.

Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one” – Albert Einstein

Our World

What we hold true is largely derived from our cultural conditioning and our upbringing. We were not born with the ideas, attitudes and prejudices that we have. We acquired them along the way through experience and our interaction with society. Imagine the way a slum dweller in Calcutta views the world in comparison to an affluent person living in southern California. Even in Southern California the views of a Mexican itinerant farm hand on politics, gender, race and economic issues are likely going to differ widely to an affluent American living in Hollywood. The perceptions of the two social classes differ because their experience of reality is different.

The divisions that exist in the world based on cultural, ethnic, national, racial, gender and political lines are all illusionary. They exist as conditioned ideas in peoples minds. Alternatives do exist and no one has to believe anything, we all have a choice in what we believe and do not believe. Fundamentally people are the same. They want the same things, to live in peace and security, to raise their children and to provide for their needs.

No one is born “bad” and no one is intrinsically “evil”. No one is inherently “right” or wrong”. People may suffer mental illnesses or personality disorders that are expressed in maladaptive, sociopathic or psychotic behaviors. That does not make them bad or evil. Behavior may be perceived as “bad or evil”. There is no such thing as “Black and White” in a world that is millions of shades of gray.

Dogmas–religious, political, scientific–arise out of erroneous belief that thought can encapsulate reality or truth. Dogmas are collective conceptual prisons. And the strange thing is that people love their prison cells because they give them a sense of security and a false sense of “I know.” – Eckhart Tolle

Then what it True?

Reality Bites

Imagine how life must appear to the “hopeless” drug addict or alcoholic. Would it appear hopeful and optimistic? Or does it appear bleak and a constant struggle? Do issues that concern sober and clean people they know concern them? What is true to them, what appears real?

I recently listened to a radio interview with Chester Bennington the front man for Linkin Park. Chester committed suicide last week; he suffered depression and tried to resolve his battle with drugs and alcohol. In the interview Chester related how he perceived the world, the constant struggle he had with that perception while being aware that it is “all in his mind”. The tragedy is that Chester knew he had a problem and he articulated quite clearly what he needed to do to resolve his perception of the world and silence his mind.

Chester Bennington defined his truth and he articulated his reality. How we perceive that reality, the “world” he speaks of will differ from one person to the next. That is why when we hear stories in meetings we look to relate to the individual. Their story may be like many others but it is still unique, they are relating their personal reality. Many people outside of recovery would not be able to fathom it, they would be like Flatlanders trying to understate “Sphere World”. The interview with Chester Bennington can be seen here. I encourage that you watch it.

In active alcoholism our perception of reality is skewed. In the recent blog entries on Cognitive Dissonance and Motivational Needs we looked at how we struggle with reality and use maladaptive behaviours to facilitate our addiction. We explored some of the strategies we can use to bring ourselves back on course. Chester Bennington provides another example that how we perceive other people, even the rich and famous is often not the way they perceive themselves. To be human is to have vulnerabilities, weaknesses and fears. How we deal with our perpetual struggle for self actualization and transcendence is a battle that largely happens within our own minds.

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

The Illusion and the Truth

On Tatooine Obi-Wan Kenobi had revealed to Luke Skywalker that Darth Vader had killed his father, Anakin. Later on Dagobah, Luke knows the truth about his father and asks the ethereal Obi-Wan Kenobi why he had lied to him. As far as Obi-Wan Kenobi was concerned, Anakin died even before they fought on Mustafa. By falling to the dark side Anakin no longer existed, there was only a pale shadow in the form of Darth Vader.

This was a truth to Obi-Wan Kenobi, it was how he perceived reality. Despite what Luke Skywalker thought, Obi-Wan Kenobi had never lied to him but he had not told him the entire story either. Anakin was a prisoner of his own perception of reality; being Darth Vader was an expression of a falsehood. Is that not a metaphor for a disease like alcoholism? A pathological denial of the truth.

Luke had to go out and face his own fears and seek his destiny. In doing so he redeemed himself and saved his Father. Luke offered Anakin an alternate reality; the Truth. Free from the illusion that had held him captive as Darth Vader, Anakin was able to overcome Darth Sidious and end his own suffering.

Obi-Wan Kenobi was wrong about Anakin, he was still alive. We are often wrong about others and especially ourselves. Our perception of the truth often deceives us but we choose not to challenge it.  We cling to our beliefs even when evidence is presented contrary to our view point. No one likes to admit that they are wrong but the first step in recovery is admission. In order to admit we must first look in the mirror and see things as they truly are. Then we must take Action.

From here on out, there’s just reality. I think that’s what maturity is: a stoic response to endless reality. But then, what do I know?” – Carrie Fisher

Problems

The Best Botanist on the Planet

“The Martian” with Matt Damon is about an astronaut Mark Whatney who is left marooned on Mars after his team leave him behind presuming him to be dead. I watched intently looking for something that I could take from the film beyond 2 hours of entertainment. The movie is after all about a Scientist, more specifically a Botanist, who survives some 549 sols (565 days) on Mars. How does he do that? He solves one problem after the other and later shares his Philosophy:

At some point, everything’s gonna go south on you… everything’s going to go south and you’re going to say, this is it. This is how I end. Now you can either accept that, or you can get to work. That’s all it is. You just begin. You do the math. You solve one problem… and you solve the next one… and then the next. And If you solve enough problems, you get to come home.”

That was the take home message right there. If you solve enough problems you get to come home.

One of the things that will unhinge an alcoholic is problems. Dramas seem to pop up one after the other. As soon as one is resolved, another jumps up in its place to test our patience and ultimately our sobriety. This week for example I’ve dealt with a string of nuisances and annoyance one after the other. I’ve watched myself get worked up with amusement and a little concern. In my drunken years I would’ve tossed the lot aside and found a drink instead.

The Over-Watcher

Wait a minute? How can I be watching myself? Everyone has a silent over watcher. Call it the conscience, he was the guy that was watching on with sadness when I used to get messy drunk and roll from one disaster to the next as I tore through peoples lives like some drunken whirlwind. He’s still there, but I listen to him more and more and I’m beginning to think he sounds and acts a lot like Matt Damon when he’s not sounding like Obi-Wan Kenobi.

The guy is my guardian Angel and he’s a problem solver. I’m beginning to morph in to that guy. That is, I’m growing up at last.

You see like Mark Whatney, I solve problems now rather than let them get to me. I have to in order to live. The choice is clear. Either let things get to you and roll over you or “get to work”. Do what you can with your mind, your two hands and whatever tools you have at your disposal. Do the math, hit the floor and give it a shot.

Problem or Opportunity?

The beauty of life as a sober person is you know that things can always be a hell of a lot worse. Things can also “go south” fast and in a big way. In one scene on “The Martian” you would think that Mark Whatney would give up. He doesn’t, he loses it big time for a moment and pounds the roof of the Mars Rover and screams in frustration a lot and then…you guessed it…he gets to work. Mark goes to Plan B and gets on with it.

The Jedi also thrived on unpredictability. They would adapt to the circumstances and solve the problems; there was always a Plan B. If your mind is on solving the problem you don’t have time for self misery, you don’t have time to think about how bad things are. You are too busy to despair. This is one of the reasons in the Army we were forever kept busy, a Soldier with something to do will have his head where it needs to be, not in the pity pot.

Perception also has a lot to do with how we handle problems. Can you remember what tipped you over last week? Probably not. The truth is, most situations are only a problem if we let it be one. Many can in fact be opportunities, even if its just to practice principles.

Every problem is an opportunity in disguise.” – Benjamen Franklin

Get to Work

My sobriety is a daily reprieve only. It is contingent on the maintenance of my spiritual condition. My sobriety is not a “Get out of Jail Free” card from Life’s problems. We are not exempt. I no longer have the excuse that stuff is “not my problem”. When things “go south” I can’t say “not my job” anymore. I must simply get to work and use it as an opportunity to beat the odds, solve the problems and get home. I already have practice, like Mark Whatney I’m a survivor.

Personal Dagobah

Only what you take with you” – Yoda

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Yoda and Luke Skywalker (The Empire Strikes Back)

Hell is an Illusion

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

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

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

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

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

This too shall pass” – Sufi saying.