Practice what you Preach

“Prove your words by your deeds.” – Seneca the Younger

The only worth a philosophy has is whether it can be applied in life. If our philosophy can be applied then we should practice what we preach. A practical philosophy means not only knowing what must be done but actually doing it. Without practice, a philosophy is conceptual and not a tool. We can sit in a university café (or online forum) for hours and debate the merits of one philosophy over another. One can bring forward the moral and ethical strong points of their chosen philosophical flavor but unless they have practiced it in real life then there is nothing much to say.

We go to a doctor or psychiatrist if we are feeling physically or mentally unwell. A psychologist or therapist is visited for counseling. Some of us visit a Priest, Rabbi or Spiritual Advisor to help us grapple with problems or questions. Who these days goes to a Philosopher for advice on how to live in accordance with a particular philosophy? We do not live in ancient Greece or Rome where we can engage in conversation with Socrates, Epicurus, Zeno, Seneca or Epictetus. We will not find Stoics, Skeptics or Ascetics to confer with and take away a formula for living.  If I were to walk in to the Philosophy Department of the local University and ask a professor for some sage advice on how to manage my affairs, handle cravings or deal with emotions he would probably not be able to offer anything practical.

The Philosophers

The ancients had words of advice on all these matters. Today we have many philosophies to choose from. The libraries are full or books written by the classic, renaissance, contemporary and modern philosophers. One can easily create an account on an online forum and engage in debate on Philosophy. The Stoics hold an annual conference and a “Stoic Week”*. The event draws people from around the world in an online experiment on living like a Stoic for a week. I participate in the event and continue to apply many of the practices as part of my own Jedi training throughout the year. You only get out of philosophy what you put in.

I consider myself a student of Jedi Philosophy. This means not only do I read widely on Jedi Philosophy but I broaden my knowledge in others as well. I participate in online forums and read posts to understand what other followers of the Jedi path think and how they live their lives.  The fiction is also there to draw inspiration from. Jedi philosophy is a recent phenomena and an evolving trend. The focus of Jedi Philosophy is similar in many ways to the ancient schools of philosophy. Students are encouraged to study and question but most of all to practice what they have learned every day. The Fictional Jedi was all about action and deeds, not words.

Deeds not Words

This emphasis on a practical philosophy for life agrees with recovery from addiction. The 12 Steps is also all about action. By accepting our disease and embracing certain principles in to our life we embark on a program of recovery that requires action. Reading books, speaking to people and attending meetings is not enough. Recovery occurs outside of that, in the day to day things that we do. We commit to mapping our faults and doing something about them. Addressing the past and seeking to make amends. Action includes daily maintenance of our practice through meditation, prayer and study. Service to others is also a form of direct action that helps us.

It is the same for any philosophy. One can say they are a Stoic but yet live like a Hedonist and allow their emotions and desires to govern their every decision. We are judged by our actions not our words. I can not say I am Jedi if I am rude and obnoxious to people, dishonest in my dealings and commit illegal acts like theft or physical assault no matter what the reason. Would I be able to stand up in a meeting and tell people I follow the 12 Steps and the principles of honesty and humility if in fact I continue to drink when I’m not there?

You are the Master

We can argue and debate about how one should act and what one must do to live a “Good Life” however unless we do these things none of that matters. It is only a rhetorical practice. No one is watching us all the time but ourselves. If there is a “God” and it resides within then the old scripture which tells us “God knows all that we do” is true. It may not be some deity outside of us looking down but our own inner conscience. If I question whether I am consistent with my personal philosophy of life usually checking in with my heart reveals the truth. We can fool ourselves in to thinking that we are something but deep down we know we are faking it. We can be dishonest with others, but to be dishonest to our self is far worse.

If I am unsure of how I must think, speak or act in any given situation there is usually no sage standing by. There are books and forums but usually we must decide on how to proceed from advice given in general terms. We must also filter what works for our unique circumstances and what doesn’t. I know what my principles and values are; I know which virtues to practice when faced with challenges. My philosophy for life gives me that tool kit and I decide how to use apply the tools.  There is a general rule of thumb when we get stuck or are caught with our pants down; we can react and possibly go against our principles or we can stick to the basic rule that Marcus Aurelius set him self every day:

If it is not right do not do it; if it is not true do not say it

Jump In

The practice of Kabbalah teaches students to just go out and practice; “first do it, then understand”. Don’t get lost in the detail or the semantics just pick up the tools and get to work. Trying to learn everything there is to know before practicing means never practicing. One must simply jump in. I did not wait to read the Big Book and the 12×12 and a myriad of other literature before I decided to abstain from alcohol, I did that first and then read the books.

At the moment I am trying to learn the guitar. A part of me thinks that I will be able to learn simply by reading the books, understanding theory and watching some you-tube videos. Unless I pick up a guitar and play I will never learn. Philosophy is no different. Even mistakes are useful, in fact making mistakes is essential.

Go out and practice being the person you want to be. There is no need to be a Philosopher or even to have a firm philosophy of life. Simply be the person you want to be and the rest will fall in to place. Practice what you Preach.


Principles before Personalities

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

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

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

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

People before Principle

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

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

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

Drinking before Principle

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

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

In all our Affairs

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

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

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

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