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

The Dark Side

Jedi believe that there is a dark side but refuse to dwell on it.

Jedi believe that the dark side exists, but refuse to dwell on it, or follow it, or use it in any way. The dark side is a negative energy, also known as the ‘negative power’ or ‘dark energy’. The dark side is considered to be evil, negative, the opposite of good, and is never to be followed or used by the Jedi.

“The 33 Traits of a Jedi”

Good and Evil

In reality nothing is inherently “good” or “evil” there is only the preferred and the non-preferred. Opposites do exist however at the spiritual or metaphysical level. The opposite of Love is Hate and the Opposite of Faith is Fear. All emotions come from a place of Love or from a root of Fear. The Ego creates Fear while the Divine self only knows Love.

In nature there is no “Evil” only indifference. There is no physical source of the human perspectives of “Light” or “Darkness”  in the Universe. The cosmos is entirely indifferent to our existence. Spend a second in outer space without a space suit and that cold harsh reality becomes quickly apparent.

There are two sides to the dimension of the Force and the duality of “Light” and “Dark” polar opposites. One is physical, the absence of light results in dark and the absence of heat is cold. The other is metaphysical or spiritual and is a question of belief. One could say that Fear is the absence of Faith and Hell is the absence of Love.

Dark Side is Ego

My view of the Force is that it is the source and destination of all. It cannot be described in words. The Force is the non-duality of reality and the source of all creation. The sum of the parts and the each of the parts all contain the Force. Life is expressed in the Force.

The Dark side is purely a Human construct, it does not otherwise exist. The source of the “Dark Side” is the Ego. It is made by the Ego. Without the Ego the Dark Side does not exist as it does not represent who we truly are. The Ego keeps us in separation from our Divine truth and in fear. Fear is the tool it uses to keep us there. As previously stated all “negative” emotions are rooted in Fear. The source of all resistance, conflict, denial and competition is Fear.

Negative Emotions

Emotions such as anger, shame, anxiety, melancholy, arrogance, guilt, doubt, distrust and envy are examples of “negative” states of mind which are generally non-preferred.  All such emotions are felt as “suffering” and are derived from attachments of the Ego.  Such states could be called “shades of the Dark Side”.  Extreme and forceful emotions such as rage and hate could be called expressions of the Dark Side. These raw emotions have the potential to be destructive and rarely serve.

“Yes, a Jedi’s strength flows from the Force. But beware of the dark side. Anger, fear, aggression; the dark side of the Force are they. Easily they flow, quick to join you in a fight. If once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny, consume you it will, as it did Obi-Wan’s apprentice.” – Yoda “Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back”.

The statement reminds us to be mindful of our negative emotions. To be human is to have an Ego and to have an Ego is to carry the burden of emotions. In some people there is the capacity to suppress or mask emotions. In rare people there is a heightened state of consciousness which transcends base emotions and replaces them with higher order emotions such as abiding love and joy. These people are said to be “enlightened”. Ordinary emotions are however human and each person chooses how they respond to passing emotions particularly those we refer to as “negative” such as fear, anger and hate. Do we rule our emotions or do we rule them?

Evil is an Opinion

I personally do not believe in a “Dark Side” as depicted in Star Wars anymore than I believe in a place of eternal suffering as depicted in the mainstream religions called Hell. Hell is a choice we make for ourselves through the consequence of our decisions and actions. There is no eternal pit of fire for damned souls other than a metaphorical one.

I do believe however that each person has the capacity to do evil. By evil I mean something that is contrary to both nature and moral virtues common in all societies historical and contemporary. An evil act is usually obvious to the observer but not always apparent to the perpetrator. One only need to search their conscience to decide whether an act is evil or not.

People will also differ in their definition of evil based on religious or cultural mores. For example, some people consider abortion to be evil while others view it as an individual right. The same applies to euthanasia or capital punishment. No person is inherently evil any more than a person is born hating someone.

People do “evil” things, some people may be so mentally disturbed that they appear “evil” and even act evil. Psychopaths and megalomaniac generally fall in to this category. However even the most vile criminal who is sane of mind will be able to articulate the rationale and justification for their heinous crimes. The will to commit evil will rarely ever figure in their decision to murder, rape or molest.

The Sith

The Sith never said that they were evil, quite the contrary the Sith believed they were acting in accordance with their beliefs and to the benefit of law and order, the greater good.

Once more the Sith will rule the galaxy, and we shall have peace. – Darth Sidious

You will find many occasions in the Star Wars saga (Canon and Legends) where the Jedi could be contrived as being the “bad guys”. As a matter of fact many Star systems sought to breakaway from the Republic and viewed the Jedi as an autocracy as bad as the Sith.

you‘re going to find that many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view.” – Obi-Wan Kenobi

Anakin embraced his raw emotions of anger, hatred and fear. He used pain to grow stronger and become one with the Dark Side of the Force. The Sith believed that such emotions that we view as “negative” were actually a source of power. The philosophy advocated the attainment and ascendancy of power at the expense of inferior sentient beings. Evolution applies the same principle without effort, through natural selection. Is it right or is it wrong? That depends on your point of view.

The question is whether Anakin’s conversion served him in the long term. Considering what he lost by turning to the Dark Side and becoming Darth Vader the verdict would be that he suffered.

Heart of Darkness

Joseph Conrad wrote about a man’s personal journey in the “Heart of Darkness”. The story was brilliantly adapted in to the movie Apocalypse Now. Sometimes the Dark Side does overcome what Lincoln called the “better angels of our nature”.

“Because there’s a conflict in every human heart, between the rational and irrational, between good and evil. And good does not always triumph. Sometimes, the dark side overcomes what Lincoln called the better angels of our nature.” – General Gorman “Apocalypse Now”.

I have  seen some of what humans are capable of in the name of country, ethnicity, religion and race. There is a “Dark Side” to human nature. If Hell exists it is in places right now like Darfur, Syria and Yemen.  I have seen it in East Africa and Bosnia. We are essentially animals struggling for survival at their basest nature. Politics, patriotism and religion is nothing more than mind trick to incite people to war and keep us in separation. The Ego also pushes the limits of what a rational person would consider acceptable under any circumstances.

Everyone still has a choice though. We do not have to resort to emotions that make us act in ways we will later regret. We do not need to fall victim to our own personal “Dark Side”. To do so leads to suffering.

Never Forget

In my descent to my own “Dark Side” of alcoholic “Rock Bottom” I was filled with fear and loathing. The wold was a dark place void of all hope, the shrieks of madness and despair echoed within its walls. Nothing less than a complete deflation of the Ego allowed me to emerge and start a journey of recovery.

The “Dark Side” is something that exists in all of us, it is part of our Ego, not some sort of Force that builds and coalesces into energy we can shoot from our finger tips. My Dark Side of alcoholism still resides within me like some twisted beast tethered by a rope, it sits there in silence, watching and waiting for a chance to come out. I know it and it knows me. A cold wind blows and a chill runs down my spine as if I have been brushed by the Dark Side. I can hear it laugh and rage within me. Better not to dwell on it but I never forget that it is there.

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

Perception and the Drama of Life

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

Hardship is how you perceive it.

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

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

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

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

Order 66

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

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

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

Life on the Merry Go Round

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

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

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

Setting things Right

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

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

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

Gratitude is the Attitude

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

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

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

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

Never ever give up.

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