Forgiveness

Image: We can Forgive Lucas for Jar Jar too.

 

The Emperor is not as forgiving as I am” – Darth Vader

 

In the last post we explored the “Abundance Mindset” and how it is drawn from gratitude, acceptance and surrender. By having an “abundance mindset” we come to realize an abundant life. Our attachments to people, places and things loosen. We readily consider new ideas and refuse to be tied down by dogma. Life becomes fluid. Rather than focusing on life’s scarcity we focus on what we have. People who have arrived at a contended state of sobriety will often have an ‘abundance mindset’ that pervades their life rather than a “scarcity mentality”.

However an “abundance mindset” is sometimes not enough. Despite a solid mental and spiritual foundation the past can revisit and turn our lives upside down. Many of us live on the edge of a dark place. We believe our past is behind us yet at times we are haunted by it. Old habits and resentments threaten to ambush us and drag us back in to a pit of self pity, depression and anger. We still blame ourselves and others for past transgressions. This is when we need to forgive most. Forgiveness is the key to our salvation.

 

Scar Tissue

I have an introverted character that is often mistaken for being cold and insensitive. In fact the opposite is true, I am a sensitive person and wounds cut deep. Scars take a long time to heal, if they heal at all. I tend to carry the weight of my history on my back. I don’t forget old injuries and insults. In fact I can clearly recall what was said and done years and decades ago. Old memories of feelings and fear come flooding back. With that hurt and fear comes anger.

 

Fear is the path to the Dark Side. Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” Yoda

 

 

Digging up the Past

Recently I was at a conference where I saw some familiar faces. The last time I had seen many of them was a decade or more ago. When we had last met I was a different person. Alcohol had dominated my life and my relationships. I treated people in a certain way and they responded accordingly. As a result I was shamed or hurt. I reacted with anger and resentment. This of course made matters worse. Ten years or more later I see these people and can’t bring myself to speak with them. I avoided them and did my best to fade in to the background.

Later I considered my behaviour and realized my actions were driven by false impressions and self imposed fears. People generally don’t hold grudges for decades. They don’t have a catalogue of hurts like I do. Whatever had passed between I and these people was in a different life and they (being normal human beings) had long forgotten our petty disagreements of the past. People get over stuff and move on.

I realized that I was largely isolating myself out of shame. I knew the person I had been and did not want to be seen that way. This of course is ego based on fear. Why should we care what others think of us? Should we be paralyzed by the opinions of others? Do those opinions really matter so much that they keep us in doors?

 

It never ceases to amaze me: we all love ourselves more than other people, but care more about their opinion than our own.” – Marcus Aurelius

 

 

Isolating

It suddenly occurred to me that I had not acted like a person stable in his sobriety. I was avoiding people, places and situations because I was afraid of how I  would be seen and treated and mostly how I would react. The fear of being “triggered” by a remark or a memory and possibly doing or saying something that I would later regret paralyzed me and forced me to isolate. Had I hung around and engaged the very people I had crossed in the past perhaps I would have made friends. But I chose to flee, hide and stoke my ego.

The problem of course lies in the failure to forgive. This has held me back for much of my life. As an alcoholic I was reluctant to forgive as it meant dismantling my defenses and leaving me open to attack. I also could not believe that others were capable of forgiveness. How could they be if I was not? If people said sorry it was only words. My cynical and paranoid outlook on life kept me incapable of forgiving or being forgiven. As a result I suffered and hid in the shadows. People were treated with suspicion.

 

 

Making Amends

Step 9 of AA suggests that we go out and seek to make amends to those we have harmed where it does not injure them or others. It is a selfless act. Through amends we right the past, forgive others and seek to be forgiven, if that is possible. We cannot force people to accept our amends. Their response, positive or negative, is accepted with grace and equanimity. Our task is only to do what we have in our control.

In Step 10 we are reminded to appraise ourselves on a daily basis, admit mistakes and make amends where required. The goal is constant and continuous self improvement.

Amends are not just for others. We must also never forget to forgive ourselves. Our lives cannot be held hostage by the mistakes of the past. We acknowledge the past and resolve to learn from our mistakes and not repeat them. The past is neither shunned nor ruminated upon. We look at the past as one glances in the rear view mirror. Regarding it mindfully and occasionally.

Never let the past hold you as hostage in the present.

 

Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery. None but ourselves can free our minds” – Bob Marley “Redemption Song”.

 

 

Emancipate Yourself

Star Wars is a tale of personal redemption based on Joseph Campbell’s “Hero’s Journey”. The theme of redemption is repeated throughout the mythology. We see it in the tale of Anakin, the trials of Luke Skywalker, the adventures of Han Solo and in the tragedy Asajj Ventress and Quinlan Vos. Through forgiveness each of the characters is able to reconcile the pain of their pasts and find redemption and final peace.

Our lives are no different. We are all on our own “Heroes Journey” of redemption. Learn to forgive yourself and others. The path will clear and we can live in the Now.

Abandoned

Image Source: http://afisher.com.au/

Asajj

You’ve told me your existence has been nothing but pain and loss. Never feeling secure. Never having a home. You deserve so much, and I can get it for us. The life we’ll be able to have together” – Quinlan Vos

What kind of life will that be, Quinlan? The kind where we’re slaves to our hatred? Our rage? That’s what the dark side made me. That’s what it does. Nothing is ever enough. You get more, and more, but you’re never happy. It’s a trap baited with all the things you want most in life—and it’s not worth living. I already left that behind.“― Asajj Ventress “Star Wars: Dark Disciple”

 

Padawan

Asajj Ventress was a Bounty Hunter, an Assassin and a Sith Apprentice. Before all of that she was a Jedi. As an infant she was taken from her home planet Dathomir by a Bounty Hunter and enslaved. During a raid by Pirates her owner was killed and using Force powers to defend herself she attracted the attention of a Jedi. The Jedi Ky Narec took Ventress to the temple and she began her apprenticeship as a Jedi. The training helped awaken her force powers which were very powerful.

The Jedi Narec was like a father to her as well as a mentor and she loved him.  Years later during a battle with Pirates the Jedi was killed and Ventress deserted the Jedi Order feeling that it had betrayed her Master. Filled with grief and anger she began to turn towards the dark side.  Eventually she caught the attention of Count Dooku and was trained and indoctrinated in to the Sith. Due to her powers and hatred for the Jedi, Ventress became Count Dooku’s favored apprentice.

 

The Apprentice

Asajj felt at last she was home and she served her Master well. Her powers and skills grew and she became an accomplished Assassin. Many times she came close to killing both Obi-wan Kenobi and Anakin Sywalker under the orders of Count Dooku. The time came when Darth Sidious began to notice Asajj Ventris and the bond that existed between Master and Apprentice. Testing the loyalty of Count Dooku, Darth Sidious ordered Asajj Ventriss be killed. Reluctantly Dooku agreed and he ordered her execution however Asajj managed to escape and returned to her home world of Dathomir where the Witch Order of the Night Sisters reigned.

 

The Witch

Deeply enraged by her betrayal, Asajj attempted to extract her revenge by infiltrating Count Dooku’s fortress and attempting to assassinate him. She was aided by the Night Sisters magic and the help of a slave assassin Savage Oppress, a monster created by the Night Sisters spiritual leader. During the battle Savage Oppress turned on them both forcing Asajj to flee in to hiding.

Sought by Dooku, Ventress was eventually traced back to her home planet on Dathomir. A retaliatory strike was launched on the Dathomir Fortress killing all of the Night Sisters in the ensuing battle. Once again Asajj survived and found her self alone.

 

The Redeemed

In the following years Assaj changed. Becoming a Bounty Hunter and Mercenary she found herself forming alliances with the Jedi as they fought a common enemy. Ventress saved Obi-wan Kenobi and helped Ahsako Tano after she was framed for bombing the Jedi Temple. It was Quinlan Vos the maverick Jedi Master who ultimately redeemed Ventress through love. Forming a team in a quest to finally destroy Count Dooku the Jedi and the Mercenary became lovers.

During an attempt on Dooku, Vos was captured by the separatists and brutally tortured and brainwashed, he fell to the Dark Side. Finally it was Asajj who saved Quinlan Vos as she sacrificed her own life to save him. Vos returned from the Dark Side renouncing the Sith. The Jedi honored Assaj Ventris and she was buried on Dathomir.

 

Dependency

The tragic story of Assaj Ventress follows a familiar pattern of an orphan who is forced to live a life of codependency and abuse. Things could easily have been different but fate played her a cruel hand. In the end her true hidden spirit shined through and redeemed her. For many, Asajj Ventress is a “villain” in the Star Wars saga. I view her as an enigma and a largely misunderstood character. Asajj serves as a reminder that we should never give up on people, they can come back. I know I did.

 

Orphaned

Separated from her family and bereft of a heritage and parents all Asajj knew was the hard and cruel life of a slave. Nevertheless she was dependent on her owner and when he was killed in a Pirate raid she lost the only carer she had ever known. Adopted by the Jedi she found happiness and purpose at last and with it her Force powers blossomed. Tragically her Jedi Master was killed and once again she was left an Orphan.

Alone Assaj became bitter and angry. She blamed the Jedi Order for the death of her Master. That anger and hatred was exploited by Count Dooku. In the same way that extremist organizations and gangs attract young and vulnerable people to their ranks, the Sith found a prime candidate in Asajj to do their bidding.

 

Abandoned

Eventually Ventress was betrayed by the Sith. This is also common in extremist organizations and cults. People are brainwashed and used until they are killed or betrayed. The fall was a shock to Assaj and she returned to her home world of Dathomir, a place she had never known and met her mother, the Night Sister leader Mother Talzin. Among her sisters on Dathomir she at last found a home where she was valued and belonged. This home was soon also taken away.

Drifting in the grey world of the Bounty Hunter and loyal to none Asajj began to realize that the absolutes she had believed in were invalid. She had been full of rage and hatred for years and it had been used by the Sith for their own purposes. Once her use had been exhausted, she was discarded like a broken tool. Ventress realized that she had been dependent on a lie and the loyalty she imagined did not exist. Even her own Mother, Talzin, abandoned her following the massacre of the Night Sisters on Dathomir.

 

Adrift

“None of this was my choice, I never asked to be ripped away from my home, from my family. You’ll never know what its like” – Pluma Sodi

I wish I didn’t, but I do” – Assaj Ventress “The Clone Wars: Bounty”

 

At last Asajj began to form her own identity and found her place in the madness that surrounded her. Despite her previous allegiance to the Dark Side she learned compassion for others and the ability to work for mutual benefit. The Jedi had been her sworn enemies, now she no longer saw them as such and was willing to work with them. In Quinlan Vos she found a kindred soul and shared her knowledge of the dark arts of her people. Through shared experience and hardship they became lovers and through that love the darkness that resided within her gave way to light and hope. She was home at last.

 

Freedom

The final act of Asajj Ventress is a remarkable chapter in the Star Wars saga and symbolizes the salvation that later redeemed Anakin. In an effort to save Vos from succumbing to the Dark Side, Ventress battled with Count Dooku and willingly sacrificed her life so that her lover should live.

That act alone redeemed Asajj Ventress and bought Vos back from the Dark Side, saving him. Asajj Ventress was a Jedi who had fallen from the path. Desperate to find meaning in her life and to make someone pay for the pain she had suffered through life she had fallen to dark emotions and lived a personal hell. Forgiveness, sacrifice for others and ultimately love redeemed her and bought her back to the light. She did this by herself and it freed her.

Remember, no one holds the key to your own freedom and salvation but you.

Redemption

When Anakin had succumbed to his fears, anger and hate and fallen to the dark side the person that he was died. In his place rose Darth Vader, a dark shadow of his former self and a slave to the Dark Lord. In “Episode VI: The Return of the Jedi”, Darth Vader finally realizes who he truly is and finding the love for his son Luke, he turns on his Master, Darth Sidious. The redemption of Anakin was the final end of Darth Vader.

I’ll not leave you now. I’ve got to save you.” – Luke Skywalker

You already have.” – Anakin Skywalker

The Chains of Addiction

The fall of Anakin and the emergence of a twisted and tormented Darth Vader in the same body can be viewed as a metaphor for suffering and the slavery of addiction. How many people have we encountered in our lives who changed so utterly through addiction that they were barely recognizable? Family and friends no longer knew them and they no longer knew themselves.

The effects of drug and alcohol addiction carries an insidious toll on a person’s life and on their psyche. I became morally compromised and spiritually bankrupt through alcoholism though I did not see it at the time. The difference between who I had been and who I became was stark.

By destroying Darth Sidious and saving his son, the chains that had held Anakin in the form of Darth Vader finally came off. He  emerges from the dark place where he had been imprisoned and tortured for decades as a mere slave to fear, anger and hatred. As Anakin lies dying he atones for the past. He forgives and is forgiven and finds redemption at last. Anakin is set free and is reunited with the Force.

Inventory

Realizing the truth of who we are and what we have done through our alcoholism can be painful but it is also liberating. I remember one of the most emotional experiences I have ever had was completing my inventory in Step 4.  Admitting it to my Higher Power and sharing it with another in Step 5 was to finally free myself from the bondage of the past. I saw at last who I had been and the damage I had done to myself and others. There was another way and I could forgive myself and build a new life.

“Step 4: Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.”

“Step 5: Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

After sharing my story I felt as if a huge weight had been lifted off. I was ready to change and I wanted to right the wrongs of the past. Filled with hope for the future I looked forward to making amends and claiming a sober life. The clouds parted and at last it felt as if a door had opened and I had passed through to a new dimension a free man.

Amends

Several years ago when I was still drinking I learned that my Father had passed away as a skid row drunk. He had been dry when I had last seen him 25 years earlier but we became estranged and I never spoke to him again. In time he became little more than a rumor. The news was that he moved around a lot and was back “on the sauce”.

Over the years I often wondered what I would say if we met again and whether I could forgive him. There had been anger for years for a miserable childhood. I  blamed my drinking and many of my troubles on him. There were so many faults I so despised in him that I had revealed in myself. Like Luke Skywalker I was in danger of falling to the Dark Side, like his Father and indeed in the end it had me.

When I learned that my Father had died my feelings were mixed. Part of me did not care, another part was sad and the last part was angry I had been robbed of an opportunity to tell him how he had ruined so many lives including my own. My reaction was to simply get drunk in response to the news. I was more like him than I dared admit.

Forgive

When I compiled my list of amends in Step 8 I placed my Father near the top of the list. The predicament of course was that he had died the previous year. I said a prayer and Forgave him and asked for forgiveness in return. With that I blessed his memory and made peace at last with a painful part of my life. Perhaps someday we will meet again on the other side of the veil where these things will no longer matter.

Forgiveness and making amends is one of the most powerful experiences that anyone in recovery can experience. The humility and compassion that we discover during the inventory and disclosure of our faults is further cultivated as we put aside resentment and pride and seek to atone for the past. We also begin to find redemption as Anakin did by seeking forgiveness and by forgiving others. Most of all we find the power to forgive ourselves and move on.

MTFBWY

Mastery (and the Big Shot)

If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.” – Obi-Wan Kenobi to Darth Vader (Episode IV: The New Hope)

With practice comes competence and with reinforcement comes confidence and finally mastery. The process from novice to master can take years and result in a change of personality with every evolution. Along the way increased self confidence can lead to a greater sense of humility and gratitude or an inflated ego and arrogance. Anakin Skywalker was the Jedi version of the latter, a “Big Shot” in the Jedi Order.

How many times have we seen Sport Stars reach the pinnacle of their game only to fall victim to ego? Adored by fans, followed by the media and afforded a lavish lifestyle they eventually succumb to vice or ego driven scandal and fall from grace. The distraction of wealth, fame and glory eventually defeats them in the ring or on the field. At this point they retire in to obscurity, exist in notoriety or hopefully redeem themselves and find their way back to whatever source raised them from their humble roots.

In recovery too, an alcoholic with years of sobriety becomes over confident, cocky and grows in to some sort of “Big Shot”. Along the way he forgets his principles of humility and self honesty and chooses to ignore the warning signs that he is back sliding. Unless someone or something reminds him of where he came from he is soon questioning the nature of his disease and taking the first drink which finally leads to full blown relapse.

Never Forget your Roots

I never forget where I came from but I don’t let it define me either. Growing up with an alcoholic parent who could barely hold down a job and who never had money to pay the rent, utilities or buy food was a day to day reality for me as an elementary school age kid. My Father was a compulsive gambler and when he was sober he was angry and resentful and at time paranoid of everyone around him. At times he would resort to violence to discipline us and then feeling guilty would storm out of the house and not reappear for several days. When he did he was usually very drunk, remorseful and emotional. Most times he was busted up from a street fight. At around the age of 10 and 12, we would put him to be bed and he would sleep for days while we fed ourselves, laundered our clothes and got ourselves off to school.

There were visits from the Police both State and Federal, Eviction Notices, angry landlords, creditors seeking money, disconnected power, water and gas. No food in the cupboards and no heating in winter. We slept on the street, homeless shelters or in the toilets of churches kind enough to give us shelter. We moved from one end of the country to the next. Always running, trying to make a fresh start.

Eventually during one of his absences Welfare showed up at the door and I next saw my Father both angry and defiant in Family Court arguing why he should be able to take care of his kids. To make matters worse he threatened the court with revenge and screamed obscenities at the Judge and had to be removed. Even faced with the loss of his kids and the risk of being charged with child neglect my Father still played the arrogant “Big Shot” who was right and everyone else was wrong. Told he was to lose custody, now unencumbered, he vanished from our lives for two years as we were whisked away into State and Foster Care.

Learn from the Past

I spent the next three years as a Ward of the State and learned how to survive and ascend the school yard pecking order through a combination of diplomacy, strategy and willingness to use my fists and feet to settle arguments and claim my rank. Eventually my Father showed up sober enough for the State to grant conditional custody after a period of review. In no time we had fled out of jurisdiction to another State where we would find relative anonymity and he could resume his old ways of lying, cheating and gambling. At least he stayed sober though I wished at times he would drink so I got the reprieve of him being absent for days on a binge.

As soon as I finished High School I walked out of home and got on a train and headed to the Army. I never spoke to my Father again. I often reflect on my childhood and wonder how I never ended up down the same path as him. Then I ponder that I nearly did but my disease was arrested and I reclaimed my sanity. Putting it in to perspective like that keeps me grounded. I try not to get conceited or cocky with my recovery. My Father provided an important life lesson after all.

Anakin Skywalker was doomed to fall to the Dark Side and become Darth Vader. The analogy of the fall of Anakin teaches me that the more confident I become in my recovery, the more powerfully recovered I believe myself to be, the more I need to be mindful that I don’t fall off my pedestal. Mastery over anything, a profession, an art or a sport or even the game of life can cultivate a “Big Shot” attitude. All of the sudden we lose our humility and appreciation of place.

We forget where we came from. We expect to be treated special, to be given allowance, to be respected and we start to compare ourselves with others and find them lacking. We no longer see fault in our own conduct and stop trying to cultivate virtues and be better versions of ourselves. We forget that we should only compare ourselves with who we were yesterday.

As a mere servant of Darth Sidious, Darth Vader still claimed his Mastery and domination over others. In reality Darth Vader was a mere slave, a pitiful shell of a man he had been deep in pain and suffering. The utter delusion that his fall had condemned him played out in the scene where face to face with his old teacher and mentor Obi-Wan Kenobi, Darth Vader claims his supremacy.

“Now I am the Master” – Darth Vader

True Mastery

Obi-Wan Kenobi appeared to fall under the fatal stroke of Darth Vader’s light saber seemingly mastered by his old apprentice. However the opposite is true. Darth Vader  released Obi-Wan from the confines of the material plane and set him free, returning him to the Force and more powerful than ever. Darth Vader is aware that he has been fooled by his own arrogance and hatred. It is not the victory he sought but a defeat. Even knowing this Darth Vader continues to deny the truth until he is confronted by Luke in “Return of the Jedi”.

I learned a few years ago that my Father had died a skid row drunk, broke and alone. I sometimes wonder if in his final months, days, hours he realized his mistakes and at least came to acknowledge his part in a life of suffering he had imposed on others and his self and at last forgave himself. Did he instead take that anger, fear and arrogance with him as he defiantly stepped from this world to the next? It was 25 years after I had last spoke to him. I will never know but I hope it was the former, I pray he made peace with God and himself before he died.

My own struggle did not end there in 2011 with the news of my Father’s death. A year later, embittered and angry, facing my own “Dark Side”, I reached my own personal “rock bottom”. Instead of staying there I called on whatever “God” there was to help. I felt a hand reach out for me like a flimsy reed. I grabbed at it like it was my only chance for salvation and I was lifted out of my own despair. The arrogance and the denial swept away and I saw who I was with clear eyes. I saw my life in plain view and saw what I had done to myself and others. At last I admitted my alcoholism and began to believe in Faith. I forgave my Father and let go of my own fear, anger and arrogance and began to claim who I, who we, truly are.