Simplify

The Tree

Every autumn I take a chainsaw to a tree in the back yard and take back most of the branches. The tree is reduced from a tangle of foliage and branches to a short truck with a couple of main-stems left behind. Looking it after my hack job you would think that it will surely die but every spring it returns in full vigor. New branches reach out with sprouts of leaves. Flowers blossom and the trunk thicken. The tree is healthy and productive. By cutting back old growth and dead wood and leaving it almost bare I have allowed the tree to renew itself and continue to grow. Simplicity is like that.

 

Consumer Society

Life can get messy. We can fill our days with drama and complexity. Our time seems to get shorter as we are constantly distracted by new things. We fill our homes and garages and eventually a rented storage unit with so much stuff that we soon run out of room. Our attention hops from one thing to another. For a while we are interested in one thing and soon enough we get bored with that and move on.

The constant pull of modern consumerism sees us accumulating stuff that we don’t need or acquire mindlessly because we have been told that if we have it we will be happier, cooler or more popular. By having more and being constantly busy we think that our lives will be fulfilled and we will reach our desired state of happiness and contentment. All that happens is we find ourselves on a slippery slope and soon get overwhelmed by the tempo and shallow materialism of our lives. The environment suffers, we suffer and only big corporations win selling us stuff they tell us we need.

 

Hatchet Job

From time to time we need to take a pruning saw (or a hatchet) to our lives and cut back the excess. We should identify the dead branches and cut them away. Cut back the complexity and over activity. Simplify, simplify, simplify.

All monastic orders required their adherents to live lives of simplicity. Excess was avoided and attachment to material possessions and relationships eschewed. When I was in the Army the principle of simplicity and self discipline was constantly reinforced. We were expected to have few personal possessions and avoid the trappings of conspicuous consumption. Our job demanded that our first priority was the job. Some of the guys took it far and owned little more than one set of civilian clothes for going out; everything else they owned was issued or bought kit.

 

A Life of Purpose

The Jedi are an example of simplicity. Besides a Jedi Robe, a belt and boots and a light sabre what does a Jedi own? Seemingly nothing, they got funds to support themselves and their mission when required but otherwise a Jedi was discouraged from having attachments.

Allegiance to the Jedi Order demanded simplicity and purpose. By living simply, the Jedi were never distracted from their primary purpose. The Jedi also kept their internal world well ordered and simple. The Jedi demonstrated equanimity and dispassion.

 

Hording is Suffering

They say that what makes a person horde possessions and refuse to let them go is fear. They are suffering from over attachment. We have all seen the effect of severe hording on television shows that take us in the homes of chronic Hoarders.

People will horde and even refuse to throw out old newspapers and trash. Eventually their lives become unmanageable and desperate; they are drowning in an ocean of junk but refuse to let any of it go. Fear won’t allow them to lighten their lives and simplify. They feel by throwing their “treasures” away they are somehow losing a part of themselves. Inanimate objects hold them hostage. Attachment becomes real suffering to the point that they would rather die than toss out a box of old moldy magazines. The problem is not that they can’t do without their possessions, they can, and the problem is only in their mind.

 

Dead Wood

We might say, “Yeah but that’s pretty extreme. Most people aren’t like that”. The reality is that the ego is exactly like that. We may not be hording a ton of stuff we don’t need, we may even own very little. On the other hand we may be holding on to beliefs and ideas that do not serve us or represent who we truly are. Few people, if honest, would disagree. Most of us hold on to more than we realize. Every single experience, thought, word and action in our lives becomes a part of who we are. As the years pass, we find that we have become like an old tree; an over grown jumble of unruly branches and dead wood.

For more than a decade I lived out of a bag. My possessions were limited to a backpack with a few clothes, a sleeping bag, a pair of shoes and a camera. There were a few keepsakes I’d picked up on my travels, a couple of books and a sealed plastic bag full of photos. I was homeless and owned nothing. My home was wherever I found myself at the end of the day. Not having much meant I didn’t have a lot to lose. The freedom allowed me to indulge in my addiction without constraint. The problem of course was that inwardly I was a mess.

 

Handing it Over

Getting rid of unwanted excess is actually liberating. By handing over my problems to a higher power I started the process of pruning back my life. Writing an inventory of my character defects and misdeeds to others highlighted where I needed to make further changes and do amends. Sharing my inventory with another helped me take a weight of guilt off my shoulders. By coming clean I was able to throw off the dead wood that had been holding me back. I was free to move on.

The pruning back continued. There was years of growth that needed to be removed. I finally decided to do something about it and I asked my Higher Power to guide me. The work was up to me, but I left the outcomes to the Force.

One by one I hacked back the character defects and flaws through application of principle and changing my thought pattern and behaviour. Several years later with pruning being a constant and meticulous job I can look back at my work and see what I have become. The person I was is gone and a new man stands in his place. This is the feeling of freedom; to cast off the world like some dark cloak and walk through the gates in to another dimension of existence.

 

Daily Maintenance

Today I continue to take a pair of secateurs and prune away. My life is like a tree that requires daily maintenance to keep it healthy. Where I have made a mistake I admit it, where I have wronged someone I try to make amends. Each day is reviewed and where improvements can be made I do so where I have control. Life becomes a daily pursuit in simplicity and purpose, the Jedi way.

 

Inventory and Let Go

We don’t need to get rid of all of our stuff and live like a monk or a Jedi but we can simplify and reduce the clutter. One of the best ways of taking stock of our rampant and manic lives is to inventory. List all the things that take up our time and attention. What do you enjoy doing? Are you doing things which take up time but bring you no joy or return? Decide which you would be better off without and drop it.

Review your consumer patterns. Take a shopping list with you or decide on what you are going to buy and then buy it. Avoid making purchases on impulse and ask yourself whether you need it or just want it. Remember, wants are not needs.

 

Sort, Sift, Sweep, Sanitize and Sustain

Go through your wardrobe and garage. Do you really need all of the clothes hanging up? One way is to turn all your clothes and shoes to face one way. Every time you take something and put it back have it facing the opposite direction. After a year take all the items that were not moved and donate them to good-will. Take all of your horded clutter out on to the lawn and divide them in to categories based on their utility and purpose. If you have stuff sitting there since 1999 which has not been used, donate it if it may be of use to others or throw it out.

Occasionally review your life and take stock. Not just where you are financially, in your career, or on the journey to achieving your goals; review your internal values system. Are your values consistent with who you are and who you want to be? Ask what do you care about, what is your purpose and what do you want out of life. Decide whether your values match your principles and agree with your goals. Remember that values define you, principles are the way your express them and goals are where you want to take your life. Keep it simple.

 

Take what you Need

Sometimes we will find that a lot of ideas and assumptions that we had are no longer useful and we resolve to get rid of them. For example, we may have decided some time ago to be less stressed about life and worry less about material wealth and more on our self improvement but our actions may be the opposite. If our ideas no longer serve, we drop them and find those that do. We align ourselves to our purpose. Being Jedi is about being agile and adaptive. Its about being able to take what you need and leave the rest.

Life is like a tree. It is a living and breathing thing that grows and throws out branches in all directions. Sometime we need to do some pruning in our lives and re-calibrate ourselves so that we can continue to grow and get better.

Jedi have compassion

Compassion is central to a Jedi’s life. We need to have love and compassion for ourselves first and foremost, and then let that compassion gravitate outwards to the whole creation.

(33 Jedi Traits)

Metta

Metta is the Buddhist practice of “Loving Kindness”. Buddhists believe that compassion for all living things is vital as all life is precious. With compassion and loving-kindness the karmic consequences from past lives can be reversed and the Adherent can become Bodhisattva, an “awakened one”.

The  Bodhisattva postpones their transcendence to Nirvana for the sake of compassion for all life. Imagine that, to willingly seek to take on all the worlds suffering. These Buddhists feel compassion for all life but with that happy smile and serene face you see the Dalai Lama wearing. They take the “passion” out of “compassion” and replace if with loving kindness.

“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” – Dalai Lama

 

Stoic Compassion

Many people in the west confuse the word compassion with “pity”. Some view compassion as an emotional weakness and certainly not a virtue believing that empathy is more appropriate. Empathy is viewed as a rational response to the misfortune of others rather than the emotion of compassion. The Stoics viewed “simple” compassion as a failing. At the same time they advocated it was a duty of all to help those in need. A Stoic form of compassion which was vital and rendered without passion was suggested.

The world was viewed by the Stoics as an interconnected system and therefore it is in the best nature for people to get along and work together. It therefore pays to be altruistic and show understanding and empathy. Sympathy and pity helps no one.

 

“What brings no benefit to the hive brings none to the bee” – Marcus Aurelius

 

Loving Kindness

The idea of compassion in the East is very different to that in the west but surprisingly similar to the Stoic view. Compassion as Metta, wishes all to be free from suffering, oneself included. Loving kindness can radiate out from the individual to encompass the entire Universe in compassion; a simple desire that all sentient beings may find their way out of suffering.

The statement “Jedi have compassion” therefore agrees with the Buddhist concept of Metta. Jedi are objective in their response to the suffering of individuals but desire peace and happiness for all. Jedi resist feeling the suffering of others. They do not allow compassion to affect their judgement by emoting with the victim. Jedi provide support to those that need it, they render aid and defend the weak however they do not instantly fall in to the trap of irrational responses that lead them on a crusade.

 

Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them humanity cannot survive.” – Dalai Lama

 

Bleeding Hearts

How often have we turned on the news and been confronted with tragedy and injustice? We are bombarded with social media posts that show images of suffering and trauma. Floods and earth quakes, war and famine, poverty and social injustice seem to fly at us from every corner of the world. Hundreds of funding campaigns and aid organizations compete for charity from people who feel the dreadful pangs of compassion and pity but feel powerless to do anything.

Large non-governmental organizations have grown extremely rich on the good will and compassion of people who want to help those in need. Many of these compassionate people think that giving a few dollars to the poor or needy will help them out. But is this really an altruistic act of giving or a selfish attempt to feel better? Does giving in the way we give help any one? I have seen a culture of dependency and entitlement emerge in communities where handouts are the primary form of support.

 

Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” – Maimonides

Think before Leaping

Three years ago I watched with horror as Islamic State swept in to Iraq and started a genocidal campaign of slaughter of the Yezidi people. The Yezidis are a peaceful indigenous people who have somehow survived centuries of persecution and kept their unique and ancient religion intact. In 2014 the world watched on as genocide took place. I was overwhelmed with compassion and desperately wanted to do something. I agonized over whether to go to join the building resistance. What could anyone do if the World Governments did nothing? This was one tragedy that did not even earn a hashtag.

As Jedi we must decide how to best support those in need, render aid and defend the weak. We must recognize that to act instinctively on compassion alone may not be the best way. If we see someone drowning in dangerous surf do we immediately leap in to save them? Our instincts would drive us to risk our life especially if it were a child. How would our compassion for the drowning person help if we also succumbed to drowning or also needed rescuing? Jedi have compassion but think before leaping in. A dead hero serves no one.

 

12 Step Compassion

I felt a different type of compassion the first time I went to a 12 Step Meeting. Someone invited me to share and I told my story. There were nods of heads and knowing looks as I recounted my story of misery and woe. I was sort of expecting to hear clucks of sympathy and a few words of pity but there were none.

The speaker thanked me for my discourse and invited another person to speak. I listened and heard a story far worse than mine. My face burned red with embarrassment and I wondered if the people there thought I was being a bit over dramatic. Compared to the people who had lost everything I had got off pretty lightly.

After the meeting people milled around and I looked for my escape. An older guy who had told a real sad story came over and introduced himself. He was joined by a lady who had made a mess of things in the past and was estranged from her kids but was recovering and held no grudges. They were smiling and joking and asked whether I had enjoyed the meeting. They asked me how I was doing and implored me not to drink. “Just for one day” they said; “take it one day at a time, one step at a time”. I felt reassured.

These people were expressing Metta, not compassion. There was genuine concern for my well being however they were not trying to tell me what to and did not offer any sympathy. They were going to show me the way but no one was going to carry me. They reminded me I was not alone but on a life raft with other people working together towards the same end. In order to love others I had to learn to love myself first.

None of us are victims deserving pity unless we choose to be. We can let go of that and cultivate Metta for ourselves and others.

 

“For all that I do, whether on my own or assisted by another, should be directed to this single end, the common benefit and harmony.”Marcus Aurelius

 

Obi-wan’s Compassion

During his captivity under the Zygerrian Slavers, Obi-wan Kenobi was almost broken. Obi-wan suffered from a crisis of compassion. The more he tried to help his fellow slaves the more they were punished by their captors. As he rushed to intervene to stop an act of cruelty, a guard would rush in and take a whip to him and then punish the slave even more.

The cruelty to others was too much for Obi-wan, he suffered because he could not help and when he tried it made matters worse. Eventually the other slaves shunned Obi-wan telling him to keep away. After the second battle of Christophsis, Obi-wan also suffered the emotional toll of having so many friends killed around him.

Obi-wan had a compassionate heart, unlike Yoda he was not always able to see clearly beyond his concern and anxiety for the suffering of others. The fall of his student and friend Anakin on the lava flows of Mustafar almost drove Obi-wan to despair such was his overwhelming compassion and grief. Being over anxious for others does not help anyone, least of all ourselves.

“Wisdom, compassion, and courage are the three universally recognized moral qualities of men” – Confucius

To Suffer or to Heal

The word compassion means “with passion” or “to suffer with”. Anakin and Luke both felt uncontrolled compassion for others and allowed that emotion to cloud their judgement. Compassion ultimately led Anakin to the Dark Side and almost destroyed Luke as well as he attempted to rescue his friends on Cloud City.

Empathy on the other hand allowed Luke to put aside his passion and spare his Father. In an instant Luke was awakened that he did not need to have conflicting passions. Luke chose to understand the suffering of Darth Vader and put an end to it. Luke refused to feed the fear, anger and hatred that Darth Sidious demanded. Through loving kindness he defeated the Sith Lord and redeemed his Father.

Passion yet serenity” – Jedi Code

Jedi Compassion

We can react with blind compassion, to do so can ignite an emotion, often raw and irrational. To respond with empathy is to use one’s heart with a brain attached. By acting with loving kindness, Metta, we combine heart, soul and mind together in a mindful way.

We recognize the suffering of others and willingly take that suffering from them. Instead of tying that suffering to ourselves we let it go. This leads to healing. We use empathy and mindful action to make a difference. We can stand in a storm of tragedy and chaos and not let it affect our serenity.

This is the true nature of Jedi compassion. .

Compassion, which I would define as unconditional love, is essential to a Jedi’s life.” – Anakin

Jedi Let Go

 

Jedi believe in ‘letting go’ of their attachments.

Jedi work on ‘letting go’ of their attachments and train themselves on this. The fear of loss of one’s attachments leads to the dark side, so a ‘letting go’ and ‘trusting in the will of the Force’ attitude needs to be developed gradually to overcome this fear of loss. Everything really belongs to the Force anyhow, so we need to trust the Force, and not be so attached to people and possessions.

 

“Attachment leads to jealousy. The shadow of greed that is” – Yoda

“Train yourself to let go of every thing you fear to lose” – Yoda

 

10’000 Joys and Sorrows

Buddhists believe that the fundamental cause of suffering is attachment. The premise is not solely with one religion. All of the mainstream faiths warn followers of becoming overly attached to our earthly possessions, title, bodies, relationships and beliefs. With attachment comes the fear of losing what one is attached to. Since infancy we are constantly experiencing the anxiety of anticipated loss. A child will cry when her mother leaves the room through separation anxiety. The loss of a favorite toy is a constant preoccupation of many children. They will clutch on to their prized possessions and weep inconsolably if it is lost.

As we grow we become attached to our body image and fear any harm that comes to it. Our reputation and standing among peers becomes inflated in our minds. Acceptance within the group becomes paramount. We become adults and start to attach to our identity, our beliefs and convictions. Our Ego starts to expand and we find someone whom we believe might “complete” us. Attachments form for a significant other and a partnership may be formed. We become attached to our profession, our career and the many possessions that we accumulate along the way.

As we age our ego has completely transcended who we truly are. Our children become an extension of ourselves and we see our being as intrinsically linked to our social status, standing with peers, qualifications, bank balance, lifestyle and our appearance and health. Entering into middle age we start to mellow out a little but we are set in our ways, our convictions and beliefs as well as our opinion of ourselves and others. Some of us may start to ask the important questions at various stages of our lives and even seek non-attachment.

For the most part we are caught in the paradigm and “letting go” of attachment and especially of our life is something we can barely begin to consider. We forget that all of the things that we value; all that we are attached are impermanent by nature. Any or all of them can be removed at any time. Nothing lasts forever and all things must change and eventually end. Everything ultimately returns to the Force.

There is one thing and only one thing that causes unhappiness. The name of that thing is attachment” – Anthony de Mello

 

The Meaning

In his book “Man’s search for Meaning”, Viktor Frankl recounts a story. During the Nazi occupation of his home city Vienna an important Academic was arrested by the Gestapo for the crime of being an intellectual and a Jew. While awaiting interrogation and eventual deportation to a concentration camp the academic protested his arrest. “I’ll have you know I am an important man in Vienna”, he proclaimed and rattled off memberships to various distinguished bodies, awards and medals of honor and qualifications. The Academic removed from a satchel a pile of papers stating his various standings and showed them to the police officer.

A German Officer standing nearby took up the papers and tore them to pieces, “There, you are nothing now!” he yelled tearing at the sheets and throwing them on the floor “You are nothing but a Jew!” The Academic was shocked. Months later deprived of his standing, his home and his family and wearing nothing but a filthy prison uniform bearing a number and stripped of his dignity the Academic died a broken man. He had lost his identity and unable to see any hope for the future, he withered and died.

When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.” – Lao Tzu

Hope Survives

Frankl was also an Academic and a Jew. As a Psychologist he understood the power of the Ego and its ability to build up an image and drag us down with it when it is dismantled. In Auschwitz, Frankl survived in the face of atrocious odds. Frankl refused to let the Nazis take the one thing he had control over, his mind. He understood that everything he had before was probably gone. His house was probably destroyed, his position gone for ever and his wife and family probably dead. The thought of it would torture anyone but Frankl accepted it for what it was and “let go” of his mental attachment to the things he had no control over.

From one moment to the next, one day after the other, Frankl continued to breathe and live. He never lost Hope that the war would end and he would be allowed to return home and whatever was left. One Day in late 1943 the Soviet Army appeared and the Nazis fled. Frankl had survived.

We must let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the one that is waiting for us” – Joseph Campbell

 

The Stoics

James Stockdale spent seven years in a North Vietnamese prison cell after his Navy bomber was shot down during a raid in 1965. Stockdale was a student of the Stoics and kept a copy of Epictetus with him during his time as a POW. The Stoic example of accepting one’s present condition beyond what one is capable of controlling carried Stockdale through his ordeal.

The attachments he had for freedom, his family and career were put aside as he focused on keeping what he did have, his mind and the choice to give up or continue. More importantly despite seven years of life lost, Stockdale carried no bitterness and no regrets seeing it as a pivotal experience:

I never lost faith in the end of the story, I never doubted not only that I would get out, but also that I would prevail in the end and turn the experience into the defining event of my life, which, in retrospect, I would not trade” – James Stockdale

The Stoics were themselves beyond attachment. Like the Buddhist precept of non-attachment the Stoics accepted what came their way with equanimity. Seneca was extremely wealthy but accepted the loss of his wealth and an order from Nero to kill himself with equanimity, even ironic humor.

Cato the younger was one of the most influential men in Rome and yet wandered the streets in simple clothing and bare feet. Removed from an important military rank during the civil war, he shrugged off the snub and rallied his soldiers around him and did his duty for the Republic.

Epictetus was banished to a desolate Greek Island by the Emperor. Instead of dwelling on his loss he started a small Stoic school. His student and later the Emperor, Marcus Aurelius, fought the Germanic tribes while his wife plotted with a trusted friend, Cassius, to bring his reign to an end. The plot was uncovered by loyalists and Cassius was killed and his wife arrested. Instead of flying in to a blind rage Aurelius forgave his wife and wept at the news of Cassius’s death.

Receive without pride, let go without attachment” – Marcus Aurelius

 

Letting Go

Grasping attachment and the fear of losing what was most dear to him ultimately led Anakin to the Dark Side. Not happy to simply accept things as they were, Anakin wanted to control the Force to his will and claim ultimate power, the power over life and death. In his fear Anakin lost everything that was dear to him and became a tortured servant of the Dark Lord.

“You only lose what you cling to” – Buddha

The Fictional Jedi were expected to follow the precept of non-attachment. For this reason they were not allowed to marry or have children or carry on as normal Galactic citizens might. Their commitment was similar to being in a Monastic Order or perhaps even the Army of some countries. Personal possessions were eschewed as were other attachments that the rest of us take for granted.

Obviously most of us are not going to give all of our possessions away but the clothes on our back and start to live such a life. Being sober also means being sane and rational. I for one like the things that I own. I’m not prepared to just hand them over and become a Monk, walking away from family and job. We can still loosen our attachments however.

There is no need to grasp so tightly on the things that we prize. Life need not be a monkey trap where a monkey is held fast only by its refusal to let go of a bait. The monkey can slip its hands inside the trap and clutch on to a treat but unless it lets go of the prize it cannot withdraw its hand. The monkey is trapped only by its refusal to let go. That is the nature of grasping attachment.

The root of attachment is suffering” – Buddha

 

Negative Visualization

A Zen Master once received an exquisite and precious porcelain cup. The item was so precious that he decided to consider it broken and worthless straight away. As a result the Master was able to keep the cup without attachment so that when one day when it did break he shrugged “of course”. No big deal.

The Stoics had a practice called “Negative visualization” which captures the Zen practice. Negative visualization recommends that we spend time thinking about loss every day. We consider losing our jobs and having the bank foreclose on the mortgage and losing all our property. Imagine your spouse leaving you or someone close dying. The Stoics suggested that parents should consider that they may never hold their children again after they have tucked them in to bed at night. As morbid as it sounds, contemplating catastrophe is an intellectual exercise and is psychologically safe as long as we do not attach emotion to our visualization. The act is not pessimism which reflects a negative outlook. If it were we would be called pessimistic for buying life or health insurance.

With daily practice we can use negative visualization to appreciate what we do have while “letting go” at little of the attachment that we tie to them. As Epictetus said we should avoid holding on to something so tight that it removes our ability to act with reason and destroys us when we lose them. The practice hardens us for the inevitability of loss.

“In short, you must remember this – that if you hold anything dear outside of your own reasoned choice, you will have destroyed the capacity for choice” – Epictetus

 

The Reserve Clause

The Stoics also used the “Reserve Clause” which is simply another way of framing a situation. We can always add a caveat to any statement that allows for it to not proceed to our expectations. For example we may work extremely hard in preparation for an exam or train fanatically for a sporting event. We can either attach to the effort that we put in and put our focus there or we can become fixated on an outcome which is not entirely within our control.

Despite the hours of study, we may end up getting a paper that covers areas we overlooked. On the day of our event we make some simple mistakes and loose the competition. Attaching to the goal would leave us bitterly disappointed. Having a reverse clause which says “I’ve worked really hard for this and I’ll do my best but leave the rest to fate” is one way we can loosen our attachment to outcomes.

 

Live Life with an Open Hand

Life can be lived from one day to the next mindfully or we can spend it in anxiety ridden anticipation of loss and catastrophe. We can spend our days clutching on to our money, possessions and life or we can loosen the bonds that tie us to this world a little. Do we hold a Dove in hand so tight that we squeeze the life out of it or do we hold it gently and loosely and willingly let it go when the time comes?

 

Let Go, Let God” – Anonymous

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

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.