Self Discipline

Do or do not, there is no try” – Yoda

Self Discipline is often the one single element that determines success in life. The act of self control is the ability to move in a direction despite internal resistance. Self discipline provides the momentum and drive to keep going and to follow through in the promises that we make to ourselves and others. When others are not looking or directing us to do something it is self discipline that we draw on.  We may not want to get out of bed in the morning to shiver in the cold, the thought of working when we could be resting might not appeal yet we do it.  The only thing preventing us from making the wrong or most preferred decisions and taking the easy option is Self Discipline.

 

“With self discipline almost anything is possible” – Theodore Roosevelt

 

Hard Benefits

The benefits of self discipline extend in to all aspects of our lives and lead to success in virtually every endeavor. Self disciplined individuals are more focused on their task. They are committed to achieving desired outcomes and will stick with a task to the end. Being driven they will often lead from the front. Self disciplined people are less impulsive and more in tune with their emotions, they are less likely to lose their temper or panic. Being motivated and mission orientated means more efficiency and productivity; time wastage is reduced. The self disciplined often seem to have more free time and are less stressed and more in control of their lives than those that are ill disciplined. Besides being successful, those with self discipline are also happier.

Self Discipline is the ability to conquer one’s self and to hold that fort indefinitely. It is about owning ourselves and taking charge of our thoughts, words and actions.

 

In reading the lives of great me, I found that the first victory they won was over themselves…self discipline with all of them came first” – Harry S Truman

 

Taught not enforced

Self Discipline is a key Jedi Trait. Without it a prospective Jedi would be unable to complete the rigorous training and character formation required to be a Jedi Knight. Luke Skywalker lacked self discipline when he first met Obi-wan Kenobi on Tatoouine. He was impatient and impulsive and highly idealistic.

By the time Luke met Yoda on Dagobah he was no longer a young and inexperienced farm-hand but he still required training in self discipline. Luke had been through some adventures and had lived through some close calls. Among other things Luke had destroyed the Death Star during the Battle of Yavin. Quickly ascending the ranks of the Rebel alliance Skywalker continued to see action including a decisive battle on the frozen planet of Hoth. Despite his military rank and  war experience, Luke still lacked self discipline until Yoda began to train him on Dagobah.

Although some people have inherent self control, self discipline is generally inspired and taught by others. We see the benefits through positive example and with guidance from good mentors we learn the art and skill of self discipline. A Karate instructor  for example will teach his students self discipline through constant positive reinforcement, mentoring and instruction. The students observe the instructor and through example and encouragement begin to apply the skill in their training. With time and practice the skill translates in to other areas of life such as study, work and relationships.

 

I think self discipline is something, it’s like a muscle. The more you exercise it, the stronger it gets” – Daniel Goldstein

 

 

“Disciplined”

When I was young I was impatient and ill disciplined. I also had beliefs and opinions on things I largely knew little about. Schooling was disciplined. Corporal punishment was still used then and I was no stranger to the cane. My father also had very strict rules and did not hesitate to enforce them with a heavy hand. In the Army the practice of “hazing”, “blanket bashing” and physical punishments from NCO’s including beatings was still common practice. The culture still a few years from being pushed in to the shadows. As in school I continued to learn lessons the “hard” way and after a while became numb to the abuse.

In order to function I turned to booze. Alcohol became a readily available means of blocking out the world; I could care less when I was drunk. My mind would no longer torment me and I neither could the world. This was not an environment for self discipline. I was bent till I snapped.

 

Tenacity

Despite being served up plenty of discipline I was never taught self discipline. Many years later I came to realize that even as a mature adult I was completely devoid of self discipline, it had never been instilled in me. Not by teachers, parents or my superiors in the military. Yes, I could get out of bed in the morning and go to work, even inebriated from the night before, but that was fear in action, not self discipline. I could take order begrudgingly but that was because I had to, not because I wanted to. Making my bed every day and having a “clean cut” appearance despite hangovers was not self discipline it was habit.

Being able to have the self control to drink in moderation and go to bed early enough to wake up in a condition “fit for work” is “self discipline”. I failed there many times and eventually ran out of chances with frustrated and exasperated employers who had given me many chances. Allocating time and setting priorities to ensure assignments were submitted on time and being fully prepared for exams at University is self discipline. Procrastinating until the last minute and then cursing my stupidity through the fog and misery of a hangover was not. By some miracle I was able to complete my studies and earn a degree. Tenacity is also trait common in Alcoholics.

 

Self disciplined begins with the mastery of your thoughts. If you don’t control what you think, you can control what you do. Simply, self discipline enables you to think first and act afterwards” – Napoleon Hill

 

Will Power

Trying to get sober on will power alone taught me an important lesson; self discipline is not enough especially when you don’t have any. Where alcohol is concerned, the moral and intellectual will power that is required for self discipline is often missing. Alcohol tends to short fuse that part of our brain. Every good intent is thrown out of the window for no rational reason. It just does, we cannot explain it.  We can have the most important day of our life planned and prepared for and then someone hands us a drink and we fail to show up.

On the night before my wedding, my best man was wise enough to cut my supply of booze and insist I get to bed early. I never realized it at the time but he knew that he would have had hell to pay if I’d missed the ceremony or arrived red eyed and stinking. Compliance was granted because I could follow orders easily when they made sense, I was lousy at regulating myself if left alone without someone telling me what to do.

It was not my fault, I just didn’t know. People would say “you were a professional soldier, didn’t they teach you discipline?” If that meant blind obedience to orders, then yes; the Army wants people who unquestioningly follow orders especially when instinct is screaming no. For a start, pointing a rifle at another human and firing “center of body mass” is not a natural thing for most people. Self discipline is different and based on what we want to do, not what we are forced or compelled to do due to fear or blind obedience. One cannot have self discipline forced on or beaten in to them. Even the indoctrinated can eventually see through falsehoods.

Being self disciplined is being able to self regulate. No one need look over our shoulder or check what we are doing. The assumption is that a person with self discipline and integrity can be left alone to do their task or fulfill a promise. With recovery we start to learn the benefits of self discipline. Like any skill it takes time and practice to become second nature. Once we develop self discipline we find we are able to do things that previously we were unable or unwilling to do without being pushed or forced to do. The mental barriers that prevent us from our goals start to fall down as we apply ourselves and follow through with our commitments. Self discipline becomes the engine for positive and continuous change in our lives. Self discipline then equals success.

 

“Whether you call it Buddhism of another religion, self discipline,  that’s important. Self discipline with awareness of consequences” – Dalai Lama

 

Try it

Challenge yourself to being more self disciplined. Even for a few days try one or some of the following if it is not already part of your routine. See if you can make it a habit. These are daily activities that I started and stuck with applying the Jedi principle of Self Discipline:

  1. Exercise daily: Do 30 minutes or more of exercise within your physical limitations. This might be a brisk walk, a jog, a fast paced run or a strength or endurance based activity in the gym or at the park. You decide, the key is to get moving especially when you don’t feel like it. Just Do it.
  2. Meditate: Sit for 15 minutes or more. Focus on the breath. If your mind wanders to stray thoughts or you are distracted gently return to the breath and continue. There are free meditation apps and podcasts as well as guided meditations on Youtube* to assist. It take self control to sit for more than 5 minutes without being distracted by the “monkey mind”.
  3. Fast: Cut one temptation from your life for a period of a week. It may be junk food, soda, alcohol or tobacco or another food item you have been wanting to cut back on. A week long sugar fast may be one that will challenge you. Try extending it longer. Intermittent fasting also takes self discipline however before you start fasting a day or two a week or change your diet speak to a health professional and listen to your body. Health and Safety first.
  4. Shut it Down: Social Media (Face Book, Twitter, Instagram) is distracting and can be a huge time waster as well as introduce toxic energy in to your day. The news media is another source of negativity that demands our attention and emotional response. I find taking time out from Face Book and switching off the news when it comes on spares me potential anxiety or anger. Leave the TV switched off and leave your cell phone on silent for a day. The world can function without us being tuned in 24 hours. You won’t miss much if you media-fast for a week.
  5. Don’t Wait: Have you been putting off a health kick for a while waiting for the right time? Are you thinking about starting martial arts but have been making excuses and keep passing up the “try before you buy: three free lessons” offer at the local Krav Maga class or Karate Dojo? You bought a guitar but don’t seem to ever be in the mood to pick it up and start learning? Well, just start, stop procrastinating and do it. These things will not happen by themselves, you have to decide and act accordingly.

 

“Do or Do Not, There is no Try”

Yoda reminded Luke Skywalker that it was entirely up to him whether he chose to succeed or fail as a Jedi. Luke had been taught much by the Jedi Master and was shown the path that he needed to take to fulfill his destiny. It was now all up to Luke what to decide and how to act. Self discipline was going to be the virtue that took him there.

What will you do?

 

 “No person is free who is not master of themselves.” – Epictetus

Jedi stay physically fit

Jedi stay physically fit for many reasons.
Jedi stay physically fit in order to accomplish their mission in life. Fitness is a part of Jedi philosophy, but the level of fitness depends on the individual. Fitness effects your mental health and over-all well being.

(33 Jedi Traits)

Jedi Fit

Jedi Philosophy is one of the few practical philosophies eastern or western outside of the martial arts which have a strong emphasis on the importance of physical fitness. Most other philosophies focus on the mental and spiritual state of the individual and overlook the holistic nature of the being must encompass the body. Jedi Philosophy considers spiritual, mental, emotional and physical well being. A holistic approach is taken that focuses on each element. To focus on the spiritual or the mental without training the body is counter intuitive to the Jedi. The elements are treated as one.

For obvious reasons the physical fitness was important to the fictional Jedi. The physicality of the Jedi trials is an example of the level of fitness required to be a Jedi. Light sabre combat skills and the ability to move quickly and with instinct were all part of Jedi training. The Jedi had incredible endurance. If we compare the fitness of a fictional Jedi to the real world we would have to look to professional athletes or top tier elite special force operators to come even close.

 

(Source: Lucasfilm)

Get Motivated

Obviously few of us are going to aim for a supreme level of fitness to the level of an elite athlete or a SF operator. For a start most of us don’t have the time to dedicate to that level of training. We also don’t have professional instructors, nutritionists and allied medical professionals like physiotherapists and exercise physiologists to support our progress. That’s no excuse though. Many of us sitting on the couch right now or eating a doughnut in front of the computer know we can do something for our health and fitness.

At this minute I am glancing out the window looking at the sky for the tell tale signs of rain. I’m asking myself “is it going to rain? Should I go to the park to train?” The problem many of us is motivation. Body may be willing but mind makes excuses. If we can get our mind willing, the body will follow.

Keep it personal

I can share my fitness regime but it’s not for everyone. Most of what I do is a mixture of Army PT meets Street Workout. I run once or twice a week up to 5 miles and train most days doing body weight exercises. Occasionally I do free weights in a gym or a session of high intensity interval training which is a series of exercises followed by kickboxing on a heavy bag. The regime works for me.

How you choose to keep fit is up to you. The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends a minimum of 5 days of moderate intensity aerobic exercise for 30 minutes or more such as walking or light exercise. More vigorous or intense aerobic exercise should be undertaken 3-4 days a week for 25 minutes.

The AHA also recommends 2 sessions a week of strength building activity. These are guidelines and individual programs will vary depending on age, overall health and personal goals. If you plan to run a marathon your fitness goals and training will differ to starting a weight lifting regime to bulk up or lose fat and put on lean muscle.

 

Just Do it

Physical exercise for me has been a panacea in my recovery along with the 12 Steps. When I got sober I was hypertensive and overweight.  I looked unhealthy. With exercise I started to get my blood pressure and weight under control and the activity made me cope better with the symptoms of withdrawal. Exercise has kept me sane as well as fit. Some days I just want to get away so I will go for a run.

Exercise allows us time to process our emotions and clear the mind. Endorphins are released and we feel better. Our mood starts to improve and life becomes more enjoyable and fun. Park Run is an example where running brings both fitness and social benefits. You can meet people and have fun. Who needs a bar to meet people unless its the local park pull up bar?

The health benefits of physical exercise cannot be understated. Exercise will not only change your life it might even save it and give you decades of quality life to look forward to.

These days I am as fit as I was in the Army around 25 years ago. Age is an illusion as are your self imposed limits. Men and women of all ages and body types can turn their life around by simply deciding to take action. Every day I see incredible results and lives transformed. The ball is in your court.

Ok the sun is out and I have time to do something. I’m off to the park to get some reps in on the bar. Get moving Jedi!

Jedi practice Martial Arts

Most Jedi know at least one form of martial arts or self-defense.

(33 Jedi Traits)

It goes without saying that the fictional Jedi were accomplished Martial Artists. One only has to remember the epic battles between Yoda and Count Dooku or Darth Sidious to appreciate the martial powers of the Jedi. Like the old Shaolin Kung Fu Monks harnessing chi, the Jedi could also harness the Force to aid them in self defense.

Most real world Jedi train in one form of martial arts or another, however while it is not a requirement it is encouraged for personal growth. The advantages are obvious; increased focus and attention, self discipline, agility, strength and coordination.

In addition martial arts provide practitioners with a form of self defense to use when needed. It is not about learning to beat someone up. In Martial Arts I have learned that the best form of self defense is not to get in to a fight in the first place. Martial arts provide a structured platform for emotional, physical and spiritual development.

Committing is Hard

Prior to getting sober the extent of my martial arts was the “hand to hand combat” taught in the Army and through general “bar room brawling”. I had tried to join various clubs. I figured that the self discipline, commitment and physical conditioning of Martial Arts would keep me out of bars and trouble.

Being an alcoholic is to be adverse to commitment, particularly when it gets in the way of discretionary drinking time. Consistency was never my thing. I showed up to training once or twice half drunk and had to be sent off the mats by disgusted instructors. In short time I would quit and move on.

Never look Back

Anything worth doing takes commitment and practice. We must dedicate our time and effort if we want results. I see recovery as similar to advancement in a martial arts discipline. We start off at white belt, completely new. The white belt is an empty vessel waiting to be filled with knowledge and skills, not booze. Our training starts and we grapple with the basics and try to find our feet. We view the old timers with awe. They give us advice. We advance one small step at a time. Some people decide to quit. We stay.

As our confidence advances we move to Yellow and then Blue belts. Occasionally we stumble and fall over, we get knocked on to our ass but we get back up and keep going. More people disappear. We graduate to Green Belt, that’s a tough one. Still we learn more about recovery and ourselves we have been sober for years now. We start guiding others on their journey as we are becoming old timers too. We reach Brown Belt  and as we claim contented sobriety we become Black Belt. Having come so far, we never look back.

What I have learned

At three months sober I joined a  Martial Arts club and continue to train. Some nights I come home bruised and battered. My middle aged body feels like it has been hit by a bus. There are times when I don’t feel like going but I know that I’ll later regret it if I don’t. I know that every training session we go to we come out better not worse. In the time I have practiced I have learned some important lessons:

1. Anything is possible

Training has taught me that we don’t know what we are capable of until we try. We can sit at home and convince ourselves that we won’t be any good and make excuses. The other option is to just get out there and do it. You may surprise yourself.

2. Be Humble

As a younger alcoholic me I would go to a Dojo and end up getting laid out on the floor by another student. The problem was my Ego. I refused to leave it at the door. Being arrogant and cocky I needed to prove myself and when I stepped a little too far over the line I was quickly reminded by a senior rank to respect others. Martial Arts teaches respect and humility. We leave our Ego and problems at the door.

3. Learn from Mistakes

Some nights you learn new skills. Other nights you seem to have two left feet and cannot get it. To look silly is fine as long as we are trying our best it doesn’t matter. Even the most talented Martial Artist struggled at some point. Learn to embrace failure as a lesson. Keep trying.

4. Control Fear and Aggression

Training hurts and can be confronting. I have learned that it is OK to have fear and aggression but to channel it in the right way. Control of fear and aggression is a must in Martial Arts. For success in recovery it is imperative.

5. Pace yourself

Sparring teaches a Fighter strategy, pace and control. A two or three minute round does not sound like much until you step in to the ring. Getting control of breathing, pacing yourself and keeping presence of mind is essential to making it to the next round. Scenario drills also teaches all round awareness which is needed in real life confrontations on the street.

The beauty of Martial Arts is we can translate the skills and attitudes that are developed in to every aspect of our lives. Most who practice for years will tell you it has made them a better person mentally, physically and spiritually.

A way of Life

They say a Black Belt is a White Belt who never gave up. Some forms of Martial Arts view the Black Belt, or equivalent, as the start of a life as a martial artist. The training never ends, there is always more to learn. Being a vessel filled one must also pass on what one has learned and so the cycle continues. Martial arts is a metaphor for life.

We should view every day of our lives in a similar way. Some days we don’t feel like getting out of bed to face the day. Sometimes life smacks us around and we end the day physically and mentally exhausted and emotionally shattered. We somehow get through it “one day at a time”. Every challenge we face and get through makes us tougher and stronger.

Aim for your Black Belt, whatever it is. Know what you want to get out of life and go and get it. If you choose to take up Martial Arts, best of luck. My only regret is that I did not take it up seriously earlier and stick with it.

Experience

 

During a lull in the battle to hold the planet Christophsis from an invading Separatist Droid Army, Ahsoka Tano is bought to Anakin Skywalker and introduced as his Padawan. Ahsoka Tano is spirited, feisty and keen, she is also trained. However she lacks experience and is seen as a burden by Anakin. Palmed off to Captain Rex, Ahsoka Tano learns that in order to survive as a Jedi she will need to benefit from the experience of others.

So you’re a Captain and I’m a Jedi then technically I outrank you right?” – Ahsoka Tano to Captain Rex

In my book, experience outranks everything” – Captain Rex, 501 Legion

Then if experience outranks everything, I better start getting some” – Ahsoka Tano

The Value of Experience

The Jedi were seen a leaders and advisors not just in war but also in diplomatic and political spheres. Many would argue that the Jedi intrusion in to the governance of the Republic was akin to a theocracy. Interference by a religious elite at best. In fact it was no such thing.

The Jedi only offered their assistance to the Republic when it was asked. Jedi were skilled and experienced in diplomacy, etiquette, military strategy and organization and served the Republic. Jedi were invaluable as Advisors and Leaders. Most Jedi were also exceptional fighter pilots. What made the Jedi so invaluable was their versatility, discipline, mission mind set and most of all their experience. Jedi were doers. They learned by doing not by pretending and bluffing.

The only source of knowledge is experience” – Albert Einstein

Inexperience

Experience and mastery was seen as vital to achieving Knighthood in the Jedi Order. The Jedi were a meritocracy; the Council assigned missions and tasks that matched the competency and experience of an individual. Throwing an inexperienced Jedi into a complex and dangerous mission was avoided until the Jedi was considered ready. This is an ideal we rarely see in the Real World.

Often we see people assume roles and responsibilities that surpass their experience. They may be qualified and have knowledge but they lack experience in application in the real world. Sometimes we also see people leap frog past others in rank or title. Through good political play, favoritism or sheer ambition they have ascended the ladder quickly.

Experience is the teacher of all things” – Julius Caesar

Muppets

In the Army we had the type who had the rank but not the experience. We called them Muppets. They usually signaled their ineptitude eventually and were often “managed” out. In some cases truly incompetent individuals were given responsibilities that included leading men in to situations they barely understood let alone had experience in. Failure in that responsibility could cost lives.

Oftentimes the individuals who held on to their roles did so by getting their way and removing obstacles. Otherwise they were protected by the “Higher Ups” for reasons that included right family and schooling.

You cannot create experience, you must undergo it” – Albert Camus

The Conscious Incompetent

In my unit I was trained as a corpsman. In the role of Patrol Medic my job was to attend to a squad. If someone got shot or kicked an IED the job fell on me. When I got back from the course I marched up to my Squad leader and told him I was qualified but inexperienced and in my view “not ready”. He thanked me for my honesty and said with time and confidence competency would come. “Just do your best and never be too proud to say you don’t know or to ask for help” he said.

The last comment was reference to some of the Officers who having been through University and Officer school considered themselves above asking ranks below for advice. They saw rank as more important than experience.

Experience is the one thing you cannot get for nothing” – Oscar Wilde

The Evolution of Competency

In almost any group you get people who fall in to one of four stages of competency. There is the unconscious incompetent who does not know what he doesn’t know. In a high stakes game these guys are dangerous. They believe they know it already and have nothing more to learn. Certain Officers fell in to this category.

The conscious incompetent is the guy who knows what he doesn’t know and recognizes his limitations. I was that guy taking the job as Patrol Medic. Everyone was aware and while they weren’t happy they respected my right to ride with trainer wheels. I was given a chance to prove myself.

The conscious competent is the person who knows what he knows and is continuously learning to get better. We see demonstrated proficiency. The last stage is Mastery, this is the unconscious competent. The level of skill and experience surpasses proficiency. They have reached the upper percentile in expertise. People in this category actually don’t know how awesome they are at what they do.

“Experience is the most brutal teacher. But you learn, my God do you learn” – CS Lewis

Easy does it

In recovery it is important to know which stage in our evolution we are. By taking the view that one is ready to test the limits of their physical, mental and spiritual carrying capacity before they are ready is to risk failing in recovery. There is a reason we say “easy does it” and “one day at a time”. Recovery as in a profession or art is mastered over time, slowly and with experience.

Where are you at this moment? Are you competent? Do you have the experience required or is it built on over confidence? As my Sergeant said to me all those years ago, “don’t be too proud to admit you don’t know, don’t be too proud to ask for help”.

No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man” – Heraclitus

Fools Rush In

No! Unfortunate that you rushed to face him… that incomplete was your training. Not ready for the burden were you.” – Yoda

In “The Empire Strikes Back” Luke Skywalker departs Dagobah against the advice of his teacher and mentor Yoda. Luke is driven by the need to help his friends and seeks to confront the evil that is Darth Vader. At this time Luke is unaware of the truth about Darth Vader, he is untrained and mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually unprepared for the challenge he has set himself. All of this matters not to Luke, like his father Anakin, he has a strong will and wants to prove himself. There is the compulsion in him to rush things and reach his goals before he is ready. In the Cloud City of Bespin Luke is lured in to a trap and meeting Darth Vader learns the terrible truth of his past before narrowly escaping. The revelation nearly destroys Luke.

Later in “The Return of the Jedi” Luke returns to Dagobah seeking to resume his training and finds there a frail Yoda, close to death. Luke broaches the subject of his Father and it is revealed that indeed Darth Vader is his Father, Anakin. Yoda then admonishes Luke that he was bound to fail in his confrontation with Vader, he was unprepared and not ready for the strong psychological and spiritual burden of knowing the truth and resisting the Dark Side. Yoda reminds Luke that sometimes in life we must realize we have much to learn and farther to go in our personal growth before we are ready to enter the next stage of our life.

The Stages of Life

Life happens in stages. We all know this. Babies are born and grow, Children bloom in to Teens and young Adults and then enter Adulthood. Eventually they find their chosen profession, find a partner and perhaps begin a family. Along the way they reach and surpass typical milestones in life mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually. Eventually their own kids grow up and leave the nest and they enter in to the middle years of life possibly with Grandkid. There is retirement and contemplation and eventually the twilight years before succumbing to old age. That is how an “ideal” or “typical” life is meant to look, or so we are told.

The life experience of one person will differ to another. This can be due to a range of factors including age, gender, cultural upbringing and education. We may find ourselves getting impatient with other people or disagree with their views. Often times we have to consider that they may be at a stage in their life which we have passed or yet to reach. We have to make allowances for that. Remember that life is a progression, a journey in which we learn and grow over time often in stages. Sometimes we guide others, like our kids and sometimes we take advice from those with more life experience and wisdom than us.

It takes a long time to bring excellence to maturity.” – Publilius Syrus

Growing Up

Everyone ages and matures at a different rate. I have met 16 year old kids living in less developed countries who were more mature and grounded than some middle age professionals I have encountered in the corporate rate race. Maturity does not necessarily correlate  with age, position, address or size of pay check. Indeed as an active alcoholic I was emotionally and socially immature, a child in a man’s body. I stopped growing as a person once I started to rely on alcohol as a social stimulant and then a requirement. That did not stop me from being relatively functional but I needed booze to function. In sobriety I discovered that I lacked the basic tools to interact with people and handle situations normally. The crutch had been removed and I had to learn to stand on my own two feet with nothing more than a basic comprehension of a program for recovery and an even dimmer understanding of the concept of a ‘Higher Power”.

“Every difficulty in life presents us with an opportunity to turn inward and to invoke our own submerged inner resources. The trials we endure can and should introduce us to our strengths.” – Epictetus

I would not expect someone who has just hit rock bottom and looking for a way out of alcoholism to know everything there is to know about recovery. It takes time, patience, effort and a lot of faith to build the experience, knowledge, wisdom and skills required to attain “contented sobriety”. Deciding after 6 weeks of “white knuckled” abstinence that we are cured is deceiving one’s self. We can try to test that idea and perhaps get away with it but it is a huge gamble and one that rarely pays off in the long run. Believe me I tried.

The Long Curve

There are many things in life which present as a steep learning curve, parenting is one of them, bringing a baby home for the first time can seem daunting and even terrifying to new parents. There is all this stuff you have to do and know that no one tells you about and the books don’t even mention. Nothing prepares you for it. Babies don’t wait if they are hungry or need a diaper changed or run a fever for us to figure it out the first time.  By child number two you are a bit more settled and after that it’s a doddle. Now you are a veteran in child raising and you look at new parents going through the same steep learning curve and you smile knowingly. Parenting is stressful but most parents cope fine and learn a lot about themselves. Recovery is sort of the same, it is a learning curve but it’s not steep, its long and its all up hill.

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit”. – Aristotle

Fools Rush In

One of the things I learned is that we cannot rush our recovery. There is no well defined point that can be reached where one declares “That’s it! I’m cured”. To take the view that a cure exists is to decide there might be short cuts and seek arrival at the desired destination of a subjective “normalcy” sooner. This is called the merry-go-round approach to life. We may change seats and try different ways of but we are still on the same ride and nothing changes.

What is “normal” anyway? Some would argue for alcoholics it is the ability to “take it or leave it” and to respond to life in an appropriate and proportionate manner. I am recovered but I will never be fully recovered and being honest would not even be able to define what “recovered” is. If I make it to the end of the day in a better condition than yesterday it’s a win.

The important thing to remember is that although we can claim the power to recover, we remain powerless over alcohol but we are never powerless to act. Many people might dispute this and claim a definitive cure but I err on the side of caution and set the cardinal rule as it applies to my addiction. I may be ready to take up a lot of challenges in life now and in the future but I will never be able to drink normally again. I won’t make the same mistake that Luke did and rush in to confront my addiction by feeding it.

Wise men say, Only Fools Rush in” – Elvis Presley

 Reaching Victory

Will I ever reach a stage in my life where I can claim victory? If recovery is a journey where the final destination is the end of life then it would be fair to say yes. If I can reach the end of life without having relapsed in to who I was before and can hopefully look back on a life “well lived” and accept death with equanimity, that is a victory in my book. There is no desire in me to declare a “cure” and return to drinking or arrive at a point that can be defined as “happily ever after“. I would not return to the illusion if I could, even if assured of being able to indulge without fear or anything worse than a hangover. That is a sane and a mature approach to something as insane as addiction. Live on life’s terms.

The final battle between Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader provides a lesson in victory. Surrendering control, accepting what is, embracing reality and letting go of what does not serve through action leads us there:

Luke Skywalker departs Dagobah and on the Planet Endor surrenders to Darth Vader. Taken to the Death Star II Luke is tempted to the Dark Side by Darth Sidious. The Emperor forces Luke to  battle Darth Vader and urges his to succumb to anger. Luke has grown and is able to resist falling to the Dark Side. His actions ultimately save his father and destroy the Dark Lord. Like Luke we must be willing to confront our own darker side not by use of force or resistance but by surrendering to what is, accepting who we are, embracing change and finally letting go. That is the path to victory. Luke had reached the end of his training and could now call himself a Jedi.

There is no “happily ever after” but Luke does find some closure, for now.

There must be a beginning of any great matter, but the continuing unto the end until it be thoroughly finished yields the true glory.”- Sir Frances Drake

Learn

“Suspend your judgment, and every being has something to teach you.” – Qui-Gon Jinn

One of the greatest mistakes that can be made is to reject something out of hand, without any consideration. More often than not we pass judgement on others before we have gotten to know them, we decide on an issue before we have all the facts. As a result we deny ourselves an opportunity to learn something new. We close our minds.

Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even the dull and the ignorant; they too have their story.” – Desiderata

Another mistake is to not try new things. To blindly follow one way and ignore all others deprives us of the chance to further grow in our recovery.

Evolve

I am a strong believer in the precept “take what you need and leave the rest”.  To place labels on myself is to make a statement “this is who I am”. Who I am actually changes constantly. There is no definitive “I am”. We are not who we were yesterday and we will not be the same tomorrow. Our lives are bombarded constantly with information. With every experience our perception of the world changes and sometimes our view point can change dramatically. The way I viewed my own life, spirituality, God and recovery five years ago is very very different to the way I view it now. I have no doubt it will continue to evolve.

As I change, so do my needs.

Sometimes the main challenge is to sift through the information and decide what to take on board and what to reject. The beauty of a practical philosophy for life is that we embrace the chance to learn and try new things. We adopt what works and drop what does not in the now. Dogma and doctrine does not bind the Jedi.

Everyone has heard the saying “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks”. It is true that with age we become wiser and more set in our ways. We are more judging and skeptical. Fortunately most of us also accept that we don’t know everything, the problem is we are often reluctant to change. However change we must.

Listen and Learn

The fellowship of the 12 steps program is a thing of beauty. I can sit in a room and listen to complete strangers tell their story and share their hope and dreams for a sober life. Every story is unique and carries a message. Every person who speaks adds to the collective experience in the room and contributes to the recovery of others. We all listen with open ears and open hearts. We may not agree with everything that is said, but we listen, consider and decide what to take from the share. Every share is an opportunity to learn.

The truth is we never stop learning and very often the most valuable lessons come from the most unlikely places. My children for example have taught me more about empathy, compassion and tolerance than I thought possible. They also taught me to be a kid again. Friends, companions and co-workers teach us in ways we often overlook. The fellow alcoholic in the 12 step meeting teaches me a lot, especially to never forget. Sometimes I also wish I could be the person my Dog thinks I am. Pets are a gift. They teach us to be gentle, kind, loyal and attentive, to love unconditionally.

Share to Keep

It has taken a long time for me to realize that I don’t know everything and that we never stop learning. Old dogs can learn new tricks. I have also come to learn that everyone I encounter in my life leaves an imprint on me in someway.

We should never ignore “even the dull and the ignorant”.  I also often wonder if everyone who has enters and leaves our life was meant to. That some sort of serendipitous fate exists that brings souls together for their mutual benefit and growth. When that soul benefit is gained they move apart.

I learned so much about myself during my years of active alcoholism and I learned more during recovery. Every experience has made me the person I am today. My role now is to continue to learn from every angle but also to share what I’ve learned along the way.

So I will share what I think I know and if someone suspends their judgement, hears me out and benefits from that then it’s all been worth it.

Training is Life

 

Training to be a Jedi is not an easy challenge, and even if you succeed, it’s a hard life.” – Qui-Gon Jinn

Life is Suffering

Life is hard and so is recovery. Our daily practices, applying principles and proactively working on self improvement all take effort. Change was never meant to be easy. It can be damn hard. Sometimes it can take everything you have.

The Jedi had a training program which included years of Temple Study in Lore, Ethics, History and Diplomacy as well as physical and martial arts training. There were long hours of meditation and light saber combat. The Jedi student was assigned to a Jedi Knight who acted as mentor and teacher. The apprenticeship lasted as long as was required to satisfy the Jedi Council of the Jedi’s competency. There were also trials the Jedi student had to pass. Training continued for life and Jedi rose in rank as they demonstrated mastery and skill. The Jedi also realized that even after hundreds of years of dedicated training they had not learned everything there was to know.

In recovery there is no graduation day or total mastery where we claim a cure from alcoholism and the problems of life. We may be recovered and strong in our sobriety however we are not immune from life. We can never truly rarely say we are cured and then return to drinking assured that we will be able to drink normally. There is always doubt, we might relapse back in to alcoholism. We don’t know everything and we never will. There is always more to learn so even the wisest and most experienced old timer never stops learning. If one is wise he will not grow arrogant and drink again.

To claim “complete mastery” over any subject and announce that there is nothing more to learn is fool hardy at best, dangerous at worst.

The Best School in the World

I like to say that the only alma mater that matters is the “school of hard knocks”. After years of formal study and training in various professions my greatest life lessons have come out of the hard experiences in life. The let downs, the disappointments and rejections, the failures and falls. The Buddha said that life is comprised of 10 000 joys and 10 000 sorrows. We shed a torrent of tears in a life time. We all experience the suffering of life. The experience makes us smarter and stronger. We learn from our mistakes and our misfortunes. In doing so we grow.

Some of these times in our life truly sucked, they were hard and tough but we got through them and they made us a better person. An old Martial Arts instructor once told me that anyone can wear a black belt. They cost a few dollars but only the person who has poured heart and soul in to their training can claim any meaning to that milestone. Its not the belt, but the pain, suffering and perseverance that it represents which matters. The black belt takes years to earn through dedicated training and application but only a moment to lose through poor choices. The Sensei can take it away at anytime, it is a distinction not an entitlement.

You only get out of life what you put in. Hard work will always pay off in the end.

In the same way I view sobriety. My sobriety is a “daily reprieve contingent to the maintenance of my spiritual condition“. What exactly does that mean? To me it means I must work daily to ensure that I get through each day. My aim is to improve with every day, to rise each day a better person than I was yesterday. I do this through Training and practical application of what I have learned. I know that if I become complacent and drop the ball I may backslide, I can end up back in the hole I put myself in all those years ago.

Daily Practice

My daily routine is a simple one but it does take effort. The benefits cannot be understated. Very often what we most need is routine and a set of goals. The best way to set goals is to break them down. With simple and achievable targets that challenge you, you will progress. Over time you ratchet up the effort a little. Always start slow but be consistent and work to improve.

My daily routine comprises of practices I have adopted from the 12 Steps, the Jedi Path and the Stoics. Feel free to come up with your own program and stick to it for a while, then modify if required to suit your lifestyle, limitations and needs.

Morning

  • On rising, practice a short period of gratitude. Remind yourself of one or two things you have to be grateful for as you come in to this day.
  • Welcome the  day. A new day means new opportunity. Be thankful for it. Every morning I try to greet the sunrise in its splendor. Otherwise I take a quiet moment and imagine the sun coming up over the horizon. I take a moment to contemplate the grand scale of the cosmos and infinite time and to remember that I choose life.
  • Spend a minute as you get ready for work or your days activities to plan the day. Set in your mind or on paper three things you aim to achieve today.
  • Consider the things that may go wrong. Remind yourself that through the day you will encounter people who are rude and obstinate and your plans may get derailed. Resolve not to let them beat you down.
  • Do my daily Readings.

During the Day

  • Do one act of kindness every day to someone. It can be anything, random or predetermined; an offer of assistance or help to someone struggling with a load, giving up my seat on the bus, a simple courtesy such as opening the door. A smile or kind word or an act of charity.
  • Deny myself something nice or practice some form of denial to remind myself not to get too attached to comforts and ease. I practice periodic intermittent fasting on occasion. In addition to reminding myself that food is a precious resource not to be taken for granted I find that occasional fasting makes me feel better. I may decide to leave my jacket at home on a cold day. Run the occasional cold shower!
  • Take a moment to undertake negative visualization. Consider a realistic scenario that might occur which could ultimately change your life or at least make it unpleasant. This could include ill health, unemployment, poverty, ridicule or hate from others, betrayal by friends or colleagues. Imagine yourself dealing with the situation and overcoming it; see yourself practicing acceptance and equanimity.
  • Do at least 30 minutes of exercise or physical training (this can also be in the morning or evening). Remember to have rest days to avoid over training (Stretch / Yoga on off days).

Evening

  • Spend at least 20 minutes in meditation (this can also be during the day or in the morning).
  • Review the day, what went right, what went wrong and consider how I can improve.
  • Journal my thoughts.
  • Take some quiet time, relax.
  • Thank the Force for another day.

Learn Humility

“You must unlearn what you have learned” – Yoda

The words by Yoda to Luke Skywalker on Dagobah pretty well summed up the Jedi Masters assessment of the young Padawan Luke. Yoda recognized so many faults and shortcomings in Luke but also much hope. The main fear was that Luke would fall in to the same emotional traps that his father Anakin displayed such as impatience, impulsiveness, fear, anger, uncontrolled rage and finally a fall to the dark side. Humility conquers pride.

Yoda knew that Luke needed to be trained from zero as a Jedi ,as Obi-wan Kenobi had not had enough time to coach Luke. Yoda also realized that all of Luke’s perceptions, his biases and beliefs needed to be challenged and ultimately replaced with those that served him better as a Jedi.

Throw out your conceited opinions, for it is impossible for a person to begin to learn what he thinks he already knows” – Epictetus – Discourses.

As an alcoholic I am a painfully slow learner and when I do decide to listen my ego will demand resistance. This is the very nature of denial. For decades I could see the damage that my selfish lifestyle was doing to myself and others but I chose to ignore it rationalizing that I had my drinking under control, that I was not an alcoholic. I chose to believe that I was like any other regular guy trying to have a good time.

Over the years I became convinced that the cost of drinking was less than the pleasure I derived from it despite the constant reminders to the contrary. In the end as the truth became painfully apparent I realized I had been living a lie for a quarter of a century and I needed to relearn everything that I thought I knew, not just about my drinking, but also my life and my very being.

unlearning everything I thought I knew about myself became a matter of life and death.

I had become a stranger to myself, I was angry and disgusted with myself while I hated the world and riled that it was the fault of others not me that I had descended to such a pitiful state. Hitting rock bottom made me realize that the answer lay in complete rejection of self denial, in the admission of my condition as a spiritually and morally bankrupt person. Acceptance of thorough and total honesty and complete and humble surrender to a power greater than myself was the answer.

I was facing a complete transformation, the old “me” died, what old timers call “ego deflation.” I was empty enough to start learning what I needed to learn to start recovery and stay sober. For me unlearning everything I thought I knew about myself became a matter of life and death.

Unlearn to Learn

For most addicts the key to recovery is self-honesty and humility. Those two virtues are essential if they are to admit their disease and start the slow march to recovery. The only way to be open enough to learn is to finally admit that we are wrong in the first place or that we don’t know. You cannot teach someone who thinks they already have the answers any more than you can instruct a rock.

As long as you live, keep learning to live” – Seneca

No matter how hard you try they will resist what seems plain to the rest of us. It is only through adopting an open mind and a humble approach that the “unconscious incompetent” starts to “get it” and begin to learn.

In the Army I experienced the process first hand. Over the span of 140 days Drill Instructors will meticulously and expertly identify character flaws and faults that require removal and through discipline encourage the traits and behaviors that are useful to the recruit. At first the body is motivated by fear and the “shock of capture”, while the mind may be less convinced, but in time the correct mindset is achieved and a soldier is produced. This is not called brain washing, this is called mental training which is pretty well what Luke got in Dagobah from Yoga.

Adopting another view point in life can be hard if we are stuck in our old ways of thinking. Anyone can pick up a book on Philosophy and read it, understand it and think they have “got it”. The reality is most will refer to their default point of view in no time despite a conscious decisions made to change. The same applied to me in the past, I would adopt an approach, believe I had overcome my addiction and return to drinking with renewed confidence only to be completely humiliated once again. Insanity.

Humans are often not adept at learning and very often a “deflation in ego” is required as Yoda revealed to Luke and as I learned when I hit rock bottom. In order to be Jedi and find your Jedi Spirit you must review your beliefs and values and cast aside that which no longer serves you as a person and as a Jedi. Very often this will be difficult and perhaps even confronting or painful but once you do you will never look back with regret.