Clarity

The dark side clouds everything”. – Yoda

What I have been lacking over the last couple of years is clarity. In many ways I have been fumbling about in the dark without direction and without purpose. This has made it very hard to focus on much, let alone training, to become a better version of myself. Life has felt like an uphill slog through fog, mud, and low hanging branches. I’m not even sure of where I am going or what I mean to do when I get there. Life has become a meaningless existence, a day-to-day grind, void of any real purpose. To clear the fog and find a clear path I need to find clarity. Clarity of purpose, intent, meaning, anything.

If one does not know which port one is sailing, no wind is favorable.” – Seneca

It seems to me that lack of clarity is a universal problem. When the pandemic started everyone seemed to be clear on the need to quickly get through it and resume normal lives. More than two years passed, and the issue never really resolved but it faded from media attention, government priority and public interest. The world then stumbled into more problems, economic and political. War in Europe and the Middle East added to the confusion and sense that the world is spinning out of control. There is no longer a clear path only noise, division and derision.

The current situation reminds me of the Republic towards the end of the Clone Wars. The Galactic Senate had become hawk like and irrational. Decisions lacked clarity and the senate was ruled by personalities and vested interests instead of a common purpose or goal. The Jedi Order had long lost its path and become a political beast leveraging its influence and interests in the senate and the military. The Clone Army also became a weapon used for personal and political gain rather than its intended purpose, to defend the Republic and its democratic institutions. There was a lot of noise and arguing in the Senate, Jedi Temple and in military briefings but no common purpose, no clarity.

Insight enables you to know your own heart. Clarity enables you to accept without illusion.” – Deepak Chopra

Yoda was referring to the inner world when he reminded his fellow council members “the dark side clouds everything”. The Dark Side was gathering its forces against the Republic, but Yoda was concerned more about the rot that was taking place within the Senate and the Jedi Council. The real threat did not reside with separatist forces but was there among them growing like cancer and shrouding everything in a dark cloud of doubt, deceit, confusion, and uncertainty.

Palpatine undermined and defeated the Jedi not through combat but by seeding doubt and uncertainty through lies, manipulation, and subterfuge.  The Jedi lost clarity and in that fog of doubt the very sense of who they were. Darth Sidious, clear in his vision for the galaxy, only needed to enact Order 66 to finish off the Jedi and usurp the senate.

Lack of clarity, the insidious cloud of doubt and despair will derail progress and threaten recovery. Besides falling to resentment and despair, lack of clarity is one of the main things that will betray you.

I have frequently seen people become neurotic when they content themselves with inadequate or wrong answers to the questions of life.” – Carl Jung

Clarity can be had by doing a few different things. Getting the right amount and right type of sleep, eating a balanced diet, and taking supplements especially vitamin B and choline.  Physical exercise, meditation, and mindfulness practice, reading and doing mental exercises also improve cognitive function. Listing what needs to be done, prioritizing, and having a clear plan of action provides direction and focus.  Striving for meaning and purpose in everything you do will lead to clarity in your mind and heart. Being grateful for what you have instead of constantly wanting what you don’t have provides clarity to the soul.

The world may be falling apart but you don’t need to. Being Jedi means being able to accept what is without judgement and keeping a clear mind. A clear mind leads to clarity and with clarity we have purpose and intent and find meaning in our lives. We know where we are going, and we know why and what we will do when we get there. Finding clarity amidst the noise, confusion and uncertainty in our external lives is impossible. You won’t find it anywhere but within yourself. Look there.

I hope that’s clear.

Dwell not on the faults and shortcomings of others; instead, seek clarity about your own.” – Buddha

Hero

On many long journeys have I gone. And waited, too, for others to return from journeys of their own. Some return, some are broken; some come back so different only their names remain.” – Yoda

I started this blog 5 years ago on May 4, 2017. It was four year, six months since I had had my last drink and chosen the path of sobriety. In May 2014 I had rediscovered the Jedi Path through the Jedi Academy Online website and started my journey as a practitioner of Jedi philosophy. That was eight years ago, and a lot has happened. The Jedi Academy has become Jedi Living and entered a period of hiatus. My Jedi practice has become “normal living”. The goal of any philosophy is to live it so that eventually it becomes you.

After a while effort becomes unconscious habit. That is not to say that practice is perfect, there is no such thing as perfection and life is more complicated than that. Over the last two years there has been a pandemic, before that there was social and political upheaval, now economy falters, and the drums of war beat. Life throws up its challenges. Nothing is for certain; nothing is permanent but after all this time I am still on the path and still sober. I am a traveler who has taken his first steps into a larger world on the “Hero’s Journey”.

Difficult to see. Always in motion is the future…” – Yoda

Today is May 4th and I thought it timely to post the page from Week 52 of the “Daily Jedi Journal”, the Hero’s Journey. I write this stuck in isolation after testing positive for COVID19. Being triple vaccinated has not spared me from the disease as I expected, a surprise given this is the first time I have been bed ridden with cold and flu symptoms in 10 years. I take that as one of life’s experiences because after all this is a journey and what is that unless the path is strewn with challenges and struggles to overcome as well as gifts to enjoy. To celebrate Star Wars is in essence to celebrate and pay homage to the Hero that resides in everyone. Being Jedi is allowing that Hero archetype to come forth to better your life and the lives of others. So today, as everyday, MTFBWY.

That’s good you have taken your first step into a larger world.” – Obi-wan Kenobi

Life is a journey. To be Jedi is to seek to live the Hero’s Journey. Over the last year you have taken your first steps into a wider world and began to walk the Jedi Path. The Jedi Path has no ending unless you choose to leave it. This means that being Jedi is a mindset as well as a philosophy for life. It is something that you may pick up and put aside after months, years or decades or continue for the rest of your life. If being Jedi adds value to your life, provides a useful and beneficial framework for solving problems and leads to continuous improvement then is it not worth holding on to? If you find something better, take it.

Marcus Aurelius, possibly the closest example of a Jedi Master to be found in history, wrote “If, at some point in your life, you should come across anything better than justice, truth, self-control, courage—it must be an extraordinary thing indeed”. Even today 1700 years later, those words are applicable. What could be better than having virtues such as courage, self-discipline and doing what you know to be right. Philosophy is not a book on a shelf to be pulled down to memorize quotes for reciting to friends in a café. Philosophy is expressed through virtues, principles, and practices that are demonstrated daily. A philosophy that has no practical application is useless because it is meant to be a moral compass with which you navigate life.

I am neither a scientist nor a philosopher. I’m a Jedi. I don’t have to explain reality. I just have to deal with it.” – Mace Windu

Carl Jung’s archetype of the Hero in analytical psychology led Joseph Campbell to the monomyth and the Hero’s Journey. Symbols, myths, and archetypes are present in every culture throughout history. All of humanity share a common experience that we all recognize intuitively. George Lucas took the monomyth and created Star Wars capturing the Hero’s Journey in a way that broke into popular culture like never before.

Luke Skywalker was the Hero in Star Wars. He is a young farmer who dreams of adventure. The plans to the Death Star come to him through R2D2 which had also been the Droid belonging to his father, Anakin. Fate leads him to Obi-wan Kenobi who becomes his guide. Through tragedy he accepts the call to adventure when his uncle and aunt are slaughtered by Imperial Troops. Luke experiences many challenges and finally arrives on Dagobah where Yoda trains and mentors Luke in becoming a Jedi. On Dagobah he is forced to confront his shadow and integrate it.

Through the Force, things you will see. Other places. The future… the past. Old friends long gone.” – Yoda

Luke enjoys victories and suffers setbacks learning from them. On Cloud City he confronts his nemesis and discovers that Darth Vader is his father plunging him into a dark existential crisis, hitting rock bottom, from which he is reborn and returns stronger. In “The Return of the Jedi” Luke finds atonement by redeeming his father and defeating the Dark Lord. The Force finds balance and Luke completes his journey reuniting with his friends and returning home carrying the prize of his adventures.

The Hero’s Journey is the process by which the Hero archetype achieves individuation, the overcoming of the ego persona and the full realization of the self. Luke Skywalker arrived at his destiny by embarking on an adventure into the great unknown. This required sacrifice and suffering. To arrive at the destination and become completely whole, one must embrace both the light and dark sides of the self. This brings the Force in to balance.

You think Yoda stops teaching, just because his student does not want to hear? A teacher Yoda is. Yoda teaches like drunkards drink, like killers kill.” – Yoda

Within every person is a need to grow, to learn and expand. In each there is a desire to enter the unknown and find themselves there. Humans are driven to seek, explore and work to arrive at a place of self-knowledge and self-actualization. When they are prevented from doing so, they struggle and suffer. Every person deserves to strive to reach their potential in life. This is the Force.

It is unlikely you will ever reach enlightenment. Perfection is neither realistic nor possible. To practice the Jedi Code for 24 hours is hard enough. But each 24 hours is a chance to build on the previous day. The journey is to know thyself. No one knows how much time they have. Your job is to use that time wisely.

Luminous beings are we… not this crude matter.” – Yoda

Statues

The Statue of Jedha (Copyright and all rights reserved by Lucas Films Ltd)

 

If you believe in the Jedi and you believe in the Force, it feels like Jedha is somewhere you should visit in your lifetime.“―Gareth Edwards

 

The great Jedi statue lay fallen in the desert. A symbol of a forgotten time. All memory of the Jedi had been erased. It was safer not to speak of the legends that mentioned them. It was treason and punishable by death to do so. Those that still held on to the hope of a better future looked to the past and the stories to give them strength.

 

Statues can be works of art, they are symbols of the past, present and future. To some they represent a memory of life in different time. They may be seen as reminders of past glories, victories and success. Erecting statues has been a form of human reverence and celebration since early antiquity. Yet while they are admired as symbols of the past good and bad by some their existence is reviled by others. Statues that stand eventually come down.

 

The Colossus of Rhodes stood 100 feet high and was toppled by an earthquake. The  great statues of Rome stood for centuries until they were toppled when the city was sacked. The greatest of the Roman statues, the Colossus of Constantine stood 40 feet tall. The great statue of Zeus in the Temple of Olympia survived for almost a millennia until it was destroyed in the fifth century. Hundreds of statues glorifying the founders of the Soviet Union were removed following the fall of the Berlin Wall. More recently the great Buddha statue at Bamyam was destroyed by the Taliban in 2001.

 

Removing monuments and statues has now become a form of cultural cleansing designed to rewrite history and expunge the memory of past injustices. The act is a cultural and political one. Statues are made of stone and bronze and are silent yet they tell a different story to different people. Statues themselves are indifferent. They do not care if they remain standing or are broken in to pieces. Statues cause no injury or offence. The harm that they are perceived to cause resides only in the minds of the offended. Whether a statue stands or is removed from existence makes no difference to past glories, tragedies or injustices.

 

Sometimes I visit a war memorial. I look at the statues that are there. For me the inner experience of seeing the monument to a distant past and reading the names of the fallen is personal. It is different to everyone. When I was drinking I had beliefs and attitudes that were as tall and solid as statues of marble. They were my monuments to an ego run riot. In time I learned to no longer look to these pillars and statues. I no longer revered them. My choice is not to forget the past but to remind myself daily what it was like, what changed and how it is now. I need those reminders because they tell a story that I cannot forget if I mean to remain sober.

 

If we forget our history we are doomed to repeat it.

 

When the Jedi Order fell and the survivors of Order 66 fled in to exile the Empire moved to erase all memory of the Jedi. Jedi Temples were destroyed. Statues of the great Jedi Masters were pulled down. New statues and monuments that exalted the glory of the Empire were built on the ruins of those that had been ground to dust. The Great Jedi Temple of Coruscant was ransacked, the library destroyed but the building preserved for the enjoyment of Darth Sidious. It became the the Imperial Palace. Where reason, inquiry, learning and light had filled the corridors and halls now only fear, intimidation and darkness resided.

 

Hope still survives in the galaxy. On a distant planet on the outer rim an old hermit peers out across the desert as if gazing in to the past and the future at the same time. The old man has seen many things and he remembers them all.

 

Now ask, ‘Where is the Force of Others?’ and one answer becomes inevitable: the kind and cold moon of Jedha. For a thousand faiths see the truth in Jedha’s mysteries, no matter that their stories differ; no matter that not one history of the Temple of the Kyber can explain each brick in its foundation, or that our legends entwine and part in paradox.―”Faith and the Force of Others”: An excerpt from the archives of the Order of the Esoteric Pulsar.

 

Star Wars Actor John Boyega Shares Yoda's Message Of Support For ...

No Guru

I am neither a scientist nor a philosopher. I’m a Jedi. I don’t have to explain reality. I just have to deal with it.” – Mace Windu

 

People sometimes ask “why Jedi” and I sometimes see people in the Jedi community online debate strongly the qualities and virtues of a “Jedi of quality”. Likewise in the recovery community we often disagree on what constitutes contented sobriety and perfect recovery. Alcoholics in the 12 Step community cannot even agree on whether one can call themselves “recovered” or not. We are left wondering if we are good enough and whether we can arrive at the standard others expect. There are no Gurus here,  your inner voice is the true guide on this path.

 

The point of recovery  is not to reach a state of perfection or even reach some arbitrary standard set by others. Being sober is often enough. Being Jedi is no guarantee of achieving the rank of a Master. Demonstrating the virtues of courage, wisdom, moderation and justice and maintaining a healthy mind, body and soul is often enough.

 

The goal of anything is to improve incrementally over time and hopefully make some difference along the way. There are no Gurus in the recovery program and no true “Jedi Masters” exist in the real world. There are only people doing the best they can for themselves and those close to them. We all want to live a good and meaningful life. We all want to make some positive difference in the world. True heroes are normal, everyday people getting on with life and overcoming obstacles along the way. They are not fictional characters achieving impossible and daring feats.

 

Buddhism has its Bodhisattvas, those who approach enlightenment through dedicated practice but never achieve it in a life time. The Bodhisattvas cultivate good karma for the benefit of all living things on their life journey. Enlightenment, the achievement of “nothingness” may take countless lives to achieve. In the Vedic tradition Gurus also accumulate wisdom and knowledge in the divine. A life time of practice and application may lead to a state of spiritual bliss but enlightenment occurs once in a hundred generations.

 

In the west, Christianity has its rare saints who have achieved oneness with the holy spirit through a life time of dedication, self-sacrifice and piety. Islam and Judaism also have a spiritual ideal that equates to enlightenment.  the Socratic philosophies speak of the Sage who has lived a life unblemished by the concerns and distractions of mere mortals. The Stoic Sage perfected the virtues of courage, justice, moderation and reason in every aspect of life. The state of perfection was known to be unattainable however this did not prevent the Stoic from living those virtues to the highest standards possible. The end result was the attainment of a “good life” through compassion and service to others.

 

Failing to achieve  enlightenment in a lifetime does not make one a bad Buddhist, Hindu, Sikh, Christian, Muslim or Jew. If a person works hard to make life more fulfilling for themselves and others in a meaningful way, regardless of their religion or school of philosophy, they are a being a good human. They are living a good and meaningful life. The saints, prophets, prophets, gurus and sages provide a sign post and a platonic ideal we can all aspire to.

 

Mythology also inspires. Stories describe the human experience as one in which the Hero will pursue some holy pursuit in order to transcend himself and benefit the world in some way.   The Star Wars mythology is no different. All of the main characters are involved in a journey of self-discovery and self realisation. Their actions somehow lead to a better state for themselves and others. The consequence of those actions ripple out across the galaxy. On rare occasions our Jedi hero achieves enlightenment and transcends to the Force. Their journeys inspire us through the medium of fantasy.

 

The goal of the fictional Jedi is to become one with the living Force. In doing so the Jedi arrives at the perfect states of serenity, peace, harmony, knowledge and unity with the Force. In the real world we can only hope to work towards this platonic ideal. The reward is in the work we do to progress down the path. Helping others, becoming better versions of ourselves and in some way making the world a better place, not enlightenment, are the desired outcomes. The goal of the 12 Steps is to stay sober and live a measure of contended sobriety, to grow spiritually and help others on their journey. The common theme is to improve, grow and serve not to become a Guru to others.

 

Philosophy is not about accumulating fancy quotes and devouring literature to satisfy our thirst for knowledge. The point of philosophy is to learn what is useful and apply the knowledge, skills and tools required to improve our lives and the lives of others. We are not here to be “philosophers or scientists”, but to deal with reality and be better versions of ourselves every day. That’s what being Jedi is.

 

Every day is a new chance to rise up and step forward, one foot at a time on this life journey. Eventually we will come to the end of the road and look back on a life that is spent. The question is will you look back at a life lived well? If you do you will have realised your purpose and come to know yourself. That’s more than most people can lay claim to.

 

As we come to the end of another year, ask yourself “Why am I on this journey?”, “Where do I want to go?”, “How can I be the best version of myself?” and “What do I need to do to achieve my goals?”. When you can answer those questions, get to Work.

Sage

“You will know good from bad when you are calm, at peace, passive” – Yoda

Why am I here? What’s my purpose in life?…What do I mean by who am I?” – Meditations of a Sperm Whale called in to spontaneous existence by the Infinite Improbability Drive moments before falling to its death on an alien planet. ― Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

 

Marcus Aurelius was the Emperor of Rome. Historians call him one of the five “Good” Emperors who ruled for the benefit of his people and not the other way round. Marcus Aurelius is also notable in that his personal reflections are preserved to this day in the book “Meditations”. Being a Stoic, journaling was something that he practiced. More than 1800 years later after his death we still have a remarkable insight in to the mind of a man who saw every day as an opportunity to continuously practice virtues and improve himself. Marcus was no Sage, he was fallible and had faults like any human being. Despite his status he embraced his weaknesses and strived to be a good man. To this day “Meditations” continues to inspire and teach. I would argue that Marcus Aurelius, while no Stoic Sage, could have easily been a Jedi Master.

 

Waste no more time arguing about what a good man should be. Be one.” – Marcus Aurelius

 

A Verb

The Jedi are fiction. We all know that. There are no Jedi in existence. Someone may call themselves Jedi but they are not an “actual” Jedi. Jedi exist in the Star Wars Universe, those of us who identify as Jedi are only using that label to define who we consider ourselves to be. The “trick” is in being Jedi. Living as how you perceive a Jedi should live.

The Stoic Sage is also fiction. None exist. It is likely that they never existed. If a Stoic Sage has come along there is no record. The Sage is a rare as the Enlightened one of which we also have no proof. If you have met someone who claims to be enlightened it is highly likely they aren’t. A person can profess to be Stoic and practice the philosophy but not seriously claim to be an actual Stoic. If someone meets you and introduces themselves as a Stoic Sage you can immediately dismiss it as false.

 

Love the hand that fate deals you and play it as your own, for what could be more fitting?” – Marcus Aurelius

 

The Heart of Gold

The Stoics passed in to history with the conversion of Rome to Christianity. Only about 1% of the works of the classical Stoics exists therefore we only know a small part of the philosophy pieced together by what has survived. The writings that remain are significant but are only a tiny fragment. Almost nothing remains of the original Greek philosophers. There are no Stoa today where students of the philosophy receive instruction. When someone says they practice Stoicism or call themselves a Stoic it is akin to calling themselves a Jedi. We know less about what the Stoics believed than even the Jedi.

If String Theorists are correct and there are infinite Universes it would be logical to assume that there are also infinite possibilities. Meeting a Jedi is therefore within the realms of possibility. There could in fact exist a Universe that is a parallel of the one created by George Lucas replete with Jedi and Sith. Just as possible, but also highly unlikely, there could also be Universe out there where Stoics exist, a carbon copy of the original. Within the realms of what Douglas Adam’s penned “infinite improbability” would this reality exist. If you meet a real Jedi or Stoic on the street you are probably having a lucid dream.

 

Don’t behave as if you are destined to live forever. As long as you live and while you can, become good now” – Marcus Aurelius

 

Aspirational

None of this means that we cannot aspire to be what we imagine a Jedi Master to be. As I stated above, Marcus Aurelius could easily have been a Jedi Master in another Universe. My guess he was not trying to be anything other than a man of virtue. Being taught in the philosophy, Stoicism formed his ideas and character. More importantly, Marcus was taught to apply what he had learned and avoid using philosophy only for rhetoric, speculation and contemplation. Marcus Aurelius practiced and lived in accordance with his principles and demonstrated the merits of his chosen philosophy throughout his life. The concept of a Sage may have been nothing more than an impossible ideal to aspire to. The Stoics would accept that it can never be reached in one short life time.

The Jedi Master can also be seen as a model of perfection to aspire to but impossible to reach in reality. I’ve met no one who can wield Force Powers for example. The Jedi Code however provides a clear goal that the Jedi must work on in order to achieve “Mastery of Self”. Serenity, Peace, Harmony, Knowledge and the Force are the outcomes of perfect Jedi practice. The reality is that no matter how hard a Jedi trains here on Earth, there is no reaching a perfect state. Serenity and peace are never permanent, harmony can be unbalanced, knowledge is never complete and the Force is unknowable.

My greatest mistake in early recovery was seeking perfection. My goal was perfect practice and spiritual transcendence. I demanded perfection from myself and others. When I and others failed to meet that benchmark I was angry, resentful and frustrated. My sanity started to slip. The only solution was to start accepting that perfection is for fools. Change happens if we work for it. A degree of serenity is attainable, happiness is in reach, contended sobriety is possible. These goals are attainable, but perfection is not. Everything is fleeting and there will be bad days as well as good.

 

Let each things that you would do, say or intend be like that of a dying person” – Marcus Aurelius

 

The Pursuit

The end goal is not what we should be after. The journey is what is important. If the destination is perfection we come to accept that perfection can never be reached by we can still try for it. A Buddhist Monk may aspire to become a Bodhisattva and spend his entire life reaching an ideal to arrive at the end of life well short of that goal. Even if he does, it may not lead to enlightenment. A Stoic did not seek  the perfect state of a Sage for its own sake. A Sage is the end result of a life of perfect practice which is impossible in one life time.

In recovery we are often warned to avoid seeking perfection. The pursuit of perfection is a path laden with disappointment and frustration. Instead of perfection we are encouraged to seek progress and work hard. In the beginning we only seek to stop the slide to oblivion. As we built a solid foundation and started to apply simple principles in our lives we start to develop character and demonstrate virtue. In time we begin to see change in our lives inwardly and externally. The longer we walk the path the stronger our sobriety.

 

The the mark of perfection of character – to spend each day as if it were your last” – Marcus Aurelius

 

All that Remains

All we have now is what exists. The Stoics Marcus Aurelius, Musonius Rufus,  Seneca and Epictetus were mortal and are now mere atoms. All that survives of them are remnants of their writings. Modern day Stoics take from that and have a practical philosophy which works many centuries after the last classical Stoic died. Real World Jedi are left with random quotes from movies and books to use as inspiration for a philosophy. Yoda, Obi-wan Kenobi and Luke Skywalker never existed. Strangely enough Jedi Philosophy still works for many.

In recovery we also take what we need and leave the rest. The example of those who have come before inspire and teach us. A personal philosophy is built from the ground up. We live it every day and recover.

 

Think of the whole universe of matter and how small your share. Think about the expanse of time and how brief, almost momentary the part marked for you. Think of the workings of fate and how infinitesimal your role” – Marcus Aurelius

 

The Sage

Always pause to consider what you are chasing. Are you chasing perfection? Do you wish to reach enlightenment, to become a Sage? Is your goal to transcend to the Force while you still live? Is progress the goal? Marcus Aurelius was the Emperor of the greatest Empire that ever existed. To many Romans, the Emperors were divine and therefore perfect. Marcus Aurelius did not see himself as perfect or seek perfection at all but only to be good. “Meditations” reveals a personality that displayed all of the traits of a Jedi Master. The goal of “Meditations” was daily progress.

A perfect job, partner, home or life do not exist. They are ideals we desire only and are largely out of our control. They are as attainable as enlightenment. We can come to a state where we are happy with what we have and grateful for it or we can continue to pursue perfection and then arrive at frustration and disappointment. You can only seek to better yourself. Aim to be a better version of the person you were yesterday. Be happy with progress. Be Good.

 

Soon you will die, and still you aren’t sincere, undisturbed, or free from suspicion that external things can harm you” – Marcus Aurelius

 

Further Reading

 

How to Think Like a Roman Emperor: The Stoic Philosophy of Marcus Aurelius

The Last Jedi

Source: http://www.starwars.com

Count Down

Tomorrow at this time I will be a settling in to watch “The Last Jedi”. I’ll be honest I haven’t been to see a Star Wars movie at the cinemas since 1983 with the release of “Return of the Jedi”. The prequels and the last two offerings from Lucas / Disney I have watched at home months after they were released.

I’ve never white knuckled the count down to release date or stood in a queue with the Sci-Fi geeks wearing a Jedi robe at a midnight screening. Given that I’ve never bothered to watch a Star Wars movie on its release date, the question “why this one, what’s so different?” is a valid one. There are two reasons.

Firstly I have a movie voucher which needs to be cashed in.

Secondly, I’m intrigued by the choice of title. There has been a lot of discussion about the actual meaning of “The Last Jedi”. Is it reference to Luke Skywalker? Or is Rey the Last Jedi? Is there finality in the statement that we will see the final end of the Jedi in this episode and the emergence of something else that is more palatable to mainstream opinions?

 

Disclaimer

I know next to nothing about the actual plot of the movie. I never got invited to the Premier or exclusive early screenings. I don’t even known anyone who knows someone who did.  Disney has also closely guarded details about the actual story.

I can’t offer spoilers, only guesses and a bit of philosophy. If you are reading this after having seen the movie you may say “Ha! You got it completely wrong!” If so, that’s fine. I have some questions for you.

 

Questions

During a recent interview Mark Hamill was very cryptic about the movie plot. Many pundits online wondered whether there was a hint of disillusionment or antipathy about the movie coming from Hamill.

It is no secret that the current trilogy brings an end to the original Star Wars line up. Han Solo is dead and Harrison Ford is out of the picture. Carrie Fisher as General Leia will make her last appearance in this movie on the eve of the first anniversary of her untimely passing. Does this episode also see the demise of Luke Skywalker?

Is that the whole story though? Is something else afoot? What is Disney’s intent with the Jedi Order? Is there a deeper reason to Hamill’s apparent non nonchalance and rumored misgivings about the plot than a possible final retirement from the franchise to make way for newer and fresher blood? Are the fans of the original trilogy going to be walking out disappointed or will we be begging for more?

Since 1977 I’ve been asking questions about the plot and direction of Star Wars. The franchise has become very successful at keeping us guessing.

 

Populist

I read this statement in a LA Times review:

 “The Last Jedi is so beautifully human, populist, funny, and surprising. I cried when one POC heroine got her moment because films like these leave their mark on entire generations – and representation matters.”

 

Two words jump out at me; “populist” and “representation”. Both words suggest a carefully calculated social agenda built in to the plot. Hollywood is an epicenter for the assimilation of popular thought in to mass consumption through movies.

If we go back in time we can see how the views and attitudes of the day are reflected in the story lines and movies characters of the day. Movies have always been an effective way to communicate change to generations and to hold a mirror to the face of society. Star Wars is certainly no exception.

 

Mythology

Stars Wars is a mythology that was born at a different time. When Episode 4 “A New Hope” was released in 1977 America had recently been defeated in a long and bloody war in Vietnam. The counter culture was winding down in America. Hippies that had not found responsibilities, careers and suits were getting high and spiritual in places like the Hindu Kush and Himalayas. The Jesus revival was in full swing in America.

The nation at the time was finding itself and trying to determine its identity after the turbulent post-war period. George Lucas was a product of these times and had cultivated a personal philosophy which resonated within the movie through the mystical and enigmatic Jedi. As a 10 year old I identified immediately with what the Jedi had to offer.

 

 

Representation

Things have changed in the last forty years. The buzzwords of the current times are “political correctness and representation matters” among other hashtags.

There is nothing wrong with ensuring that gender and race are given fair hearing in Hollywood Blockbusters. No producer in Hollywood wants to release a movie that may come across as misogynist, racist, patriarchal or homophobic.

The fallout however is that the Star Wars Universe may be reinvented to conform with ideology rather than remaining true to the fictional premise of the story.  Jedi may no longer be welcome in the modern era. The Jedi Order after all was a pseudo monastic religious order that was by nature patriarchal and full of “old male” stereotypes at the helm. Not exactly diverse or representative.

There were female Jedi and Jedi Masters but no females existed in the Jedi Council at the fall of the Republic in Episode 6 “Revenge of the Sith”. With the exception of Princess Leia and to some extent Padme Amidala all of the hero archetypes in the Star Wars original and prequel line up were male. The only person of color who could be called a hero was the scheming smooth-talking smuggler, Lando Calrissian. Jedi Master Mace Windu had a minor role in the prequels but he was more “Realpolitik” than progressive.

 

Screen Rant

In a recent article on “Screen Rant” a compelling case was made maligning the Jedi Order for a series of bad decision throughout its history. The Jedi Order were not perfect in fiction but they were nothing like the Sith. The faults that ran through the Jedi Order ultimately led to the rise of the Empire and its ultimate betrayal and destruction. The whole cannot be blamed for the errors of the few.

Is a type of revisionism in Star Wars really appropriate? Do we now need to ensure that the story fits snugly in to a politically correct agenda in order to avoid offending someone at the Oscars? Should the fictional Jedi be relegated to the dust bin of history? Are we ready for a feminist Star Wars with a secular, sexy-strong and independent light sabre wielding Grey Jedi out to rid the galaxy of the oppressive patriarchy in all its forms? Does Star Wars need its own Wonder Woman? I guess the Box Office sales and reviews will answer that question in good time.

 

After Tomorrow

Whatever happens in this movie, after tomorrow I’ll keep being Jedi regardless. None of it really matters in the end. No matter what happens in my life I’ll likewise keep being sober. What happens outside of my control is outside of my control. The real reason I want to rush out and see this movie boils down to one question; is this really the final end of the Jedi on the big screen? Will Luke really “die”? If so, I want to see Luke Skywalker  transcend to the Force like Yoda in “Empire”.

 

May you enjoy the movie.

What would Kenobi do?

Making up Legends

We often look to historical figures to guide us in how we should act and conduct our lives. Religious icons such as Prophets and Saints are often used as examples we can follow. Their stories are told so that others can take meaning of their work and emulate it some way. Historical and religious figures are raised on to a pedestal of greatness and perfection  Very often the person that is represented is not a true and accurate image of who that person was in reality. History becomes distorted over time and the accounts of some of the most revered figures are often disputed. Sometimes they were never recorded when the person was alive but afterwards. Historical figures essentially become legends based on a great deal of myth. Figures that had a resounding impact on the world; people that lived, breathed and were often martyred for their cause essentially become fictional characters in a story over time.

The reality of the who a person was and who they weren’t becomes insignificant in the light of the story. What is important is the story and the role that the character played within it. Whether it agrees with historical fact is irrelevant. Many nations and religions are built on this paradox of reality and fiction.

Star Wars is a work of fiction. There is no doubt about that. There was never a Darth Vader, Obi-Wan Kenobi or Luke Skywalker. The Star Wars saga is a complete fantasy based on the journey of the hero. It was written by a man who has turned his creation in to a global phenomenon spanning more than forty years and destined to continue to enthral and entertain hundreds of millions of people for decades to come. If anyone was to suggest in the beginning that the story might become the inspiration for a philosophy for life or a contemporary religion they would have probably been called mad. But that is the case and it is growing daily.

 

One’s Fantasy, One’s Faith

But why not? Religion is essentially based on myth and fantasy. Stories depicted in the religious texts of the main world religions are for the most part not historically verifiable. At the very least they may be loosely based on events that actually happened but distorted to such an extent over centuries that they became fiction. The religious figures, whose names are known by almost everyone, are depictions based on the descriptions of people who knew them and wrote accounts on their lives as they remembered it. Many of the stories were also written much later by people who never knew the characters involved. We cannot be sure that the icons who have influenced the world are real or based on pure myth no more factual than Star Wars.

If many of the world’s religions, beliefs and philosophies are based on myth than why would it seem so strange that people would look to a modern day space saga for inspiration? All the elements are there. There is the struggle between good and evil, light and dark. Characters which stand in almost biblical stature abound the Star Wars Universe. The Sith and Jedi present to great forces opposing each other. There is also the omnipresence of the Force which brings a strong spiritual essence adding hope and destiny to the story.

 

Knowing and not.

Recently I heard someone ask another person what they thought a particular religious figure would have done if faced with a situation that required  a lot of soul searching. The question struck me as odd as there is no way to know how that person would have acted in that situation or in any situation. All we have is an image, assumptions about a man who lived a long time ago and for which no reliable and historically verifiable accounts exist other than those written by men decades or centuries after he lived. For all intents the man, if he existed at all, may have been a very different character to the one depicted today. We just don’t know for sure.  Assumptions can be made on how he would have acted based on our personal beliefs and what we have been taught or read.

To a 12 Stepper one might ask, “What would have Bill W done”? Again, we can only surmise. Bill W was a complex character not without fault; he was human after all as were all of the Saints, Gurus and Prophets in all the religions of our world. No less, our most revered historical figures, philosophers and leaders, modern and ancient, were and are also human. They were exceptional but they also had faults. To surmise how they would apply principles in all circumstances is a rhetorical question; we can only imagine how they might of.

 

Kenobi

Call me a Geek or worse, I ask “What would Obi-wan Kenobi do” when presented with a problem. Go ahead and laugh but I have found a remarkable tool. Obi-wan Kenobi is entirely fictitious. The story of Obi-wan Kenobi has been largely told. We have a recorded history of his life from the time he was a young Padawan with Qui-Gon Jinn to the moment he was felled by his old apprentice and friend on the Death Star. Later we know Obi-wan as an ethereal figure who lives on after “death” and continues to mentor and guide Luke Skywalker in his quest to bring balance to the Force. There is nothing hidden about Obi-wan Kenobi. We know his character and unless future writers decide to distort and twist the persona in movies and books we have a fairly clear image of who he really “was”.

Unless a person is living under a rock or has no access to modern audio-visual entertainment they would have at least seen one of the Star Wars movies. Many people under the age of 60 are also more familiar with the Star Wars saga than they are with religious stories or doctrine. Whether this is a sign of the times or a complete accident, “Star Wars” may well one day be called the “greatest story ever told”. It seems that almost everyone knows or has at least has heard of Obi-wan Kenobi. Inspiration need not be drawn from someone who actually lived, it can be the idea of someone that didn’t.

 

What would you do?

If people are asked to describe Obi-wan Kenobi you will likely get words like “patient, calm, friendly, witty, intelligent, wise, reliable, loyal, astute and kind”. For me, Obi-wan Kenobi represents a good role model. The fact that he never existed does not matter. If we can relate to a character and find qualities and wisdom in that person worth emulating in our own lives then it should not matter whether the person existed or not. I’m glad Obi-wan Kenobi is a fictional character as history will never uncover facts which challenge my perception. The world is changing and the role models of the past are being swept away as history is revised to align with attitudes of the day. Rationality replaces dogma while extremism replaces wider tolerance. Obi-wan stands aside from all of that and provides a perfect role model for me. Even Disney can’t change that.

If on the other hand you are no fan of Obi-wan Kenobi you can also ask “What would Yoda do?”.  More importantly ask, “What should I do”.

MTFBWY

Living like a Stoic Jedi

Stoic Week

For the last seven days I have been living like a Stoic. For those that are not aware the international group called “Modern Stoicism” hold an annual conference in one major city to discuss Stoicism and how the philosophy can be applied in modern times. After the conference invitees and the global community are invited to try living like a Stoic for a week. This year several thousand people signed on to the free event and put the Stoic practices to work in their own lives. Following a week participants were invited to complete a life satisfaction survey and compare results with the same survey taken the week before. Given that the exercise only went for a week it is unlikely that people new to Stoicism would find much difference in their lives however we can agree that the philosophy does has a lot to offer.

So why is someone who promotes and advocates Jedi philosophy so inclined towards Stoicism? What are the similarities between Stoicism and Jedi philosophy? Why should we care?

 

The use of Philosophy

Well the goal of Jedi Philosophy is to achieve “world betterment through self betterment”. Stoicism is pretty much the same. Many people out there are in to self improvement and there is nothing wrong with that. I have been embarking on self improvement campaigns of one sort of another most of my life. The problem that I and many other people had was the underlying motivation and intent that went in to our efforts to improve. We wanted to be “better” but not necessarily better people. Practical philosophies help us to identify our values, define our goals and keep us motivated in our efforts to be a better person and live a better life.

 

Motivation

We can decide to do something about our weight and fitness. Getting ripped at the gym to look better is great but if we are doing it only to impress other people with our physique then it’s actually a little pretentious and fake. If your motivation and goal is to be fitter and healthier so that you can improve your quality of life and be a better partner, friend, father, mother and so on then you are trying to be a better person. Studying philosophy simply for the purpose of being able to quote dead people in front of your friends might be impressive for a while but unless there is genuine application of the philosophy in your life then it’s shallow and not going to impress anyone for long.

Having a personal philosophy for life helps us to align our values with our goals in life. We find that having a goal to be rich and famous and own lots of stuff no longer has the appeal it once had. Being a better person and living with virtue becomes more important than superficial goals. What’s your motivation?

 

Appearances

I’ll share a secret; I’m an alcoholic but I won’t tell anyone unless it serves to help them in their own pursuit of sobriety. I don’t look like an alcoholic, few people do and how would we imagine an alcoholic to look like anyway? I’m also Jedi, not a light sabre wielding, cloak wearing Jedi Knight who can move objects using the Force but a person who applies the virtues and principles that are common to the Jedi fictional archetypes. That does not mean I go around telling people that I’m a Jedi. There is no such a title in our universe and to go about claiming to be one is not sane behavior. I can treat the noun Jedi as a verb and be Jedi. If you saw me walking down the street you would not be able to pick me for a Jedi. Even if you got to know me you would never think to ask “Are you a Jedi?” anymore than you might guess that I am an alcoholic who has been sober for a long time. I would hope that my actions and words demonstrate the virtues I imagine to be common to Jedi. If they do, then the philosophy has served me.

 

Just People

The Stoics were no different. In ancient times Stoics were very much a part of mainstream society. They had received their training and mentoring through schools of Stoicism and then moved in to jobs and careers pretty much the way people do these days after receiving an education. The Stoics were taught a formula for living that would help them get through life on life’s terms. They were given the psychological tools to master their response to emotions and better handle the challenges they were presented with. The Stoics were not a grim bunch of men who were flaccid about life and completely void of emotions because they felt life was not worth getting worked up about. On the contrary the Stoics were fully engaged in life. They were leaders in commerce and  civil, military and political spheres. The Stoics included artists and musicians, military strategists and politicians, emperors and slaves as well as ordinary people on the streets of Athens and Rome. For the most part they were indistinguishable from other citizens except in their unique and pragmatic approach to life. People who practice Stoicism today are no different, they are military, academic, business leaders in our society and every day people like you and me.

 

Shared and Common

Jedi Philosophy shares a lot of similarities with Stoicism. The Stoic concept of God as being the all matter in existence and a universal reason or primordial fire is similar to the concept of the Force. We are all luminous beings but we are also crude matter as well.

The Stoic ethics and virtues of wisdom, courage, justice and temperance are similar to the core Jedi virtues and states of peace, serenity, harmony, knowledge and the Force as cited in the Jedi Code. The Jedi Code is the basic point of reference for all Jedi. The code being underpinned by principles of objectivity, reason, self discipline and justice. Passion and dark emotions such as anger, fear and hate are seen as a sure path to suffering. The Dark Side is to turn over to these dark emotions, a personal rock bottom. The Stoic branches of Logic, Physics and Ethics find common ground in Jedi philosophy.

None of this means that Jedi Philosophy is Stoicism. Jedi also share similarities with Buddhism, Taoism, Humanism and other traditions. Jedi Philosophy puts a great deal of importance on meditation and physical fitness while Stoicism does not. To be Jedi is to be prepared to practice both, daily if possible. The philosophy puts a great deal of emphasis on balance between our mental, emotional, physical and spiritual needs.

Stoicism and Jedi Philosophy both place a great deal of emphasis on duty and self discipline. Daily spiritual practices are also encouraged by both. Jedi Philosophy urges physical fitness, meditation, etiquette and service to others, Stoicism teaches daily reflective practice such as self dialogue, negative visualization, mindfulness, contemplation and self reflection. Stoicism places a great deal of importance on duty and integrity. Many of the Stoic practices have been borrowed and modified in modern Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. We also believe that Jedi Philosophy can help people achieve a sense of calm, serenity, peace and purpose in their lives. It helped me stay sober.

 

Keep Practicing

So this week we covered seven major themes as we explored Stoicism. I would argue that each can be regularly visited and practiced to get real benefit. Any practical philosophy requires consistent application and practice. Self discipline is required if we are to make an honest go of it.

 

  1. Taking Stock: Sit down and contemplate where you are currently at in life. What are your goals? Are your actions consistent with achieving those goals? What are your values and are you living in accordance with them? Daily self reflections is a great tool we can use to keep us on track. Start the day with a morning meditation and end the day with an evening review.
  2. Commit to Change: If we want something out of life that requires change on our part then we must be prepared to change. Firm commitment is required. We cannot expect things to improve for us on their own. Focussing on the things what we can change we take action. We have to accept that things may not work out the way we want despite our efforts. Doing what we can do is up to us the outcomes are largely out of our hands and we must be prepared to accept them.
  3. Virtue: Clarify your core values, they are all you truly have. When we know what our core values are and commit to them we are more likely to stand by our principles. Our life becomes consistent with our stated values and guide our decisions.
  4. Relationships: Be mindful in your relationships with others. Are your relationships productive and mutually beneficial? Are they co-dependent or interdependent? Be prepared to apply your values and principles in to your relationships. Be a better partner, father, mother, sibling, friend or co-worker but be prepared to never compromise on your own core values.
  5. Community: We are part of a global community, a member of a big family. Be prepared to look past the differences, look for the similarities between you and others.
  6. Perspective: Be willing to take a “step back” to appreciate the “Big Picture” while never losing sight of the finer details. Learning to be able to look at life from different angles, close up and from a distance helps us get a better appreciation of our place in the world and the interrelationships between us and others and our environment. We are strands in the rich tapestry of creation.
  7. Resilience: Being realistic and pragmatic is accepting that life is also suffering. Loss is inevitable. Sometimes it pays to contemplate the impermanent nature of things and realize their loss. Negative visualisation helps us fortify ourselves for that inevitability by contemplating it beforehand. By practicing poverty we can also harden ourselves for leaner times and better appreciate what we have over what we want.

 

MTFBWY

Stoic Week

“At every hour, give your full concentration… to carrying out the task in hand with a scrupulous and unaffected dignity and affectionate concern for others and freedom and justice, and give yourself space from other concerns… You see how few things you need to be able to live a smoothly flowing life.” – Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 2.5

Self Renewal

For the next seven days we will draw our attention to Stoicism. For over a year I have been a practicing Stoic incorporating the fundamental practices and principles of Stoicism in to my Jedi training as well as my 12 Step journey. The Jedi path itself carries many elements of Stoicism as does the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. Many of the entries on “The Daily Jedi” have attempted to capture the essence of Stoicism in the context of both. I hope that over the next seven days I can summarize how applying the practical philosophy of the Stoics can bring many benefits.

This year the theme of Stoic Week is “Self Renewal”. For me the last five years has been a daily journey of “Self Renewal”. My sobriety is a daily reprieve contingent on the maintenance of my spiritual condition; therefore recovery is a “one day a time” process. We get up in the morning and we face the new day.

The sun may rise in all its splendor or behind a blanket of clouds. There has never been a day like this one and there will never be another like it again. We each have the choice how we arise to the day and what we do with it. Yesterday has passed with its mistakes and blunders or achievements and victories, it is gone beyond recall and remains but a memory. Tomorrow is but a promise and one that is neither granted nor guaranteed. The present moment, this day, is all we really have.

So begins Day 1 of living like a Stoic. Click here to learn more.

Jedi are Spiritual Seekers

Jedi believe in and are a part of the Jedi Order

The word ‘Jedi Order’ gives connotations that the Jedi Path was something like a religion in the Star Wars Universe. The pure and true meaning of the word religion comes from the Latin word “religio” which was derived from the Latin word “re-ligare” or “to reconnect.” The purpose of the Jedi teachings were “to reconnect” a Jedi to the Force. Actually, we are always connected to the Force, but we have lost our conscious awareness of this connection.

(33 Jedi Traits)

Religion?

One of the biggest misconceptions about Alcoholics Anonymous is that it is a religion or some sort of cult. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Alcoholics Anonymous is a fellowship of people who come together with the sole purpose of quitting drinking, overcoming their addiction and finding contended sobriety. Similarly I have heard the Jedi path called a religion. To some people it is and there is indeed a campaign to have “Jediism” recognized as a religion. To most people however it is a philosophy for life, a formula for living that brings physical, mental, emotional and spiritual improvement in to their lives.

Whether someone considers themselves to belong to one Faith or another is entirely up to them. The beauty of the 12 Steps and the Jedi Path is that anyone can apply the philosophical teachings of both and practice them in their day to day lives. One need not have a religious background or even believe in God. Indeed there are Buddhists, Muslims, Christians, Jews, Hindus, Pagans and Wicca’s, Humanists, Agnostics and Atheists that are part of the 12 Step and Jedi movements. We believe that a religious conviction is not needed to benefit from the philosophy of personal improvement, self betterment and recovery.

 

Losing Religion

If someone was to ask me my “religious affiliation” I would respond “Jedi”. In fact I have listed it as such on census forms and on personal information. These days we rarely see that question appearing on documents. People increasingly are coy about their religion or default to the “NA” response preferring not to answer. Society is more secular. At the same time we are seeing an increase in religious extremism. Browse the news and you will be presented with human rights abuses and violence inflicted on others in the name of all faiths not just one.

The truth is I write Jedi not because I want to be different or I claim to be an ardent Star Wars fan who has taken it to the next level. I call myself Jedi because it best describes my own values and spiritual principles which I live.

Religion may have bought a lot of war, hatred and division in to the world but it has also introduced some wonderful and beautiful philosophies on how people can live in peace and harmony with others. I have found that there is so much in common between religions as there is so much in common between all people. The more the Jedi Path and 12 Steps has taught me the more I have come to realize that all the trouble in the world, all the strife, conflict and hate does not need to exist.

 

Take what you Need

I read the Holy Quran, the Bible, the Dhammapada and the Tao every day. Currently I am studying Kabbalah and the “A Course in Miracles” among other spiritual and esoteric texts. Besides that I consider myself a follower of Stoic philosophy and read the writings of the ancient sages and their contemporary counterparts as much as I can.

Recognizing the value of psychology I read books by Jung and Frankl as well as texts on CBT and ACT. None of this makes me an expert on any of the above. I am only a beginner on the Path. What it does provide me with is a rich world of knowledge and thought that I can use in my own way. There is so much to learn and I can take or leave whatever I want. There is no dogma to become tied down to. I take what I need and I leave the rest.

 

A Verb

Being Jedi is a verb, not a noun. I do not consider myself a Jedi but someone who takes inspiration from the fictional archetypes in the context of a practical philosophy. Apply real world ideas and philosophies that fill the gaps of what the Jedi represented in the fiction and you have a Philosophy. There is no hard dogma. I am not required to bow down to an effigy of the Force and pray to Yoda. In my view that would be ridiculous however I would not begrudge anyone who chose to do that. My goal is to be Jedi.

Similarly I recognize that the 12 steps were only ever suggested as a program, they were never mandated to Alcoholics as some form of dogma. The only requirement for membership was and is a desire to quit drinking. The promise is that the program had been tested and proved to work by many and if a person is willing to give the 12 Steps an honest go then they are sure to reap benefits.

There is no treating Bill W as some sort of saint or messiah as in some sort of sect or personality cult. Are there Big Book thumpers  and Step Troopers out there who would disagree with me? Certainly; there are extremists and puritans in every school, sect and religion. People who claim their way to be the only way. Some self proclaimed Jedi Masters are like that too.

Remember there are many people who are religious but not at all spiritual and there are many people who are very spiritual but non-religious. There are also many people who are neither. Some people like dogma, others don’t.

 

The Group

There is no Jedi Order and one never existed in reality. The closest semblance to a Jedi Council exists online. Most would be hard pressed to accept that one online Group or individual represents all people who follow the Jedi Path in one form or another.

Sometimes people lose sight of the forest for the trees. People get caught up in the trappings, the image and the labels. They want to call themselves something, they want a title and to belong to a discreet group. It is human nature to want to belong. We are drawn to the inner circle of the tribe where it is safe and secure.

 

Seek, it is there already

The truth is that all of us have our own individual needs. We are all seeking something. For many it is to reconnect with a spiritual source that has been missing from their lives. This is the case for many alcoholics in recovery. While we follow a path, many of us also seek to define our own higher power and purpose in life. Spirituality becomes a very personal journey that we must take alone; we do not need a Guru to take us there.

I used to consider myself a “Seeker”, now I know that that is not really the case. One only seeks something that is lost or hidden somewhere. The truth is that we are always connected to the Divine Source, whatever it is, the Force. There is no need to seek anything. We just have to be willing to be open to the possibility that something exists which is larger us. With that first step begins a journey of self discovery  and it never ends.