Jedi use the Force for good works

Jedi have special powers and are encouraged to learn the ways of the Force, and to use the Force, but only for good works like training, defense, knowledge, and helping others who are in need.

(33 Jedi Traits)

The Purpose

Every thing we learn has a purpose. We can use experience and knowledge to improve our lives if we choose. The only sin is to be given the benefit of knowledge and not to use it. Worse is to go against what we have been taught and what we know is right.

The purpose of Jedi Philosophy is to seek knowledge, learn and apply it real life. Philosophy should always be a practical as well as an intellectual pursuit. Wisdom is shared so that it may benefit others in some way. To keep that knowledge for ourselves and to never use it is a waste and also a disservice.

Knowing others is intelligence; knowing yourself is true wisdom. Mastering others is strength; mastering yourself is true power.” – Lao Tzu

A River flows through

I have worked the 12 Steps now for five years. In comparison to many others it is a short amount of time. My time on the Jedi path has been even less. I have only started to grasp the concepts and lessons that I have learned on this journey. There is still much to learn. I view both as a life journey with no end point.

Faith without Works is Dead” – James 2:24-26

All the knowledge and experience that we attain is useless unless we try to share it in some way through works. We can help others. There are people only starting out on their journey and others who are seeking answers we can provide. Service comes in many forms.

If we can offer something that can help point someone in the right direction then it is worth it. A lake fed by a river that goes no where soon becomes stagnant. A lake that flows on remains vital. We only get to keep what we give away.

“Always pass on what you have learned.” – Yoda

Responsibility

The price of knowledge is responsibility. That responsibility extends to how we use the knowledge and skills we have learned and to what purpose. Do we use our training purely for selfish reasons or do we improve ourselves ultimately for the betterment of others?

One of the greatest misconceptions about military training is the idea that it produces “trained killers”. This is sometimes extended to people who train in martial arts. The belief being that some students will use their acquired skills for nefarious reasons. That martial training somehow glorifies and encourages violence. Certainly there are exceptions but they are rare. In my experience such personalities are quickly shown the door.

We should always remember that we bear a responsibility to use our skills and knowledge for Good Works. Whether the outcomes of our efforts are beneficial or adverse, we should always take ownership and responsibility for our actions.

Whatever happens, take responsibility” – Tony Robbins

 

Motives

In Buddhism the precept of Right Motive is paramount. An adherent seeking training towards eventual enlightenment does so to alleviate the suffering of all sentient beings not just her own. It is meant be selfless action.

We must ask ourselves what our motives are. Why am I doing this? For what purpose? Do I really want to change for the better or am I attached to some fantasy? Am I prepared to do the work and put in the effort or just pretend and coast along.

We can only judge our own motives and decide if they are right.

A moral being is one who is capable of reflecting on his past actions and their motives – of approving of some and disapproving of others.” – Charles Darwin

Right Effort

We only get out what we put in. Consistent application of practices and principles will get results and half measures will avail us nothing. In recovery I have found this to be true. Anything worth doing must be done consistently and with the necessary effort.

In recovery we sometimes see others lapse back in to active addiction. We see it as a loss but we never condemn the person. Any of us could fall at any moment, we cannot be sure that our sobriety is bullet proof. We can have all the tools and all the knowledge at our disposal and years of experience but still come undone. Never grow too arrogant or cock-sure.

The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Humility

As we improve ourselves and get better our self-confidence grows. We should never use that as an excuse to become arrogant or place ourselves above others. Remaining humble while retaining a healthy degree of self esteem is a virtue.

One does not need to boast and brag about their achievements. We can be inwardly proud of what we have achieved without succumbing to pride. One should never forget why they decided to start the journey in the first place. Was it for self improvement or was to prove themselves to others?

Humility is not thinking less of your self, just thinking of you self less” – CS Lewis

Live your own Life

You should only stop drinking for yourself and no one else” was the first thing someone told me at a 12 Step meeting. I had said that I was getting sober for my family so that I could be a better person for them. The lesson was important. I had made a decision to quit drinking before in order to please others and I had always failed.

It was only when I decided that it had to be my choice alone that I started to get it. No one could do this but me. Our purpose is our own and from that should flow benefits that cascade to others.  Through self betterment comes world betterment. Always get yourself sorted out before you try to save the world.

Don’t let others dictate your life. Take advice and wisdom but make your own choices.

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.” – Steve Jobs

Timing is everything

With the purge of the Jedi following Order 66 the survivors fled in to exile. Rather than seeking to retaliate immediately and lead a counter attack on the Empire, the Jedi withdrew and let the rebellion take it’s own course. The Jedi chose a path of non-intervention realizing that their time was not at hand and they would need to wait to re-emerge and restore balance to the Force. After 900 years Yoda had the wisdom to accept the turn of events and not to allow self interest to make matters worse.

Sometimes the best strategy is to do nothing but wait. Life is not a race. We do not have to rush to achieve our goals. At times we are forced to make a major life changing decision. We must always ask ourselves; “am I ready for that”. The Force will let us now when we are.

A couple of years ago I was offered a Management role and looking at the scope I decided to turn it down for the simple reason that I did not feel ready to accept that level of responsibility. I put off a lot of things over the years and fortunately they were wise decisions.

In exile Yoda and Obi-wan Kenobi dived in to their studies and training. Their knowledge of the Force expanded as did their connection with it. When the time came they played a pivotal role in the future of the Galaxy. Deciding not to act can be as important as choosing when to as Yoda revealed to Luke Skywalker on Dagobah.

Decide you must how to serve them best. If you leave now, help them you could, but you will destroy all for which they have fought and suffered.” – Yoda

Keep Improving

We should never stop learning. Even the most experienced Veteran can learn something new. Old dogs can learn new tricks. Keep seeking and never box yourself in to some dogma that enforces one world view point rejecting all others.

Take what you need and leave the rest. With time comes improvement and change. Old ideas will be replaced by new. We should turn the soil of the mind over once in a while to keep ourselves open and fresh.

Accept criticism with grace and be ready to critique yourself. Always admit mistakes and work on improvement rather than on blame. Ask “how can I fix this” rather than “why did it happen”.

If evil be said of thee, and if it be true, correct thyself; if it be a lie, laugh at it.” – Epictetus

Keep Going

I don’t know how one is exactly meant to “Learn the ways of the Force”. The best way I can apply it is to regularly say “Let Go, Let God” and “Thy Will be done not mine”. These are affirmations to direct myself in to the moment where everything happens. We can only do our best every day to be the person we want to be. Turn the outcomes to a Higher Power, the Force. Let the Force work through you.

We can continue to look at where we are lacking  and make adjustments there. We can review our daily practices of being Jedi and assess where work need to be done. When others request help, we give it within our capacity. We can treat people as we expect to be treated. Commit to our principles always and without compromise.

There are things we can control and many more things we cannot. Always focus on where your control resides and accept that a lot of mistakes will be made along the way. Being Jedi is all about the little every day acts. It is about the mundane and the mediocre as much as it is about the big and important things. It is also about falling down but getting up and trudging on.

You simply have to put one foot in front of the other and keep going. Put blinders on and plow right ahead.” – George Lucas

Be True to Thyself

Every one of us must decide what their “Good Works” is. We must all decide how we spend each day and what we want out of life. People generally know what they must do to live a good life. Some of us face a tension between where we want to be going and where we seem to be heading. Remember, you are the Master of your own vessel, the Pilot of your own ship. Take it where you want to go and be true to thyself first.

MTFBWY

To thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man” – Shakespeare

33 Traits

The Real World Jedi community maintains a philosophy that is practical and a spiritual path that is non-dogmatic. Regardless of the particular Jedi movement one finds themselves in there are a number of traits that are common to all. People who identify with the Jedi Pragmatists, Jedi Realists and those that follow the Jedi religion known as Jediism all recognize certain traits that are essential to the Jedi.

The traits can be best summarized in the “33 Traits of a Jedi” list originally posted on an online forum called Jedi Sanctuary. The list is still used to help guide those that are seeking answers to what the Jedi Path is. Like Buddhism, the Jedi community offers numerous lists. These lists have evolved in the Jedi community over the last 25 years however none are more comprehensive or practicable than the list of 33 Traits.

I want to emphasis that the term Jedi used in this article refers to a person who identifies with the Jedi Path in the Real World. These traits do not necessarily apply to the fictional Jedi however it should be noted that the 33 Traits were inspired by the fictional archetypes.

 The Foundation

Over the next few weeks I will be exploring each of the Jedi Traits. Broadly speaking they can be separated in to 5 broad categories which guide a practitioner on the Jedi Path. These are:

  1. The spiritual foundation: statements relating to the Force and the Jedi’s relationship to the Force.
  2. Mindfulness: statements about the importance of meditation practice, mindfulness and awareness in the life of a Jedi.
  3. Virtues: statements that describe the key attributes and virtues of a Jedi such as patience, self discipline, objectivity, humility, humor and courage among others.
  4. Physical and Martial Training: statements that describe the use of physical and martial arts training to help improve the Jedi in a holistic way.
  5. Service: statements that highlights the importance of duty and service to others.

 A Path for Life

When I first read the list several years ago I was blown away. This was my point of depart for a rekindled interest in the Jedi Path and it came at a time when I had started my recovery and was faltering emotionally. Like the 12 Steps, the list seemed complete and all encompassing, there is no need to change or improve on it. I felt that if I could apply this in to my life it would fortify my recovery. Others had done the same by assimilating their religious and spiritual practices (Buddhism, Taoism, Christianity, Islam, Advaita etc) in to the 12 Steps so why not the Jedi Path?

During my studies I have read many interpretations of the 33 Traits and seen examples of how they are applied in real life. As a recovering alcoholic I have used the list to support my progress through the 12 Steps. Both compliment each other however the 12 Steps provides a road map for recovery while the 33 Traits provides suggestions for improving one’s mental, physical, emotional and spiritual health. One supports the other. I return to the list often and will attempt to provide some practical ways on how one can apply the 33 Traits in their lives.

The list is provided here

Apathy

The longing you seek is not behind you, it is in front of you” – Maz Kanata

In philosophy we ponder existence and the meaning of creation. We ask questions like does life have meaning or is it a futile exercise of survival? Are we here to know our divine selves, to discover God or do we exist only to fulfill an evolutionary function through the law of gene preservation? Does life mean everything or nothing at all? I often ask myself these questions. Sometimes the questions are rhetorical as philosophy provides a response and Faith reassures me. Other times, especially when depression or apathy settles in the answers are less sure and doubt sets in.

In choosing recovery I made a decision to turn my life around. Sometimes I wonder if becoming sober and taking a spiritual view is not some sort of Jedi Mind trick on my self. That I’m not fooling myself. After all everything happens at the level of the mind. We can choose to believe whatever we want. The question of existential meaning in our lives can throw a spanner in the works. What is the meaning of life?

Psychology tells us the being able to modify our belief system from one perspective to another will in time change our outlook, our habits, character and ultimately our brain. The brain I had as a practicing alcoholic is not the brain I have now. Through nueroplasticity it has changed. Mediation and mindfulness are practices which have helped modify my cognitive and behavioral patterns. Indeed both are suggested by psychologists for that reason. Removing alcohol and working the steps also changes the brain. With a fresh set of eyes I see a world which is utterly different than what it was before.

“Even a thought, even a possibility, can shatter and transform us” – Friedreich Nietzsche

Red Pill, Blue Pill

In reality the world has not changed that much since I got sober only my perception of it has. Like a pilgrim on the road to Damascus I march along heading to a destination. Then on that road something happens. I stop look around me and ask the question that sometimes changes everything; “what’s the point“? Is there any point to any of this? Is life not just a futile exercise that ultimately means nothing and leads no where?

Nihilists premise that there is no existential meaning and all is for nothing. This idea suits many people but I have mixed feelings about it. Part of me embraces the idea that there is absolutely nothing I have to do or be. This means I can be whatever I want and not have to care.

I can take the blue pill and become a Nihilist. Hard reality crashes in. Virtue becomes entirely subjective; there is no right and wrong or good and bad about anything. Life is simply a choice between personal preferred and non preferred indifference. We can basically say “F&#k It” to anything, anyone and everything and sleep soundly at night.

On the other hand it is also bitter pill to swallow. Embracing a nihilist, albeit futile nature of existence view of the world throws the baby out with the bath water. It can leave us naked in a cold and barren world. The absence of philosophical and ethical tethers may feel good but apathy and depression doesn’t. Take the red pill and we jump in to the rabbit hole of endless possibility that could all be an illusion.

Life has no meaning the moment you lose the illusion of being eternal.” – Sartre

                  Source: Jean-Paul Sartre Existential Star Wars: Death Sartre

On a Mission

As a 12 Step Jedi I am supposed to champion virtues and uphold principles. There is supposed to be a point to everything. I know what’s right and wrong, good and bad. A philosophy based on both virtues and principles is to be practiced daily and lived. The Fictional Jedi took an oath to the code and dedicated their selves to that code no matter what the consequences. They lived by the code. A mission or cause could seem futile, even doomed to fail however the Jedi did their duty accepting whatever the outcomes.

Not all Jedi took that view. There were Jedi who chose to walk away and adopt a life that was more nihilistic in philosophy. These were the Gray Jedi. They had taken the proverbial blue pill.

 

The Gray Jedi

The “Gray Jedi” were not an order, there was no structure or organization behind them. These were Jedi who walked a solitary path free of any code but their own individual one. From a historical perspective they resembled the Ronin of feudal Japan. Unlike Ronin who were master-less Samurai and often mercenaries, the Gray Jedi were Jedi who had lost their Faith and had distanced themselves from the Jedi Order and Path.

Gray Jedi did not embrace the Dark Side, to do so would have made them Sith. Rather they walked a middle path between light and dark without embracing either. They were beholden neither to the Jedi or the Sith and were indifferent to both.

Master Jedi Qui-Gon Jinn was considered a Gray Jedi for his unorthodox ideas but was in fact a dedicated Jedi. In the old Republic there were true Gray Jedi like Jolee Bindo. Groups of Force users also arose that were essentially Gray Jedi. Quinlan Vos and Ahsoka Tano were never called Gray Jedi but both had lost faith with the Jedi. They survived as maverick rebels after the purge of the Jedi Order and destruction of the temple under Order 66. They saw the futility in their cause but with nothing else to do they carried on.

 

Losing my Religion

Luke Skywalker apparently suffers a loss of faith and becomes a Gray Jedi in the “Episode VIII: The Last Jedi”. Has he really become a Gray Jedi? Many seem to think that Luke has succumbed to an existential crisis. Luke is old and alone on Ahch-To. A self imposed exile with a lot of history. Despite his past he has never fallen to the anger and fear that swayed Anakin to the Dark Side. The futility of the struggle and a faith lost has made him a type of Nihilist. He finally said “F#%k It”. Sometimes I feel like Luke Skywalker, maybe it’s an age thing.

These days there is a real temptation to be a Gray Jedi. I’ve thought about it. I could also be apathetic and sober. I’m not sure how that would work though. Its not in my nature and apathy tends to go hand in hand with booze. Nihilism and apathy don’t always go hand in hand though but the latter is worth a mention because it figures prominently in the new type of nihilism emerging in society.

 

Generation Apathy

There is a growing trend for younger people to embrace a philosophy that claims a futility of existence and the absence of meaning. A type of hedonistic nihilism that dictates everything is going to hell so have the maximum amount of fun now with total disregard for the future. Mindless consumption is one of the symptoms, so is mindless sex and violence.

Society has become numb and dysfunctional. Religion is dying and spirituality is seen as less relevant. Nihilism, not even the true type as penned by Nietzsche, becomes the easier option to an apathetic and disenfranchised generation. The result is a general apathy and resignation that if nothing has any meaning so why should one pretend to care.

Social media posts, comments, likes and hastags have become the symbols of an uncomfortable apathy. We want to do something about all the wrongs we see on the internet, we feel anger, rage, inertia and finally apathy. A cognitive dissonance is continuously felt by people who feel they would do something if they could but won’t because it’s too hard. It’s in our face all the time. Saturation media and social isolation reinforces apathy and a sense of futility follows.

We are entering a post modern era. Truth and reality is now defined by the individual based on their own cultural, social and personal history as well as trending views that shift and polarize. The world is becoming over populated, culturally uniform, highly mobile, technologically connected and yet so very lonely and disconnected on a human level. Society has shifted from optimism based on scientific certainty and technology to one of pessimism based on uncertainty and anxiety. We are literally being conditioned not to care.

Everything has been figured out, except how to live.” – Sartre

 

 Snap out of it

Nihilism gets a bit of a bad rap for being the philosophy of Apathy, it isn’t. Nihilism simply states that nothing has any meaning, there is neither good nor bad. For many people this can be liberating. However we can depress ourselves when we ponder existentialism and start to question the meaning in our lives.

Right now I’m telling myself to snap out of my own sense of apathy. I need to get back on the road to Damascus and walk the Jedi Path again. I need to keep trudging the 12 Steps. Wallowing in self doubt and apathy won’t help. Perhaps a bit of media fasting will help. I can sit for five minutes and write a gratitude list. Try to keep busy and find a way to get outside of myself. There are a lot of things we can do when we start to question the very meaning of our lives.

Perhaps Nihilism provides a solution in part. Why be sad, apathetic or depressed about something that has no meaning?

But I still have to decide, do I take the red pill or do I take the blue?

The Duck Test

The Duck

Today while walking on the beach I encountered a Duck. Until that point I had been enjoying the strong cold wind, the hint of more rain to come and the wash of the surf breaking on the beach and rocks. The ocean was alive and it felt good to be there. I stared at the duck and the duck stared back. We were like a scene out of “The Far Side”.

There was something odd about this duck. For a start it did not seem to mind the wind or the cold, but then ducks are used to extreme conditions. It had all the features of a duck; plumage, shape and size were all distinctive. The Duck did not waddle or quack but based on my observations thus far I could surmise safely that this indeed was a Duck.

The oddity struck me. This Duck was not in its natural habitat. I was looking at a freshwater lake dweller far from home. For some reason the Duck had decided to join sea gulls on the beach. There were few other birds around and I started to feel worried for this duck. I asked myself, is this duck lost? Does this duck need help? How did it get here? Was it blown on the wind and separated from its group? Was it in fact a migratory duck? Could I see a tracker on its legs? Was it injured? Would it die? Should I call someone and report a wayward duck?

All of the sudden my mind was agog with concerns and questions about this duck. I had seen what I assumed was a duck and had made a whole lot of assumptions about it. It never struck me that perhaps this Duck was eyeing me in the same way; is that a human? What’s it doing on the beach in a storm? Is it dangerous? Should I leave now? Does it have food?

 Abductive Reasoning

There is a saying “If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck”. The phrase refers to a form of abductive reasoning commonly used by people to arrive at the most simple and logical conclusion. The Duck Test is based on observation and deduction. When we see something that appears to be what it is, we determine without much fuss that it is.

For example, if I see someone staggering down the street with a bottle of liquor in his hands, slurring his words and smelling of alcohol I can safely assume that this person is drunk. It would be a mistake for me to surmise that the person is also alcoholic without further proof. I can determine that the person may be unpredictable if approached because experience has taught me that people who are drunk in public can be unpredictable.  This does not make this person unpredictable, bad or a danger. I must simply be wary until we have passed and gone on our separate ways.

A ploy used by canvassers to get people to read their flyers is to hand them what appears to be a $100 bill. On one side is Benjamin Franklin and on the other side is an offer to sell something. I’ve fallen for it a number of times. Once I have scrutinized the piece of paper I realize it is a ruse. The canvasser is simply taking advantage of two things, human greed and the fact that everyone will do a Duck Test on a $100 bill to determine if it is real. We don’t keep the note hoping that it may somehow later prove to have monetary value. There are no assumptions made, we toss it away.

Rumors

Why is that we always make assumptions and jump to conclusions about the important things in our lives? The temptation is to wander away from the facts that are presented. We hear a rumor that things are going poorly in the market and then fear the calamity of an economic recession and unemployment. A lump is felt somewhere under our skin and we do a bit of “Dr Google” and convince ourselves that it is cancer. A news flash tells us that the Government has increased its Terror Alert and we react in fear and stay away from public places. A report of an escaped fugitive somewhere in the city and we stay indoors and arms ourselves. An article on social media tells us that the planets, current affairs and wild weather herald the coming end of the world and based on the comments some of us believe it.

I was recently pleased to hear that the people in Guam are continuing on with their lives and holidays despite ominous warnings in the media about nuclear Armageddon visiting the Island. I’ve been to Guam and the local reaction does not surprise me. Why be freaked about about something for no real reason?

Catastrophes

We alcoholics tend to be catastrophic thinkers. Over complication, dramatization and pessimism are alcoholic habits that die hard. We tend to tie ourselves in to knots over imagined fears. An argument is the end of a friendship or the start of a divorce. One missed repayment will cost us everything as we tell ourselves the banks will take the house. A mistake at work will surely blow our chances of promotion or cost us our job. This is the Ego representing itself as Fear. They are nothing more than mental impressions but have a powerful pull on us. In fear we do irrational things and make poor decisions. Through those actions we can realize our worst fears.

 Jedi Reasoning

In the Star Wars saga there are many examples where the Jedi use the Duck Test. The Jedi were cool headed under pressure, they saw things in plain view and worked in the now with the facts at hand. The Jedi had profundity, they had deep insight and knowledge as well as the Force guiding them. Yet the Jedi could keep their feet on the ground and “keep it real”. Decisions were often based on the simplest explanation of things.They did not over complicate things.

The Clones were soldiers who operated under very simple reasoning processes. It was in their genetic programming to see things as they appeared. Clone Troopers did not spend their time agonizing over unknowns. They had one purpose. Orders were passed down and obeyed without question. The Jedi used this to tactical advantage and led the Clones in to battle as an effective fighting force.

There were also many occasions where the Jedi were blinded by assumptions. Ahsoka Tano was framed and charged with attempting to destroy the Jedi Temple and was banned from the order with little chance to defend herself.

All of the Jedi Masters were fooled by the meticulous deception of the Sith. They were blindly led to the events which resulted in the end of the Galactic Republic. Obi-Wan Kenobi failed his student Anakin by refusing to accept the truth that his friend was straying from the Jedi Path. Darth Vader was fooled in to thinking that the Death Star was indestructible until a bold group of rebels were able to storm an impenetrable citadel and steal the master plans revealing the Death Stars fatal flaw.

We could argue that each of these events transpired because things “were not as they appeared”. In fact, the most decisive moments in Star Wars occurred because the characters failed to see things for what they were. There were no Jedi Mind Tricks to this, just failure to see superficial reality out of profundity when it mattered.

The Surface Appearance

Usually reality is nothing more than the surface appearance of things. Things happen and they happen as they appear. All of the other images of calamity and disaster might well be imagination. A Duck is really just a Duck. Who knows why it might be on a beach?

Sometimes it is better to stick with first impressions and allow the facts to reveal themselves as they do. For example, it would be ill advised to accuse someone of something based on a hunch or loosely held assumptions. The proper way would be to reserve judgement, allow the facts to present themselves, remove all doubt and then make a statement and present evidence. Allow the person to defend themselves; there may be more to it than is known.

 Superficial – out of profundity

Be Objective, stick with the facts and to quote Marcus Aurelius “don’t tell yourself anything more that what the initial impressions report”.  We are conditioned to judge, seek answers and work things out. Our cognitive abilities include critical thinking. Pragmatism should however never be compromised.

As Jedi we should be able to keep a cool head and see things as they are, we should reject the compulsion to automatically jump to conclusions. We should be, as Nietzsche referred to the Greeks, “superficial – out of profundity”. With insight and knowledge comes the ability to accept things as they appear without losing our minds. We should sometimes accept that a duck is just a duck and nothing more.

Practice what you Preach

“Prove your words by your deeds.” – Seneca the Younger

The only worth a philosophy has is whether it can be applied in life. If our philosophy can be applied then we should practice what we preach. A practical philosophy means not only knowing what must be done but actually doing it. Without practice, a philosophy is conceptual and not a tool. We can sit in a university café (or online forum) for hours and debate the merits of one philosophy over another. One can bring forward the moral and ethical strong points of their chosen philosophical flavor but unless they have practiced it in real life then there is nothing much to say.

We go to a doctor or psychiatrist if we are feeling physically or mentally unwell. A psychologist or therapist is visited for counseling. Some of us visit a Priest, Rabbi or Spiritual Advisor to help us grapple with problems or questions. Who these days goes to a Philosopher for advice on how to live in accordance with a particular philosophy? We do not live in ancient Greece or Rome where we can engage in conversation with Socrates, Epicurus, Zeno, Seneca or Epictetus. We will not find Stoics, Skeptics or Ascetics to confer with and take away a formula for living.  If I were to walk in to the Philosophy Department of the local University and ask a professor for some sage advice on how to manage my affairs, handle cravings or deal with emotions he would probably not be able to offer anything practical.

The Philosophers

The ancients had words of advice on all these matters. Today we have many philosophies to choose from. The libraries are full or books written by the classic, renaissance, contemporary and modern philosophers. One can easily create an account on an online forum and engage in debate on Philosophy. The Stoics hold an annual conference and a “Stoic Week”*. The event draws people from around the world in an online experiment on living like a Stoic for a week. I participate in the event and continue to apply many of the practices as part of my own Jedi training throughout the year. You only get out of philosophy what you put in.

I consider myself a student of Jedi Philosophy. This means not only do I read widely on Jedi Philosophy but I broaden my knowledge in others as well. I participate in online forums and read posts to understand what other followers of the Jedi path think and how they live their lives.  The fiction is also there to draw inspiration from. Jedi philosophy is a recent phenomena and an evolving trend. The focus of Jedi Philosophy is similar in many ways to the ancient schools of philosophy. Students are encouraged to study and question but most of all to practice what they have learned every day. The Fictional Jedi was all about action and deeds, not words.

Deeds not Words

This emphasis on a practical philosophy for life agrees with recovery from addiction. The 12 Steps is also all about action. By accepting our disease and embracing certain principles in to our life we embark on a program of recovery that requires action. Reading books, speaking to people and attending meetings is not enough. Recovery occurs outside of that, in the day to day things that we do. We commit to mapping our faults and doing something about them. Addressing the past and seeking to make amends. Action includes daily maintenance of our practice through meditation, prayer and study. Service to others is also a form of direct action that helps us.

It is the same for any philosophy. One can say they are a Stoic but yet live like a Hedonist and allow their emotions and desires to govern their every decision. We are judged by our actions not our words. I can not say I am Jedi if I am rude and obnoxious to people, dishonest in my dealings and commit illegal acts like theft or physical assault no matter what the reason. Would I be able to stand up in a meeting and tell people I follow the 12 Steps and the principles of honesty and humility if in fact I continue to drink when I’m not there?

You are the Master

We can argue and debate about how one should act and what one must do to live a “Good Life” however unless we do these things none of that matters. It is only a rhetorical practice. No one is watching us all the time but ourselves. If there is a “God” and it resides within then the old scripture which tells us “God knows all that we do” is true. It may not be some deity outside of us looking down but our own inner conscience. If I question whether I am consistent with my personal philosophy of life usually checking in with my heart reveals the truth. We can fool ourselves in to thinking that we are something but deep down we know we are faking it. We can be dishonest with others, but to be dishonest to our self is far worse.

If I am unsure of how I must think, speak or act in any given situation there is usually no sage standing by. There are books and forums but usually we must decide on how to proceed from advice given in general terms. We must also filter what works for our unique circumstances and what doesn’t. I know what my principles and values are; I know which virtues to practice when faced with challenges. My philosophy for life gives me that tool kit and I decide how to use apply the tools.  There is a general rule of thumb when we get stuck or are caught with our pants down; we can react and possibly go against our principles or we can stick to the basic rule that Marcus Aurelius set him self every day:

If it is not right do not do it; if it is not true do not say it

Jump In

The practice of Kabbalah teaches students to just go out and practice; “first do it, then understand”. Don’t get lost in the detail or the semantics just pick up the tools and get to work. Trying to learn everything there is to know before practicing means never practicing. One must simply jump in. I did not wait to read the Big Book and the 12×12 and a myriad of other literature before I decided to abstain from alcohol, I did that first and then read the books.

At the moment I am trying to learn the guitar. A part of me thinks that I will be able to learn simply by reading the books, understanding theory and watching some you-tube videos. Unless I pick up a guitar and play I will never learn. Philosophy is no different. Even mistakes are useful, in fact making mistakes is essential.

Go out and practice being the person you want to be. There is no need to be a Philosopher or even to have a firm philosophy of life. Simply be the person you want to be and the rest will fall in to place. Practice what you Preach.

*http://modernstoicism.com/stoicon-stoicism-conference/

Growing Old

When 900 years old you reach, look as good, you will not.” – Yoda

Recently I turned half a century. The milestone was not marked by any celebration and I asked that family and friends treat it as any other day. My Stoic attitude to turning 50 was to take the time to contemplate my life up until that point. I wanted to appreciate where I currently am in my life and ponder the future.

The inescapable fact

It is hard to escape the fact that time is not on our side. No one will live to be as old as Yoda. Those that do not die young will see their parents grow frail and eventually lose their health. Children bury their parents and grieve their passing as is the nature of things.

Our children grow up and eventually leave the nest seeking to start their own journey through life.  If we manage to dodge the many ailments and illnesses that seem to beset the middle aged we too also eventually grow frail. Our strength and agility slowly start to leave us. Sight grows dimmer, conversations are harder to follow and loud noises bother us more.

We watch as the world around us becomes more and more unfamiliar and we notice how young new parents look with their small children. Once upon a time not long ago we were that age too and had the same glow and vibrancy of youth.

One by one that that we knew leave us and start to dim in our memory. Soon our time comes.

Looking Back

I am now fifty years old. It feels strange to say it. I am a product of the 60’s and was born at a time when youth was rebelling against authority. The Vietnam War was being fought and the counter culture was in full swing not only in the States but around the world. They called it the “Love Generation” among other things. Some may actually remember that era (pun intended) and recall that it doesn’t seem that long ago. Yet it probably seems like an eternity.

They say I am Generation X. The very mention of the term brings back a lot of nostalgia. Which in itself is weird. I remember getting drunk and stoned a lot through the 90’s. The music was a mix of House music and then Grunge. An entire decade seems to have been lost in some sort of haze of booze and drugs or the fog of hangovers and brief recovery.Trainspotting and Kurt Cobain inspired the times.

There are the faded and yellowed photos of forgotten friends and fellow travelers in some remote and distant parts of the world. Everyone looks so young and happy. We are holding up bottles of beer and nursing cigarettes. There are bongs laying about.

We are wearing cut off Jeans, Nirvana and Led Zeppelin T-shirts and Thai Dye. Everyone has long hair and some of the guys have beards. Most of us are skinny, tattooed and tanned. There’s the promise of a good night and maybe love with a stranger. Life is a care free adventure, for a time there is no need to worry about the future. Youth seemed to be the promise that would last forever.

Never Lasts

Nothing lasts for ever and everything must end. Our travels, careers, friendships and close relationships, our very lives are all finite and impermanent. The party also had to end. I just never caught on like most and didn’t start growing up.

Booze tends to hold back the clock a little. Soon enough we are the middle aged person trying to keep up with people half our age. They are where we were 20 years ago and here we are still in the same place.

Ripped Off

Getting sober is a little like Rip Van Winkle waking up from his drunken slumber. The first thing Rip did on waking was go to his local Tavern and order an Ale. Looking around the Bar he noticed that the clientele was different. Some of the older people stared at him curiously. There was a young man that looked vaguely familiar to him.

Soon enough he was approached and it became revealed that he had vanished 20 years before and was now a much older version of himself. Rip Van Winkle had slept for 20 years, the result of a ghostly practical joke. The old fellows were his Friends and the young man his grown son. He learned that his wife had passed on. A bit relieved, Rip had another drink.

Waking Up

When we get sober the world appears different. Like Rip Van Winkle we realize we have been in some sort of slumber for years. Others have been moving on with their lives and in many ways we have been moving forward too but a large part of us has been rooted in the same spot. Once we have freed ourselves from the compulsion to drink our old haunts and old way of life no longer appeal. The chains slip off.

Sometimes I pass a bar or a night club and feel an urge to go inside, to resurrect a part of me that is now dead. I see the young people partying and having a great time, the music is blaring and the laughter fills the air. I feel a sense of nostalgia for the past but it soon passes and I remember who I am and most importantly when I am.

Old is a State of Mind

I do not consider myself old. In many ways I am excited about the coming years. After five years of sobriety I have learned so much about myself and recovery. I have barely touched the surface. Like Rip Van Winkle I see a chance to make a fresh start with every day. Age need not hold me back.

Indeed I can proudly say that I am fitter and stronger now than I was at 25. People say I look younger too, which I’ll take. There’s still a spring of youth in my step. I hope I’m wiser. There is the advantage of experience on my side. Wisdom acquired from a life of mistakes to draw from.

The Future

We can accept that the years will wear on us and eventually the tide of time will take us with it. Like Yoda I can face my ultimate destination with equanimity. My only concern is to live what Epictetus called the “Good Life” and whether I do or not is largely entirely up to me.

No one can know what the next day will bring. The future is always a mystery. With some certainty we can say that the sun will set tonight and rise in the morning to another day. Each day brings another chance to get things right, to learn and to grow and to use what we have learned. We can continue to look forward with hope and draw on our Faith that your best days are yet to come.

Recently I saw an article about a man who reportedly lived to 256. This man had been taught by another man who he claimed had lived for 500 years. The man is now dead but his story was documented early last century. The very old man had a secret for living to such an age which he shared…I’ll share it…..Tomorrow.

The Hero

“I, I will be king
And you, you will be queen
Though nothing, will drive them away
We can beat them, just for one day
We can be heroes, just for one day” – Bowie

The Hero’s Journey

When George Lucas wrote Star Wars he based the story on the mythical Hero as described by Joseph Campbell. “The Hero with a Thousand Faces” describes the “Hero’s Journey”, a narrative monomyth which has existed since the dawn of story telling. The Monomyth follows the story of one who answers the call for adventure, the Hero archetype. Departing home the Hero encounters and overcomes the fear of the unknown and sometimes with a mentor learns the path to overcoming challenges and obstacles that lay ahead. Towards the middle of the story the Hero meets resistance and facing peril must overcome  an enemy or nemesis and finding strength and the help of others is able gain the prize.

The story continues and we think the Hero is safely home but encounters even greater challenges that bar the way. Unable to escape the Hero battles in a climactic struggle. Victorious at last  the Hero claims the final prize and discovers a revelation that restores the balance. The Hero is transformed and returns home or continues the journey.

The “Hero’s Journey” can be seen as a metaphor for life. We all face similar milestones in our personal Journey through Life. In recovery, we know the path quite well.

The Hero

People have always been inspired by the Hero. Legends and Myths are full of them. Since the Babylonian tale of Gilgamesh written in 18 century BC, the human story has included Odysseus, Hercules, David and Jason. Our contemporary fiction is full of them and include unlikely heroes like Harry Potter, Bilbo and Frodo Baggins and Luke Skywalker and Jyn, Rey and Finn. Each of the characters became swept up in events greater than themselves. They  became accidental heroes who went far beyond what they believed they could achieve for the greater good. Their stories followed the classic “Hero’s Journey” as described by Campbell. The Hero provides humanity with an example for others to follow. We carry our Heroes on shields and decorate them with awards and medals.

No Ordinary Hero

Sometimes the Heroes of the world are right in front of us but we don’t even recognize them. These are not like the Heroes in the Ancient or Modern Sagas. They have committed themselves when action was needed with no time to think or plan. The bystander who jumps in to perform CPR, the one who instinctively jumps in to a swollen river to rescue a drowning child and the person who races in to a burning building to pull out survivors are the ones we sometimes hear about in the news. They remind us that there are still people out there who are willing to risk their lives for others. We think their acts are exceptional and rare while in fact they are in most people. The instinctive need to help and to protect and preserve life. It’s in our DNA.

We often hail our sporting achievers as “heroes” yet what have they done other than win a title, medals or a trophy, usually for great monetary reward and fame? Society tends to overlook underpaid and overworked care givers like Paramedics, Nurses, public health care Doctors as well as Police Officers and Fire and Rescue for their daily heroic deeds. Volunteers who dedicate their time and money to helping the poor, looking after the environment or taking care of animals are rarely considered “Heroes”. Not many people would count School Teachers, Hospice Workers, Aid Workers and Volunteers as Heroes. Soldiers are treated as “Heroes” and lauded for their military feats in some wars and derided or condemned for fighting others.

The Classic Hero as described by Joseph Campbell is a rare gem and one that primarily exists in literature and movies. Real Hero’s are are actually everywhere.

The Accidental Hero

Luke Skywalker was a hero of my childhood and for me had all the ideal traits that made such. I could also relate to Luke Skywalker on a personal level as I had also suffered loss. Skywalker gave many kids a dream that they could reach for the skies and achieve incredible feats if they only believed. Not long ago someone pointed out that Luke was no Hero. Why I asked? Well, he had destroyed an artificial planet with many thousands of lives. This “atrocity” had not ended the war, in many ways it had extended it and the untold suffering it caused.

The Death Star was moments away from ending the Rebellion and the war but instead it was destroyed. The Empire suffered a crushing military defeat with the loss of important Admirals and the ultimate weapon of deterrence. The war raged across the galaxy for years after and so did the death and the destruction. My Friend kind of had a point.

My Friend also pointed out that Luke Skywalker was not only against the established rule of law and active in an illegal Rebellion but he was indoctrinated in to an ancient religion. This religious belief compelled him to destroy the Death Star and continued to drive him to carry out attacks in the war and eventually topple it. Does this not sound at least a little like a terrorist?

The Modern Hero Dilemma

I thought about the many recent conflicts I had become acquainted. In these wars I had taken sides. One side was “Right” and the other “Wrong”. More than once I had called people I knew “Heroes”. They had traveled to Syria to join the Kurds and fight ISIL, an extremist and brutal regime. While I believe my friends to be Freedom Fighters and “Heroes”, other people, many decent and intelligent, called them “Terrorists” or “Criminals”. It made me realize that the word “Hero” can be a little ambiguous at times. In fact not everyone can agree on what, let alone who, a Hero is.

Then  what is a Hero? How would we define it? Many Real World Jedi have their own definition of what a Hero is and they diverge as much as people in any other part of society. This is a Jedi Philosophy Blog so I will take the words of Joseph Campbell to help define what a Hero is here:

A hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself.“- Joseph Campbell

Then that would mean that anyone who has died for a cause that he or she considered bigger than themselves fits the definition of a Hero…Obviously this cause problems as it would firmly validate the phrase “one man’s freedom fighter is another man’s terrorist”. The cliché in fact contradicts itself as we know that no terrorist can be a Hero and no Hero can be a terrorist then neither can exist as they cancel each other out. To me a Friend in Syria is a Hero fighting for Freedom from tyranny, to many people in Turkey and  the Arab world he is a Terrorist as he happens to be fighting under a Kurdish Flag. Being a Hero can be complicated.

The Journey

As a recovering alcoholic I know that things never appear to be black and white. Every ideal and bias that we hold is a product of our Ego. The human psyche pushes many of us to embark on the “Heroes Journey”. In a perfect world there would be no need for Freedom Fighters or Terrorists. Heroes on the other hand, we need those angels like the Paramedics, Nurses, Cops and Soldiers who put others before themselves. The recovering Alcoholic in a 12 Step Meeting who comforts and consoles a newcomer who is at the end of his wits is a Hero. Each of us can through simple act of kindness and love in our daily lives also be Heroes.

“Saruman believes it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found. I found it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay… small acts of kindness and love.” –  Gandalf “Lord of the Rings”

Marcus Aurelius admonishes us to stop “Waste no more time arguing about what a good man should be. Be one” There are five common traits found in a Hero. They are courage, selflessness, humility, patience and caring. These are the virtues which the Stoics like Aurelius found so important if one was to achieve the “good life”. They are also the virtues that a Jedi was expected to demonstrate consistently. The 12 Steps require all five virtues for recovery to be built on a solid foundation:

Courage

Courage is when a person does something in spite of their Fear.

Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear” – Mark Twain.

Selflessness

Selflessness is doing something for others without expecting anything in return, indeed often with personal sacrifice.

selflessness is the only way for progress and prosperity” – The Bhagavad Gita

Humility

Humility is acting in a way that shows you respect yourself but never place yourself above others to look down.

Humility is not thinking less of yourself but thinking of yourself less” – CS Lewis

 

Patience

Patience is being able to accept that things to happen at their own pace even when we wished they wouldn’t. Good things do come to those that wait.

Patience is bitter but it’s fruit is sweet” – Aristotle

 

Caring

Caring is showing to others the kindness and concern that they deserve. Caring is in the little acts that we do every day.

Caring The simple act of caring is heroic” – Edward Albert

 

Can we be all of these things? Can we be the Hero that we are meant to be? We can be Heroes not in the big causes that we take up but in the simple every day acts of life.

War

“Wars not make one great.” – Yoda, “Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back”

A Zero Sum Affair

No matter what our politicians and leaders tell us, wars do not solve problems and they certainly do not make people or nations great. The killing of another human being no matter what the justification is never easy, we are not programmed to take life. Yes, there are heroes in war, acts of bravery under fire that are celebrated and remembered. War can bring out the best and worst in people but it should never be glorified. Very few veterans will relish war and only a fool brazenly seeks it. Speak to someone who has seen war up close and they will tell you it is never pretty and it is a waste of life an d treasure. For this reason it should always be a last resort and one that is never taken lightly by those that send others to fight.

As a society we seem to have become increasingly conditioned to war. It seems we are in a perpetual state of war while preparing for future conflicts. Today the United States is directly involved in conflict in no less than 15 countries on five continents. We have 300 bases in over 70 countries. A dangerous military build-up is also occurring between historic Cold War foes that is devoid of any of the mutual respect and constructive dialogue that existed forty years ago. Distrust, division and accusation prevails. Our world is headed to a precipice and indeed the Doomsday Clock overseen by a panel of international Atomic Scientists was recently adjusted to 2½ minutes to midnight, the closest to the point of Armageddon since 1953.

Last Resort

What can we do about any of this? Unfortunately not much. The Stoics suggested that in life there will be many things that disturb us of which we have no control. We can emote on a subject, we can commiserate on how terrible the loss of life in Syria, Yemen and Ukraine is due to conflict or bemoan the degradation of the global environment. Worrying or emoting about events that we have no control over does not alleviate the suffering or change a thing. If we can act, we do what can be done otherwise we focus on our place in the world and those that rely on us. We attend to our own battles at home and strive to make a better life.

The Fictional Jedi were keepers of the Peace but were sworn to protect the Republic and defend it. Being a real world Jedi means knowing which battles to pick and only ever accepting violence as a last resort and primarily in self defence, never attack. A Jedi abhors violence.

“A Jedi uses the Force for knowledge and defense, never for attack.” – Yoda

 Soul Wars

Carrie Fisher once compared her battle with mental illness as akin to being in a war. The analogy was not intended to belittle the sacrifice of veterans who had fought in Afghanistan but to highlight the nature of the struggle she endured for years. Many of us fight our own inner battles, the prize of victory is survival and defeat ultimately means death. The courage needed to survive addiction and recover should never be understated it also takes a tremendous amount of balls.

“One of the things that baffles me (and there are quite a few) is how there can be so much lingering stigma with regards to mental illness, specifically bipolar disorder. In my opinion, living with manic depression takes a tremendous amount of balls. Not unlike a tour of Afghanistan (though the bombs and bullets, in this case, come from the inside).” – Carrie Fisher

Alcoholics are not facing an enemy on a battleground or the threat of IEDS, they are confronting their own darker side. In recovery we change our lives utterly and in ways we could never have imagined.

A Crowded Hour

Soldiers are given medals for acts of heroism in the face of danger. Storming a machine gun nest, pulling a wounded comrade to safety while taking fire, jumping in to a burning vehicle to pull out unconscious casualties all take a tremendous amount of guts. The ordeal will last from seconds to hours. The “crowded hour” that Soldiers who have experienced in battle will know as the euphoria mixed with terror that is as addictive as a drug.

“Sound, sound the clarion, fill the fife!

Throughout the sensual world proclaim,

One crowded hour of glorious life

Is worth an age without a name.”

Thomas Osbert Mordaunt (1730-1809)

When the dust settles and the adrenaline wears off the Hero Soldier will be unable to explain his actions, he will simply state that his training and instincts kicked in, there was no time to think, just act. A true Warrior will never claim that war has made him “great”.

Uncommon Valor

We Alcoholics also faces a momentous challenge in overcoming our addiction and starting the long road to recovery. In Step 1 we must admit our powerlessness to alcohol and accept that a spiritual solution is the only path. For many this can require rejecting a life time of prejudice and accepting something that before was completely unfathomable. We must dig deep and inventory our history all of our faults and all of the harm we have done others. Having admitted our faults to ourselves we must admit them to our Higher Power and another person. With our past clearly laid bare we must be willing to put it behind us and resolve to change and become who we want to be.

Our actions must agree with that resolve; we seek out those we have harmed and we make amends. We forgive others and we finally forgive ourselves. Living one day at a time we seek to improve ourselves and grow spiritually as well as mentally and emotionally. Our attention moves outwards and we seek to serve others, helping where we can.  The journey can be terrifying but we find a type of courage and inner strength that endures and we change. It takes uncommon valor.

Better a patient person than a warrior, one with self-control than one who takes a city.” – Proverbs 16:32

Whoever answers the call of duty should never be condemned and those that make the ultimate sacrifice should never be forgotten but always honoured. War should always be regretted and never glorified. Never forget too that we as alcoholics face our own battles on a daily basis, often alone and without support. Our effort is worthy and honourable. We may not think it “great” but your recovery is a small light in a dark world, you are making the world a better place.

World betterment through self-betterment” – The Jedi Circle

Cognitive Dissonance (Part II)

Part II: Overcoming Cognitive Dissonance

Several days ago a Friend of mine who runs a martial arts business posted a poignant piece on the psychology and the consequences of quitting. My Friend was not talking about quitting a destructive habit such as compulsive drinking, gambling or drugs but on the perennial challenge of seeing new students quit within two weeks of signing up.

The truth is that quitting is a hell of a lot easier than sticking if the activity is difficult but beneficial. This is why the majority of candidates on the BUDS program for the Navy SEALS bomb out in the first 48 hours. They figure to themselves “this is harder than I thought”, “why don’t I quit now and save me further pain”. The training Staff are experts in picking up doubt and mental weaknesses and pounce at any sign of it. They actively encourage the candidates to quit, to ring the bell and throw in the towel. The SEALS want men who are mentally and emotionally resilient and who stay the course. Physical toughness is only about 30-40% of BUDS. Mental and emotional strength is the key to getting through.

The opposite is true for things that are seemingly bad for us or contrary to our cause. These things seem extremely hard to quit particularly if the habit is addictive or reinforced in any way. Drinking and taking drugs for example is extremely difficult to quit despite the obvious harm they do us. If anyone had asked me which would be easier, quitting smoking and drinking or getting through something like BUDS I would have said BUDS. Most of us want to quit but cannot find the mental, emotional and spiritual resilience to last the distance. We relapse when we try on will power alone.

The Serial Quitter

I can sympathize with my Friend for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I was a serial quitter and know all about it. I have taken up a number of activities and made up excuses and quit. Cross Fit, Kickboxing, Gym memberships and even martial arts. Those were sporting and recreational pursuits. I also gave up on jobs, career paths, studies, relationships, sobriety, life….The excuses were less than adequate but it all boiled down to two things; fear of commitment and intractability.

For some reason I have always feared commitment. Most things I ever did I did so because I felt under pressure in some way. When it came to applying effort under my own steam voluntarily and without obligation I would find something else to do and eventually give it away. This was because it was easier to default to the softer option. I also imagined that I was not good enough, or I looked stupid or having stumbled and failed once I decided what was the point. In this state a person suffers a crisis of self confidence and fails to commit. Alcohol or drugs provides a convenient remedy as it dulls our sense of accountability and reassures us that we are better than we actually are.

Intractability

Intractability is being obstinate and difficult to manage. Alcoholics generally have a rebellious streak and we are rooted in our flawed belief system. Self discipline and the ability to commit are concomitant in sticking with a program of recovery, martial arts or BUDS selection. Alcoholism on the other hand tends to throw self discipline to the wind as soon as the first drink is ingested.

The mind set is reinforced in Alcoholics to reject opinions or information that is contrary to our world view. We may be brilliant when we want to be but the second something tips us over or someone gets in our way, we throw the whole lot in, stamp our feet and quit. We proclaim that “they don’t know that they are talking about”. Our only Master is Booze, she is the one we ultimately take orders from.

In a Dissonant World

In today’s society we are increasingly left feeling isolated, in conflict and under tension. Technology dominates every aspect of our lives. Morality seems to have fallen by the way-side or at least replaced by a type of righteous political correctness which stifles discourse and counter views. Society has become polarized. People are feeling less connected within the community and despite the prevalence of social media are feeling increasingly marginalized. This environment has given rise to an unprecedented level of cognitive dissonance in society. Fortunately there are ways to break free from it:

1. Question your views.

In a critical and objective manner dissect your belief system. Challenges assumptions and question everything. Ask if you are not holding on to beliefs that are flawed. Do you have your hand in a Monkey Trap?

The Monkey Trap requires a monkey to place it hand inside a box with a small opening large enough for a hand to fit through but not a balled fist. The Monkey will reach for the treat inside the box and clutching on to it is unable to free itself. If it could only let go of the treat is would be free. This is how some of us hold on to our ideas and prejudices. We convince ourselves of a reality that does not exist and we hold ourselves to that despite evidence to the contrary. Seek evidence and reject what does not hold true.

In the case of Martial Arts, the belief that “I can’t do this” is self perpetuated by quitting. If we break down a problem in to smaller portions and focus on achieving milestones the challenge does not seem so momentous. With a change of perception we entertain the possibility we can achieve. As they say in AA, “take it one day at a time”, the miracle may happen tomorrow.

2. Get out of your Comfort Zone.

Trying new things is absolutely essential to growing as a human being. Have you ever observed a child? A two year old will explore everywhere it can, pick things up and make a mess. She is learning at a phenomenal rate about her world and place in it. We never stop learning and the best way to keep growing as a person is to expose ourselves to new things that are outside of our comfort zone.

The British SAS has advice for candidates on its selection course; “embrace the suck”.  They reason that the cold, hunger, fatigue, uncertainty and exhaustion are guaranteed so might as well embrace it. The course is undertaken in a manner where the candidates never know what is happening or going to happen. If one approaches the course with a “Can Do” attitude rather than a fearful one they are already half way through.  It is a mind-game. With practice and perseverance we arrive at confidence that we can do this. Start off with a “Can Do” attitude.

We all define our “own impossible”. If our mind can imagine something then its possible that it can be done. It is about convincing ourselves that we can take the first step and put one foot in front of the other. Eventually we get to our destination if we keep going.

3. Simplify

One of the reasons we stall in recovery or in any other challenge is because we often over complicate it. Most challenges look complicated because we frame it that way in our mind and the easiest option is to abandon the idea. We also seem to use the word “But” to excess. For example, “I want to stop drinking BUT I’ll lose my Friends” or “I would go to Train BUT [insert excuse here]”. We often complain that people get in our way when most of the time it is our own selves that sabotage our efforts.

In every decision there is an opportunity cost. Only the person can decide if it is worth it? Would I rather be sober or get wasted with Friend? Is sitting at home on Face Book instead of attending training a worthwhile use of my time? All we need to do is ask ourselves what is more important; there is no need to complicate. Decide and choose that. If there are obstacles that complicate your decisions either work around them or manage them out. Yes, this includes “Friends” that pull you away from your goals.

4. Keep you eye on the Goal

Visualize the person you want to be. See yourself standing there in a year’s time having accomplished the goals that you set. Keep that image in your mind and if required draw up a battle plan to get there. In that plan set a strategy, determine the resources you will need and set achievable milestones along the way. Keep the Plan fluid and adaptive so it can to survive the unforeseen. Just because you have a plan does not mean that life will come along and try to upset things.

If you stick to your (rough) plan and keep track of progress you will see improvement over time. For the last 6 months I have stuck with a fitness regime which has resulted in significant gains. Daily application and commitment to the program has been the formula. At first I made excuses not to workout but reminded myself of the reasons I was doing it.

Self Discipline and effort are two Jedi traits that are required to keep on track in any endeavor including sustained recovery. Remember that all you really control is the effort that you put in. An Olympian can train as hard as humanly possible but that does not guarantee a Gold Medal at the Games. If we achieve our goals in the time and manner we set, great, if not we should still recognize the effort we put in.

Luke Skywalker suffered Cognitive Dissonance on Dagobah while was being trained by Yoda. The effort and time needed to get through the trials and the study to becoming a Jedi were obviously more than he was willing to invest at that time. The need to be Jedi conflicted with his need to “be elsewhere”. Luke Skywalker lacked patience and the tension forced him to leave his training early and confront Darth Vader before he was ready…Which brings me to the last point:

5. Is it Worth It?

My Friend has taught Martial Arts for 40 years and has been in countless confrontations which he managed to defuse or resolve using skills drawn from decades of training. On quitting he asks his students one basic question to help with their Cognitive Dissonance; he asks “is it worth it?” The price of not learning Martial Arts might mean that they do not acquire the skill set and discipline to confront an attacker trying to kill or rape them. The price of learning Martial Arts will mean years of dedication, hard work, pain and sacrifice.

When we put it that way it often seems more stark. In the context of life and death it does not get much more clear. Some people need more proof than others.

Do I pick up a drink and most likely relapse in to active alcoholism or do I work the program?

Every one of us must decide what we value and act in accordance with that. No one can force us, we must decide ourselves.

Commitment

A Jedi must have the deepest commitment, the most serious mind.” – Yoda “Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back”.

The Noble Path

In the Noble Eight Fold Path of Buddhism the virtue of commitment is inferred twice. Right Resolve is the first practice and is the act of making a conscience decision and acting on it. This may mean renunciation of a former way of life and the acceptance of a new path. Old habits and modes of thought are put aside and replaced with a philosophy and system of belief.  The mendicant would be adopting a new way of life which would involve renunciation of property, family ties and romantic love.

The second practice is Right Effort, having accepted the new way of life and training, the mendicant then applies consistently the principles underpinning their practice. This may include meditation, mental discipline, physical training, study and devotion.

Right Resolve and Right Effort both demonstrate commitment.

Commitment was crucial to the Jedi. Right Resolve was taking the vow to enter the Jedi Order and accepting the Jedi Code as the tenet governing behavior. As the Jedi progressed through training their resolve was continuously tested. The Jedi Trials were used as rituals to assess the progress of the Jedi Padawan on their journey to Knighthood.

The Trials of Life

Trial of Skill, the Trial of Courage, the Trial of the Flesh, the Trial of Spirit, and the Trial of Insight were used to test the Jedi. In “The Empire Strikes Back” Luke Skywalker undergoes Jedi Trials before he leaves his training early to rescue his friends and confront Darth Vader.

Right Effort was applied throughout the life of a Jedi to the moment of death. Every thought, word and act of the Jedi was to be in accordance with the Jedi Code. Mindfulness in every aspect of life was applied. The effort  to achieve this would require great commitment and self discipline.

Commitment to a Philosophy of Life takes effort and resolve. Being Jedi is not easy. Applying valued principles from the Buddha, Jesus and the Stoics takes self discipline. I sometimes wonder if I’m not playing some joke on myself and then I remember that one of the virtues is  also humor.

“If you commit to philosophy, be prepared at once to be laughed at and made the butt of many snide remarks. “ – Epictetus, Enchiridion 20.

Effort is Rewarded

Commitment is also tested in the real world. Our resolve and effort in staying sober is tested daily. We are assessed by our loved one’s, our friends and our employers. In the Army some of the guys I served with applied to enter in to the elite special forces community. The selection courses they completed were in many ways like the Jedi trials. They were continuously tested for their physical, mental and emotional fitness, their ability to make decisions under pressure, their perseverance and resolve and ultimately their character was under the microscope.

Those who failed returned devastated. Those who passed were moved on through their training as SF Operators and rarely seen again. When they were encountered they seemed different and they were different, they were better versions of themselves. I stood in awe and respect at what they had achieved.

I now stand in awe at what I have achieved in the last few years of recovery. My life is “a daily reprieve” and I owe it to the “Grace of God”. My effort was only to hold up my end of the bargain and not pick up a drink. I also made the commitment of “drop the rock” through Steps 6 and 7 and let go of my character faults and live in accordance with my values. This takes effort. I know what it takes and when I encounter another recovering addict I know the pain they have gone through and I stand in awe and respect.

“I believe life is constantly testing us for our level of commitment, and life’s greatest rewards are reserved for those who demonstrate a never-ending commitment to act until they achieve. This level of resolve can move mountains, but it must be constant and consistent. As simplistic as this may sound, it is still the common denominator separating those who live their dreams from those who live in regret” – Tony Robbins

One Day at a Time

Commitment starts at Step 1. The moment we admit our disease and powerlessness over our addiction is the moment we commit to taking the first step to claiming the power to recover. What does it take? Everything. Do you need Right Resolve and Right Effort? Everyday and “one day at a time”.

But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. – Corinthians 15:10

The commitment required to stay sober and to live a life of continuous self improvement is by its very nature a hard slog. We trudge along in our recovery, one step at a time, one moment at a time. In our way appear obstacles and pit falls. We go down and we get back up and we keep going. Sometimes our mind is screaming for us to stop, yet out hearts and something more powerful within us keeps us going. We keep going because to stop and to quit is to die.

Go Hard

Every day we are on selection. Everyday we are working for our special forces tab. We get up, we get through the day, we thank our Higher Power and we claim renewed strength to get through another day. It takes effort and commitment all day every day.

The only limit to your impact is your imagination and commitment…there is no abiding success without commitment” – Tony Robbins
Your only limit is the boundaries that you set yourself. You are far more powerful than you know and it shows with your commitment in everything that you do. Today when you get up, own the day, commit to that and gut it.
Hooah!” – Army Slogan