When I first met my life partner 10 years ago, he had just quit doing a whole host of things that weren't healthy for his mind, body or spirit. We met in a meditation center, and I soon found out he was struggling with addiction. I didn't have the same struggles with craving alcohol as we began to live a healthy life together.
What I had was this urge to push the limits. I thought, here comes the rebel partier, meditation world. I am going to test this spiritual practice; show that I am still independent and can do whatever I want. And have bliss to boot!
I was so in love with my own freedom. What I later found out was that my casual glass of wine, an afterthought at a party for me, was a choice that had a hugely detrimental effect on my struggling-to-stay-sober partner. Still, I kept up my exercise in free will.
So I continued to explore this common cultural experience we do for social connection and pleasure. What I began to notice is when I would drink it impacted my clarity. In the moment, yes, but also the next day and for a few days afterwards. It impacted the level of my overall well-being. I felt a little down or a little depressed.
When asked about alcohol or any kind of intoxicant, the Buddha once said, "The mind is confused enough as it is and doesn't need any help."
No judgment. No commandments. Just practical advice. Is it helpful, or unhelpful? Hmmm. Good question. I continued my exploration.
When I sit in meditation and attain subtler and subtler states of clarity and insight, when I start to feel those subtle vibrating states of bliss, joy and harmony, to really get there I have to sort through a bunch of muck.
All the lists. All the to-dos, all the past injustices, all of the mind-chatter that when it's cleared away there's the bright, luminous, clear mind.
And since that is what I want to cultivate for myself, that bright, luminous, loving, positive, clear mind, and that's what I want to support others in accessing, drinking, even though I didn't have a drinking problem, was not serving my highest self.
Like many meditators, I've closely examined certain states of my mind. In meditation I analyze thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations and break my present moment down into specific categories. I turn my awareness, like shining a flashlight, on those states.
So I started to turn that bright light of awareness on myself while I was slightly tipsy or even if I'd just had a half-a-glass of wine. And what I found out -- and this is my experience, yours, of course, may be different, and I recommend trying it -- was I actually didn't feel giddy, good or happy. I mostly felt irritated, agitated, dizzy and confused. That those sensations in combination were what I had previously labeled as "buzzed," "tipsy," "carefree" and had associated with fun.
But when I really broke it down, drinking alcohol did not cause positive sensations to arise even in the moment, let alone the very next day when I was tired, dehydrated, sleep deprived, and depleted. I do notice an overall improvement in my well-being, health, mood and energy now I've chosen not to drink. I made this choice in order to cultivate a happy relationship as well as to cultivate my spiritual growth.
So some of us might be sober and feeling really good about it. Wonderful. Yay for us. So let's ask - what are the other things we might be addicted to? We can get all high and mighty and holy. We may think, "I don't drink. I'm such a righteous person, such a great spiritual practitioner." But maybe we are consuming television unmindfully, or gossiping, or getting lost on the internet. That is my current big one to work on, now -- Internet consumption.
It is not about judgment. Nothing is helped by judgment in terms of overcoming any of the struggles that we have towards our better selves.
Another aspect of this exploration is compassion. When we talk about addiction it has been helpful for me to understand it as a disease. So for some, it is not about just using willpower or even making a choice. It is about a whole host of other tools, supports, and techniques to help work with ourselves or with a person in our lives who is struggling to work with the disease of addiction to alcohol, drugs or any other addictive thing.
There are so many pathways that can lead us to clarity and light. And there are so many pathways that can lead us to suffering and confusion.
Here are a few key steps to lead us to clarity:
1. Take a deep breath and reflect: Where are we now? What are our addictive patterns that are blocking us from growth? Knowing and reflecting honestly can lead us to greater and greater liberation.
2. It might be, but isn't necessarily, about simply quitting something. Let me be really clear. I'm not telling anyone to do or not do anything. That sure didn't work for me! Our job is to examine our choices and the pathways they lead down. To look at our actions and their results. So perhaps while drinking we are bringing our attention to our real experience with focused awareness. We will see the effects quite clearly with this type of neutral, focused, and tender awareness.
3. Cultivate compassion. Another helpful tool for clarity is cultivating compassionate care for ourselves and others as we overcome any struggles and cultivate our better selves. We can be gentle with ourselves and others on our paths, wherever we are.
4. Experiment and observe: what cultivates that bright luminous, clear, happy mind state. What are the qualities and conditions that enhance that and what are the conditions that diminish that? Using these tools of awareness we allow ourselves to gain insight.
Once we have insight it is likely that more clarity and positive change will happen. Positive energy will spread through our daily actions into our lives and touch ourselves, our families, communities and eventually impact the world around us as well.