Drinking culture is a strange phenomenon.
It’s one of those peculiar things we get caught up in without really questioning why we are doing so, or even whether or not it’s beneficial. Alcohol is so entrenched in our culture—so deeply intertwined in our social dynamics—that we seldom look at what we’re doing objectively.
Let’s take the time to do so now.
I haven’t indulged in alcohol for quite some time, but not from a matter of personal preference. I have been contending with a severe chronic illness for the past few years, which has disallowed me from partaking in the delicate elixir, among other things.
This restriction has gifted me with an impartiality to the subject that may not be realistic in relation to most people’s experience. In light of this, I hope my perspective can be of use to those who are closer to the culture surrounding this curious beverage.
So, why do we really drink?
We drink because it allows us to drop below the thinking mind.
Much of human suffering arises from a sense of identification with the movement of our thoughts, which seems to be inherently sporadic and repetitive.
We can’t stop thinking. It’s like an addiction. We’ll go to great lengths to find solace from our thoughts. This is why alcohol is so pleasurable; it lets us slip into our animalistic faculties. We no longer have to think about ourselves or deal with our problems.
Eckhart Tolle, the renowned spiritual teacher, helps guide us through this:
“Anywhere in nature, you can observe how things function without thought rather beautifully. Now, we as humans can learn from that realm of pure consciousness, but we cannot go back to the pre-thought stage—although we try sometimes very hard. We try very hard through all kinds of things to get ourselves out of our minds that we cannot stand anymore, with all of its heaviness and its problems. ‘Give me another drink…oh, I feel a little better now, I am not thinking that much, I can’t even remember my problems.'”
Alcohol momentarily frees us from our inhibitions, but what we never seem to ask ourselves is why we have these inhibitions to be freed from in the first place.
Perhaps if we honed the ability to look at ourselves objectively—to have a firm and deeply-rooted sense of who we are—then the need to drop below our thinking mind would be lessened.
I don’t mean to imply that drinking is always bad. There is, of course, such a thing as “healthy drinking,” so long as it’s done in moderation. What I am most concerned with is the human tendency to look for an escape, and how alcohol provides an easy portal to do so.
The human condition is an unimaginable burden. Being a person is a really scary and difficult endeavor, but it’s an endeavor we have no choice but to accept. If we don’t accept it, we suffer unnecessarily and create even more suffering around us.
When we drink excessively, we think we don’t need to deal with any of it. We wash ourselves away in a sea of misplaced courage and moronic elation. There is nothing true about that—at least not in a deeper sense. We’re just dropping below the movement of our thoughts and choosing not to contend with what it means to be a person.
Again, Tolle speaks to the subject:
“You are leaving the problematic evolutionary stage that we call ‘thinking,’ but we are not moving beyond thinking, we are falling below thinking. Even that is liberating, because it takes you away from the dreadful pain of thinking, of identifying with thinking. You have successfully left the thinking realm, but have moved into pre-thought and unconsciousness and you are now on your way to the vegetable realm.”
The human condition is characterized by thinking. We are the only creature that is acutely aware of its own demise. We are at once floating through infinity and gliding through the absolute, all while remaining in our individual bodies subject to death and decay. This is a real problem, and we have gone to great lengths to come up with a solution—from tribalism, to political ideologies, to fundamentalist religions, and so on.
I truly believe the answer to the problem of human suffering to be quite simple. It is so simple, in fact, that we often gloss over it. We must transcend the chaos of our thoughts by abiding our present moment experience—by dwelling in the holy space between stimulus and response.
Awareness is the answer to suffering, as far as I can tell, and awareness can only flourish when we cease to be fully associated with our thoughts. We are not our thoughts. When this realization occurs, we are less prone to look for an escape. We can simply enjoy the simple pleasure of being alive.
Perhaps, instead of going out to drink next weekend, we will sit down with a good book, have a clear-headed conversation with a dear friend, or engage in some form of spiritual practice. Then, if we decide we want to cut loose and have a few drinks, we will enjoy it even more, because it is not something we “have” to do, rather something that we “want” to do.
This is the shift from unconsciousness to consciousness.
Author: Samuel Kronen
Editor: Danielle Beutell
Copy editor: Yoli Ramazzina
Social editor: Callie Rushton