Thursday, 5 May 2016

Alcohol and Buddhism

About 14 days after I quit drinking I left a comment on someone else's blog (can't remember which one!).

I was thrilled when the author replied. She said something along the lines of 'you're doing really well! Now you need to find something spiritual to fill the gap.'

I confess that I snorted with derision.

I was far more worried about whether I was going to lose all my friends, and why I was sleeping for twelve hours a day, than filling some hole I didn't think I had.

As with so many things, I was wrong.

Way back in my early twenties, and following several months travelling through Thailand, I became fascinated by Buddhism.

However, my brief flirtation with Buddha was quickly set aside and forgotten, as I got on with the important business of burning the candle at both ends.

But, recently I've found myself being drawn towards Buddhism again. It turns out quitting the booze did leave a hole after all.

Then I read a post by the fabulous Hapless Homesteader (find her blog here), where she talks about the Five Precepts of Buddhism, and I was reminded of the fact that the fifth precept is refraining from intoxicating substances.

Hurrah! I'm already one fifth of the way to enlightment!

I did some more research on the precepts.

Number one is doing no harm to other living things. Two: not taking what is not freely given. Three: no sexual misconduct, and four: no lying or gossiping.

The reason the fifth precept exists is that taking intoxicating substances leads to 'heedlessness', or 'carelessness' - the exact opposite of mindfulness.

Plus, becoming intoxicated is very likely to lead to you breaking one or more of the other four precepts.

I found this parable which explains it beautifully:

A Buddhist monk is told that he must either sleep with someone else's wife, kill a goat or drink a bottle of wine. He chooses the wine, believing that it would do less harm than the other actions.

Several hours later the monk wakes up naked, having drunk the wine, shagged the wife and eaten the goat.

And ain't that the truth?

I may be past the days of 'sexual misconduct', but I certainly caused 'careless' harm left, right and centre. Secrets spilled, promises broken, good deeds not done.

And alcohol, as Hapless Homesteader points out, turns us all into liars.

We lie about how much we drink to others (friends, husbands, doctors), but mostly to ourselves. We lie to give ourselves excuses to keep on drinking (I've had a super stressful day), and we lie about the harm it's doing (a glass of red wine is good for you! It's Mediterranean!).

Plus I was the most terrible gossip.

I've been trying to work out why. I think that when our own life is less than perfect we revel in the imperfections of others. And, when you're a few drinks down, idle gossip is easy, non-demanding, conversation.

Funnily enough, I've started to find gossiping (which I confess I still do from time to time) increasingly distasteful. It feels bitter and mean spirited. It leaves me feeling depleted.

So, I'm trying to ditch the gossip. I'm taking it slowly, starting with only gossiping about strangers. For example, I'll happily dissect the state of David Beckham's marriage, but not those of my friends. Baby steps....

Gossiping, thinking badly of people and being mean about them is just bad karma.

In the words of Buddha:

We are shaped by our thoughts; we become what we think. When the mind is pure, joy follows like a shadow that never leaves.

That's what I'm working on. Now, I'm off to kill a goat and flirt with my gym instructor ;-)

Love SM x

27 comments:

  1. I read hapless homesteaders post the other day too. I was thinking about Buddhism in the shower yesterday (where I do my best thinking) then I quickly decided that I didn't need any more rules in my life, that not drinking was big enough for me right now (I'm just starting out). I think having some principles to live by is helpful and although I am not religious in any way it does interest me. Im going to work on gossip too! I'm not proud of myself after I gossip, it makes me feel bad about my character. I also have regular bad thoughts about one person that makes me feel bad. It's a difficult relationship with a family member. I need to stop with the negative thoughts, like you said it's bad karma!

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    1. Ha ha crossed comments! I also struggle with more rules, conscious thinking etc. Sometimes it's bad enough just getting through the day, let alone having "rules" to the day...agreed xx

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    2. I think we all share that dislike of rules thing. It's why we're here ;-) I want to come back as a warthog, Scous Mous. They always look so content.

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  2. Timely as always SM!
    Struggling a bit with the gap drinking has left in my life. In the winter, was rock and roll, going to bed at 8pm with the kids. Not so much of an option with the lighter nights.
    I was tackling the Eight Step Recovery book but found it a bit dry....Must find another book.
    I was a terrible gossip. I too am trying to wind it down. It just feels unsympathetic and nasty these days, and as you say, bad karma.
    Next I'll be believing I will come back as a wasp or something..... :-) xx

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  3. Amen to the not liking rules. Part of the reason I drank was a subconscious "up yours" to the puritanical upbringing I had, a very juvenile "I don't have to do what you tell me" - I think most enthusiastic drinkers have a bit of that in them. Now we choose not to drink and we are rebels again!

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    1. Yes, for sure! I can definitely relate to that.

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  4. Read the book "the four agreements".....it will really help you with the gossiping. The first agreement is "be impeccable with your word!" (That means a lot of things...not just gossip) I also was a gossip. I do like your analogy of why! It, unfortunately fits me!

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    1. Excellent book - loved it...

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  5. You were sleeping 12 hours a day too to start with?! Oh, there's hope for me yet. The exhaustion is driving me nuts!
    I love reading wisdom that has been around for thousands of years but which is applicable to our lives today. I go to great lengths not to actively cause harm (even to wasps!) but have definitely become careless - neglectful of myself and others through drinking. Thank you for the reminder to be more mindful / less careless. Enjoy the gym!

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    1. I 'capped the bottle(s) in January. Good timing - not much else to do but sleep! Just go with the extreme weariness as much as you are able....we are making a huge change in our bodies, and that body deserves every consderation in kind, yes? I've had a return of the weariness in recent weeks- PAWS.? Whatever...it all beats guilty hangovers!

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    2. I'm so relieved to read that others are still battling with exhaustion. I'm on day 35 and I am so tired most of the time. Headaches and joint discomfort are also part of the mix. I guess I'm still running the obstacle course. The reason I'm hanging in there is because my friends here tell me there are pink clouds and energy headed my way. I believe it!

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  6. Hi
    So true, when I am tired and hungover, I am mad at the world and want to bring everyone to a negative place with me. Buddhism has such great ways to live your life. Love reading your blog!

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  7. I just love this...

    As always, thank you.

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  8. Oh the monk story was priceless and how true about wine. Thank you for the morning chortle! Almost everything in my life that has some tinge of regret somehow involved alcohol. No more.

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  9. So weird, I was also very dismissive about spirituality, but I found the same, that wine void needed to be filled....

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  10. '...shaped by our thoughts' -- more wise words read here that I've just just copied to the Dry January journal. Thanks, SM!!

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  11. thank you so much for the reminder about Buddhism. I've been eager to study it for years. Need a Buddhism for dummies book. Now it's on my list for the summer that includes meditation and Yoga. I love how honest you are with us about how your perspective changes about things. It makes it easier for everyone to be honest as well.

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    1. If you find a good Buddhism for Dummies book let me know!

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  12. I cringe at what a gossip I was when drunk. And so loudly too. Sometimes when the person was very close by.... What a fool!

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  13. I've followed your blog since you started it, and it has been a help and inspiration to me. Not that I have given the wine up, but I do believe I really am finally getting there. Following other blogs such as red and groundhog girl and the wine bitch, I don't feel so alone any more with the ups and downs of this horrible addiction. I wonder about "exploringsomething else". I could so identify with what was going on with her. My mum's partner died last night and, although I have numbed the pain with alcohol, I realise that it is not going to work. Thank you all for being there

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    1. Thanks for sticking with me for so long! We all think about quitting for months, usually years, before we do - you just need to wait until it's your time. Maybe that's now? I'm so sorry about your bereavement. Sending hugs and strength xxx

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    2. Thank you for the quick response. I`ve always liked your upbeat and reflective blogs. You have helped me to feel more optimistic about kicking the habit and reevaluate my life.

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    3. I second Sober Mummy here; I'm on and off the path at the moment, but each time I fall off it, I get closer to the final quit. I think for many there's a period of building up to it. And this sober blogging community is fantastic in helping us find others we can finally identify with! I am sorry to hear about your bereavement too. Big hug. Red xx

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  15. Thanks SM. Love the Buddha thing. Check out Tiny Buddha for some easily digestible Karma and some great quotes. Red, nice to see you here too.

    Justonemore

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  16. A great / simple / fun book about Buddhism is "Buddhism for Parents on the Go" by Sarah Naphtali. Full of lots of pithy advice from a Buddhist perspective on subjects ranging from anger, to guilt, to arguing with children, yearning. Amazon rates it as 4.5/5 so it must be good.

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  17. If I could recommend one book that completely changed my view on spirituality forever, it would be "A Return to Love" by Marianne Williamson. For some added credibility, Oprah says it is the one book that most changed her life as well. I would LOVE to hear what you think. It describes a way of thinking that is sort of a cross between Buddhism and Christianity, although it isn't like anything else I've ever read. Amazing. ; )

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