A New Understanding of Intoxication
Lessons from Buddhist philosophy
I’ve been studying Zen Buddhist theory for the past six months. The philosophies seem based on a scientific understanding of the mind that align with modern neuroscience theories.
One of the precepts that I think of often admonishes us not to intoxicate ourselves. Reb Anderson describes intoxication in Being Upright in a way I had never considered. I understood intoxication as an altered state of mind precipitated by consuming a substance. For me, this typically includes alcohol or food. I never considered that intoxication reflects a desire to change our experience and particularly to lessen suffering or intensify joy. With this understanding, intoxication is a state of mind and not the outcome of an action. This way of framing it makes sense to me, and the ramifications have been profound and affect the way I interpret numerous situations.
Often, when I am feeling restlessness, sorrow, or pain, I seek to change the way I am feeling. I might wish the sun to be brighter, drink a glass of wine, read a book, call a friend, complete work tasks, or anything else that will distract me or improve my demeanor.
I believe the wisdom is in appreciating our life exactly as it is. At first, I worried this was a prescription for wallowing in suffering and never taking responsibility to carry on with life but I was missing the point. When I choose to be present with anguish and also to feel the blessings of life, then I realize that I can live with both suffering and joy without attempting to banish the former or cling to the latter.
This is top of mind because I had a heart-rending interaction with someone I care about this morning. All-day, I wanted to intoxicate myself with work, food, alcohol, or music to drive the sorrow from my awareness. I did intoxicate at times and I am grateful that I was also mindful at times to accept my feelings. My sense is that the long-term psychic effects of these feelings will be destructive if I attempt to bury them in my unconscious mind. So, I am grateful tonight to be feeling like crap and grateful to be present to experience it fully until my mind races off to think about something else.
Originally published at https://patrickbosworth.blog on January 21, 2021.