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The habit of drinking is deeply ingrained in Western culture.
Being drunk is often seen as a blissful state in which our sorrows are washed away, and
exchanged for courage and an extraordinary ability to be merry and happy.
Yes, alcohol loosens the inhibitions, dissolves our fears and makes us forget about our problems
- at least for a while.
But it also dampens the senses, reduces our mental capabilities, impairs our motor skills,
and basically helps us to make fools of ourselves.
Moreover, drunkenness often leads to violence, and the trap of alcoholism has been destroying
millions of lives.
Thus, we might choose the risky joy of drinking, but the overall debilitating effects of doing
so prevent us from truly immersing ourselves in the precious gift that the universe has
given to us:
Life.
So, instead of escaping the experience of life, in all its rawness, with all its emotional
highs and lows, its joys and hardships, can't we just enjoy life as it comes, soberly, as
much as we enjoy the state of drunkenness?
Or simply put: how can we get drunk on life?
Now, years ago I heard a Taoist tale about Lao Tzu, meeting up with Confucius and Buddha,
in a teahouse.
When they were sitting together at a table, the waiter offered them a special drink called
'the juice of life'.
Immediately, Buddha rejected this, saying that birth, death, and life are all suffering
and that a drink called 'the juice of life' is definitely not worth taking.
As a matter of fact: his enlightenment meant freedom from the wheel of suffering.
So why should he masochistically administer the pain that he wanted to escape?
Confucius, then, said that he couldn't judge the drink before he tasted it.
He took a sip but didn't like the taste at all.
“Buddha, you're right!” he said.
“It's foul, it's bitter, it's miserable, it's not worth drinking.”
Then, Lao Tzu took the bottle and drank it in one go.
After that, he got up and started to dance, and dance, dance, while screaming like a madman.
After a while, he stopped and returned to his seat.
Buddha and Confucius had become curious and asked: “so, how was it?”
Lao Tzu answered: “I'm not going to say a word, because there's nothing be said.”
He explained that Buddha was too quick to judge, and Confucius based his judgment on
a small sip.
In theory, they might be right: that life isn't worth the suffering.
And based on their doctrines, it might be better to avoid certain elements of life in
order to avoid suffering.
But in the story, they refuse to experience life.
And a million words are not enough to describe what it really is to be alive.
Hence: “there's nothing to be said.”
And to really judge about life, one has to fully experience it.
Now, not to discredit Buddha or Confucius and their traditions, which (needless to say)
contain profound wisdom, the story offers two important messages.
The first one is 'not to take religions or ideologies too seriously so that they block
us from experiencing life'.
When the rules we impose on ourselves are too rigid and inflexible, it's difficult
to move along with existence which is always in flux.
As Lao Tzu wrote in the Tao Te Ching, and I quote:
“Those who are stiff and rigid are the disciples of death.
Those who are soft and yielding are the disciples of life.”
End quote.
The second one is that to experience life 'we should drink it at once and just...
dance'.
We're likely inclined to dance after drinking a lot of alcoholic beverages.
Without a doubt, drunkenness by substances is an experience that many people regard as
a joie de vivre.
But, paradoxically, the basis for this joy lies in closing ourselves off from life.
Perhaps as much, or even more, as those rigid individuals that are clenched to their spiritual pursuit.
What's to experience when our senses are numb?
Enjoying life more, by experiencing it less, is nothing more than an escape.
It means that we cannot handle our fears or our emotions in general.
When we're sad, we drink.
When we're happy, we drink.
When we're anxious, we drink.
So, this kind of drunkenness is a rejection of life by an embrace of a mind-altering substance.
Now, getting drunk on life is a pursuit in the opposite direction.
Rather than blocking what overwhelms us, we embrace the full spectrum.
See, when people drink they often seek to embark on a proverbial rollercoaster ride,
without fear.
They want adventure, they want joyful interactions, they want to encounter someone attractive.
And by reducing fear, they often experience that it's indeed easier to make these things happen.
Even though fear is uncomfortable, it doesn't mean that it's bad.
It means that the body's fight-or-flight response is triggered.
So, it's a side-effect of entering unknown territory, which passes when we experience
a sense of safety.
It's a price we pay for getting out of our comfort zone.
But the reward is priceless: it's this lucid involvement with elements of life that are
new us; it's the elation of overcoming boundaries and fears.
Didn't Danish philosopher Kierkegaard once say that anxiety is the dizziness of freedom?
Being drunk on life means that we are able to fully and consciously enjoy what life,
in all its ordinariness, has to offer.
And the fact that we seek substances or activities to numb ourselves is already proof that the
experience of life is very intense.
Sometimes, it seems too intense to handle.
And that's where we find the key to getting drunk on life: by riding the waves, no matter
how big, while rejoicing when the sea is calm.
By not clinging to its highs or lows, but not to its flatness either.
It's the deep sadness, and grief when we're dumped, the tears of joy when we meet with
a loved one we haven't seen for a long time.
But it's also the shivers when we do something we fear, the delight of spending time in nature,
the contentment of not needing anything more, and the flourishing by the pursuit of virtue
like a Stoic.
It's not rigidly standing on the sidelines of our experience, but establishing ourselves
in the present, without the denial of what's already there.
Thus, we replace our resistance to these inevitable parts of life, by a welcoming curiosity to them.
So, how do we get drunk on life?
Well, by drinking it.
And the paradox is that we can only enjoy life fully when we don't numb the senses
as we do when we get drunk.
Life itself is already drunk enough.
The only thing we have to do is 'open up to it', without resistance and without attaching
ourselves too much to our judgments of right and wrong, and transcend the ideas of what
we should and shouldn't.
Life is simply what is.
It's an endless show, that we all have a part in.
At the end of the day, it doesn't always have to be enjoyed, nor does it always have
to be suffered.
It simply has to be lived.
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TAOISM | How to Get Drunk on Life

13 Folder Collection
jeremy.wang published on March 30, 2020
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