If your mind is anything like mine, then it is always changing it’s mind. One minute it is present and before you know it, it’s off and running with some negative thought. It almost seems impossible to control at times. Thoughts filled with fear, anger, judgement come rushing in like a freeway filled with rush hour traffic. I suppose this is the reason that I love beer. Despite the fact that when I drink beer I get bloated, feel like my belly is getting larger than I am comfortable with and often feel unwell a few hours after drinking it- I love what beer does to my mind. It usually takes two beers before I get the full mindfulness effect, but after I finish my first beer I notice the slowing of my mind effect.
This slowing of my mind effect is not to be taken lightly. I get such joy from this containment of my normally tyrannical mind that I will start to smile the moment I feel the buzz take hold. After my second beer the slowing of my mind effect turns into the complete halting of my mind effect. It is as if my mind goes limp, powerless over the alcohol that is numbing it into submission. What joy there is in these moments! For an hour or so- I am free!
I like the taste of beer, but more importantly I have been using it for its so-called mindfulness effects for over twenty years (with a few breaks in-between). If I am in the midst of feeling incredibly anxious, there is nothing like a beer to quiet my mind. My mind can generating scary and life threatening images and thoughts about my own demise but the moment I finish my first beer it is like a door has been opened and I can walk out into a spacious and peace-filled field where nothing is threatening. But as wonderful as this spacious field is, I can not help but wonder- is a quiet mind a mindful mind?
I could be wrong but I think a mindful mind is hardly ever quiet. The mindful mind is doing what a mind was created to do- generate thoughts. But the difference between a mindful mind and a beer buzzed mind is that the mindful mind is actively working hard to just let the thoughts come and go by keeping the focus on the breath, sounds and bodily sensations. The beer buzzed mind is “all good” in the moment. It is at peace and therefore has no real need for any meditative practices. But the beer buzzed mind is like putting a band-aide over a bleeding wound. The problem with this is it often hurts when it comes time to rip the band-aide off.
But man (and women) can not live on beer alone. The life enhancing and pleasant mind numbing effects of beer only last for a few hours and leave a person like me with a icky feeling in my gut, a hangover, a few extra pounds around my mid-section and a slight depression that any person experiences when they realize that something good does not last.
The pleasure/relief that I feel while experiencing a beer buzzed mind has kept me drinking a few beers, a few days a week (and a few more beers than that one or two days a week) despite the negative consequences. It is as if I am willing to put my body and mind through all the unpleasant post-beer effects just to spend an hour or two, maybe three, in a joyful beer buzzed place. Sounds silly, but in many ways I am willing to sacrifice my health for the sake of numbing that bullying part of my mind that is always making things more difficult than they need to be.
I know that this approach to mindfulness is all wrong. When I drink my beer I can hear some of my mindfulness teachers screaming at me: What the hell are you doing! Stay present with what is, rather than taking the beer escape! I know, I know- but still I find the mindfulness of beer a hard state to pass up. I love sitting there and gulping down my first beer like an asthmatic sucking on their inhaler waiting for the much needed relief to come. Once the relief comes it is so pleasant to feel normal again. When I drink my second beer I always think how pleasant it would be if my mind always felt this way. I also wonder if my mind has some kind of structural defect, which causes it to generate so many unpleasant thoughts (it has been this way my entire life). I wonder if other people have a mind that normally feels like my mind does after two beers: quiet, spacious, positive, relaxed and excited about life. In a nut shell, after two beers I am having fun and when a person has a mind that is always generating negative, existential, frightening, worried thoughts- having fun is a big deal.
However, I know there is a price to pay for most kinds of fun and I seem to be willing to pay for it. The mindfulness of beer comes with a price and as I sit here now writing this brief essay, I am still paying that price (and I only drank three beers and a sake last night!). If mindfulness is a present moment, non-judgemental state of awareness then the mindfulness of beer is something else. I am not sure what exactly it is but I know that I love it when it is there. Unfortunately, like a dysfunctional relationship, when it is gone I see it for exactly what it is- a pleasant escape from this moment.