It seems like the more I make positive changes to my life the more I get called a hippie. Granted this is usually by friends and it might be in jest but nonetheless it points to an interesting phenomenon. The term hippie, as used today, seems to be a derogatory word, and even when it is used jokingly I think it reflects something important – that is, mainstream society’s indifference or perhaps even contempt for values that are not about doing whatever is normally done, whether or not it is good for you the individual, or the planet.
Most recently I’ve started making nut and seed milk. Yes okay, I can hear the cries of ‘hippie!’ starting already. Why? I think it’s probably not that great for a cow’s welfare to be forcibly milked all the time, at least I know I wouldn’t like it; nut milk is healthier for me too; it’s not much more hassle than going to the shop; it’s no more expensive than normal milk; it gets me closer to my food and it tastes amazing. What’s not to like?
Yet this is precisely the type of activity that is ripe for the mockery of the hippie tag, as is my thrice weekly yoga practice, healthy eating, daily meditation, interest in entheogens and probably a load of other stuff. It’s as if doing anything positive is socially unacceptable. How weird is that?! These are all really good activities, good for cows, good for my mind and good for my body, yet on hearing about them people choose to poke fun. I’m really interested in what’s going on here.
It’s not that I want to ban humour, and I’ve used the H word myself so I’m really not complaining, it’s more I’d like to point out that if we look behind this seemingly innocent jesting, we see that it conceals the way we have been conditioned to discount the value of things which are not ‘normal’, with normal meaning activities and habits that we have been conditioned to unconsciously believe are the right thing to do.
I’m thinking of the overconsumption of alcohol, the implicit support of large scale animal torture and murder, the mindless consumption of crappy TV, and addiction to food that will kill you to name a few. Most people mindlessly engage in these destructive behaviours without a thought and thus implicitly endorse all that they stand for. We all do it (even hippies), to a greater or lesser degree.
Of course there are exceptions but I find that often when someone uses ‘hippie’, even in humour, it indicates a tendency not to question the way things are, and an adherence to the conventional version of what’s right. Strangely they neglect the value of activities concerned with living as positively as possible. What is it about our culture that means we find the activities that are best for us strange and unappealing?
If people insist on using it then in response I’d like to redefine and reclaim the word hippie. No longer must we associate the term with outdated connotations of unwashed, long haired drop-outs. I’m proud to be called a hippie because to me what it stands for now is to be freethinking, to have the perception to avoid cultural brainwashing, the depth to always ask questions and the ability to step outside of the consensus trance.
It means never giving up and settling for things the way they are now, and always believing there is a better way to live. It means compassion for animals, concern for the environment and a faith in the potential inherent in humans and life. I don’t care if anyone thinks I sound like a hippie, to me it’s just the right way to live.
How I yearn to be just one person. I’m tired of censoring myself. I’m fed up with thinking about how to present myself to one person or another. I’ve had enough of being a different person to everyone I meet. I wish to speak freely, to be myself, to not have to hide aspects of myself and things I’m interested in just because they do not conform to what I perceive to be the conventional reality consensus or what I think someone is comfortable hearing.
Oh how I wish to be one person. I feel like I live in seperate worlds at once. I’m not impressed by my tendency to try and guess what values someone I’m talking to holds and to mould my conversation and presentation of myself to fit. It is not the action of a self assured person. It is not the way of the superior man.
Yet I find myself doing this all the time. I guess we all do it to certain degrees. And of course different circumstances do call for adjustments in behaviour, language and presentation; we’re obviously not going to act in the same way around everyone because society has established roles and expectations and to a certain extent it makes sense to adhere to these – be respectful to a policeman if you don’t want to get arrested, or quiet in a library if you don’t want to piss everyone off, for example.
But I’m not talking so much about these kinds of expectations, although they are related. What I’ve started to become more conscious of is how I often find myself not disclosing things I’m really interested in because of a fear that people will find me unacceptable. It’s a fear of judgement and I believe it comes from a fear of not being good enough, and a desire to win approval from others.
Leaving aside the psychodynamic origins of my fear, a bulk of the discomfort is a result of the fragmented universe I inhabit, and in this I know I’m not alone. I have one foot in an extremely conventional world. The world of nine to five, of office uniforms, of colleagues with Louis Vuitton bags and music ‘talent’ shows on TV, the world of pop culture, of gadgets and fashion. This is where I earn a majority of my income and a few aspects of this I embrace, like my weakness for skinny jeans and a good haircut.
My other foot rests firmly in an alien landscape of psychedelic ceremonies, regular meditation practice, chlorella in my green smoothies, abstention from alcohol, a constant search for existential meaning, no television at home and a conviction that the universe is alive and wants us to realise our own true nature as some kind of divine cosmic creative expression.
You might notice the discord between these seemingly irreconcilable realities.
Now in the workplace I do think it is perfectly acceptable to present a façade to a certain extent. People often like to keep their work lives and personal lives separate, and many just like to turn up, do their stuff and go again. I can understand this attitude. I think it’s boring and a waste of an opportunity to share experience with other human beings but I understand. Similarly, I think that hurling my guts up on ayahuasca in the amazon jungle is a topic I can safely leave out of discussion at the weekly team meeting without castigating myself for being inauthentic. The professional world, for good or for bad, has certain expectations and not adhering to them could make you extremely unemployable. I’m not saying I agree with this culture, just that if I want to get and stay hired I should probably not disclose the aforementioned psychedelic ceremonies. Ultimately of course our workplace should reflect our values but that’s another story and not everyone is able to achieve this.
Where I have noticed myself not being so authentic is for example when I am out with certain friends, talking with colleagues or meeting new people and I don’t discuss my daily meditation practice, my interest in self development or my disdain for the values of the predominating worldview of our time, when I have the opportunity to do so. I believe I have interesting and important views on such matters yet I turn away from articulating them to many people because of fear of how someone will respond and what they might think of me. It’s a fear of not being accepted and I’m guessing if I think like this there must be a fair few others who do the same. At work I present a ‘safe’ version of myself that I know falls within expected norms. I think I’m worried people will think I’m strange or deluded. I’m sure many people have similar fears about being authentic or acting as themselves, which stem from a range of reasons.
It strikes me though that the man I want to be, the strong steadfast man I’m striving to make reality, would not censor himself out of fear. His imperative would be to express himself truly, boldly even, having confidence in his values, in what he believes to be true, and in what he knows to be the right way to live.
The man I aspire to be is fearless in his independence from what others think of him. Not in an aloof, arrogant way, but because he knows himself, he has established what he values and the reasons for that, and has developed the strength of character to not fear rejection. It is the hallmark of someone who has grown out of insecure ways of thinking and of someone ready to make a mark on the world.
In addition, being courageous enough to be honest and authentic give others permission to do the same. It creates a space in which it is safe to speak from the heart and without fear of judgement. Imagine how much richer our conversations would be if we all spoke our truths! Imagine what we could learn from one another. Also imagine how it would be to not have to constantly worry about whether the person you are talking to will judge you based on your words.
Now I’m not advocating spilling your life story to the person sat next to you on the bus, but imagine how much deeper our friendships would be if we refused to sell ourselves short with superficial conversation and instead revealed the things we care about, are concerned about, hope for and dream of. Maybe as a result we would stop feeling so isolated from each other, we’d realise more of the humanity in others, and we’d realise we’re not so weird after all. Maybe we would come to realise that neglect of the inner landscape of the human condition in favour of superficiality and sales by our society’s mainstream culture is a grave misrepresentation of what it means to be alive.
I know I can’t be the only one who thinks like this. This is something everybody deals with in varying amounts – the invention of our many personas and their presentation to the external world; deciding how we define ourselves to others. Being authentic, being truly one person, seems to me to embody a powerful way of living. It promotes harmony in our inner lives and states our belief in what we hold to be important.
I think it is a necessary and empowering stage on the journey of our conscious evolution, and might enable a much more profound and richer engagement with life. Fear based patterns of thinking that inhibit authenticity are undoubtedly strong, but we can chip away at them each and every time we refuse to be quiet, each time we say what we really think, and whenever we go against conditioned instinct and boldly display our authentic selves.
Alcohol. That most delicious, horrid, elixir, poison, potion of passion, liquid of love, brew of bliss and drink of depression. How to relate to this curious drug? It depends who you ask – I know some people extremely averse to drinking while others would say you’d be crazy not to, though I’m fairly sure the majority would be comprised of the latter. I’ve been thinking about drinking a lot of late. In fact for years I’ve been torn by my conflicting feelings towards alcohol, and the nagging feeling that I could make so much more of myself if I stopped drinking grows stronger by the week.
I won’t lie, I’ve drunk much more than I should have for many years. I’ve loved being drunk and have been completely smashed so many times I couldn’t even guess how many hundreds it is. Being drunk has bestowed upon me great times, new friends, one night stands, relationships, the feeling of being alive and a mountain of magical moments. If only I could remember the names, and what they all were… It has temporarily freed me from my usual shy and reserved, introverted and self-doubting tendencies, and enabled me to live a great social life which belies the inhibiting thought patterns I spend most of my time dealing with.
But it’s not that simple. Alcohol is unpredictable. When I drink I do not know who I will be that night. Will I be the charming, witty, sociable person I quite like, or the self loathing, lonely, depressed individual I despise, trapped inside the prison of my mind? And then there’s the next day… Doubtless I don’t need to describe this.
Of course you might rightly point out that I’m talking about extremes here, that I should just drink less, or stop after a couple and go home. But again it’s not that simple. The thing with alcohol is that after a drink or two, self autonomous choice seems to vanish. The alcohol starts to think for you. Just having a couple seems boring, and all of a sudden you’d be a spoil sport for leaving your companions.
Staying out for more booze presents the allure of ‘living in the moment’, making the most of life, being spontaneous and crazy. The bank account becomes irrelevant, tomorrow’s tasks can wait, and the friends you’re meeting for dinner won’t mind too much if you don’t show up. After all, we’ve all been there.
For those of us inspired by a healthy diet, mindful living or striving to improve ourselves, and particularly for those of us with a daily meditation practice, alcohol poses extra challenges. Meditation is defeated by the solace of a second snooze, being present is replaced by getting by, the potential inherent in every moment is vanquished, long term goals are slain by short term impulses. The mind is clouded, clarity lost, energy sapped. The body craves stimulants and junk food, anxiety increases and tiredness takes hold.
Of course to the regular drinker these symptoms might seem exaggerated, but I’m struck by how much of a poison alcohol seems to become after a period of abstention, time spent on a raw food diet, or sessions with a plant medicine like ayahuasca or psilocybin.
There is however a reason – and a good reason at that – why alcohol is so popular and why to contemplate giving up alcohol seems so bonkers to most people. Where would we get our fun? Alcohol so kindly gives us the escape we crave, the sweetness and elation that so often is missing from our monotonous and dissatisfying daily lives. For a few hours we can forget our shitty jobs, stresses at home, spiritually unfulfilling culture and how long we have to wait until our next holiday.
The ritual of cracking open a bottle, or sitting back on a comfortable pub chair and taking that first sweet gulp offers a moment of satisfaction, the chink of glasses while saluting your fellow revellers a second of gratification and connection. Of course it’s a distraction, but it’s a welcome distraction that greases the wheels of social interaction while creating a space in which life is good and problems can be shared.
So how to deal with the question of whether to continue drinking or not? At my best I sense the potential that could be unlocked with the extra clarity of mind that would be available, the extra time, the physical strength, the early mornings and the weekends regained. At my most inspired I feel how much more I could create and achieve and maybe even how much more stable my mind would be. In a country where the drinking culture is so ingrained this represents a huge challenge though, and there’s a lot I’d be turning my back on. I seem attached to the euphoria, sense of connection and carefree spirit of the good times, the letting go and the comfort of drinking with friends.
Maybe there is a middle ground to be found. If so it requires a clarity of intention and strength of mind. Maybe certain situations more prone to providing a slippery slope can be avoided while other more sedate occasions can be enjoyed. But again I come back to the intuition that this needs to be all or nothing. I’ve had a long relationship with drink and I know its lessons inside out. Maybe it’s time to try a new way of living. In contemplating this I come to the realisation that the alcohol is not the root problem. If I was happy with my work and in my life I wouldn’t feel this attachment. I need to change these things. But maybe it’s more even than this. The benefits we seemingly gain from drinking – feeling more relaxed in the environment we’re in, connecting better with others – point to a deeper problem.
To greater or lesser degrees we all feel a sense of separation from those around us, and an absence of connection with the world. In other words we lack a sense of belonging. The human condition seems to necessitate this situation, and fear based patterns of thinking learnt during tricky childhoods exacerbate it’s influence. There are many ways in which this manifests but one of them is a subtle or even profound sense of not being at ease in the world, and this is felt more acutely in certain more uncomfortable situations. Alcohol is often able to dissolve the boundaries that keep us from being able to feel connected with each other and with the world we inhabit, that keep us from feeling like we are truly supposed to be here in the world at large, or what ever scenario we are in. Drinking can therefore alleviate that most fundamental malaise.
Of course there are many reasons people drink, and there are doubtless many reasons I drink. But it does strike me that many of them can be attributed to this root cause – the pervasive sense of separation. To attain the middle ground and to have a healthy relationship with alcohol, one first has to heal the disconnection that is responsible for the inability to feel at ease. This is a significant task, and a life long one for some at that.
I’m not suggesting that we should all stop drinking, and in any case ceasing to drink on it’s own will only put an end to your hangovers, not your hang ups. And of course many people have a healthy relationship with alcohol, where it is not used to self medicate, and where drinking alcohol does not lead to the inability to stop drinking and the consequent desire to get completely smashed on more and more drink, culminating in a quest to find something even stronger to take the mind somewhere more extreme, and not stopping until the body gives up and falls into that sweet, dreamless comatosed slumber.
Those of us who drink might not all operate at this extreme, though I know so many who do, and it’s a tendency in myself that used to be very strong and still lies latently inside today. Despite the euphoria and apparently social bonding affect of getting wasted with friends or strangers, I currently find it difficult to continue to justify the physical damage, the lost weekends recovering, the anxiety that ensues after use, the dampening of dreams and absence of clarity about the future, not to mention the financial outlay that goes with alcohol consumption. I desire to see what I can make of myself with out these handicaps, to see whether I really can be more creative, see goals through to fufilment, be physically stronger, mentally more stable, spiritually more steadfast, and whether I can develop a healthier relationship with life. I can’t help but think that for me, after so many years, the game is up with booze.
I’m not suggesting it will be easy, or that it will even be successful, or that this is permanent. I also have no idea how I will approach invites to the pub, continuing to go to clubs to hear music I love, boozy weddings, dates, parties and after work socials. Such is the pervasiveness of drinking in society and my dis-ease with navigating these scenarios without being at least a little tipsy.
The path winds and is not straight. People and times change. What is appropriate now may not work in the future. Aside from those working with a strong addiction to alcohol there is no need to work with absolutes and impose on ourselves a lifetime ban on drinking. To err is to be human after all, and this only sets ourselves up for failure in any case. It does however feel healthy for those of us with a passion for mindful living to explore alternative modes of being including both drinking and not drinking, learning what there is to learn from each state. Remaining as present as we can, and through being as conscious and honest with ourselves as possible we can learn to observe the motivations and effects of our actions and discover what works and what causes us problems. Hopefully we can come to a healthy arrangment with alcohol, whatever that is. After all, the human story is one of trying stuff out and of learning from our successes and mistakes. I’ve been very successful at drinking a lot over the years so for now I’m going to try something else.