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Importance of Survival Skills

TAOISM | How to Get Drunk on Life


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. Thank you for watching.

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