Alcohol and Vedic Meditation Part 2
[00:00:45] Q- How Can You Replicate the Effects of Alcohol Naturally?
[00:00:45] Hi Thom. I was listening to your podcast over the weekend, the one dealing with drugs and spirit medicine, in which you talk about the receptors in the body and the effect of overstimulation of these receptors using external drugs that the body can actually manufacture itself.
[00:01:03] Alcohol is a drug that is so prevalent in society today. I was wondering, given its effect on the body, it is presumably replicating the effect of a chemical that the body itself can also generate. If so, some of these effects can be positive. For example, the removal of some inhibitions. How can you replicate this naturally without the harmful effects of taking alcohol, and is my understanding of this chemical process correct?
[00:01:31] Understanding the Pathway of Alcohol
[00:01:31] Well, thank you for asking the last question in your commentary. First of all, it’s very important to understand that the pathway of alcohol and the effect that has on the physiology is utterly different to the pathway taken by drugs, whether we call them spirit medicine, or we call them plant medicine, or we call them drugs, which is what they are, that are broad exogenous, psychoactive drugs and molecules that are brought into the physiology, either by mouth or by a smoke or via injection.
[00:02:05] Through whatever means they enter the body, they’re exogenous, meaning from outside of the body. Their effect, as you accurately heard and stated and restated from my podcast, is that they molecularly mimic the shape of molecular groups, which our own brain and body know how to produce and for which we have receptors.
[00:02:28] And then, those psychoactive exogenous molecules find their way into receptors that were not designed for receiving the exogenous, but were designed for receiving the endogenous.
[00:02:40] And then, to further this part of the conversation, the endogenous chemistry becomes sublimated. That is to say, the body figures that you already have plenty of it because the receptors are filled with the inferior exogenous product. And so, the endogenous product and its production in the body secretion sites is toned way down or even eliminated.
[00:03:06] And this makes us dependent for those heightened consciousness experiences, makes us dependent upon the exogenous substance. And this sublimation is the first step in the direction of addiction.
[00:03:19] Alcohol Destroys Brain Functioning
[00:03:19] Now, alcohol works completely differently. It works by destroying brain function in certain parts of the brain. Alcohol is toxic to the human body, it’s not a product. Our body can produce nothing like it.
[00:03:35] When you introduce the toxin into the body, one of the first and most direct effects it has, both on the central nervous system and on the brain, is to destroy the repertoire functions of certain parts of the brain that provide us with discriminating thinking.
[00:03:51] By discriminating, I mean differentiating thinking. They provide us with the capacity for clarity of thought, for short-term memory, some long-term memory, and so on. And with regular application, the brain cells not only are suppressed in those parts of the brain that provide us with that critical thinking, but actually are destroyed, and the brain cells themselves are killed off or die.
[00:04:16] Selective Poisoning of the Brain
[00:04:16] And that material in the brain is necrotized, it turns into dead mass and so it’s no longer available for producing any kind of consciousness experience. And then regular use of alcohol simply increases the speed with which we approach brain death.
[00:04:34] And so we have miniature amounts of brain death in moderate alcohol use. And as we increase our alcohol use, entire portions of the brain die off and become unavailable for generating consciousness experiences.
[00:04:49] So this is the effect that alcohol has. It does not act like psychoactive exogenous substances that are attracted to, which reside in, the receptors that are designed for endogenous chemistry.
[00:05:04] Alcohol works purely on the basis of toxicity, and we’re sort of having a very selective poisoning of the brain and the central nervous system. This is how it impacts us.
[00:05:17] Inhibitions Can Be Good
[00:05:17] So then the loss of inhibitions is a loss that is non-selective.
[00:05:24] It’s very important for us to realize that, although we have told ourselves, particularly since the 1960s, that inhibitions are a bad thing, but in fact inhibitions save us from behaving in ways that are completely counterproductive socially.
[00:05:40] Some of our inhibitions may be overdone and cause us to have behaviors that are a little bit wound up and uptight.
[00:05:48] But other inhibitions, for example, and I’ll just use an example, if you have a very angry thought and you feel like you want to kill somebody, it is good that you’re inhibited from acting out on that thought by the ability to discriminate what the cascade of effects will be if you carry out the impulsive action.
[00:06:09] That’s an inhibition. You’re inhibited from acting out on impulsive thinking, and so, in this sense, inhibitions are good.
[00:06:18] What happens when we remove inhibitions using alcohol, is that certain inhibitions we might’ve had, for example, I may have been inhibited about speaking at all socially, or speaking my mind.
[00:06:32] Okay. Well, we agree that it’s good to lose that inhibition, but at the same time, under the influence of alcohol, we lose all other inhibitions too, some of which may have indeed protected us from grossly irrelevant or destructive social behavior. And so, it’s a non-selective removal of all inhibitions.
[00:06:54] What Meditation Does For Us in Contrast to Inhibition
[00:06:54] Let’s contrast that with what meditation does for us. When we practice meditation regularly, we are awakening inside the stable and balanced production of a cocktail, and I’m using that word temptingly for all of those of you who enjoy a drink, a cocktail of bliss chemicals, which is sustainably produced, able to be reproduced again and again, that’s good for our health…
[00:07:22] Good for our heart, good for our brain, good for our longevity, good for our look, cosmetically improves our look, and enhances the way in which we age gracefully. This cocktail of bliss chemicals is produced by meditation, also removes the stresses that stop us from behaving naturally in situations where we could be behaving naturally.
[00:07:48] And this is the selective, if you like, removal of inhibiting behavior, where certain kinds of inhibitions we have, that are caused by stress, are removed because the stress that causes those useless inhibitions is removed.
[00:08:04] Strengthening the Good Inhibitions
[00:08:04] But those inhibitions that we have that are helpful to us, like not acting on an impulsive thought, an angry thought, a frightened thought, a sad thought, these kinds of inhibitions against negative behaviors are strengthened by our practice of Vedic Meditation.
[00:08:23] And those kinds of inhibitions that are caused simply by over-accumulation of stress, stress increases fear, stress increases sadness, stress increases anger, so eliminating those stresses is going to give us a balanced approach to being uninhibited in areas where inhibitions are counterproductive, and continuing to be inhibited against negative and irrelevant or aggressive or destructive behaviors.
[00:08:53] So this is the effect of Vedic Meditation when contrasted with the effect on our physiology of alcohol.
[00:09:02] Q- Can You Discuss the Mention of Alcohol in Ancient Indian Texts and Modern Culture?
[00:09:02] Can you discuss the mention of alcohol and wine in some of the ancient Vedic texts, such as The Ramayana, The Mahabharata, and the role that it plays both during those times, as well as in modern culture today?
[00:09:18] Soma- The Cocktail of All the Bliss Chemicals
[00:09:18] We have to look at the original Sanskrit. We have to look at the individual context and episodes, and the original Sanskrit writing of these texts, to see if indeed the substance that’s being referred to is wine or alcohol, or simply being translated as such, could be the imbibing of consciousness in its fluid form, which is known as Soma.
[00:09:51] Soma, S-O-M-A, is a word that made its way via the Greek into English language. Somatic means body, to do with the body. Soma comes from the Greek for body, but Soma, in fact, was brought into the Greek language by Alexander, came from the ancient Sanskrit, not for body, but for a celestial biochemical that is considered to be the combination of the cocktail of all the bliss chemicals that can get created when we transcend.
[00:10:22] When we experience the bliss state at the source of thought, baseline consciousness, it’s a state of bliss, and it’s productive of bliss consciousness and bliss physiology, all of which are mediated by certain neuro-transmitters. These are protein-like substances and peptides, neuropeptides, neurotransmitters that instruct the body to go into a bliss mode.
[00:10:48] And this is very often thought of as, and mythologized as, a chemical Soma, which is imbibed by the deities in the mythos of ancient India, and can also be imbibed by humans. Soma.
[00:11:04] The Unsustainable vs the Sustainable
[00:11:04] So the product of drinking “Soma” is sometimes mistranslated as someone having drunk some wine. So the wine in this case, is not the wine of the grape, it is the product of certain secretion sites in our brain that allow us to go into highly creative states.
[00:11:27] So when we read these episodes, if what we’re reading is that peoples’ performance and function becomes higher, they become higher functioning, they become more creative, more intelligent, more sustainably happy, not by becoming indiscriminate, not by becoming someone who is like a loose cannon socially, rolling around a ship, a loose cannon breaks holes in the ship and sinks it.
[00:11:57] Like that image, someone who is inebriated, suffering from brain death, graded brain death, which is brought about by alcohol, is going to become more and more indiscriminate and lose the good inhibitions, as well as the bad ones, and not be in a sustained state.
[00:12:15] So if we see that kind of reaction in the episodes, in which we read about the imbibing of certain fluids, then those decoctions, those libations, are referring to alcohol. And if we see as a result of the so-called “drinking” some libation or fluid, then this is the legendary retelling of the way that the brain of the subjects in the story is producing Soma, and they’re having a shared experience of imbibing Soma, the bliss chemistry that comes from transcendence.
[00:12:53] So we’d have to look episode by episode to see which of these cascades of effects coming from, which kind of thing? The unsustainable versus the sustainable. And this would be explanatory of all these episodic allusions to imbibing of various kinds of libations.
[00:13:12] Q- Is it Common for People Struggling With Imbibing to Take to Vedic Meditation Enthusiastically?
[00:13:12] We have seen in our community that there are many who struggle with alcohol consumption and addiction take to Vedic Meditation in a profound and enthusiastic way. Is there something that this group of meditators have in common that makes them even more likely to get great benefits from this practice, or any conclusions that we can draw from it?
[00:13:39] Imbibers Are Brave People
[00:13:39] Unlike many members of society who look upon indiscriminate drug use, whether it’s done under the auspices of it being”sacred” or, it’s more unglorified usage, which is just getting high, escaping or whatever, one thing that unifies all of these imbibers of substances, whoever they may be, is the search for higher consciousness states.
[00:14:10] Nobody drinks whiskey because they want to feel bad. They drink it because they want to feel good. Nobody drinks wine because they want to feel bad. They drink it because they want to feel good.
[00:14:22] Nobody shoots up some heroin because it gave them a terrible experience. They shoot it up because it gave them euphoria. However temporary, there was euphoria there.
[00:14:34] No one imbibes THC because THC makes you feel terrible. They imbibe it, if ever they imbibed a second or third or many times after the first, because after their first they noticed that it made them feel better than they felt before that.
[00:14:49] What is this? This is all seeking. We’re seeking higher consciousness states. These are the people who are willing even to sacrifice their physiology, and the longevity of their physiology, if only they can challenge the assumption made by all other people that life is just about suffering.
[00:15:10] They want a consciousness state in which one can rise above suffering. And the result would be, hopefully, to find some kind of nectar that can cause us to rise above suffering sustainably. These are all seekers, and they’re brave people.
[00:15:28] “There Has to Be Something More Than This”
[00:15:28] They’re brave people who are willing to take a risk, and even at the risk of harming their physiology and their brain, and even at the risk of harming their social relationships, they’re seeking a consciousness state higher than what they see in what’s taught to them at home and at school.
[00:15:47] “There are only three states of consciousness, waking, dreaming, sleeping. You stay awake all day. If you work hard, and you earn money, and pay your rent, and you are good, pay your taxes and all of that.
[00:15:59] ” You get exhausted at the end of the day. You fall asleep. You sleep in the night. You have dreams. You wake the next day and go back to work again and work, work, work, work, work, consume, consume, consume.
[00:16:11] “And at the end of all of this, you might die, but you’ll die having felt as though you made an honest contribution to the social structure.”
[00:16:20] And people will look at that sometimes and think, “There has to be something more than this. There has to be a consciousness state that I can get into that is different to what I see. Waking, dreaming, sleeping. Awake all day, go to sleep and then dream a bit and then wake up again and then go to sleep, and then dream.
[00:16:37] “If this is all there is, I don’t want it. I’m willing to take any risk to experience something other than this.”
[00:16:43] Turiya – The Fourth Consciousness State
[00:16:43] These are seekers, and these seekers will go after almost anything that can give them even temporary relief from the monotony, the constant routine of the three consciousness states.
[00:16:59] And they’re right. There is a consciousness state that lies above and beyond these three. It’s called Turiya. Turiya in Sanskrit means the fourth, the fourth consciousness state. That fourth consciousness state is a state of pure transcendence.
[00:17:17] And on our way to the state of transcendence, if we’re fortunate enough to learn Vedic Meditation, we know that we can experience abstract consciousness states that are the lead up to that transcendence of the fourth state.
[00:17:31] We can, and we do, experience these themes regularly in Vedic Meditation, but in the absence of Vedic Meditation, people are willing to try anything. And all of those anythings taken together make up many unsustainable approaches to having a fourth state of consciousness, at least one new state of consciousness, that is not just the regular, everyday routine monotonous experience.
[00:17:59] When these people find that either they’re sustaining their use of exogenous substances to give them higher experiences, or they have an unsustainable approach to these exogenous substances, and only occasionally getting higher experiences, and with diminishing returns, and ever-dwindling access to some experience they may want to have.
[00:18:25] Godhead – Where Individuality Meetis Universality
[00:18:25] That is to say, whether they’ve taken an approach that is sustainable with regard to exogenous substances or unsustainable, addictive, approach. They may be addicted and be able, for the short-term, to sustain it, or they may have become addicted and lost their ability to sustain anything.
[00:18:47] But they have one thing in common. They are people who are very driven seekers. Once they learn Vedic Meditation, and they discover the sustainable way of experiencing the ultimate.
[00:19:01] What is the ultimate? That my own inner Self, my own inner baseline, my own inner state of Being, is one with The Universe. My own inner state of Being is the infinitely expansive, pure, supreme, contented, blissful state of, there was a use of the word once religiously, the word is Godhead.
[00:19:25] Godhead means the point at which individuality needs universality. “I can experience my oneness with The Universe inside myself, and my brain evidently loves it so much that it produces, sustainably, its own natural chemicals that keep me in this state and keep me going, and it grows and grows in stability, day after day after day.”
[00:19:47] So these are the people who finally have “found it.” They found what it was they were looking for in all of these unsustainable approaches and this is what unites them. This is what unites all these people.
[00:20:01] An Imbiber is a Seeker
[00:20:01] And this is, what I have found, is that people who formerly may have had some addiction to exogenous substances, at the very least, they were brave enough to step out of line and experiment in order to serve and find that which they were very intently seeking for.
[00:20:26] And sometimes, I’ve heard people laugh at this suggestion of mine and say, “I wasn’t seeking anything. I just wanted to get drunk. I don’t feel like I was a seeker. I was just trying to get drunk.”
[00:20:35] And my answer is, “No, that’s also being a seeker. You wanted to transcend the world of the ever-repeating known and get to that experience that was above and beyond that state of the ever-repeating known.”
[00:20:50] And so you can trivialize it by saying, “I just wanted to get drunk,” but that’s a trivialization of what, in fact, is a very noble mission. The noble mission being to acquire a heightened state of consciousness and, if possible, to stabilize it. It’s just that the methodology was not sustainable. That’s the difference.
[00:21:09] Q- What’s the Spiritual Explanation for the Worse Experience in the Early Days of Sobriety
[00:21:09] What’s the explanation from the Vedic Worldview for the effect many newly sober people experience a feeling worse in the early days of sobriety? In addition to the physical detoxification effect, is there a spiritual explanation for this experience?
[00:21:26] People Experience Different Feelings While Becoming Sober
[00:21:26] I’ve heard that sometimes, when people are taking practical steps, and proven steps, to becoming “sober,” that is to say, they are stepping away from exogenous substances that ultimately are addictive and destructive for the physiology, that there seem to be two classes of people, some for whom that systematized program of stepping away from the addictive substances is relatively smooth, things right away seemed to be getting better and better, and for some people, it’s almost all-encompassing, a gloomy experience that they feel a powerful withdrawal from the substance and its effects on them.
[00:22:13] And I’ve been asked, what is my view or the Vedic worldview on what the difference is between these kinds of experiences.
[00:22:22] The degree of dependency is different in different people. When we give ourselves over to the substance that has, for us, however unsustainably, produced some kind of heightened consciousness state. We got into a heightened consciousness state, but the price that came with it was very, very high, and we make a decision to step away from it using proven methodologies that involve transcendence.
[00:22:53] That is to say, going beyond my relationship with the substance and the spirit of that substance, and going to the big Self and awakening the totality of the laws of Nature, how much I had given away is going to make quite a distinct difference in the degree to which I find ease in coming away from the unsustainable habit.
[00:23:19] The Process of Diminishing Returns
[00:23:19] So if I had made myself utterly a devotee of the substance, utterly a devotee of the consciousness of that, if we want to think of it in terms of mythos, that being that provided the experience, then I relied utterly on that experience for everything that I am, my definition, the definition of me, what I am, who I am, what kind of a person I am.
[00:23:46] You can hear people write songs about this, defining themselves as a stoner, or defining themselves as a lover of the libation of whiskey, or whatever it may be, that they’ve self-defined utterly and gone into complete orbit around the experience provided by that consciousness impulse that’s giving them this higher experience.
[00:24:12] And there’s always a process of diminishing returns. The more you devote, the more you dedicate. If you eschew the needs of family in favor of giving support to that, in the mythos terms, the deific quality of that spirit that is providing you with ever-diminishing returns, fewer and fewer experiences have sustained euphoria, asking an ever-greater cost.
[00:24:39] You give over your life. You give over your identity. You give over your family. You give over your job. Then making the withdrawal from that, the degree of devotion that you’d had to it, and now your awareness is shifting elsewhere, then, no longer are you someone who would simply have the freedom to choose something different, but you’re in the habit of living inside those constraints.
[00:25:09] Habituation to Our Former Devotion
[00:25:09] Perhaps one quick analogy would be helpful. When I taught meditation in incarcerated settings, prisons, I’ve met all kinds of characters, some of whom had been in for 25 years, 30 years, and the longest case that I came across was 40 years incarcerated, before being paroled, before being released.
[00:25:31] And in one of these cases, the daughter of the former inmate called me. He had learned to meditate inside. I had taught him to meditate. He practiced for about five years, and then his time of parole finally came up, and he was being released. His daughter called me from home and asked if I could come around. I was providing an after-prison support program for people who’ve learned to meditate with me on the inside.
[00:25:58] And I asked, “What’s the problem?” And she said, “Well, you see, when he was inside the prison, every time he would walk up to a door, he had to stop because it was absolutely against the prison rules to reach out and touch any door handle.
[00:26:13] “And so, even though he’s absolutely free, he’s still behaving like he’s in the prison. When he walks around through the house, he’ll stop at a closed door and wait. Somebody else has to come and open the door for him,” even though he was absolutely free.
[00:26:27] So think of that as being something akin to the way that when we’ve operated under the auspices, and we become utterly devoted to some kind of spirit that has provided us with an experience, and now we’re taking systematic steps to come away from that. We still feel a deep habituation to our former devotion, and to let go of that and to discover our freedom is a completely new issue.
[00:26:57] Monkey Traps
[00:26:57] There was a great story that my master Maharishi Mahesh Yogi told about his own master Guru Dev. There was a story about Guru Dev having witnessed, and he told this very much to his devotees, the way in which monkeys were caught for becoming slave monkeys or pet monkeys.
[00:27:17] There was a huge market in the 1920s and thirties in the west, and elsewhere, for people to have pet monkeys. And they were kind of a popular thing in those decades, those decades of excess, the roaring twenties particularly, and that happened to be at the time when my master’s master was spending his time in silence in the forest.
[00:27:38] And he could watch from the edges of the forest as the monkey catchers came and applied their interesting trick. You dig a hole in the ground that’s about the size of a monkey’s hand and forearm. And you place over that a piece of plywood that has a hole about that same size in it. And then down inside the hole, you place all kinds of sweets and nuts and raisins and things that monkeys like, and then you just walk away.
[00:28:02] And what happens is the monkeys eventually will come out of the forest, and they’ll walk up to the little hole in the ground and reach their hand in and grasp the nuts and the candies, and the other things that they see and smell in there, and want to bring it out. But because they have their fist full of these goodies, they can’t get their fist out of the hole.
[00:28:24] Addiction Makes You Lose Your Freedom
[00:28:24] The hand went in just fine because it didn’t have a fist that was clutching all the goods. But when they try to withdraw their hand, they can’t withdraw it because they have all these goodies clutched in their hand.
[00:28:35] Now, if they were simply to let go of the goodies, their hand would slip out of the hole perfectly easily, and they could escape.
[00:28:43] But since the monkeys were so indoctrinated to get these sweets out, they wouldn’t let go of them. And even when the monkey catchers would approach with their burlap bag to capture the monkey, and the monkey would be screaming with fear, it still wasn’t willing to let go of sweets.
[00:29:02] Now the moral of the story is, the monkey is always free actually, but the monkey doesn’t think it’s free because it doesn’t want to let go of the sweets.
[00:29:12] So the hanging on to, and the holding onto the pleasures that once upon a time came from the processes of addiction, to holding on to those qualities that once upon a time were rewarding, and the monkey is about to get caught, and it’s probably going to have all the sweets and things taken away from it anyway, and it will have lost all of its freedom, on what basis? It was always free actually. Let go of the sweets and walk away.
[00:29:39] Your Problems Are Forgotten
[00:29:39] But there’s certain monkeys that just can’t let go of the sweets. So they end up having to lose their freedom in that way.
[00:29:47] So we can think of this in terms of the ease with which certain people are able to let go of those experiences that they had during their addictive time.
[00:29:57] And they perhaps weren’t as deeply affected by the pleasures of those experiences as others were, who were very, very deeply affected by the pleasures of the addictions, and the ease with which they can let go and just walk away is not in their favor. And so it takes more work.
[00:30:18] We have to learn how to let go, and in our analogy, how do we learn to let go? When we practice Vedic Meditation, as our mind goes to subtler and subtler states, we begin to find that we can’t remember. In that deep, deep state, your mind is in such a state of bliss that you may not be able to remember, even in what chair you’re sitting for a moment.
[00:30:39] Or you may, for a few moments, you forget all about everything that’s dear to you, including all of your problems that evidently are so dear to you because you think about them 24 hours a day, or during every waking moment, but your problems are forgotten.
[00:30:54] Letting Go Through Vedic Meditation
[00:30:54] And what’s happening is you’re diving into that deep unbounded bliss, that pure state of Being. You’re practicing letting go, but it doesn’t require any effort because the mind happily will move from something that is yielding less pleasure. It will happily move to something that is yielding greater pleasure, the state of the unbounded bliss.
[00:31:18] So with the practice of Vedic Meditation, the art of letting go becomes ingrained in the meditator. You only let go for those 20 minutes twice a day. You don’t let go forever. You come out of meditation and come back into the boundaries and engage in the world responsibly.
[00:31:34] But you’ve had the reward of that supreme, inner contentedness, and all of the bliss chemicals that sustain themselves in your body as a result of having the experiencing of the bliss.
[00:31:45] A Pleasure Greater Than Any Addiction
[00:31:45] And so then, for someone who practices Vedic Meditation, the ease with which they can walk away from the pleasures of a previous addiction, is a much greater ease than the ease that is there in someone whose greatest pleasures of their last, let’s say decade, if it happened, the addiction lasted for a decade, that, let’s say for a decade, the greatest pleasures they ever had were the pleasures of inebriation, or intoxication, or psychedelic experiences, that thrust them into all kinds of universes for which they had no context whatsoever.
[00:32:21] The greatest pleasures they had were those temporary experiences. Now they have to walk away from and move away from that, they’re like the monkey who’s holding onto the sweets. Not so willing to unclench the fist and walk into their freedom. That takes practice. So, Vedic Meditation provides us with the answer, provides us with the greater pleasure, that is a pleasure that’s greater than anything that could have been had by those addictive phenomena.