Surprisingly in this age of Budweiser Light and Dry and unprecedented variety in ales, I occasionally have a student ask something like "But what does beer do? Why do people like something that tastes so bad?" Makes you just die to offer them a neat malt scotch like Lophraig or some twenty—year—old brandy. Talk about offended taste buds! You have to learn to look knowing and mutter, "It's an acquired taste. Took me years to dis— criminate. Wonderful bouquet. Slips right by the gag reflex. Smoooooth." My kids stayed away from the hard stuff as I never use mixers in the home. Let them find out about the sweet drinks after they've grown wary. It will be around. They are curious.
Human beings have been using alcohol for at least 25,000 years, primarily beer or similar beverages. The archaeological record is quite clear that almost all primitive societies used mind— altering substances. Even Neanderthals buried their dead with flowers and herbs, which strongly suggests a religious pharma— copoeia. Primatologists have told me that chimps will wait until the bananas are in a state of rotting fermentation, stake out and defend a tree, eat the bananas, get rip—roaring drunk, and often— times injure themselves seriously falling out of trees. As chimp doctors are rare on the ground, these drunks are often fatal, as the injuries make them more vulnerable to leopards.
My medical friends inform me that the body burns booze like any other food. The problem is the side effects. Side effects are both psychological, which will vary from individual to individual, and biological, which is somewhat easier to measure as body configurations aren't as difficult to quantify. We tend to measure what we can.
Many cultures have paid closer attention to the effects of diet, nutrition, and beverages than we have, particularly in regard to drugs and their effects. Did you know that alcohol in all of its many manifestations is considered a depressant, stimulant, and anodyne? Go get your dictionary and look up the last one. That's the one that will cause the troubles.
An anodyne releases the spirit, and that is what the addict pursues and often in his or her ignorance confuses with the stimulant or depressant effect. The trick is to sustain the spirit without becoming dependent upon the libation. It can be an aid to self-remembering, but the side effects are the gateway to hell. One has to be stronger than the spirit of the drug, and you must always be more interesting than its effect on your body.
The old word for alcoholic beverages was spirits. Indians referred to marijuana as "the benefactor." Tobacco was used for peace negotiations and in purification ceremonies. Hallucinogens were used for religious ceremonies, or for increasing psychic skills. All of these substances have receptors in the body and brain which relate to the release of endorphins and result in a mild, relaxed euphoria. Psychoneuroimmunology research indicates these internally produced natural substances are more potent than synthetic opiates and are by-products when physical and mental well-being predominate in people who have a positive and trusting viewpoint toward themselves and others. The pragmatic ninja viewpoint of raising children in a manner that provides and reinforces a positive viewpoint can be regarded as great wisdom when considering the biochemical reality of a happy individual.
Our ancestors used drugs but they were difficult to produce or were used in their natural state. Our contemporary proclivity for reducing a product to its most potent state is the equivalent of using sledgehammers to kill mosquitoes. Many modern medical practitioners pooh-pooh herbal remedies and homeopathic medicines, but an objective observer will not be swayed by a white coat.
All chemical addiction has a spiritual component, which if dealt with properly will free the addict. The use of psychoactive drugs to contact spirits is common in most low-technology societies and is seldom associated with addiction when used for this purpose. Practice usually allows the intelligent to discriminate between the dream and reality. Spiritual practice that is not mindful can also be addictive.
Tobacco was given to us by the American Indians. They used it primarily for peace negotiations. Indian warfare was up close and personal. You knew your enemy and his grandfather and cousins. American Indians, particularly the warrior societies, had some interesting ideas concerning bravery. It was not uncommon practice to humiliate and torture a captive to demonstrate your moral superiority. When enough of the young men had been killed off on both sides that conducting warfare began to affect the gene pool or economy, and mothers were getting angry, peace would be sought.
Now when you're going to sit down and negotiate for your friends, family, territory, and loved ones with someone who skinned your brother and then gave him to the women to play with, it helps to be clear-headed and take the long view. Hence let us smoke some of this brown stuff which tranquilizes the spirit but does not affect clarity of thought. They didn't walk around with a pack of twenty in their pocket to hit on every eight minutes, when the rush from the last one subsides. Hostile people tend to get on better with others when they smoke. That's why when some people quit smoking, their friends and relatives very quickly put temptation back in their path. It's called self-defense.
Women who smoke heavily during pregnancy will often have smaller and lighter-weight babies, which is associated with sudden infant death syndrome. Emphysema is one of the more unpleasant side effects of clogging the lungs with smoke. Cancer of the mouth, throat, and lungs is significantly correlated. The urine of heavy smokers is mutagenic; eventually that could result in cancers of the urinary and genital tracts. These are long-term side effects to be avoided. Meditating is a more beneficial means to obtain clarity cf thought and calm, and the effects are permanent. However, rationality seldom subjugates desire. An Ethiopian wise man told me one time that smoking was a good way to train the breath. "If you can do it and still smoke. . . ." Often heavy smokers are not happy with their lives so they enjoy the tranquillity offered by tobacco and rationalize the dangers of addiction. Some of the people who come to me to quit smoking fall into that category. Most started when they were young, against the advice of their elders. Tobacco is more addictive than most synthetic drugs.
Alcohol reduces inhibitions, which is a subtle way of saying it weakens the superego, so the natural self can more easily emerge. If your natural self is relatively uncurried below the knees or not well socialized, it is probably wisdom to avoid the spirit known as demon rum. However, we've been using alcohol for a very long time to render events more convivial. (Remember the chimps.) Researchers interested in brain function say that alcohol breaks down the barriers between brain segments. Research indicates that a glass of wine taken twenty minutes before attempting to memorize something significantly correlates with retention. We learn better when our social inhibitors are weakened.
The problem is knowing when to back off. Dylan Thomas wrote some of his finest poetry when altered by alcohol, as did Shelley. Our consumer-oriented society encourages one to easily go beyond the stage where the anodyne is effective. Studies concerning longevity indicate that an ounce or two of alcohol a day correlates with long life. (We tend to save it up for the weekend.) Research also indicates that most of the positive effects of alcohol begin to deteriorate after blood alcohol reaches .06 on the drunkometer. That's two beers for most folks. Alcoholics die of dehydration. If you're going to drink, include plenty of water in your practice. Eight glasses a day seems to be the most frequently recommended amount of H,0, twelve to sixteen if you're physically active. If your lips chap you need more water.
Just as the sermon should follow communion, so should some useful activity follow the ingestion of alcohol. The prudent man studies himself when his inhibitions are down. Some activities that are enhanced by lack of inhibition are thought, conversation, dance, and self-exploration. However, nobody enjoys a habitual drunk, particularly after they begin to confuse the feeling of power with real power.
Women who consume alcohol during pregnancy often have deformed or retarded babies. Alcohol damages sperm as well. Getting drunk to make a baby is not one of the better strategies. Often the children of parents who drink heavily or inappropriately will have attention deficiencies that result in lifetime problems concerning learning and the ability to hold a job. Crack cocaine does even more damage to brain functions. Many gamblers who lose their family fortunes become alcoholics. Hatsumi's father was a gambler who became an alcoholic. Hatsumi did not explore the effects of sake until quite late in life, remembering the example of his father. He has expressed regret that he never had the privilege of getting boiled with Takamatsu, who often offered him a drink.
Marijuana has a number of interesting effects, first and foremost being the reduction of short-term memory. That's why it is referred to in the colloquial as "dope." Loss of short-term memory forces one to pay attention to the immediate, which enhances how and what one feels. Being more aware of one's feelings is a definite enhancement to a number of activities in the short term. Appetite is enhanced, as are sensitivity and night vision. The anodyne effect is double-edged in that marijuana's receptors in the brain are on both the right and left sides, and the chemical makeup of THC is similar to what are considered female hormones. So with the smarter users you get creativity, and the more macho get to experience paranoia. Welcome to the wonderful world of women. If you're going to kick in the more intuitive side of your brain, which also processes feelings, you must remember that we feel before we think. Since most of us, particularly men, have had a lot of training in ignoring our emotions, finding them in charge can have interesting consequences. Particularly if your mind isn't too well disciplined and your memory not well trained. Short-term memory centers of the brain are not fully formed until after adolescence. If you are young and not too bright, just say no. A 1991 poll of high-level spiritual practitioners reported ninety-four percent using marijuana at some point in their quest for enlightenment. (Charles T. Tart, "Influences of previous psychedelic drug experiences on students of Tibetan Buddhism: a preliminary exploration," The Journal of Transpersonal Psychology 23, No. 2.)
Coca, the favored drug of those who live high above sea level, attaches to the brain and heart. It is primarily a stimulant to the heart, as well as a pain killer to the body and mild euphoric to the segments of the brain that reinforce reward-seeking behavior. A useful herb for an environment where even breathing is difficult. Its side effects are reinforcement of superego and delusions of grandeur. That's why it is the favored drug of those who are lost in the material world. Delusions of grandeur help you to like yourself when your existence is meaningless and your viewpoint negative. Of course, you're a winner because you can afford this substance and the other poor boobs are losers because they cannot. Users of cocaine, if they are not destroyed by their drug- induced violence and greed, often check out with heart attacks. One of the effects of cocaine allergy is severe vasoconstriction usually resulting in death. We seem to have forgotten that motto of the hippies as we moved to yuppies — Speed Kills. It's hard to work with the breath when your nose bleeds.
Anodynes can serve as an aid to meditative practice, but there is always the danger of addiction. The proper use of an anodyne is to memorize the desired state, push through the side effect, keep only what is useful, and use the rest for food. To do that requires strength of will and focus of intent beyond the capacities of most people unless they have developed their chi. Because they have no knowledge of how to use the released energy, they settle for the stimulant or depressant effect and are eventually overwhelmed by toxins.
Drugs are the fast food of enlightenment, as EST is the McDonald's of Buddhism. LSD, mescaline, and psilocybin can open doors to different realities, but when the drug wears off so does the induced state—if indeed the user is capable of perceiving the difference. To reference Tart's 1991 population again, psychedelic drugs were experimented with and seen as a positive aid to lucidity and clarity but were eventually rejected because of the tendency toward addiction to an easy source of luminosity. The wise learn to control the self with the self.
In terms of martial practice, one is much more likely to be involved in a fight when drinking — or a car wreck, or any other kind of self-destructive behavior that might emerge when our inhibitions are down and the id is up. One does silly things like falling asleep at sixty or seventy miles an hour, particularly when the id is an undisciplined, poorly raised child, not a seeker of joy. If you fancy yourself as a fighter, it's reasonable to find out what you can do under these conditions. It's a lot safer to find out with a friend at home or in the dojo than a bar where you have no idea what you may be facing in an impaired state. Particularly when you don't know your limits or have not learned how to burn through them, for which you always pay a price, as the anodyne is usually a toxin.
Meditation is the gentlest of anodynes and therefore the most subtle and pervasive. Loving and taking joy in what you do is another, and probably most powerful of all is being in love. Not just loving as in total acceptance of the other, but being in rapport chemically, electrically, and physically so that you merge with the loved one. It is incredibly energizing and nothing like being in heat, though of course that's part of it. That's why gurus get in trouble in the West. Our culture is much more repressed sexually than the East, so when people discover the power inherent in lov ing sexuality they tend to go overboard or in their ignorance create attachments that may not be beneficial. As the highest-level healing spirit requires androgyny, gender confusion may also result.
Those who advocate celibacy don't understand their own sexuality as part of the godhead. Celibacy can be seen as a sign of immaturity and a certain indicator that your teacher has missed the point, as enlightenment is powered by controlling sexual energy. Denial is not control, and control in this case is without effort. Without effort does not mean you don't have to study. It means you know what you're doing so well it appears effortless. Once again being relaxed is critical. Pounding away to orgasm has little to do with making love and less to sustaining the spirit. It is simply rapid behavioral response to a pleasurable stimulus.
Herbal remedies, particularly ginseng, can be anodynes. I've found ginseng particularly efficacious and recommend overdosing at first until you find what works best for you. The amount found in most teas is worthless. Capsules have worked best for me. Try two or three daily with lots of water for about a month. Medical research indicates that ginseng promotes homeostasis, enhances endurance, and maintains steady blood sugar and blood pressure levels. It appears to protect the heart from restriction of blood supply, protects the liver from damaging chemicals, and stimulates the immune system. The much-to-be-feared side effect in men seems to be a return to youthful erections, probably something to do with freeing up blood flow. I'll wager you'll like the effect if you're male and over forty.
I strongly recommend studying herbs, Chinese medicine, and homeopathic remedies. If you're sensitive to your body, you may find the results surprising. After my second divorce, a yogini friend of mine offered me the homeopathic remedy for healing grief, which I took condescendingly. To my great surprise I found myself weeping in a very short time. My tears had nothing to do with our conversation. Aside from the sudden onslaught of blubbering, I remember the evening as a lot of fun. Since then I've devel oped some faith through experimentation with Bach flower remedies as well.
As Aldous Huxley pointed out, the doors of perception are both subjective and universal. Anyone with common sense should be able to discover when to peak (peek?) and when to leap through their own curiosity and experience. The great sages always point to moderation, not excess, nor abstinence. Legal ramifications usually support common sense. The pursuit of enlightenment by a warrior is rare, not common in any sense of the word.
Refining attitudes to create a felt reality is part and parcel to Tibetan Buddhism as well as hoshinjutsu and ninpo. Assuming a particular attitude in or toward a situation can often speed the learning of behaviors as well as deepen empathy and understanding. Just realizing that you are listening to the perfect teacher because you are the perfect student in the perfect place with perfect friends to support your study helps you realize and focus on the fact that now is the perfect time to actually accept the higher teachings. This attitude creates a certain childlike expectancy and immediacy of wonder similar to the effect of the anodynes described above. It's a feeling to be cherished and is referred to as The Five Perfections. Try it out.
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