So in my reading on this I see phrases that absolutely resonate with my particular difficulties, though they are not with alcohol and drugs. Robert Aitken speaks of “…anything that clouds the mind: silly conversation, noisy music, most TV programs.” Yet at the same time he points to the need for balance: “But Buddhism is not absolute. A little wine warms my bones and relaxes my inhibitions, and casual conversation enhances my humanity and the humanity of others.” Which points to the critical role of chosen behavior versus driven behavior.
But here’s more to think on: “An intoxicant can be any substance or activity that alters your experience of life in a way that’s rewarding, but which also encourages you to continue indulging in it.” (Idiot’s Guide: Zen Living)
And, last and pithiest and at the same time hardest for me to grasp: “Do not become intoxicated—polish clarity, dispel delusion. In the realm of the intrinsically pure dharma, not harboring delusions is the precept of not becoming intoxicated.”– Kyojukaimon, Dogen
So now is the time to own up about the things that “cloud my mind” and also “encourage me to continue my indulgence”: the killer combination of certain kinds and amounts of food (sweets and late night eating in front of the computer); and internet television and movies (Netflix and Hulu). So what delusions am I harboring when I engage in these activities? Perhaps the delusion that having “more” of something will make me happy and give me more solid ground to stand on (elusive because in fact it does not exist). Perhaps the fear that my un supplemented self is unacceptable or inadequate. Perhaps the illusion that having “more” of whatever it is will solidify that self that I want to cling to in an uncertain and confusing world.
That question seems hard for me to get my mind around, so instead I’ll ponder the perceived rewards. That’s a bit easier: dulling my senses to avoid emotional pain, or making decisions about how to move forward in my life, or facing my difficulties and stuck points. It’s a way to avoid asking myself the hard questions and doing the hard thing that’s next up for my spiritual or professional development.
So the action item for this precept is to at least focus some gentle but precise mindfulness on my own particular “intoxicants” and see if I can begin to moderate the incredibly strong habit energy that feeds my addictions. This one is a big challenge for me, where my good intentions are far too often defeated by my bad habits. And it’s crucial to do my best not to fall into apathy and the assumption that it’s impossible.