In this article I will touch on the topic of alcohol and my perspective on the ways it can impact the spiritual development of human beings. I am not sure why I’ve taken so long to write on this topic, as it was over 10 years ago I shared my perspectives on drug use in the articles Drugs and Spiritual Experiences, and Drugs and Spirituality, in which I wrote about cannabis and various other ‘drugs’. It was nearly ten years ago I wrote an exceedingly popular article on The Dark Side of Ayahuasca, which has been read by hundreds of thousands of people. That was followed by two more articles on the Dark Side of Ayahuasca (Part 2 and Part 3). After tobacco, alcohol is the most prevalent drug used in much of the modern world. Alcohol use is far more prevalent than the use of all other legal and illegal substances, and the health impact and death-toll from alcohol is much higher than all other drugs (except tobacco) and any other illicit substance use. I won’t be getting into its physical health impacts here, as there’s plenty of scientific data on that. Rather we’ll look at the impact alcohol has on the soul and spirit, and on the spiritual development of the human being.
I will start by sharing an overview of my own experience with alcohol, and how I came to experience its effects on my body and psyche. Then I’ll get into a more generalised description of how alcohol impacts a human being in his or her spiritual development; his or her state of consciousness.
Experiments in Recklessness
My experience with alcohol began when I was around 15, started ending when I was 18, and pretty much completed when I was 20. I recall at first not liking the taste of beer, nor the harsh burn of spirits like vodka. My body’s natural response to these substances was one of rejection. Succumbing to social pressure, curiosity, rebelliousness, and my own anxiety around wanting to fit in and be liked, especially by my two older brothers, I basically forced myself to ‘like’ alcohol. I then had roughly 4 years of partying, drinking, and going ‘wild’—or, more accurately, being reckless with my body and soul. I am writing this article from my own experience and observation. What motivates me to share this important information is that I am constantly surprised to discover just how much alcohol is a part of modern living, like food and water, for so many people. It has been so thoroughly normalised that I suspect even people who have a genuine interest in their health and spiritual well-being still consume alcohol to a level that’s detrimental. I can only assume many of us are not aware of its subtle and potentially harmful effects.
The low-down on getting high
When I was around 16 or 17 I read a description of alcohol’s effect within the body, written by a yogi whose name I no longer recall. He wrote that for the physical and subtle body ingesting alcohol was like adding fine shards of glass into the bloodstream, and that glass would pass through all the veins and arteries, and to all the fine capillaries, and into the cells. I found that revelation sufficiently interesting that I earnestly told my closest friend about it. Despite this revelation, my teenage brain determined it somehow didn’t apply to me. After a brief reprise from alcohol consumption, I continued to drink at times whilst partying and dancing in nightclubs.
More than just the yogi’s description of alcohol’s effects, what I required was my own direct experience. That also came to me through yoga, by way of my regular practice of hatha yoga and meditation. When I was around 16, I increasingly dived into a daily practice of hatha yoga, Qi Gong, and meditation. After a couple of years of this, as I was approaching 18, I gradually became aware of the effects of alcohol on my body and consciousness. During this period I also became aware of the detrimental effects of other substances such as cannabis, and various foods such as garlic, meat and animal products, and fried and heavily processed foods. In my experience alcohol created a kind of irritating and dulling effect throughout my body-mind, which I could distinguish for around 8 days. Smoking cannabis created a confused hazy dull feeling in my body-mind for around 12 days. Eating meat introduced a sense of lethargy and heaviness, that would last around 2 to 4 days (depending on the type of meat).
By 18 I was intimately aware of how detrimental alcohol was to my being, and although my use of alcohol and cannabis (I swung back and forth between using one or the other whilst partying) progressively diminished, it still persisted. With far less resistance my days of meat eating ended then and there (much to my mother’s dismay), and yet for alcohol (and cannabis, even more so) it took two years of an inner battle—of reclaiming my power and my natural love and appreciation of sobriety—to really free myself from the alluring pull these substances had on my psyche.
Soon after I turned 20 I had ceased using alcohol and cannabis. What made this shift easier is that my yoga practice intensified after I finished my schooling, a few months after I turned 17. Increasingly I found the elated ‘high’ I previously felt (and greatly enjoyed) from using these drugs was degenerating into a dull and dark ‘low’ feeling. Ironically, this ‘low’ made me aware I was increasingly ‘high’ naturally, and ingesting either of these drugs brought me down from that state. This ‘down’ feeling would linger for one to two weeks. Clearly recognising that these drugs were pulling me ‘down’ and not lifting me ‘up’, in consciousness, I quickly lost the desire to partake in either of them. I’ve only drunken alcohol a few times since then, during my early 20s, and I have no regrets at completely dropping it from my life. I don’t miss it in the slightest. In fact the thought of getting drunk feels repulsive. For at least the past two decades I have no desire for it at all, in the same way I have no inclination to ingest toxic poisons in general.
The human spirit and alcohol is like oil and water
Ingesting alcohol dissociates the human spirit from the soul and, therefore, from the body (from the nervous system and senses). Many people may initially experience as ‘beneficial’ (when only a small amount of alcohol is consumed), in the sense that they feel less inhibited, less anxious, more relaxed, less burdened by their concerns. Alcohol is considered to be a stimulant at this stage, and tends to give most people a light ‘buzz’. My observation is this: With a little alcohol consumption, what will first lift away from the soul (the psyche) are the subtle spiritual energies and forces that are otherwise an imposition, which were acting upon it in a conflictive, restrictive, and otherwise life-degrading way. These imposing energies naturally have a weaker association with the soul than the human Spirit. So they lift away first. The person is then able to experience and feel themselves, their soul structure, with a greater sense of freedom and less constriction. Aside from the sugars having a stimulating effect, there’s also life-force freed up from maintaining a state of tension (and trying to maintain a healthy equilibrium) in the psyche / soul. So initially the person feels a kind of ‘high’, in which they are stimulated and enlivened. Most people will also feel less inhibited, because they are (temporarily) less affected by the psychic energies that inhibit the soul in its natural expression.
For most people this initial uplifting effect is quickly lost when their alcohol consumption increases, at which time the alcohol’s true nature as a depressant or sedative takes effect. Here the spirit of the person has is also pushed away from the psyche and body. We see the extreme of this in the situation where a person drinks to the point of complete unconsciousness (i.e., they black out), or drinks to the point where their body remained active throughout the time they were intoxicated, but once sobriety returns they have absolutely no memory of the many hours there were drunk. (We’ll return to this issue of memory loss in a moment.) It can be very eye-opening, at times embarrassing, to hear stories from friends about all the many things we did and said whilst intoxicated. Once sober there might be no memory of the drunken episode at all, or perhaps just faint glimmers, as if trying to remember a dream. This is because the spirit (which is our conscious presence or self, our sense of ‘I’) did not partake in the events of that evening, having been forced out of the body through temporary poisoning by alcohol.
It’s important to realise that it’s not only that the ‘I’ (the spirit) is displaced out of the body and psyche. As Aristotle pointed out, ‘nature abhors a vacuum’. In this case the ‘vacuum’ is within the body and soul—resulting from displacement of the human spirit, our true ‘I’—and it has a tendency to become possessed by two other sources of ‘spirit’. The predominant source of spirit will be that of the plants from which the alcohol was produced. In nature a plant’s spirit mostly remains external to the plant, unlike the human being in which the spirit incarnates (comes into the flesh). Through the process of fermentation some of the spiritual essence of the plant is physically ‘captured’ in the form of alcohol. We could loosely call this the collective ‘I’ or ego of the plant; it is also the ‘will’ of the plant. In a person who drinks regularly, this plant ‘I’ will take up the space and function of the human being’s ‘I’. It’s basically a poor substitute for the human spirit, which has an ultimately detrimental and degrading effect on the soul. It’s somewhat akin to using 87 octane gasoline in a jet engine designed to burn 100+ octane aviation gas. It will pull the soul into a state of consciousness that is not its natural trajectory.
The other source of spiritual forces that are likely to fill the vacuum, after the human spirit is displaced by what amounts to alcohol poisoning, is more complex. But, simply put, whatever happens to be around in the astral realms at the time, and which the soul (through its own tendencies and inclinations) has an affinity for will tend to take temporary possession of the soul (the psyche). If this happens often enough, and depending on the level of integration of that soul with the human spirit, the possession by other spiritual energies can become more permanent.
Having lost the spiritually elevating, guiding and illuminating influence of the human spirit, the soul (and thus the human being) will become denser and darker in consciousness, and more materialistic (i.e., less spiritually aware). When a society embraces alcohol consumption as a social norm, there is a tendency for it to become more materialistic, degraded in consciousness, and out of touch with the true ‘I’, with the human spirit. Over many generations, a superficial and degraded form of ‘I’ will come into being—a sense of self that is far more based on external inputs than on the influence of the indwelling spirit. We might also see this as a loss of contact with the living intelligence of the ‘Heart’ found at the centre of Man—due to alcohol unnaturally coercing the psyche to function more from either or both of its extremities, an excessively rational head and or the base animal and vegetative nature.
I did what? Alcohol and memory
Let’s elaborate on alcohol and its effect on memory. Anyone who has been sufficiently inebriated with alcohol knows how effectively it blocks memory. Yet the effect on memory goes beyond just forgetting the details of ‘a hard night out on the town’. At a collective level, when a culture normalises the consumption of alcohol that society will tend to lose an aspect of its collective memory. Specifically, the society will tend to lose contact with the memory afforded to them by the spirit and its relationship to the soul. This will include our memory of what I might call the spiritual objective memory (as opposed to the sensory subjective memory) of events in our so-called ‘past’. We need to elicit spiritually objective memory in the spiritual practice of recapitulation (or self-investigation; self-enquiry). Such a practice, in bringing forth the perception and memory of the spirit, allows a person to rise in consciousness through illuminating their memory of the ‘past’, rather than their mis-convictions and blind-sided memories of the ‘past’ weighing them down, and distorting their experience of the present and their vision of the future.
This dulling or deadening effect on the memory includes our memory of that which goes beyond our present incarnation, commonly referred to as ‘past lives’. It should be noted that ‘memory’ of ‘past lives’ doesn’t necessarily come in the form of rational and describable details, such as your memory of what you had for breakfast this morning. Most often our spiritual memory informs and influences us at a level and in a way that most people are not consciously aware of. They don’t consciously recognise ‘remembering’ past lives. For most people spiritual memory arises by way of a subtle and guiding influence upon the human being. It is this guiding influence that’s often lost through the personal and ancestral consumption of alcohol.
The effect of this ‘spiritual memory loss’ (loss of memory from our ‘past lives’, and the enduring development of the spirit and soul) also adds to the materialism alcohol consumption stimulates in the psyche. When people lose even the most basic felt-sense of their existence beyond their current incarnation, the grander sense of purpose, consequences, and responsibility within Life—all afforded to them by their spirit—tends to fade away. People become less focused on their true purpose, and more engrossed in the self-centredness tendency of satisfying their apparent material needs, and the primal desire for comfort and convenience.
This effect alcohol has on memory is one reason people who are excessively burdened by their memories, especially by painful soul memories, will have a propensity to become alcoholics. Such a human being feels greatly relieved by their painful memories lifting off from their psyche, and fading from their awareness. In this sense, their excessive drinking is an attempt at self-medicating as emotional and mental pain relief.
Where to from here?
As is the case with my articles on other drugs, it’s not my intention to convince you to cease using alcohol. That decision must be entirely yours, based upon your own sensibility of what’s most in accordance with your purpose in life. My intention is that if you choose to use alcohol, you are more fully informed of the potential consequences. For people who regularly drink alcohol I invite and encourage you to do so with conscious presence. Be aware of what is motivating you to do so. Be aware of the effects it has, and how those effects change as the drinking progresses. I know for me, once I was aware of the motivations and the effects of drinking alcohol it was a very natural choice to step away from it entirely. It is a toxic substance that has massive social and personal implications in any society that embraces it.
I’ve always felt it important to look at the trajectory of the culture I live in. When I see its trajectory is life-degrading, I pay attention to identifying the unnatural habits and activities the culture engages in and has normalised. In light of all I’ve shared above, it is very interesting to me that modern society has normalised and promotes using alcohol as a favourable drug, and yet is in many ways deeply afraid of drugs that tend (at least in moderation and in the right circumstances) to increase a human’s awareness of ’spirit’ (I am thinking here of the numerous naturally occurring entheogens). Although you’ll see I don’t generally recommend the use of those substances either. Read my articles on The Dark Side of Ayahuasca, for instance.
I think all natural experiences have their place, and there can be circumstances in which it is life-affirming to make appropriate and intelligent use of substances that strongly affect the psyche*. Yet what stands out as a great curiosity to me is that of all the many mind-altering substances (and practices, not involving substances) available to us from nature, modern society embraces and promotes regular consumption of alcohol—a substance that ultimately disconnects people from their spirit, from the true internal sense of ‘I’ that arises from deep within the inner mysteries of our Being.
Will it harm the state of your soul having an occasional glass of wine? Probably not.
Is a person likely to even feel the desire for a glass of wine or beer when they are constantly fulfilled from the inner well-spring of their spirit pouring forth into their Being? Probably not.
It’s up to each of us to consciously determine what serves our human journey and what does not, and that might vary through the course of time.
(*I should add, I suspect it’s only our already degraded state of un-naturalised consciousness that makes use of such substances potentially helpful.)