The Wandering Monk

Brewmaster Rysu – New Posts On Tuesdays


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Where We Stand

It has been a long time since I’ve posted. 11 months, to be exact. In that time, so much has changed that I’ve honestly forgotten where I was when last I posted here. All I know is … things have changed.

Or have they?

I took this picture of a Sunrise over Philadelphia. I’m visiting for some training, you see, and haven’t seen a Pennsylvania sunrise in some time.

Here’s a recent picture of the sunset in Alaska, only a week or so before the above picture.

If we were to compare the two scenes, we can see some interesting parallels and some stark contrasts. The golden-amber sun of both pictures casts radiant beams of light towards us in both pictures. It seems to touch all that we see, physically, like little fingers of warmth offering the softest reassurances.

In the first picture, it’s industrial, isn’t it? Buildings, cars, few trees, clear skies. Yet still a beautiful sight to behold and one that can easily beacon a smile if you let it.

In the second picture, it’s wild, isn’t it? Grassy, rolling hills giving way to a sleeping forest, tumbling mountains standing sentinel in the distance. The clouds are full and swelling, and capture the sunlight in a myriad of ways.

Isn’t it interesting how different things are between those two pictures, when all that has changed is where we are standing, when we are looking, and how we are seeing.

Consider what this lesson can lead to in our own lives.

What would you say if I said that everything you see, experience, love, and fear will all be gone — and no one knows when? What would you say if I said that you’re living in a dream world that you created — that it is changing. And what if I said that no matter how much everything changes — and it is always changing! — that you have the power to see it through whichever lens you decide?

You have the power to see the beauty in all that is around you, even if you’re seeing from a different place than you had been before.

So, here’s to taking a step back, maybe even two, and maybe even one to the right or left. Here’s to smiling at something that you’ve seen a thousand times, just because this time you’re seeing it in a different light, from a different place, or in a different frame of mind.

Smile.

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Addiction: It’s all in your mind.

There are plenty of resources on the internet that talk about addiction.  Still, the stigma of addiction talks a lot about chemicals and withdraw, and marks distinction between a person being addicted to Heroin and a person being addicted to, say, Gambling.

The stigmatized perspective is that when you take chemicals that are considered addictive, the chemical makes you want it — nearly involuntarily.  And perhaps this is true in a sense, but the general perspective is that it’s the chemical that’s at the wheel of the addiction bus, not you.

But what if that was completely wrong?  What if I told you that no chemical makes you addicted to it inherently?  What if I told you that all that chemical addiction stuff you read about is actually all in your mind?

To be clear, let’s mark the distinction between withdraw and addiction.  Withdraw is the physical and psychological response to not having something one is addicted to, whereas Addiction is the act of feeling like something is important enough to alter the gravity of your life and to become such a priority so as to be viewed as irreplaceable and to want uncontrollably.

Often when someone is denying addiction, they’ll say “I can stop anytime I want to, so I’m not addicted.”  … I think the inherent logical fallacy here is that addiction is never wanting to stop.

“Okay, I’m addicted,” you might say, “But why don’t I want to stop? Because of the chemicals!”

This is where I’ll disagree with you.  To explain why, let’s first look at what the typical symptoms of addiction are in a person’s life.

  1. A person lies about the frequency, and sometimes even the existence of, a particular thing in their life either out of shame, fear of judgement, or so as not to draw attention to it.
  2. A person slowly restructures their life around the addiction, reconfiguring their finances, responsibilities, and social participation to support their addiction — all the while downplaying the impact of those changes and justifying them in their mind.
  3. A person slowly pushes the boundaries of meeting their obligations; shedding all unnecessary responsibility, time, and commitment to focus on their addiction; including going into work late or leaving early, frequent call-offs from work, or neglecting other responsibilities without hard boundaries, such as relationship obligations, house maintenance and duties, or even parental responsibilities.
  4. A person with addiction is defensive, abrasive, and/or protective of their addiction if it is referenced to or attacked.  When it’s approached as being an addiction, it’s dismissed without consideration.  When it’s critisized, irrational counter arguments or ambiguous replies are the majority of their defense, such as “It’s what I want to do.” or “I can do what I want.” or “You just don’t understand me.”
  5. A person with an addiction justifies to themselves why they are doing it when their common sense questions the activity.  “I only need to win one more time,” .. “I’ll be fine as long as I do/don’t …” … “I’ll just do this quick and then that’ll be it.”

There are other symptoms but these are often telltale signs of someone with addiction in their lives.  The thing is, these symptoms exist in someone who is addicted to Heroin, and they also exist in someone who is addicted to video games, gambling, checking their smart phone, smoking, drinking, or even running, drinking coffee or tea, or any other activity that offers certain criteria in a person’s life.

Addiction is just another word for a runaway habit.

An addiction can usually form if these criteria are met:

  1.  The activity gives the person some form of relief or happiness that nothing else in their life can emulate.
  2. The activity is an escape, can be easily downplayed, justified, or explained to oneself, even if external logic or common sense easily dismisses those explanations or justifications.
  3. An activity that can be done habitually and with relatively or perceived ease and discretion.

 

Here’s why Addiction is in your mind.

If I wake up in the morning and I spend 30 minutes drinking a cup of coffee at my kitchen table, it will become a habit (after about 20 days of doing this).  If I then tie any of the three criteria listed above to drinking coffee, it will eventually become an addiction, or a runaway habit.  If drinking coffee in the morning gives me a sense of relief, if I feel like I need to escape my life and I use my morning coffee to do it, or if I justify it to myself even if it could potentially have a negative impact on me (high blood pressure, jitters, etc.), then drinking coffee in the morning will grow into an addiction that is re-enforced each time I do it, and each time I talk myself into it.

If, one day, I wake up and I’m suddenly not allowed to drink coffee in the morning, and I have tied relief, escape, or need to it, then I will begin to go through some form of psychological withdraw.  Compounding this factor is the 5-7 day chemical withdraw period.

Withdraw is not addiction, withdraw stimulates addiction in us, psychologically.

When I go through this withdraw, psychologically or chemically, I’m telling my mind that I am being adversely affected and I am associating my adverse feelings to my lack of the thing I want, that gave me relief, escape, or need.  Because of this, I will use these criteria to justify my continued use of it.  We maintain addictions for fear of withdraw for the same reason we don’t touch fire — we experienced it once, and we learned that it hurts, so we try to avoid it by human nature.

Okay, so if I maintain my addiction for fear of withdraw, then how do I stop being addicted?

Too often, our society has this view on addiction — especially to illegal drugs — that consists of us casting those who experience addiction out of our accepted society.  We make it harder for them to find jobs and become stable, and we put people who use drugs in cages.

We take people who are not well and put them in a place where they can’t possibly get better and then hate them for not recovering.

The fight against addiction is two-pronged.  We must first approach it as individuals by understanding it, and then we must approach it as a society by healing it, not trying to conquer it or lock it away.

For us to approach it as individuals, we must understand that our very nature — the nature of wanting and needing emotional peace and happiness — is the root cause of addiction and that once addiction has taken hold, it cannot be torn from a person’s life by making a single decision to “just stop”.

Personal addiction stems, at its heart, from an absence of fulfillment, balance, and compassion in our lives.  Human beings are wired to adhere to things that give them a sense of happiness, relief, and fulfillment.  Our friendships and relationships are examples of this.

But when the things we expect to give us happiness fail to do so, we’re stuck in limbo.  We want to maintain these things because society tells us we must — we must have friendships, we must have relationships, we must always try no matter what.  But the truth is, persistence isn’t the same as trying; existing isn’t the same as living.

Inevitably, we will find something that can fill the void of what we are missing.  If we feel trapped in our lives, we will look for an escape.  If we are unhappy, we will look for something that gives us relief or fulfillment.  Once we find it, no matter what it is, no matter how petty or minor, we will latch onto it and not let go — because we are afraid of losing the one thing that gives us that sensation.

As human beings, we overcome addiction by finding what our addictions provide to us and make lifestyle changes that promote our finding those things in healthy and productive ways.

In their video, Everything We Know About Addiction is Wrong, Kurzgesagt (In a Nutshell) talks about the Rat Park experiment and the human equivalent, the Vietnam War.  It’s a compelling highlight to this blog post and says many of the same things I’ve said as well.

The important take-away is that it’s not the drug, it’s your cage!

As a society, we view addiction with a negative, terrible stigma because human beings fear what they don’t understand.  We shed our compassion in favor of cold finger pointing and disassociation.  We remain too proud to associate ourselves with those that are suffering and explain our actions as the wounds they suffer are self-inflicted and that their choices are what condemn them.

But the truth is, more than 83% of Americans have experienced some kind of addiction in their lives.  Change comes in one of three conditions:

  1. A major catalyst forced change into their lives and allowed them to break the habit of their addiction.
  2. Sincere epiphany revealed the true impact the addiction is having (and depending on what sparked the epiphany, this could just be another catalyst).
  3. The needs that the addiction filled were met by something else in their lives and so their interest in the addiction tapered or subsided.

All three of these criteria can be boiled down to one constant: happiness.

A catalyst doesn’t stop addiction because it forced the person to stop, it usually stops the addiction because something that the person values more than the addiction becomes impacted.  This can be family, friends, bystanders, financial stability, or anything else in a person’s life that is suddenly or immediately threatened or even removed, that causes such a trauma that it jolts the person into making huge changes.

The epiphany is similar, but could come in the form of learning about the nature of what’s going on in their lives, social or peer pressure, intervention from friends and family, or the clear realization that life isn’t better with this thing in their lives, no matter how good they feel temporarily.

When the needs that the addiction fulfilled are satisfied by something else in their lives, this can be both incredibly positive or terribly destructive, depending on which direction it goes.  This can be the introduction of a love in their life, the birth of a child, or a new job.  Or it can be the discovery and access to an even worse habit or addiction that rivals the impact the other one had.

Of all three of these conditions, the worst is the catalyst.  Because life needs balance, it will constant react to an imbalance.  A relationship that suffers under the effects of addiction will eventually boil to ending.  A job will only tolerate addictive behaviors so much before it dismisses the employee.  Because the nature of a runaway habit is that it consumes as much as it can, addictions will always lead to a catalyst and the catalyst is rarely good.  The stress these kinds of things exacts on those in our lives can make people do things they would never do otherwise, and will only perpetuate suffering and sadness — the very opposite of the reasoning we cling to addictions in the first place.

Our society subscribes to the catalyst method of handling addiction.  We ignore people who have them until it’s reported or until the symptoms begin to affect others, and then we shun and condemn them, and even throw them in prison and complicate their lives.  We do this in the name of ‘consequence’, when the consequences of the person’s addiction likely already resulted in grave losses — which often is what pushes addicts to commit crimes.

It’s a slippery slope, where those who are addicted make sacrifices in their relationships and personal lives to maintain the temporary feeling of relief they get, which perpetuates the suffering of their life dynamics and only increases their dependency and reliance on their addiction.

The catalyst in their life can be wild and destructive, and lead to the punishment of a person’s actions as a result, instead of at the root cause.  This is a true tragedy because we never truly prevent the reasons the catalyst formed.

When we are sick, we don’t just treat the symptoms, we treat the cause.  But how do we stop it as a society?

Well, heroin addiction was rampant in Switzerland in the 1990s and they couldn’t stop it.  So, they decided to approach addiction differently.  Instead of condemning those who were addicted to prison, they opened clinics across the country that actually gave them heroin as long as they enrolled in a rehabilitative program.  The statistics speak for themselves, with significantly positive results on the Swiss population as a whole.

The idea is that they don’t rip perhaps the only source of relief and comfort from a person and then shout at them until they get better, or lock them away so they aren’t a menace to society.  Instead, they acknowledge their current state — not the state that they should be in, or the state that they might have been in.  Then they find out what lead them there, and teach them how to build strong, healthy living habits that can bring them superior happiness, fulfillment, and joy to the addiction.

We fix addiction by taking people out of the cage and by giving them another option.  Nobody wants to be addicted, they only want what addiction gives them.

I hope you’ll think on this information and if you decide to do your own research on the topic, I’d love to hear from you.  Reply in the comments below or toss me an e-mail from the contacts area.

Talk to you soon.

 


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The Blonde Ale of Life

Yesterday was the day for opening the first bottle of my long awaited Blonde Ale.  Six weeks ago I had spent a enjoyable Sunday afternoon proudly mixing grains, malts, hops, and love into a tonic of marvelous invent.  I worried and stressed over the process; meticulously ensured it stayed clean.  I watched the temperature like a hawk to ensure the grain and malt remained at the exact appropriate temperature it needed to for hours.  I was careful with every drop, every movement.  I prepared endlessly — something I do not typically do nearly as much — and was a surgeon whilst I poured it into the car boy.  For weeks on end, I impatiently waited, going over the process in my mind every day, scrutinizing my steps to make sure I had done everything exactly as I thought I should’ve.  A true INTP, I was in a constant contest of logic with myself, determined to ensure the best possible outcome. 

In doing all of this, I stumbled upon an interesting thought path: I experienced real care and emotion for this batch of brew.  I loved the process, the chemistry, and the crafted art that I could express, and I felt as though this could be one of the finest beers I’ve made — perhaps a masterpiece — so long as I pour enough energy into it.  

Yesterday, the bottles were chilled, and I prepared for a wonderful dinner to compliment the experience.  I felt that if the beer somehow turned out terrible, it would ruin my whole night.  I found myself trapped in the thoroughs of anxiety.  I opened the first fermented wonder and the frothing brew reacted to the pressure release, bubbling up like a majestic fountain.  This wasn’t the ‘shaken soda’ kind of overflow, it was something more; something beautiful.  

I did what any self-respecting beer crafter would do and just took a huge drink of the overflowing beverage to release the bottle-neck.  It was that single, shining moment that punctuated the experience.  The Blonde Ale was absolutely amazing.

I sat down to my Shiitake and Garlic-infused burger, topped with Miso Mayo and a crisp potato bun, my tasty new discovery, and a beaming smile that closely resembled a new parent’s happiness upon meeting their child for the first time. 

That’s when it hit me. 

My journey through creating this Blonde Ale was a tiny metaphor for life.  In my daily life, I often calculate and stress, but simultaneously pour my energy into all the things I do.  If it succeeds, it brings me great happiness and fulfillment; it enables me to validate my efforts and subconsciously manages my self-esteem a bit.  If it fails, and the opposite is also true; I suffer from it.  When I was younger this was nearly crippling, but the years have taught me to remain flexible.  

Zu Quan asks us to maintain our center and to let flow the free hand of our energies, tempered by the practiced hand, harnessing the true nature of the universe to apply art, skill, and universal understanding to the situation.  Perhaps it is a fight, or perhaps it is negotiating life’s challenges.  Buddhist philosophy asks me to follow the Eight Fold Path to Enlightenment and remember the Four Noble Truths.

But was I adhering to these principles?  I think no.  We’re my beer to have failed, my mood would have soured and my self image would have altered.  I would have stumbled over myself in thought and emotion, and I would have resisted the nature of the universe.  I would have been the aging oak, not the flexible reed.  

So, today, I have reaffirmed my dedication to keeping centered.  Whether this is physically, emotionally, mentally, or psychologically, my center must be present.  Happiness is a delightful feeling and one we often seek.  But I have to remember that the happiness I felt last night did not come from the Blonde Ale, it came from the hard work, the care and love, and the time and nurtur that I poured into the effort. Perhaps if I had this same beer from a store, it would not have had the same luster.  

There is no way to happiness.  Happiness is the way.  


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Philosophy on Beer Making

It may come as a surprise to some that making beer is a little bit of everything.  It’s art, expression, science, alchemy, experimentation, and, ultimately, discovery.  It brings out the hippie, the wanderer, the mad scientist, and the underground rebel in you with every delightful moment.  And when the time comes that you sample a new sensation that was crafted by your own hand, there are no words to describe the delight.

We live in a world where many people expect formula to equate results and the absence of formulate to equate to the absence of results.  It is often expected that if you do X and Y with approved methods A and B, you will achieve result 1 and 2.  Anything other than those results is a failure.

But making your own beer steps outside this boundary.  It asks humbly that we forget the rigid boundaries of our linear thought processes and consider that the labels we have in the world are self-invented and that the world doesn’t always rest neatly into the boxes we created for it.

I discovered this truth when I tasted my first beer that I had crafted with my own hands.  I had been planning on following a formula and expected a specific outcome, but I had to make some adjustments because I did not have some of the ingredients I needed, nor the foresight to inventory my needs ahead of time.  I thought it would be a failure but I was determined, instead, to supplement my missing items with similar ones.  I tinkered with sugars and fermenting times in the past, and I was worried that having done so would result in a waste of time, money, and most importantly, beer.

When the time came, I sampled my work and I was blissfully surprised.  It was in that single moment that the epiphany hit me.  I knew that the world of boxes and boundaries that we have created to confine our understanding of our world were little more than guidelines — and that’s being generous!

Today I finished a Blonde Ale and I didn’t follow a recipe at all.  I had the basics I needed down, I had the idea of what I might do, but I really just winged it.  Today I sampled this brew and I let out the kind of sigh only a crafter sampling the results of his craft can let out.  I am blessed, my friends, and I hope that you all find this same simple joy.

What if we lived our whole life this way?  Live our lives while not being so obsessed with boxes and boundaries, with labels and formula?  Imagine how much larger and amazing the world would be when it is beheld as a single masterpiece and not a set of diced up pixels or droplets across an endless canvas! Imagine how vast the universe will feel when we bring down the walls of category and behold it as a single entity.

Imagine how beautiful life will feel when you realize that the internal and the external worlds are the same.. and that we are an expression of all that there is just as assuredly as the stars and the sky.

I breath deeply today, my friends, and I exhale knowing true happiness.


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Green Barley Whisper

Today I made this wonderful batch of tea that I’ve decided to call Green Barley Whisper.  It’s a marvelous blend of Roasted Barley, Greek Green Mountain, and Dried Cuban Green.  I’ve also added a dash of Mint for a delightful aroma and enjoyable after flavor.

There’s something serene in making something like this, I think.  I’ve spent hours trying to come up with the right mixture.  Some times I feel like a mad scientist, or a crazy alchemist, but now, even as I type this, I am sipping the results as the sky drips on the rooftop of my small apartment.

Breathing in the steaming scents, tasting the layered flavors, I can only smile at the experience.  I am thankful for such perspective.


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Five Palm Hard Cider

Today I finished up and taste tested a new Cider I made.  I’m calling it Five Palm Hard Cider, and it’s pretty good.  Subtle spice, aroma of sweet apples, and 8.9%/Vol so you’re in for a fun ride.

Here’s the label considerations.  Of course I won’t cell this because these images don’t belong to me, but its fun to dream.

 

Let me know what you think and if you have any suggestions!


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The Meaning of Happiness

What a broad title, huh?  You probably read this with some mixed emotions.  Is this going to be philosophy?  Is it an idealist’s take on it all? Is it sarcasm?

The answer is: Yes.  While I can’t honestly speak for everyone, I have recently reflected on myself and I’ve found some really amazing things.  Things that ultimately lead me to finding my own place in the world.  Let’s start from the beginning.

A few years ago I began to reinvent myself.  I went through some pretty bad times and had some emotional break downs and when I emerged on the other side, I came to the conclusion that I needed to know who I really was beyond that which was regularly beaten down by the world.  I’ve always been a spiritual person and I have been a Zen Buddhist for many years.  So, it’s no surprise that I found my biggest clue by looking inward and asking — and facing — the hard questions.

First, I needed to know what I wasn’t.  I scanned through my past, and I looked at who I saw.  Not just the parts that I was OK with, and not just the parts that I was ashamed of.  But all of it!  I saw myself as someone whose happiness was defined by external sources; by attachments that I talked myself into thinking I didn’t really need, but I might as well enjoy while I had them.  The truth was, I did need them and when they were taken from me, I felt a massive void in myself.  But was this who I was?

No, of course not.  My suffering came from being who I wasn’t.  My conclusion in my search to find what I was not lead me to learn some key things about myself:

  1. I am not weak.
  2. I am not helpless.
  3. I do not need someone else to define my happiness.
  4. I do not need to sacrifice all of myself for someone else’s happiness.

Armed with this knowledge, I had a foothold in my self reflection.  I probed further, needing answers.  I arrived at a series of true self assessments that ultimately surrounded some fundamental necessities.  Before I could ever understand who I was, I first needed to forgive myself. You probably read that and thought “What did you do that you need to forgive yourself?”  The answer isn’t as obvious as you think.  It’s not some crime, or secret thing I have been harboring, but it might as well have been.

All my life I have taken the blame for my own self-destruction.  I had internalized all the pain I had gone through and had made myself out to be a victim, while secretly and simultaneously feeling guilty for doing that, knowing deep down that it wasn’t the right path.  I compromised my values and I let people use me as a doormat.  I let fear, anger, depression rule my life instead of embracing happiness.

I forgave myself because I didn’t know how to be happy.  I had only ever known sadness and conflict in my life and so I thought it was all I could ever know.  I thought it was the only way I could feel.

Truth is, happiness is a choice.  Once I forgave myself and accepted that all my mistakes, flaws, problems, and issues were part of the whole.  I no longer tried to cut those pieces of myself out of my life, or pretend they didn’t exist.  I accepted myself fully.  And when I did, this really amazing thing happened: I felt complete.

So now that I’ve looked into myself and forgave myself for all of my flaws and mistakes, the next step was to bring myself some real love.  Not love from someone else, but love from myself, to myself.  To do this, I had to be my own friend.  I had to teach myself to treat myself like I would treat my best friend.  I began this radical movement of compassion towards myself.  I felt the things I felt, and I embraced them and comforted them as one might do a friend going through a hard time.  And guess what? I appreciated my own sense of compassion, which only furthered my happiness.

The next step was true independence.  I had met my true self; both emotionally, psychologically, and metaphysically, but how did I maintain that image in the presence of someone else whose energy would surely try to dissuade me from my own ideals?  I found the answer in understanding how to stand with myself.  To that end, I refused any relationships of any kind until I was happy, comfortable, and enjoyed being alone with myself first.

Fast forward the better part of a year, and I am blessed to know real happiness every day.  I wake up happy that I have something in my life worth living for and that I have an everlasting source of happiness that can never be taken from me.

Happiness cannot come from without. It must come from within. It is not what we see and touch or that which others do for us which makes us happy; it is that which we think and feel and do, first for the other fellow and then for ourselves.
–Hellen Keller