Phra Hans was a Buddhist monk who helped me give up alcohol (I say ‘was’ because he died a few years ago). At our first meeting, Phra Hans promised me if I quit drinking, I would find my purpose in life, and the need to get drunk would disappear completely.
I wanted to believe what Phra Hans was telling me, but it all sounded too good to be true. If I hadn’t felt do desperate, I would have dismissed his promise as fanciful nonsense.
Ideas like ‘life purpose’ sounded a bit too New-Agey for my liking. Anyway – I’d already stopped drinking for two years once before, and despite believing that I’d found my life purpose during that time (I became a nurse), I still ended up drinking again.
Phra Hans suggested I had turned to alcohol because I had lost my purpose in life. This lack of meaning created inner-discomfort that I self-medicated by getting drunk. What he said did make sense to me – I used to call it my ‘fuck-it’ button.
This explanation for why I drank isn’t just a Buddhist idea. The psychologist Abraham Maslow talked about a hierarchy of needs with self-actualization is at the top. Maslow once said:
“If you plan on being anything less than you are capable of being, you will probably be unhappy all the days of your life.”
I was desperate enough to believe what Phra Hans was telling me. I put my faith in his claim that my life purpose would reveal itself so long as I stayed sober.
I knew the Buddhist idea of giving up intoxicants wasn’t simply about me becoming a good boy so the universe could shower me with goodies. It wasn’t that alcohol was evil, it was just that it prevented me from being mindful.
What Phra Hans was really telling me was that my life purpose would reveal itself if I became more mindful.
I’m not sure there is anything supernatural about mindfulness. It was just a way for me to escape the habitual patterns that were fucking up my life. It also calmed the raging storm in my head just enough so that insights and creative thoughts could be heard above the din.
There is all this potential trapped inside all of us and mindfulness releases it – it doesn’t happen overnight, but once this stuff starts to surface, life becomes full of purpose and meaning.
The things Phra Hans told me that day turned out to be true. I got sober, and my life became full of purpose. The need to get drunk disappeared.