Recently I experienced an insignificant moment on an airplane which reminded me of how, when I was religious, experiences like this took on a wildly undeserved meaning.
The flight attendants were coming down the aisle on their last beverage service before the plane landed. Sitting way in the back, I could hear repeatedly, "Would you like a complimentary Mai Tai?"
I started to think about what I'd say when the two women got to my aisle.
I've probably only had a couple of Mai Tai's in my life. In fact, likely I've consumed less than a dozen alcoholic mixed drinks in my 64 years of living.
From the age of 20 until I was in my mid-50's, I didn't drink a drop of alcohol. Not even wine or beer. I was devoted to a system of meditation that required from its practitioners total abstinence from alcohol and mind-altering drugs.
For that and other reasons, I felt really special in my true believing days.
Of course, like most religious people I tried to hide my attitude of Me, Me, Me behind a veneer of Thee, Thee, Thee -- submission to the will of my guru and God (who were tightly connected, since the guru was considered to be God in Human Form, a lot like Jesus is viewed by Christians).
In truth, though, I'd come to see my life as akin to what was noted in the above-linked post: a Technicolor production in a black-and-white world.
My vivdness arose out of a belief that I was on a fast track to spiritual and mystical understandings which most people in the world would never be privvy to, because I was a "chosen person" and they weren't (amazing how so many religions consider a particular faith, and that faith alone, to be the special beloved of God.)
So, for example, I'd stand in a theatre ticket line, observing my fellow movie-goers, and think, while repeating the oh-so-special mantra the guru had given me when I was initiated in 1971, "I am destined for divine heights these other people will never reach; I'm so fortunate."
It felt good to feel so special. Yet, looking back, it also was a burden. Many little things of life became gigantic moral challenges.
I was such a strict vegetarian, I didn't want to eat even a speck of meat, fish, or egg. I read the details of every food label to make sure that something like Worchester sauce wasn't in it, because the sauce contains anchovies.
If some of my dining companions were ordering wine with dinner, I'd decline even a taste. After all, commandments must be followed. God in Human Form, my guru, had told me not to drink a drop of any alcoholic drink.
Now I see things much differently. There are indeed good reasons for not drinking alcohol. Feeling that by remaining abstinent you are strenthtening your special relationship with God isn't one of them.
Eventually I tired of my supposed special-ness. I yearned for normalcy. I wanted to feel like I was no better and no worse than anyone else, just another human being living my human life. I make my choices about what to do; other people make theirs. We're all going along trying to do the best we can.
Deciding whether to drink a free Mai Tai no longer is an episode in a morality play for me. As the flight attendants came closer, I wondered whether I'd like the taste of it, and if one drink of an unfamiliar alocholic concoction would affect my driving after I picked up a rental car.
"Complimentary Mai Tai?" The flight attendant looked at me.
"Sure," I said. She turned to the guy in the center seat. "Sure," he told her. I liked how he used the same word I did. I'd only exchanged a few words with him during the flight. But now we were Mai Tai buddies, two normal guys enjoying a free drink.
I'm still a strict vegetarian. I rarely consume more alcohol than a nightly glass of red wine. I meditate every morning. Difference is now, I don't feel like I'm doing anything special, or that I'm anybody special for doing these things.