It was a moment of clarity. Not exactly a kensho, but what do you expect from a Miller Chill? Very little, according to a scathing review of this lime'ized light beer that garners a whoppingly low 1 percentile drinkability ranking.
However, I didn't know this a few days ago when Jerry, the husband of my wife's sister (my brother in law?) asked me if I drank beer. We were sitting on the deck of his rural central Illinois home on a hot end-of-summer day, surrounded by corn and soybean fields, being serenaded by cicadas.
For most of my adult life the answer would have been simple: "No." Initiated into the mystic-religious faith of Radha Soami Satsang Beas (RSSB) at the age of 22, I obediently followed an injunction to not consume alcohol for over thirty years – with a single slip-up at a high school class reunion that was too freaking weird to get through without a stiff drink.
But was I really a non-drinker? I didn't drink for all that time. That's different, though, from being a teetotaler.
What I mean is, was I not drinking because I truly believed that this was wrong for me to do? Or was I abstaining because I wanted to follow a rule that was a requirement for becoming a member of a religious group? In short, did my moral sensibility spring from within or without?
When Jerry asked me the question I equivocated only slightly. "Yes," I said. "I guess I am. I hardly ever drink beer – last time was on Super Bowl Sunday, just to feel like a part of male America. However, I don't have anything against it."
In that moment I answered honestly. As I said in "I've become the person I warned myself about" (probably my favorite blog post title), I used to believe differently.
I've become the heretic that I used to warn myself about, one of those who thinks for himself and doesn't follow the party (or Master's) line simply because the word has come down from on high, "This is how it should be done." Yes, I start with this. However, if that turns out to be more efficacious than this, I make the change. Such is the way of science. And also of nature. Flexibility. Adaptability. Openness. Evolution.
Reading those words, most satsangis (RSSB initiates) would consider that I've lost my way by charting a course to a Miller Chill. I understand why they'd have that attitude, because it was my own for three decades.
Yet tossing down what barely tasted like a beer at all, which is why Miller Chill is called a beer for people who don't like beer, I didn't feel like a heretic, an apostate, a fallen disciple, or indeed like anyone special at all.
I just felt normal. A guy sitting outside on a hot day shooting the breeze with the other men at a family reunion while the women-folk got dinner ready, just as God and the Tao intended. (I liked the Miller Chill, by the way; but then, I don't like beer very much).
I'm not espousing drinking. Or, not-drinking. All I'm doing is encouraging an independent, think-for-yourself, intuitive approach to morality.
Figuring out what's right and wrong isn't rocket science. Each of us knows. For us. Not for anyone else. You've got to be loyal to yourself, not to a group. Otherwise morality is just paying shallow lip service to externally-imposed rules.
Some hamburgers were being grilled on the same deck where I sipped the Miller Chill. There's no way I'd eat animal flesh unless I was on the verge of starvation. I was a vegetarian before I became a RSSB initiate; I was a vegetarian after I became a RSSB initiate; I'm a vegetarian now; I'll probably be a vegetarian on the day I die.
Not eating meat springs from an inner moral sense. I don't need anyone to tell me or remind me that this is the right thing for me to do. When it came to not drinking wine or beer, on the other hand, I'd need to resort to platitudes from the RSSB "party line" to justify my continued abstinence:
Drinking alcohol leads to a man's (or woman's) downfall. No, believe me: a single Miller Chill or glass of red wine doesn't lead anywhere, other than to a mild feeling of relaxation
Drinking alcohol makes it impossible to meditate with a clear consciousness. Well, not in my experience. It was impossible for me to meditate with a clear consciousness before I started having a glass of wine in the evening, and it still is.
Whoever or whatever we are, deep down beneath the frothy foam of our individual egocentric attributes, I'm pretty sure that "drinker" or "not a drinker" isn't going to describe our innermost being.
The person who decides whether to drink a beer or not – ah, now we're getting closer to the Real Thing.
Which everyone knows has nothing to do with beer.