One of the convenient little stories I have always told myself, as I neatly avoided any real thought about the matter, is that a glass or two of wine--or sometimes three, or four...--is a necessary accompaniment to every social event, whether eating out at a friend's house or at a restaurant, or having guests at home. I have also long suspected that my spreading girth and the concomitant feeling of physical bloat result in part from the consumption of alcohol, so I decided this week to question that unmindful assumption, and to put it to the test.
So... Having taken an easy weekend off from this peculiarly seductive palliative, I decided on Monday that my first real test would be that evening. We had been invited by friends to meet their visitors from New York over dinner in their home. Instead of the usual glass of wine before dinner, I requested water. In all honesty, I did find myself eyeing the vodka in my neighbor's glass with a certain envy, and even watched Ellie enjoy a glass of wine with a wishful thought to share in her enjoyment. I had, however, made my decision and I abided by it. I noticed that the world had not come to an end by the time we headed homeward, nor had the sky fallen. I had not been socially incapacitated for want of a glass of wine, and I think that my friends had not found me in ill-humor. In a word, I had survived.
Last night, dinner at home with friends. I served wine... and water for myself. Again, I survived the evening with no ill effects and with no noticeable loss of pleasant social interaction. Nobody even noticed, and I was even rather pleased with myself for having made the stretch. It does not escape my attention, this morning, that I am reluctant to say that I'm feeling better for the omission. I guess that's a part of the story: I hate to have to acknowledge the simple truth that some things are good for me, and some things not. And to admit it to myself makes it all somehow binding--because who in their right senses wants to continue doing things that are demonstrably bad. Well, to use the less judgmental Buddhist term, unskillful. And some major part of me does not want to surrender the pleasure of a good glass of wine.
And yet... here's another piece learned from the day-long retreat last Saturday--a piece that struck me when Than Geoff uttered the words and has stuck with me since then. It makes good sense, he said, "to sacrifice a smaller for a greater pleasure." This is the principle that led to my final victory over nicotine. After years of unsuccessfully trying No, no, no, shouldn't, mustn't, and so on, I finally gave myself permission to smoke; but with the understanding that my ability to climb a set of stairs, for example, without huffing and puffing, or to lay my head down on the pillow at night without a pounding heart were more rewarding pleasures than that next, foul-tasting, foul-smelling cigarette. I managed to choose the greater benefit. That was about twenty years ago.
My intention as of this moment is to continue to observe the physical effects and the inner thoughts and feelings for a while. And to keep noticing my reluctance to commit! I will report further as this experiment progresses.
Our guests for the evening, by the way, were the artist Lita Albuquerque and her husband. After dinner, she showed us some spectacular pictures of her recent Stellar Axis installation in Antarctica, which entailed the replication of star alignments at both North and South poles with the use of ninety-nine cobalt blue spheres of widely differing sizes. The visual effect was stunning, as you'll see if you check out the Stellar Axis site and click on the link to her related blog. I'm fascinated by the photographs and the story of the installation process, but am most knocked out by those pictures (including the aerial shots) that document the spheres they were meant to be seen, in isolation against the whiteness and the distant mountains of one of the purest remaining places on the face of the planet Earth.