Ask Dru: What does being mindful about drinking mean?
I’ve joined Club Soda to learn about being mindful about drinking, and I’m looking for tips for how it can work. I’ve had some time off drinking, and I think about moderating. But I don’t ever want alcohol to govern my life again. What does being mindful about drinking actually mean? Julia
Club Soda is all about helping you drink more mindfully so you can live well. So welcome onboard, Julia. You’re joining tens of thousands of others who are discovering how life good can be when it’s not governed by alcohol.
But let’s be crystal clear about something upfront. When we talk about mindful drinking in Club Soda, we’re not encouraging you to drink alcohol. Mindful drinking does not necessarily mean moderation. Rather, we encourage you to become more mindful about everything to do with drinking and not drinking alcohol. As you become more mindful about alcohol, drinking or not drinking can become a completely conscious act. That’s the ultimate goal.
To explain more about mindful drinking, let’s start with some fundamentals about mindfulness and the importance of paying attention.
Being mindful starts with paying attention
“Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way,” writes Jon Kabat-Zinn in his book Wherever you go, there you are, “on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.”
In the late 1970s, Kabat-Zinn began work exploring the benefits of mindfulness to help people manage stress. In many ways, his experiments began the modern mindfulness movement. From those beginnings, mindfulness has become an inescapable global phenomenon. Workplaces, schools and even governments are enthusiastic about the potential of mindfulness. Mindfulness is touted as a way of resolving everything from anxiety to sleeplessness. And in its contemporary guise, separated from its Buddhist roots, mindfulness has undoubtedly become over-commercialised. There are endless apps, books and courses. The trend towards mindful colouring, candles and cushions has even been derided as McMindfulness.
But all this noise about mindfulness, secular and spiritual, distracts us from its simplicity.
At its heart, mindfulness describes the human ability to pay attention to what is happening in and around us. All of us have this innate capacity to notice things. But in the busy day-to-day of living our lives, we are easily distracted. Our minds wander, our feelings sweep us away, we lose touch with our bodies. We become time-travellers, lost in the memories of our past or imagining multiple possible futures. Mindless, we become absent from our own lives.
Mindfulness describes the human ability to pay attention to what is happening in and around us, and all of us have this innate capacity
When people talk about the benefits of mindfulness, they often describe feelings of calm, relaxation and happiness. But it’s essential to know that a pleasant feeling isn’t the aim of mindfulness, though it can be a side-effect. In truth, mindfulness practices can sometimes bring us into contact with difficult thoughts and feelings. But being mindful can also help us deal with these difficulties without attachment or judgment. And being more mindful helps us regain a sense of control to navigate those thoughts and feelings more safely.
In short, mindfulness brings us back to the present moment and wakes us up so we can act in more conscious ways. So how do we become mindful?
On purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally
Being mindful doesn’t mean becoming a different kind of person. Yoga pants and incense are not required. Three simple ways of paying attention, as outlined by Kabat-Zinn, are a good place to start so as we become mindful:
- On purpose. Although being mindful is an innate ability shared by humans, it does take practice. We can cultivate mindfulness through formal practices, such as meditation, or informal approaches such as mindful walking, mindful eating or mindful journaling. The principle is the same in every case, though. We stop what we are doing and pay attention to whatever is happening. And we do that consciously and deliberately.
- In the present moment. It is so easy to be distracted by our thoughts and feelings. Mindfulness is not about quieting our minds and hearts through the force of our will. Instead, it is about finding some space inside ourselves so that our thoughts and feelings do not pull us into the past or present. This moment is the only one we can live in. Centring our attention on our breath, for example, can root us firmly in the now.
- Nonjudgmentally. This is so vital. We are so hard on ourselves all the time. Even as we sit in mindfulness meditation, many of us struggle with feelings of failure, as if our chattering minds are a sign that we are doing something wrong (hint: we’re not). And we judge the content of our thoughts and feelings so harshly too. Learning to accept ourselves and the complexity of our worlds is a gift that mindfulness can give us. We can learn to treat ourselves with kindness.
When we pay attention to our thoughts and feelings, we are less likely to be unconsciously driven by them. Incidentally, there isn’t a state of perfection to be reached through practising mindfulness. All of us, always, are works in progress. That’s why mindfulness is a practice.
Pay attention to alcohol
So what has all of this got to do with drinking? After all, alcohol is a substance that actively diminishes our ability to pay attention.
And when it comes to drinking, if we’re honest, most of us aren’t paying attention most of the time. Whether we want to take the edge of our problems and get out of our heads, alcohol is our go-to solution. So many of us take drinking for granted. As a result, alcohol is unconsciously woven into every aspect of our lives, from wetting a baby’s head to commiserating at a wake. Our culture is soaked in booze from birth and death, and we don’t even notice.
Mindfulness opens up the possibility of change as we begin to make more conscious choices. Being mindful about drinking means paying attention to how alcohol affects you and how it shapes the world around you. As you become more mindful about alcohol, you’ll pay attention to where and when you do and don’t drink, who you do and don’t drink with and especially what you drink, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic. You’ll notice what you think and how you feel in those situations. And you will pay attention to the role alcohol plays in your life.
Our culture is soaked in booze from birth and death, and we don’t even notice
Being mindful about drinking also means consciously deciding what kind of relationship you want with alcohol. That can include realising that alcohol can’t be a part of your life, whether that’s just for now or forever. When you are mindful about drinking, you will understand and respect your limits, especially if you recognise that your personal limit is zero. Starting with what you notice, you can then make solid plans that address where, when and what you drink and who you drink with.
That’s what mindful drinking is about. Simply paying attention and then acting with intention.
Dru Jaeger leads Club Soda’s courses for people who want to be more mindful about drinking, including How to Drink Mindfully. You can also join Dru every Friday during #mindfulmay for a mindfulness meditation to support you through wine o’clock, so you can make conscious decisions about drinking. Find him live on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube.