Alone and faceless at the far end of the bar, in a corner full of shadows, he sits in nondescript anonymity. He drinks quietly and steadily, gazing into the shadows as his thoughts play out his fantasies.

One More Round

In his dream, his wife is faithful and never leaves him in fits of frustration, his only son isn't thin and pale from drugs, and his mother doesn't lie in a hospital bed, slowly dying of cancer. His eldest daughter never fled across the country to reject a family she felt beneath her, and his youngest one, the sixteen-year-old with the sweet smile, had never made that nightmarish trip to the abortion clinic to destroy the grandchild he would never see.

One more drink and his boss gratefully offers him a promotion, and after two more drinks he begins to think of his long-abandoned artistic career. He stands. He weaves his way out of the bar, pausing to clear his head in the cold night air, and drives his ten-year-old Buick back to his silent empty house.

If you ask him, he'll say he doesn't drink all that much. Not to get drunk, he says, just to relax. To relax the sharp edges of his personal relationships, to relax the tightening grip of loneliness, to relax the pressure of another day's masquerade. He thinks that it's a good, healthy way to avoid succumbing to the depression that yawns at his heels, and it helps him to sleep at night. It gets him out of that house, where the canned laughter of the television is the only cheerful sound, where disappointment and guilt stifle his very breathing. So what's wrong with a few drinks at the end of the day?

What's wrong is the sense of well-being the intoxicant generates. The sensation of pleasure with no basis in fact; the drugged complacence that enables him to accept a life of pain as satisfactory. He lives, numb to the yearnings of his deeper nature, in a tiny world of make-believe people. He'll never grasp the futility of his life as he wallows in his intoxicated stupor, and thus he will live and die with no more significance than the German shepherd chained in his backyard.

Nearly everyone seems to indulge in some kind of intoxicant. Something to wind us down or pick us up, something to take the edge off, to steady our jangled nerves. Without some kind of buffer, life can often be too harsh to endure. Even if your life is unscarred by hardship, there's boredom and emptiness to combat. Naturally we seek some release for the buildup of normal tension.

But everyone knows that six whiskey sours won't take the dent out of your new car, or pay for your son's braces, or make you attractive to your new secretary. They won't make you twenty again, nor will they diminish the flab around your waist. What they will do is distort your perception of reality so that the unpleasantness becomes insignificant. But the change is illusory; when the illusory effect wears off, you're left with the same harsh world.

People serious about spiritual life shun intoxicants. Rather than escape into a dull state of acceptance, devotees of God want to see the reality of this world. Of course, tension and anxiety threaten all of us in this world on the brink of nuclear war, where no one is safe from violence and crime, and where death lurks in everyone's future. But these anomalies simply remind one in God consciousness that happiness lies elsewhere, that as long as we linger in the material world we must endure its relentless anxieties. A person who tries to avoid problems by the dulling effects of alcohol is like the rabbit who closes his eyes when attacked.

The world we live in was created by God to guide us closer to Him. Enamored with dreams of our own supremacy and independence, we come here intending to enjoy the resources of God's creation without the central focus of God's will. This results in calamity, as rejecting the laws of Krsna brings unpleasant repercussions. People become greedy for the fulfillment of their own desires, neglecting the guidelines of the scripture. Society becomes increasingly cold and dangerous.

To return to a positive awareness of the material world and our connection with it is one major feature of self-realization. This means that we face harsh reality with the understanding that the solution is to transcend through spiritual enlightenment, not to pretend through drugs and alcohol.