I remember very clearly the first time I meditated. I was sat on the floor of my living room with my friend Joe. He told me before we started how he thought of it as a kind of gift to himself, and it was that idea which I took with me into my first ‘sit’. When the bell rang twenty minutes later, I knew I had started something which was going to change my life.
Mindfulness is about being present and aware, and mindful meditation is the practice of conditioning your mind to be able to do that. In the same way that going for a 20 minute run a few times a week will ensure that you are fit enough to climb the stairs or carry a suitcase or run for a bus as and when you need to, regular meditation helps to ensure that your mind is calm and strong enough to handle those periods of extra mental and emotional demand which inevitably arise as part of our daily lives.
Similarly, just as exercise itself makes the body happier (thanks to those lovely endorphins), so does meditation make the mind happier (check out this article in ‘Psychology Today’ if you don’t believe me); and as the fitness achieved through exercise enables us to more readily enjoy the beauty of a cycle through a forest or a long walk into the mountains, mindfulness in everyday life as achieved through meditation enables us to more readily find the joy in the present and, fundamentally, to appreciate it.
As I have explained in previous blogs, the practice of appreciation is very much at the heart of what The Dancing Vine is all about. I have always loved and appreciated wine, but never more so than since I began to meditate. I was thinking about this a little while ago, and it occurred to me that the reason for this was that mindfulness improved my ability to taste wine, because wine tasting is a fundamentally mindful activity: a calm and steady focus on each aspect of the wine as it is received, first by the eyes, then the nose, then the mouth; awareness of which creates an appreciation of the unique range of aromas, flavours and tastes contained within.
Thinking on this I wondered… could wine tasting and meditation be paired? Tea meditation has been practiced for many hundreds of years – what’s the difference?
The difference, of course, is that wine contains alcohol; evil, nasty, poisonous, nerve depressing, hangover inducing, organ rotting alcohol. Boo alcohol. Boo mindful wine.
“Silly idea Meg; put it to bed…”
… but hang on a minute…
Meditative wine tasting?
Unquestionably, drinking alcohol (which depresses mental function) works against the purposes of meditation (which are to focus and sharpen the mind). However, when tasting and considering wines properly the amounts are such that the actual ingestion of alcohol can be negligible, and if one chooses to spit as per the professionals, can be avoided completely. In fact, it is one of the most pertinent lessons of wine tasting that almost the entire scope of the pleasure a glass of wine contains may be enjoyed without even swallowing it. And even if a guest does choose to swallow, the total alcohol consumed across a 30 minute meditation amounts to less than 1unit, and as it takes at least 30 minutes for alcohol to be absorbed into the bloodstream, the presence of alcohol at a meditative wine tasting is not a barrier to the effective practice of the meditation itself.
Of course, the idea of ‘mindful wine’ extends beyond the somewhat leftfield idea of a wine tasting meditation. As explained above, mindfulness is about practicing awareness and appreciation all the time, so it seems necessary to address the alcohol issue in this wider context as well.
Alcohol isn’t bad for us; being ‘under the influence’ of it is. Society demonises alcohol through its own unmindful excess (heck, drinking too much water can kill us – it just doesn’t happen very often), when in fact, in small doses and when produced under the right conditions, ethanol (the type of alcohol we drink) can actually be good for us (read this for more detail).
There is much to respect and appreciate about this pure, naturally occurring, organic compound. Produced in winemaking through fermentation of the sugars in grape juices, it oversees the complex chemical reactions which create the myriad flavours, then collects them all up and delivers them proudly to our flavour receptors for enjoyment (alcohol is a solvent for flavour and aroma – think perfume). All of this can be enjoyed without any detriment to our mental or physical functions, provided we are mindful.
The good news is that this is really easy. Because alcohol is processed by the body at the same basic rate in everybody, you can calculate the length of time it takes your body to process what you’re drinking using a relatively simple algorithm (check out this site which does it automatically). For example, I know that at my current weight it will take my body 66 minutes to process a 150ml glass of 13% wine. As long as my consumption rate doesn’t exceed my processing rate, I can drink and enjoy my wine completely without compromising my mental relationship with the present.
It means not getting drunk, which I know won’t sound too appealing to lots of people, but the other good news is this… all the things we like about getting/ being drunk, we can get even more through meditation, for free, and without the hangover.
So there you have it… that’s how wine can be mindful, how we can taste it in meditation, and how alcohol isn’t a deal-breaker.