Friday, January 22, 2010

Taking the Fifth

The Fifth Precept is: Avoiding the deliberate loss of awareness. It is sometimes defined as "no intoxication" and also as "to cultivate clarity for self and others."

The most literal interpretation is to avoid alcohol and other drugs. That, for me, is easy. I am ten years clean and sober, after earlier escape finally proved too problematic to continue. So when I first read this precept, I thought, "No big deal. I've got this one licked already."

But as our discussion in last week's precept class unfolded, it became clear to me that there was still much work ahead. In Ngakpa Chogyam Rinpoche's explanation of the Five Precepts, on the fifth he says, "I commit myself to the avoidance of mindless and unskillful consumption of anything." Now that opens up a whole new dimension.

Suddenly, everything is on the table: my cigarettes, my chocolate, my naps, my online shopping sprees. "Mindless and unskillful consumption" pretty much sums up what happens when I'm trying to avoid myself.

I know this is true, because when I try to quit one of them, just as when I first quit alcohol and drugs, the discomfort and dis-ease of each moment is nearly intolerable. The last time I tried to quit smoking, about six months ago, on the second day I thought to myself in total despair, "I'm never going to enjoy anything ever again!" Talk about drama! And for the last two days, I have been unable to sleep through the night. Normally, sleep is a refuge for me. Lately, it has been filled with bad dreams, and fitful awakenings. Instead of getting up and sitting zazen, or writing in my journal, or doing anything that might be a way of being present with myself, I go into a total tailspin of anxiety and fretting, worried that I will never be able to sleep again.

Ngakpa Chogyam Rinpoche does offer an alternative to the "checking out" mode. He says, "I commit myself to inebriation from the hot blood of compassion, and to the experience of kindness, merriment, and freedom for all beings."

"The hot blood of compassion" - sounds racy and enticing, yes? And who can argue with experiencing "kindness, merriment, and freedom for all beings"? Makes the sugar and the nicotine look paltry by comparison.

I guess it's time to take the Fifth.


  1. lately when i get discouraged i read the chapter on "heightened neurosis" in "The Places that Scare You" by Pema Chodron. she talks about how practice can actually intensify our patterns,and how anxiety/psychological discomfort is often a sign of getting liberated, of moving closer to a natural open state. its like free fall, scary and exhilerating at the same time


  2. Debi, I will pull Chodron off the shelf and re-read that chapter. Thanks for the suggestion. I'm up again, unable to sleep. Definitely like free fall - not sure if it's exhilirating yet, just scary so far...But I'm looking forward to the liberation.