So about a year ago I brewed a very tasty Belgian Golden Strong Ale. I drank just about all of it, but saved a 22oz bottle for my wife. She was pregnant while the beer was good for drinking, and I wanted to leave her some to try. So the other night we popped it open and she loved it. I had a small bit in a glass as well. I had no idea where this beer had come from. This was not the beer I last tasted 6 months ago!
What happened? Time. It was the same beer, from the same batch I brewed a year ago. But this was so much better! So much more refined. Better head, richer flavor, a full and complex aroma. All it took was time. You see, there is still a bit of live yeast that travels into the bottle, and when you add the priming sugar, this yeast eats the fresh sugar and carbonates your beer. But this also finishes the process. With time, all the flavors you had hoped for develop, and you end up with (usually) an awesome final product.
Awhile back I bottled a batch of American Brown Ale. It’s been bottle conditioning for a few weeks. So what makes this beer an American Brown? There’s a list of parameters that it falls into based on color, gravity, flavor, bitterness, aroma, etc…. It’s just an easy reference to classify the wide array of combinations you could come up with. Humans like to classify things. It makes it easier to communicate, and we are social mammals. There’s nothing wrong with that.
The problem arises when the classifiers take the place of the true object you’re trying to classify. For example, saying that “I’m a college student” or “I’m a delivery driver” is inherently false. These classifiers are not what you truly are, but just a description of one aspect of your life. Your true self is ever changing, ever in motion, and ever evolving. Your true self is not your occupation, skin color, or hair style. These things are simple human attachments and qualifiers, nothing more.
Ever bumped into someone you haven’t seen in years? Like 5, 10, or 20 years? It’s almost as if you’re bumping into a different person, isn’t it? You even have to re-introduce your self in a way. Why is that? Time. Impermanence of self. I talked before about finding self. But, where the hell is it? It doesn’t seem to remain constant, does it? Are you the person you were 10 years ago?
I’m not. In fact, I’m thinking of holding a funeral in his honor. He will be missed by some, (though not most if I remember correctly). But that person no longer exists. Goodbye. I won’t be seeing you. He’s taking the spiritual equivalent of a dirt nap.
So, if there is no constant self, what the hell are you? If there is no constant beer, what the hell did I just brew, and what’s gonna happen to it? Let me first say that I haven’t a clue about whether or not there is a “soul”. I’ve never seen, heard, or touched one. I’ve yet to hear a concrete explanation as to what it is, what it’s properties are, where it resides, what it’s purpose is, and why I don’t know it exists. So let’s just forget about that, shall we? Maybe that’s for another brewing session. So who/what the hell am I? Well, I’m not any of the superficial me. I’m not really the physical me. The physical me is changing at a rate and quantity I can’t even begin to fathom. Do you know how many of my cells have lived, multiplied, and died in the time it’s taken me to write this? That’s way to big a number to play “99 bottles of beer on the wall” with.
So, ok. I’m not really the physical me, since it’s in such a rapid state of change that pinning me down would be nearly impossible. Like my beer, the hundreds of thousands of yeast cells living out their natural life cycle are what is making up it’s physical properties, and it’s in a constant state of flux.
With all of this physical chaos, it’s no wonder my mind is a mess. Hmmm… maybe I’m my mind. My thoughts. Nah, that’s mostly ego, and the mind’s survival mechanism playing itself out.
Am I my traits? No, because those change as well. I can remember how much of an asshole I was 10, or even 6 years ago. Thankfully, with the help of time and graduating from the school of hard knocks with an AA in skating by, I was able to realize that being a jerk off wasn’t what I wanted from myself.
This isn’t getting me anywhere. What about the beer? OK, when I brewed the whole batch, it was all the same. Only time made the difference. It was tasty, effervescent, probably the best beer I’ve ever had. But only after a year or so. The first versions I drank weren’t quite as good. But it was the same damn beer.
OK, what’s different from me now than before? I’m slightly more responsible, much more handsome, quite humble, and generally a much calmer person. But all of these things I’ve learned over time. It was my past experiences that shaped who I am today. Remembering them helps to provide an anchor to these past experiences, so I may draw upon them to better myself in the present moment. Getting closer now….
So, my past experiences, thoughts, feelings, these are what have helped shape who I am today, but they are NOT me. The “me” of a year ago is no longer. The “me” that started writing this blog no longer exists. So, again, where/what am I? What about that yeast that’s in the bottom of the bottle, “finishing” the beer? What is it that is “finishing” me? Is it my past experiences? The knowledge that I’ve gained? My emotional self? Maybe my evolving ego and mind?
What I have come to believe is simply this:
I am the impermeable Adam. I exist in the moment before I realize I exist in the moment I exist in. It is when I realize that I exist that the person who existed in the moment before has departed. It is effortless, mindless awareness that allows me a window into myself.
And then Attachment.
Attachment has made you believe you are that selfish person you were 5 years ago when you didn’t share that cab with that stranger you were standing next to who was going to the same neighborhood you were. Attachment has made you believe you are a fat person. But you are not a fat person. You are a person who is fat. You exist independently of your weight issues, your impotence, your compassion. You are impermeable. The words your mind uses to describe you are subjective and not absolute. They are not universal law. You are subject to change at your own discretion.
Knowing that there is no constant self is liberating. You no longer fit into a frame or mold. You are no longer the person your mind has created. It is also a little weird. If there is no constant self, what is it that is changing?
Back to the beer. What has changed? The beer is still only water, hops, barely and yeast. That’s it. The only thing that has really changed is a bit of biological process, and my own subjective qualities I’ve placed on the beer. Kinda like myself in a way. A few cells die off, a few glands secrete some juices, and I construct a model of who I am in my own mind. This is me. I’m not a home brewer. But I do home brew. That’s the difference. Cheers.