Buddhism teaches that our thoughts are like waves on the ocean, rising and falling back into the expanse, and that our true nature is the ocean itself—vast, spacious, and placid. Freud has a different take, describing an “oceanic experience” as a feeling of an indissoluble bond, of being one with the external world as a whole.” I also have a spiritual connection with the ocean—one that is more direct. It has always been there, from the time when my parents took me there on vacation, to more recent times when my family and friends vacation there. I always spend some time staring out to the ocean, thinking more deeply about the meaning of life and my relationship with the rest of the world. My favorite time to visit the beach is during the fall when the crowds are gone and the beaches are quiet. Surf fishing is my escape from all the other distractions in my life and my way to connect with my thoughts and feelings. It's not really about catching fish. During a recent morning on the surf, I was thinking about my relationship with drinking and how it impacts me as a person. I once thought that the value of a drink was simply the price I paid for it, nothing more than a function of economics. I was wrong. I have realized that the benefits of a drink go far beyond merely enjoying its flavors. I'm talking about the intangible benefits associated with drinking. After more than 25 years of enjoying spirits, wine and beer, I have discovered there are many. Here are five. Nurturing friendships In the fast-paced world we live in, with one deadline after another, we often neglect what's really important in life. Having a good friend—someone who is there for you during the bad times and to celebrate with during the good times—is invaluable. We certainly don't need to drink to be with a good friend, but enjoying a drink or two requires us to take time out of our hectic schedule, and it allows us to nurture and appreciate our friendships. Giving to those less fortunate The next time you're out with a few friends, consider buying the first round, even if there's only going to be one round. When you are invited over for dinner or a party, bring a bottle of something nice for your hosts. Save your special bottles of beer, wines or spirits for when you can open them with friends who will appreciate them. Good things in life are meant to be shared, not hoarded. Trying something new You can get out of that rut you're in and explore a little. If you like bourbon, try a rye whiskey. If you like tequila, try mescal. If you drink vodka martinis, order one with gin instead. Try a new bottle of wine or a new beer. Heck, take two beers that you like and blend them together. I do it all the time. If you don't like it, the world won't come to an end, and you will be a wiser person for it (and more interesting to be around). There is always something new to learn, a path not yet traveled. Living healthier Recent studies continue to suggest that moderate alcohol consumption is beneficial. As with most good things in life, moderation here is the key. If you can't drink responsibly and moderately, then don't drink. It's that simple. And don't drive drunk. Chances are there's someone out there who wants you to stick around for a few more years. Don't let them down. Counting our blessings Enjoying a drink, whether alone or with friends, provides us valuable time for contemplation and reflection. We are fortunate to live in a country and time when we have the freedom, privilege and opportunity to enjoy a delicious cocktail, lovely bottle of wine or craft-brewed beer. There are millions of people who wonder where their next meal is coming from, not whether they should have their martini shaken or stirred. It is something we shouldn't forget. There's a master distiller I have been friends with for close to 20 years. His distillery is situated along the Scottish coastline, and you can smell and taste the ocean in his whisky. We once took a bottle of his best stuff, sat on the coastline, and shared a dram while we discussed the beauty of the sea and life in general. I'm not sure if it was what Freud would have described as an Oceanic Experience. But it was close.
John Hansell is the publisher of Malt Advocate, a magazine for the whisky enthusiast. He hasn’t been able to eat clams ever since he started using them for bait. Thankfully, he has no problem with Guinness and oysters.