Is it OK to drink alone? One man attempts to break the habitual routine.
“I like bars just after they open for the evening. When the air inside is still cool and clean and everything is shiny and the barkeep is giving himself that last look in the mirror to see if his tie is straight and his hair is smooth. I like the neat bottles on the bar back and the lovely shining glasses and the anticipation. I like to watch the man mix the first one of the evening and put it down on a crisp mat and put the little folded napkin beside it. I like to taste it slowly. The first quiet drink of the evening in a quiet bar—that’s wonderful.”—Raymond Chandler, The Long Goodbye
I’ve meditated for most of my life. After I began my meditation practice in earnest I fell in love with going on solitary retreat. I would lock myself up in a cabin for a week or two, cook three meals a day, meditate, go for the occasional walk, and enjoy my own company. I came to love that time of being with myself.
Left to my own devices, devoid of television and laptop, I would spend many hours in quiet contemplation, sometimes bemoaning past mistakes, sometimes making heart-felt aspirations for the future, or simply being in the present. It was glorious.
The thing is it was easier to hole up in the cabin when I was still a student. Lots of school breaks meant for plenty of time to balance solitary retreat with vacations, visiting friends, and work. Upon graduation, I didn’t stop meditating but the solitary retreats have become few and far between. Either I’ll go to a meditation center for a few weeks and receive teachings with a group or lock myself up in my apartment to meditate for a week, with two animals and my lovely lady as company.
It was five years ago that I enjoyed my first solitary drink. I remember it well. Living in Boston, I frequented Matt Murphy’s pub. That particular evening though, my friends were all busy and my favorite bartender had the night off. I sat down at the bar alone. The place was virtually empty. I wondered what I was even doing there. But a few words and the bartender slowly poured my Auchentoshan. I paused. Something felt familiar.
After spending the full day running from one meeting to the next, squeezing in e-mails and phone calls, and speaking with all sorts of people, I had a chance to be alone again. I took a moment to contemplate what that meant for me, and it became clear: this drink was my moment of solitude.
Even if I can’t always run off to the woods and lock myself up for weeks on end, I can still enjoy a solitary drink. Drinking can mean different things to different people: some people drink to escape, some to celebrate, some to cover over their pain. For me, in that moment, I had a drink as a means to carve out some time to be alone.
I tasted my scotch. It was smoky, and just a little bit chilled. I listened to the sounds of the bar. I relaxed into the present moment. Then, not unlike my time in solitary retreat, my mind would occasionally wander. I reflected on my work, my choice of career, my passions, and all of the things I would do if I convinced myself I had the time to do them. I took this drink as a moment for self-reflection.
In the years since then, I have had the pleasure of slipping in the occasional solitary drink, allowing myself the pleasure of my own company. While it may not be a substitute for solitary retreat, it’s a lovely way to cut through my habitual routine and take a fresh look at my mind and life. The first quiet drink of the evening in a quiet bar—that’s wonderful.