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A Full Life

I had a void. For about 6 months after I'd realised the truth that I am not what I think, and what I feel is only telling me what's in my head, and nothing about my life nor the world outside of me, I was left with one question: "What matters?"


That void wasn't 'bad' – it was a far better experience of being alive than I'd had for most of my life until then when I used to take everything I thought about myself as true and everything in life felt so serious. Being purged of that was wonderful! Yet, the question of 'what matters' came in and out of my mind without an answer.


Over time, the answer revealed itself. And it still does in a multitude of ways.


A week ago, after delivering a day's corporate training in the City of London (the part of London that is within the old Roman Walls), I went to my favourite bar. Milroy's of Spitalfields is a whisky bar that has over a thousand different varieties of whiskies from around the world. What the people who work there don't know about whisky is not worth knowing. I've sat at the bar about 10 times since I first went there on my birthday a few years ago, and each time I go, I marvel at how much they know about every one of the whiskies they have. The process of making it, the history of the distillery, the tasting notes, the mash bill, the barrel each one was finished in.


It's the equivalent of going into an old-style record shop and the person behind the counter knowing who wrote each song on every album in the store, in every genre, who produced it, the guest musicians, where it was recorded, and the story in each song. While I'm sure such a record store exists, I haven't been to it – even in the 70s and 80s when records were a 'thing' – before CDs and digital existed.



I digress. On this particular evening, Rich, the 'barman' greeted me as I walked in and set me up with a glass of water. Once I'd settled into my seat at the bar he asked how I'd been in the few months since my last visit then asked me what I wanted to have. We mulled around a few ideas, and he gave me small samples of options. None of them hit the spot. He looked at the range of bottles behind the bar and then said:


"Oooh, I know. There's about one dram left of this. THIS is the one you'll love".


"I don't need to taste, it. With that enthusiasm, pour it please!" I said.


He poured me the measure. There were a few drops left in the bottle and Rich poured himself the 'barman's privilege'.


I took the glass into my hand and raised it to my nose. I took a long inhale.


Raisins.


I was transported back about 45 years to the walk-in party in my grandparent's kitchen in the village of Pontyberem, in southwest Wales. In this dark dry store were assorted goodies for the 6-year-old me. Nuts, candied peel, raisins, golden sultanas and other things that were for cooking not for my sweet tooth. My grandfather would savour some of these with me from the pantry. And then he came back with me, to 2023 to the whisky bar in London. He put his hat on the bar top and sat next to me. I don't know if he liked whisky. I remember he liked a sherry at Christmas and 'egg-flip' (advocaat). Whisky? I don't know. Yet, here he was, in spirit with me. Savouring the scent of this rare, sublime drink. I took a sip. With him. Another savour.


My eyes welled up.


"How is it?" Rich said. The room had 7 chairs at the bar and 4 tables with benches and chairs to my left. In front of me was the cherrywood bar before the gallery of bottles in various shapes and colours. Each one caught the dim lights and reflected a jewel wink to seduce me and the other customers to taste them. On the bar stools next to me sat 4 Indonesian tourists, with 3 more behind them. Excited smiles adorned their faces. 3 of the tables had customers around them. 4 Japanese visitors huddled around one table, eyeing the bottle they had chosen to be their 5th companion for the evening. Another table had one 30-something man leaning back against the wall. 2 empty glasses in front of him. The third occupied table had a couple of business colleagues I'd seen in there before. One was looking at his phone, the other was looking with a grin at the Indonesian group next to me. The one empty bar stool to my right hand had half a stick of chalk on it.


"It's incredible, Rich!" I said. "The nose and the taste are…. I don't know. Words fail me"


Rich beamed as I carried on talking. "I smell raisins. And I just went back in time to my grandparent's house. And my grandfather is here now" I said, and pointed to my heart. The 'barman' listened to me talk about my grandfather more. What he taught me, his character, his firm loving kindness, his hat, his car, his sharing of raising from the pantry.


"And he died in 1981, 42 years ago," I said, "And he is still mentors me now"


Rich clanked his Glencairn glass to mine and said "To your grandad"


I was filled up with so much gratitude for existing. And gratitude for the people in my life, many of them gone and all of them somehow still here. Gratitude for moments like this, when all I have is appreciation. Gratitude 'is' - not an 'act' of journalling (not that I have anything against that). Gratitude that flows up, full of love, without me trying.


I marvelled at how different whiskies activate different parts of my tongue. Where each one hits the strongest in my mouth. Some hit the sides of my tongue. Some hit the tip. Some hit the roof of my mouth.


I went into a daydream of how these sensory experiences are a wonder to me. Most of the time, I'm oblivious to them. Unaware. Unconscious. Ungrateful for what is happening right now in any and all of my senses. With taste, with sounds, with sight, with scent, with touch, with emotion. And in any instant, I'm able to be aware of the sensations again. Especially when I'm not paying attention to the noise in my head that can make nowness disappear.


Nowness and willingness to feel all feelings are the opposite of the 'void' I mentioned earlier.


An hour later I was on the train home from Liverpool Street Station, I remembered that search for meaning I had some years ago now. That has been replaced by my mere existence having more meaning than I could ever know. Gratitude for being able to experience all the forms my physical and spiritual being can have in one lifetime, in one evening, and in one moment.

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