Internal change, living in the now, and our approach to wine

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Internal change, living in the now, and our approach to wine

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How we approach life is so important. If we change our viewpoint, it changes everything. But this sort of change is incredibly hard for most.

In our pursuit of happiness, we seek external change. Likewise, in our avoidance of pain, we seek this external change. We look to change the environment. Move to a better neighbourhood. Buy new stuff. Seek out new experiences. Holiday in exotic places. Make new (better) friends. Achieve more at work. Even find a new significant other.

Like a drug, though, this novelty quickly wears off, and leaves a resistance to further stimulation. We are left needing more to get the next high; the next numbing. The novelty certainly lifts us, but just for a while. It holds the pain at bay. But we haven’t changed, and so our need remains the same. It is fed, but never enough. The hunger remains. The pain returns.

What is really needed is a fresh set of eyes. If we learn to see differently, the mundane is transformed. If we begin to really live in the present, suddenly – even though our environment hasn’t changed – we experience joy and vitality where before we only experienced boredom, pain and a nagging hunger to change things.

It’s this internal change that we should be seeking. We’re too busy trying to change outside stuff to notice or realize this. And even if we know, in the back of our minds, that internal change is needed, it seems a bit scary and difficult and we don’t know how to effect it.

How do we change? I’ve spoken before about how changing our daily routine can often be a way to open ourselves up to change, as can reading (and the arts more broadly).

As we read, we hear ideas voiced that we thought were just our own. We find companionship in the discovery that others have gone before us, faced similar challenges, experienced the same highs, and have plummeted to the same depths. Reading exposes us to fresh perspectives: it re-tells our own story through the experiences and emotions of others. Re-telling our own story is important. …For change to occur, there must be a retelling of our own narrative – the internal story that configures how we see ourselves in the world. If that is changed, then change can follow quite naturally. Two things are needed … First is a change of scene. Our familiar routines keep us trapped in our own perspective. It’s important to change those routines from time to time. Take a different route to work. Go somewhere new. Order a different coffee. … The second is to expose ourselves to the worlds of others: to hear stories. Films, plays, visual art and books all play a role here, but it is reading that I think has the most power to effect change. This is because, as we read, we take the words in to our minds, and add to them. They become part of us. [See full post here.]

But there’s also another route to this internal change. It’s making a commitment to living in the present, and accepting that difficulties aren’t always to be avoided, and pain isn’t always to be numbed. We can never avoid trouble or pain. We shouldn’t seek them out, but they will find us. If we flee them or try to numb ourselves, we will have cut off one of the great routes to this internal transformation that has the potential to bring true happiness. More stuff, higher status, fresh experiences and new highs will never get us there. Striving and ambition will leave us unhappy and eventually destroy our souls. But the acceptance of the now, and allowing troubles – honestly and bravely faced – to transform us from the inside, is what allows us to be fully us. Your best you; my best me.

There’s a Japanese term: Kintsugi. It translates as ‘golden joinery’, and it refers to the act of repairing pottery with a lacquer mixed with powdered gold or other precious metal. The repair is part of the object, rather than something that must be hidden away. This mended pot takes on a beauty greater than one that has never been broken. There’s a parallel between kintsugi and the Japanese notion of wabi-sabi, in which beauty is found in the flawed or imperfect. We should celebrate our flaws, not hide them away. We should allow ourselves to be integrated. Let us live in the now, and begin to see with fresh eyes. We are surrounded by what we consider to be ordinary and mundane, but which is actually quite beautiful. There’s a joy in the normal, if we were only able to grasp it.

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How does this relate to wine? We can approach wine in different ways. Do we sometimes fail to live in the present with wine? It’s possible to be hung up with seeking an ever-greater wine experience. We’re discontent with the wines we have because we know that there are ‘better’ wines out there. Wine becomes a competitive sport, and whether it’s about the value of the wine, its scarcity, its age, or the number of points it has been awarded, there’s a striving on the part of many to drink ‘better’ wines. On social media, we see others drinking grand bottles, and seemingly having more fun than we are. A 100 point wine dinner becomes seen as the ultimate wine experience. We find significance and value in the prestige and status of the wines we drink and cellar.

This is all bonkers, of course. And it robs us of the real joy that wine can bring. The pleasure of sharing wine with friends over food. The thrill of a glass of Champagne with a loved one. Wine in context, as part of the occasion, which is enhanced by wine’s transforming effects. Wine enhancing the now. And to do this we need an internal shift in the way we see wine. Why does natural wine appeal to so many? Because it is about drinking and sharing; not cellaring and competing. Because it often has edges – a beauty and elegance that is enhanced, wabi sabi style, with flavours that are vital, alive and which trained enologists sometimes misdiagnose as faults. It’s similar to the fragrance of jasmine, which contains an off-flavour, indole, that integrates into the whole and brings out the beauty of the other components. Whatever your views on natural wine, we can learn from this. If we allow ourselves to undergo an internal change, and live in the present, suddenly we can begin to find great joy in sharing wine together. We will no longer be lost in the vain pursuit of ever-better wines. We will begin to find beauty in the authentic now.

And when we are lucky enough to experience great wine, we will be set free to enjoy it fully.

6 Comments on Internal change, living in the now, and our approach to wine
wine journalist and flavour obsessive

6 thoughts on “Internal change, living in the now, and our approach to wine

  1. Great post Jamie! Wonderful thoughts. The vinous experiences most precious to me these days are with well crafted wines, often very moderately priced, made without affectation. They offer a lovely and individual conversation to match with the different moments, seasons, meals, etc. that we all travel through.
    I hear what you say about natural wines but many are more powdered gold than pottery leaving me with no ability to tell whether the original piece is Japanese, Chinese, or other.

    If you’re headed back to Oregon anytime soon please take a minute to come by. Wed love to see you again.

    Marcus Goodfellow
    Goodfellow Family Cellars

  2. I’ve just discovered this blog and was surprised and delighted by this post. The thoughts expressed chime with many of my own observations on life.
    For years I worked in the arts (mainly opera then dance). Opera shares many similarities with wine, not least a whole range of social and cultural “markers”, for want of a better word. And you end up having to come to terms with some stark paradoxes. Great opera is expensive to attend (unless you’re lucky enough to have access to cheaper tickets). There’s no doubt that it is patronised by audiences who are by and large pretty pleased to be able to be there. Whether they know the first thing about the social/political/musical/artistic aspects of the work they’re seeing is a moot point. From overhearing endless interval conversations it was often pretty hard to work out if the people involved had the slightest idea of what they were actually watching and hearing. Alternatively you got the diehards who had literally seen it all. You could tell because the conversations always seemed to turn on the great performers who were dead.

    I could go on. And on. Opera’s a bit like that and so is wine. I still remember my first proper glass of wine (a twenty year old bottle of Gevry Chambertin poured by the owner of a champagne company in Epernay I worked for as a student). I still remember the startling effect the aromas (for farmyard read sex) and how these turned miraculously into something quite different when the liquid was tasted. It was a bit like the first time I heard a record of Maria Callas in her prime. It’s simply unforgettable. And somehow it stays with you, even as you acquire all the trappings of erudition and experience that mean that you develop some discernment. And there’s the rub. You acquire knowledge about wine. You get familiar with a fairly arcane vocabulary. It’s all wickedly addictive and the more you know and taste the more you realise there is to find out.

    It wasn’t until I got off the arts treadmill and started a second career in the wine business that I was able to put what I knew (and loved) about the arts into some sort of context. It is the easiest thing in the world to be so insistent on searching for/chasing the next big thing that you don’t stop to enjoy stuff as it happens.
    Being slightly obsessive (OK it’s all relative) means that I know I will need to know about one area of wine in depth. But your piece was an eloquent reminder that time taken for small pleasures along the way is every bit as important and enjoyable as being able to recognise subtle differences in grape growing and wine making in a particular corner of the world. And for that I thank you.

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