Morning coffee has gradually become a slow savouring ritual for me. I am aware of my coffee urge as soon as I exit dreamworld – as soon as daily consciousness kicks in – it’s the only thing that will coax me out of my cosy brushed cotton cosy-bed-nest – it’s coffee time! I didn’t used to be so keen on coffee but now it’s a joy and I admit to being ever so slightly addicted; (since I gave up sugar) but that’s a Mindfulness blog for another day– me and my addictions…
I am so aware of the feeling of wanting, of looking forward to – of this moment not being complete – without my coffee (and that’s just one of many examples that I’ve spotted in my life)– it’s dukkha in action, (one aspect of dukkha in Buddhism is a feeling like unsatisfactoriness, like something lacking in this moment – somehow every other moment in the past or future holds some kind of perfection that is never quite right here, right now – and we are slaves to that thought – it’s not even a thought.. for me it’s a kind of elusive and continual feeling of poverty-in-the-moment, or perennial lack – but so subtle and difficult to catch – now is just not good enough!). Once spotted it’s a revelation. We once did a practice at Samye Ling in at one of our Mindfulness Courses called Recognising Preference where we are guided to notice the subliminal preferences and expectations we have versus the reality of this moment – we are asked to notice the gap – the joke of course that went with that was ‘mind the gap’. It’s elusive, I didn’t get it, it took some years…to ‘mind’ that gap, I really rmember being frustrated during the first attempt at that exercise and completely not getting it! Perseverence and daily practice makes such a difference, and sometimes using different practices have helped me to get through a resistance – for me – noticing resistance means I am getting near something juicy! Once dukkha (in the sense of unsatisfactoriness) has been spotted, I can fill it with presence, with acceptance, with an attitude of yes to this moment.
So this morning I sense the neediness and stay with it – I become aware of my grasping mind getting my body to cooperate and make itself a coffee! I’m not sure what drives this unconscious urge, and I ponder: is it my mind that craves it? or my body in some physiological way? – but anyway I observe– approaching the coffee pot, lids off, scooping the ground coffee into the pot, sensing the aroma, filling with the boiled (and cooled a bit) water, watching the grounds and bubbles float, then on goes the lid, pausing for the brew, approaching the table, choosing the cup of the day (awareness of preference – today my preference is a tiny hand thrown earthenware mug I bought from a charity shop which I decided had rustic charm) the sound as the cup touches the table, manoevre my body into a position on a chair and then… the final plunge, and the pleasure in that. (My grandson Rubin when he’s here loves to do this for me) (I miss him during this lockdown, every plunge reminds me of him).
This can all be carried out mindfully. Preparatory ritual over, the first cup poured and I focus on my breath as I relax into an alert presence of mind as I sit with my coffee, sit with the joy of coffee, and now the garden comes into my awareness as the glass doors look out over the new garden, feeding birds and back drop of woodland bank become part of the performance and I rest in the midst of it all (an insight meditation) accompanied by the aroma of that most treasured brew. The coffee in the mug warms my hands, the aromatic liquid swirling brown. Cup to lips, sensations of rough glaze, coffee-creamy taste and warmth, and my body coordinating this miracle called drinking; while the birds are doing their thing all around the garden…
Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh says:
Savour your coffee, slowly and reverently,
as if it is the axis on which the earth revolves.
Follow your breathing, relax the body,
look out the window,
listen to your heartbeat (this is nothing less than meditation).
Enjoy every step of breakfast-making.
Life is made of small moments.
There is nowhere to hurry to, nothing to get done.
This is it! Enjoy the presence of your loved ones,
and the wonder of having enough to eat.
Usually the ‘Builder-now-Gardener’ (the man that has put up with me for 25 years! and is trying to retire to be the ‘Gardener’) has gone off to work but more recently and especially since lockdown he has been here, and what a joy that we both enjoy this morning ritual; me with my mindfulness to try to tame my crazy-brain from anxiety overdrive and he (the original Mr Zen who has never felt the need to ‘sit on a cushion’) says wise things and we feel vulnerable as he reads out snippets of news; we sit here feeling both remote, peaceful and timeless. But still vulnerable. And a bit scared. He has asthma. There is fear around that. I kind of don’t want to let him near me for fear of killing him with a bug I may be carrying. Imagine! What time do we have left? We don’t know. In this peaceful place we have spent 12 years renovating from a ruin, the joy of fruition now overshadowed by a precarious and uncertain future – and as the character of Death has now entered stage left is looming large around the world, and around the corner…even the indomitable Boris, who is the same age as us is in intensive care as I write this, and the emotion I feel every time I see anything about the NHS nurses doctors and staff wells up in me – and I am grateful to the self-compassion practices to be able to allow those feelings to be there and just cry; and the mindfulness training which helps me to soften soothe and allow all of the fear and tension. Nothing is certain. What can we do but live for now – in this present moment? I pour another cup of coffee.
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The coffee pot image was one I drew as part of the Msc Course in Mindfulness Studies experimenting with the use of drawing as a visual support to mindfulness practice. My intention was to draw the kitchen table – which is always so interesting – each day it tells its own story of what happened the day before (I am not a tidy person!). On this morning I started on the coffee pot as initial focus of my attention and quickly my intention was overruled – I got drawn into the reflected world I could see in the pot. As I observed without judgement what I saw, the tip of my pen in contact with the paper in effect became the describer of my moment-to-moment experience, this now, this now – each moving line the record of this point of awareness manifest, expressed. I also noticed that the drawing itself became the recording of a line that only exists in my mind. I was not trying to do a ‘good drawing’ only a curious one. I was acutely present with the experience of direct perception. Drawing for me, I have discovered, is an excellent support for mindful awareness, and in fact has helped me to disengage from visual knee jerk judgements about whether something is ‘nice’ or ‘not nice’ to look at. Everything just is what it is, it’s my mind that applies that story, that judgement to inanimate objects, and jumps to conclusions on first sight of all kinds of phenomena. The coffee pot holds the coffee on my table and reflects me back at myself on its surface; and on paper its outline becomes a container for my inner reflection. Ah the coffee pot! and the aroma of freedom from old habits!
(ps. if you look closely you can see the Gardener’s hand and fork eating his breakfast)
This week’s challenge is to fully embody your morning ritual, as if in slow motion. Notice the subtle demands, desires, preferences and expectations as you prepare your breakfast or get ready for your day. What are your first thoughts as you emerge from the hypnopompic sleep state, can you wake up mindfully?
Morning Coffee free online meditations will be beginning next Tuesday morning at 10.30am – a 20 minute sit followed by 10 minutes of chat. See you there!