Drink It In

If I expect a good cup of coffee in the morning, I go to bed excited for it. Everything about coffee appeals to me. The aroma of coffee is one of the most compelling I can think of, and the flavour of a really good cup lives up to that aroma. So for years it has boggle my mind that most people tend to drink coffee like this:

Tall French Roast

Congratulations, you have successfully robbed yourself of half the pleasure of coffee. It isn’t a fluke that when we raise a glass for a drink, our noses are in that glass. That’s just good evolution. If all you want is the caffeine, you can get that in a pill. Likewise, drinking beer out of a bottle is only a good idea if you don’t want to fully taste it.

Our senses are not as cleanly delineated as our language implies. The sense of taste is an overall impression made up of multiple brain processes. The taste from the taste buds is part of that impression, but the olfactory receptors play a vital role as well. Similarly, when we listen to music, the bass drum thumping in our chest and the vibrations through the bottoms of our feet contribute strongly to the experience.

This is why you cannot beat live music. To be inside a physical environment tailored for live music, to hear the music loudly, to feel the music and to see it performed in front of you – this is to experience music fully. The more nerve centers we can engage, the more sense data our brains have to build up our experience.

So-called holy sites can really evoke sacred feelings in people because these places are full of sights, smells, sounds, textures, and all the other sensory paraphernalia correlated to holiness. In places like these, brains simply have more to work with, more “food for thought” that can be used to build up a holy experience.

Of course it also helps to pay attention. Our senses and brains have evolved to extract meaningful data from a noisy environment. You can be inside that concert hall–band wailing away, laser light show twirling all around you–and remain totally oblivious because you are watching a YouTube video on your phone. And with all that noise in your environment, how deeply can you expect to be engaged by that YouTube video?

Mindfulness exercises teach us to connect with experience, to tone down distraction and stay present with the task at hand. Whatever we turn our attention to has the potential to completely fulfill our experience. A fully engaged experience doesn’t want for anything; the more fully we are engaged, the further we must be from worry, depression, and pain.

You can make an exercise in mindfulness out of your morning cup of coffee. It might change your life. Turn all your senses to your task, and drink it in – with the lid off.

Whole Foods Coffee

P.S. These days I roast my coffee from green beans on my stove, then grind the beans into a French press with filtered water I’ve heated to just shy of boiling. It makes for a great cup, but it takes time. Obviously this can only be worth my while if I know I’ll have the time to relax and enjoy the drink fully. You may wonder how much time I spend on coffee. The answer is…don’t worry about it.

Walking With Fire

Early in university I had a pretty nasty bout of insomnia. After a few weeks I really started to notice the bizarre mood swings that result from no sleep. In the course of one hour I could laugh hysterically at the most unfunny things, then almost weep because my coffee was cold. At night I couldn’t shut off my thoughts, and I couldn’t ignore them enough to fall asleep. My brain jumped from topic to topic without any focus, like flicking through channels on the television. By morning, after five or six hours of this without any break, I’d get up and go to school. It wasn’t long before my life felt like a hallucination. It wasn’t as awesome as it sounds.

I had a good friend who wasn’t sleeping either, and we both compounded the issue by overdrinking coffee. We decided to watch all of Twin Peaks consecutively. This includes a 1.5-hour pilot episode, twenty-nine episodes and the feature film that is the crown jewel of the experience, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. It took us about thirty-five hours. Even though sleep wasn’t a real option for either of us, the quality of consciousness during and after a marathon like that is particularly strange. We must have drank three pots of coffee, eaten two pies (one cherry, one apple), and snacked on junk food between pies, so by the time we were finished our brain chemistry was in shambles.

We finished around three or four in the morning and I walked the short distance home to clear my head. But I had been about a week without a night of sleep and had just been on the multidimensional roller coaster ride of Twin Peaks, plus I was full of caffeine and sugar, so my head was anything but clear. The walk home was like wading through neon porridge.

I noticed a bright, warm glow coming from down my street. Closer inspection revealed that the front porch of my house was blazing with fire, flames about five feet tall. I ran up the porch, reached over the fire to ring the doorbell hoping to wake someone up. I tried to stamp out the flames before they caught the awning on fire.

It was a big, blocky, wooden planter in the shape of a swan that burned. The thing used to hold plants. The thing was put together with nails.

My foot came right down on a nail that drove through the sole of my shoe into the ball of my foot. When I lifted my foot there was a smoldering piece of wood attached to it. I backed down the porch on one foot, hands on the railings, as my mom opened the front door and realized what was going on. She got water while I pulled off my shoe, prying the nail out of my foot at a painful angle.

A pitcher of water put out the blackened swan. The fire was under control.

Inside I pulled off my sock and was surprised to find no blood. The nail had been hot enough to cauterize the opening so my foot was swelling up with blood. With an old pair of fingernail scissors I punctured the skin and blood shot out with such a force that it painted a thin red line on the far wall, like a big squirt from a ketchup bottle. I laughed my ass off.

An hour later I was in a deep sleep.

“Is this real Ben? Or is it some strange and twisted dream?” - Jerry Horne