Friday, October 14, 2011

Coffee and "The Hidden Discipline Of Familiarity"

Everything is Waiting for You
Your great mistake is to act the drama
as if you were alone. As if life
were a progressive and cunning crime
with no witness to the tiny hidden
transgressions. To feel abandoned is to deny
the intimacy of your surroundings. Surely,
even you, at times, have felt the grand array;
the swelling presence, and the chorus, crowding
out your solo voice You must note
the way the soap dish enables you,
or the window latch grants you freedom.
Alertness is the hidden discipline of familiarity.
The stairs are your mentor of things
to come, the doors have always been there
to frighten you and invite you,
and the tiny speaker in the phone
is your dream-ladder to divinity.

Put down the weight of your aloneness and ease into
the conversation. The kettle is singing
even as it pours you a drink, the cooking pots
have left their arrogant aloofness and
seen the good in you at last. All the birds
and creatures of the world are unutterably
themselves. Everything is waiting for you.
  -- David Whyte, from Everything is Waiting for You
     ©2003 Many Rivers Press
This poem by David Whyte inspired me last year when I was struggling with coffee withdrawal. I love coffee, and now that I've admitted this publicly I can show you how I work with this embarrassing urge. I theoretically feel like I'd be better off without it, but like anyone with a charged relationship to a psychoactive substance, I struggle. It was actually my mother who introduced me to this sacred elixir when I was 10 years old. My mother and I would share a cup of instant coffee (yuck!) and eat cookies together after lunch when no one else was at home. That rush of energy and alertness, combined with the secret we shared that we were a little naughty drinking something that we shouldn't be, imbued it with even more appeal. 

I've always felt that it is a dietary transgression, and I wish I didn't like it so much. I've always had rules about drinking coffee, and felt that if I could stick to them, I wasn't a "coffeeholic."
  • I wouldn't drink it on work days. 
  • I wouldn't drink it past noon, or maybe 3 pm if I had to stay up late.
  • I wouldn't drink too much at once. 
  • I wouldn't drink little bits all day. 
  • I wouldn't drink it if it tasted bad.
  • I wouldn't drink it to override my natural bedtime, except if I were driving a long distance and my safety depended on it.
I'd give it up at least once a year for a few weeks or months, just to prove that I was in control. Once I worked with a homeopath and went 6 years without any, and when I was diagnosed with cancer I felt like it was time to give my system another rest from it. I had none for almost a year, and then like any addict, I began making deals with myself to convince myself it was okay.
  • I could have a little, but only in the morning, and not every day. 
  • It would have to be organic. 
  • I'd learn to love it black, to avoid the additional evils of half-and-half or soy milk. 
  • It would have to be freshly ground to preserve the valuable antioxidants.
  • I'd have to roast it myself. 
I found a source of organic green coffee beans and bought a home roaster. I figured that if I had to go to this extreme, I wouldn't drink that much, and I'd seriously enjoy how precious a cup could be. I thought I would adapt Michael Pollan's Food Rule #39 to the roasting and consumption of coffee, "Eat all the junk food you want, as long as you cook it yourself." I'm definitely not drinking as much as I want, but I am limiting myself to my own home-roasted, organic brew, which caps the amount I consume.

I drank a cup one day last year before I went off to my Santa Cruz writing group, where Carolyn Flynn read the David Whyte poem that introduced this entry. I was inspired to write the following scenario about my beloved beans to sanctify our personal relationship and pay homage to their origin. I'm filled with gratitude for their journey across the world, and for their ordeal of transformation which results in giving up their life for my alertness and euphoria. Perhaps it's just another excuse to make me feel better about my tiny transgression, but I want to believe that cultivating a conscious relationship to what I eat and drink somehow augments its potential benefits and dampens the deleterious effects.

“Alertness is the hidden discipline of familiarity,” was the only line of the poem they could hear from inside the burlap bag. Many a poem was uttered by heart, by the clerk who worked at the Berkeley coffee supplier while she filled green coffee bean orders over the internet. Most people who work here have at least a master’s degree. Many have PhDs in subjects that make them virtually unemployable, like vertebrate paleontology, seventeenth century Dutch painters, or Aramaic, but this makes for profound small talk over the coffee, which the beans deeply appreciate.

They arrived last Tuesday from Guatemala, then on to Oakland, and finally Aptos, before preparing themselves for the ritual roasting. As their small pale green bodies began to tumble and dance in the roaster, under my careful eye, they rose like the Phoenix. As they began to heat up and darken I inhaled their toasty aromatic essence wafting from the top vent of the roaster. Our joining was ecstatic.

Their small round bodies plumped and darkened, sizzled and popped telling me they were ready to rest and cool. Later they would surrender their individuality to the burr grinder who would bless each of them as their fragments blended into a dark pile of coarse grounds.

They met a sacred stream of hot water as it poured into the cool glass container of the French press pot, and dissolved into their final realization of their destiny. I poured this potion into my blue cup with the Celtic knot etched into the glaze covering its rounded sides, and felt the familiar mingling of spirits from across the world feed me this elixir of alertness. No longer a tiny hidden transgression, this state invited me through the doors of alertness and filled me with anticipation of the everything that is waiting for me.