by Edward Brown
Why Wait to Meditate? Coffee to the Rescue!
For years at the meditation center, I rushed through my morning coffee. After all, if I did not drink it fast enough, I would be late for meditation, and that was important — to get to meditation on time. Otherwise, I had to endure the social stigma of “being late,” as well as the boredom and frustration of having to wait to meditate — until latecomers were admitted to the hall.
When I moved out of the center, I had to learn how to live in the world. I had been an institutionalized person for nearly twenty years. I had been committed. Now I was out and about. What did it mean? There were no rules, so first off, I stopped getting up at 3:30 or 4:15 AM. Once I was up, I found that a hot shower, which had not really fit with my previous routine, was quite invigorating. More sleep also helped.
Then I was ready for coffee: hot, freshly-brewed, exquisitely delicious coffee. Not coffee in a cold cup from an urn or coffee made with sort-of hot water out of a thermos, and not coffee with cold milk, 2% milk or nonfat milk, but coffee with heated half-and-half. Here was my opportunity to fulfill the frustrated longings of countless mornings. I would have not just any old coffee, but Peet’s Garuda Blend, a mixture of Indonesian coffees, brewed with recently boiled water and put in a pre-heated cup. So that the coffee would not be cooled down with the addition of butterfat, I would also heat the half-and-half before adding it, and cover the cup with a lid. With this heady, heavenly beverage in hand, what need was there to meditate? Sipping this aromatic beverage, I would fondly recall how we sometimes gathered in Issan’s room — we had to get up extra early — and “luxuriate” with coffee and cigarettes before morning meditation.
Of course, I had quit smoking cigarettes many years earlier; still coffee by itself certainly hit the spot. Unfortunately, by the time I finished the coffee, I had been sitting around so long that it was time to get started on the day, and I hadn’t done any meditation. The solution was obvious: bring the ceremoniously-prepared coffee in my pre-heated cup with a lid to the meditation cushion. This never would have been allowed at the center or in any formal meditation hall I have ever visited, but in my own home it was a no-brainer. Bring the coffee to the cushion — or was it bring the cushion to the coffee?
I light the candle and offer incense: “Homage to the Perfection of Wisdom,” I say, “The Lovely, the Holy. May all beings be happy, healthy, and free from suffering. May I live the life of today for the benefit of all beings.”
I sit down on the cushion in front of my home altar and place the coffee just past my right knee. If I bring the cushion and coffee back to bed, experience has taught me that I have to be especially mindful where I locate the hot, full cup. I cross my legs, cover them with blankets, and then put the cup right in the middle, in front of my ankles. I sit without moving, so that I don’t accidentally spill the coffee.
I straighten my posture, sip some coffee. I feel my weight settling onto the cushion, lengthen the back of my neck, sip some coffee. Taste, enjoy, soften, release. I bring my awareness to my breath moving in, flowing out. If I lose track of my breath, I am reminded to take a sip of coffee: robust, hearty, grounding. Come back to the coffee. Come back to the breath. A distraction? A thought? A judgment? Sip of coffee.
The coffee stays hot eighteen to twenty-two minutes, and I finish what’s left. Then, properly suffused with caffeine, I continue meditating another five to eight minutes.
Ready to get up and go.