Sunday, February 11, 2007

The art of coffee drinking




The art of coffee drinking is, along with tea drinking, one of the crowns of "the art of living." It can be practiced everyday, under different conditions.

I've gone to coffee houses for being alone -- especially to get away from the people at home, so I can write, think, speculate, ruminate, or do business. Then again, I go to coffee houses to be with people in a light way.

One of my very best friends told me that we need only plan having a cup of coffee each day! The rest takes care of itself. For us, this became a spiritual practice much like the Japanese tea ceremony. Of course, many things may happen in one day. But the art of coffee drinking is in the ease, the gentleness of the act. The simplicity of the situation. Life is good when kept down, for a moment, to a single point.

Sometimes, we would go to a place, like The Coffee Mill in Oakland, and talk about books whether, Martin Hiedegger's Being and Time or A Course in Miracles, and take periodic "mind breaks" that we called "twelve seconds." These mind breaks consisted in looking at a spot on the wall or remembering just one word for twelve or more seconds, until the mind experienced a moment of pure stillness.

That is the essence of the art of coffee drinking: to bring the mind to an active stillness. To be relaxed, yet wide awake. We naturally get this state when we drink good coffee in a good coffee house or in our favorite spot at home. Most of my best writing happens in coffee houses such as The Coffee Mill in Oakland or The Cafe Mediterranean on Berkeley's Telegraph Avenue. For me, going to the same places over and over again has a way of stimulating the writing process. But I write just a little bit each time. I don't write continuously, for that would turn the coffee house into an office, a place of work.

The power of simplicity can be seen in almost all aspects of life. The judo master flips the opponent with a thought. Remember when Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev shook hands in front of a fireplace -- and the world felt like it was moving closer to peace between the superpowers.

Going to a coffee house and drinking that cup has become like a church mass for some of us. It is part of the ultimate order of life itself. A sign that things are working well enough for at least a few moments.

When the mind is alert and at ease, miracles begin to happen. Clear conversation between people becomes possible. If you go to the same coffee house regularly and often, you begin to know an extended community of fellow lovers of life. The alienation of modern human existence is reduced.

A cup of gourmet coffee is a joy to the palate, just like fine wine. The flavor is rich, but not bitter. The acidity is low and not a disturbance to the stomach. Coffee should be taken in moderation -- it is a drug not a food. Treat it with respect. Two strong cups a day can be more than enough. Better yet, only one cup. We should get high on life itself -- not caffeine, alcohol, or whatever.

We get the most from coffee when we practice the high art of coffee drinking. Drink it slowly. Don't gulp it down. Do not ruin the experience with "to go" coffee. Sit down. Look out upon the passing world and the people all around. Know that there is time.

My cup is now empty. My writing pad is filled with these notes. Time to go to the word processor.

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