I Heart Coffee And… Zen Pastry Chefs?
I have a crush… on coffee. I don’t actually drink coffee but am absolutely smitten with the ritual of it. Perhaps it’s the heat that attracts me. I love the way hot coffee makes people pause.
Coffee drinkers may succumb to its addictive nature (ahh, the caffeine) but with that physiological pull comes with the grand gift of of daily pause. The measuring of scoops, pouring of water, waiting, and the smell. Oh, how I do love the smell of coffee.
Every day people wake up early to brew and wait, sit and sip, read the paper and ponder, while the sun comes up in the distance. I suppose that was the coffee fantasy of my childhood. Today’s is more about coffee shops, groovy baristas, music, familiar strangers, baked goods, and inspiring quotes printed on “environmentally friendly” cups.
It all feels very romantic to me. I crave it–the romantic pause of the coffee culture–but there’s a problem.
I don’t like coffee.
I can’t stand the way it tastes, never have been able to. I used to complain about my broken coffee dream, about how I couldn’t get past the coffee part of the experience to enjoy the ritual and pause. Years ago, a friend excitedly reassured me that she didn’t use to like coffee either but she’d converted herself. Beginning with a little splash of coffee in a mug of sugary milk (or milky sugar), she’d increased the coffee end of the ratio over time until she was able to drink it. Now, she can drink any kind of coffee she can get her hands on–fresh or old, hot or cold, fancied up or black. Finally, she is a coffee drinker! Despite years of obsession, I immediately understood that she was describing several years spent cultivating a relationship with an addictive substance. She’d invested a considerable amount time and money, plus the brain power and energy, working her way into a chemical dependence. She worked over time to get herself an addiction!
I couldn’t help but wonder what this woman might have accomplished working to achieve world peace or cure cancer.
That conversation, as you might imagine, was a bit of a wake-up call for me because I was already dancing along, rather successfully, in my addictive relationship with food… sugar specifically. (Once, I almost killed a man for eating the last bowl of Fruity Pebbles.) My like-vodka-to-the-alcoholic relationship with food was a rather serious situation and luckily, even I could see that working my way into another toxic relationship wasn’t… shall we say, the direction I wanted to travel. I thanked the friend in question and released my coffee fantasy.
Still, years later, I occasionally find myself longing for the romance of it, the ritual of coffee drinking. I notice it specifically when my life gets a little high-drama. My sugar cravings spike, as does self-talk about eating “bad” or “good” foods. Then, or perhaps finally, the old coffee fantasy comes out of retirement. And much like the idea that I might like a job shucking pomegranate seeds, it catches my attention. Something is… out of whack (note the highly-technical coaching term). It’s a red flag, a warning shot, a persistent banging at the front door of my consciousness, “Hello? Hello? Is anyone home? Christy, wake up… you’re missing out.”
If you’ve read anything I’ve written, you know these sorts of interactions with myself aren’t rare. Like everyone else, I’m trying to get better at being me, which means waking up when I’ve fallen asleep. It means learning from my mistakes and moving back into my integrity when I realize I’ve slipped out of it. Often, these wake-up calls come with a message directing me back to the truth. Recently, it was this documentary that pointed me home:
“How to Cook Your Life” – German filmmaker Doris Dörrie documents a summer in the life of renowned Zen practitioner and cook Edward Espe Brown as he teaches culinary classes in Zen centers in Austria and California, revealing the role food plays in our bodies and spirits. Informative, provocative and funny, Brown serves up a unique combination of inspiring wisdom and kitchen skills that will raise even the most demanding foodie to new spiritual and gastronomic heights. – Netflix.com
Each time I encounter a Buddhist teaching, even just a random quote, it is the invitation to simply “be” in this moment in my life that touches me deeply, that echos for weeks or even months after meeting. As with the pomegranate story mentioned before, this movie reminded me to be present in the act of food preparation.
Brown actually said, “When you wash the rice, wash the rice.” I laughed out loud. Seriously, it was the echo-through-the-house-thank-goodness-I’m-alone kind of loud laughter. My laughter was not so much a reaction to his message but rather the simplicity of it. I laughed at how often I get the same message, and how easily I seem to forget it.
Simplicity. Be. I get it. Again.
About halfway through “How to Cook Your Life,” I realized that my obsession with coffee is actually just a near desperation… for pause. Watching him prepare food is like watching someone meditate – attentive, centered, peaceful, intentional. I want that, to be meditative in the way I live my life, not just when I manage to force myself to pause to meditate. I didn’t want the coffee, just the ritual.
Instead of cultivating another addiction, what I really want to do is give the time and energy necessary to preparing the foods that I desire, foods that will truly nourish my body in a way that nourishes my life. I want to attend to the procurement, preparation, and presentation of my food. “How to Cook Your Life” is about respect for the food and respect for myself and the other people I feed.
It’s all quite sacred, I now remember, which is all I’ve ever wanted anyway.
Image Credit: by Tiberiu Ana via Flickr