Why Wait to Meditate? Coffee to the Rescue- Edward Espe Brown

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 non-fat 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—you 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 the pre-heated cup with the 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 have brought the cushion and the 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 the 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.  



Getting Out Of Our Heads: An Hour with Edward Espe Brown



Edward Espe Brown began Zen practice and cooking in 1965 and was ordained as a priest by Shunryu Suzuki Roshi in 1971. His teaching style is both light-hearted and penetrating, incorporating poetry and story-telling. In addition to writing The Tassajara Bread Book, The Complete Tassajara Cookbook, and No Recipe, he is the editor of Not Always So, Zen lectures by Suzuki Roshi. The Most Important Point, a collection of Edward’s lectures, was published last year. He is the subject of the critically acclaimed movie How to Cook Your Life and also leads workshops on Liberation Through Handwriting and Mindfulness Touch.

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