Friday, November 13, 2009

Coffee as Meditation – A New Concept for Thanksgiving

"What are these things?" I asked, looking at a small pile of different capsules and tablets next to my plate. I'd just come into the kitchen for breakfast with friends where I'd stayed overnight after working late at the University library, and they'd graciously suggested I stay at their home rather than make the long drive back to the city where my apartment was. "Oh, just supplements", they answered. Another friend who also was there said that with my hit-or-miss style of grabbing meals, this would be the best way of survival and they all heartily endorsed them. A blend of natural Vitamin C and a few other basics were in the mix….and to this day they're still part of my breakfast routine. Just before swallowing them down with my orange drink each morning, holding them in my hand I give a quick prayer of thanksgiving for these friends, hoping they are well.

If I've ever made coffee for you, you've heard the whir of the grinder and seen me pour powdered beans into what might look like an odd contraption. Years ago friends in New York taught me to make coffee by boiling water and pouring it over ground coffee in a Melita coffee maker – a manual filter system with a plastic cone shaped thing holding a filter with coffee into which the water is poured and then drips down into a glass carafe. Back then it was Melita coffee from the can, but other friends later introduced me to the delicious wonder of keeping whole beans in the freezer until you're ready to freshly grind them for each batch of coffee you make.

Comparable to my routine of a quick prayer of warm and grateful remembrance and good thoughts when I take my vitamins, I do a similar thing when I'm by myself in the quiet of the kitchen making coffee. See, the manual Melita system means taking time to gradually pour the hot water in stages over the ground coffee while it drips down into the carafe below. It's actually a gently meditative ritual involving all your senses. The sound of the beans being ground, the fabulous aroma of the coffee in the filter as the hot water works its magic in making something deliciously reviving of both body and spirit, and the lyrical sound of the water as it makes its way through the filter into the carafe. Additionally it requires watching to make sure you don't either under or over fill the carafe for the perfect strength of coffee you desire. While I'm making coffee I use some of this time to not only observe the morning's beauty through the kitchen window and think about my day ahead, but to also offer a quick prayer for the friends who taught me this wonderful method of making the coffee itself.

These are just two stories about how so many of the little things, as well as very large and significant ones, learned from people who've been in our lives are the things which shape who and how we are. Over time, hopefully we've weeded out the things which haven't been helpful and cherish the ones which have literally become part of us and even how we live and think. Perhaps because I'm looking at a "significant" birthday quite soon, I've been recently giving more thought to the compendium of people who've had a large role in the design of who and how I am and think, my habits and so many things I value. I'm glad I haven't waited until now to "give thanks" for them and that it's been a longtime habit to quickly include them among my daily prayerful thoughts.

And friends, while each day is a gift and each birthday is significant, I now have a better understanding of the concept invented by the late Jack Benny of "turning 39" each year. It's not that I don't want to age (the alternative is far less attractive), but I believe there is tremendous value in being "ageless". As a counselor I marveled that clients both much younger as well as those much older than I was related with me almost as peers. Not as "pals" as the whole purpose was objectivity and counseling skills. But "agelessness" to me means not clinging to some caricature of early youth or staying frozen in time. Far from it! It means embracing a larger view which is enriched by wisdom, and values continual self-evolution, learning, and deepening growth into the future.

As we move toward the holiday of Thanksgiving, why not consider this concept of incorporating a daily active attitude of *thanksgiving* and ask God to bring to your mind the people for whom you are grateful for the elements of your life you've kept as parts of who you are and how you think, values you have, and healthy habits you've learned. If this is a new idea to you, it would be a happy exercise to write down the names of those as you recall them and the things they passed on to you. Certain teachers and mentors, friends and family members who've enhanced who you are, and even those with whom you didn't have but a passing acquaintance if what they shared made a meaningful mark on your life. You'll also think of small things which make you smile yet are still habits which are part of your life. For me, for instance, the person from whom I learned to wrap the "string" of my tea bag around my spoon to gracefully squeeze the last drops into the cup without making a mess or using my fingers.

In addition to developing an attitude of thanksgiving, wouldn't it be a marvelous thing to share this concept with your family and have them list people for whom they are thankful and why. Blessings to you all who continue to shape my life!