June 21, 2018

The Simple Pleasures found in a Wretchedly Bad cup of Coffee.

Life is full of small, yet intensely meaningful pleasures.

Waking to the sound of birds chirping on a cool spring morning, watching an orange-blue-yellow sunset after a summer storm, and even the first sips of a hot cup of coffee early in the morning are among several of my favorites.

Each offers me a chance to connect with things of intrinsic value, yet costs me very little.

And if I pause long enough to enjoy them, I find they often give me a chance to learn something about myself. Sometimes, those lessons are unexpected, as was the case this morning.

As I write, I’m sipping a cup of coffee and waiting for my knees, back, and hips to shake off their aches and remember they have a job to do today. Time and injury have made them disagreeable from time to time and my morning ritual of coffee and quiet is useful and gentle medicine.

But not quite as much this morning because the coffee I’m sipping is strangely dissatisfying.

No. That’s not right. It’s wretched.

While Buddy the Elf apparently found the world’s best cup of coffee somewhere on the streets of New York, my own quest to find it has been less successful—especially this morning. Yesterday, I bought a different brand and this morning I brewed the first pot. Though my spiritual quest to match Buddy’s achievement has fallen short, in this morning’s dissatisfaction and my initial irritation, I learned something about myself. I learned that I’m still capable of petulance over some seemingly small things.

As the first sips of my steaming fresh cup passed over my tongue, I encountered a bouquet of watery bitterness. My anticipation of that first taste of a robust, full-bodied dark nectar, that energizing elixir of hope, quickly faded and resolved into a kind of juvenile despair. Swallowing, I spoke a single word, summing up my irritation. Blehhhh.

I’ll admit, I’m not always successful at paying attention to my responses to life in the moment. Yet this morning, perhaps because of some cosmic anomaly, I recognized my disappointment arose from my expectations, from my clinging to an ordinary, quite simple and probably harmless ritual; a ritual to which I’ve become attached.

Now, in the scheme of what matters most in life, I don’t think this was my worst failing. But in my journey to live a simpler life, to be content with my experience whatever it might be, my reaction was quite telling. Clearly, if I cannot accept the disappointment and inconvenience of a bad cup of coffee, I’m no spiritual giant.

So what am I, or what are you, to learn from this vignette of my morning?

First, there’s enormous benefit to be found in our rituals. If we let them, these simple practices can replenish us, comfort us, and, if we are paying attention, teach us.

Second, disappointment comes in often surprising and different forms. But our capacity for responding well to the largest of those unsatisfactory experiences, I think, can be diminished by how we respond to the smaller ones. So let the small ones go quickly that you might have the resources to better respond to the larger ones.

Finally, recognize growth. I’ll admit to being a bit of a coffee snob. But I’m working on it. Ten years ago, I would have been far more irritated and poured my cup of coffee down the drain. I might have even tossed the entire package. This morning, I finished it. Then had a second cup. (You see, I am growing.)

As I reflect on these words and this morning’s experience, I recognize the aches in my joints are fading. The fog of sleep has drifted from the shores of my mind, and I can see the opportunities in the now clear light of day.

Now, it’s time to head to the office where the coffee is better than here at home. When I arrive, I will wonder once again where Buddy found the world’s best cup of coffee.

Though I think it’s the one I’m finishing right now. The one that’s taught me so much.


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