Still Life . . . With Coffee

You know what they say about the best laid plans of mice and men.

Two weeks ago, I had a mission. To slow down. To appreciate life. And I planned to approach it in a pragmatic way, in a step-by-step fashion. First thing was to take a single routine activity and slow it down. I even named what I was about to do “The Still Life Project” and wrote a blog post about it. That made it feel official. Something to which I would commit.

I knew it would require some effort on my part, as I tend to multitask and move from one thing to the next, sometimes without even finishing the first thing (who among us has forgotten about the finished load of clothes in the washing machine and two days later had to rewash to get rid of the mildewy smell? Don’t answer if this has never happened to you! It’ll depress me.)

That’s why I took on something easy. All I set out to do was sit down, every morning, with my cup of coffee and enjoy. I made it easier by saying that I only needed to take fifteen minutes of time to sit with the coffee and enjoy each morning. How hard could that be?

Well, I’ll tell you how hard. Very. Very, very, very, very.

Pouring the coffee into my body wasn’t the trying part, even though I bought a bag of pre-ground Peets coffee (I usually buy whole beans of the same variety) and the flavor was more bitter than usual. But bitter didn’t get in my way. It actually helped me to confirm my suspicion that I am not somebody who drinks my morning joe because of the taste. As I downed large cups of the bitter brew daily, I shed light on the real reasons why I drink my morning coffee: (1) to stay (or get) warm and (2)for the caffeine energy boost. Plain and simple

The hard part was sitting down while I drank the coffee. Sitting down without checking my email or Facebook or Twitter accounts. Without playing Words With Friends or Solitaire on my IPad. Without worrying about not meeting my writing goals for the day. Without worrying about not making it to the grocery store to buy food for dinner or milk for the next day’s cerealโ€”or coffee.

For the first three days, I stuck to the plan. Drink coffee while sitting down for fifteen minutes and taking in the sensory experience. The smell of the rising steam (yum). The taste of the brew (yuk). The warmth of the cup in my hands and the liquid sliding down my throat. The sounds inside and outside of my home. The colors and shapes and juxtapositions of objects that made up the space around me. In typical newbie fashion, my mind kept wandering away from the sensory stuff, but in good faith, I gently brought my mind back to the the simple things, the of-the-moment things.

Unfortunately, my discipline didn’t last. Daily, I set out with the best of intentions. I made the coffee, sat down, began my meditation. But I didn’t want to forget to respond to the email about carpool. Or I had a plot idea that I was afraid I would lose if I didn’t write it down right then. Or the phone rang and I found it impossible to not look at the caller ID, even if I wasn’t going to answer it. Which I did on that fourth day. After about four minutes of being still. Iย  hung up feeling worthless. A ringing phone can wait. As my father used to say when I’d run to get the line and the ringing would stop before I picked up: “If it’s important, they’ll call back.” Of course, back then, I was thinking that the boy I had a crush on had decided he liked me too, had gathered up the courage to call me but lost his nerve when nobody answered the phone (no cell phones or recorded messages back then.)

Every morning I tried again. But my resolve had weakened. If I convinced myself that any of those have-to-do-now items could be put off for fifteen minutes, I would absentmindedly pull up a game on my IPad or log into my email. By the time I’d realize what I had done, I’d have finished the coffee and more than fifteen minutes would have passed.

A part of me wants to give up. Call it quits. Dumb idea from the start.

But a bigger part of me refuses to call this project a failure only two weeks into it. I’m wondering if I woke up earlier and spent the fifteen minutes then, before my normal day begins, would I be better able to stick to my fifteen minute, sensory experience only rule? But I don’t like to drink my coffee before I eat. Makes my stomach feel weird. And I always need at least fifteen minutes or so after I wake before my body can handle the intake of food. So wake up thirty minutes earlier? But eating takes fifteen minutes, so wake up forty-five minutes earlier? Now we’re getting into the middle of the night, unless I change when I go to bed at night. Then maybe a five a.m. wakeup would work. But who am I kidding? I am not going to go to bed before 11 p.m. And this is getting way too complicated for my so-called pragmatic, step-by-step process.

I could use some help here. Do you ever allow yourself quiet time where you are only “doing” one thing (drinking coffee for example)? How do you let go of all the other things clamoring to get done? And please don’t tell me to just be disciplined without explaining how. It doesn’t come naturally to me. I’m an artist after all. ๐Ÿ™‚


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22 thoughts on “Still Life . . . With Coffee

  1. I recently started a new habit (or am trying to!!) and it’s helping me. I have a personally created calendar (I can send you a copy of excel if you like). I sit down with my morning drink of the day (sometimes OJ, sometimes hot chocolate) and write everything down that comes to mind. The calendar is around the outside of the sheet … and the inside of the sheet has four sections — Red Light items that MUST be done today, Green Light items that should be done today, Yellow Light items that I need to begin to work on getting done (long range writing projects, researching, vacation plans, etc) and then a note section for things I don’t want to forget. I’ve tried to do it at night so I can be more efficient first thing in the morning … but I’ve found it generally works better if I take a few minutes in the morning to make myself slow down, clear my head, and then get moving. Now — just to make myself do it and not charge ahead! LOL…

    1. I would love to see a copy of it. At different times, I have used lists to get the anxiety out of my head first thing in the morning, but I often find that my lists are long, which stresses me out. I’m intrigued by the red light, green light approach because it gives some order and balance that is often missing on the long, ongoing list. Also, allows you to be quiet for a few minutes (15?) after because you know you won’t forget your plan if you put it aside for a brief stretch of time. Thanks, Carrie!

  2. For me, this has been one of the busiest years of my life. I will share some of my secrets/coping skills with you that have brought me through.

    Most days, I start with a cup of tea (after school drop-offs) with my daily devotional, some lighted candles (in winter) or a spot on the sunny porch in the summer. Having the light and warmth adds to the ambiance. Sometimes a little music. I end my day the same way. Lying in bed, I take out the same devotional for that day (after trying to meditate on it during the day) and allow it to sink even deeper. I would have to say that for me, the most important ingredient is starting the day and ending the day with prayer.

    I then try to add what I LOVE TO DO to my week. Doing Zumba a couple times a week makes a huge difference for me. If I don’t go and do it with a group, then I do it here at home. Music/dance for me, is a comfort, joy, and a release. Movement and exercise is extremely important to good health.

    Another thing that has made a difference in the last couple of years, is practicing “active awareness”. You can practice this in the most crazy, out of control times/moments of your life (the daily busy-ness). It is entering fully into a moment even in a hassling moment, and simply being fully present with it. I like to think of it as “stopping time”. It allows me to stop, fully experience/enjoy the situation I am in. Especially when time seems to fly by. Even in a stressful moment, it allows me to evaluate my situation, slow down and make good choices. It is basically practicing deeper levels of awareness.

    In just a second, I am off to my Women’s Bible Study. Another huge help in my week. It allows me to put 2 hours aside, study scripture, chat, chat, chat, with other women, share problems, discuss the serious issues in life, and then the world seems like a good place!

    All sounds very good and peaceful doesn’t it?! When I am not doing the above, I may be crying my eyes out, yelling at my kids, or ready to wring someones neck!! BALANCE!
    We all need to slow down, enjoy the moment, our kids, our lives. Follow your heart, find what brings you joy, and go there! Spend as much time there as possible.

    1. Thanks Kim for sharing how you find stillness in your life. So many nuggets worth exploring for those of us trying to slow it down. I love that you begin and end each day with a practice that brings you back to the moment. I’m guessing you sleep well. For so many years, I have put my own passions on the back burner to help others and while I will never be somebody who doesn’t help my family or friends or community in many ways, I do appreciate the reminder here to follow my heart and spend as much time doing what brings me joy as possible. Sometimes it is helping others but there are so many other places where I’d like to spend my time.

  3. I would echo Carrie’s suggestions in finding a way to do a mental sweeping by writing down those things that are bouncing around in your head in the morning. I rarely get up early enough to do those sorts of helpful things so I’m not speaking from experience, though. ๐Ÿ™‚

    My life is in great emotional upheaval and turmoil right now and I’ve found that giving myself small breaks (5 mins or so) throughout the day to be fully in the moment works best for me. I’m often listening to a certain actor read poetry as a way to soothe my frayed nerves, but even just quietly looking out a window or leaving my office for a 5 min walk outside seems to be helping.

    1. More and more, I’m beginning to believe that to start, I need to take very short “breaks” or “slow-downs” instead of trying to do too much too fast. It’s a lesson I learn over and over (Bill Murray in Groundhog Day is my pathetic model). Music, walking, fresh air, poetry. There are so many quick breaks where five minutes of focus can help us reengage in the now. Sounds like you are trying hard to manage by reengaging in the now. I hope it helps you as you work your way through your current situation.

  4. I’m with you, Sara, in thinking this is quite a challenge. I spent years at one point in my life meditating for at least 30 mins a day and could go an hour at times. This was probably the most peaceful time of my life and I had home businesses and 3 small kids, yet I managed. Now, I can’t imagine sitting still for 15 mins. even though you are inspiring me. It is not only peaceful, but stimulating as well to clear your mind.

    1. I’ve also had times in my life when I’ve been able to meditate but right now, I find the sitting almost unbearable. I know it is primarily a psychological hurdle I have to get over but figuring out how to do that is at times overwhelming. I’m loving hearing how others do it; better to try something that’s working for another than randomly trying ideas that come to me on a whim. I’d love to have others travel along this road with me so we can share what is and isn’t working and how we deal with roadblocks. So, if you feel so inclined, please share any efforts you make toward finding stillness in your day. ๐Ÿ™‚

  5. It helps me to slow down when I focus on something that puts me in a calm mood … a peaceful place, photograph, memory … calming music or sounds of nature. I meditated for half hour twice a day for years. But I had to build up to that. I started with 5 minutes and gradually increased the time. The fact that you realize how wound up you get is a HUGE step most people never take. Keep practicing and blogging about your progress!

    1. Something I haven’t considered is how important the immediate environment can be when trying to be calm. A peaceful place, calming music, sounds of nature. It makes sense that it is easier to find stillness when surrounded by tranquility. I hope that if I keep blogging about it, other people continue to join in the conversation with me. I feel like I’ve been given so many gifts today from my readers.

  6. I recently started a meditation practice that my mom learned from a Tibetan monk. It’s wonderful.

    First, I’d suggest that you start with a much smaller time frame. 15 minutes is a lot! I started with 1 minute. I have been working my way up. I think it’s best to be gentle and patient with yourself. This is all new, and it takes time to build up your practice.

    The meditation goes like this:

    Find a quiet spot where you can sit down – supporting an upright back (good posture will help your breath and energy flow!). Take a deep breath and close your eyes. Then imagine a container. Welcome any thoughts or feelings into that container.

    After your allotted time, take a deep breath and open your eyes.

    Giving yourself permission to welcome ideas or feelings can help you feel more at ease – especially if you’re feeling restless. Your mind settles on that container and it’s amazing what happens.

    I hope you find something that feels right for you!

    1. Being gentle and patient with one’s self sounds so true and lovely but in my reality is very tough to do. But to do it for a minute would definitely be easier than fifteen. And I do think building on a positive experience incrementally is possible. I love the container meditation; it’s new to me and I think I’ll give it a try. Thanks so much for stopping by and sharing some ideas with me.

  7. I find it easier to be in the moment when I’m moving — right now that’s weekly yoga, biweekly social dance, and a 10- or 15-minute walk several times a week. All of those force me to slow down and think about what I’m doing and experiencing right now, not about all the worries and to-dos and intellectual work that slosh around in my head for the rest of my day. Plus, bonus points for exercise!

    For the discipline part, I’ve made it as easy as possible — the yoga is a prepaid class right in my office building, the dance is at a set time (not prepaid, but I love it so much that I never miss one except under extreme duress), and the walk is an optional part of my commute.

    I still have a long ways to go — I almost never eat alone without having words in front of me, for example — so I applaud your experiment and your determination to make it stick!

    1. I also find myself more able to be in the here and now when I am exercising or doing yoga or participating in some type of movement class. I think you’re onto something with the prepaid class and with the doing something you love. The hardest part for me is finding a class that fits my schedule, which is ever changing according to my kids’ schedules. I think some of that will let up when my daughter gets her license, which is coming round the bend. My determination is strong but I think the support, guidance, and sharing of others really helps me to keep it that way. Thanks for your thoughts here.

  8. The best way for me to know ‘stillness’ is to go outside and be with nature. Whether I’m sitting on the front porch looking at the mountain, watching the hummingbirds, or cloud gazing, it’s the best recipe I’ve found to quiet my mind. Spending time with my dogs is also high on the list. They’re master teachers of living in the moment.

    1. Amazing teachers. Giving yourself permission to take the time to simply be instead of doing is part of what is so difficult for me. I live less than a mile away from the ocean and whenever I go there and sit (or swim), I feel renewed and alive. Thanks for sharing.

  9. I suppose Mark Twain should intervene with “The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one”. On the other hand I cannot see the necessity for anxiety in whatever form. We all multi-task and we all forget, but as one gets older (moire) one becomes calm, relaxed. Perhaps lie on your bed for 30 minutes thinking, or simply letting your thoughts wander. I quite like reading the newspaper over coffee. Or sitting in a cafe and listening. The ipod is handy 4 random ideas.

    1. Great MArk Twain quote. Very apropos. I agree that there is no need for anxiety, but I don’t think it is a choice based on reason for some of us. In some ways I am more calm in my late 40s than I was in my 20s and 30s, but I do find my concentration isn’t the same unless I am involved in something that really engages me. Thanks for sharing how you find your stillness. ๐Ÿ™‚

  10. I have the reverse problem – I seem to have no trouble at all whiling away 15 mins – or longer! I’ve always been able to switch off, fortunately. Having said that, I totally understand where you’re coming from too. I also feel as though I’m trying to pack too much into limited time, making simple leisure time hard to justify. For instance, I can’t seem to merely watch TV anymore… I have to be doing something else at the same time.

    1. I’m not sure it is a reverse problem. I can while away the hours (like the Cowardly Lion) but have difficulty staying in the moment, unless I am very engaged in what I am doing. I think I’d enjoy my life more if I could appreciate the now, rather than barreling through it or daydreaming it away. I will always daydream and don’t want to lose that since it is such an integral part of who I am, but if for only a few minutes here or there, I could put my feet on the ground and take in what is there, right then.

So what do you think?