[This stream of consciousness response started as a joke, turned introspective and then became an Inner Game lesson, so forgive the length.]

Here’s one of my favorite pieces of Buddhist wisdom: always appear calm and detached when you refrain from doing something you actually don’t like. I can’t stand the taste of alcohol, but when I decline a drink people are always amazed by my self control.

If you were a more experienced practitioner of Buddhist principles (like me!) you would have admitted to some terrible vice thing that you currently don’t do. That way you could have kept your iced coffee vice on the side.

Seriously, my whole take on Buddhism is that it’s one way (of many) to learn how to be completely present. It’s the first step toward learning detachment, because it’s impossible to will yourself or think yourself into a place of detached awareness. It’s like trying not to think of pink elephants when someone tells you not to think of pink elephants. It’s impossible. Your mind has to be fully occupied and interested in the present. The mind doesn’t stop thinking; it has to be actively focused on something else in order to stop thinking about that thing you shouldn’t think about. (have you been able to resist so far? I won’t mention it again).

The difficulty for most people is that their jobs require them to use the logical, rules based, verbal and judgmental part of our brains. Exactly the part of your brain that tries to control the uncontrollable and plays all kinds of mind games to create the illusion that you actually have control.

I am fortunate because most of my working life has been spent doing activities (professional tennis player, coach, designer) that require the intuitive, spatial, sense based, creative and spontaneous part of the brain. Performing at an elite level in sports, music or art requires perfect focus and non-judmental observation of the present. When I work, I’m usually so focused it’s like a form of meditation. When I walk my dog in the hills, it’s part meditation and part stream of consciousness, allowing ideas to come as they may.

I strongly recommend reading one of the Inner Game books (tennis, golf, skiing, business). It might be a good way to practice being present while doing an activity that you do any way. Being mindful of mundane activities is a way to meditate.

I realize now that your coffee habit is a form of meditation. Your attention to pouring exactly enough milk to test the surface tension is a form of observation.

Using Inner Game principles, you can create a huge number of awareness exercises that help train you to be in the present for short spans of time (even a minute is a long time):

  1. Take a longer moment to experience everything about that first slurp that you can observe. What sound does it make? How long? How loud? Does the sound change from day to day? Does it change based on your mood? Over time, can you perfect the slurp so it is always the same?
  2. Pay attention to your body. How is your posture? Does your face feel tight before the slurp? Does it relax after the slurp? If it changes, can you create the same physical relaxation in your face before you take the first slurp? Do you feel the suction? Where does this force originate?
  3. Pay attention to your emotions. Is there a mood change that occurs after the slurp? Is it consistent? Could you create that same emotional mood that you feel after the slurp before the slurp? Practice visualizing the post-slurp feeling long enough and you will be able to create that feeling without the actual slurp.
  4. Can you feel the first gulp of caffeine affect your body? If not, when does it kick in? If you drink slowly enough, you may experience the caffeine in a way you never did before (it’s like after fasting, your first taste of familiar foods can be a really strange experience).
  5. Once you get to the point where you are completely in the present (not an addict just acting out a habit), add a single deep breath (do some yoga, you’ll learn a bunch of different breath techniques) before the slurp. Then you work toward taking five breaths.

As you can see, there are almost a limitless amount of awareness exercises you can practice from simply taking the first slurp. When you finally get to the point where you are fully engaged in this process, you may find that you don’t need to drink the entire pint. Maybe you drink half and drink the rest in the afternoon. Who knows? This process may lead you to the point where you could give up coffee for a week.

Just realize that the idea of letting go of attachment does not mean you stop living (remember the chop wood, carry water quote). You don’t stop drinking your favorite coffee, you just stop acting out the addiction unconsciously and uncontrollably most of the time (there will still be times you fall victim to the addiction, that’s just being human).

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