Coffee or Tea? Are my thoughts real?

“For things to reveal themselves to us, we need to be ready to abandon our views about them.”

Thich Nhat Hanh

Coffee makes me pee. Frequently. (TMI? Maybe. But hey, this is about being real, right?) I was worried about this when I committed to a 5-day Meditation Teacher Training at Kripalu in April. How was I supposed to sit through extended meditation sessions after coffee? Could I temporarily give it up? It was just five days, right?

I worried about this quite a bit in the weeks leading up to the training. Would it be more unpleasant to give up the coffee that I loved – adored, even… or to sit through long meditations uncomfortably, probably not getting the most out of the experience, or worse yet, be forced to get up and exit the room, disrupting everyone else. I wondered what the other students were worrying about in the weeks before. Probably not this. They were probably worrying about aching backs, or whether they’d be the only student who wasn’t a yoga teacher. I don’t know.

Then I thought, “Hey, this is a yoga training center. Maybe they don’t even have caffeine. Maybe I don’t even have to make a decision.” I checked, and it turned out that for a long time they hadn’t offered coffee, but had made a relatively recent decision to start serving it. Foiled. I’d have to make a decision.

I decided (uneasily) to give up the coffee. I’d just have one cup of tea in the morning to stave off any potential caffeine withdrawal headaches. I could do this. Sure I could.

The first night there, in my top bunk in the dorms, I hardly slept. If ever there was a morning I needed coffee, it was that first morning at Kripalu. But I stuck to my decision, had my cup of tea, and spent the morning trying desperately to keep my eyes open through meditation. Day two was a little better, and day three was fine. By day four I wondered if I might not prefer tea. What? I was a self-proclaimed coffee addict since college. Had I really just assumed that? Created a sort of self-fulfilling coffee prophecy? Had I just lived up to social expectations, mindlessly following?

It seems I’d done exactly that, and days of extended mindfulness meditation sessions coupled with my decision of biological convenience to forgo coffee led me to realize that for years I’d assumed an aspect of my identity that wasn’t true. By breaking out of it for even a short period of time, the falseness of it became clear. I thought I loved coffee. I thought it would be difficult to go without, and that I might even succumb to temptation within that week. But we are not our thoughts. Our thoughts are just thoughts, and they’re often false. I wondered what else about myself might be false. My taste in music? My clothes? Maybe I don’t love cheese… no, that’s real. I definitely love cheese. My last cup of coffee was the morning I drove to Kripalu. I haven’t wanted any since. Now I drink tea in the morning, and enjoy it more.

Whether we drink coffee or tea or something else entirely in the morning is, in a vacuum, pretty inconsequential. But whether we’re living our lives automatically or intentionally and authentically makes all the difference. This experience made it clear to me how easily the mind can be tricked into believing a thought is true, and that morning cup of tea now acts as a reminder to question my thinking often.

Have you ever had an experience in which you realized something you believed about yourself wasn’t really true? What prompted you to question it?

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