I awoke this morning to an e-mail from one of my favorite yoga teachers. I lay in bed, blackouts still drawn, trying to ignore the bang I heard on the baby monitor. My toddler was making her typical morning raucous, dragging her pacifier along the bars of her crib, as if she were an inmate in baby jail. My teacher was writing to offer a package of yoga classes, meditation and workshops. She began her e-mail with an explanation of her daily rituals. Routine, she wrote, is what has been keeping her grounded during this time. She went on to give an example. Each morning she meditates, journals and does yoga. How lovely, I thought cynically, before a wail interrupted me, indicating my toddler had finished her portrayal and was ready to be set free.
These past six weeks as physical distancing has become the norm, my social media has been inundated with people sharing their newfound hobbies. One friend has found the joy of cooking, while another is learning a new language. At first, I was infuriated. I couldn’t handle another post about how enjoyable it was to have so much free time to finally tackle that DIY project or begin marathon training.
I want to pause for a moment to recognize that physical distancing is an immense privilege that our relative fortune affords. If you are reading this, you presumably have a phone or computer and the internet. You also most likely have stable housing and access to food. The privilege of being able to isolate and use this time to focus on self-care instead of worrying about where you are going to find rent money or a new job cannot be overstated. And to be clear, I am acutely aware of the irony to be the one reminding you of this privilege while writing this, on my MacBook, from my heated home, Spotify streaming, warm cup of coffee in hand.
Even with the recognition of and gratitude for my privilege– my health, the health of my family, stable job, food and housing—I was jealous. I was jealous of the apparent freedom people without young children social media told me were experiencing. With every post or article touting how to take advantage of this time to find myself I pictured a Pinterest tableau. I saw a stylish woman, sitting at her desk, freshly cut flowers resting in a Mason jar, scented candle ablaze. How peaceful and productive she always looked in my mind’s eye.
I don’t disagree, that structure and ritual are important roots for joy and creation. For me, every time I tried to imagine what this could look like I quickly spiraled down an angry trajectory. Where would I even start? Say I wanted to start my morning with meditation, as so many have suggested holds the key to a happy life. What space would be most appropriate? Shall I embark on my spiritual journey in the sheet fort that now occupies my living room? How about with the life size stuffed bear that my toddler insists we drag into bed every morning? See? Spiral.
Contrary to what you may have thought reading up to this point, I actually do think mindfulness is an important practice. Believe it or not, I was once a person who participated in meditation retreats and even took a mindful childbirth class (although this all feels like a lifetime ago). I have been working on getting that annoying Pinterest woman out of my head and focusing on what mindfulness means to me, now, in this moment, sheet fort and all.
For whatever reason, my mindfulness practice has taken shape in a new form: coffee. When I really started to think about something I could commit to doing every morning, to start my day from a place grounded in routine and being present, it became clear that I didn’t have the time or energy to insert a new ritual. I had to transform something I was already doing from mundane to magical. I didn’t choose my coffee making to be this exactly, but as I started to practice more noticing and paying attention, I realized I was already doing it. The practice of mindfulness is just this: being aware of the present moment and accepting every thought, without judgment, feeling the sensations that pass through.
Making coffee (or kaw-key as my daughter calls it) was already part of my daily routine. Actually, I make espresso, to be exact. I pluck a colored pod from the ceramic mug on the counter and pop it into the machine. I wait for the familiar comfort of the roar, hiss and release. With my daughter propped on my hip, I open the refrigerator and hand her the half and half. SHAKE, SHAKE, SHAKE, we say together as she waves the bottle wildly, eyes excited and bright. I breathe a sigh of relief every time I manage to negotiate the bottle away from her, just barely avoiding a meltdown of catastrophic proportion. I give the bottle one more shake for good measure and flip off the yellow cap. The smooth, creamy substance fills the frother. I stop pouring just below the dashed MAX line. I wouldn’t want to upset the kaw-key. My daughter shouts POOSH POOSH. It’s her moment. Her pudgy finger pushes the silicone button, igniting it red, sending the liquid into a tizzy. By now, the machine has stopped roaring. I take a deep breath to fill my lungs with the nutty, earthy aroma. As the steam rises out of the cup I tell myself I am at the ocean, in the early morning, the mist from the sea kissing my face.
The red light disappears and I open the container. The white foam cascades into my mug, a hand thrown piece of pottery I bought on Salt Spring Island in British Columbia, a reminder of my life and love for the Pacific Northwest. It’s beautiful. The caramel swirls with islands of foam, again sending me to the ocean. The first sip. I try not to dwell on the next thought that enters my mind, how many times will I have to reheat the cup before I am able to finish? As my mindfulness teachers tell me, I pause, allow the thought to enter, acknowledge it, and let it pass, a wave retreating back into the depths of the sea.