In one version of my perfect cup of coffee, I start with a clean counter on a warm, bright morning. Sun's rays filter through the kitchen window, and I'm the only one awake. I open the bag of freshly roasted coffee, inhale deeply, and quietly denature the beans in my conical burr grinder. Filtered water heats on the stove to an ideal temperature, and the initial bloom eventually forms in the base of my French press. After the allotted time, I scoop the floating grinds to remove bitterness, and press, one cup at a time...
My eyes are closed and I savor the moment.
It's not a drink, it's a ritual.
Coffee-making was once a rushed event in my life. It was once something that my local drive-thru did better than me. By taking time to appreciate, invest in the correct tools, and honor the process, I stumbled on a very important life lesson. To understand the lesson is to first understand the process.
According to Scientific American, rituals calm us because they are methods of providing comfort in situations that may otherwise cause stress or unwanted anxieties.(1) Such "preparatory activities" incite feelings of taking back control in a situation, and decrease levels of uncertainty. Rituals can induce a sense of calm in an otherwise busy, overworked, overtaxed day.
Lately, sitting down to work in my home office can feel eerily quiet in the absence of colleague chatter. There was a time when I'd rush to get my work done, stressed by the house silence, the noise of passing cars, the dog's bark, and I'd cover it up with a decent music station on a streaming service. I'd hum along to an okay song, but then suffer through one I didn't like. That music didn't quell my stress.
But, when the music became a ritual, the anxiety decreased. I began to associate home work with something enjoyable. First, it was flipping through the records; next finding the perfect vinyl for my mood. Then, hearing the speaker turn on with its audible chime, as I gingerly remove the record from its sleeve. I'd press the turntable's "play" button and watch the record start to spin. The music sounds better, clearer on the turntable. It's like every note is one I chose to listen to, and witness directly in front of me, spinning, playing, ritualizing.
I'm sure you're seeing the lesson here, and if you ritualize anything in your life - a hot, luxurious bath at the end of the day, for example - you've experienced what I'm describing. Rituals are about enjoying the process, rather than rushing to seek the endpoint. It's as a writer that I realize the importance rituals hold in my art.
In my creative work, I seek to achieve an artist's endpoint. My art yearns to see the light of day, and I wrestle and struggle with things I should/can't/want/need to finish. So, I've taken to investing in a nicer writing space. I sit at a new desk, in a leather chair that tilts and swivels. A plug-in coffee warmer keeps my coffee temperature optimal while I jot down story notes with a freshly sharpened Blackwing pencil. It's all a little over the top - much more extravagant than what's actually needed. But, I've made cuts elsewhere to prioritize these allowances. These creature comforts allowed me to ritualize my writing. Sure, I could do it for less, and for a long time, I did. Truly, a clean, comfortable space and something to drink was all I ever really needed.
In learning to enjoy the process, I no longer feel the pressure of rushing to the endpoint. I've learned that when you allow yourself the luxury of loving the steps, the end becomes part of the process. The journey is the love. It’s in restringing the guitar as much as it is playing the instrument. It‘s singing in the shower, and listening to audiobooks in traffic. It’s adopting the concept of memento mori. One day, the next paragraph written becomes the last paragraph of that book. And then it’s beginning the next book.
The record becomes stress reliever.
The cup of coffee becomes the joy.
1. Gino F, Norton MI. Why rituals work. Scientific American. 2013. Accessed at: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/why-rituals-work/