If Coffee Commercials Were Honest
January 17, 2017

Is Coffee Killing Your Mindfulness?

Imagine having two life coaches. One tells you to slow down and clear your mind. The other tells you to seize the day! Which do you listen to?

If you’re like me then you know these two life influencers — meditation and caffeine.

You’ve sought clarity and poise from meditation while also asking caffeine to grant you yet another productive day. As inharmonious as these two brain ingredients are, both are ranking as America’s favorite things right now.

Both have always been around but in the past five years mindfulness meditation has hit the jackpot, and caffeine is close to fully domesticating human beings.

For five years I tried to make this odd marriage work. And they co-existed until it became clear that one was holding the other back. As one of my past managers told me, “ice cream can make horse shit taste better, but the horse shit ruins the ice cream.”

Caffeine sure tastes better than horse shit but I’m going to illustrate why it might still be ruining your ice cream.

Note: I use coffee and caffeine interchangeably throughout this article. Most people consume caffeine via coffee. Some via pills, soda, or pre-workout formulas. I consumed them all.

Your Mind on Caffeine Consumption

Caffeine is a Machiavellian life coach. His only promise is to keep you moving.

He whispers in your ear that tigers are chasing you. He pours adrenaline into your nervous system so that you spend your day fighting and running. When you’ve run out of energy he loans you some — of the counterfeit variety — that you’ll worry about paying back at a later date. He dresses up your mundane moments with urgency. And when you sit still, he reminds you of the tigers.

Caffeine promises you that whatever bad comes from his coaching is well worth it. He shuts you up with a dose of dopamine and offers you a Faustian opportunity to bypass that brick wall you just hit. If you re-pledge your allegiance he even throws in complimentary inspiration.

He preaches the following principles: react, breath faster, move faster, think faster, compete, strive, and err on the side of more caffeine. His belief becomes your belief — the ends justify the means no matter how tense your jaw becomes.

Your Mind on Mindfulness Training

Mindfulness Meditation is a Motherly life coach. Her promise is to help you experience more of the present moment.
She encourages you to pet the tigers — never to run or fight. Because then you can play amongst them and embark on your own direction, at your own pace. She advises against spending more energy than you have. Instead, she helps you recruit a finer energy from a deeper source inside you.

Productivity with her trickles in. But you soon realize that she has no tricks or gimmicks. She’s never bribed you with momentary happiness, she refuses to provide you a predatory loan of energy, and most noticeably, she never gives you a hangover.

She preaches the following principles: breath naturally, slow the game down, see more, experience more, know yourself, and proceed fully. Mindfulness has no stake in what your beliefs are. And still your beliefs undergo a wholesome transformation anyway.

Tigers, Lions, and Caffeine

So what happens when you mix these two opposing influences into your life on a daily basis?

Well, I was ten years into my caffeine addiction before I began practicing Vipassana meditation. So caffeine had seniority. But the early strides I made with meditation shocked me. I was expecting a superpower. A sort of direct access into tranquility and focus.

Instead, it brought me behind the curtain of a show I didn’t even know had a backstage — a show I had been calling “reality.”
What it showed me was that caffeine was largely responsible for the fast tempo and anxious tone of my internal life. There, “backstage,” I saw that caffeine was the coffee-drunk show director fixed on placing all his actors in a mission for their lives.

It made for a compelling drama that kept me awake but it made me less happy.

Still I wasn’t ready to stop caffeine. It was a part of my life and I enjoyed it. Or so I told myself, forgetting that there were parts of my daily coffee habit that I despised.

So I tried finding a sweet spot. Somewhere between stimulated and mindful. I carefully monitored my caffeine intake and kept up my meditation habit. But caffeine had a habit of dragging me back in like quick sand. Flirting with my caffeine dependence only brought it two steps closer.

It became clear that I would have to decaffeinate completely.

I spent five bumpy years trying to quit caffeine before I succeeded. With each successive attemp, my suspicion turned into certainty — caffeine and mindfulness simply do very different jobs.

  • Caffeine makes movies out of life. Mindfulness reminds you precisely that.
  • Caffeine brings tigers, lions, and bears into your movie. Mindfulness turns them into pets.
  • Caffeine calls upon baser instincts. Mindfulness helps transcend instinct and conditioning.
  • Caffeine heats up your nervous system. Mindfulness cools it down.
  • Caffeine can cause panic attacks. Mindfulness remedies them.

A Quest For Harmony

Something tells me that America’s Gross Domestic Product would plummet if caffeine suddenly disappeared. We would find out what the worker bee is really made of when stripped of its main performance enhancing drug. Unless, of course, the profit and employee motivation lost with its disappearance were replaced by a thriving new market of caffeine withdrawal clinics.

But lets pretend that that Armageddon will never happen.

Can mindfulness, productivity, motivation, and high energy coexist without relying on a cup of synthetic fear?
I believe so. There are even plenty of people who aren’t very affected by caffeine. It doesn’t hit their nervous system they way it hits others, the way it hit mine.

Yet for others, it requires some reprogramming and retraining. It might even require universities to offer classes in “How To Live A High Energy Life Without Selling Your Life To Caffeine.”

But lets pretend that will eat into universities’ cafe profits too much.

Ultimately, it becomes clear that inner harmony is a solo job. Inner harmony means that everything is playing well together. There’s equilibrium there. And if harmony between your mindful and energetic self is something you’re serious about, here’s what might be required:

  • That you learn how to control the valve of your innermost creative energy
  • That you have patience with your body and mind when you don’t feel like “crushing it” right now
  • That you ritualize motivation and higher energy
  • That you shorten the distance between our mindful selves and our energetic selves
  • That you have a plan

While I’m tough on caffeine, nothing is inherently wrong with consuming it. I did for 14+ years and loved it. However, it became clear that it was less compatible with the inner life that I wanted for myself.

I do believe it can have a mindful place in one’s life. But for many it’s a trip wire that speeds them into urgency, nags their patience to step aside, and persuades their contentedness that contentedness is for wimps.

Above all, I hope this article inspires you towards balance.