The Meditative Life

One of the most significant things I’ve done for myself — and, consequentially, for others — has been to start a meditation practice. A primary purpose of meditation is to cultivate mindfulness, which we can define as the intentional awareness of the present. Cultivating mindfulness allows one to see thoughts and emotions more clearly and experience the sensation of being alive moment to moment more fully. While I could espouse the tremendous benefits of a meditative practice, I think that ground is well-trodden.

Roughly one and a half years has passed since I began a practice and I believe that it has substantially changed my day-to-day experience of life. That must feel like a drastic overstatement. However, the simple act of sitting down for half an hour every morning has cultivated a disposition towards the meditative life that has spilled over from meditation itself into coffee, writing, and shaving.

Anyone who knows me at all knows that I love coffee. I can chat endlessly about varying brew methods, different taste profiles, and the intricacies of regional varieties of beans. I simply can’t get enough of the stuff. The process of bean to cup is, to me, a beautiful blend of art and science, not to mention the wonders of the complex tastes of a good cup and the subsequent rush of caffeine.

Despite all this, one of my favorite aspects of coffee is the ritual of making a cup. For a few years now, I’ve brewed my daily cup(s) with a tremendously versatile contraption called the Aeropress. It can make a cup that is espresso-esque, french press-like, or even on par with the profile of a pour over. Each method requires a slightly different song and dance, but they all have something in common: they put me in a meditative and mindful state.

I am there as the water boils to a crescendo. I am there as the beans whine under the pressure of the grinder. I am there as the earthy smell of the grounds rushes to my nose. I am there as the water clashes with the grounds, creating yet another pulse of olfactory sensation. I am there as the first sip tells a story of origin and of travel. Until the last sip, I am there, in the present.

The point here is that meditation need not stop when I open my eyes at the end of a sitting. In fact, it cannot end there if we are to take the lessons of mindfulness and contemplation seriously. One can find spaces for the meditative life if you find ways to carve them out and I believe we all owe it to ourselves to find anchors in the challenging sea of life.

An additional area where I’ve found a way to create that space has been with a return to the analogue. Now, I’m a proponent of technology as much as the next guy. I’ve seen what incredible work technology can do while watching the growth of my brother’s non-profit from a simple idea to real, measurable impact. Yet, in this fast-paced world of sometimes overwhelming connection, it is hard to argue that we need to slow down sometimes. It’s why, although I use a fairly robust digital task management tool, I still get great satisfaction and a helpful pause for reflection when I sit down every morning, with that fresh cup of delicious coffee on deck, a good pen in hand and a quality notebook. In this tactile environment, I write down my tasks and chart out the day. It’s why I’ve made an effort to send more handwritten letters to my partner, my family, and my friends. It’s also why, fittingly, I drafted this very essay with a great beginner’s fountain pen in a fresh notebook, a gift from my brother.

The movement of a pen across a page is an incredible sensory experience. When you notice these sensations and dip into that blissful state of flow, you’re entering a fantastic space for the exploration of the meditative life.

Shaving, too, provides a similar space. I unfortunately have pretty terrible facial hair. It’s uneven, patchy, and unseemly given sufficient time. This all amount to a persistent need to shave, and to shave often. I had come across old-school shaving and decided to try it after the almost universal guarantees of a better shave and some fun while I was at it. So, I ordered my badger brush, some shaving soap, a heavy safety razor, and a sampling of razor blades. The guarantees proved true: I did get a closer shave and it was an insertion of fun into an otherwise mundane chore (once, of course, I had learned how to not cut my face open). I was hooked!

What this return to the past art of shaving required, however, was more time. Prepping the brush. Creating the lather. Applying the lather evenly to my face. Carefully shaving as to not cut myself. Cleaning all the tools. These all take time. If created space for that time, though, I was equally creating an opportunity for the meditative life. However many extra minutes of time spent on this fading style of shaving was spent immersed in the present. A good shave with these tools required it. Often, I finish a long, leisurely shave with the same peaceful state of mind on offer from a sitting.

This is not to say that we all need to meditate daily, brew fussy coffee, handwrite letters with a fancy foundation pen, or shave with an old-school razor. (Though I think we would all be better to ourselves and others if we all committed to meditation.) These spaces that I think contribute to a meditative life are not the only pathways. There are days where I don’t sit for meditation, or I grab a coffee from a questionable percolator at a cafe, or I decide to fire off a quick email instead of sending a letter, or I use a cartridge razor for a quick shave. Those days provide ample opportunity for the meditative life, as all days do.

Still, I know that the days where I make the effort to spend time in these spaces, ones that demand a little more attention and a little more time, I feel better. With these anchor rituals of meditation, coffee, writing, and shaving, I’m more there. And that feeling of thereness spills over into the rest of my day. That’s what a meditative life offers. I invite you to build one with me, one moment at a time.