*By Caroline Black
What’s more clichéd than saying you’re addicted to coffee? It seems every person who holds down some sort of a job or responsibility, and who likes to stop at Dunkin’ on the way, says they have a coffee addiction.
My parents were each big coffee drinkers; two or three cups a day seemed completely normal. And when I was in college, I lived on it to get me through hangovers and all-nighters.
Later, though, when I started working, and especially when I started doing so from home, I realized things got out of control. I’d make a pot in the morning the size you would make to entertain relatives after Thanksgiving dinner, and then I’d keep filling up my cup throughout the day, microwaving it whenever it was too cold, then regretting that I’d done that because microwaved coffee tastes like dirt.
When I got sick of the crappy coffee I bought from the store, I signed up for a coffee service to have fresh stuff sent to my door. I tricked myself into thinking that if it was better I would drink less of it. What?! Even writing that makes me feel like an idiot. The coffee was great, so I kept drinking it more and more. Duh?!
Then I went to India.
I went to visit a friend. In India, they don’t drink coffee. Of course, you can find it, but it’s not that good. India’s a tea country, through and through.
I was ashamed at the way I felt those first few days. My head hurt when I woke up. My patience was short. I didn’t feel myself. When I connected the dots and figured out it was because I wasn’t drinking coffee, I realized just how silly my overconsumption had been.
Perhaps you’re rolling your eyes as you read this. I mean, c’mon. It’s coffee. It’s not like I was a heroin addict or a chainsmoker. The addictive effects of caffeine are not nearly the same as those of other drugs, and what happened to me is basically the worst that can happen to anyone. A headache, some grogginess, and then after a few days, your body adjusts and returns to normal.
But my addiction to coffee has less to do with the coffee than with my obsession for the extreme. I realized I’d been pushing myself too hard and demanding too much of myself. At work, school and in my relationships, I was expecting perfection, and there’s no such thing. I was living so far on one end of the spectrum that I lost perspective. My trip made me go cold turkey from coffee, but perhaps also from a way of looking at life.
You see, this past year has been…well, tumultuous? (Is that the best word? Yeah, I guess.) It started when a relationship that was very important to me took a sudden turn. I’d been planning my life with another person, and then when they experienced a crisis and we could no longer be together, it made me question a lot about what I’d previously understood about love, togetherness and being there for one another. The feelings the two of us share have not changed; they’ve simply morphed into something independent of space. It’s not possible to be together, but what does it really mean to “be together” anyway? We’ve found a way to be in each other’s lives in a way that provides each one the space they need to learn, explore, and grow on their own.
This change sent shockwaves throughout my life. Looking back, it’s been an incredible experience that has made me much wiser, but at the time it was full of a lot of pain and heartache. And all of this came when I was studying for a Masters degree. It’s hard enough to focus your time and energy on grad school when things are going well, so adding this to the mix clouded my vision even further.
I’d chosen to study a topic, International Development, that inspires and maddens me at the same time. Understanding how societies overcome their challenges to help create better lives for people all around the world is fascinating, but I realized during this time that the main roadblock to “development” is really just ourselves.
We’re fighting against the same things we’ve always faced: greed, corruption, ignorance, arrogance, fear of the Other, etc. These traits, which we all have inside us in one form or another, seep out of the individual and permeate throughout society, manifesting themselves as great forces that have the power to manipulate the direction of an entire country, region, or, really, planet. So do their counterparts of love, compassion, empathy, etc., but sometimes it’s harder to feel that in our world.
This thought invaded my brain and spread like a virus. I couldn’t make sense of what was happening in front of me. I was simultaneously learning about something which I am self-destructively passionate—international development— yet diving deep into this subject exposed me to some of the uglier masks humanity can wear, effectively turning me away from something I love.
The solutions to major development problems seem so obvious, yet their implementation is nearly impossible. This duality shook me to my core, causing me to shut the window to the outside world and reject any opportunity to do something good as nothing more than “treating the symptoms, not the causes.”
But then I went to India.
That break in reality brought me back to the center. Are we, as people, naturally capable of terrible things? Yes. But does the fact that it’s natural mean we should not do something about it? Absolutely not. India didn’t do this for me. I did it for myself, but India just happened to be the setting.
It could have been anywhere, I suppose. But something tells me what I learned in India is unique. It’s a big place. And it’s crowded. With so many people living practically on top of each other, extremes crash into each other all the time. Devout Hindus who revere cows and are strict vegetarians live on the same street as Muslim butchers who depend on chicken and mutton to sustain their livelihood.
If the world made any sense, India would be bursting at the seams. Yet, it’s not. For all the chaos and contradictions, life pushes on. It would be easy to focus on the extremes, but this wouldn’t get you far, maybe not even across the street.
Around the world, the pace of life and the rapidity of human interaction has us all working at accelerated speeds, creating infinite opportunities and tremendous fear.
The response to these warped interactions and intensified emotions has been one not so different from my own: we’ve drifted towards the extremes. Yet, as we’re quickly realizing, this doesn’t really do anything. We’re all too different, have too much unique baggage, and carry a perspective too dependent on the exact combination of all our experiences. Working from the extremes of humanity towards a common goal will never work; we must work towards the center.
I’ve tried to first apply this idea to my own life. I drink a little less coffee, try to be more patient with my friends and family, don’t worry so much about where I’m headed, and try as best as I can to appreciate the present moment in which I find myself. These solutions are easy, yet implementing them in my life has been quite the challenge. This has helped me be a little less hard on humanity as a whole, giving me a boost of professional confidence. Should things be easier? Yes, but they’re not. So, let’s move on. My faith in development has been restored! (Almost.)
But to get to this point, I had to rely on yet another extreme. If it weren’t for a sharp jolt in my routine, something to break what was happening, maybe I wouldn’t have had the perspective to be able to see where I was going.
Perhaps the next step on my journey is to speed up my awareness so that it moves at the same velocity as my body, helping me catch myself when I drift towards an extreme and bring myself back to the center.
There are so many places in my life where this is relevant. For example, I’m trying to build a business. I’m just a few months into it, and it’s hard to see if all my effort will be worth it. When I have a tough day, or when I run into a naysayer, my instinct is to give up. But allowing an unlucky break or an unexpected setback to cause me to turn away from what’s in front of me would be an extreme response to a completely normal event.
So the next time I find myself sliding towards the edge, reaching for my fourth cup of coffee, I’ll remember my cranky, coffee-deprived, heart-aching self from just a few months back, and I’ll head back towards the middle.
Or maybe I’ll just go back to India. Who knows?
*About the author: Caroline is just another soul wandering around in the majestic ocean of existence. She is lucky enough to write about coffee for work, and in her free time she’s usually writing or reading. One of these days she’ll figure out what she’s doing and where she’s going. Or maybe she won’t. Until then she’s just trying to enjoy the ride. Find her on Twitter here!