Attachment (raga) and aversion (dvesa) are two of the five klesaa—causes of suffering—mentioned by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras. On the subject of attachment he is very succinct: “Sukha anusayi ragah”—attachment is the residue of pleasure. His take on aversion is equally to the point: “Dukha anusayi dvesah”—aversion is the residue of pain. For most of us, life is pretty simple—we pursue pleasure and we avoid pain whenever possible. At some point, however, we may have the realization that all things that are pleasurable are not necessarily beneficial, and likewise, that some things that are painful can be quite educational. For the past week, since I stopped drinking coffee, I’ve been getting a crash course in attachment and aversion. For many years I’ve had pleasurable associations with coffee. Whenever I required clarity of mind and a burst of energy, coffee was always there, like a trusted friend. In addition, there are also many pleasant memories of social interaction involving coffee. During my first visit to Mysore in 1982, for a few weeks I was the only foreign student. Guruji would make me do a very long practice with plenty of strong adjustments. After some of those practices I would have marathon savasanas and experience the great unraveling of body, mind, and heart. At some point Guruji’s wife, Amma, would poke her head into the yoga shala and say, “Tim? Coffee?” Slowly I would peel myself off the floor and answer, “Yes, Amma, coming.” Guruji, Amma, and I would sit and drink coffee and talk about this and that as I began to regain some sense of solidity. It is one of my most treasured memories. When Guruji would come to Encinitas to teach there was always a lot of coffee drinking. When I picked him up in the morning to drive him to class and when I brought him home afterwards there was always coffee and conversation. If I went to visit in the afternoon, there was more coffee. I’m not trying to blame my coffee addiction on Guruji, but just trying to point out there is a strong emotional attachment as well as a physical one that I’ve been working with.
Every time I’ve given up coffee in the past it has been a painful experience, associated with headaches, fatigue, irritability, depression, fuzzy thinking, etc. During the past week I’ve had the opportunity to encounter some of these old demons and I’ve been feeling even grumpier than usual. The good news is that things are beginning to mellow out a little bit as I enter week two. Many years ago my old friend, Richard Freeman, took me to a coffee shop in Boulder. I ordered coffee and Richard ordered herbal tea. This surprised me, since I heard of Richard speak of coffee as Soma—the nectar of immortality. When I questioned Richard about his choice of beverages he said, “It seems that coffee elevates my blood pressure.” All of these years later I’m realizing that at my advanced age, coffee is raising my blood pressure, sometimes making me feel anxious, and possibly interfering with my sleep at night. We all change over time and we need to learn to adapt to those changes to maintain a healthy and balanced life. After so many years of being attached to drinking coffee, suddenly I find that I’m beginning to feel an aversion to it. It’s a pretty good strategy to overcome an addiction. At some point, when the issue is a little less charged, I’d like to be able to take it or leave it.