The phenomenology of caffeine

I have been incrementally decreasing the amount of black tea and coffee I drink in order to observe the effects of caffeine on the quality of my attention. I no longer drink English breakfast tea at noon or in the afternoon, and I have less than two cups of coffee in the morning. Soon, I will have only one cup of coffee and then perhaps none.

I have concluded that caffeine impoverishes the quality of one’s attention. The mode of being of the person under the influence of caffeine can be most accurately described as self-assertiveness: I am not a thinking or contemplative being but a frantic force moving through the world.

There are four essential features of self-assertiveness when it is grasped under the influence of caffeine:

  1. Velocity. The self is rapidly moving onward. It has many things to do this very instant; it has plenty of jumbled, disjointed ideas; it uses lots of words. The self is frantic, pitched forward, always moving–nearly careening–onto the next.
  2. Assertiveness. The self asserts its presence as a self to be reckoned with. Others are either ‘yes-men,’ going along with its ideas or movements, or impediments, i.e., obstacles to be pushed out of the way or surmounted. As a self to be reckoned with, the caffeinated person grows distant and seeks power.
  3. Dulled Aesthetic Sense. The self cannot hold his attention on the hummingbird or the full moon before dusk. He cannot hold the other attentively and lovingly. He cannot listen easily, but only by forcing himself to hold his tongue and listen. His has lost both erotic and aesthetic appreciation.
  4. Value and Intensity. In light of 1-3, his interaction with others tends to be either very pleasurable or very painful, either quite good or especially bad. There is no room for suspending judgment, for being startled and simply looking on, for remaining in a state between pleasure and pain, good and bad, high and low. As a result, the self-assertive man is easily irritated (the other is harming him), overly aggressive (he wants the other to give out of his way), quick-tempered, loud, and feverish.

While one is caffeinated, one is not engaging in dialogue, appreciating the surrounding natural beauties, or contemplating what there is. Caffeine is therefore a fit drug for an atomized capitalist world governed by frantic productivity, maximum efficiency, and ready quantifiability.

The top of the inhalation… the bottom of the exhalation–

The top of the inhalation is a fold, the bottom of the exhalation is a cut. The fold returns the breath to its downward course, the cut extinguishes it. The cut is the surprise of death, the cleanest mark of impermanence. The beginning of the inhalation is the first dawn, the very edge of the cosmos’s beginning.

Attentive breathing–each asymmetrical, open circle; each twisted, pleated, unfinished–dramatizes the entirety of life, mine and any other’s, and this so loudly in the surprise of feeling unhanded. For the top of the inhalation does not come quite when one would anticipate its coming but early, late, or with a jolt. And the bottom can come hollowed, like a gasp, or hallowed, like a guest. The cavity of the body gives as much as it is given; lets as much as it is let; attunes as much as attempts. There is no more effort than there is effortlessness, no more renting than being rent, no more the delicious luxury of this than the wonted necessity of the unseen veil.

Breathing while observing, while feeling oneself breathing, is sweeter than spring and more delicate. It is love of self except it is also its other. The fold is seeing oneself turn, the cut is seeing oneself off. Or missing the moment completely.

Moon is sun: Storm meditation

An opening revealing moon in morning. Sun is moon and fog is distance. Wind churning, churning world, sun returning as moon. Moonwinds churn, turning earth, returning in thickness, white luminescence.

Sitting, breathing, enveloped, revealed. Revealed? Revealing moon; revealing light, lavender, lavendered light: lightening lavender, paling hill.

A nature walk (An excerpt from Radiance)

A short excerpt from Radiance: An Essay for Unsettled Time. The book is in progress.


A nature walk is no easy thing. The mind wishes to attach itself to fond or tortured memories, the mouth to rupture solitude or its communion with coursing things. Or thoughts stretch in the direction of a goal for walking or stray in anticipation toward prospects and projects…

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