Mindfulness and Caffeine


I’ve always had this strange relationship with caffeine. 

Does it make me more mindful? Less mindful? Neither? 

I’ve gone off and on it over the years. 

I remember one meditation class I went to, at Spirit Rock Meditation Center in Woodacre, CA. It was a daylong program. I decided I was not going to have caffeine that day. 

The class started at 9, but by 10 o’ clock I was craving it. Luckily, they had some tea there. I made myself some as we headed outside to do a walking meditation. 

I finished the tea and made my way into the sunny autumn air. In walking meditation, you are instructed to find a small expanse of land, and walk over it while keenly focusing your attention on each step. You may softly say to yourself, Step… step… step… You may also pay attention to the subtle feelings of the body and the movement of your breath. 

As I walked along the soft grass out front, I noticed, for the first time, the arising of the caffeine’s effect in my awareness. I noticed it as it was happening. At tiny moments during the meditation, I noticed the way my mind brightened little by little, arose from the fog of caffeine withdrawal. I could see it happening and how it happened, like noticing the machinery under the hood of my consciousness. 

This experience convinced me that caffeine, like many drugs, does not make you more or less mindful. Obviously you have to know your limits; too much will send your mind bubbling over into mindlessness or delusion. But I think you can be mindful of any drug’s effect: drinking a glass of wine (even though the Buddha recommended against alcohol), or having a cigar or smoking some pot. 

As long you can keep paying attention.