A few months ago, I interviewed a professional football player who wanted to talk not about his career in the NFL but about his Buddhist practices.
“I’m not a coffee drinker,” he told me. “But when I sit down with someone who is drinking coffee, you know what I love? I love when they haven’t even taken their first sip yet and the coffee is poured and they just breathe in that cloud of steam. I love the way they breathe so deeply, fill themselves up with that cloud of coffee steam, as if it’s a source of joy and fulfillment.“If you asked them what the best thing about a cup of coffee was, they’d probably say drinking it,” he went on. “They’d say the flavor or the heat or the caffeine kick. But when I watch them, I can tell that the best part for them is actually the part they might not even notice: that cloud of steam they breathe in with so much pleasure.”
I wasn’t sure what coffee had to do with Buddhism, but he went on to clarify the connection. “I don’t even drink coffee, but this is kind of how I feel about life,” he said. “It’s handed to you, and you have to let that cloud of life-vapor, like coffee-vapor, hit you, and just breathe it in as deeply as you can and hold it in your lungs and let it become part of you, let it fill your body and your mind and your spirit. Let that hot blast of life fill you up and become who you are: lose yourself in the pleasure of breathing in that great big lungful of life.”I love this image. I myself do like coffee, and just as he said, I never really think about or appreciate that cloud of steam. I like seeing a full hot mug of coffee in front of me because I’m thinking about drinking it, not inhaling it. But he’s right: the best part is breathing it in before I take the first sip.
You don’t know, when the hot coffee is in the mug in front of you, if it’s going to be the best cup or the worst cup of coffee you’ve ever had, but you can count on having the chance to savor that big hot steam cloud. And too with most days: you don’t know if you’re about to have the best or worst experience of your life, the best or worst game, the best or worst relationship, the best or worst day or year.
But the football player’s words made me think about how you can still breathe it in, just let life fill up your lungs and exalt in its ambience, in the way it fills you up with its potential every morning before you even take your first sip.