Sunday, November 21, 2010

Where Does It All Begin?

Sometimes it begins with a walk. I am visiting Berkeley on the most joyous occasion -- the completion of my father's epic translation of the Shobogenzo-- Treasury of the True Dharma Eye-- a translation of Zen master Ehei Dogen’s life work which has taken him 50 years to complete. A morning walk is part of my daily routine, and I normally cherish the opportunity to walk around my old neighborhood. Today, I decide to explore someplace new. I jump in my car and find myself on a beautiful sidestreet in the North Shattuck neighborhood. The South-drooping autumn sun glints off the tall trees. Upon taking a turn down a different block, I see an old man coming toward me at snail's pace. He is framed by a flurry of flora. Deep green leaves create a canopy over his head. His movements are slow so I have ample time to record the moment in my mind. I want to take a picture of him, but he's far away, I don't want to be rude, and by the time ask permission the moment will be lost. So I wait till he passes and snap a photo of a rosebud instead. I reach the end of the block, turn around, and find myself on north Shattuck Avenue, smack in front of Philz Coffee -- one of the most phenomenally amazing cafés in the whole wide universe. I left everything, including my wallet, in my car when I set out on my walk, but I tucked $5 in my pocket specifically for an occasion like this.

Sometimes it begins with a cup of tea. "One small herbal mint," I tell the woman behind the counter. Sounds like a boring drink, but this isn't any ordinary cup of mint tea. It's brewed on the spot with fresh mint, cardamom, anise, and enigma (the secret ingredient that makes every mouthful magical). I kid you not -- I was talking to a lady who said she got the coffee they use, along with all the corresponding ingredients, and attempted to re-create her favorite Philz drink at home. Not even close!

I plop myself down on one of the couches and take my first sip. This is the first time I've ordered this particular drink. It is nothing short of awe-inspiring. Also, there's something about their coffee cups, which are dark brown, printed with the curly queue Philz logo, and slightly ribbed in texture, which adds a whole other sensory element of the experience. Normally, I come to a café with a laptop, a load of books, and an overwhelmingly ambitious agenda. Today, I decide, no such thing. I will sit here holding my cup of tea, sipping my cup of tea, giving my undivided attention to this cup of tea.

Sometimes it begins with a question. I look into the milky brown beverage that belongs to the woman sitting across from me, who later introduces herself as Sarah. "Is that the Philz Fresh Chai?" I ask her, which is my favorite drink here. She says, "No, it's the Swiss Water Coffee. I used to order the Ecstatic Iced Coffee, but I switched to decaf and this is my new favorite." Two guys sit next to us on our corresponding couches. "What’s your beverage of choice?” I ask them. The guy next to me, Jason, says he loves the Turkish coffee. For Jonathan, Sarah's couch buddy, it's the Istanbul Treat-- a blend of black and green tea with cardamom and other spices. How cool, I think, that all our drinks are different and we love them all so much!

"Do you want to try a taste of mine?" Sarah asks me. "Sure," I say. I lift it to my lips; sip; melt. "Want some of mine?" I offer in return. "No thanks," she says, "I don't think I'll be able to taste the tea since I've been drinking my coffee." "Come on," I urge, "It's really, REALLY good." "Okay," she says. I can tell she's doing it to humor me. She reluctantly takes my cup. "Take a deep breath, clear your mind," I say. She does. She then takes a sip. Her eyes pop. "Oh my God; it's like a whole new world!"

By this time, the guys are in on our interaction. We've been casually conversing until this point. All of a sudden, there's a buzz in the air. It's like Sarah's whole universe opened up in front of our eyes! One single, skeptical sip, and this matrix of possibilities suddenly appeared. I have the feeling that if, in that moment, she decided to lift a house or shoot laser beams from her eyes or juggle flaming torches on 100 foot tall unicycle, she totally could.

I drink in the moment. Something in Sarah's coffee is now percolating the possibility in me. Our couches are parallel and identical in length. They have different designs -- hers is cloth with flowery green-brown print and mine is mahogany leather -- symmetrical but not the same. The two women and two men sit across from each other in perfect balance, but Sarah, Jason, and Jonathan all have their laptops and I just have my tea. I'm like the "One of These Things Is Not like the Other" in the Sesame Street song. A fly on the ceiling would see our heads like dots on the "4" slab of a 6-sided die. And wouldn't it be nice if I had my journal to write this all down? But then again, none of this would be possible if I had been lugging my load.

I chew on a mint leaf that's been steeping in my cup as the girl with the floppy gray sweater that looks like a blanket moves from one table to the next, and I think to myself, "We need to make spaces for things like this. Physical spaces. Head spaces. Spaces on the web."

And so arose the idea for this vessel -- this perfect combination of solid matter and empty space -- into which possibility can pour.

1 comment:

  1. Opening up to "no plan" allows for all sorts of things to emerge. The best thing I can do for the really difficult problems, is to realize its a problem, and then let it go - let the subconscious chew on it. The answer emerges, when its appropriate; or it doesn't come at all, which is also appropriate.