Wednesday 29 April 2015 at 20:14Coffee Is Essential
by Ami Madeleine Daichman, Sky Lake Shambhala Center
For many of us, “Coffee” is the first thought upon waking. For many meditators at Sky Lake Shambhala Meditation and Retreat Center, this is also true. Retreats can begin as early as 6:30 in the morning and for some Shambhalians, coffee is essential. Our practices and teachings encourage us to work with the present moment as it is, for example: being with ourselves as we nod off in meditation because of tiredness; however, Shambhala is a down to earth spirituality that says, “Come as you are”, and “Don’t be afraid to be yourself”. For some of us, this means, “I need coffee!”.
Old wise tales say that monks were the first people to drink coffee to help them stay awake during long sessions of prayer and meditation.
The tales say a goat herdsman saw that his goats were unusually lively in spirit after eating coffee berries. The herdsman showed the berries to the main Monk in charge and relayed the miraculous story of his goats. The monk threw the berries into a fire claiming them unholy. As they burned in the fire, no one could resist the delicious aroma. The monks took the beans from the fire and preserved them in water, and voila! The first brew.
Coffee is now grown in many countries all over the world like Mexico, Brazil, Costa Rica, Kenya, Indonesia, Vietnam, and so on. Loaded with antioxidants, it makes great facial and body scrub, and is even used in enemas to stimulate the liver’s detoxification system. On the flip side, coffee also contains a high level of caffeine, can overstimulate the adrenal glands which create stress hormones, and raises blood pressure.
Despite the sea of pros and cons, if you are using coffee in any capacity, it is important to know what kind of coffee you are using. Every factor involved in the growth and production of coffee affects all of us and our earth. Buddhism, like Ecology, recognizes that everything is connected and that whatever we do affects everything else.
Since SkyLake joined forces with OurVoices, we have made many changes to our water, food, and energy systems in order to be more environmentally sustainable.
We work towards the Shambhala vision of creating an “Enlightened Society.” Our founder, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, fled Tibet and brought the Shambhala Buddhist teachings to the West. Trungpa said we are living in a heightened time of speed and aggression and that we need to work toward uncovering our inherent compassion as a community in order to address this dark age. His vision, he said, was the vision of Buddha himself.
Trungpa’s son Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche now carries out the Shambhala teachings and leads the international community. Also known as the “Sacred Path of the Warrior,” the Shambhala tradition develops courage through meditation practice to face ourselves and our world with an open heart. The key to this vision is to work together. Our view directly relates to the environmental degradation of our time. Coffee is one small but important part of our efforts to create not just individual change, but societal changes towards a friendlier world.
When buying coffee we have to consider the who’s, what’s, where’s, why’s, and how’s.
Who grew the beans? Who harvested them? Were the workers treated with respect and paid fair wages? Am I supporting slave labor with my purchase? Were the beans grown in natural habitats? Was a forest destroyed to grow this coffee? Why would one choose organic over non-organic? How is my purchase supporting the environment? There are many questions to answer.
Here’s what you can look for to buy coffee that protects the environment, ecosystems, workers, and your own well-being:
OrganicOrganic means that the coffee (or any product that is labeled organic) was grown without the use of synthetic chemicals like pesticides and herbicides. This decreases soil erosion and pollution, not to mention it saves people from diseases caused by ingesting chemicals.
Fair TradeWhen you see that something is fair trade, it means that the workers and farmers who grow the coffee or fair trade product are treated fairly: fair wages, health benefits, and appropriate working conditions. Not only is this great for the workers and farmers, but the organization Fair Trade USA has strict environmental requirements. Some of the standards are sustainable irrigation practices like crop rotation, strict prohibition of GMOs, and farmer education to manage pests and waste properly.
Bird Friendly or Shade GrownWhen forests are cut down to grow coffee, we lose valuable ecosystems. Particularly, birds. More trees means more habitat for migratory birds. Coffee originally grew in the shade and now farmers aim to grow it in the shade to protect the environment and biodiversity of our birds. More biodiversity protects the coffee from pests, decreasing the need for pesticides. The coffee also tastes better because it is allowed to ripen more slowly in the shade. There is a certification for Bird Friendly coffee although it is wise to call your coffee growers to ask for proof of shade growing.
Local SourcesBuying coffee from the closest possible source will help climate change by reducing carbon emissions for transportation and distribution. Coffee needs a very specific climate to grow so if we don’t act to fight climate change, we won’t have any.
Sky Lake uses regular and decaffeinated fair trade, organic coffee sourced from Peru and Sumatra and purchased from a local coffee shop called The Mudd Puddle in our neighboring town of New Paltz, NY. What’s better than starting your morning meditation knowing that your cup of joe is fighting climate change, protecting bird migration, supporting workers and farmers with fair pay, and chemical free for the earth and your body?
Photo provided by author