coffee and creativity

About a year ago, I wrote a blog post reflecting on my caffeine addiction, after learning that caffeine leaches into the sea around our coastal towns and cities and causes molluscs to secrete stress hormones.

I still haven’t kicked the habit, although it mellowed slightly as I left my stressful job, started doing work I loved, and moved into a greener, quieter city.  I am saving myself for September; it gives me a month of long, lazy breakfasts with a full cafetière once my partner returns.  But over the course of the past year, the idea of giving up has become an unavoidable question of when, not whether: the growing sacrifice of ignorance, at the core of my druid path, has left me unable to turn away from the truth that this addiction stunts my spiritual growth (such as it is).

Today, aptly enough, I came across an article on the relationship between caffeine and creativity.  I suppose some part of me – the part of me that secretly pictures myself sipping my black morning coffee on a pavement table in Paris (where I have never been), smoking gauloises (which I have never smoked) – thought that coffee was at least the habit of an intellectual.  But, as the article relates, “the resulting mind-state is one of narrow focus and “hyper-vigilance”: great for ploughing through predetermined tasks, but poor for the insightful forging of connections between disparate ideas.” – as anyone who has ever pulled an all-nighter with the help of a few cans of red bull will know: you do your planning first.  I used to have a formula worked out at peak times of stress: read, plan, drink two cans of red bull, write write write and eventually collapse into a gibbering wreck on the carpet with very little idea of how or what I had managed to write, but safe in the knowledge it was done.

Nimue yesterday wrote a thought-provoking blog post about “Slowing Down for Druidry” in a world that favours speed.  Oddly enough, I read it without much sense of recognition;  I have always tended to take life at my own pace, disappearing into a book (often up a tree) whenever I wanted to slip out of the current of frenzied activity around me.   The habit took me all the way to Cambridge, and I have spent the best part of a decade recovering; my caffeine addiction is the last vestige of those burnout days.  Most of my other harmful crutches fell away once I found my own two feet, but the tiredness stayed with me, and so did the coffee.  The lack of a sense of recognition is what reminded me I still had an addiction to address.

Interestingly, Oliver Burkeman’s article and Nimue’s blog post reached almost the same conclusion, from their different respective directions.  It is not the caffeine, suggests Burkeman, but the ritual associated with the coffee that promotes creativity, creating time and space for the mind to wander in search of inspiration.  This is not coffee drunk in desperate gulps from a paper cup while striding between meetings; it is sacred time.  It is also the best reason I have come across to give up coffee.  Coffee will always be slightly alien to me, as a plant; I drink it because, as a slightly careless borderline-anaemic, it allows me to ignore the warnings of my tired body.  And, as any pagan knows, ignoring your body is ultimately detrimental to the pursuit of creativity.  So I am saving up for a teapot, a fine china cup and a selection of the herbs with which I have the deepest and most powerful relationships.  More than a substitute for coffee, these herbs are what the coffee has been substituting all along: the best medicine for body, mind and soul (not to mention tastebuds).

My favourite ritual was given a wonderful nickname by a former flatmate: teatime with the gods.  Choosing, blending and infusing the herbs, sitting before the altar and sharing a cup of inspiration; it needn’t take any longer than it would to fill a cafetière or boil a percolator, and it goes so much deeper.

4 thoughts on “coffee and creativity

    • Nettle is an absolute favourite of mine – everything around it, too: the astrological associations, folklore, stories and poems I know. Nettle tea with a rosebud for sweetness used to be my “usual” :)

  1. I have used caffeine to blot out the weariness too, it’s not good and I need to stop doing it. I am going to experiment with drinking less and maybe sleeping or something… I do use it to self medicate around woefully low blood pressure, too. It’s a bit of a crutch, but I did not know it was distressing the molluscs. That needs thinking about.

    • Yeah, it’s kind of surprising – although, when you think about it, it’s more surprising that we should be surprised. It all has to go *somewhere*. I think, culturally, we’re getting used to the idea that we can’t really throw things away; it’s a much bigger step to think that when we ingest things that are not all that healthy for us, we’re harming more than just our bodies; we’re harming whole ecosystems – albeit mostly (thankfully) in a small way.
      Another sad story is how antidepressants washing out into coastal waters cause shrimps to be overly optimistic and swim towards the sun – where they are promptly caught and eaten. I don’t have the reference for that study to hand, but it stuck in my mind as something worthy of inclusion in the tragedy series!

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