The Absence

26 Jan

Have you ever noticed how the absence of something can sometimes teach you more? More than you would have expected, in fact?

I’ve been reflecting a lot this week, brought on by shifts and changes in a multitude of areas in my life. And a common theme I’m noticing is just how much can be discovered through what is not instead of simply focusing on what is, and doing more of it.

Perhaps it’s an extension of the age-old “absence makes the heart grow fonder.” But this week, for me anyway, it’s been going deeper than that. It’s turned more into “what is the value in things unsaid?” or “when is the lack of something perhaps more interesting, more thought provoking, than the presence of something?”

You see our human brains create meaning, an understanding of what is, only by understanding what something is not. Take this for example: if I pointed at an object and told you “this is a table,” how would you know whether to agree or not to agree? What defines the characteristics of a table? Is it that there’s four legs and a horizontal surface? What about tables with three legs? Or six? Or multiple horizontal surfaces? Or one with a recycled-wood surface that is mostly horizontal but perhaps a little bumpy or jagged?

You can begin to see that your brain actually knows whether to agree with me that “this is a table” because it has a distinct understanding of what it means to not be a table. Tables are not things that our brains think of as a cup, a butterfly, a cloud, a telephone. You get the idea. It would be very, very difficult to describe the exact qualities the encompass what we mean when we say “this is a table.” But we learn, over time, how to associate a thing with the word “table” because we’ve learned what not to associate that word with.

And so I’ve turned my focus this week to that which is not present. Instead of focusing on coffee, and all it’s glorious forms which I (usually) am regularly consuming, coffee is on hiatus from my life this week. Some coworkers and I have (for better or worse) embarked on a 5-day journey together to “detox” our bodies. That means a fun diet of minimal calories, maximum nutritional value, and you guessed it…no “extras.” Meaning? No coffee. Yes, yes, I know. We’ve warned everyone that sits even remotely near us to stay away this week – we haven’t always been the friendliest bunch through this process!

Nevertheless, it’s given me some time to reflect on a week in my life without coffee. I know! Tragedy, right? But, actually, it hasn’t been. Neither has it been a tragedy to do without all sweets or anything really fun in the food category.

In fact, the absence of coffee this week has made me consider how coffee fits into my world. And, more so, what a personal experience it is for most of us, despite how much we all talk about the sense of community it can bring. The coffee itself, actually consuming it, drinking it, is in fact a highly personal experience. It’s something we look forward to, covet even, and something we feel the absence of when it’s not within our normal routine. Without it, I also realize there’s several things I don’t have to worry about. There are no good or bad shots this week. There’s no perfectly-measured french presses. No timers that misbehave prior to the four minute mark. There’s no “perfect cup of coffee” to potentially get un-perfected (because as coffee lovers, I know you’re all equally as obsessed with me over achieving that perfect cup of coffee each morning). And what can be more disappointing than coffee gone wrong, to those who love it the most?

No, this week, there is none of that. Without coffee in my daily routine, there is also no room for an unsatisfactory cup of coffee. There is no good cup of coffee. There is no bad cup of coffee. The absence makes that impossible.

But getting rid of that need to worry about and lovingly craft the perfect coffee beverage a-la-espresso, latte, or french press, has created space for something else. It’s created a little opening for me to explore coffee in other ways. To engage more with what the great wide world of coffee is doing and thinking and talking about. To discover a bit about things like #5awesomebaristas on Twitter and YouTube for my coffee fix, instead of staring at the bottom of my porcelain Starbucks mug while contemplating grabbing another shot from the espresso machine in the kitchen (these guys have some serious coffee and Starbucks passion!! Talk about what it means #tobeapartner).

In short, it’s given me some space to realize all the ways in which I haven’t been engaging with coffee, and inspired me to do some thinking about ways to break free from the porcelain-mug-at-desk effect (and the french-press-attached-to-arm effect).

This week, for me anyway, coffee is a thing left unsaid (or un-drunk, as the case may be). But its absence in terms of physical consumption has begun to make me think of it as something so much more than a standard presence in my day.

What are you feeling the absence of in your life? Is there more to appreciate from that than you might have thought?

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Posted by on January 26, 2012 in Reflection, Tasting


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