A few days ago I returned from a short trip to the US. I got back to Yokohama around 4:00 pm and had appointments straight through until 9:30 pm that evening. So I did all that and it was about 10:00 and I remembered that I didn't have any food in the apartment because I had cleaned out the refrigerator before my trip. So I went by the only place open at that time of night, a store with the implausible name of Don Quixote.
If you don't know, Don Quixote is like a very small Walmart on crack cocaine. The ten foot high shelves are literally sagging under the weight of anything anybody might want to buy. Steering wheels, kitchen knives, weight loss pills, ropes for bondage sex, dehumidifiers, disco lights, food... it really is an amazing place. The thing is all of this happens under a cacophony of thundering mismatched music. I guess in an effort to keep things funky, in place of a central music system they just put stereos on top of the shelves every 20 feet or so and turn those things up. And all the stereos play a different CD. So, it's like Heavy Metal, Japanese Rap, Balinese Gamelan music, all kinds of crazy #^&* punctuated every once in a while by the shrill maniacal Don Quixote theme song, sung by a Japanese woman trying to do a cabaret riff with the lyric "Don don don, don don, don Qui-ooooooote!"
So, I had been awake for like, 28 hours, and I just wanted some bread, milk, eggs, and coffee so I'd have something to eat for breakfast the next morning. I just wasn't feeling the Don Quixote ambiance that night so I tried to get out of there as quickly as possible, I grabbed the last bag of bread, a small milk pack, a half dozen eggs, and a bag of coffee that would get me through the next few days until I could get something better. I blistered through the place, hopped on my bicycle, and got home around 10:30. I didn't even brush my teeth, just went to sleep.
Fast forward to 4:00 am the "next" day. I'm laying in bed wide awake. Ah, the joys of jet lag. But I wasn't too upset about it because I had a lot to do and figured I might as well take advantage of a wacked out body clock and get some things done. So I stumble out of bed in the dark, turn on the lights, turn on the computers, put a coffee filter in the coffee maker, put some scoops of the coffee I bought the night before in the coffee filter, turn on the coffee maker, and go to the bathroom for all that morning stuff you have to do.
When I came out of the bathroom the coffee was almost done, and I noticed that it was a really thick and black. But I figured that would be as good as anything considering my exhausted/wide awake state, so I added my milk and sugar, and went to catch up with my emails.
But let me tell you, that coffee tasted nasty! It was too strong to drink. I kept telling myself it wasn't that bad, and got through about half a cup. But then I got to thinking that I had bought a new brand the night before and it must have stronger beans or something. I must have put too many scoops in. So I decide to try again. I got out the coffee, opened the compartment to take out the old filter, and what do I see? Nothing.It was just an empty filter. There weren't any grounds in it. There weren't any grounds anywhere. Not even along the sides where you can find them if the filter breaks or something. It was as if the water had gone through an empty filter and come out strong, sludgy, black coffee. So, I was a little freaked out. Sometimes, trying to be efficient, I take the used filter out just after the coffee is done and throw it away while it's still hot. Had I done that this morning and forgotten about it? And put a new filter in? But wait, the filter in the coffee maker was wet. So the water must have gone through that filter. But where the #*$& were my grounds!!? Maybe they had all been sucked into the coffee maker. Great, I'd probably have to get a new one. That would explain the bad taste at least. So I'm like turning the coffee maker upside down trying to find the grounds. Nothing. The only other answer had to be that I had actually taken out old filter, threw it away, put in a new one that had somehow gotten wet in the process. But I didn't remember doing that.
I felt like I was losing my mind. So I actually searched through my garbage can, looking for that original filter with the grounds. Nothing. So finally I'm just standing at the counter in the dark, in my boxer shorts, 4 am, totally paralyzed. Was I still dreaming? I always thought it was so stupid when people say that in movies, but I'll be less hard on them now, because when you're in a situation where nothing makes sense that "Am I dreaming line" becomes the only rational explanation. And if it was a dream, it was the realest dream of my life, and if I was going to have the realest dream of my life, why in the hell would I dream about this.
After a while I found the bag the coffee had come in, and everything became clear. In my sleep deprived state, I had bought instant coffee at Don Quixote. It came in a bag and looked just like regular ground coffee, but the back clearly showed an illustration of the coffee being stirred into hot water. So I had put instant coffee in the filter, the hot water had mixed in, and the whole shebang had dripped through and left a wet empty filter.
What does this have to do with anything? Well, I hope it's not too much of a stretch to say my early morning misadventure parallels the entire human experience. Most people, at some point in their lives, feel that something is missing. We have a million different ways of saying it. We're searching for meaning, for happiness, for the perfect job, for our destiny. We're trying to become a good person, a more peaceful person, a more important person. We're trying to get rich, or feeling guilty for trying to get rich, or feeling guilty about feeling guilty for trying to get rich.
This searching for that missing thing is neurotic. It makes us do strange things, like searching through the garbage at 4 in the morning. I would argue that every misery, jealousy, and violence stems from someone feeling like they needed something that they couldn't find. And here's the real kicker; that thing we are looking for is easy to find. My coffee grounds that I couldn't find anywhere were actually dissolved into the coffee I had been drinking. I had them the whole time.
So however you call it, peace, wisdom, god, happiness, whatever, take a few moments from time to time and ask yourself how much of it is already here. I'm not pitching the lame "don't take things for granted" line. The whole, "those summer days of my junior year, they were the best days of my life" crap. What your looking for isn't always sweet. Sometimes the coffee tastes really gross. But once you know you already have what you're looking for you can take some real action. For me, once I had a clear understanding of what had happened I could get out of the trashcan and get on with my day. Some people call this calm, clear understanding mindfulness. If you want to get some more of that in your life then go here.
Thanks for reading.