JOANNE McCARTHY: My cup runneth over

IT was Sunday morning, 6.30am.
Shanghai night field

The sun was up, the coffee was steaming at a friendly cafe, and a woman sat in a chair, concentrating on the cup in front of her despite the chatter from nearby tables.

She picked up a little sugar packet, slowly.

She tore the corner, let the contents fall into her coffee, and placed the empty packet back on the table, taking the time to place an edge under the cup so it wouldn’t fly away.

She picked up the spoon, put it in the cup and stirred, slowly, moving her hand and arm in a rhythmic motion around, and around, and around, without taking her eyes off it.

She lifted the spoon out of the cup, placed it in the saucer, and watched the steam rise without making any move to drink.

Then she kept watching. And watching. And watching.

Until I couldn’t stand it any longer.

“What the hell are you doing?” I said to my friend, the weird coffee woman.

“I’m being mindful,” she said.

“What?” I said.

“I’m practising mindfulness. I’m in the moment. I’m savouring what’s happening right here and now, without thinking about the past or the future. Just now. This coffee. This sense of appreciating it for what it is.”

On a Sunday morning for heaven’s sake, while the rest of the world was in bed, probably sleeping, and only I was stuck with Sense-of-Wonder-Woman having a deep and personal moment with a hot beverage.

Normally normal, my friend has a demanding job that’s been more demanding than usual this year.

She has coped by drinking slightly more than normal, then giving up; running slightly more than normal, then taking up a gym class; driving her husband insane, driving her children insane, and now driving her friends insane by adopting the latest trend in do-it-yourself therapy, mindfulness.

Hence the coffee staring.

“What exactly are you getting from watching your coffee go cold?” I asked, ever the supportive friend.

“I don’t aim to get anything,” she said. “That’s the point. I am allowing my mind to appreciate the coffee for what it is, to feel everything I’m feeling now without making any judgments. It’s very freeing.”

I kept drinking my coffee. It was hot. It was nice. It was there to be drunk. I did so. I finished.

“I was mindful as well,” I said.

“I was mindful of the fact that I hate a lukewarm coffee so I drank the thing.”

She looked at me.

“I’m sensing you’re not really into mindfulness,” she said.

“I thought you weren’t into making judgments,” I said.

“Shut up,” she said.

She is a good friend, and one of the funniest women I know.

She just has a tendency to embrace fads, thus providing an endless form of entertainment for her friends.

There was the army-style beach training period, when she trudged up and down in the sand lugging a heavy rope, then a big ball, then a big man, until she gave it away a few months later because – surprise – lugging a big man in soft sand with a bunch of other grim-faced people wasn’t fun.

And so she took up pole dancing.

During the pole-dancing period you couldn’t walk more than 20 metres down the street without having to drag her away from upright objects – taxi stands, traffic signals, awning supports, people collecting money for charities, or startled commuters waiting in line for their buses.

When the paleo diet was all the rage, she went paleo.

When people were “cleansing” their systems by giving up coffee, alcohol, meat, dairy, fish, sugar, bread, and basically any known foods except cabbage and organic chickpeas, she “cleansed”. Mindfulness was inevitable.

She had even given up using the dishwasher because of it.

“You’re supposed to pick a mundane job like washing up to practise being mindful,” she said, a couple of weeks before the coffee-staring incident.

“So how did that go?” I asked.

“Well, I think it’s easier to be mindful if I’m doing the washing up and it’s just me and Barry, but if the kids are round I use the dishwasher, otherwise I have to be mindful for ages. I can only be mindful for about 10 minutes doing the washing up, then I start getting cranky with the whole thing,” she said.

“Aren’t you supposed to be so in the here and now that you can keep doing the washing up for hours because you are just appreciating the moment, and feeling the silky smoothness of the water and the detergent, and smelling the washing-up smells?” I asked.

I’ve read the mindfulness websites as well. I know the drill.

My friend looked at me in a very mindful way.

She wasn’t thinking about matters from her childhood. She wasn’t anticipating events in the future.

We were there, in the moment, the here and now, unburdened by life’s distractions.

“Shut up,” she said.