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E44: The Spiritual Domain of Caffeine

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E44: The Spiritual Domain of Caffeine

Feb 16, 2024

While some may liken their morning coffee ritual to a religious experience, the reality is the act of brewing that cup of coffee is often centered around personal gratification rather than spiritual connection. Despite our hopes and expectations of heightened focus and familiarity with the taste and aroma, caffeine's effects may not necessarily transcend into the spiritual realm. So what, if anything, is inherently spiritual about our relationship with caffeine?

In the last conversation on caffeine, Dr. Kirtly Jones reflects on the spiritual dimensions of our caffeine habits and the broader cultural and religious contexts surrounding its consumption.

    Episode Highlights

    Introduction

    • Host: Kirtly Jones, MD
    • Content: Dr. Jones delves into the spiritual aspect of caffeine consumption, questioning whether the act of drinking coffee truly connects individuals to something greater than themselves.

    Coffee Rituals and Personal Experience

    • The Coffee Experience: Ritual of preparing and consuming coffee, acknowledging its sensory appeal but questioning its spiritual significance.
    • Caffeine and Self-Centeredness: The act of drinking coffee is more about personal satisfaction and sensory pleasure than spiritual connection.

    Religious Perspectives on Caffeine

    • Christianity and Coffee: While coffee consumption is accepted in Christianity, particularly in social settings, it is not considered a religious practice.
    • Judaism and Coffee Culture: Jewish communities historically embraced coffee consumption, with some of the earliest coffeehouses in Europe run by Jewish merchants, but it remains separate from religious rituals.
    • Islamic Culture and Coffee: In Islamic culture, where alcohol consumption is restricted, coffee plays a significant social role but is not inherently linked to religious practices.
    • Buddhism's Approach to Caffeine: Buddhists are cautious about substances that alter the mind, but coffee and tea consumption is generally accepted as long as it does not interfere with spiritual pursuits.
    • The Mormon Perspective on Caffeine: The Church of Latter-day Saints prohibits coffee and tea consumption but allows caffeinated soda, highlighting the cultural nuances surrounding caffeine consumption within religious contexts.

    Conclusion

    • Individual Spiritual Connections: Spiritual practices, including caffeine consumption, are deeply personal and can vary greatly among individuals.
    • Exploring the 7 Domains of Caffeine: Explore the other domains of caffeine discussed in the podcast to recognize the multifaceted nature of caffeine's impact on health and well-being.
    • Haiku: Dr. Jones shares a haiku capturing the essence of the first sip of coffee, symbolizing the awakening and energizing effect of caffeine on the spirit.

    This content was originally produced for audio. Certain elements such as tone, sound effects, and music, may not fully capture the intended experience in textual representation. Therefore, the following transcription has been modified for clarity. We recognize not everyone can access the audio podcast. However, for those who can, we encourage subscribing and listening to the original content for a more engaging and immersive experience.

    All thoughts and opinions expressed by hosts and guests are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views held by the institutions with which they are affiliated.

     


    Episode Transcript

    Introduction

    As we are finishing up our big look at caffeine and women's health through the lenses of the 7 Domains of Health, we find ourselves in the spiritual domain.

    Coffee Rituals and Personal Experience

    Some might say that cranking up their espresso machine in the morning, anticipating the smell of coffee, hearing the fizz of the foamy milk, enjoying the ritual of the process, and the first sip, some might say that it's a religious experience. But does it really connect you to something bigger than yourself? Does it blur the lines between the here and now and the forever? Does it make you one with the universe?

    I would suggest not. It's an intense experience. It sharpens your focus and attention and expectations of alertness, but that is more in the emotional domain. In fact, making that coffee is all about me. It does bring in your senses, the visual, the smell, the taste, the shining of the morning light off the chrome of your machine. But that's all about you. It isn't about the other.

    Don't get me wrong. As I toddle out to the kitchen in the morning, gray before dawn, I have needs and expectations, but they aren't spiritual. I would suggest that those who drink caffeinated tea of the green or black variety also have hopes and expectations of what that cup will bring you, but it probably isn't spiritual. And those who are getting their caffeine cold, in energy drinks, or their morning Diet Coke, or you name it, I would say it's not spiritual, even though it can be rewarding.

    Some might say that the first sip of a great cup of coffee is a religious experience. But really that fizz and snap as you pop open your first cola of the day, for those who drink their caffeine cold, a spiritual experience? I think it's all about you, all about me, not the greater connection of the inner person to the universe, but with needs and expectations.

    Religious Perspectives on Caffeine

    When fluids are consumed as part of a religious experience, if they are chemicals, which they might be, they are not chemicals that soften the edges between self and the greater being. They do not sharpen the edges, which is what caffeine does. Alcohol may play a role in Christian communion ceremonies in the Catholic and Episcopal churches to celebrate the taking of bread and wine, and the wine symbolizes the blood of Christ. But it's only a tiny sip. They don't really let you get a big chug. If a drink is consumed at a funeral, it's likely to be alcohol and rather large amounts to soften the edges.

    So other drinks may include hallucinogens, but caffeine really isn't part of it. But certain religions have a lot to say about caffeine.

    In Christianity, except for the LDS Church, which I'll talk about in a second, Christian congregations in the U.S. often gather over coffee after services. So it's commonly a social event. It's not a spiritual event. That all happened earlier on Sunday. But people get together for coffee, and they socialize and talk about kids or talk about work that the church is doing for the community. And, in fact, that's usually more an organizational or social event, not a spiritual one.

    Now coffee has been acceptable for Christians since Pope Clement VIII proclaimed, "Why this Satan's drink is so delicious it would be a pity to let the infidels have exclusive use of it." Well, I hardly think the well-established practice of drinking coffee in Islamic cultures, where coffee was first cultivated, allows him to use the word "infidel. But that was the practice of the Vatican. That was the view of the Vatican in the early 1600s. So among the Christian faith, coffee is okay, but it's not part of the religious experience.

    Judaism had coffee consumption and caffeine consumption for millennia. In fact, some people believe that coffee originated in Ethiopia, and Ethiopia had a sizable Jewish population, that then mostly relocated to Israel. Today, in Israel, arabica coffee, which grows in Ethiopia, is consumed pretty widely. Some of the very first coffeehouses in Europe were actually run by Jewish merchants who had actually translated their coffee and their coffee practices to Europe. So in the Jewish faith, there's nothing against using coffee, but it isn't part of the religious experience.

    In Hinduism, tea is a much bigger part of the culture. Coffee isn't prohibited, but it isn't necessarily part of the religious experience.

    Certainly in Far Eastern cultures, whether it is Shintoism, in which tea ceremonies using green tea are part of a semi-religious experience can be used, but there it's the formality of making the tea and serving the tea that's part of it, not the tea itself.

    Now, in Islam, coffee is a big to-do because Islam has been the area where coffee was first cultivated and first used. In Islamic culture, you're not allowed to drink alcohol socially. So in Islamic culture, coffee is a big part of the social issues and the social connections, but it isn't really the religious connection.

    In Buddhism, Buddhists are pretty careful about their approach to what they eat and how they approach enlightenment, and coffee consumption and tea consumption are certainly part of Buddhist life. But they would be very careful about any intoxicants or drugs that alter their mind, and anything that gets between them and achieving nirvana through chemical means is not seen as a good idea. Most modern Buddhists are less strict regarding alcohol. Coffee has a mild effect on the brain, and coffee consumption among Buddhists happens as does tea.

    Now, in The Church of Latter-day Saints, coffee and tea is prohibited. It wasn't prohibited as coffee and tea. Joseph Smith, who founded the church, wanted people to abstain from hot drinks, and at that time, hot drinks were coffee and tea. So hot drinks specifically were prohibited, as is caffeine and alcohol within the cultural practice of the LDS faith. So Mormons don't drink coffee or tea. However, it turns out that many Mormons do drink their caffeine cold. And in 2012, the Church released its official statement saying that caffeinated soda is allowed under Church doctrine. So some Mormons still don't consume caffeinated drinks because they feel it's probably part of the overall perspective originally taken. But Mormons can drink soda drinks.

    Conclusion

    So having said this so far about caffeine and spirituality, how you connect to your spirit, with the universe or your God is an intensely personal practice. And if coffee or tea or caffeinated anything is part of that, it's certainly a part of your spiritual practice.

    So thanks for listening to the 7 Domains of Caffeine, the spirituality domain. If you plugged into this section first, that's terrific. There are six other domains in the caffeine podcast, and you might want to check it out. They are each shorter bits than our original long-form show of 30 minutes. So you can check in with them as individual bits, or if you have time, you're on a long caffeinated walk or a road trip, you can start at the beginning and listen to all of them.

    Thanks for joining us. We'll finish with our 7 domains of caffeine haiku.

    the first sip of coffee
    the sleepy blur is lifted
    i can start my day

    Episode Credits

     

    Host: Kirtly Jones, MD

    Producer: Chloé Nguyễn

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