Meditation and self-improvement…

I sleep like crap. Rarely do I wake up and feel rested. My Jawbone UP shows me consistently getting 5.5-6.5 hours of sleep per night, about 40% of it deep sleep. This leaves me prone to craving sugary foods and making bad decisions. Sleep deprivation also does nasty stuff to our hormones, leading to “decreased glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity, increased evening concentrations of cortisol, increased levels of ghrelin, decreased levels of leptin and increased hunger and appetite“.

Clearly, I need a strategy that is going to reduce stress in my life and help me to sleep more and better. Having recently reduced the amount of sugary foods I’m eating (I’m in week 2 of a 3-week sugar detox), adding heaps of magnesium to my diet, and putting serious effort into getting into bed around 10pm every night, I haven’t really moved the needle much in terms of the amount of sleep I’m getting, nor on the quality of that sleep.

So I’m casting about for different strategies for managing the stress in my life, in the hopes that reducing stress will allow me to sleep deeper and longer. Exercise seems to increase awakeness, and given that my schedule pretty much forces me to work out in the late afternoon or evenings, I have to be careful to time it so that I’m tired when I need to be. If I work out after 8pm, it will mean I’m up until 11pm, no matter what else I do.

We’ve also cut back on the caffeine: I found that I was taking two or three cups a day, sometimes later into the morning. Gotta cut that crap out.

I’ve decided that I’m going to try meditation as an approach to managing stress and setting myself up for better sleeping. I’m working through Victor Davich’s 8 Minute Meditation — I really like this book because it has pulled all of the “woo” out of the meditation practice. (I am unremittingly allergic to woo, having spent far too much time in California and other locales where new-age hippie dipshits engage in all kinds of sloppy language in an effort to redeem their otherwise senseless spiritualism.)

I’ve just started last night, having sat through my first 8 minute session. Frankly, it went far better than I expected it to go. I’m a fidgety person, and feared that there wasn’t a chance in hell that I was going to be able to sit still for 8 minutes. Trying to stay focused on the breathing, and not getting engaged by all of the distractions and spins that my mind wanted to put on the situation was difficult, but I felt it was worthwhile. I did roll right into bed afterwards, and I did fall quickly to sleep. I don’t think I can say that I slept better, but I felt better when I woke up this morning…so we’ll just have to see how it goes.

Because I’m so constitutionally opposed to things like this, I’m trying to really enforce the new habit by using Jerry Seinfeld’s Build A Chain approach: simply put, if you want to learn a new daily habit, do something of it every day. Each day that you succeed in doing the new thing, mark off the day on a big wall calendar. As you build consecutive days of success, you build a chain, and that chain becomes something you want to keep building — you don’t want to break it.

Today, my chain is one link. I plan to add another link tonight. (I’m also using Meditation Timer on my Android phone to time my sessions, and, not inconsequently, keep a log of my consecutive days — my “chain” of new habit).

I also found an interesting take on handling self discipline and self-regard in a comment thread on Reddit. (Read it here if you can take the Reddit-style of discourse, but I’ve summarized it below):

  • No zero-days: every day, do SOMETHING towards your goal, even if it’s just a little bit. (See the Seinfeld “Build A Chain” approach above)
  • Respect the Three You’s:
    • The Past You (or, Younger You): the person who, yesterday, made a good choice that set Present You up for today…
    • The Present You: the person who gets the chance to do something cool for their best friend…
    • The Future You: because, tomorrow? You’re going to wonder what that Past You was thinking…
  • Forgiveness: mostly, of yourself. You know better, you knew better. Whatever. People fuck up. Get over it and get busy unfucking it.
  • Exercise and Books: really, this is just about self-improvement. Shouldn’t require an explanation here. Grow your brain like you grow your bod.

Cold brewed coffee: the recipe

Here’s how it’s done…

Cold Brew Coffee
Recipe type: Drink
Cuisine: Caffiends
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: depends
Sweet, syrupy coffee concentrate to make you shake and slake your thirsts.
  • 1 part coarse ground coffee
  • 4 parts room temperature water
  1. Combine the coffee and water in a sealable jar.
  2. Close and give a good shake to ensure all of the coffee is incorporated.
  3. Place the jar in a cool, dry place for at least 12 hours (it can be refrigerated; the science behind why or why not to do so is an assignment for the reader).
  4. After 12 hours, pour the contents into a second jar filtered with several layers of cheesecloth or a fine sieve; discard grounds.
  5. Pour the contents back into the original jar, filtering again; discard remaining grounds.
  6. What is left is concentrated evil: combine it with water or milk or whatever your heart desires, at roughly at 1 part coffee concentrate to 2 parts whatever else. Add ice and sugar to your taste (but taste it first, you will be surprised how sweet it already is!)...


The cold-brew coffee fascination…

…started here:

“Going home tomorrow,” I said.

“Exodus,” Ange said. That’s what it was called at Burning Man, and it was supposed to be epic — thousands of cars and RVs stretching for miles, being released in “pulses” every hour so that the traffic didn’t bunch up. We’d scored a ride back with a Lemmy from Noisebridge, the hackerspace I hung around at in San Francisco. I didn’t know him well, but we knew where he was camped and had arranged to meet him with our stuff at 7 am to help him pack his car. Getting up that early would be tricky, but I had a secret weapon: my contribution to the Burning Man gift economy, AKA cold-brew coffee.

You’ve had hot coffee before, and in the hands of a skilled maker, coffee can be amazing. But the fact is that coffee is one of the hardest things to get right in the world. Even with great beans and a great roast and great equipment, a little too much heat, the wrong grind, or letting things go on too long will produce a cup of bitterness. Coffee’s full of different acids, and depending on the grind, temperature, roast, and method, you can “overextract” the acids from the beans, or overheat them and oxidize them, producing that awful taste you get at donut shops and Starbucks.

But there is Another Way. If you make coffee in cold water, you only extract the sweetest acids, the highly volatile flavors that hint at chocolate and caramel, the ones that boil away or turn to sourness under imperfect circumstances. Brewing coffee in cold water sounds weird, but in fact, it’s just about the easiest way to make a cup (or a jar) of coffee.

Just grind coffee — keep it coarse, with grains about the size of sea salt — and combine it with twice as much water in an airtight jar. Give it a hard shake and stick it somewhere cool overnight (I used a cooler bag loaded with ice from ice camp and wrapped the whole thing in bubble wrap for insulation). In the morning, strain it through a colander and a paper coffee filter. What you’ve got now is coffee concentrate, which you can dilute with cold water to taste — I go about half and half. If you’re feeling fancy, serve it over ice.

Here’s the thing: cold-brew coffee tastes amazing, and it’s practically impossible to screw it up. Unlike espresso, where all the grounds have to be about the same size so that the high pressure water doesn’t cause fracture lines in the “puck” of coffee that leave some of the coffee unextracted and the rest overextracted, cold-brew grounds can be just about any size. Seriously, you could grind it with a stone axe. Unlike drip coffee, which goes sour and bitter if you leave the grounds in contact with the water for too long, cold-brew just gets yummier and yummier (and more and more caffeinated!) the longer the grounds sit in the water. Cold-brewing in a jar is pretty much the easiest way to make coffee in the known universe — if you don’t mind waiting overnight for the brew — and it produces the best-tasting, most potent coffee you’ve ever drunk. The only downside is that it’s kind of a pain in the ass to clean up, but if you want to spend some more money, you can invest in various gadgets to make it easier to filter the grounds, from cheap little Toddy machines all the way up to hand-blown glass “Kyoto drippers” that look like something from a mad scientist’s lab. But all you need to make a perfectly astounding cup of cold-brewed jet fuel is a mason jar, coffee, water, and something to strain it through. They’ve been making iced coffee this way in New Orleans for centuries, but for some unknown reason, it never seems to have caught on big-time.

All week, I’d been patrolling the playa armed with a big thermos bottle filled with cold-brew concentrate, pouring out cups to anyone who seemed nice or in need of a lift. Every single person I shared it with had been astounded at the flavor. It’s funny watching someone take a sip of cold-brew for the first time, because it looks and smells strong, and it is, and coffee drinkers have been trained to think that “strong” equals “bitter.” The first mouthful washes over your tongue and the coffee flavor wafts up the back of your throat and fills up your sinus cavity and your nose is all, “THIS IS INCREDIBLY STRONG!” And the flavor is strong, but there isn’t a hint of bitterness. It’s like someone took a cup of coffee and subtracted everything that wasn’t totally delicious, and what’s left behind is a pure, powerful coffee liquor made up of all these subtle flavors: citrus and cocoa and a bit of maple syrup, all overlaid on the basic and powerful coffee taste you know and love.

I know I converted at least a dozen people to the cult of cold-brew over the week, and the only challenge had been keeping Ange from drinking it all before I could give it away. But we’d have jet fuel in plenty for the morning’s pack-up and Exodus. I’d put up all the leftover coffee to brew before we went to the temple burn, and if we drank even half of it, our ride would have to let us out of the car during the Exodus pulses to run laps around the playa and work off the excess energy.

Thinking about this, I took my thermos off my belt and gave it a shake. “Want some magic bean juice?” I asked.

“Yum,” Ange said, and took the flask from me and swigged at it.

“Leave some for me,” I said, and pried it out of her fingers and drank the last few swallows. The deep, trancelike experience of temple burn had left me feeling like I wanted to find someone’s pillow camp and curl up on a mountain of cushions, but it was my last night on the playa, and I was going to dance, so I needed some rocket fuel.

And so it began. Last night, I came home with a small bag of coarse ground beans, and set them to steeping in a jar overnight.

Now, I should clarify: I am not a coffee drinker. I do love the effects of caffeine, but I loathe the taste of coffee. If hard pressed, I will drink coffee with heaps of cream and sugar, but even then I rarely go for more than a cup. I just don’t like the bitter, stomach-acid-inducing swill that most places promote.

But the above description twigged my nerd-love for The Better Way: simple solutions to complex problems. And cold-brewed coffee fits that bill exactly.

I awoke early this morning, did a little dance with some cheesecloth and a second jar, placed the concentrate into the fridge, and then climbed back into bed (it is, after all, Saturday). When we finally got up and going, I poured about 1/3 cup into a tall glass with some ice, and added another whole cup of water. Stirred it and took my first sip…

…It was a revelation! Sweet, mellow, and maybe a little too diluted. I had a couple more sips, and then went about my morning.

About ten minutes later, I was absolutely buzzing with the caffeine! WOOHOO! Appetite suppressant, diuretic, energy provider and tasty to boot!

So now I’m off to the races: a couple of proper brewing vessels, maybe a French Press, a grinder, and an adventure in beans! More to come, I’m sure!