My reflection on an exercise assigned me: Drinking a Hot Beverage Without Judgment
A friend recommended to me an exercise I hadn’t heard of. It sounds like the Three Raisins exercise I learned from Jon Kabat-Zinn, included in my leadership book, and assign in my leadership class.
She didn’t explain much about it, but my experience with experiential exercises told me that doing it would reveal more than any explanation.
Drink a hot beverage and when I think judgmental thoughts like, “it’s too hot” or “it’s too strong”, switch to thinking descriptive thoughts.
The instructions didn’t suggest much to expect, but it didn’t look too hard either. I just finished the exercise.
What I did
Since I drink nearly only water, I didn’t know what to drink. I went to the kitchen figuring I’d drink just hot water, which I know people drink elsewhere more than America. I saw the jar of apple vinegar I’d been fermenting on the counter. I know people drink vinegar elsewhere, so decided to mix vinegar and water, but already I noticed myself thinking, “maybe it’s too weird.” I thought, “what would I think instead of it being too weird?” The new thought emerged, “what would happen if people found I drank vinegar and water? . . . I’d probably just explain my motivations, which I bet they’d find interesting.”
I poured a mug about three-quarters full of steaming hot water and filled the rest with my vinegar.
Along the way I noticed thoughts “is that too much vinegar?”, “is the water too hot?”, “is that too much water?”. I noticed the heat against my fingers through the mug: “is it too hot?”
When I tasted it, it tasted great! Just right tartness. In other words, again the judgment thoughts: “tastes great, the right amount of tartness.”
I had anticipated some judgmental thoughts, but not that many (“too many?”). What was going on in my mind? Why was my mind thinking that way?
I came to accept the judgment thoughts as automatic, figuring that trying to stop them wouldn’t work, like trying not to think of a pink elephant. So I tried to accept them and see what other thoughts would come to mind after them.
When I stopped thinking judgment, I would ask myself, “what about it tastes so good?” or “if it felt too hot, what would characterize the temperature being extreme?”
Questions like these let me to pay attention to the flavors. I noticed the tartness. Not much wateriness, despite it being mostly water. It made my mouth water. I could sense the saliva in the back of my mouth. I wanted to tell people how it tasted. I wanted to drink this mix again.
With the temperature, I noticed the sensation of heat. I didn’t notice pain, though sensed it near that threshold.
I picked up a pattern that the judgment was guiding me what to do—like guardrails on a road to stay within: how much to drink, how fast, whom to tell it to, whether to do it again sometime, and so on.
Other thoughts and sensations intermixed with those guardrail thoughts that I couldn’t put into words. How do I describe that tangy acid taste, the sensation of wanting to tell someone to try it, or the expectation that they would like it and show appreciation to me?
Most judgment/guardrail thoughts guided my behavior, looking to the future. When I let them pass, I explored the moment and the sources of the guardrail—I lived more in the moment. Moreover, instead of planning, I found myself curious: what caused the tartness? What other flavors could I sense? What motivations could I sense?
I found myself wanting to explore more about the drink I was interacting with here and now. I extrapolated from my perspective change here to interacting with people—I think part of my friend’s intent in suggesting the exercise.
When with people, how much do judgment/guardrail thoughts lead me to plan and look ahead at the expense of experiencing animated beings more complex than vinegar and water? What would happen if—or rather what will happen when I let pass those thoughts while in conversation? How different will the experience feel? What else will I observe about people? How will my interactions and relationships change? Will I keep up the practice or will it fade?
Still, nearly each sip led me to think “Wow! This is really good!” I couldn’t stop thinking how good it tasted.
I also kept thinking, “this is a good exercise,” so I had to pass that thought to think of what I liked about it, how I would use it again, and so on. I forgot to mention how my friend told me the exercise changed her life, more than I would have expected from what sounded like a small interaction.
I can see how continuing to apply the exercise can keep leading to more insight and understanding into human perception and motivation as well as living more in the moment and interacting with the person or situation in front of me in any moment. I anticipate it will lead me to change my behavior and relationships. We’ll see.
EDIT: Second time, May 31, 2020:
I recounted the experience above with my friend. She recounted her experience doing the Three Raisins exercise. We listened and commented without judging.
She suggested I do what she did based on the advice of the person who recommended the exercise to her: to keep doing it.
I chose homemade vinegar with water again. I’m fermenting a new batch but it will take a couple weeks so I decided to ration the amount of vinegar. Immediately I worried if I might put in too little vinegar so felt the exercise kick in on starting to act.
I let the judgment pass. Instead of pouring liquid vinegar in, I put chunks of apple. I had mentioned the exercise to my mom, who has made a ritual of drinking coffee (one cup regular in the morning, two cups decaffeinated in the afternoon and evening). I considered drinking my hot vinegar-water while she drank her coffee.
Might doing it with someone ruin the experience? The thought seemed judgmental so let it pass and decided to consider her presence and finding out part of the exercise.
I put hot water on the fermented apple dices. The thoughts arrived: did I put on too much water? Too little? Does heating the water pollute unnecessarily? Will I get enough flavor from the apple dices?
In other words, more judgment and guideposts. I did what felt natural to let the experience happen as it would. Many similar results: not judging led me to focus on the flavors, temperatures, and what I could sense.
I noticed more consciously something I noticed before by I don’t think consciously noted: My intent shifted from deciding what to do to paying attention to my senses and finding what of what I was sensing that I could enjoy, mainly. I could see shifting focus in life from doing things for future outcomes to doing things for their experience as they happen.
Might I lose direction or focus? A lot of what I find rewarding I don’t enjoy doing as I’m doing it—like burpees when I’m tired or choosing not to fly—but I wouldn’t trade those experiences for anything. People tell me I think too much, but I’ve never met anyone who thinks any less. Everyone’s description of meditation not avoiding thinking but focusing etc sound consistent with my mental experience, suggesting I think like everyone does. I keep concluding that I don’t think too much but rather that I do something different that they can’t describe in words.
I believe I’ve refined my direction and purpose to where I don’t have to try to figure out to do but can follow my intuition without second-guessing if what looks to others as deprivation or sacrifice is.
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