On September 28th, I called a temple in Chennai with a question regarding visiting the temple. I ended up speaking to the president of the temple, who turned out to be loquacious. He was chatting about spirituality, his opinions on proper lifestyle habits, how he felt that the night shift culture was detrimental to health, and other topics. He then spoke about food, emphasizing the importance of sattvik food. I agreed. He then talked about how coffee and tea were not desirable. I agreed (notwithstanding the fact that I guzzled coffee and tea in liters). He then said, “If someone drinks coffee and tea, they will be denied entry into Vaikuntha. They will have to be reborn.” Before I could gather my thoughts, I found myself instinctively replying —”Sorry, sir, I disagree with you here.” I felt that this was a dogmatic statement. He made a few arguments as to how coffee and tea were stimulants. I agreed, but I reiterated that I disagreed with the view that anyone who drinks coffee and tea will be denied entry into Vaikuntha. He told me that he knew several people who could not do without their morning cup of coffee. I agreed that this was a problem, but reiterated that I disagreed with the view that anyone who drinks coffee and tea will be denied entry into Vaikuntha. Realizing that we could be arguing for a long time, I suggested that we agree to disagree, and hung up.

After hanging up, I told myself that I needed to work on refraining from entering into arguments. A few hours later, it struck me that focusing my attention on the accuracy of his statement was not particularly beneficial. I knew that I shouldn’t drink so much coffee and tea, and yet I did. Derek Sivers says, “I rebel against anything that feels like addiction. When I hear myself saying ‘I need this,’ I want to challenge that dependency and prove my independence.” I decided to take the above conversation as a reason to embark on a sankalpa—to go without drinking coffee or tea for 40 days.

The very next day, we were eating breakfast at a hotel we were staying at. The coffee and tea that other patrons carried back to their tables looked particularly tempting. Not to mention piping hot. But no! I was going to go through with my sankalpa. I passed my first test and stepped away from the coffee and tea pots. “It’s not you, it is me”, I explained to the coffee and tea pots, who seemed aghast at being given the cold shoulder. “You’re a lovely person, er, beverage. It is me who needs some space at the moment”.

I did not go through any withdrawal syndrome or have any headaches due to the caffeine detox. However, I did crave hot beverages for that ‘aha’ moment (coffee and tea lovers, you know what I am talking about!). I was also on a sugar detox when I started the coffee detox. Green tea, hot water, and occasionally turmeric milk became replacements for coffee and tea. While they were adequate, they did not give me that ‘aha’ moment that coffee and tea did. My guess is that the ‘aha’ moment is conditioned over the years and cannot be replaced easily. At some stage, my sugar detox ended and I added Horlicks to the beverage list, which gave me an ‘aha’ moment of sorts, at least more than green tea. The detox was going well for a while; things were peachy keen.

On October 15th at 9 pm, while getting down from my car, I banged my head forcefully and came home with a headache. The headache lingered for a while. That wily old fellow, my mind, suggested that a cup of tea would do wonders. I took his suggestion, and broke the sankalpa. For the record, I did not feel any better after the cup of tea. The following day, the inevitable happened: I reached out and made myself a cup of coffee, for no good reason. When a breach occurs, the mind finds a reason to finagle its way back to the old habit. This was an important lesson on zero tolerance for deviations from a sankalpa, to protect me from the vagaries of my mind. 

On October 17th, I decided to start the 40 day coffee-tea detox sankalpa from scratch. I restarted the counter to zero and counted October 17th as day one. This time, I was determined to complete the sankalpa successfully. During the course of this restarted sankalpa, I found myself in a tempting situation only in one scenario. On November 24th, with only a few days remaining for the completion of my sankalpa, I went on a road trip to Bangalore with my family. On road trips, I typically like to drink a cup of coffee at rest stops. On this occasion, while I confess that I was tempted to do so (and had a good reason, given that I was driving and coffee would help me), I nevertheless abstained from coffee. And on the morning of the 25th, when we were eating breakfast at the hotel, I am happy to report that I wasn’t close to being tempted to drink the coffee or tea, even though they had a tempting latte machine at the buffet breakfast. I gave a polite smile to the latte machine, who smiled back politely. We had reconciled to the fact that I had moved on.  

I am happy to report to you that yesterday, November 27th, the sankalpa was completed successfully. I have been off coffee and tea for 40 days in a row. And thanks to the fact that I started the detox back on September 28th, I’ve largely been off caffeine for 60 days. There are two benefits that I derived from this exercise. One, I detoxed my body from caffeine for a reasonable period. Two, I proved to myself that I am not a slave to coffee and tea. The second benefit means more to me – it is a step forward towards non-attachment. And lest I forget, I am grateful to the gentleman who started this all off with his remark on coffee and Vaikuntha—without that chance remark, I would not have had a reason to take up this sankalpa.

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