Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Coffee House Philosophers

I went out to a coffee shop today, and I realized something: They have changed in the last 10 or 15 years.

In the time of Baha'u'llah, as I often mention, people went to the coffee houses to socialize, as well as discuss deep and important issues. The French Revolution, for example, began in the coffee houses of Paris, but that's not necessarily the best of examples. Numerous bands got their start in these coffee houses in the 60s through 90s. As you know, Baha'u'llah, Himself, often met with people in the coffee houses of Baghdad.

For my part, I began frequenting the coffee house scene about 25 years ago. Whenever I entered a new city, it was to the coffee houses that I would go to meet people. Even today, when I want to get out of the house and write, or make my artwork, I usually go to a coffee house. Often, when I am in one, conversations ensue with others, and we end up talking about some pretty deep issues. It is a great place to practice your presentations from Ruhi Book 2. In fact, a number of people I have met in the coffee houses have begun the Ruhi Books that way.

Of course, you also get the plethora of coffee house philosophers who usually talk tons about what is wrong with the world, and how much they know about how to solve all the world's problems, but never seem to get around to doing anything about it.

Aside: I remember one time a few years back when one of these "philosophers" was talking about how to clean up the street scene a bit. His ideas seemed reasonable, although a bit far-fetched, but I wanted to encourage him. "Great idea," I said, "let's go out right now and try it." It was the sort of idea that could actually be implemented right there and then. Of course, as soon as I said that, he remembered something that he had to do. My other friends who were there, all of whom were sick and tired of hearing his grandiose ideas, were so impressed by how quickly he left. While that wasn't my intention, they all began agreeing with him after that and offering to act on his ideas with him.

It was these sort of people, the so-called philosophers who never want to actually do anything, that were the downside of the coffee houses. They always reminded me of that phrase from the Hidden Words, "Let deeds, not words, be your adorning."

Today, I realized something that I had been noticing for a while, and was never quite able to articulate: With the advent of the Starbucks-type coffee house, these conversational havens are becoming rarer and rarer.

I had noticed this a while ago, but I think I figured out why today. The coffee is just too expensive. You see, in the old times, as I like to think of them, you could drop a dollar for a cup and enjoy it for an hour or two. Most of us could afford that. Today, if you want a cup, it usually approaches five dollars, and, let's face it, the most popular places, like Starbucks, are way over-roasted. The coffee tastes nasty. Of course, I usually order tea, and that's cheap. Most people I know get the double espresso grande latte with vanilla flavouring, or something else whackoid like that.

And this, for most of us, is unaffordable day after day.

You see, dear Reader, I noticed this today when I was sitting in a place that only charged a dollar for coffee. (I actually got one and was very surprised at how wonderful a cuppa java it was.) I needed to make a few bracelets today (like the one below) (oh, and that's a shameless plug if you want to support me as an artist) and the bead shop I wanted to visit was no longer there. Rather than being disappointed, I decided to make the best of it and went to the coffee shop next door to the now-empty store. It was the very picture of an artist's hangout. They even had bins of old LPs which you could go through and request. You just handed them the record and they put it in the line-up. I can't recall what was playing when I went in, but I just sort of started bouncing in time with it. I do remember them playing the Beatles, the Beach Boys and Supertramp. It was kind of cool.

But then, after I sat down and set up, I began to hear what some of the people around me were talking about. (I didn't really listen in, I just couldn't help but overhear a bit.) And those conversations were mostly deep and meaningful. I felt taken back about 20 years, and it wasn't just the music.

One conversation that really stood out was with a woman who was helping a Japanese exchange student with her conversational English.  After all the basic conversational stuff, she took out some photos of Tarot cards and began talking to this girl about the Fool and the court jester. She was giving a very good history lesson, and spoke quite well about how the jester could say the things that no one else could.

I asked if they were aware of where the jester came from, and they weren't.

And that, dear Reader, is the little tidbit I felt like sharing today. (Awfully long intro, wasn't it?)

You see, many years ago, the King was like the lion. He would sit back and get the lion's share of everything. But, when the attack came, he was the one who risked life and limb to save his people. His lion's share came with a price, and sometimes a pretty hefty one, too.

During this time, the shaman was the wise advisor, and he was the one who made sure that the king did his job.

Then one day, some sad day lost to the annals of history, this changed. The king, who was used to getting his way, decided that he was somehow too important to put his life on the line. And the shaman, or advisor, wasn't up to his task. He went from being the wise advisor to the fool.

Oh, and one of the first things you learned as an apprentice to a shaman at that time was how to meditate. There is a very simple way to meditate, and clear your mind of the dross of the day, just in case you haven't found one yet. You learn to juggle. For some reason, once you learn to toss those three balls around so that it is second nature, and not a test of your patience, it becomes the best way to just zone out. Try it, if you don't believe me.

And so this king, I surmise, remembered that juggling thing the shaman did, and instead of just being a fool, he became the court jester.

While I was saying all this to them, and typing it to you, dear Reader, I was reminded of the various ministers that served the Shahs during the time of the Bab and Baha'u'llah. Where were the true ministers? Where were those stalwart souls, those wise men, who could freely and fearlessly give the Shah sound advice? And what ever happened to that young crown-prince, Nasri-Din, who said that if the Bab proved to be who He said He was, he would gladly give over his throne?

Sadly, he turned out to be as insincere as those coffee house philosophers who run away when they are encouraged to act on their ideals.

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