Tag Archives: coffee

Menial Labour and the Improvement of the Mind


How tedious monotony is liberating, focusing, and beneficial.

Last week I found myself doing a lot of very repetitive, dull jobs. Mondays and Fridays are generally spent that way anyway. I am 10-6, flat out, stacking, unpacking, cleaning and covering books with a perfectionist boss who gets gassy when he is stressed out, which he is this holiday season, which he also exhibits by hovering over my shoulder and urging me to new heights of “processing speed”. I feel like a computer chip striving to be an Intel Pentium 4 when really I’ve only at a 2, because all my life I’ve been using my brain muscle and not so much the left arm one.  On Friday I also was assigned to break down boxes in the little outdoor space out the back, so I spent two hours pulling apart cardboard constructions and avoiding the mildewey, soggy wet that happens when cardboard congeals into goop.


In STREAT land we kick-started the enterprise clock with caffeinated action. I spent my Tuesday packaging coffee at the Convent Bakery. From 11 am to 530 pm, I was part of the team of two that ground, bagged, and sealed 42 kg of coffee into 7 gram bags. That’s more than 250 itty bitty baggies.

We spooned the coffee into each bag. Spooned. And the hot sealing press was well suited to squashing and burning fingers, so our dexterity and powers of concentration were really honed.We didn’t break for lunch until 3pm, so engrossed were we in turbo-charging through the grinds. By 4pm we were high on coffee fumes and repetitive action, getting the beginnings of a caffeine headache, and shouting batty comments at each other. Team bonding. By 5pm we were in danger of squashing those fingers.

Somehow, it was amazing. The act –acts– all week, of tracing the same motions and doing the same things… it punched my brain through, and off, and beyond, to this really quiet place. It feels something like this:

At first your brain is buzzing and agitating and restlessly moving you to be/go/ act/ think/question and especially demand! more stimulation.

And then it settles into a sulky murmur, blipping distractions and tangents across your radar so that you can’t settle into a rhythm too well.

And then somewhere and somehow, your brain forgets to be so damn agitated, and starts to calm down, and your body takes over the machinations of  spooning and feeding and closing and pressing and returning to it all over again, and so before you know it, you’ve completed an hour, and you lost the time, but it also feels like you’ve been there all along, both presently and restingly. This is a sensation that pulls at you in two ways. It brings you down and lifts you up.

The tranquility of meditation: fringe benefit to a laborious week.