Some time back, what amounts to be an every-other-day task was informally assigned: "smoke a bowl of this and see what you think." As far as duties run, it sure beats a 40 kilometer forced march with ruck sacks. Then again, we have tasted some legendarily bad blends that have come pretty close to a coin-toss between finishing the bowl and the aforementioned trek in "leather personnel carriers." Thankfully, this was not the case when Adam and I took a handful from a coded zip lock, packed, fired, and then looked at each other. Both of our eyebrows arched, indicating that we had just become two pipemen with but a single thought (some would argue "two pipemen with almost a single mind between them,") "Now THIS is good!"
We both sat back and eased into the zone, the state where thought quiets, shifts from the multitude of frustrating, banal mental gremlins that seem to be constant workaday companions, to the simple act of enjoying a bowl to its fullest (pretty much, ideally, what pipe smoking is all about). After almost 20 minutes, I realized that I hadn't typed a single word (Crap). Bowl still in play, I went back to giving my employer at least something for my wages, but that which was transcendent only a few minutes prior was now a semi-automatic act. Perhaps the most disquieting aspect of this transformation is that the latter state has become pretty much the rule of the day. There used to be a tagline in a cigarette brand's television and print advertising of the 60s, "Are you smoking more, but enjoying it less?" I had to admit I was, but was I alone in this feeling? After a few inquiries on my part, many of my cohorts admitted that their best bowls almost never happened on the job, unless they fired up while taking a step away from the desk. Josh went as far as to even remove the break disclaimer, his best bowls were at home in the evening, or on the weekend.
Recently, I was on a Skype teleconference with cinematographer Chad Terpstra and producer Jeremy Rush, getting a few "behind the scenes" glances at their quest to create the world's first documentary about pipes and pipe smokers, a work entitled Father of the Flame. Towards the end of our talk, we found ourselves on the topic of isolating that which makes "this thing of ours" (no offence to any members of La Cosa Nostra out there) different from other forms of imbibing the noble weed. Rush opined that, at the very core of pipe smoking, there is (or should be) a continuity of the spirit first expressed within the manner, use, and respect that Native Americans demonstrated towards tobacco. Whittled down to its essence, smoking a pipe wasn't something that one did simply out of habit. A smoke was a special activity, and one undertaken with a mindfulness that included a consideration of time, place, as well as an appreciation for nature's contribution to the moment.
Rush's words hit home. While I know myself well enough to acknowledge that I will never limit my imbibing to important occasions, I can make enjoying a bowl something born of intent and conducted in contemplation, rather than a barely noticed reflex triggered by taking a call or getting off my bike. With this thing of ours, when it comes to getting back to the basics, there might be something to be said for the fundamentals established centuries ago.