Monday, September 12, 2011

Why Do I Smoke a Pipe? A Meditation.

I've been asked this question inquisitively by my girlfriend a number of times. "Why do you like pipes?"

She did not mean it in an antagonistic way, despite the fact that she is one of the most anti-cigarette people in the world -- thus why I continue to emphasize the difference between cigarettes and pipes -- but in a curious and even loving way. It's a valid question, especially when you know one specific detail.

I'm 21. I picked up my first pipe my freshman year in college after seeing someone smoking one at the pub at which I was currently working. Seeing and smelling that pipe reminded me of my old music teacher, a truly great man -- and I don't use 'great' as a synonym to 'good', but truly great, like Alexander -- who always used to smell of a pipe. I remember when he stopped smoking and I remember how strange and barren it seemed to not smell that aroma on him. I recently found out that this aroma was from Borkum Riff, a pipe tobacco that, despite my affection for the man and the room note (or in his case, shirt note), I would never put in one of my pipes.

In any case, I asked the gentleman at the restaurant where he bought his pipe and he told me about a nearby shop called John Dengler's, a pleasant, tiny shop, run by a husband and wife. I went there the next day to pick up my first pipe. Due to the fact that I work at the local Renaissance Faire every year, I picked up a clay tavern pipe, figuring I could use it at the Faire. The man working the shop at the time gave me a free ounce of tobacco with my purchase, called Cameron's, and I remember thinking it smelled like oats.

My first experience smoking that pipe was perched on a ledge outside of my freshman dorm, failing miserably at getting it lit, probably due to the fact that it was windy and I was shivering from the cold November air.

But I digress from the original question of this post. After succeeding at smoking the pipe for the first time, I felt like a Buddhist monk in deep meditation. I felt calm; I felt good. That is enough of a reason for me to continue: it made me happy.

Since then I have discovered the joys of meerschaum, the beauty of a well-carved briar, and the simple pleasure involved in the contemplation of a new blend, a new shape, or simply the feeling of a pipe in my hand, even unlit.

I find pipes to be a work of art, and I think this is true beyond the obvious. It does not take the penetration of the philosopher to see that pipes are visually appealing. But art makes one stop and reflect -- reflect upon the art, upon the world, upon oneself. Pipes do this better than most things. In this way, the process of enjoying a pipe is, in itself, meditative artwork.

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