Tea As A Meditation

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The first cup moistens my lips and throat.

The second cup breaks my loneliness.

The third cup searches my barren entrail,

          but to find therein some thousand volumes of odd ideographs.

The fourth cup raises a slight perspiration;

          all the wrongs of life pass out through my pores.

At the fifth cup I am purified.

The sixth cup calls me to the realms of the immortals.

The seventh cup – ah, but I could take no more!

          I only feel the breath of the cool wind that raises in my sleeves. 

          Where is Paradise? Let me ride on this sweet breeze and waft away thither.

-Lu Tong, Song of Tea ~800 AD

First, the water must steam. Next, the leaves must steep. Then, the tea must cool. Finally, you may enjoy. The act of making tea is a process that asks you to slow down for a moment and create something for yourself with intention. The warm cup in your hands, the hot tea flowing past your lips, the feeling in your heart as you swallow it. Tea is sensational, it gets you in touch with your body as well as your mind. It’s also a process to hone; you learn how to work with your equipment and in that way you develop a relationship with your kettle, teacup and steeper. You learn the small adjustments that you like to make the tea to your liking. Tea slows you down and gets you in touch with yourself.

Making a cup of tea for yourself is an opportunity to see the journey and not just the destination. The action is tranquil yet dynamic. Slow down as you focus entirely on filling your kettle with water. Observe the levels of steam until you reach the desired amount for your type of tea. Bring awareness to your breath as the tea steeps, let it be a moment where you let go of everything you have going on, a moment that you don’t have to think about what you’re doing next and instead cultivate awareness of the now.

The warming spiced aroma of a cinnamon chai, the chilling mouthfeel of cucumber and mint overcoming a hot tea, the feeling of your mind calibrating into focus as you reap the benefits of a mushroom medley, or absorb the high caffeine content of a matcha latte. To drink a cup of tea is to build a connection between you and another organism, to receive support from plants that humans have been cultivating and nourishing for centuries to receive their gifts of healing and joy. You’re granted the privilege of strengthening and elevating yourself with support from another.

When you make yourself a cup of tea you’re doing something nice for yourself. You don’t need tea to survive, even though it may feel like it sometimes. Tea is a treat, and the drinking and preparation of tea is taking time out of your busy life to make yourself a treat. Not only is the tea itself tasty and beneficial, but also the manner in which you prepare it. In Iran, for example, it’s traditional to hold a sugar cube between your teeth while you drink strong tea, and in India you’ll experience the more spiced blends that we call chai here in the West. In my house I have a special teapot just for my favorite tea, my friend has an iced tea jug that they cold steep their tea in to keep in the fridge. I’ve even had tea served to me by boiling water in a pot on the stove, and having it poured over a tea bag. I have, however, gifted them a steeper and some loose-leaf tea since then. There’s no wrong way to enjoy tea, and it’s an opportunity for self expression and personalizing your experience to suit your tastes. Whether you’re using an electric kettle with temperature control or eyeballing the steam level on your gaiwan, it’s your experience and it’s unique.

A cup of tea is an opportunity to be present with your mind, your body, and your sense of self. You’re allowed to slow down and disengage from the world around you if only for a moment, to tighten your circle of concern to the moment you’re in and to feel the sensations in your body as you enjoy the cup, and to be particular and do something for yourself. There’s absolutely no wrong way to enjoy tea, so long as you’re enjoying it your way.

 

You must be completely awake in the present to enjoy the tea.

Only in the awareness of the present, can your hands feel the pleasant warmth of the cup.

Only in the present, can you savor the aroma, taste the sweetness, appreciate the delicacy.

If you are ruminating about the past, or worrying about the

future, you will completely miss the experience of enjoying the cup of

tea.

You will look down at the cup, and the tea will be gone.

Life is like that.

-Thich Nhat Hanh, Oprah Winfrey Interview 2013

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