I became more serious about tea around the same time I began exploring meditation as part of my everyday life. These two practices go hand-in-hand – they are both contemplative, slow-paced activities that help a high-strung person like me wind down. My journey in combining these two activities came about during one of the most difficult periods of my life, and I knew that I had to make a long-term effort to center myself if I wanted to move on.
Learning the tea ceremony and meditation are both things I never thought I’d do. While I have always loved tea, I always thought it was a drag to pick up new “procedures” when they weren’t necessary. I loved watching the tea ceremony, but I never thought of doing it because it seemed so cumbersome and old-fashioned. Likewise, I’ve always viewed meditation as something only sinewy, new-age yogis would do and I somehow had this inaccurate, preconceived notion that a “modern Christian” like me wouldn’t do something so “hokey-pokey.” Fortunately, fate / God had it that I met two wise women – a teashop owner who told me my tea journey would never be complete without learning the Chinese tea ceremony, and a Catholic nun who taught me some basic concepts of Christian meditation.
The “medteatation” ritual that I do at home is a simple, fluid process that I have resolved not to get too rigid about. Sometimes, I drink tea before meditating to help me wind down and focus. Sometimes I drink tea after a meditation session to mull over the important thoughts that inevitably surface after I’ve cleared my head. The kind of tea varies. For example, if I’m fatigued, I prepare an invigorating pot of Liu Bao Cha; if my mind is all over the place, I make myself a light, floral Iron Goddess of Mercy oolong. My meditation periods and positions vary too – anything from 15-30 minutes sitting cross-legged on the ground or sitting upright on a small wooden stool. For those of you who may be new to meditation, it is not a practice reserved for only certain religions. In its most basic form, meditation is the process of sitting still for a period of time and focusing your mind through deep breathing or a single word so that the inner chatter in your head ceases.
The combination of drinking tea and meditating has long been practiced by Chinese and Japanese Buddhist monks, who discovered that the calming properties of theanine in tea helped them to meditate blissfully for long periods of time. Today, I’m glad that people like my online tea friend, Pei, a teashop owner in London, actually organize public medTEAtation gatherings in gardens and parks so people can rediscover these restorative practices.
As for me, I’m still a worrywart who talks like a bullet train and creates far too many to-do lists. But if there’s anything I’ve got out of the tea and meditation – it is the continual nudging towards much-needed moments of peace to reflect and accept the world as it is.