This summer, I was privy to partake in more such beautiful tea moments than at any time previous, and most of these occurred outside.
I confess I’m a bit of a romantic when it comes to sharing moments of intimate connection with others. My memory isn’t great for things I don’t place much importance on (that means lots!), but moments of interpersonal connection stay etched in my mind very,very clearly. A feeling of connection is what I appreciate perhaps most deeply in life, be it with oneself, other people or Nature. If not attached too much, dependent on or longing for such moments, they are indeed the times I feel most alive.
A few scattered memories of pine needles, friends and The Leaf . . .
On the last day of a road trip with a friend, both of us were tired and cranky when we found ourselves in one of southern Estonia’s most beautiful landscapes, the over 350 million years old sandstone escarpments at Taevaskoda. The primeval thick forest and slowly flowing river lent the air sweetness and sharpness; it was a beautiful, warm day and yet, being tired and cranky, mind noise filtered out much of this beauty. We found a preternaturally pure spring source there which the Estonians revere enough to term “Mother Spring” and were elated by this and the crystal waters which bubbled from it.
Fighting a temptation to drive on, we sat on an elevated patch of pine forest, just twenty meters away from this spring, shielded from passersby by a wall of trees. I prepared a spectacular Bulang gushu sheng Pu- erh, at first a little too intensely. However, bitter tastes, it is said, have a way of dissolving the walls which shield closed hearts, and we instinctively let the tea do this work. The words spoken there are now forgotten, offered up to the forest spirits. But the subtle feeling of inner shift which occurred is still very real to me. We spoke, then we didn’t; we listened to the birds, to the ducks in the distant river, and to other people’s expressions of glee upon discovering the spring, or we just looked up at the immense trees towering above us and our petty concerns. Drinking this sublime tea with water we had ourselves fetched just meters away, sitting directly on the ground which had nourished the water with its primeval energy, and feeling ourselves relax into the tea’s balancing energies was pure bliss. We both left the space at peace, mind noise gone, back on track, hearts opened.
Another memorable session happened in the middle of a bog on the border between two of the least populated countries in Europe, Estonia and Latvia. It was a hot, sunny summer day (even by Northern European standards) and we were the only people in this vast space of wetlands, of short, tentative trees, mossy carpets of venus flytraps and blueberries. It seemed like there were no artificial or human noises in a vast radius of space around us, and we reveled in the sounds of the breeze and of mammoth dragonflies buzzing around us. This time, sipping bowl tea, shirtless by the side of a pitch-black bog lake made us feel as if we were melting into our surreal surroundings.
Another time I brought my tea paraphernalia to a boisterous Russian beach party: little kids, teens and a few overly dramatic adults included. A Buddhist temple green tea, plucked just a few months prior, was greeted unenthusiastically at first, served on the sand . . . and then worked its magic. I soon was circled by curious faces, and one teenage girl who didn’t want even a sip at first (“I don’t like tea at all!”) ended up drinking the most, at least 15 little cups-full, smiling, “I had no idea tea could taste like this! I feel great!”
There were many other sessions: with coworkers in a park, forming a long-lasting bond when we ‘should’ have been working; with a normally boisterous fifteen year-old boy who sat still, calm, focused and smiling throughout; by myself, pondering inner questions in a forest or smiling contentedly up at the clouds, huddled snugly between trees and caterpillars in a thick park.
When the Brew Doesn’t Work Its Magic Quickly
Although the simple act of sitting and drinking tea in novel surroundings will tend to relax people, if you find yourself with someone unable to be calm or who is chattering a bit too much, one way to instill a peaceful shared space is to get them to focus on the sounds around you. Gently nudge them to listen to the ambient sounds. For example, squint your eyes a tad and ask, out of curiosity, ‘Cool! How many different kinds of birds can you hear?’ Or, ‘Hey, can you hear the sound of the wind in the treetops?’ Or, help turn their focus on the feeling of sitting on the ground, the temperature of the breeze, the witch-on-a-broom-shaped cloud passing by overhead, the smells which waft to and fro, etc. Guiding someone gently to focus on their physical sensations has a way of calming the noisy mind.
Or, make tea the focus. If someone keeps asking questions all the time or feels the need to tell you things, allow them some release, nod gently and then close your eyes after taking a sip and say, ‘Hmm, after you take a sip, see if you can follow the tea down inside and just see where it goes—deep down, back up to the head, into the chest . . . ?’ That usually helps them be still and focus, at least for a while.
If even that doesn’t work, then that’s OK too. Maybe it’s meant to be a more chatty session. Just mind yourself and keep yourself centered and peaceful, and that will transform the others more than any technique will.
I can’t wait for some winter tea picnics in the snow!
Sketches of Tea was written by Steve Kokker and originally published by Global Tea Hut in September, 2012, as part of the article Have Tea Will Travel. (You can find part one here.) Global Tea Hut has generously granted permission to T Ching to publish past articles from their publication each week. These will appear on Wednesdays.