Some time ago, I traveled south in Taiwan to a new Vipassana center. Ten days later, I was given a ride to the nearest train station by a kind fellow meditator. As we drove along through the beautiful scenery, I learned that she was the owner of an English school, and she was looking for a teacher. But this wasn’t a normal English job; it would have been a dream come true for me a few years ago, the best job in the country by my standards. She wanted someone with a passion for the outdoors who would inspire Taiwanese children to interact more with the natural world, to design hands-on coursework and go on weekly field trips for hiking, biking, identifying birds and animal tracks, farming, vacationing abroad, you name it. The pay would be generous, and every manner of outdoor activities would be at my fingertips. Add to that free room and board, close proximity to the Vipassana center, working for a fellow meditator—my mouth was watering in spite of having spent the last ten days eliminating the old habit patterns of craving!
I spoke to my new friend at length about her vision, describing my own childhood and education. I had the incredible good fortune to be born to a mother who was not only a lover of Nature, but also willing to sacrifice all of her time and energy to my education. She schooled me at home and instilled in me a deep love for and a sense of connection to Nature. As a result, I spent little time indoors. I finished school long before public schools got out each day and always spent those hours outside in the woods. I built forts, tracked wild animals, collected grasshoppers, butterflies, beetles, snakes, lizards, turtles, frogs, fish (I even had a pet bee who didn’t fly more than two feet away from me for a week). I knew half the Audubon Society’s field books for Florida wildlife by heart, down to how many scales there are on a female six-lined racerunner’s tail. We took lots of field trips and our family vacations were always spent camping. My heart has always gone out to my Taiwanese students in this regard.
The education system in this country is incredibly unfriendly towards the development of anything other than academic skills. This naturally compounds the tendency in all developed societies for children to become attached to technology. Everywhere you go, it seems children are unplugging themselves from machines just long enough to plug themselves into another one. Seeing my enthusiasm, the obvious question was: “So why don’t you move on down here and take the job?” I did my best to explain what we are doing in Miao Li and why it’s so important, and that I couldn’t possibly leave, even for the best job in Taiwan. But I’m pretty sure she was still giving me the How can making tea for people possibly be that important face when she dropped me off.
Later, during the long train ride back to Miaoli, I realized I was still craving. I started looking at this job, and what it had to offer. First, I had to face the fact that part of my attraction was pure selfishness. For many years of my life, most of my pleasure came in the form of canoeing, rock climbing, mountain biking, and other such activities; activities I have sacrificed, all of which and more were abundantly available in and around the location of the job. Realizing this was nothing more than a craving for experiences, I was able to put that aspect of my craving down pretty quickly. But it reminded me how vital it is to do work that offers something deeper, not only for myself but for whoever benefits from my work. And this job was indeed offering something on that deeper level, something incredibly important in fact: reconnection to Nature. It’s something we talk about often around here.
Living in cities, eating processed foods, butchered meats, prepared meals, and packaged snacks, surrounded by concrete, plastic and technology, the majority of people on Earth today are surrounded by mind-made landscapes. An awareness of our connection to and dependence on the Earth is dwindling. There is a sense that we take care of ourselves, that our technological creations are our own, that Nature and technology are separate, but the truth is that everything we live on and depend on comes from Nature in one form or another. As long as this sense of disconnection grows, humanity is in great danger, and it’s incredibly important—vitally important—that we do whatever is necessary to rekindle that sense of connection. So where better to begin than with the children of one of the most technology-sick countries in the world? On top of that, I argued, I’d be close to the Vipassana center, working for a Vipassana meditator, who told me she’d be supportive of time off for retreats and volunteer work throughout the year. This would mean that I could also supplement my service to the kids with a more purely selfless service to a high cause indeed. After all, there aren’t many contributions to human consciousness you could assign greater value to than helping people come out of their craving and aversion and attaining equanimity.
Thus, with a ten-day course and all the benefits of Vipassana looming large in my mind, plus an hour-long drive through gorgeous countryside amidst descriptions of a really attractive opportunity, I did my best to turn my mind back to Tea, and Miao Li. Frankly, after the last ten days it seemed almost a universe away though in fact I was nearly home. Perhaps my ego was seeking a bit of revenge for the punishment I’d just put it through, or maybe it was just the impressionability of an emptied mind, but I was biased towards the dream job. My first thoughts were doubts of the depth of what we offer to guests at the Tea Sage Hut. “Okay,” I thought, “but my life has totally changed from being a full-time student there, there’s no doubt about that. Aha!” The dream job debater quickly seized upon this: How selfish you are, working for your own personal growth but offering less to those you serve!
But then I started remembering my progress down the path of Cha Dao. That first bowl of tea, which eventually led to a plane ticket to Taiwan, which then led to drinking tea every day, removing a couch and buying tatami, and eventually clearing out a whole room and having a place to pray and meditate instead of a place to watch television. I realized that every step of this process was actually a huge change in my life, representing a major shift in my consciousness. Although it may be true that there are those who come here, have an experience and move on, I have seen dozens and dozens of you reading these words now with my own eyes setting their feet on this same path of transformation I’ve walked.
Article by Lindsey Goodwin, Arthurian Mythologist
Photography by Adam Yasmin