One of the magical qualities of tea is that it works non-verbally. It seeps into the cracks and joints of our bodies and souls, filling them with light and warmth and love and wisdom, whether we know it or not. The more open we are, the more deeply it penetrates. In Vipassana, the teacher again and again reminds us, however, to work ‘intelligently’ with a ‘perfect understanding’ of the technique. It works on its own, but it is wise to take a closer look at what you are practicing from time to time. Otherwise, you may find yourself practicing mechanically, without inspiration, or even incorrectly, which means you aren’t open and aren’t absorbing much of your tea. Tea wants to help you, but you also have to help yourself to get the full benefit.
In truth, you’d find it a much easier task writing a list of the deeply important truths not found in tea than those that are. Actually, I’m only saying that to be open-minded. Personally, I can’t think of even one, so if you’re like me your work would be over before it started. The expression “The Universe in a bowl” is one I’ve heard more than a few times. But how often do I actually take the time to gaze consciously into that vastness as I drink my tea, and how often do I simply allow it to do all the work and enjoy the sense of expan- sion that pervades my whole being as I drink? Both are important.
This life is extraordinarily brief. Where are the decades that have passed me by? No more than one blink, one breath, and now here I am, in this moment, and so it will go and in one more such blink, one more such breath, I will find myself at my death. Our relationship to the end of our life is directly related to our relationship to our life right now. But with all the hustle and bustle of daily activities, daily mind, it’s incredibly difficult to learn anything or practice anything amidst all the noise. This is one of the reasons for meditation: it’s a quiet, controlled space in which to practice facing all the difficulties and pleasures of daily life, learning to face them with balance and poise and harmony. But we have to learn to carry that practice out into the real world, and tea is an extraordinary tool for doing just that.
Practice being born anew each time you sit down to tea, conscious of the delicate and ephemeral moments of a tea session. As with our own lives, the life of this session shall pass quickly and then dissipate, and our task is to learn and grow as much as we can from the lessons that are offered to us in the time between our births and deaths. For me, if I’ve chosen a session of conscious practice, I find that it is often best to look at a single aspect and focus on that, but don’t get stuck in any one way of doing things. For example, I might notice that although the tea in the pot is the same, every single steeping, indeed even each sip within each steeping is totally unique. I stay with this truth from sip to sip and don’t wander from it. How do I relate to this? Do I have a favorite steeping, one I wish I could drink repeatedly instead of accepting ‘inferior’ ones? Or do I rejoice in its uniqueness, setting it free, allowing the brevity of the experience to intensify its sweetness and beauty? Do I cling to it, trying to possess it, wishing it could last forever? From there, how do I relate to my friends, loved ones and fellow human beings on a day-to-day basis? Do I treat them like they are the same person every day or treat them differently depending on if their behavior toward me is the ‘steeping’ I prefer the most? Or do I set them all free so I can rejoice in their eternal rebirth, their ephemeral nature, the sweetness and intensity of their Being, without any preferences or attachment to which face they are wearing today?
I guarantee that if you notice you aren’t drinking your tea in this way, you will also find you are not relating to the world in this way either. And the lessons go on and on: pleasure, craving, aversion, service, sensitivity, equanimity, brevity, humility, respect, listening, presence, peace, laughter, love, connection, joy, purity, Nature, birth, death, beauty; all these and more can be practiced and mastered through tea. In fact, why not challenge yourself? Take a good hard look at yourself, a moral inventory. Find some lesson or positive quality that you are lacking in your life, and then find it in your tea. Or even just think of a lesson at random that you haven’t realized before or can’t see right now. Whatever it is, it’s in there, and once you begin to recognize that your tea is steeped in the wisdom you are seeking, you will begin to find it is giving you the answers to your life as well. Drinking tea daily, conscious of this, has the power to lead one to life wisdom.
For a few moments, I really did want to take that job, and really wanted to find an avenue of thought to justify doing so. I do think it’s incredibly important for someone to do the work my friend is trying to do, and I am even trying to find her a good teacher to fit the bill. And Vipassana has unquestionably been one of the most important changes in my life: an incredibly important tool. In fact, we strongly encourage all our students to go and incorporate it in their lives. But for me, it’s tea that fills in the gaps and breathes the full breadth of life into my practice. Tea is my rung of the ladder we are all building to raise the consciousness of this planet. Tea is just my rung. You can’t say one rung is more or less important than another one, because they all have to be there for the ladder to be complete. Whatever you are doing, there are people climbing through your own rung on the ladder every day. Use your tea practice wisely to deepen your understanding of why you do what you do, to find the deepness in it, and see to it that you make the most of every opportunity, whenever someone comes climbing along.
Fortunately, I was able to transmute all the doubt, craving and selfish energy generated by this experience into tremendous inspiration and increased dedication to our work here, and the desire, of course, to share. As with meditation, tea is a training ground for daily life, and as with daily life, everyone is completely in control of what they get out of it. When a guest comes here, they make the choice where they will fall on the spectrum. It is our fervent hope that all of you will make that physical journey one day and that in the meantime you find the answers in these teas.
Am I alive to collect pleasant experiences, or actualize deep soul-changing wisdom? Am I passively wandering through life or actively learning how to live it? It’s up to me and me alone. Just as I can choose to sit down and merely take pleasure in tea, extracting what I want from it, or become a student of the Leaf, bowing my head with respect and a desire to learn. In the meantime, it is my great honor and pleasure to remain here, holding the space necessary for any of you to come at any time and make your choice with each cup and every bowl, just as you can choose to—right now, in this moment!
Article by Lindsey Goodwin, Arthurian Mythologist
Photography by Adam Yasmin