Over the next few installments, I would like to offer some tips for bringing more of the spirit of meditation into our tea drinking. This could be particularly relevant for those solitary tea sessions, which we might savor from time to time. But it is also useful when drinking tea with friends: whether it’s a quiet, mindful session with us at the Tea Sage Hut or even a more bawdy one resembling last orders at a bar! If we can remind ourselves of these tools, we will get so much more out of our one encounter with this tea. Today, I will talk about preparing the space: a key issue before we even begin to meditate. Later, I will explore tuning into the body, awareness of breath, loving kindness, Insight, and finally, a six elements meditation. When setting up to sup from the ‘Goddess best belov’d! Delightful tea!’, one can consider two extremes: over- and under-preparation. As the author of the quote above, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, put it: ‘He who is best prepared can best serve his moment of inspiration.’ And it’s true: there really is something uplifting about sitting down in a beautiful, clean space that has been lovingly prepared.
The mind delights in the Chaxi and the teaware and how they reflect the earlier mood that chose them; the small flower you picked yesterday evening as you strolled up the path sings of beauty in its delicate vase; the lovingly prepared pile of leaves on the bamboo scoop awaits the swirl of bubbling water from the kettle. The body too feels alive and satisfied after stretching, sweeping the floor and tidying up a bit. The mind of course is more centered than it would have been, had we under-prepared and just tossed the session together in a hurry.
But, on the other hand, there is much truth in Napoleon’s idea that ‘over-preparation is the foe of inspiration(!)’ If we start getting a bit O.C.D. about our tea space, the fun is soon sucked out of everything and our tea can veer towards yet another unpleasant chore on the ne’er diminishing tick-list. Of course, it is my personal ideal to always aspire to ‘right’ cleanliness. After all, ‘Cleanliness and Purity’, both within and without. But it is also, I feel, important to recognize where we are. Some of us will have time constraints and others will be less drawn to this aspect of tea and may struggle with it. From monitoring my own attitude to clearing the space, it’s easy to see that I am more of conqueror than a poet! However, experience has taught me that the surest way to fail is to force myself, so I just keep the ideal in mind and express it as much as I am able.
By focusing on the rewards of a lovingly set up tea session rather than berating myself for the times I’m a bit slapdash, I hope to coax—rather than beat—myself towards these ideals. All of us probably feel a bit tight for time during the week and it’s natural to try to cut corners, but my sense is—as a novice tea drinker—that as tea rewards me for my efforts, the time and space to dwell in its company will keep magically increasing!
So, let’s have a look now at how we can improve how we set up our tea space. The first thing to do is to set aside sufficient time to enjoy a mindful tea session. This involves leaving enough space to clear up our teaware properly at the end, lest our spacious reverie quickly descend into a jarring, agitated epilogue. As I live here in the tea community, I’m neither short of opportunities to drink tea nor the space to clean up calmly after. But for the past month now, I have been getting up very early to enjoy some tea on my own each day. We get up early enough here, so it has been a bit of a sacrifice but it can be done. Make sure the phone is switched off, and if you live with other people, let them know that you would appreciate some support with quiet, etc. Then, when you are ready, you can turn your attention to setting up the tea space. As with anything we are attempting to do well, I would really recommend learning to practice the Four Foundations of Mindfulness from the Buddha’s teachings: that is mindfulness of body; feelings and emotions; mental states; and Reality. These can help us to arrive at the first sip in the right state of mind. The mind is really first and foremost in getting ready for a tea session. What are these Four Foundations? And what is
mindfulness? We’ll explore these next time.
Article by Nick Dilks for Global Tea Hut
Image courtesy of Global Tea Hut.