In the face of what on some days seems like a crumbling world, a planet in total chaos, we find ourselves retracting and hiding rather than confronting the fears that seem to be escalating around us.  With daily catastrophes playing out in real life and in the media, it is easy to let fear creep into our consciousness and immobilize us, paralyzing us from becoming fully contributing human beings.

One of the biggest problems with a society ruled by fear is that the one key emotion that unlocks the heart from its shackles and aids us in reaching out to our fellow men and women never finds the space to flourish.  With the ever-present sense of fear, our compassion suffocates.  Our lives and our cities are in dire need of deeper compassion.  The odd glimpse I see of compassion – whether in my daily treks or in the isolated feel-good clip at the end of the 6:00 o’clock news – never fails to move me, to stop me in my tracks to listen or observe what is transpiring.  I am quite certain I am not alone.

Statue of Guan Yin in the courtyard of Daien-in Temple, Mount Koya, Japan. Taken by User:Jpatokal in April 2004.

So I turn to my beloved leaf and seek solace in the cup.  This time, rather than it being a solitary ritual, I surround myself with other tea lovers.  When you are going to steer the conversation toward a discussion of compassion or the lack thereof, there is one tea that was truly designed for this unconventional get-together.  From a Buddhist goddess named Avaloki Tesvara Guanyin – woman with 1000 arms – comes the namesake tea, Iron Goddess of Mercy – “she who perceives the sufferings of the world.”  This archetype Guanyin vowed never to rest until she had freed all the sentient beings of the world.  The name Guanyin is short for Guanshiyin, which means observing the sounds and cries of the world.

Recently, as a group of us savored Tiguanyin, a reticent calm settled over the small gathering.  The subtle orchid aroma of the tightly rolled oolong wafted gently past our downturned faces.  It was the right moment to share a little history of this goddess tea and its meaning and why we need to gather and reflect on our lives and our planet.  It was the time to discuss the much-lacking emotion of compassion that we seem to be losing, not unlike the ability to nourish ourselves and to accept wholeheartedly the age-old responsibility of caring for our aging parents or the thousands of elderly who have no one left on this planet.  

I believe compassion can be brought back through the ritual of sharing tea.  I have seen transformation in people.  I have seen hard, furled brows soften and recede, as the liquor of the leaf is swallowed one sip at a time.  There’s time in each and every day to invite your friends and your neighbors into the ritual.  Introduce them to the tea from our goddess of mercy and compassion and let them tell you their stories.  In doing so, you can practice becoming a great listener, you can nod and re-enforce, and when all are done speaking, you can ask questions.

Through this seemingly simple interaction, we can tap into our innate ability as humans to be compassionate, to be understanding, and to witness the goodness that resides in us all.

A simple cup of tea can be the seed of change that inspires us toward even greater acts of compassion.  There is no doubt in my mind that this will be of paramount importance in the years to come.

So take a moment this week to share a pot of Tiguanyin with someone who needs your ear.  A little love goes a long way these days.  There is a life beyond fear.  Trust yourself on this.

This article has been updated from the original publication on September 27, 2011.