Nourishing The Body

Recognition of tea’s health-supporting, mind-alerting, body-calming and spirit-soothing qualities are now making ‘news’ – as they have for thousands of years. But if I put a Nutrition Facts label on the cup of tea that I’m drinking right now (a Chinese green tea) it would look something like this:

At first glance, it doesn’t appear that tea has a lot to offer nutritionally, so why bother? Nevertheless, today modern science is proving what Eastern wisdom has been talking about for thousands of years. Tea is good for you. And being a tea-drinking westerner myself, I have been very interested in learning what science is saying about the many chemical components of tea.

But as any tea-drinker can tell science, tea is so much more than chemical components in a cup. Tea is an experience. The Nutrition Facts label on my cup of tea shows that science does not look to measure what we experience when we drink tea. There are no Daily Recommended Allowances for the emotional and spiritual nourishment that a cup of tea offers. So science does not seek to understand tea in relationship to the ritual that prepares it, the pot that brews it, the person who sips it and the time that it takes to enjoy it.

As a tea professional, I continue to learn as much as I can about tea. As a tea educator, I share what I have learned about the science of tea, as well as the history of tea, the countries and the cultures that produce it, and how it is made. As a tea author, I write about the many ways that tea can nourish, instruct and inform the way I live my life. For me, and this is from the book I co-authored with Lhasha Tizer, entitled Tea Here Now, (Inner Ocean Publishing, 2005.

“Tea embodies solitude and time for quieting the mind; a time for slowness, introspection, and contemplation; a time to look within and get to know oneself and one’s world; a time for remembering all of the Zen monks, Taoist sages, and tea masters who have guided our way to ‘being’ rather then ‘doing’.”

Japanese zen monk sitting in meditation

Tea encapsulates hospitality, sociability, and the opening of our hearts and homes to share a cup of tea with a friend or an unexpected guest. Tea relaxes us and loosens our tongue, allowing our natural generosity and good nature to come forth.

Finally, tea symbolizes sensitivity, inviting us to become aware of all our senses. It draws us in to notice its aroma, the sounds and touch of water, and the magnificent color of its liquor. As we learn to awaken our senses and to understand the spirit of tea at its essence, we can fully experience the wholeness and interconnectedness of all life.

Tea as Spiritual Nourishment

Reaching for my tea bowl as I was preparing to practice chanoyu, the Japanese tea ceremony, I was shocked to see that my chawan (tea bowl) had cracked. With my touch, the pieces fell out, leaving gaps in the bowl’s rim. Seeing the broken chawan had a profound impact on me.

I decided to consult the I Ching. Asking what the meaning and significance of this broken bowl was, the I Ching responded with hexagram #50 Ting/The Cauldron. As the I Ching described the ting and how it was used and what it represented, I saw the chawan as ting. Reading, I felt I was being introduced to the potential depth of teachings available in the study and practice of chanoyu.

In Ancient China food prepared in the kitchen was transported to the temple of the ancestors in the ting, a large, ceremonial vessel. It was then served from the ting into the bowls of the guests. Because the ting was only used in the temple on sacred occasions, its presence was indissolubly linked with that of the divine. The power and presence of the ting transformed food for the body into food for the spirit.

In the same way, the chawan is indissolubly linked to the tearoom, whose ambiance and rituals are indelibly imbued with the history and teachings of chanoyu. In this context, the chawan transforms tea which is nourishing for the body, into an elixir that nourishes the spirit.

Seeing food served was a daily occurrence in China. But seeing food served from the ting reminded people of the presence of the invisible and sacred. Boiling water and whipping tea are simple acts. But when we infuse those actions with the presence of our own spirit, especially as it has been nourished through tea and the practice of chanoyu, its profound principles – wa, kei, sei, and jaku (harmony, respect, purity and tranquility) – consecrate our actions.

The I Ching describes the image of this hexagram.

Fire over wood:

The image of The Cauldron.

Thus the superior man consolidates his fate

By making his position correct.

Wood serves as nourishment for the flame, the spirit. Together they suggest the idea of preparing food. Regarding the chawan as a sacred vessel transforms the tea into food for spirit. In chanoyu, we feel the peace and rhythm of the cosmic order in the folding of the fukusa. By crossing the threshold into the room with the right foot I consciously contribute to the balance of the universe. This hexagram illustrates how I can make my position correct.

Every tea bowl, cup or pot can be a ting. Sitting alone or sharing tea with others, kneeling in the tea room or sitting on the couch, every sip of tea can reconnect us with the divine spirit that resides within and permeates our surroundings

This article by Donna Fellman, co-author of “Tea Here Now”, has been updated from the original publication in 2006.