Monday, September 13, 2010

Why do I use tea to meditate?

The first day I had the experience of being tea drunk was 7 years ago. I was on a leisurely afternoon walk through an old Hong Kong street. It was a sunny day in fall and there was a light, clean breeze traveling through the cobblestone alleys. Temples and colonial brownstones were interwoven with mulberry trees. A tea shop on a Qing dynasty stone street caught my eye.

It was a very ordinary small establishment, like most of the stores in the area. There was nothing loud or attention-grabbing about it. A young lady was packaging boxes, and she kindly invited me to sit with her, have a cup and take a break. I had my traveling bag and camera on, a very touristy look that I am not too keen on. She gave me the normal, watered-down Anxi Light Tikwanyin to start and the conversation begins: “Where are you from?” she asked. “Born here, living in the States,” I replied. “What do you usually have?” she continued. “Anything that's old.” These are my normal conversation starters through the years of tea-shop hopping. Usually what follows is a salesperson starts pulling expensive, aged teas and claiming an extra 30 years vintage on them. Often enough, after looking at or smelling those “shop treasures” I will give them a last chance to explain the origin before their stories fall apart and I politely walk out. This time, it was very different. Perhaps I had met this young lady before (through my years of tea shopping) or maybe she thought I looked like I knew what I was talking about. She opened herself up generously. “Whats the oldest tea have you experienced so far?” “Around 50 years old,” I said. “Do you like it?” she asked. “I am still new to aged tea, still learning about what to look for.” My tone changed—I was trying to be humble.

“To tell you the truth,” she said, “This is my last day working here. I will be traveling in China for awhile, and I don't think I will be back in Hong Kong any time soon. I think it's fate you walked in before I went on with my adventure, and I think we will meet again over tea.” At this moment, a young man walked in. I could see that they were dear friends. He had a slim build and round spectacles and a long, pulled-back pony tail, and had a hand-painted paper fan with him. What an intriguing presentation. Naturally, when good friends gather around, we tend not to be stingy as it is the Mandarin's way to give and receive. She opened the lid of a small Yixing Zhisha and carefully poured hot water in a very controlled stream. A quick pour over to seal the pot and we started drinking when the body of the tea pot began absorbing the spilled tea around it. I took my first slurp, then the second… it was awakening.

“Try to remember this feeling,” she said. “This tea moment, you will never forget it.” She was right, it was my first true tea moment, and I just remember that I was truly happy, like I was getting a soft hug from grandpa. I think I did stay for a good half day until sunset. Mr. Zhi parted with a calligraphed poem documenting our meeting on bamboo stick stuffed with puerh. “Until the mature period of this tea, this bamboo will lead us together again.” “Perhaps; my tea learning is still so tender, and I am looking forward to the day we share a cup again.”

Drinking good tea carries me to this state of mind often: Quiet, content, and caring. A nostalgic feeling that I am familiar and comfortable with. For me, that's a sense of meditation. Mindfulness and relaxation. I am lucky enough to have had a handful of these true tea moments in my short tea journey so far. Each was accompanied by like-minded souls, old and young. I will not forget these humbling experiences that make me feel alive and connected. The blessing is that I have found my path through tea and it is truthful, honest and fundamental.

How to Cook Your Life.... How to Brew Your Tea.


Noica X said...

this is so beautiful.

thank you for sharing your story.

Ian said...

What a beautiful experience and gift! Thanks for sharing

toki said...

Thanks you Noica X and Ian. I am so happy that you both felt my joy from tea.

And Thank You Rachel Bergman, you have given a breath of new life to my old memory.

Cheers ~ T

Justin said...

Wonderful post T. This is the reason we drink tea.

Max D said...

Beautiful story! Whenever someone mentions being tea-drunk, I am reminded of the classic ‘The Seven Cups of Tea’ (七碗茶詩) poem by Lu Tong

toki said...

Thanks Justin and MaxD. The tea drunk was a awaking call : ) Enjoy ~ T

dimitris said...

"Tea: a series of lessons in the developement of the senses and a QUIETING of the mind"
Wonderful experience. Thak you for sharing.

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