Saturday, March 19, 2016

Living with Tea Medicine - The First Session: Health and Healing

Around the time I set out to begin writing the first entry on living the life of Tea Medicine, I ironically became very ill with the flu. The illness knocked me out for over two weeks. The first week was spent in a constant state of fever. I rolled around in repetitive, nonsensical dreams while my body and mind struggled to find rest. Once the fever cleared, I was left in a very weakened condition. Both food and water tasted completely foreign, like dust. I found it very difficult to figure out what my body needed. Simple soups seemed to hit the spot but I knew I needed something more than miso and green vegetables. It wasn't until my mom, sharing her great concern for my well being, cooked up and delivered a large portion of chicken noodle soup that I really felt like I was going to start coming out of this illness. I don't normally eat any meat, but in this very weakened condition and with the love of my mom, I had no choice but to accept. And accept I did! I devoured bowl after bowl and it did wonders for my health, immediately.
I had gotten myself into a state where I desperately needed help from the outside. I could barely stand up without feeling like I was going to fall down. None of the old health patterns I normally relied upon seemed to apply. I felt so fortunate to have my mom close by to me at this time, especially as my mind rolled around in patterns of feeling forsaken. I knew that the feeling of being forsaken, completely unable to find a connection to anything resembling health through my own efforts, was merely the consequence of the debilitated state of my body, yet it had such a strong effect on my mind that I felt powerless to think any thoughts to the contrary. In this way, the intimate relationship of the body to the mind became so clear to me. With an utterly weakened body, my mind wasn't going to be trustworthy in the least. I had no choice other than to rely on the wise help of those closest to me, who themselves felt called to help me in the way they knew best.
We all get sick at one time or another, and so my story is not a particularly exceptional one. Yet it serves to define the principles of both medicine and health, the foundation of the first chapter of Tea Medicine.

Medicine is anything that puts us in harmony with the Great Spirit and all life on this Earth.
Medicine is anything that puts us in harmony with our Highest Self and all life on this Earth.
Medicine is anything that puts us in harmony with the Dao and all life on this Earth.
Health is harmony with the Great Spirit and all life on this Earth.

Lying in bed, unable to take care of myself, an external agent (my mom) came to my rescue with true medicine. I gratefully took this medicine into my own body, allowing it some desperately needed fuel to find some equilibrium, some harmony. The overwhelmingly negative patterns of fever and weakness shifted closer to strength. Soon, through my own agency, I was able to start making my own health decisions. I signed up for a weekly fruit and vegetable delivery service. I even found a service that would deliver precooked vegetarian meals shipped in an insulated package via FedEx. These luxuries shifted me even closer to strength and now one week in, I feel like myself again. As my body grew stronger, mental listlessness and despondency began to vanish. I am most happy to report that I have even regained a physical feeling of harmony with "Great Spirit", which has allowed me to see that even all the while I was sick, "Great Spirit" was there all along, although inaccessible to me through my feeling. I am very grateful to see this now.
This felt connection is the crux of understanding what the word "harmony" means in the context of tea as medicine. We are beings with an overwhelming capacity for feeling, yet don't we often feel that something is missing from our lives, even when we feel relatively healthy? It is from this common existential starting point that Tea Medicine asks us to question our fundamental definition of health. It wants us to consider that health is not merely the absence of disease, but rather a positive connection with "something". Wu De reiterates this "something" in a number of different ways, but most simply put, it is an active and positive relationship with one's own felt experience of this life. Health is growing in this harmonious feeling.
You don't have to live too much of your life to know that if you don't do anything about your health, you are unlikely to be very healthy! Therefore something must be done, especially if you feel a fundamental lack in your life. For Wu De, the starting place is medicine in the form of Tea, a medicine he finds to be applicable to one and all. Might we take Wu De as our guide to see what might await us? Isn't the potential to find harmony through Tea worth a trial?
So have a bowl! If you can find some old-growth Puerh and start there, as Wu De starts us out in the book, all the better. Global Tea Hut should be able to recommend a fine tea to brew to begin the first chapter in a life of Tea Medicine. Still, at the outset, the tea in the bowl is not the most important component to begin exploring. It is holding the tea bowl itself.

A Life of Tea Practice: How to hold the bowl

Allow me to tell another detail in my story of being nursed from sickness to health. When I felt well enough to get out of bed, I tried to pour myself a cup of tea, which to begin with was a single leaf in a bowl of hot water. Sitting on the floor cross legged, holding up my spine on its own, was grueling. I found it necessary to hold myself up with one arm, leaving my other hand to hold the bowl. This left me unable to hold the bowl as per Wu De's instructions. Experiencing my inability to hold the tea bowl properly with two hands was strong and immediate feedback about the state of my health. It took many more days of trying to hold myself properly upright with two free hands. Finally, after many days of struggle, I found that I was strong enough to properly connect to the bowl. This marked my reaching a state of equilibrium, finding normal. Once I found normal, I was able to practice holding the bowl properly and working to allow harmony to find me. The lesson I learned is that holding the bowl is a really good indicator of how one is currently holding one's self. Tea wants to be consumed in a certain way in order to impart its harmony. As you begin drinking tea, notice any resistance to holding the bowl properly: the base of the bowl resting in the left palm, the upper edge of the bowl grasped my the right hand fingers, held at the heart center, connecting heart and head while drinking.
I have a unique quirk in the way I hold the bowl that I quite like: I do not touch the bowl with my right index finger. When I first started drinking tea, I did this unconsciously. But during one session, I recognized that drinking tea was very much like meditating with mala beads and subsequently noticed my index finger hanging off the bowl. I was taught never to spin the beads with the index finger, as it represented the ego and there's no place for ego in mantra meditation. Now I pay tribute to tea as mala, leaving my index finger off the bowl as a reminder to get my ego out of the way while drinking tea. It is a very immediate way for me to pay my respects.
As you being to drink tea regularly, you'll inevitably come across some of the ego's trickery. The ego, your small and limited sense of self, wants Tea to be casual and unimportant. When Tea starts to become meaningful and a greater sense of harmony begins to develop, the ego invariably weakens along with an increase in one's feeling of being connected to something larger than life. When this happens, often times the ego tries to counteract this by strengthening itself in subtle ways. One way this can manifest is by convincing you to let down your effort in holding the bowl properly. Holding the tea bowl properly is actually somewhat hard because it requires diligent awareness. It forces you to stay connected to the act of drinking tea which, like anything worth doing, is hard to sustain over a considerable length of time. Holding the bowl properly is committing to tea as meditation, holding one's awareness on a particular object. Anyone who has tried to meditate knows just how difficult maintaining this constant awareness over time on any object can be. Holding the bowl as the object of meditation, staying with the Tea, will concurrently increase one's own feeling of harmony. This must be practiced and experienced to be understood.

Ask yourself: Do I respect the things I hold?

Once you see holding the bowl as a meditative way to increase harmony, you can start applying this principle both to how you hold other objects throughout the day and, most importantly, how you hold yourself. When you start noticing how your habits of posture while drinking tea, you will soon also notice how you hold yourself up in ordinary life circumstances. Do you hold your toothbrush with awareness? How do you hold yourself while you eat? Having practiced properly holding the tea bowl, I find that applying the same awareness to teeth brushing or eating increases the feeling of harmony I experience then as well. How about when you are walking around? What do you feel in your heart center? What is the feeling like at the top of your head? Are you able to enjoy yourself walking around as you simply experience your life? Giving attention to your felt awareness of life is to give it the respect, care and attention it wants from you in order to help you grow in harmony. The practice of holding the bowl properly during tea is a formal way of practicing respect for one's own life. In this way, tea practice is the gateway to constant, harmonious awareness in one's life: a healthy life!

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