Friday, April 1, 2016

Living with Tea Medicine - The First Session: Health and Healing, Part 2

Since my last post, I have learned so much about the importance of holding the tea bowl properly, especially in the context of serving tea to others. If you are working step-by-step through Tea Medicine, perhaps you have not reached the stage where you are serving tea to others, but you soon will! At that time, may you pass along the wisdom of bowl holding to your guests!

Practicing Holding the Heart Connection

Synchronously, my last post appeared online around the same time as Wu De's brewing tips video for the March 2016 issue of Global Tea Hut in which he discusses brewing bowl tea. If you haven't had a chance to watch it yet, go ahead and watch it right now.

This video taught me the importance of maintaining attentiveness to all the bowls at the tea table, not just my own. Watch carefully as Wu De demonstrates cleaning the tea bowl with great mindfulness and respect. He applies the same basic principle of connecting one's heart to one's hands as taught in the first chapter of Tea Medicine. He makes time to physically embrace his bowl: holding it, cleaning it, presenting it with great care. As I saw this, I immediately knew that I also needed to practice this level of care to all my teaware! I saw clearly that although I felt I was already properly attentive with tea bowls, I was not actually feeling the connection. Rather, I was going through the motions of cleaning and serving, following a rather rote sequence of steps I had acquired by habit. In my case, the lack of heart connection was the root of the problem. My tea service had become handsy and as a consequence, too fast and rather disconnected from myself. Once I put into practice what I had seen in Wu De's video, bringing the cup up to my heart center in the midst of cleaning, pausing a moment to feel the connection of my hands, heart and the guests before me, I knew I had experienced something critical to establishing a harmonious connection to Tea. The experience made me consider how many more things I could connect with through my heart center! For those who might find my language "new age-y", all I ask is that you do the experiment yourself and try serving tea with and without the step of bringing the tea bowl to your heart. Perhaps you will also feel the difference between the two methods and find what works to bring more harmony to your own tea service.

Why Not "Why Tea" First?

Another insight arose as I began re-reading the second chapter of Tea Medicine, "Why Tea". During a session, I shared with my wife some of the content of this chapter, which prompted her to ask:
Why isn't "Why Tea" the first chapter of the book? Why does learning how to hold the tea bowl come first?
A great question! My answer was that we have to learn how to be present, which properly holding the tea bowl initiates, before we can receive any insights that Tea might give us. She then asked what it meant to be present. Another great question!
One reason why holding the tea bowl properly is the foundation of Tea as Medicine is because the bowl provides us with a tangible opportunity to practice keeping our minds connected to an experience of the present moment, that which is unfolding right before us. In any given tea session, we'll be spending a long succession of moments in the tea space. It doesn't matter if time with tea is 10 minutes at the breakfast table in the morning before work or an all afternoon ceremony among tea friends, significant amounts of time will pass in which our attention is occupied. Invariably, save for the adepts among us, our attention will shift between thoughts about the past, thoughts about the future and thoughts related to what we are doing now. The degree to which we occupy our time attentive to now is a reflection of how ready we are to experience "Why Tea". This degree constantly shifts for all of us as we pass from moment to moment in our experience of time. In other words, our ability to concentrate on this tea in this bowl fluctuates.
From time to time, some of us might notice ourselves undergo a literal out-of-the-body experience that, while thinking our thoughts, we completely lose touch with our felt experience of being in a tea space. We can't feel the tea bowl, the ground beneath us, or the atmosphere of the room because we are totally engrossed in our thoughts. Perhaps those of us in this situation can notice, once we awaken to having checked out of the body, and reflect: I was not present for that period of time because I was engrossed in my thoughts. The practice of tea, through which Tea becomes Medicine, is working against the incessant tendency of our minds to react against doing the most simple thing: holding a tea bowl at heart center and bringing it up to our mouths so that we fully experience what it is to drink tea. My inability to do this never ceases to astound me. When I am able to stay with the Tea, I am equally astounded, and invariably gifted with the vibration of harmony. I am healed, like a miracle, every moment I can muster up enough energy to stay present, no matter what arises to pull me away. You can't expect to get any benefit from medicine unless you are there to receive it when it comes. So that's one way of explaining why we learn how to hold the bowl before we can learn anything about the medicine within it.
It is important to note that thoughts will arise even while one is grounded in an awareness of the present moment. Spending enough time with Tea, you may experience thoughts accompanied by a particular level of force or importance which can be felt by the physical body. This confluence of meaningful thoughts together with physical sensation is known to meditators as "insight". Truly this is the form through which Tea's Medicine is to be experienced, but only by those who have readied themselves for it. Perhaps down the road, you will learn to differentiate between the quality of thoughts that occur while "checking out of the body" and those that occur through "staying with the Tea".
Have you made space for Tea to be poured into the bowl you are now holding?

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