Tea Medicine points us towards a life of harmony. Last chapter, we asked "Am I devoting enough energy to harmony?" If you answered "no", this chapter's homework shows us a way we can begin putting forth effort: a daily tea practice. One gives Tea a fair trial by dedicating oneself to a week of continuous morning tea practice. We start with a small, attainable commitment. The Buddha encouraged his followers to 'come and see' (ehipassiko) and then gave them a straightforward technique (breath awareness, or ten thousand other skillful means of bringing about awakening) to practice, something they could start without any prior training. We should approach Tea with the same simple spirit without preconceived notions. But in order to do this, like a good scientist we'll need to clear out all extraneous variables that might add to our experience of "just leaves and water" so that we can experience what Tea has to offer in its purest form. The list is short: you, a (treasured) bowl, some Sun Moon Lake red tea, the best spring water you can find heated to just under the boiling point, and a seat on the floor or at a table. That's it, save for any great friends who might be taking this great practice up alongside you. You'll drink no less than three bowls in silence and you will experience what it is to 'come and see'.
After my first week long trial with tea, I did not immediately become a convert. However I will say that it was easy to recognize that there was, somehow, more harmony in my life for that week. I wasn't immediately able to say that it was the tea itself that provided that. Even if you approach your tea as simply as I described above, there will still be other factors involved. Perhaps I felt more harmony because for the first time in a long time, I was taking some time in the morning to slow down and do almost nothing. As a meditator, I didn't substitute my practice for tea practice, so maybe it was my meditation time coupled with slowing down for a few extra minutes to have a nice warm beverage before breakfast that caused a subtle shift in my life. Maybe spending time with my wife (who made the trial with me) in the morning in silence gave us both a more calm disposition and aided in a creating a more pleasant morning home life for a week. And just maybe, tea itself contained harmonious properties. In the last analysis, there really isn't too much room for the pure scientist in this equation. We can't factor out all the variables and isolate the cause for harmony. In the end, it matters not. Tea was the confluence of all the causes together. If we look closely, we can see that this is the harmony!
As Wu De says in this chapter's introduction, "hard to believe that something as simple as some leaves in water could make such a difference, but you spend some time with it and things begin to sing to you." It wasn't too long until I heard the song of Tea in the tea itself, no question. Spending more and more time carving out calm, morning or evening and usually both, trying many different varieties of tea of different qualities, I quickly grasped that there was a language being spoken. Sometimes the language was rapid-fire and very exciting, driving ideas upon ideas that seemed to come from a deeply inspired place within. Sometimes the language was slow and long, almost thoughtless, a protracted sine wave humming in the air. Always there were accompanying sensations, again as varied as the language. I learned after some experience that there was a time and place for certain teas, but also that Tea invariably gives you what you need when you need it. Again, that's the harmony!
I also found a few teas that really resonated with me, coming into my life at the right place and the right time. I used these teas to great benefit. Encountering these teas made daily practice less a discipline and more a reason to jump out of bed and get the kettle brewing! What was the Tea going to tell me today? I would always approach these special teas with the same attitude: "It's not going to happen again this time, is it?" And almost always on the very first sip, I would incredulously hear Tea's subtle language speaking to me yet again. Through these resonant teas, Tea quickly became a good friend on the path. I was communing and connecting, every day. And now after some time at this, although I know there are some very rare and special teas with utterly unique qualities that are treasures, all living teas have something special of their own to offer and I love them all!
A Life of Tea Practice: A week of tea
Although both Tea Medicine and this post have given clear instruction by which to accomplish the homework of drinking tea every day for a week, I will add one more instruction to the mix: be reverent. Treat the tea as a sacrament. Wash your face, scrub your teeth with some salt, put on a comfortable, clean set of clothes, perhaps light a stick of incense, make sure your tea space is distraction free and then sit down feeling your level best. I firmly believe that this attitude of cleanliness encourages Tea to bring Her best back to you. Meet Her there.
Ask Yourself: What is my medicine?
At the end of the chapter, Wu De wonders if it is because we stopped taking our medicine that we've lost our feeling of harmony with Nature. I think the dark forces incessantly working against us, including our own minds, are nearly innumerable and without end, besetting every human being as a part of being human. Given this dire situation, we have to protect ourselves. I don't think it is wise to go it alone, medicine free, gritting one's teeth and mustering one's will at every turn. Accept help! Accept community! And most importantly, accept that taking medicine is a part of everyday life because life is a tenuous situation. Some time with Tea as Medicine will reveal the parameters of our situation. Perhaps Tea will reveal how much suffering there is in you. Perhaps Tea will reveal how much suffering there is in the world. And perhaps Tea will reveal the way out of suffering, too. We are in the midst of an ancient circumstance, no matter how modern and up-to-date we convince ourselves that we are. How lucky we are to have found the right medicine for the age old problem of life itself!