Friday, July 29, 2016

Living with Tea Medicine - The Fifth Session: The Great Connector Part III; Connection to Others

Calligraphy above Wu De's bed: ""In every breath, in every step, from the moment I wake till the moment I sleep, I am preparing tea."
Thus far in our journey through Tea Medicine we've worked on some excellent homework assignments that helped us grow closer to ourselves. We found a tea bowl to call our own and learned how to hold it with reverence. We started a tea practice, giving ourselves an entire week to center ourselves each morning with our new Friend. (I can only assume if you are reading this blog still, you've carried on past the first week!) Finally, we cultivated one of the Four Virtues of Tea, Tranquility, and deepened our practice still. Now from these humble beginnings, we are asked to serve tea to another!
If this homework already feels overwhelming, take the first step towards accomplishing it by calming down. No really, grab your bowl and some tea and serve yourself. First lesson in serving tea is that you are no good to anyone unless you are good yourself. In fact, that's one of Wu De's important tea service admonitions: "Never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever pick up the kettle until your heart is still." This also applies when serving tea to yourself. Now can see you why we cultivated Tranquility before we began to practice serving others?
Now that you've calmed down a bit, there's another thing to point out about this homework. When you begin sharing with others, you'll start by serving leaves in a bowl with as little pretension as possible. You might tell your guest(s) about the homework you recently accomplished, drinking three bowls consumed in silence for a week first thing in the morning, and invite them to do the same with you one morning. You can only authentically show others what you yourself have experienced, right? Serving tea in this way to another does not require you to have any kind of mastery of tea preparation. Just be like the simple fisherman in the Rikyu story. Making a couple blunders in your first attempts to serve might actually be helpful. It's never wrong to be in humble service to Tea.
The silent tea space amplifies every action and thought. When we introduce silence into the sharing of tea, we are taking a step past tea as mere beverage and into Tea as Medicine. In this space, Tea doesn't kowtow to the superficial as readily as it might in other contexts. What is a simple kettle to your left hand when drinking tea leisurely by yourself can turn into a heavy, portentous weight when sitting across from another in silence. That might be the case even with a stilled heart! There is a certain responsibility required of the one serving in silence. In taking on this role, one becomes an important emissary of the Leaf. If this simple service is done right, with an open heart and a reverence for one's guest and the moment, the potential for transformation is great. You will quickly find that transformation works both ways, in both guest and host, almost invariably. I cannot recall there ever being a time I served my guests in which they experienced all the fun while I merely passed along the hot water. As Wu De writes, "Tea connects people and heals our differences." In Tea we're all equal participants and we get to experience whatever the Leaf is ready to pass along to each of us.
With this said, it's important to remember, especially as one starts serving to more and more people in different contexts, that Tea meets each of us where we are in that moment. Although there can be common lessons imparted by a particular tea to both host and guest, one cannot expect tea to produce consistent results in all. Asking a guest if they feel the energy or qualities of a tea in a particular way can lead to some awkward moments. Not everyone can feel Tea's energy and taste is highly subjective. Staying humble, staying non-judgmental, and perhaps staying silent might help prevent some unwanted blunders as you get comfortable in the role of serving others.
Although it might be hard to imagine now, there is every possibility that you will continue serving lots and lots of people as you progress on this path. After all, the tradition espoused in Tea Medicine is not a tradition of making tea, but rather serving Tea. Taking these first steps from self-orientation towards other-orientation is part and parcel of a life of Tea. Yet along the way, you might find yourself feeling far away from being a qualified servant, feeling less than capable of serving one's self, let alone serving anyone else. Life's turbulent nature has a way of putting even the most stable and carefree of us humans through the ringer from time to time. Having cultivated being other-oriented through a life of Tea for some time, you will find yourself able to bounce back from self-pity rather quickly. The suicidal tendency to throw it all away and give up, whatever it might be to you, diminishes. Tea itself helps one realize one's deep inherent value to humanity. A life of serving others, through which you truly serve yourself greatly, will help keep everyone moving forward on this grand journey through life. We all have so much we want to accomplish in the short amount of time we're given here on Earth. So if one random day you find yourself circling around inside your mind stuck on the couch in your own personal pity party, do whatever you can to pour yourself a stiff cup, get those dishes washed and those rugs vacuumed, and get ready to serve some Tea to your guests pronto!

A Life of Tea Practice: Serving Tea

Start serving the first person you think of that you suspect will be turned on by tea as much as you have been. Being "the friend that turned me onto Tea" is a wonderful title! Next, serve those that you live with. As you get more comfortable in the silent tea space, you might try and serve someone you're having issues with. Do your level best to let Tea reveal the solution to your guest (and yourself!) and not to use the tea session as an excuse to get things off your chest. You'll be pleasantly surprised with Tea's ability to turn a big "something" into nothing at all in no time.

Ask Yourself: Am I as giving and connected to others as I would like to be?

There are countless instances in Zen literature describing the dissolution of the barrier between self and other. I've been fortunate to experience this dissolution within a number of tea gatherings, but never to its ultimate, full extent. I am not qualified to talk about that at all! I say all this to point out that until that end is reached, there's always more giving and connecting to be done. Do your best to come out of the bondage of the idea of a self!

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