Last post we started gathering the first of the three materials necessary for brewing healing, medicinal tea: leaves. Now let's turn our attention to the second: water. Like the sages of yore described in this chapter of Tea Medicine, "fulfilling the alchemy of Tea" with magical waters, gourds, and urns, we too are going to need our own toolkit. We can add as little or as much magic as we wish. I'll describe my own tools to start.
First things first, we are going to need to find a good, clean source of spring water. For many of us, this is simply unattainable around the geography in which we might find ourselves. For my part, I live in a suburban area within driving distance of mountains. Using resources online, albeit with some struggle, I have been able to find three sources so far, all a little under two hours away. Every experience I have had traveling to these places has been rewarding and challenging for me, but the spectacular difference these waters make on my tea brewing makes it worth it, and for some teas in my view, necessary. So with a map to the potential sources and a car with ample room for bottles, I at least know where I am going.
From a local water shop, I purchased as many 5 gallon water bottles as my car can transport. I opted for glass carboys, as I have found with all things Tea, hand-crafted tea stuffs (including tea, of course!) made from natural materials win out every time. Anytime I have the option to avoid plastic, I take it! My (gas guzzling, air polluting) SUV can fit 16 bottles, but driving up and down a mountain with that many unprotected glass bottles could be disastrous. I found a company online that makes padded covers for carboys of all sizes. On one water gathering trip, on the last turn on the way back home, one of the bottles smacked into another one, causing all the water to pour out all over the car. Not Zen! With the cover in place, at least glass didn't fly everywhere. I have learned since to pack blankets between the bottles for extra protection as well as using bungee cords to secure the water bottles from bumping into each other. I use plastic lids for the bottles while traveling. Once home, I switch over to corks so the water can "breathe". I store them away from light in my (less than ideal) garage.
In use, I fill up a glass dispenser in my tea room before each session. I find that I am often serving tea without the aid of another and so for my purposes, I do use a spout conveniently located next to me for filling kettles without having to get up and greatly disturb the session. Preferably, I would keep my water in a clay or stoneware vessel that does not allow light in. I would also employ a scoop and skim water from the top to fill the kettle. As it is, the water I use does not generally have too much time to settle before it is served to guests, so I don't mind this compromise so much.
Another tool I use in the gathering of mountain spring water is intention. I start my trips with the strong intention that the water I gather will be used to serve the best tea I can to my guests and that my effort will help them all find their way to Tea. Setting off in this way makes it easy to stay present and conscious of the reason for my mission, and less guilty for expending the energy of a polluting car to make the trip.
Gathering water from far away places can make for a long day, but I always try my best to have the energy to unload the car at the end of the trip and have a tea session with the newly retrieved water. These sessions are a great reward to cap off all the hard work of the journey.
There are certain teas that, when brewed with filtered tap water, have the tendency to make my guests and I nauseous. I found that once I switched to brewing these teas with spring water, the tendency towards nausea went away almost immediately. Teas that before made me sick now rest on shelves as potent tea medicine. Because of this experience, I view gathering mountain spring water as indispensable for brewing medicinal tea.
A Life of Tea Practice: Water
One of the marvels of water is its ability to transmit Nature to us. The art of brewing tea is a testament to this! But what about the effect of human energy on the water? Above all other factors surrounding making and serving tea, the one I am most in awe of is the effect of the brewer on the tea. That water, somehow, can contain that which the brewer contains and be able to transmit these contents to another... There are no words.
Here's another experiment to add to Wu De's homework in Tea Medicine. Take a few months to become acquainted with a given tea. Commune with this tea on a regular basis, maybe even daily. As we serve tea to ourselves, we will find ourselves in various states of mind. See if you can discern the effect the mind you are carrying has on the tea on any given day. Pay attention to the thoughts you carry into the session and then what you get out of the session through its duration. After many days of this, you should be able to understand the qualities that the tea leaves impart to the water and that which perhaps you yourself are adding through your participation. Then, find another tea person in your life that you can share this same tea with and have them brew it and serve it to you. You may know someone who exhibits a unique air of wisdom about them; in that case, have tea with this person. Otherwise, pick anyone! Whoever you find, I can almost guarantee you will be floored by what you find another human does to the same basic leaves and water you've grown accustomed to.
Ask Yourself: How do I relate to the water within me? And without myself? Are they the same?
Asking these questions to myself is a very sad exercise. We are living in a world where we can't drink the water readily available to us coming from the tap, or the river, or the lake. Ubiquitous access to potable tap water around the world is a marvel of human engineering, yet chemicals unsafe for human consumption abound in all of it. I personally have the luxury of employing advanced filtration systems to my tap in order to safely bathe and drink the water I have available to my family, but what I have purchased and installed is far beyond the capacity that most can afford. My personal commitment to making sure that the water I contain within and the water that surrounds me in my daily life is free from pollutants is very strong, so I felt utterly compelled to invest in cleaning my tap water after educating myself to the various dangers (horrors?) contained within the water provided to me through municipal systems. I am glad that there is no longer a noticeable chlorine smell in the water we bathe and brush our teeth with, for sure! But I certainly feel saddened about all the hoops I've had to jump through to protect my family and doubly sad about the number of people in this world who have no recourse to this kind of technology.
What humanity at large is doing to our water supply on Earth is a hellish version of the story of the Japanese chajin burying precious spring water at the source of the Yodo river for the benefit of all. The number of atrocities committed daily that pollute our water sources far outweigh, by a staggering magnitude, acts of kind protection such as these. I myself, a person committed to clean water, am complicit in this very act of water pollution just by owning and operating a car.
Even if there were to be a large shift in consciousness at the local level about our municipal water and a demand for change, the political will required to change our ecosystems back to a quality where the water that falls from the sky is the very same water that we can safely drink goes far beyond the level of a city. We can't separate water at the local level from the environment at the global level. The air above my town doesn't have a border protecting it from the millions of people in the surrounding area contributing to the air pollution that makes it way into the water supply. Water is an orchestra of factors that cannot be separated from one another. I can strive to keep the water within myself as clean as I can and it still can't ever be clean unless we all commit to being clean within and without across the planet. I don't see this happening in my lifetime.