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Ritual Tea for Life

When we think of a Tea Ceremony we normally think of an hours long Japanese ritual that is as little understood in the West as it is under-appreciated. But this is a ceremony that grew up within Japanese culture as a way of mindfully experiencing the act of drinking tea with a friend - of fully experiencing both the tea and the friend. For us to learn the Japanese Way of Tea might be a good discipline, but it will never connect with a Westerner the way it does with a person from Japan. This however doesn’t mean that tea (or coffee) drinking cannot become a ritual action for us in the same way. All we need to do is connect mindfully with the moment and develop our own rituals that reinforce that mindful connection.

Thich Nhat Hanh says of tea drinking:

You must be completely awake in the present to enjoy the tea. Only in the awareness of the present, can your hands feel the pleasant warmth of the cup. Only in the present, can you savor the aroma, taste the sweetness, and appreciate the delicacy. If you are ruminating about the past, or worrying about the future, you will completely miss the experience of enjoying the cup of tea. You will look down at the cup, and the tea will be gone.

Try this in your own life and see if it deepens your experience of a daily cup of tea - or coffee

  • Clean your space. If your space is cluttered your mind will be as well. Set aside a place to drink your beverage that is free of unnecessary furniture and distraction - maybe a corner of a deck or patio.

  • Adorn your space. Place something in your beverage drinking spot that will beautify it but not distract you. In the East it may take years of study finding just the right style to enhance different spaces, but you don’t have to wait, just try. If the first style doesn’t enhance your practice try another next time.

  • Clean your utensils. Cleaning the pot and cup(s) is a way of honoring the tea, your guests and yourself. It will also begin the process of focusing your mind on the task at hand.

  • Prepare the water and ingredients. Heat the water to the proper temperature - and here it’s the appropriate temperature for you (or for your guests). Place it in an insulated container. Get out a pot for the beverage along with cups - preferable without handles - an empty container and a strainer and place them on the table. Place a container with the dried tea (or ground coffee) on the table beside the pot along with a tablespoon.

  • Brew the beverage. I’m going to talk about tea but you can do exactly the same process with coffee - yes, believe it or not you can steep coffee the same way you do tea. First pour some of the hot water into the pot. Let it sit for a few minutes as you contemplate your space. Pour the water out into the empty container - you can use it when it cools down to water plants so there is no waste. Now open the container of tea and inhale the aroma. Contemplate the slopes on which the tea grows in the sun, the people who harvest, dry and ferment it. Place one tablespoon into the pot for each cup of water plus one “for the pot”. Fill the pot with hot water. Cover the pot and let it steep as you focus on the smell of the brewing leaves coming from the pot. When it has finished steeping take one cup and place the strainer over it then slowly pour tea in to it. Remove the strainer and hand the cup to your guest. Pour another for yourself without emptying the strainer (you are connecting to your guest by sharing the same tea that they are drinking).

  • Drink the tea. Pick up the cup in both hands and bring it to your face. Inhale the aroma of the brewed tea and notice how it’s different from the smell of the dry tea. See how your guest is enjoying the aroma. Feel the warmth of the cup in your hand. Now slowly take a sip. Notice how the taste changes as the tea moves through your mouth and down your throat.

  • Share the experience. You don’t even have to talk to your guest - if you have one - but if you do it should only be about the tea or the setting. Do not let outside concerns impinge on the tea drinking. Refill the cups as necessary until you are both satisfied.

  • Clean your space. When you are finished immediately clean your space and utensils (after your guest has left of course). Return everything to the same state and place as prior to your ritual.

I’m offering this as a ritual for tea, but you can build the same type of ritual around other “everyday” activities like making dinner, cleaning the house, even watching a special show on TV - and I encourage you too. Mindfully perform your ritual - maybe every day, maybe once a week, maybe once a month - but make sure you make time for it in your life. Maybe it will take you an hour to share that cup of tea with a friend that you previously would have gulped down in a few minutes, but is that so much time out of your day? Indeed it’s not any time out of your day, it’s time added to your life because you are experiencing it fully.

You have now created a ritual to help your practice. It's nothing mystical, nothing magical. It is the heart of pragmatism, the heart of Buddhism, the heart of Pragmatic Buddhism. Use it mindfully.

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