I don’t know how you have been but I was feeling battle-weary after all these months. The pandemic has felt like a long-drawn fight with no end in sight. Even deep reserves of strength need refilling, don’t they? Tea had helped me recentre, bookending my days, but I had come to a point where I was gulping down mugs or sipping distractedly, often allowing it to run cold. Something was a bit off.
This took me to the story of the samurai and the tea master.
A long, long time ago, there lived a tea master who was skilled in the ritual of tea making. To see him perform the tea ceremony was to see grace, focus and mindfulness in action. Some say a samurai warrior, who saw the tea master, was so impressed that he gave him both the rank and robes of a samurai. Together, they travelled all over the country. One day, when they reached a new city, the tea master set out to explore it. Coming across two samurai warriors, he stepped aside and bowed as they passed by. One of the warriors was enraged that a fellow samurai was behaving so deferentially. He challenged the tea master to a duel the next day. Of course, the tea master was disturbed. He returned to his lodgings and sought the advice of his samurai companion—who suggested that he sit down and perform a tea ceremony for himself.
The tea master followed his advice. The ceremony reined in his wandering thoughts and fears, centring his mind on the present. The next morning, when the samurai challenger saw the tea master, he was struck by his serenity. He withdrew the challenge.
In Japanese culture, the path or way to something is dō. The martial art forms are budo and the tea ceremony is sado. Both offer their practitioners a way to mindfulness.
Early in November, at the Virtual International Tea Festival, I attended a candlelight tea meditation session by Suzette Hammond. The hour-long session, with tea aiding it, was calming. It wasn’t specific to any culture, or ritualistic, so it was easy to relate to. I also enjoyed the fact that it was not demanding, that it was not about tasting the tea but allowing tea to bring one’s attention to the present. Hammond used two teas over an hour-long ceremony, choosing them as a complementary pair, and it was an opportunity to pay attention to the tea and to oneself.
Tea meditation is not a new concept—and you can create your own calming and recentring ritual with it. I have now begun a little unwinding ritual of my own, an attempt in self-care, if you will. I find that white tea lends itself very well to this task. If you are sensitive to caffeine, you may want to do this earlier in the day. Take your favourite pot and cup, steep some white tea—take your time with it. It’s an expensive tea, not one to gulp down. So, drink it mindfully, not distractedly. Don’t multitask with it. Give it your attention. As a tea, it’s light but flavourful, handles a long steep well, is wonderfully soothing, and tastes good even if it goes cold.
Tea Nanny is a weekly series steeped in the world of tea. Aravinda Anantharaman is a Bengaluru-based tea blogger and writer who reports on the tea industry.