Reflections on Tea Meditations no. 1

I held the first Tea Meditation of the year on Saturday, and a couple lessons were learned on my part listening to the discussion of the attendees after the silence was broken.

The first came when a woman said, “I didn’t particularly care for the tea, [I prefer mine with cream and sugar,] but I really enjoyed the experience of drinking the tea. I was able to separate the taste of the tea from the experience of drinking it, and found the experience quite enjoyable.”

How perceptive! The taste of the tea, a sense perception, had a layer of judgment upon it that under other circumstances may have ruined the entire experience. However, having started the tasting with a guided gathering of the five senses meditation, followed by a brief sit in silence, I believe that space was created, which allowed for her to perceive the taste of the tea as being separate from her experience of the moment at hand.

I encounter this kind of dichotomy on a regular basis, especially during the practice of meditation, taiji, and qigong. From several years of practice, I known now that if I sit or stand patiently for the right amount of time, my heart and mind will settle of their own accord, and I will be able to abide in and perceive stillness. And every time I begin the process of sitting or standing, even if I start with the intention of clarity and quietude, there is still some degree of chatter, some days more than others.

One day in the last year or so, I noticed that it didn’t matter if thoughts were present; the greater stillness was still present, and my heart and mind would settle into that stillness regardless of whether or not those thoughts were present. It took several years of practice for me to have that experience, and previously a thought-filled mind was as bad to me as cup of bitter tea. It amazes me how in a flash of insight, the entire nature of an experience can be altered by a shift in perspective.

The second lesson came while listening to two women describing their processes for meditation when practicing alone. One described following a path to a peaceful place atop a mountain and staying there, while the other described a gradual relaxing from the inside out into a quiet, restful space.

I have often heard that there is no right way to meditate, and have always agreed with this, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t had selfish moments where I wanted someone to describe meditation as the kind of practice I already had, out of desire for either validation or connection. With these two women seated before me, having this discussion, it was so clear from the differences in their personalities and the descriptions of their practices that they were each doing what was necessary to feel balanced. The diversity of existing meditative practices is valuable because the diversity of needs for balance is great.

I hope that going forward, the meditations continue to be well attended so that the discussions can continue to be rich. I know and understand that there are realizations and lessons that come from meditating and preparing tea; learning from the spontaneous conversations of others also brings me joy.