by Phil America:The world was never fast enough for me, especially as a child…
I was diagnosed with ADD in second grade and struggled with school until I was in my late teens. My twenties were a mix of cities, passions, friends, and something new every few weeks.
The life so many of us live is in 10-second increments. The only things somewhat structured for so many of us is our jobs, but even those are becoming more unconventional. Our sleep is often interrupted with the sound of a text message or notification, which we wouldn’t dare avoid. All this, and we are still searching. All this, and I wonder if it is ADD or just life.
As a photographer, artist and activist, my journey into the slums of distant lands and in and out of cultures and villages around the world has exposed me to a terrific amount of variety and differences; however, there is one through line: tea. Tea leaves have been plucked and stirred into hot water for millennia, and that is no different today. Now that I am more often stateside, I order teas from around the world to try to take me back in my memories.
My favorite is raw pu’er tea, a tea from China picked from the trees planted in the 1800s, or even longer ago. I have tried so many pu’ers but now only drink Misty Peak teas. When I make my tea, I take time to be thankful to the leaves in my hand and especially to the farmers who went out early in the morning, leaving their family and comfortable home, to pick these leaves for me. I’m thankful to the boats that brought the tea to my land and thankful, too, for making this time for myself.
Pu’er tea calms me very quickly and activates the theta brain waves. It has huge amounts of GABA, which relieves stress. The tea warms my core and settles my mind. Great tea and a great cup to hold and meditate on—this is all one needs to find peace in a busy day.
Cups, mugs, glasses, pitchers, thermoses, and any other vessel for holding liquid, all these were handed to me in every part of the world, and they always slowed me down. I remember hiking in the cold nights over endless sand dunes in the Sahara desert, when a nomad guide throws a rug on the sand and starts to heat water. Minutes before, we were in a hurry. Now, we sit and watch the bubbles come to surface as he grabs a pouch of leaves from his side bag. He is making tea, and we are slowing down. The bells on the necks of animals and the swooshing of pants and bags has stopped, we hear only our breaths and the kettle.
Let this be a testimony more than a thought. I challenge you to think of tea as a pastime, not merely as a beverage. When a moment gets too intense, or even when it is calm, begin to brew water and pull the tea from your side bag. Beauty and silence will follow.
I often think of those days when my second grade teacher told my mother that we should work on getting me a prescription. I often think of my friend who gave up a lifetime of alcoholism in exchange for the art of tea. How is it that this leaf is in the cup of billions of people’s lives, yet we are only coming to it now? As with anything, let us focus not so much on the what, but the why. In the beginning, drinking any tea will do for a meditation, as long as it is done mindfully and quietly. Meditation is great, but can be discouraging to new practitioners. Let us not need meditation mats or a Vipassana center to find peace and quiet; let us carry it with us in our side bag. Let us pour tea because we want silence. Let us drink tea.