Thursday, 18 August 2011

Redressing the Balance

The past few weeks for me have been quite hectic and, as far as tea goes, unusually characterised by a lack of meaningful experiences (hence a similar lack of posts). I've been seemingly chronically out of form and as a result the tea I've been drinking has generally not been as good (plagued by astringency, fragrances that never open up, and vegetal notes that used to and should be subtle sticking out like a sore thumb); a real shame as I've been sharing tea with friends old and new more than ever recently. Whereas a solitary, meditative half-hour (or hour when I could find one in which I'd be left undisturbed) by my kettle used to be a daily routine, since the end of July I've had only a handful of these sessions.

I've always found the tea that I brew for myself to be better than the tea prepared for a group tasting. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised or embarrassed by this; navigating the ever-changing subtleties of any social situation is a perennially downplayed and undervalued skill, add to that trying to feel your way through making a good cup of tea and all the variables associated with it without any instruments while always staying on top of the conversation, and you've got yourself a sizable challenge. The real world, as it turns out, is a rather messy place, and having been jolted out of the moment during private tea sessions by everything from the family dog barking at the mailman to an unexpected visit from my grandparents, achieving an atmosphere of quietude with the mixed gatherings I've been hosting in the past little while is a tall order.

Having tea alone has always been de-facto "me time", and not having it recently has left me feeling unbalanced. When I drink tea by myself I try not to do anything but enjoy the tea I'm drinking. I strive to appreciate the finer qualities of a tea as well as the ones I'm not so fond of. Rough or smooth, fragrant or muted, tea is what it is, and I try to do nothing more than experience the moment I'm in as fully as I can without passing judgement. Admittedly, I'm not great at it, but even in just making a stab at fully appreciating a tea, everything else gets put aside. The result is that for a little while I don't worry about school deadlines, work stress, social conflicts, or any of the other stresses of everyday life.

Out of all of this I take a lesson in the value of taking time for yourself, but especially in the value of spare and simple experiences in general, experiences which don't bombard you with so much information that has to be sorted and prioritized before the task of processing any part of what's been presented can be addressed, and instead feed only what can be processed in real time. In short, the value of being fully in the present moment. I've always enjoyed my solitary sessions, but thanks to the contrast a few weeks of switching them out for group tastings, I'll have a greater appreciation both for the tea brewed and the time to think.

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