Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Paying Respect at a Funeral

In the pursuit of learning, every day something is acquired.
In the pursuit of Tao, every day something is dropped.
-Tao Te Ching #48

I start this post before I empty the gaiwan from last night, before I rinse the dried leaves from the strainer, and long before I've put the kettle on to boil. I started this post because I wanted to make sure I have mentally committed myself to the tea I will be drinking this evening; that I will choose to put myself into a position where, for the next hour, I will be uninterrupted to enjoy the product of another's hands. Too often, I find myself starting a brew, only to get a phone call or to be pulled away for an errand. After two infusions, the gaiwan gets tucked away and forgotten about. I even forgot about one of them for several days and came back to find mold. I often try to think about pu-erh as a living, breathing entity, because, for what it's worth, it really is.

My mindset on the handling of tea changed recently when I decided to see to a different means of disposing of spent leaf. Since then, not a leaf (aside from fannings lost rinsing a strainer) has found it's way to a plastic bag in my dumpster. I've been careful to lay out the spent leaf to dry it, and then, to give it back to the Earth. It makes me wonder how it is that I can be so careful with this, almost ceremonial task of ensuring these leaves end up under the open skies, yet I allow myself to be so easily distracted at a time when the tea still has something to say. How many times have you heard someone explain the way we learn to drink tea? How many times have you heard something about having a conversation with the tea? Even while listening, it often takes multiple sessions before you really understand how to get a particular tea to work for you. Sure, we all have our methodologies; favourite brewing vessels, water preferences, steaping times, and the like, but I've found that I enjoy tea more when I don't count out the infusions.


It takes away some of the magic, constantly being worried about timing this and grams that. To just know when to pour, to know when to pinch out a little leaf, or exactly what colour the soup should be to yield perfection to your tastebuds. I'd opt for the latter. The day my electronic scale started acting up, I can assure you I was more frustrated than when I found out someone had stolen my credit card number. At least with the credit card, I could call the bank, close the card, get a temp issued, and file an investigation. With the scale, I stood there, repeatedly pushing the one menacing, silver button. This multi-faceted button controls the power, the units of measurement, and even zeroes the tare weight! Yet, here I am, helpless to weigh my leaf, helpless to convert ounces to grams because the damned thing is trying to do too much. I believe the definition of insanity is something to the tune of repeating a process in hopes of a different result, and most of the time, it pegged me insane. Oh, but every once in a while, the button worked, and gave me hope that my tea would be perfectly measured every time.

That was a long time ago. I have since given up on such madness, and if anyone can come up with a creative way to destroy the confounded device, I'll happily record a video and post it here.

Regardless, the point is to do what works for you; to do what allows you to enjoy it the most. For me, I'd much rather take the cake, pry off the amount that feels like what I want to drink, and start there.

You can say you know a person two different ways. Anyone who has read the Little Prince will immediately know what I mean, but if you haven't, let me give you an example. You can say your friend makes $71,000 a year, lives in a three-story house with beautiful red bricks, and weighs 165lbs. You can even say they have studied at Harvard.

On the flip side, you can know the way your friend laughs and thinks, you can know know the colour of their hair and be reminded of them every time you see it in nature. You can share things that cannot be measured with charts, science, and reason (or madness...they're pretty much the same thing anyhow).

I this point, maybe six, eight...ten (???) infusions into this tea, but as I get back up to refill the kettle, I always think. Tonight, this is what hits me:

When you spend your life in the company of an individual and the time comes that they should pass on, you can be honoured enough to speak on their life, or their character. I ask you now, how would you rather know them then?

The thing I have learned is the thing I will let go of.


Nick E said...

Absolutely beautiful post

Brett said...

This is a very inspiring and enjoyable post Jamus. Thank you!

You seem to be inviting your readers to step beyond clinical tea brewing procedures. Of course there is nothing wrong with clinical tea brewing... it is a fine and useful thing for newbies or anybody who is experimenting with a new tea...

...but, I agree with you, that tea truly becomes rewarding only after when you allow yourself the freedom and confidence found in mindful and instinctual tea brewing.


Jamus said...

Nick, thank you for reading. Hope to hear from you again soon. ^__^

Brett, I'm always happy to gain your insight, especially knowing the ways you've made tea such a central part of your livelihood, both personally and professionally. You're correct, I am inviting my readers to step beyond clinical brewing, but only when they're ready to take that step. As anyone who has read my posts over the past couple of years will know, my beginnings were very rooted with the fundamentals of ensuring consistency while learning about new teas until one day it hit me: I was reading a book with my left hand and brewing wonderful cups of tea with my right hand. Totally independent of each other, and happening somewhere below cognitive thought. I knew there was something rewarding about it. It's similar to the way people eventually learn their partner's nuances so well, they occasionally finish a sentence, or are silently aware of one of their quirks, totally unbeknown to the acting party.

Personally, I don't think I need to tell someone that tea tastes like rose petals or mushrooms, smells of lychee but tastes like peach. That experience will come with time. To me, at least at this stage of the game, it is far more beneficial for me to share what I learn about the world meditating over a cup of tea. As I mentioned, the importance is finding whatever it is that allows you to enjoy it to the fullest. For me, I'm just pleased that this direction, which is personally more fulfilling, hasn't seemed to dissuade others in the community from sharing their kindness and honest thoughts.

Best wishes,

branded mugs said...

fantastic very beautiful post.