Tea Mind

Marina Joy
Marina Joy

This morning it rained in Tucson! For many people living in many places this would be a dreary event; but here in the desert it’s cause to celebrate. Our water-harvesting barrels become full, and our few plants receive a much-needed dusting. For me, however, it means that my personal practices slow to a crawl.

You all know the feeling. It’s time to rise from bed, yet the steady drip, drip, drip of the water outside the window is anesthetic for your willpower. We sigh deeply, snuggle a bit further beneath the covers for “just a few more minutes.” Then, when (if) we finally do get up, we stumble through the morning like zombies. Unfortunately for me, all of my favorite hobbies are impossible in this brain-hungry state.

Well before dawn, I roll out of bed and find my way to the electric teapot. Most days I sample a random variety of tea, but this mentally-soggy morning I was forced to call out the “heavy-hitter.” Da Hong Pao is my most favorite (and the most famous) Oolong tea. The tasty infusions worked like magic, and an hour later I was laughing and smiling.

One of my favorite past-times is meditation. The practice helps me to feel peacefully blissful throughout the day, but requires a clear and alert mind. This morning my foggy brain would have made deep meditation impossible. Tea has long been known to awaken the mind, and has been used for that purpose for millennia. In fact, many of the early tea masters were monks of the Zen (Chan) temples. One famous story tells that Bodhidharma, the bringer of Buddhism to China, was offered sanctuary in a temple-cave deep within the mountains. He vowed to stay awake and meditate for nine years straight, but fell asleep after only a few years had passed. Upon awakening, he was so angry that he cut off his own eyelids and threw them to the ground. (Yikes!) The gods, seeing his dedication and self-sacrifice, allowed tea plants to take root and to grow from the spot where they landed. Since then, Zen monks have recommended chewing the eyelid-shaped leaves to maintain alertness during meditation.

There are countless examples within my own life where some happy tea leaves saved me from brain-drain. While still a student, I remember a teacher quoting studies proving that drinking tea enhances memory function and cognition. So, each day before class, a hopeful group of us would sit together and share a pot of green tea. That trick also helped me when long reading & detailed writing were part of the assignment-load. In fact, one could guesstimate that my educational success was directly proportional to the money I spent at Seven Cups. (I wonder if I could write-off my tea bill as a school fee?)

Also, my partner and I also love to play the game of Go (Wei Qi). The oldest board-game, Go has been challenging and sculpting minds for thousands of years. Like a more abstract version of Chess, it also requires a high level of strategic clarity. We’ve found that playing Go at the teahouse is more entertaining because of its peaceful atmosphere & the mental super-charge we get from a pot of rare organic tea.

All things considered, tea has become as much a part of my mental pleasure landscape as it has fused to my physical life. Perhaps with time, through the study of the tea-ceremony, it will become part of my spiritual exploration as well, to develop a tea mind.