How to sit in a chair and drink tea

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First, slow down, like you’ve just turned off the highway into a quiet neighborhood. Normal rat-race speed is unsuitable for what we’re about to do. Hurrying through the process of relaxing defeats its purpose.

This experience is all about decelerating. Take a breath if you have to, or if you wish to.

Take out your tools. Kettle. Cup. A mesh infuser if you’re using one.

Your supplies — the consumables — will be two of nature’s simplest creations: water and leaves. Loose tea is best but a teabag will do.

Choose your leaves. Chai. Rooibos. Ceylon. Oolong. Yerba mate. This is a personal decision and I won’t make a suggestion. Depending on the plant you choose here, you may be embarking on a mild drug experience. If you’re running low, on either quantity or variety, here is a wonderful source.

Run water into the kettle, feeling its growing weight, and take a moment to smile at your fortune if you did not have to leave the house to do so.

Turn on the heat. Put your tea into your cup.

You will now confront one of modern society’s ever-present dangers, which is the risk of distraction we face whenever nothing interesting happens for a few minutes. Your muscle memory will suggest something, maybe slipping your smartphone out, maybe leaning over the computer chair to surf Reddit, maybe straightening something on the counter. Worst of all, you may start talking to yourself in your head.

Stay where you are. You’re making tea. It’s tempting to think of the next two minutes of kettle-heating time as something in the way, something you want to get to the end of, like an unmemorable stretch of parking lot you have to cross to get from your car to your destination.

Your impulse might be to self-entertain. Opt instead to do something simple and self-contained, like stretching or looking out the window. If you’re game, just stand beside the stove. Let time just hang there, without making you feel like you should be somewhere else.

Whatever you end up doing for that two minutes, if you stay with it, your simple experience of standing or window-looking will seem to grow in intensity, until your whole world begins whistling and rattling.

Don’t rush here. A boiling kettle is not a crisis. To make sure you’re not reacting, watch it exhale steam for a few seconds. Observe how the world stays together. Let your pulse return to normal, then take it off.

Pour your water into the cup. Set the kettle aside. Heat off.

Find something to put your teabag or infuser on once the tea is fully steeped. A saucer or a napkin. Take this, and your cup, to your chair.

Walking with a scalding liquid is an act that summons the necessary mindfulness on its own. Watch your hands like they’re a movie. They will know what to do. Let the rest of you disappear.

You’ll need a surface to set your tea down on, within arm’s reach of your chair. Put the cup down before you even think about sitting down.

Sitting is something we do absently most of the time, but it can be a very absorbing activity if you make a point of it.

Take your seat. Lower yourself, don’t drop yourself. Let your body sink into the chair until it reaches equilibrium.

Rest your bones. Let go of the tension in your legs and abdomen and shoulders. Feel the bones settle into their natural homes. Give your pant-legs each little tug if they feel stretched. Collar too.

Find a place for your hands. Rest them wherever they feel at home, if only for a few minutes while your tea steeps. If you have armrests, try them out but don’t assume an obligation to use them if they don’t feel right.

Take a big, unpretentious breath, and as you let it go watch the remaining tension go with it. You are looking for the feeling of sitting at the centre of the universe. You might as well be.

The tea will take a few more minutes. Good! Those minutes are a little present, just for you, only because you welcome them.

Use them to listen. Background sound is the sound of world around you breathing. Its presence in your experience is the dead giveaway that you’re in the moment. Let it come to you. When it does, sit in it like you’d sit in a hot tub.

Eventually you’ll notice a curl of steam or a whiff of Chai and discover that your tea is ready. When you are also ready, remove the spent tea, pick up your teacup and sip.

Give yourself as much time as you need. Really, give the time to yourself, as a present. The most important part is to agree that everything in your world, except for sitting with your drink, will be dealt with later. Your gift is a complete — though short — subjugation of the rest of your life. For fifteen minutes, make the rest of your world subordinate to this experience.

The thought may make a part of you nervous at first, deferring the remainder of whole universe, everything dear to you, until you finish your tea. Whatever normally fetters your psyche during the day — career plans, family issues, budget constraints, ambitions for world peace or revolutionary art or a spotless house — all of it can be picked up again and fretted about once your tea is finished, if you still think it’s worthwhile.

It shouldn’t need to be said, but whatever happens, leave your phone where it is — even if it chimes or quivers while you sit. Let each chime or quiver be naked, devoid of urgency, confined to the room you are in, unattached to anyone else out there. It’s just a sound, it doesn’t mean anything else right now. If your friend “Likes” your Thoreau quote, or Tim Ferriss retweets your link, you will learn this later, in a different moment. If the mind wanders, bring it back to your bones.

It’s important to note that this is not an uptight meditation ritual. You don’t need to concentrate, just put your attention on what you’re doing. If it wanders, bring it back. This is all physical, and there are no spiritual pretentions, no ancient wisdom, no asceticism or self-mortification. Nothing here is hard. You don’t have to keep your spine upright like a stack of coins. You don’t have to keep your shoulders back. You shouldn’t look constipated to an outside observer.

It’s actually an indulgence. That’s not to say, however, that you’re taking from yourself more than you’re giving. Most indulgences are pleasures borrowed from your health or sanity — mindless entertainment, processed food, booze or needless shopping. But not in this case. You’re making your pleasure from the cleanest ingredients: leaves, water, and time.

***

Photo by Allaboutgeorge


Tony Draxler December 31, 2012 at 3:38 am

So simple, and so profound. I was captivated through the whole article, thinking of this practice in a grander scheme. This is already my favorite piece that you’ve written, and among my favorites of articles I’ve ever read. Peace and happiness are ultimately the only things that matter to any of us.. Every single thing we do, every action we take, is in an effort to achieve this. I firmly believe that if every person could/would do this (“drink tea”) every day, the world would be a much less hostile place. “Training” your brain in this way will allow you to do it at will. Tibetan monks spend their whole life working on mindfulness and total consciousness, but a daily 10-15 minute breather from the stresses of life is a step in the right direction. Again, loved the article David, appreciate another year of enriching my life through your writings, and wish you all the best in the coming new year!

Donna December 31, 2012 at 5:05 am

Beautifully and very humanely written, as ever. This piece actually made me slow down my breathing, and feel a lot calmer. Thank you, David, and a very happy new year :)

Christine December 31, 2012 at 5:52 am

Just what I needed. Your timing is perfect, as always. Thank you. All the best in the New Year to everyone.

nrhatch December 31, 2012 at 8:30 am

Wonderful reminder to “Be Here Now.” And Now. And Now. And Now.

How we live on New Year’s Eve sets the stage for the coming year. So . . .

On this fine day, be of good cheer
Set a positive tone for the coming year
Laugh when you can, eat when you must
Take out the trash, and sweep up the dust
Greet the new year with a smile and you’ll see
That happiness abounds when we “just be.”

Happy New Year, David!

Write on!

David December 31, 2012 at 9:19 am

Happy New Year Nancy!

Tiva Joy December 31, 2012 at 8:32 am

That was a really nice guided meditation. Great reminder that I really need to do this more often.

Happy New Year to you David. I wish you much happiness and prosperity for the coming year!

XO

David December 31, 2012 at 9:18 am

You too Tiva, thank you :)

Penny December 31, 2012 at 9:08 am

Frickadoodle! This was good! Thank you!

Thomas December 31, 2012 at 9:40 am

A moment of perfect serenity from a small home in Okayama…all that’s missing was a quiet young girl and a small Raku cup. Nailed it.

Terri Lynn December 31, 2012 at 10:05 am

What a delight as I sat down with my cup of tea this morning and opened my email to find this. Ha! Oops! The tea forgives me and I shall too. Of all the potential distractions from tea this morning, this one I am most grateful for. Thank you David.

Francesca December 31, 2012 at 10:23 am

Thank you for all your well crafted posts over this waning 2012. Looking forward to the next essay. Happy New Year!

Maia December 31, 2012 at 10:31 am

Hi David, really well written post.
It’s true why not use tea time as a time to really enjoy the tea and meditate.
You’ve inspired me to go out and buy a nice new teapot and cups and different teas, to make tea time a more of ritual.
Happy New Year!

Naomi December 31, 2012 at 11:26 am

Gorgeous post! Thank you so much!!!

Nathan December 31, 2012 at 1:54 pm

It has been a little over a year now that I “stumbled upon” your website. I have been faithfully following it every week since then. Throughout the past year your writings have been an inspiration in my life. Thank you for all the time you devote to raptitude and Happy New year!

meg December 31, 2012 at 4:05 pm

Reading this whilst enjoying my daily “4 o’clock,” a cuppa Earl Grey. I know well that bit of time standing near the kettle and just looking out the window, waiting for the water to come to a boil. It’s the perfect time to just breathe and regroup, a way to have a quiet New Year’s eve reflection every single day.

Best wishes for a wonderful 2013, David.

Julie Zipper December 31, 2012 at 4:18 pm

SO BEAUTIFUL!!! Yes, all caps are necessary! Exquisite. Exquisite. Happy 2013 David~! May this year unfold with grace, ease, and unexpected joy for you.

Cameron December 31, 2012 at 6:08 pm

I’m going to go put on my sheepskin slippers and go make tea. Not like I usually make tea, rush, fill in the blank spaces, rush, try and enjoy, carry on with my busy day. I’m just going to take 15min and enjoy. Thank you for the directions, I do owe it to myself.

helenshirley January 1, 2013 at 4:01 am

Thanks for the best cup of tea in years. Tealeaves from HongKong that arrived with my beautiful daughter yesterday!
You’ve brought back memories of my Papa who used to make everyone in the house a cup of tea before leaving for work early in the morning.
Great start to 2013!

a. julie January 1, 2013 at 6:48 pm

Thank you – even reading your post took time, made time, demanded time – and provided some encouragement – my natural pace is slower, more measured, more deliberated. Life often seems to demand more and faster – and it’s impossible to avoid getting caught in that from time to time – but not impossible to drop out of the whirl.

John Nasaye January 2, 2013 at 10:00 am

I love this piece. Making tea is now an official ritual in my house!

Cam January 3, 2013 at 2:42 pm

You’re doing good work in this world, David. Here’s to another year of struggling to let go of the struggle.

Lynnie January 4, 2013 at 7:22 am

This is just wonderful.
One of those simple-but-not-easy concepts.
Hopefully practise will help.

Ingrid Sørensen January 5, 2013 at 6:33 am

Thanks, David. I am in the middle of a busy saturday with lots of paperwork for a choreography project I am working on. In the middle of administration I get urges to jump, put on music, check my facebook wall, suffer for not having enough likes on my page, suffer some more for knowing that I know that I know that I should do other things. And not knowing what to prioritize. So for a moment here while reading your post, I just watched a beautifully content computer screen. The world was perfect.
Happy saturday.

Sean Voisen January 13, 2013 at 9:34 pm

Wonderful post! I’m reminded of a great story about tea from my first meditation teacher, Joel Levey, from his book “The Fine Art of Relaxation.” It goes as follows:

One day over tea, my friend and mentor the late Paul Reps shared the following story of his studies in the Orient. At one point Reps had traveled to Japan, with plans to visit a respected Zen master in Korea. He went to the passport office in Japan to apply for his visa and was politely informed that his request was denied due to the war that had just broken out in Korea. Reps sat down in the waiting area. He had come thousands of miles with the plan to study with this Korean master. He was frustrated and disappointed. What did he do? He practiced what he preached.

Reaching into his bag, Reps mindfully pulled out his thermos and poured himself a cup of tea. With a calm and focused mind, he watched the steam rising and dissolving into the air. He smelled its fragrance, tasted its tasty bitter flavor, and enjoyed its warmth and wetness. Finishing his tea, he put his cup back on his thermos, put his thermos in his bag, and pulled out a pen and paper upon which he wrote a Haiku poem. Mindfully, he walked back to the clerk behind the counter, bowed, and presented him with his poem, and his passport. The clerk read it and looked up deeply into the quiet strength in Reps’ eyes. Smiling, he bowed with respect, picked up Reps’ visa and stamped it for passage to Korea.

The Haiku read: “Drinking a cup of tea, I stop the war.”

Monica Rivera January 18, 2013 at 3:34 pm

Reading your post felt as real as following the steps with actions. What a beautiful instruction to follow. Thank you!

patti January 20, 2013 at 9:40 pm

this is so simple and beautiful.
a quiet tea ceremony for one.

Humaira February 13, 2013 at 9:25 pm

Your words are poetry. This prose: an experience. Thank you for this!

~ H

Green May 12, 2013 at 9:46 am

Loved this. “If you’re game, just stand beside the stove.” – I wouldn’t normally consider this – there’s always something waiting to be done, and I usually resent the time it takes for the kettle to boil – and then end up doing something else and forgetting to make the tea…

So I just made myself a cup of tea. Lady Grey for a change. And now I am ‘resting my bones’ (mmmmm!) and savoring the scent.

Next time, maybe I’ll manage to sit and wait to drink it without typing while I wait. I’m still new to mindfulness (after twenty plus years of depression), but it is growing on me, and your blogs are helping so much.

Thank you, this is wonderful.

Randy October 1, 2013 at 2:16 pm

gg

Adriano October 16, 2013 at 2:11 pm

Wow! One of the most beautiful texts here. It feels like popped out from very well aged poetic literature.

theFIREstarter January 9, 2014 at 3:19 pm

Missed this one and just catching up… another lovely peice.

I’ve only gone and given up drinking tea for January though so will have to re-read it before I start again back in February :)

best ways to lose fat fast May 19, 2014 at 3:39 pm

Contrary to other blogs I’ve read which are really not that great.

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