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.