Goodbye To A Space

Tonight will mark the last meditation gathering held at the space which moved me to create this blog, Inner Peace & Tea. I am moving out of the apartment that’s been home for over three years now, in which I made my first dedicated meditation room, and where I would invite many people to share meditation.

IMG_2677In a few days I will say goodbye to this place which has brought so many memories, precious moments, and new friends into my life. Thankfully, a handful of friends who have gathered here over this past year made it for one last sit, to share this space, both inner and outer, together for yet another time.

Since 2012, I’ve had over 30 or so people come to share sitting and walking meditation, through biweekly meditation gatherings and silent half-day retreats, and occasional meditations guided live by Buddhist monks of the in Thailand.

The gatherings were offered in the spirit of hospitality, with the space open to anyone regardless of their experience, path, or beliefs. What would come from a modest session of silent sitting and tea afterwards was always special, lucid, simple and intimate – no matter the number of gatherers. This last night was no different.

The meditation room is of the last to be moved out, but still shows signs of my departure. Under the same paper lantern, surrounded by the familiar candles and pictures, the five of us sat in a close circle near the small window, a porthole to a closing day.

IMG_2679Amidst starkly contrasting cardboard boxes ready to absorb the contents of the room, John said with a smile, “Will you be offering a Dharma talk about emptiness and transience today, Max?”

I smiled, and, after we were settled in, guided a sit. To share the simple quiet presence once more was very special. Indeed, to slow down and follow the breath in and out, with my friends amidst a more stripped-down version of our space, the sense of departing became enveloped with a great feeling of peace for me.

Just as our timer signaled, I had a funny sense that perhaps I should talk about what I was feeling, as John suggested. No sooner did I strike the bell did it begin to rain outside. Still clear in my mind’s eye are the luscious green leaves blowing in the distance, the smell of fresh rain coming through the window, and the peaceful but gripping ebb and flow as the rain fell harder, then lighter, then harder.

Over a few moments, we would each turn first our heads toward the window, then our whole bodies, and I remember each of us intently watching, with our whole beings, the view through the window. Immediately in my mind, I knew, this was our Dharma talk. Spontaneously, as if on cue, everyone’s attention was on the window as if it were someone making a speech.

As I began to reflect what the rain meant to me—the clearing away, the sense of refreshing, replenishing, even the subtle reminder that my car windows were open—I immediately reflected on how each of our experiences of the rain would be very different, yet we all watched on with the exact same intent and thoughtfulness.

This would lead me to reflect on what was most meaningful to me in sharing my space. The act of purposefully clearing a space in one’s home, meant not to be filled, created a sense of sacredness in my daily life that was never too far away. And once shared, I could see the potential of that empty space grow to hold peacefulness, community, and closeness. To share silence, conversation, and tea… to share our practices together, as well as our laughs and concerns alike, would make for a context in which to connect with people I had not quite experienced before. To make a place that would inspire others like it did me, where everyone could feel calm, comfortable, and natural—this is what I will take with me.

IMG_2702

After admiring the rain for nearly 20 minutes in silence, we turned back toward each other, and shared our memories and reflections from the space.

It was touching to hear everyone’s unique sentiments, as well as the common ground we had come to find, just by sitting together this past year or so.

What will this connection become from here? As I can easily feel on the inside, what made the space was more than the superficial. Even beyond the people that would come to gather… I feel a harmony between the space, people, and the intention we bring. The room had incense, tea, artwork and muted lighting, but whenever I myself would go into the room, I would feel most strongly the intention—to make the room in the first place, to keep it preserved, sacred, and silent. Beneath what I could see, smell, and touch would be the returning to that very feeling, that quiet thoughtful space.

This space, then, is not quite physical. It’s not made solely of the group , nor the practice, nor the amount of time we meditate. Yet when all of these combine, the camaraderie felt during our time would be truly unique. We could share a tea worth enjoying in silence, or enlightening conversation. Or, we could share a quick, small glance, lit by a smile that my heart would argue illuminated the entire world for a moment. This moment would remind me of the peace available to all of us in the world, waiting for us in that empty space we can share.

To everyone that has come to share this space with me…

Thank You.

Whatever it made available to you, I hope you can find that feeling again and again within.

IMG_2668 copy

 

Advertisements

Tea In The Park: Laoshan Green

Enjoyed some fresh picked green tea at Cincinnati’s Eden Park. Once again, a tea from Verdant Tea, their Laoshan 2013 Spring Green. Steep after steep, feeling the heat from the tea (a different kind of heat than the sun’s!)

It’s a treat being around nature, animals, flowers and trees, seeing sunlight reflecting through the tea. Everything around seems more peaceful with the mind slowed down from making the tea. Enjoy the photos :)

Autumn Tieguanyin – Tea & Presence

IMG_2285

I’d just finished meditating early evening today, and was left at the end thinking about energy – when it stagnates, when it flows, and the ability to live in harmony. Today I got to think about how making tea can bring me into the moment, how this energy can be channeled in a way that, without being excited or accentuated, all the while feels regenerative and nourishing.

I’d just watched a video at Verdant Tea on how to steep Tieguanyin tea in general, so I thought it’d be a nice excuse to steep their Autumn Tieguanyin.

Following the Gong Fu technique meant steeping the tea for 3-4 seconds each time, over the course of around ten infusions. Steeping the tea so often, I got to enter a certain frame of mind in which it becomes tricky to distinguish between how the tea changes steep to steep, and how my own temperament might be changing. That uncertainty alone comes from a pleasant and quiet mind state.

Mindfulness of Senses

IMG_2240

Just beginning to make the tea is wonderful. First by pouring hot water into the pitcher, its heat is transferred to the vessel, cool the water and warming my hand and fingers. Then, after rinsing the tea, I get to admire the warm, intoxicating aroma of spring. The leaves, draped in steam leaving upward, look dewey and have barely begun to open up.

First Steep

The tea is very pleasant, but I know it is only just waking up. There’s almost a citrusy, warming aftertaste. The steeped leaves offer a fresh scent of flowers along with evergreen.

Second Steep

The taste is much more heady and bold compared to before. There’s a brightness to it, balanced by a buttery texture in my palate, and a lingering aftertaste that suggests melted butter. If butter sounds funny to you, you’ll have to try this tea for yourself.

What’s more, the aftertaste leaves an incredible feeling in my mouth I often get when first sipping a tea. There’s both a hot and cold sensation at the same time, echoing on the roof of my mouth and around my teeth. I know the tea wasn’t that hot, but I can feel the aroma spreading about my palate. It’s hard to pay attention to anything else at this time.

Third

There is still a nice flowery taste to the tea that is sort of encompassing, though the silky texture in the mouth is replaced by more of a dryness. I begin to wonder, however, if my palate is just getting used to the tea. At any rate, beyond my palate, my mind is getting quieter and more still.

 

Fourth

IMG_2255

The brightness is back, and there is almost a spicy, tangy sensation on the sides and tip of my tongue that gives way to a honeysuckle sweetness.

Fifth

I take a second more to smell the tea in the cup. It so strongly conveys spring. There are flowers present, along with fresh grass – it’s all there. Before I know what’s going on, I’m blasted with a visual memory of being in a parking lot near my neighborhood years ago, on a beautiful spring day. I truly have to remind myself what is going on, that the tea had brought me there. Once again, I find myself asking how I am so viscerally transported to a memory – is it the scent alone, or the light state of mind I eased into by making the tea?

Sixth

IMG_2264The flowery taste of the tea is punctuated by a woodiness now, that comes and goes, giving way to a lingering floral essence. I look around the room, and still “feel” this taste in everything I see. The tea is definitely encompassing my entire experience. The woodiness, unexpected, makes me think of the “fines” left in the tea strainer. I always appreciate the different colors of Tieguanyin – the dark to neon greens, dotted with brown and reds from the distinctive processing of the leaf. My mind is quiet enough to appreciate the range of colors as an extension of the range of flavors coming from the tea.

Seventh

The flavor is still nice but… The tea begins to taste stagnant. Maybe the flipping advice from Verdant Tea will work here?

Eighth

The tea now tastes clearer again, but with less strength.

Ninth

I get an instinct to steep even shorter, to let the subtlety of whatever’s latent in the tea show. The floral qualities are even stronger once again! I find myself looking for the lingering aftertaste, and taste instead a sort of dryness. I wonder if the tea is wearing out, or my own palate? After all, I don’t have any company, and while the cups are small, I’ve had 27 of them.

Mindfulness

Only half an hour later, I find myself making tea all over again for a friend that came by to sip and chat. We were talking enthusiastically as we hadn’t seen each other for a while. It was nice to have some conversation after so much reflective quiet time.

From getting all the tea and teaware out, our conversation carried along, until I poured water over the tea leaves. I watched as my friend spontaneously paused after an unlikely sentence, her eyes fixed on the tea. Still imbued with our chat, I found myself analytical of her pause, then a quick glance at her eyes, still gazing at the tea in my hand, zapped me back into the quiet “Tea Mind” I had been in before. I don’t know how long we lingered in that quietude—not long enough have hot water spilling all over my hand, at least. When we began talking again, however, our tones sounded more thoughtful. I would later shake my head in quiet appreciation, of how the outer engagement of conversation would dance with inner reflection of tasting the next infusion of the tea.

The only other times I experience such a vibe while talking with people is right after meditating with them. For me, the experience of tea (not just the drink itself) brings this sort of moment into reality, where we honor the inner and outer experience right at the same time, in shared company.