Autumn Tieguanyin – Tea & Presence

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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

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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

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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.

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Max’s Article In Mindful Youth’s Website

Check out my article posted in MindfulYouth.org, a non-profit where I have been co-facilitating meditation activities with at-risk youth and kids in Cincinnati, OH. This article talks in particular about my experiences doing sessions with incarcerated youth at Cincinnati’s Juvenile Detention Center, where I have learned a lot.
Click Here for the link to the article on the site!
Text of article is also below. Thanks for checking it out :)

Finding Freedom Within

In many ways, you could say that the topics and values of Mindful Youth are most relevant in Cincinnati’s juvenile detention center. It’s known formally as The Hamilton County Juvenile Court Youth Center, but more often it is called “2020,” after its street number on Auburn Avenue. It is a destination for Mindful Youth every Friday afternoon, which conducts a voluntary group that includes mindfulness meditation, discussions and games.

It’s through assisting with this workshop that I first became involved with Mindful Youth, in August, 2012. I have helped facilitate the group since then, and have gotten to see just how important the practices of mindfulness can be, through conversing and learning with dozens of teens incarcerated there. Many of the youth we see are living through some of their most turbulent times, juggling issues and emotions that carry great hardship, disorder, and uncertainty. The topics we discuss, of managing stress, identifying emotions such as anger, and bringing one’s mind into the present and out of the past or future, all have a heightened relevancy within the confines of 2020.

For those of us not incarcerated, and perhaps especially those of us who never have been, we might tend to regard those in jail as “getting what they deserve.” It can be easy to think in terms of “I told you so” when witnessing the cycle of many individuals who continually end up in 2020, from their pre-teen years all the way through their young adulthood. However, the nonjudgmental approach that we maintain at Mindful Youth proves to be all the more illuminating in a setting such as this. Engaging the youth in a manner that is human-to-human, we see the annals of human suffering we all share—yet under a magnifying glass, emphasized by the context of their present circumstances. When we can look past their charges, we see teenagers with minds tested to their limits, often coerced from a place of reason and cornered into survival mode. Here, the work of Mindful Youth would seem all too essential, as we aim to bring an alternative to impulse, and show a way to accept oneself. To do this, we use mindfulness of breath, thoughts, and body, to “tune into” ourselves. In slowing down their minds, teens might find more choice in how they respond to their lives, and less impulse to react to different situations and people.

In many ways, the topics that come up in our groups at 2020 are shared by all of humanity—only they are highlighted quite well by their immediacy.

One such topic came up during our first session in 2013, after coming out of a body scan meditation. The exercise was explained as a way to “slow your mind down to a place of acceptance, and find freedom within yourself.” Without hesitation, one of the youth looked at me and said, very plainly, “freedom is where y’all are going to, once our group is done, while we’ll still be locked up in here.”

We acknowledged his sentiment, which was certainly shared by the other seven young men in the group. A few others then asserted that their clothes, environment, and meals were constant reminders of where they were. “How could we possibly feel free?”, they would ask. We expressed that we respected their experiences, and that our aim is not to disprove them, only to offer a way to embrace them with less judgment. A couple of youth nodded their heads, while the first teen gazed our way earnestly, without blinking.

I felt this exchange at first to be satisfactory, that we had reached a point of mutual understanding with the teens. But this short dialog would replay in my mind throughout the following week. Just how do you convince someone incarcerated that they are free? In my mind, I know it is possible. I have witnessed it during our groups on numerous occasions, such as right after playing a mindful walking game with the youth, when multiple teens blurted out “I completely forgot about my court date just now.” Another day, following a 15-minute body scan meditation; a participant said with amazement, “you helped me find peace in 2020.”

Still, this young man’s earnest look stayed in my memory. I thought of his peers that day, who lamented about not being at home, not being free, not being able to make choices for themselves. I thought of the lives they would indeed return to when they would finally be released. How stable were these lives? Are they not also replete with struggle, rules, and unpleasant circumstances?

My mind then turned to the lucid writings of writer, poet, and peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh. To the apparent dreariness and barrenness of winter, he shares his own truth:

In April we cannot see sunflowers in France,
so we say the sunflowers do not exist.

But the local farmers have already planted
thousands of seeds, and when they look
at the bare hills they may be able to see the sunflowers already.

The sunflowers are there.

They lack only the conditions of sun, heat, rain, and July.

Just because we cannot see them
does not mean they do not exist.

Just as the seeds of hope and peace can exist latent within us, so can seeds of conflict and recklessness. For some of the youth, I would assert that if they look more deeply, the seeds of incarceration were, in some ways, perhaps already present even before they were ever taken into jail; it could be the renouncement of freedom amidst peer pressure; yielding to the impulse to make an easy buck or two; the resignation that “I’m already ‘bad’ … what difference would it make?”
Surely, in small, cumulative ways, some of these youth had experienced that same lack of freedom before ever arriving in jail. Without the sort of insight awareness that mindfulness brings, one may not see just what seeds are being watered by certain habits and choices.

My reflection on this issue then came full circle: we all at times might be reinforcing our own sense of imprisonment, however lightly than those actually serving time in jail. Even in small, seemingly harmless ways, we might be watering unhelpful seeds within ourselves.

The techniques of mindfulness we explore are not just for those with a record; they’re relevant for each of us; to help us find ourselves where we are, so that we might be the kind of people we want to be—more often. The approach of Mindful Youth, as “humans talking with humans,” shows me just how practical and unique the approach of mindfulness is as a way of engaging ourselves. By looking deeply, we can see the humanity we all share, and how the struggles of the incarcerated youth we visit are those we all face at one time. How do our actions and thoughts make us feel less free at times, and how can we refresh our outlook to find that internal sense of freedom, equanimity, and peace? Even for those serving time, that refreshment may be just one breath away.

Happiness Unhidden

Insight today: Prerequisites of happiness.

One of my favorite questions Robert Holden asks is, on a scale of 1-10, how happy are you in this very moment?  Can you allow yourself to envision the feeling of being one level happier? Now, WHAT would it take to be there? How often I remain in a middle-level happiness simply because I’m not taking full stock of what is. Simply asking yourself this question brings you more in touch with what’s here. [Keep reading below the picture]
Do I confuse happiness with happy states? What are the prerequisites for happy states? Not circumstantially, but within my own being? How is the instrument of myself usually tuned when I receive genuine happiness?

For me, a willingness to be connected. An openness, acceptance, being present to myself and others, allowing myself to be right here, comfortable, rooted, and engaged.

 

Maybe this offers more insight than does the “technique” of pursuing happy states and circumstances that seem to birth them. Sure, circumstances bring about a happy state, but doesn’t my inner temperament have a role in it? It must, because I’ve found myself on a beautiful sunny warm day, in the company of nature, good friend, or family, and simultaneously unhappy.

 

May my moments be infused with the spirit of being open, in that way that inclines me toward happiness.

If I concentrate on anything, may it be to remember this way of being that makes me most “ready for happiness.”

Wonderful Quote

When we drop the idea that we’re supposed to be having a certain kind of experience and open ourselves to the experience we are having, then we avoid nothing, and we fear nothing, because we are right here with ourselves.

– Cheri Huber