A Teahouse of the Mind
We define ourselves by what we refuse.
As a naturally curious person who aspires to be an independent thinker, I get lost these days, and not in a good way. We are currently — politically and culturally — awash in a number of complex controversies, and each day seems to erupt in another. Some people have the luxury of a fixed ideology and can instantly make up their minds based on scant details. I envy this. As someone who lives in doubt, and whose gut-level reaction to any topic is to slow things down and try to understand it beyond a superficial level, being able to prejudge would make my mental life less taxing.
But I am not such a person.
There are times these days when I find myself clenching my fist and trying to follow the latest Twittercrisis, and then I stop. Why get lost in the maze? Even if I were to spend the effort, figure out my position and weigh in publicly, my voice would be lost in the sea of chatter. I don’t need to understand everything. I don’t even need a considered opinion about the affairs of the world. At times, it is all I can do to change my baby’s diapers and prepare a sandwich for lunch.
I’ve thought a lot recently about not thinking. And I’ve also been thinking about tea. Although my love for coffee is clear — I have a trio of coffee beans tattooed on my arm — my interest in tea goes back to high school, when I discovered loose leaf green tea and various brewing methods, and saw the enjoyment of good tea as an adjunct to a world of contemplation, daydreams and afternoons with old books.
Tea and introspection go hand in hand. It is often thought that Buddhist monks discovered, or at least refined, the tea-making process at some point deep in some lost moment of Chinese history as a means to facilitate meditation. While coffee is great drink for chest-pounding attacks on the day, tea contains a cocktail of catechins, flavonoids and polyphenols that, taken in combination and for reasons yet unknown to science, seems to both wake us up and calm us down.
Though I can’t travel back to 17th century Japan and find a thatched hut teahouse from which I might admire the tidings of spring, I can build a teahouse of the mind. That’s what’s great about tea. You only need leaves, water and a cup. It’s like writing and editing in that sense. The most elaborate forms can arise from basic tools: paper, pen, chair. Let the world gnash its teeth and growl. Just bring me a little ink and a kettle. Simplicity! Henry David Thoreau, a great sage and philosopher who traveled widely in the Merrimack Valley, would have understood.
Or so I dream while waiting for warmer weather and drinking a cup of pi lo chun, a name that means green snail spring.
Contact Doug at firstname.lastname@example.org