Tuesday, March 27, 2012

A Cup of Tea Before Leaving

Gong Fu tea service for Formosan Jade Oolong's
“Teaism is a cult founded on the adoration of the beautiful among the sordid facts of everyday existence. It inculcates purity and harmony, the mystery of mutual charity, the romanticism of the social order. It is essentially a worship of the Imperfect, as it is a tender attempt to accomplish something possible in this impossible thing we know as life.”  Kakuzo Okakura, The Book of Tea 

Long before I discovered the joys of felting and yoga as paths to mindfulness and a richer, more conscious experience of life. . .there was tea. 

Tea is so much more than just a beverage.  Sure, you can get it Mcdonalds and Starbucks.  You can dunk a bag of "tea" in water for a quick caffeine fix.  But that's not the point of tea.  Tea is a a beautiful ritual pause in your day where you take a moment to savor not just the wine-like complexity of flavor, but immerse for a moment in the act of making tea itself.  Brewing an amazing cup of tea can be accomplished in myriad ways, from the simple act of pouring good water over whole leaves in a pot, enjoying their subtle unfolding beauty, to the more involved act of coaxing layers of flavor from multiple steepings in a gong fu service. 

Everything can be approached as an art form, and something as basic and humble as a simple cup of tea has been my long time, constant connection to this state of mind.  While not a blog about tea, this magical elixer is real touchstone of my creative life and I will undoubtedly return to the topic. 

If you happen to be in San Francisco, or visiting, I highly recommend visiting Red Blossom Tea  and experiencing their amazing selection of Formosan oolong tea served Gong Fu style. . . and they also carry everything you need to make tea for yourself this way at home.  Learning something new is an adventure, and if you love tea, there are whole worlds of experiences to explore.

I leave you with one (of the many) poems I've written inspired by the sacred leaf, from a darker time in my life when my creative passions were slowly dissipating:

A Cup of Tea Before Leaving
My teapot has cracked,
the kettle leaked its whistle.
These leaves
that bring me subtle
strength, their essence
effervesced like youthful dreams.

It’s all just leaves of tea. The part
of me that was steeped used
to breathe with steam
and bergamot.

The fragile flower-etched
ceramic cannot repair.

I must pour
the little liquid quick
into my cup while
it's still there.

--PJ Church

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Joy and Humility: The process of trying, not the result

"Om" (felted micro tapestry 5"x7")
Have made a few yoga related items lately, including this "Om" felted micro-tapestry for my yoga space.

Objectively speaking, I honestly feel I am somewhere between terrible and mediocre in my mastery of even beginning yoga asanas. At an earlier point in my life, this would have been a real problem.  I am competitive, and want to be "the best."  This characteristic is an asset when balanced, but is otherwise a terribly destructive force.

In my younger creative life, I tended to set myself up for defeat--indeed, not even trying after awhile--when I perceived that I could never "compete" with all the amazing talent out there (I wrote poetry and music when I was younger.) Perfectionism became a reason to not even try.  An inability to be the best at something made that something not worth doing.  It's like an over-sized ego finding a way to be lazy.

I have no natural aptitude for the physical aspects of yoga, which is compounded by how late in life I started, and by the utter lack of care I had taken of my body up to that point.  Three years in, I still wobble out of some single leg balancing poses.  But a desire to overcome chronic physical pain gave me the determination to stick with it.

Most things in life have come easily for me.  But being terrible at something and sticking with it anyway has taught me humility, and it has also taught me that it is the process of trying that brings growth and personal satisfaction, not the quality or result of the trying.

I believe we all start life with a desire to create. Yoga helped rekindle a long dead passion for creativity in me by bringing a sense of  "joy in process" as opposed to being hung up on expectations of a certain result.    Who cares that I still can't touch my forehead to my toes or do the standing splits?  That's not to say there aren't positive results from sustained effort: I am physically living in a different body than I was three years ago, but on any path--creative, physical, spiritual-- it doesn't help to be attached to any particular desired outcome  Goals are much less important than committing to a path. . . .and realizing you don't actually know where that path is going to end up.  Trying as hard as I can at things I love brings me into the moment, into the joy of the present moment.  It's only in the present moment that I truly find the joy in creation. 

Cthulha (female) in Vrksasana (Tree Pose)