The intent and way of tea
Gavin T. Murphy keeps a blog on ilovebipolar.com and he looks to Ignatian Spirituality for strength and inspiration.
I met with a meditation group called Deeper Space on Sunday, 4 November in the town of Newbridge, County Kildare, just an hour from Dublin city. We, an intimate group of three, finally settled down for a cup of tea in a local café after a spot of lunch elsewhere and a walk along the river.
Over the last year or so we have tried to create a ‘deeper space’ at different places by reflecting on themes such as living in the now, sacredness and intuition. We paused for a few minutes of silence and shared our thoughts and feelings with each other. Recently, we thought it would be good to try something new. Tea or coffee drinking had always been part of our meetings, so why not simply meet for tea – a daily ritual – and make this our meditation?
An Irish tradition
As we met in the café and let our tea brew, I shared a few facts about the history of tea in Ireland and made the connection with meditation. Tea drinking reportedly became common among the upper class in the 1700s and was widespread in the general population after the Famine. Irish tea merchants dealt with British traders until the Second World War, where difficulties with importing spurred them to go directly to the source, first to India and later to Africa.
According to research by Bord Bia (the Irish Food Board), tea drinking is synonymous with the home: it has the effect of a security blanket that helps to soothe and calm the mood. It is meditative in that it is “slow, reflective, contemplative, warm, friendly, relaxed and comforting”.
Towards beauty and light
The other group members appeared to slow down and bring a sacredness to our gathering. There was a moment of silence and perhaps some deep breathing, and they had calm expressions on their faces. I also made an attempt to be more present by slowing down. I mentioned that having a purposeful intent was important for meditation, for example, ordering ourselves towards beauty and light. There seemed to be an acknowledgement of this as we started to sip our tea – consisting of the traditional black tea for two of us and herbal tea for one.
I noticed a subtle but significant difference to our gathering: our conversation opened up and encompassed an honest, inclusive sharing among friends. We spoke calmly about life’s experiences and deeply listened to each other. During meditation, there is an expansion of the heart and mind, and this was characteristic of our time together. We did not shy away from talking about our challenges and we did so in a “slow, reflective, contemplative, warm, friendly, relaxed and comforting” way.
This everyday activity became that extra bit special and it helped that we were all on the same page, having experienced other meditations together before. We continued sitting, sipping and chatting for an hour or so, and when it came to draw our meeting to a close there was a mutual affection and regard for one another.
A space of belonging
One member commented on our tea drinking: “I’ve begun to see us three as a Triad! I think we need to say our truth in a safe space and it is important to have disagreements and to learn from each other. I feel between us in talking we can help each other with what we know and go to another level in a warm safe space. We are different with different experiences but on the same journey”.
The other member noted: “Holding steaming cups of tea around the table, we celebrated belonging”.
Spreading the joy
I was delighted to hear the feedback and I very much appreciated the experience of a “warm safe space” and the celebration of “belonging” between us. Since meeting as a group, I’ve made attempts to bring the meditative intent and way of tea that we experienced into other situations.
I tuned into a sacredness when noticing the steam rise from the cups with my colleagues at work. I slowed down and let the ritual – an activity that is enough in itself – to simply do its thing. I was mindful of pouring milk into the tea while alone on the train to Belfast, and I paused for a moment or two. I recall sitting in a café with my mam when I was out sick with bronchitis: we shared our faith and spirituality with each other while pouring the tea from the pot.
Yes, there is something truly special about drinking tea with a meditative intent and way. Our Deeper Space group was fortunate enough to experience more than a glimpse of what this Irish tradition can offer, and I hope we can continue to carry forth the sense of spaciousness in future occasions. We have the opportunity to tap into meditation in a unique way on a regular basis, and how wonderful that is. Here’s to a real cup of tea!