Connecting with our senses in a Tea appreciation ceremony - Tea ceremony & meditation in Auckland

“To be fully alive, fully human, and completely awake is to be continually thrown out of the nest. To live fully is to be always in no-man's-land, to experience each moment as completely new and fresh. To live is to be willing to die over and over again.” Pema Chödrön

 Image: one of my tea sittings amongst trees in Auckland

The modern world we are living in right now is filled with noises and stimulation. We have instant access to what's going on in any corner of the world. Our senses are entertained or even abused all the time with the modern lifestyle and its convenience. At home, television can be the background noises playing news nonstop. At the office, music is being played as silence is considered awkward. When some of us are out for a walk, headphone is plugged in so that we can tune into podcast or our favorite playlist again because walking alone seems too boring.

In 2022, when I reconnected to The way of tea, I also learned to reconnect to my senses. I used to love multitasking, usually 2 or 3 things all at once as one activity alone feels like not enough. When I eat, I need to watch a show. When I draw, I need to listen to a podcast. When I read, I also need to put on some background music. I always have earphones on. The thing is when I over entertain my sense of hearing, I completely forget to feel my body. I could sit on the couch and not moving regardless of my knees' pains for hours. I could overeat or starve myself from time to time as I got used to ignore my body for a long time.

My first tea ceremony was at a small tea house in Hanoi. It was a very simple tea ceremony with Vietnamese lotus tea. The tea house was quiet with no background music, only the sound of the tea, the wind, the leaves and the pond. Green tea was bitter as usual but there was also the subtle sweetness and umami taste. The smell of tea was strong and there was also the smell of the fresh lotus' leaves. With every sip of tea, I could feel the sensations in my body like every single cell was celebrating being alive. It was the recognition of this oneness connection within and without myself that strikes me. Everything is one. There is no separation.

I have been learning & practicing The way of tea ever since. I have been hosting tea ceremony & meditation in Auckland since January 2023. In almost every tea session I hosted, people shared that they felt deeply connected to their senses and that everything tasted so much better. Most people felt the deep bond with life when being so rooted in the present moment through The way of tea.

The way of tea is the way of life. And we are life itself. We are not separated from life. Tea just guides us back to remember the essence of who we truly are. And the first thing is in the framework of our own physical body, the connection with our senses.

In this article, let's dive a little deeper into understanding the essence of a tea ceremony and How to connect your senses in a sitting with tea.

What is a Tea ceremony?

Tea ceremony or tea appreciation ceremony is a ritual in which tea is prepared, served and received in reverent silence in which all of our senses become anchors to rest into the present moment.

A tea ceremony is the art of giving and receiving. Learning to give and receive is part of being human and living in the society. Every participant in the tea ceremony is a giver and a receiver, both the host and the guest(s). Giving and receiving are 2 sides of the same coin. In a tea ceremony, the host and guest(s) spend a mutually heartwarming time together over a cup (or bowl) of tea. There is appreciation from both sides in realizing that the time shared can never be the repeated as there is no tea ceremony ever the same. A tea ceremony is forever a "once in a lifetime" occasion. The giving is in the effort of being here and now and the receiving is also in being here and now.

The essence of giving and receiving in tea ceremony goes beyond the activities of serving and drinking tea. It is in allowing our senses to guide us through the journey with tea. It is in celebrating the depth of a single moment together with all of our beings, our sensations, our heart, mind and spirit. All rests into the oneness love and that there is no separation.

How to connect your senses in a sitting with tea?

Our senses are all important for us to navigate through life in any interaction we have in the material world. In our everyday life, we engage with our senses in autopilot mode. When something smells bad, we will notice immediately. When something sounds different, we will detect in a second. Usually, when something goes wrong, it tends to catch our attention a bit faster. And we often think we wouldn't miss the obvious unusual sense. These are all when we are in autopilot mode.

When we actively engage with our senses, we pay attention to what is going through our body and at the same time, we truly experience life in that moment. Life is a collection of moments. The moments that we experience between our births and our deaths is a sacred gift. As Michael A.Singers says, "giving meaning to the time between your birth and death".

In a sitting with tea, this is our main practice: to celebrate the sacred moments with all of our senses. The art of connecting deeply with our senses has 2 parts: the attention awareness, and the surrender experience.

The first part, the attention awareness, happens when we nest our awareness into our senses. Where attention goes, energy flows.

The second part, the surrender experience, starts when we keep letting go of our personal judgments and mind-made stories on the experiences. For example, when we notice a smell or a taste, we might also notice some thoughts arising around this particular smell or taste. If we can practice letting go of that thought, we will be able to rest deeper into the present moment. This part is the important part of the practice that often be missed. As most of our sufferings in life come from our thoughts and mind-made stories we tell ourselves, practicing surrendering is truly practicing magic.

In the tea ceremony, we will be looking at the 5 senses: sight, touch, hear, smell and taste.

  • Sight: allowing yourself to be an observer of the experience. Simply watching, witnessing, observing the moment to unfold without judgment.
  • Touch: dropping into your body to feel the gently touch of the air around you. Sensing any sensation in your body. And when touching the teaware or receving your tea cup (or bowl), noticing the sensations on your skin.
  • Hear: allowing everything around you to be part of the experience. Letting go of and judgment your mind might have about the sounds all around the room or even outside the room. Simply let sounds be sounds without labeling them as good or bad.
  • Smell: inhaling in the aroma of the tea and letting it guide you to return to be the witness of the experience.
  • Taste: allowing yourself to enjoy the journey of different flavors in a single sip of tea, a journey of bitterness, sweetness, earthy, savory, floral, nutty or fruity. Noticing how does your mouth feel and how does the after taste feel?

There is no right or wrong in the way or the order of your senses. Sometimes, you will notice that they link together. For example, when you taste a certain flavor, you might feel a certain sensation in your body. When you hear a certain sound such as the sound of water, you might sense a certain feeling and sensation in some particular part of your physical body.

The main thing is to keep allowing yourself to experience and letting go of any narrative that your mind tells you. The way of tea is the way of life. It's the way to see life as it as so that we can flow with life with more ease and less resistance.

Tea ceremony & meditation in Auckland Central with me at The Grounded Circle:

Since 2023, I host monthly tea ceremony all around Auckland. I started a community named The Grounded Circle with the intention to bring us all together through The way of tea or sometimes I call it The art of tea meditation. Meditation is my foundation practice that I do every day. Tea appreciation ceremony is a perfect runway for me to sit in my meditation practice a little longer these days. The two practices have come together for me and support me in everything else I do in life. I bring these practices to all the tea offerings I have here in Auckland.

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