"I promise this just might be the most fascinating conversation you will hear all week."
With these words, podcast host Rich Roll introduces us to a Buddhist monk named Wu De who travels the world, teaching people the importance of... tea. To be specific, teaching about tea as a metaphor for ancient wisdom about the interconnectedness of everything.
Tea, it turns out is the second most consumed substance on Earth, after water. Wu De believes that the sharing of tea is responsible for the socialization of the entire world. In fact, one of tea's ancient names means The Great Connector when translated into English, and Wu De elaborates on the three great connections that tea is responsible for.
Connection To Nature
"This is tricky," says Wu De, "we are not disconnected from nature and therefore we can't be disconnected. What has been lost is not the connection to nature; it is the feeling of connection to nature. Our ancestors' connection to earth was tacit -- they had no choice. What's in tea is the earth -- its minerals and weather and mountains. Because tea trees have such deep roots, it is said that they have access to trace elements that you can't access elsewhere."
Connection to Self
Perhaps most importantly, tea reminds us to take time for ourselves, but not necessarily for the sake of simple idleness. The feeling that we never have a moment to ourselves, or "time famine" as it is often called, has become ubiquitous in North American society. But we all have the same number of hours in a day and so it is important that we challenge ourselves and ask what is really taking up our time.
Buddhist meditation emphasizes the practice of quieting our own minds -- a focus on controlling the noise that we create in our own heads. The simple act of boiling water, preparing tea leaves and enjoying a cup of tea is a meditative one. Wu De says "you pick up the tea bowl with two hands, you feel the flavor in your mouth and the warmth passing down your throat and into your body. Suddenly without realizing it, you are focusing inward."
Connection To Each Other
While he does state that he is not anti-technology, Wu De suggests that in some ways technology is driving a diminishing of high-quality, real-time human interactivity.
Many ancient tea ceremonies involve the participants arriving and sitting in complete silence while the tea is prepared and served with rigid adherence to the traditional forms, very much akin to the practice of Kung Fu. Interestingly, the participants may arrive to the tea ceremony as nearly strangers but leave as friends, having bonded through the shared experience while sitting in silence. In our own lives, sharing tea with someone, especially in our homes is very much an ancient and very civilized way of connecting.
Wu De would like to see us all "log off" more often -- to power down the devices and enjoy tea as a way of reconnecting with ourselves and with the people who matter to us. "Every single one of these devices, every single one, has one feature in common -- all of them come with an on/off button installed for your convenience."
Tea reminds us that we too, have an on/off button.
This post originally appears on the Seven Sisters Tea blog.