The Parable of Tea and Attention

Posted by Andres Dovale on

Good Tea is Like a Good Life

A popular Chinese folk saying goes that “a piece of time is like a piece of gold". This is well reflected in tea picking. Time plays an essential role in tea picking. Picked several days earlier, the leaves are peerless treasures, but if picked just days later, they are no better than the commodity tea bags sold in grocery stores. Just as prime tea picking requires directed and deliberate action, so does the well-lived and informed life.

These bittersweet realizations give us a glance into not only the fleeting nature of attention and time, but also our relationship with it. With the coronavirus locking everyone down, we have experienced the radical digitization of our daily lives, to our great detriment. We spend more time than ever in front of computer screens, hitting notifications for that next dopamine hit, or on our phones to the point that we can’t even sleep if not indulging in one last YouTube video. Silicon valley tech millionaires like Tristan Harris have been describing the above problems for years.


Our entire lives seem to take place digitally, and with continued exposure to its benefits, we fall deeper into the trap of not allowing a moment to pass, and of taking our time and attention for granted. I know that I have personally experienced the feeling of fretting for digital engagement - seeking acknowledgement through one social media or another, constantly checking my phone for new notifications, etc.

While seemingly minor, these acts are a symptom of a larger issue within ourselves and our society; our mental resources, our attention, and our emotional well-being have been tied to a digital space where we lack control and real engagement. The goal of this post is not to remind you of these issues, but to remind you that this state of mind is not insurmountable.

Here at Teahead we try to take steps to distance ourselves from the seemingly inescapable need to engage our technological co-dependence, while at the same time promoting a re-engagement with the self, and with each other.

Automatic vs. Deliberate Acts

When we sit down to enjoy a cup of loose-leaf tea, we are forced to engage in a set of very deliberate acts, whether alone or with each other. We could always just boil some water, use a tea bag, and sit down to sip, but this would be to rob ourselves of the mental respite of going through the full tea enjoyment process. When we make the effort and take the time to prepare the tea properly, we engage in the ancient Japanese concept of Shibui and as a result relax the mind and ease the constant attention-hunger that our brains have been conditioned to feel. Setting the dry leaf in its receptacle, inhaling its tantalizing aromas; setting the kettle to boil, listening to the water bubbling as we take the time to notice our breath, to catch it and focus our minds on it. Notice how the leaf transforms in the hot water, the new aromas being released, close your eyes and take it in. Finally, breathe in the warm vapors of the cup as you bring it to your lips and take a sip, really take the time to notice the intricacy of the flavours on your tongue, the smells in your nose, and the warmth that emanates from the cup.

It's not our intention to preach the importance of meditation, introspection, and mental health, at this point these things are truisms. The problem with truisms is that because they are often overstated, they are also often ignored. The beautiful thing about tea brewing and enjoying, is that the significance of the act is immediately rewarding. One will be rewarded by the scent of a high-quality brew, then the sight of the dark red of a good black tea, or perhaps the yellow-green of a refreshing matcha. Finally, the taste of the tea will embrace your taste buds and strip you of your worries, if only for a moment. It's this philosophy that we try to uphold: acting deliberately in the moment, as opposed to automatically and without purpose.

When we grasp the moment fully, as is the case when sitting down and fully immersing ourselves in the tea brewing process, we grasp tranquility, and can still our minds, helping us to understand what really matters, and how to live with purpose.

Tea garden in mountains

Reviving Daydreaming

Let us borrow another Japanese concept, that of 'Boketto'. Many of us will remember being bored as kids, now try to remember the last time you truly ever felt bored. When did you last stare mindlessly into space? Moreover, have you ever thought about this actually being a good thing, rather than what we are told is a waste of time? Sometimes the best medicine for our addled brains is to just sit with a cup of tea and watch trees wave in the breeze. To be present in the moment often means just letting the senses wander, and taking a deep breath. Next time you feel stressed or stretched thin, or just randomly anxious, take 10 minutes out of your day to sit, brew, and breathe.


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