The Camellia Sinensis Stoic
While seemingly disconnected from each other, the concept of philosophy, and the drinking and brewing of tea serve many of the same purposes. They are both tools of the introspective mind, set on carving a path to something mentally valuable; knowledge, peace of mind, etc.
In both endeavors we can find ourselves engaged in rigorous introspection, but often finding ourselves more unsettled by our thoughts than calmed. Oftentimes when we engage in introspection we entertain dark thoughts that might cause or worsen existing anxieties and mental suffering. We are raised as children to be soothed by optimistic truisms that everything will turn out alright, and are subconsciously taught that having anxieties, fears and emotional turmoil is bad or in some way negative. We are showered with optimism with the best intentions to protect us from the harms of the world, but it rarely prepares us for the reality that bad things do happen. This approach often has very negative consequences for us growing up.
In the real world happy endings are rare; people are not the caricatures of kid’s stories, and sometimes your greatest nightmares do come true. It is during times like these that we our introspections can torture us further, or emancipate us from mental suffering. Stoicism allows us to accept that sometimes famines, war, disease, and suffering do occur, and could very well happen to us and the people we love, but the answer is not to optimistically hope for the best, but to meet these challenges head on, by accepting what fate has ordained for us.
To be stoic means to bear pain and hardship without complaint or undue suffering. To realize that those things which are out of your control are much easier to bear when you accept them, then when you victimize yourself and sink into isolation, depression and doubt.The ancient stoics believed that to meet hardship head on, and to suffer through it all the while conquering it with your mind, would make you a stronger person.
Oftentimes our greatest anxious thoughts are really preparing us for the worst-case scenario, and we should not shy away from them, but embrace them. A stoic premeditation prepares our minds for the harsh realities of the world much more than optimistic truisms, after all. Dark thoughts about the loss of a loved one, poverty, etc., when taken to their logical extreme show us that we are much more resilient than we give ourselves credit for. Stoics would often practice these lines of thinking in order to steel themselves against the unfairness and negative outcomes of the world, since by preparing their minds for the worst, they had already taken the worst of the suffering away from the equation.
The great stoic Epictetus cautions us: “Who is your master? Whoever has authority over anything that you’re anxious to gain and avoid” and “It’s not what happens to you, but how you react that matters”.
Stoicism therefore tells us that our dark thoughts become our masters when we let them trouble us, since we have no control over them. Instead we ought to embrace these thoughts, and realize that even if the worse comes to happen, we will find a way to go on. Learning to prepare for the worst is a much stronger coping mechanism than hoping for the best, since even if the worst does happen, we have eliminated the larger part of it, that of the fear of it happening in and of itself. Those of us who survive a life and death struggle with disease, or experience what our mind is a catastrophic loss in the moment, will sometimes regard these experiences as some of the best things that happened to us, because they allowed us to realize that that We must embrace our fragility and impermanence, and if we do this we will find there is much beauty in it.
Instead of saying ‘I should not think these thoughts, they make me anxious, and probably won't happen’, ask yourself ‘If this were to happen, how would I cope?’. Quickly you will realize that by forcing yourself to entertain these possibilities, and attacking them rationally, the fear of them occurring will begin to fade, and you will realize that much of the suffering associated with these dark thoughts fades alongside that fear. Remember always, that “What we cannot bear, removes us from life; all that remains, can be borne”.
Stoicism and Tea
Stoics, like all ancient meditators and philosophers, were fond of mild stimulants like coffee, tea, etc. The most popular drinks of these for the Greeks was a tisane or decoction made of Sideritis, referred to by the Greeks as 'chai tou vounou' or mountain tea.
This herb has many health benefits and useful chemical properties, as well as a tantalizing aroma and taste, especially when paired with a splash of honey and lemon. This herbal concoction is wonderful for gastrointestinal disorders, indigestion, colds and flu, and is chock full of vitamin C, caffeine, and antioxidants. It's because of these properties that it was used by stoics during their meditations, in much the same way green tea was and is still used by Buddhist monks for their own meditative practices.
You can share in these rich traditions yourself today, whether you lean Stoic or Buddhist; Either way, it's never too late to enjoy a good brew and strengthen your mind.