Tea & other ordinary magics

Tea & other ordinary magics

The tea came! A big box, full of possibility. I don’t have the budget for ‘teas of renown,’ but I do splurge on good tea. And I don’t rebrew it. Well, hardly ever :). Maybe if there’s company and I double-splurged on Sunday’s tea (Hao Ya A, for anyone interested).

Most times I order tea, I’m just replenishing the house tea (Panyang Congo), or buying everyday tea. Occasionally I buy a couple of samples (one of the great things about Harney’s) ~ a nice way to try a new tea. And every so often (especially if a tea I liked in sample is available on sale) I buy a new tea. This most recent package has two adventure teas ~Pu-erh and Temi Sikkim. I confess: I was sucked in by the fact that Temi Sikkim was on sale (and it’s a great full-bodied Darjeeling, w/ that lovely floral aftertaste I find so seductive in a good Darjeeling) and the Pu-erh is billed as an ‘ancient’ tea.

The other day I made the pu-erh, a dark, ruby-red brown tea. A China black tea tasting of chocolate, almost sweet. I added my usual lump of Demerara, and then stirred in my usual milk. No change in colour ~ this is seriously dark tea. Still, it’s lovely: lightly astringent but smooth. A great breakfast tea. Makes me wonder: just how old is ‘ancient’ …?

imageWhen I make tea, it is always ~ even at the most hectic of times, like early in the morning as I rush to some appointment ~ a moment of quiet. Often it becomes, almost accidentally, an evocation of other days, when my children were small, when I was a young mother dependent on my expat family. Even now, with those two small boys (and early on, there was only one…) grown to manhood, fragrant steam curling from a curved spout takes me back 20 years. Or more.

Tea is an ordinary magic. Like coffee (which I also love dearly), it provides an enforced STOP. Halts my thoughts, distracts me from the hectic mania of contemporary life. Puts a gentle finger to my lips and reminds me to sssshhh

So why write about tea, in the months running up to something as important as elections? Why take time for something so small, so intimate, when the world seems to be collapsing around my ears? Why take the time to celebrate these fragile, ephemeral moments that fall to the bottom of a china cup wreathed w/ flowers? Moments that curl in the heart of a summer rose, or hover on the wings of a drowsy bee.image

We live in such a frenetic, frantic world. At least most of us do. There is never enough time… Right now I should be working up a course for September. Constructing a class schedule for another. I should be reading books for two presentations next month, and figuring out what I’m going to need in the way of help during my beloved’s upcoming surgery. I should be should be should be…

Instead, I be. Trying to not try tooo hard to breathe, as the pebble in the garden says. Just resting in the moment, sipping tea from that thin-handled china cup. Sitting in the early morning sun and remembering big sky mind…

I don’t know that tea, or coffee, or the quiet music of bees working the blue bells of the caryopteris can solve the world’s larger problems. But I wonder if we took the time to listen to them, to watch and pay attention, what we might learn… Who knows what we could do?

poets, poetry, & religion ~

poets, poetry, & religion ~

… all poets are sending religious messages,
because poetry is, in such great part, the comparison
of one thing to another …
to insist, as all poets do, that all things are related …
comparable to each other, is to go toward
making an assertion of the unity of all things.

~ Richard Wilbur

So it’s a kind of unified field theory, poetry. My family teases me that I see analogy everywhere: this is like this! And this is like that! It’s true; I even used analogy to teach grammar — grammar is like a strong skeleton (it is).

But analogy is just our old poetic friend metaphor. And as Lakoff notes, metaphor is the way we think: we ‘lose’ time; we ‘spend’ time. We ‘wage a war’ on drugs; we ‘fight’ cancer. Status is ‘high’ or ‘low’, which is impossible, literally. Status simply is… So metaphors are  we are, really, how we even think. And poetry? It’s metaphor & image. In other words: poetry is in our bones, folks.

via google

via google

Hence my assertion that if you just learn poetry, your world suddenly takes on colour as if you were a bit blind before… ❤️ The world opens up a bit, like seeing in colour, or hearing music after silence. Try it — find a poem (or ask for one! I’ll give it to you in comments!), about something you love, and see if the poem doesn’t illuminate as if with a bright light your passion. Just sayin’…

blogging is ~ medicine for the heart

blogging is ~ medicine for the heart

When I was still teaching at university, a student  – let’s call her Amy – told me she wanted to start a blog. Amy is a recovering cutter: for a long time she has laddered her arms and legs with razor cuts, as a way of coping with an overwhelming world.

The first day of class that semester, Amy had come to me in tears after class. She couldn’t do our (mandatory) class listserv, she said. She’d been told by her educational technology professor that she was incapable of learning technology, and she believed it. How could she do my class w/ this requirement?

I gave her a hug while she cried. I walked her through email (she’d never really done email — and yes, there are thousands of kids like Amy). I sat with her and listened. And for the past two months, Amy has posted the required 3-4 entries to the class list.

She also shared, in one of our daily quickwrites, that she is a recovering cutter. Her research project was on cutting, the causes, the treatment, and her own recovery process. It was a strong essay, like the strong young woman who produced it.

Via google

Via google

Here’s the thing: I learned to ‘speak digital’ at National Writing Project. At first I had to do it the hard way (no technology where I worked): manually networking computers  was the only way to get the kids talking to each other. But in addition to the technology, I also learned the research on why it’s important to give our students opportunities to write and learn digitally. And I’ve just been increasing that knowledge since I began, 20 years ago.

Without the training & support I received from NWP, Amy, for instance, would never have had a teacher who has learned (the hard way — through experiencing the learning curve myself!) how to think and read and write digitally. As Marc Prensky notes, this generation (and the one coming up behind it) speak digital fairly fluently. Or at least most of them do (there are still thousands of students like Amy, however). Teachers? Not so much. So when a student like Amy comes along — who was home-schooled for a while, and then in small rural schools w/out access to digital literacy education — how will s/he (the teacher) defuse that fear?

Amy ended up emailing all over the place. And she eventually shared her amazing recovery story on a blog, possibly a precursor to a memoir. Yes — a blog. Which intimidates even many digital natives. But Amy jumped in, before the end of the semesty. Because her teacher had a blog, and was able to discuss it and teach it w/ familiarity. Digital (& blogging) was — for Amy — literally ‘heart medicine.’ Her hard road to recovery may well help others, as well — Just as it has enabled her to move from shame, pain, & guilt to healing.

via flickr

via flickr

Far too many non-teaching ‘education experts’ dismiss digital writing — technology in general — as just ‘business’ training. But for so many of us, it can literally be what comforts us. Don’t ever be afraid to put your voice out there. Someone needs to hear your story. Someone needs to know what you’ve learned.

Ramadan and Buddhism ~

Ramadan and Buddhism ~

I’m thinking of Ramadan (in progress through July 5th this year) — trying to figure out why it fascinates me, why I’m drawn to it. Lent, the Christian version, has never appealed to me the same way. Perhaps because no one I knew gave up anything of importance. What’s chocolate in the grand scheme of things…?

But Ramadan — you give up everything during Ramadan, at least during daylight hours.  From dawn until dusk, you go without food or drink. Even in the hot desert and tropical countries of Islam, that includes water. Plus all luxuries — perfume, sex during the day hours, as well as (for many observant Muslims) TV, music, games… The list is long. A lot more of a sacrifice than doing without FaceBook…

by Chingiz-han deviantart.com

by Chingiz-han
deviantart.com

So what does this have to do w/ Buddhism? Despite the fact that Ramadan’s self-denial is not part of Buddhism, the spirit of reflection, charity, and an attempt to be a better person is clearly congruent with the teachings of the Buddha. And to fast for a month of days? Surely that produces an empathy — feeling the straitened circumstances of the genuinely ‘without.’  Isn’t Ramadan — the discipline of hunger, of doing without, of being mindful of the ‘withoutness’ of others — also a kind of tangled, the Buddhist practice of compassion for all? During Ramadan, Muslims across the world fast in brotherhood. Small children (who are exempt) vie to join the millions of men & women around the globe who fast together.

Once when I was taking a class in meditation, we were just beginning to learn tonglen. We were asked to think of people for whom we would gladly suffer — family members, loved ones, heroes and heroines. And then we were asked to think of what really frightened us. I thought of what frightens me — losing my sense of self, becoming my fragile, mindless mother, as she lay w/out knowledge of past or present, much less future — and breathed for all of us who fear. It was one of the most important things I think I’ve ever done — utterly memorable. Sitting in a small room, I was part of a community dedicated to a common goal: compassion w/ others. Ramadan thus seems quite familiar.

via google

via google

So for me, Ramadan seems far less ‘strange’ than do many religious traditions. Communion, for instance — that seemed weird to me even as a kid. Eat the flesh and blood of your deity?? Yuk! Sorry if that offends anyone, but really? That’s cannibalism! Like I said — even as a child I didn’t get that :).

Of course, I also didn’t get why animals don’t go to Christian heaven. After being told they don’t (by my Sunday school teacher, no less), I figured right then — and told both my teacher and my mother — that I wasn’t interested in heaven if there aren’t dogs and cats and animals. (I haven’t really changed my thoughts on that… 🙂 )

So for these next few days, I’m trying to remember that around the world, vast numbers of people are doing without, so they can be closer to their best selves, and the very idea of holiness, what they see as God. Surely that deserves a moment of respect.