Herbal Chai

It’s amazing how objects, no matter how small, can trigger such strong emotions within us. In one of my classes a student lamented over what he thought was an unsuccessful assignment. The assignment was about creating experiences for a group of people. He said that because his team’s work was outside, it wasn’t as impactful as the other teams work, because the various factors that would be used to create an experience couldn’t be controlled or modified. It was interesting, because in this particular project, his team made small hexagon forms that were located all around a park in a kind of scavenger hunt. I was alerted to the compassion this student was not giving to the project, so I offered an observation. Even though the team’s objects were small, and in an uncontrolled environment it still was immersive. I do the same thing with the few crystals I have on my meditation altar.

Sometimes, before meditation, I will just pick up a crystal, and just look at it for awhile. It can completely change my mood. In the crystal, I see the harmonic forms of nature, and the beauty of geologic algorithms and patterns. In fact, in some Buddhist traditions it is said that advanced spiritual practitioners are reborn as crystals. That is an incredible encapsulation of the complete totality of experience that comes from just holding something, and really experiencing the form.

In the same way, my experience with Herbal Chai was a totality of experiences and memories. The tea was too powdery to use in my typical tea kettle, so I used another kettle, one that we have had for over ten years, maybe more. It has been a couple of years since I got the kettle out. It was a heartwarming vision, imagining all of the times of refuge and beauty that I have had with friends, my partner, and in consideration on my own. If meditation regularly can create a more solidity and beauty to all of our lived experiences, tea can act the same way. It was a ceaseless continuum between past and present, all contained within the form of the kettle itself. It was a white kettle, nothing truly special, but as I gave the tea to the kettle, it became a more intense memory with every action.

And the specific tea I was making, Herbal Chai, was also a complete doorway into my memory. The memories were not of anything specific. No singular events outside of the experience of the tea could be recalled. But the memory of moments of quietness and peace, over a long period of time, pulled me into a relaxed state, like a reminder that it’s always been here, like quiet, like peace. It is a cinnamon, spicy flavor, inseparable from the Hindu traditions that were isolated in specific experiences where I grew up, and in the experience of the Ali Akbar College of music performances in San Rafael. It is so heartwarming, and created an entire environment in the room in our apartment. Grounding, expansive, this delicious tea was a perfect experience that I think anyone could use to deeply relax in the later evening, and might be something I go to every few months or even years, to tie in the reality of passed moments, unified in the space they hold in my mind, of total warmth and peace.

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