Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Spirit of Thea

The songs she sings,
Altering synapses,
Turn my body to her dream
And everything her earth had held
Is now holding me.

F.H.Murphy / The Spirit of Tea / 2008

I bought myself a Christmas present. Not that I would love Christmas that much. I just like presents and I like keeping my inner child happy. So I bought myself a book. I have been reading it for a few days now and I would like to share my experience as I find it very interesting. 

It is not an ordinary book about tea. Sure you can find there the information about the typical tea groups and etc. but this book is much more than that. It is actually very personal and I can imagine that some people might have hard times accepting what the author tried to get over. The writer, Mr. Frank Hadley Murphy, is very interesting person and I can imagine we could get along well as far as the tea topic is concerned. I cannot say I agree with everything he wrote since my own experience to some extent differs from his. Nevertheless, I must admit that in general he really described an approach that I am trying to keep but which is probably not that common among tea lovers. 

He describes his experience from the spiritual perspective and it is a thin ice road, something you cannot prove nor battle. We are individuals, we create our own worlds, we adore our own divine beings, Thea - the original botanical name for present Camellia - can be one of them. What I appreciate is his sincerity. I read in one of the reviews which clearly showed the reader's turning down that the author must have suffered from mental illness to be able to write something like this:

Tea calls to our deepest selves and invites us to celebrate with it. Any plant that can do all of these things must have an element of holiness about it. You may think that this is a lot for a plant to do. You may think that I imbue tea with charms it does not possess. You are not alone. [...] Sometimes I wonder if what appears as steam rolling off the surface of my cup is not really the individual soul of each leaf rising heavenward. Sprinkling a little water over your tea leaves before you brew them awakens them from their slumber, but we may awaken them further with prayer. Call upon the soul of the species. Invoke the devas of the tree. Enlist their aid. They are there to help us. (Murphy, 2008: 21-23)

I can imagine this could be just too much for someone. Not for me. I actually welcome the fact that he writes everything right from his heart, just as he feels it. There are by the way some scientific facts too, there is a detailed part about the caffeine and the stimulant effect of tea, there are facts mentioned in order to support the author's feelings but it is evident that the facts are not what really matters, it is the experience. He tried to describe how his life was transformed through a deep and profound encounter. That it was a plant and not a human being or an event could be irrelevant, however, it is not. I guess he tries to point out the fact that we were given a gift and we might be unaware of its real value, that it is pure, transformational, divine .. whatever you want to call it. That it is a gift that should be treated the way it deserves.

Mr. Murphy found a special place in his heart for a lovely devotion of this kind and wrote a book about it. I totally respect it, it is very inspiring. What I appreciate even more is however the fact that despite his own needs for ritualizing his practice and approach to tea drinking he is in no way critical of hundreds of other approaches as he is aware of the fact that there is no ritual to be learnt or adopted unless you feel it goes right from your heart. I found one sentence in his book which really had a strong impact on me. It is a quote from the I Ching and I understand how important this message has been throughout my whole life so far:
The deepest mysteries are found without any teaching.
There is much said in the sentence above that I run out of words when trying to touch it. I feel it within but this experience is probably difficult to get over in words, you either understand it or you don't. There is a nice part on I Ching in the book, in the chapter called Thunder in the middle of the lake. I enjoyed similar chapter on tea and tao in Aaron Fisher's book The Way of Tea (one that I am going to review here too) as both of them try to uncover a wider context of Chinese tea related history, society and even something more for the brave ones. It is educational as well as interesting, especially when we enjoy drinking tea such as puerh, the tea that gets older when left to age and ripe, the tea that keeps its history within its leaf and when you have a chance to taste it, you are overwhelmed with a ten or even more years of lived experience in one cup. Isn't it fascinating? The wine is appreciated probably for the same reason. 

I have been drinking a ten-year old Yibang today and when I gave the hot teapot with leaves to Hiru so that she could give me her opinion, she said: "It smells like the old wooden barn of my great-grandmother." I was surprised by the comparison but then she added in a dreamy voice: "It's a beautiful smell...." One smell of the leaf evoked an infinite thread of dearly kept memories from childhood.. I envy everyone who can enjoy such a deep experience when drinking tea. Some might say it is just tea and why make so much ado about it but I absolutely understand why (and how) one can feel this way. 

For me the encounter with tea was a life-changing experience, I have strived for finding peace and tranquility in my life and every time I found time for gongfucha I found it, maybe just for a few seconds but it was there, waiting for me to get closer, giving me hints how to let go off everything I was carrying with me and actually did not need.. I am grateful for having that experience. And I recommend this book to everyone who knows what I am writing about.

People, be good and enjoy Life.
Life is precious. The most precious gift we have ever been given.



Peter says:
at: December 15, 2011 at 9:11 PM said...

tea is your mind
tea is you
tea is your toungue
there is no tea
only you

esteban rivas says:
at: December 15, 2011 at 10:06 PM said...


CloudMountain says:
at: December 16, 2011 at 2:38 AM said...

I really enjoyed that book as well.
Cha Dao: The Way of Tea, Tea as a Way of Life by Solala Towler is on my opinion one of the best books on Tea and Wisdom.

esteban rivas says:
at: December 16, 2011 at 9:21 AM said...

I was considering buying that book too when ordering this one. Now you've helped me decide, thank you for your recommendation!

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Drink your tea
slowly and reverently,
as if it is the axis
on which the world earth revolves.
Slowly, evenly,
without rushing toward the future.
Live the actual moment.
Only this moment is life.

Thich Nhat Hanh

Best to be like water,
Which benefits the ten thousand things
And does not contend.
It pools where humans disdain to dwell,
Close to the Tao.

Live in a good place.
Keep your mind deep.
Treat others well.
Stand by your word.
Keep good order.
Do the right thing.
Work when it's time.

Only do not contend,
And you will not go wrong.

Tao Te Ching, 8 / transl. Addis & Lombardo