We lead busy, hectic lives. People work hard at their jobs, some raise families, some volunteer. We’re busy and the stress of all this is not easy to deal with. When I have mentioned to people that they try meditation I have been told that they don’t have time, or they’ve tried it but it doesn’t work for them. I get that. Formal, sit on a cushion meditation takes time, effort and planning. I’ve done some of that myself and it works well for me but for the most part I do what’s called, mindfulness meditation. Mindfulness has become very popular in the U.S. these days and you can find lots of books about it and seminars, and teachers. Many people are confused about what mindfulness really is and what it can do for them. It takes time to figure it out and time and effort to practice.

But it doesn’t have to be that hard. This is my definition of mindfulness. Some may agree, some may not. Mindfulness is simply paying attention. Paying attention to whatever it is you are doing at the moment. Becoming fully absorbed in the task at hand, whatever it is and not letting your mind wander. Sounds easy, right? Well, it is, but not at first. It takes practice. Unfortunately, we have a bad habit of letting our minds wander. Especially when we’re doing mundane tasks like washing dishes, or cleaning, or driving (especially bad). Mindfulness means paying attention to what we are doing and not thinking about other things. It helps clarify the mind, prevents worry, and helps you stay awake and aware. It also helps you sleep better at night. Meditation can also be done by thinking about a specific thing while you are doing something else.

As you may know, I’m a tea drinker. I make a cup of tea almost every morning. This takes a little time and if you steep your tea, you really can’t do anything else while you’re steeping. It’s a good time to practice meditation. Here’s how I do it: First I practice mindfulness meditation while I’m gathering the things I need to make my tea. I use an electric kettle which boils water in about 2 minutes. First I fill the kettle with water and start it. While the water heats I gather a cup, the tea, my tea strainer, and the honey I use to sweeten it. I put 2 teaspoons of tea in the strainer (I use a 12 ounce cup), and while I’m doing all this I’m concentrating on what I’m doing. Keeping my mind on the tasks and when my mind starts to wander, which it will, I recognize this and simply bring my mind back to the task. The more you practice, the less your mind will wander. When the water boils I shut off the heat and wait one minute before pouring the water in the cup. You don’t want to steep your tea at boiling temperature because it can give it a bitter strong flavor. After one minute I put the strainer in and start steeping.

While I’m steeping I’m thinking about something specific. I start by thinking about tea fields and all the hundreds or even thousands of workers in foreign countries that pluck tea for a living. Next I imagine the tea factories where the leaves and processed. I think about tea leaves being tossed in giant heated woks, and other processes it takes to make good tea. Then I think about the buyers and sellers of tea and next about the people who ship tea and the dock workers and and workers on ships and planes that carry the tea to foreign ports all over the world. And then I’m on to the stores that sell tea and the people who’s job it is to get the tea into my hands. And the workers who make tea cups and strainers and then the bees and flowers and hives and beekeepers it takes to make honey. And then I’m done steeping and I drink my tea. And the whole time I’m doing this I’m not worrying about anything, I’m not thinking about my day and what I’m going to do. I’m only feeling gratitude for the thousands of people involved in making sure I can enjoy a nice cup of tea.

In doing this it will open your mind to a wider world. To feel gratitude for all of the people involved in various aspects of your life can help make you a more compassionate person. While you are concentrating you are not worrying. You can’t worry if you’re not thinking about what worries you. You feel more clarity as you start your day. And then throughout your day, you can use the mindfulness meditation to keep your mind on the tasks you need to do. If you have trouble sleeping at night you can concentrate on your breath. Many people’s mind wander like crazy when they lay down for sleep. If you meditate on your breath, concentrating on breathing in, feeling the air fill your lungs and feeling the air release through you nostrils you can even say to yourself, “I breathe in, I breathe out.” The breath is something to think about that’s benign and doesn’t cause any worry. And if you’re thinking about your breath, you’re not thinking about the thousand things that keep you awake at night.

But it takes practice. One of the things I have noticed is that the mind starts to wander when your eyes go unfocused. Say you’re hand washing your dishes. When you start thinking about something other than washing your dishes, you’ll find that your eyes are not focused on what you’re doing. So practice that as well. Keep your eyes actively looking at what you’re doing. You won’t be good at it right away and that shouldn’t discourage you. There are very few things in life that we are. Just like any other skill however, you need to practice it. When you first start, don’t chastise yourself when you fail. If you find your mind wandering from the task, simply recognize that it is, and bring yourself back. Start concentrating again. It will happen again, and then just bring your mind back to the task you’re doing. You will find that as you do this it will get easier and eventually you’ll do it without thinking about it. You’ll also notice that you worry less. You can’t worry if you’re not thinking about what worries you. Give it a try!


A Great Cup Of Tea

Having been a tea drinker for several years, I have written about it before. Many of you might read that sentence, yawn and click past. I hope not, because I find tea to be fascinating. I’m one of those people who when I like something I have to know all about it. I want to know where it came from, who made it, and how it was made until I know all there is to know about it. Then and only then will I be satisfied. And knowing about something seems to help me to enjoy it more. So we are leaving all the usual subjects behind this time and delving into something a lot of people know little about. You can only immerse yourself in the troubles of the world so long before you start talking to yourself and bumping into walls.

Did you know that tea is the most popular beverage in the world after water? It’s true, it is. The Tea Association of the U.S.A. lists a number of facts concerning tea. The tea bush’s (or tree) scientific name is Camellia sinensis and it has three varieties, sinensis, assamica, and cambodi. All the tea in the world derives from that one plant. There are others that are called tea, such as Rooibos, which is grown in Africa, but it’s not really tea. Also, you may have heard of Tea Tree Oil. It is an essential oil used for a variety of uses but it comes from the Melaleuca alternifolia plant and not from Camellia sinensis. Now you may be thinking that there are different types of tea and how can they all come from the same plant? There are in fact, six types of tea: black, green, white, yellow, oolong, and Pu-erh. All of these varieties come from the processing of the leaves of Camellia sinensis.

Legend has it that the tea drink was discovered around 5000 years ago in China. It wasn’t until the Tang dynasty (618-907) however that tea drinking became popular. At that time it grew only in China but today tea bush is grown in over forty counties world wide. Many tea growers today use sustainability practices to create healthier plants and a healthier environment. Many tea companies are Rain Forest Alliance certified and Fair Trade listed so you can feel good about your tea drinking.

Most of the world’s tea is hand picked and processed and thus, very labor intensive. Some mechanical pickers are used but for the most part, tea is hand picked. The reason for this is that different types of tea are made by different configurations of leaf and bud. Which means that some teas are made by picking two leaves and a bud, some by one leaf and a bud, some by buds only, etc. Hand picking is the only reliable way to get this right. The processing of the tea leaves then produces the different types such as green tea or black, oolong, etc. And then of course there is the drinking of the tea, which is the best part. You may be interested to know that tea in tea bags, such as Lipton and other brands, is the poorest quality tea on the market. The tea in tea bags is crushed and usually derived from the processing of whole leaf teas. The best way to enjoy tea is by using a strainer and whole leaf tea. The flavors are so much better.

But even with all the processing techniques used to make quality tea, the best cup of tea is up to you. The temperature of the water and the steeping time combined with the right amount of tea will produce the best cup. And tea has less caffeine than coffee so if you’re looking for a reduction in socially acceptable drug addiction, tea is the way to go! I drink black tea, in a twelve ounce cup using a teaspoon and 1/4 of whole leaf tea. After the water comes to a boil, remove the tea pot from the heat and wait till the bubbling stops. Pour the water into the cup and wait one minute. Then put the tea strainer with the tea in and steep for four minutes constantly moving the strainer. During that time you can do a short meditation on being thankful for all of the hundreds of people who’s work has brought you this wonderful cup of tea. After four minutes remove the strainer and drink. I use a table spoon of honey for a sweetener. And there you have it, a great cup of tea!

Four Minute Meditation

Having a busy life is something all of us seem to share. For those of us who practice meditation, it can be hard to set aside time to do it. I did a four minute meditation a couple weeks ago (I steep my tea for four minutes) and it was really nice. I posted this on Facebook and got a few good responses. If you’re a tea drinker, give this a try some time. I turned it into a poem.
tea cup
While steeping my tea this morning,
I remembered the tea field workers who
pick the green leaves on mountain sides,
two leaves and a bud
in China and India and Africa.
I thought about the people who work the
magic turning the green leaves
into my favorite tea.
And the buyers and sellers and
truck drivers and ship captains and
their crews, store owners and cashiers that are all
involved with my being able to enjoy a cup of tea.
And I thought about the bees that pollinate
the tea plant flowers and the workers who
harvest the honey that I use to
sweeten my favorite tea.
No worries about money or politics
or anything else. And I enjoyed my tea
more than usual for having thought about
the hundreds of people it took for me to have it.
We are all one. Black, White, male, female, gay,
straight, religious, non religious. All the same.
It’s a beautiful world. Let’s work to keep it that way.