Make Tea

She lit the candles and incense, and sat down upon the cushions. Breathing deeply, she inhaled the fragrant scent, and allowed her gaze to wander over the items on the altar. She tried to focus, her gaze finally resting upon the image of Brighid, and the flame that the goddess held in her hands. As the darkness fell, both within and without, both figuratively and literally, she focused on the flame being offered. She took it within her heart, and for a brief moment it flickered, then died out as the darkness consumed it in a deep blanket of despair.

Breathe.

She focused once again on the image, this time on the watery vesica pisces symbol. Yet her mind would not focus, her thoughts filled with grief and anger, darkness and despair. She breathed through them, trying to remain in the present moment. But the darkness was overwhelming, and as she floundered, she cried out: “Help!”

The voice of the goddess spoke softly in her mind. “Make tea.”

She sat for a moment longer, determined to spend at least ten minutes at her altar. At last, she gave up and blew out the candles, allowing the incense to burn itself out. Make tea, the goddess had said. Alright. Let’s make some tea.

She went downstairs and put the kettle on. Let’s make tea, she said to herself. Mindfully. She prepared the small teapot with herbs known to lift the darkness and soothe the nerves: St John’s wort and skullcap. She also added some lemon balm, to ease tension and also for flavour. She inhaled the scent of the dried herbs, and mixed them together before placing them in the teapot. She looked out the window in the light of the setting sun, a small muntjac deer feeding alongside a magpie underneath the bird feeder.

She placed on a tray the teapot, strainer and saucer, as well as a small handmade earthenware cup. She brought these to the table, and laid them down with her full attention. The kettle had boiled, and she carefully filled her small iron kettle with the water, feeling the steam against her skin. She brought the iron kettle to the table, and placed it on a heat-proof mat. She sat down, her mind still battling the darkness around the edges, her thoughts seemingly not her own. She knew her hormones were swirling in a dance similar to that which she had experienced at adolescence, though now she was at the other end of the brilliant spectrum. She had to take care of herself, of her body as well as her mind.

She opened up the teapot and breathed. Mindfully, she took the iron kettle and filled the teapot with water, replacing the kettle with equal attention. She inhaled the scent of the herbs, and replaced the teapot lid. No other thoughts entered her mind, just these simple, small actions. Working with mindfulness, working with full attention to her actions, there was only the present moment.

She sat back and waited for the tea to brew. Slowly, she felt the darkness returning, crowding at her mind. Despair at the state of the world, at the constant struggle she faced with work, with others who could not do the simplest of tasks, with expectations from both strangers and friends, knowing that if she didn’t do something, no one would – stop. Breathe. Focus. Three minutes stretched to an eternity as the brew steeped in the teapot.

She took a deep breath, and the darkness receded an inch. She picked up the teapot, and concentrated on pouring the tea through the strainer into the small bowl. She kept up her concentration on her breath and on the pouring, and it filled her entire being. Nothing else mattered in that moment. Just pouring tea.

She put down the teapot and picked up the cup. The scent of the herbs brought back memories of a wonderful little shop called StarChild in Glastonbury. She allowed the brief memory to flicker, and then she refocused her attention on the cup in her hands. The heat radiated through the bowl, and she had to pick it up carefully, her fingers near the cooler end of the rim. Quietly, she took the first slurp, allowing the air to cool the hot water before it reached her tongue. She concentrated on nothing but drinking the tea, sitting alone in the dining room, with night falling outside.

She drank the first cup, and then brewed another in the teapot. She kept her mind focused on the present, acknowledging past wounds but not allowing them to flavour the present moment. She had worked hard to name them and transform them, and was working on it still. Three minutes again slipped past, and outside her dining room window she saw the Christmas lights from the house across the street go on.

She poured herself another cup, and drank it mindfully. A third cup was brewed and drunk, and when she finished she sat back and bowed to her tea set. She felt a little better, the darkness within relenting, though not wholly gone. She acknowledged and allowed the herbs to do their work on her body and her mind. With equally careful attention, she rinsed the kettle and washed the teapot, bowl and strainer, and then went upstairs with a lighter heart, to Skype with her mother and find even more comfort and peace, there in the moment, utterly in the moment.

The Present Moment

mudraThe present moment – it is a gift, and that is why they called it the ‘present’.

This quote is true on so many levels.  When we are awake, when we are aware to the present moment, we can see it for the very real blessing that it is. For the majority of people who aren’t living in fear through war or famine, who aren’t suffering from chronic pain or disease – simply being in the present moment is the greatest gift we can give to ourselves. Being aware of the present moment, even when faced with such conditions, may help to alleviate suffering.

When we wake up in the morning, we can become fully aware of that moment upon waking. We can lie in bed, feeling our selves in our bodies, listening to any sounds around us. We can do a mental body scan, to see how we feel, if there is any pain or stiffness, any tightness held through residual stress. We can consciously work to try and let that go, in order to start the day right.

We get up, we go to the bathroom.  We can do this with full awareness. When brushing our teeth, we hear the water flowing through the tap, we give thanks that we have clean water at our disposal when so many others do not.  We brush our teeth while concentrating on the simple task of brushing our teeth. So often our minds are already in a meeting at work, that when we brush our teeth, the whole meeting is there brushing our teeth with us!

Concentrating on one task at a time not only does a better job at the task itself, but can also help us to overcome areas in our lives when we are not at the best we can be – say, due to stress perhaps, or depression. If we focus on one task at a time, taking it and really being in each moment, we do not have the opportunity to be stressed, for to be stressed we need to be thinking ahead.  We alleviate our own suffering by being fully aware – in the case of depression, we may not see an end to the suffering, which brings it about in a continuous cycle. By being in the moment, we are not looking forwards or backwards, inwards our outwards – we are simply being.

By being, we are not mindless zombies – we are, in fact, more fully aware than most people by using concentration and focus in order to move about our daily existence.  We will make less mistakes, we will be less clumsy. We will brush our teeth so much better. We will be mindful of each step we take, and so we will trip less, stumble less, walking in total awareness to wherever it is that we need to go.

We eat our breakfast mindfully, thankful for having food to eat. We close the door to our houses, thankful  that we have a home, a sanctuary from the elements in which to live.  We drive our cars mindfully, thankful that we have such luxurious modes of transportation. We work, thankful that we have a job to provide us with the means for food and shelter, as well as the opportunity to work with others, be creative, make the world a better place – whatever it is that your job entails. We do our work with full attention, whether it is sweeping a floor or updating a database. We are mindful of our posture during the work, of our breathing – we take moments to simply be, to assess our bodies and our minds.

Try doing this for an hour or so a day, then a full morning.  Try to maintain awareness for as long as the sun is shining, or the rain is raining.  Become more aware not only of yourself but of your environment. By doing so, you will find that life may flow more easily and that you see where you can fit in more harmoniously.  Your actions will become more graceful, your movements filled with awareness and intention. Let your thoughts follow your body, flowing gracefully and with intention instead of running rampant through the mind.

Notice how this makes you feel – and if it feels good, keep doing it! May you all be gifted with the present.