The act of mindfulness

by MATT D'ARGENT

The act of mindfulness

 

"Tea is at best when enjoyed in pleasant surroundings, whether indoors or out, where the atmosphere is tranquil, the setting harmonious...The other two essentials are very pure water and a set of tea things that please the eye on account of their subdued unostentatious beauty, thus adding to the prevailing atmosphere of tranquil harmony. Nevertheless, a perfect combination of these five -setting, company, tea, water, and tea things - will fail to work its magic in the absence of the special attitude required to do them justice.  The key to that attitude is mindfulness. The world today is so full of distractions that mindfulness, which must have come about spontaneously in times gone by, has to be cultivated. Once this has been achieved, a thousand hitherto unnoticed beauties will reveal themselves." 
Chinese Art of Tea - John Blofeld.

One of the key elements in striving to become the master of tea is mastering mindfulness.  Mindfulness is a way of being.  A basic human quality of awareness that is cultivated by learning to pay astute attention to whatever is occurring or happening in our lives.  We live in an incredibly busy world.  The pace of life is often frantic, our minds are occupied and we're always doing something.  Just a sense of remembering to feel our lives unfolding in the body as apposed to not only in our head.  To sense the body as a whole, what we are feeling, sensing, doing, in a profound way.  It is an art-form which is simple but difficult to do.

In a recent interview I was asked why I am so passionate about tea?  For me, one of the main reasons for my obsession is the art and ritual of Gongfu Cha.  For many years now, a typical day usually starts with tea.  The act of Gongfu Cha (literally translates to “making tea with effort”) allows me to focus on the present.  This involves deliberately refraining from chasing after any thoughts that look back retrospectively, into some kind of memory or recollection.  Nor chasing after some kind of future anticipatory experiences or some kind of future directed thought process.  So refraining from both looking backwards into the past nor into the future through anticipation of hopes but remaining simply in the present moment.  This allows inner focus, awareness, presence of my breath and being mindful of my actions as I prepare each cup.  Appreciating the tea's complexity of taste,  beautiful aromas and the subtle conscious altering effects on my mind.  As my awareness preparing tea has increased, so has the peace and happiness in my life.  I have found the more familiar I become with the inner workings of my mind, the better I feel.  When I practice mindfulness, my thoughts tune into what I am sensing in the present moment rather than re-hashing the past or imagining the future.  This act of affectionately nourishing myself prepares me for the day ahead with inner strength and calm contemplation. 

According to some of the great masters, many of our thoughts are projected outwardly where they become lost in those projections and lost in the stories.  Instead, we should focus those thoughts inward, recognising our true nature.  When we talk about the mind we usually refer to thoughts and emotions but this is only the appearance of the mind.  Like the sun’s rays merely being a projection of the sun, your emotions and thoughts are merely a projection of your mind.  Great masters talk about the essence of mind and the appearance of mind.  Appearance and reality.  Not outwardly looking, but inwardly seeing.  There is a loss in the sense of being.  Many of us speak a lot, do a lot, and think a lot but most of us don't know the speaker, the doer or the thinker.  We have lost the sense of contentment; that inner state of happiness and satisfaction.  French philosopher Pascal is quoted as saying, "All of humanity's problems stem from man's inability to sit quietly in a room alone".  

Mindfulness has certainly become a hot topic over the past year and was only recently embraced by western psychology.  Scientific studies on mindfulness have demonstrated it's effectiveness in stress management, increasing self-awareness, enhancing emotional intelligence and reducing suffering caused by negative thought and feelings.  The latest scientific research in neuroplasticity shows that the most effective way to produce localised and specific changes within the brain is through behavioural or mental interventions.  Leading neuroscientist Dr Richard J Davidson stated, "Behavioural or mental interventions can produce more specific biological changes than any known medications.  Medications affect the brain systemically and they often produce effects in systems other than those that are targeted."  This research shows that behavioural strategies such as meditation, yoga, tai chi and making tea, where mindfulness is practiced, produce more specific effects in the brain than any known intervention today.  By using the correct activities, brain function can be enhanced and improved and so the quality of being.  Able to be aware, having control of how much meaning you put into something represents the core mental functions in the brain.  The 14th Dalai Lama, a master of the mind, often quotes, “The wonderful thing about the mind is that it can always be transformed”.
 There is now evidence that engaging in pure mental training can induce changes, not just changes in the function of the brain but in the brain's very structure itself.  This is a new idea that the brain can actually reorganise itself.  Through mental activity and our thoughts, we can actually rewire the brain.  To conclude, not only can mindfulness and concentration transform your mind but it can also improve your ability to make a perfect cup of tea.  Mindfulness is essentially about waking up, connecting with ourselves and appreciating the fullness of each moment in life.  Kabat-Zinn calls it "The art of conscious living".  It is a profound way to strengthen psychological and emotional resilience, and increased life satisfaction.

Here are a few more rad quotes that I came across during my research regarding mindfulness.  Please feel free to add to them.

“Walk as if you are kissing the Earth with your feet.” - Thích Nhất Hạnh.

"If it becomes a performance, it loses all it's presence and power, like so many other sacraments hollowed out by years of repetition.  Even those only interested as a hobbyist often fail to understand that the tea brewed by the master didn't taste better because he knew some secrets about water temperature or had better cups - it was better because he was present, connected to the Tao of the moment"  - The way of tea.

"...If the one preparing the tea isn’t steeped in the Tao, the Way of Tea is but a performance that is just so many empty and echoing motions and gestures, rather than a sanctification of the essence of tea itself.  To be with Tao, Cha must be a “sacrament” as Thoreau’s dictionary defines it, “An outward and visible expression of an inward and spiritual grace.” - The Way of Tea.

"...There can be no right or wrong way to make tea — the right way is dependent upon who, where, and when you are.  You might say that the question is not which method of tea preparation is right, but which is right for you.  The way to make tea as an expression of the greater energy of the universe is all in the relaxation of any of the impositions you usually put on some parts of your life; it is, in essence, a letting go of the mind — approaching the moment unaffected and pure, allowing it to flow through us.  Rather than attempting to observe it from the outside, we try to participate and connect to the moment mindfully".  - The Way of Tea.




MATT D'ARGENT
MATT D'ARGENT

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