Mugs and tea

This past year for Christmas, I asked J to buy me the same desktop radio and water boiler he has in his office: the radio for playing classical music while I work and the water boiler to provide a ready supply of hot water for tea. Yesterday, I completed my home office setup by adding some stacking mugs and a bamboo tea box to organize my supply of green and herbal teas: a simple addition that makes my home office more organized and visually appealing.

I type these words, I’m listening to classical guitar music while sipping a cup of pomegranate white tea, the simple addition of music and hot beverages making my home office much cozier and conducive to productivity. Controlling one’s environment is an important part of honing one’s habits, and I find myself more willing to spend hours at my desk working now that I have both music and hot beverages close at hand.

Tea and chocolate

Every year, I eagerly anticipate Thanksgiving, when a brief break from teaching gives me a chance to tackle my paper-piles. All this week, I’ve repeated my usual mid-November mantra of “It’s almost Thanksgiving,” and on Tuesday, I went to Trader Joe’s to stock up on chocolate bars. Today, a shipment of assorted black and herbal teas J ordered for his office arrived, and I set aside a dozen of my favorite varieties–both caffeinated and herbal–to fuel next week’s marathon grading sessions.

We out here though

This morning I gave consulting interviews at the Cambridge Zen Center, and as always there was a pot of hot tea waiting for me when I went into the interview room to begin. Sunday mornings when I give interviews are hectic: I have to get up early enough to do my morning chores before I leave, so by the time I arrive at the Zen Center, I’ve already taken the beagle out and in, loaded the dishwasher, cleaned the kitchen litter box, and fed the cats. It feels good, in other words, to sit down to a hot pot of tea someone else prepared: a chance to play guest.

After the laughter

I usually take about three sips of tea before I ring the bell for the first interview. While everyone gets settled on their cushions in the main meditation room, I get settled on my cushion in the interview room, making sure I have everything I need close at hand: a clock so I can keep an eye on the time, and a box of tissues I can offer to anyone who comes in with a heavy heart. (Sometimes I think the most important job a senior Dharma teacher can do in consulting interviews is listen without judgement while calmly doling out tissues.) Once I’ve determined everything is in place, I pour a cup of tea and take approximately three sips, breathing in the tea’s aroma, feeling the heat of the cup in my hands, and savoring the warm flavor on my tongue. The Zen Center is a ritual-rich place, and these three sips of tea have taken on an almost magical meaning for me. Before I can ring the bell that says “I’m ready to listen to whatever question or issue you want to talk about,” I have to make myself present to a simple cup of tea.

Rest in paint

A lot of profound, powerful, and deeply humorous things happen in the interview room: all that consulting interviews are, after all, is a chance for two practitioners to sit down and talk face-to-face behind a closed door. But sometimes I feel like the most powerful moment for me personally is the moment or two before I ring the bell, when it’s just me holding a cup of tea in my hands, wondering what sort of questions will walk through the door.

Je suis XXVI

Before I set my teacup down and ring the bell for the first interview, I spend a moment looking at the drawing of Kwan Seum Bosal, the bodhisattva of compassion, that hangs above the interview room mantel. In the guise of an eleven-headed goddess with a thousand hands and eyes, Kwan Seum Bosal looks like a harried mother with heads instead of eyes in the back of her head: ever watchful, and ever ready to lend a hand (or a tissue) when someone is suffering. Before I set my teacup down and ring the bell for the first interview, I silently invoke the spirit of Kwan Seum Bosal, whom I recognize as a representation of the compassion we all possess. Once I ring the bell for the first interview, I have no way of knowing what flavor of suffering will walk through the door. All I can hope for is that like Kwan Seum Bosal, I’ll find a way to be present in the face of whatever arises.

Tea and coffee - March 14 / Day 73

A little over a week ago, I had dinner with Seon Joon, who was in Cambridge on her way to visit friends on the west coast. We went to an Eritrean restaurant in Central Square, sitting at one of the traditional woven-basket tables at the front of the restaurant, where we shared a platter of savory lentils, spinach, and curried vegetables arranged on flat injera bread. Seon Joon and I hadn’t seen each other since June, and before that, we hadn’t seen each other in seven (seven!) years. After lingering long over food and conversation, we ordered hot beverages—ginger coffee for Seon Joon, and cinnamon-spiced tea for me—and talked until we’d sated ourselves on conversation and conviviality.

Hot chocolate and sketches - March 21 / Day 80

On Thursday, it was Pica who was briefly in Cambridge, visiting by train from the west coast. I’d seen Pica last spring, when we’d gone on an early morning bird walk at Mount Auburn Cemetery, followed by pancakes and conversation at the Deluxe Town Diner. On Thursday, the weather was unseasonably cold, with sporadic snow showers, so instead of birding and sketching at Mount Auburn, as we’d initially planned, Pica and I met in Harvard Square, where we talked and admired her sketches over steaming cups of Burdick’s famously intense dark hot chocolate.

With Pica at Burdick's

There’s something magical about spending time over hot beverages with an old friend. Whether it’s been a year or seven since you’ve seen one another, the time gone by seems to melt under the influence of warm caffeine. You pick up old conversations as if they’d never been interrupted, remembering the various milestones that have passed even as your friendship has remained the same. Conversations shared over hot beverages somehow feel timeless, a ritual all their own. You remember the people you were the last time you met over a warm, comforting cup, and you feel inspired to envision who the two of you might be the next time you meet up, where or whenever that might be.