Seasonal Tea Club 2021
The Art of Life in Summer
The human heart is the center of a territory with no boundaries.
Elisabeth Rochat de la Vallée
The boughs of the Subalpine fir, Blue Spruce, and Ponderosa Pines grow heavy with moisture as we welcome the soft rains that accompany early summer. Sitting under the awning of Mountain Gate Teahouse, we notice with anticipatory joy the growing catkins of the Narrowleaf Cottonwoods. A member of the Willow family, the Cottonwood is the purveyor of all the “flowering cotton” that floats around town at this time of the year, creating a euphoric dreamy feeling that accompanies the longer days and evening meals enjoyed outside. Nestled in the valley between the massive walls of the canyon, the teahouse hums along with daily activity. The cottonwoods that line the river corridors and the valley floor release the catkins; the abundance of greenery grows luxuriantly throughout the forest; the animals emerge from hibernation, and the crowds begin to arrive from all over the world.
On the traditional lunar calendar, the start of Summer is May 6th. This is an important time to “moisten the heart,” according to traditional Chinese medicine. Fiery yang vapors descend into the earth, allowing all things to grow. Dampness and heat from increased precipitation, evaporation and solar exposure can affect human health. We recommend food rich in vitamins and cooling in nature. In western terms, these are “anti-inflammatory food.” Vegetables, such as cucumber, tomato, watercress, celery, broccoli and mushrooms, as well as fruits that include watermelon, pear and berries are beneficial during this time of year. In ancient China, people believed that a round egg symbolized abundant growth in nature and happiness in life. So, eating eggs on the first day of summer was a prayer for good health. The traditional practice was to enjoy your favorite tea then place the spent leaves in boiling water until the brew becomes dark. Then, remove the tea from the heat and marinate the shelled, hardboiled eggs overnight in the brew. The tea eggs have a beautiful marbled surface. In modern times, the eggs are simmered in a savory liquid with star anise, cinnamon sticks, Sichuan peppercorns, and black tea until soaked with the flavors of the spices and a refreshing tea fragrance. You might consider incorporating this beautiful practice into your life on the first day of summer. If you wish to learn more about seasonal living in the summer, you can explore previous summer tea clubs on the blog, which go into great detail about seasonal diet, psychoemotional aspects of the fire element, taking care of the organs associated with the summer (the heart and small intestines), and last summer’s exploration of Covid from an integrative medicine perspective. Last summer, we also explored the five essentials of robust health, which support our immune systems and general well-being during this time: sleep, meditation, ritual (mindful tea), diet, and movement. Finally, we recently recorded a lengthy class on the Living Tea website that discusses the 12 Essentials of True Health, emphasizing practices relevant to this time of the year.
We’re overjoyed to share the third season of the fourth year of the tea club with all of our tea friends, old and new. While nature goes about its seasonal cycles, humans are experiencing a deep sense of renewal and emergence after a very long past year. Perhaps, in their own way, the plants and animals have noticed a certain peacefulness around the planet with less travel and social activity. While there’s a general sense that we’ll be able to enjoy the verdant abundance of summer, there’s a common misperception that nature is “getting a break.” For example, many rural areas in the tropics are facing increased pressure from land grabbing, deforestation, illegal mining, and wildlife poaching. People who have lost their employment in cities are returning to their rural homes, further increasing the pressure on natural resources. Meanwhile, there are reports of increased deforestation in Asia, Africa and Latin America. Illegal miners and loggers are encroaching on indigenous territories, which could expose remote indigenous communities to Corona virus. Areas that are economically dependent on tourism face reduced resources as tourism has come to a halt, resulting in a rise in bushmeat (wild meat) consumption in Africa. Further, illegal mining for gold and precious stones in Latin America and Africa is on the rise, as prices spike and protected areas are left unguarded. We find ourselves in a world with countless complex issues. After the high strangeness and many tragedies of the past year, we still have an uphill climb in order to shift towards a world that future generations can enjoy. At first glance, our world today appears beset by problems that humanity has never faced before, and equally full of miracles that are almost as difficult for our cultures to integrate. In such radically changing times, we need deep roots. We need to become familiar with the wisdom traditions that teach us how to remain healthy and undistracted, rooted in our natural rhythm and purpose. Only then can we serve life through its many changes.
In our tea tradition, we have a saying: “Internalize everything, externalize nothing.” One way to interpret this is to consider that our greatest capacity for change remains within ourselves. While of course we should do our small part as individuals to create the world we wish to live in, these changes will never occur unless and until we can embody them within ourselves. In my attempt to chart a winding course for living a life of tea, I commonly share the six pillars of the Way of Tea. These pillars help me continue my education and path as a tea person. The pillars move from the innermost practice to the outermost expression: Meditation, Virtue, Vitality, Tradition, Methodology, and Community. Previous tea clubs as well as video classes, which you can find on the website, explore these pillars in detail. The pillar of Tradition draws from various lineages that held a special place for tea throughout history, all drawing from meticulous observation and reverence for Nature. We work primarily within the realms of Zen Buddhism, Taoism, and Shamanism. Having covered the first two extensively in previous tea clubs, we’ll explore some basic tenets of shamanism, drawing from the works of Doug Boyd, Michael Harner, Eliot Cohen, Thomas Hills, Don Miguel Ruiz, Peter Wohlleben, Carlos Castenada, and Carol Sanford. While these authors don’t speak directly to shamanic practice and worldview within the context of tea, their teachings resonate with older shamanic practices that teach us to develop a more “alive” relationship to the natural world.
At Living Tea and Mountain Gate, we’ve spent the last year in a business cohort with Carol Sanford. Her teachings on regenerative business emphasize the importance of seeing life as patterns of interconnected relationships rather than fragmented parts. We’ve worked hard to develop contributive instead of extractive models, reflecting on cycles of growth and reciprocal benefits. We’ve looked at the various areas of life that our business touches from geological, hydrological and biological to eco-systems, community, economy, culture and spiritual. As a result of this work, we’re changing the way we approach “business,” with an essential focus on learning to listen to the trees and communicate our understanding, supporting individuals and communities in their relationship to tea, giving from an authentic place and embodying integrity throughout. We hope that all of you benefit greatly by all the changes taking place at Living Tea. In many ways, this attempt to see the forest for the trees means developing a shamanic relationship to regenerative business development.
Shamanism and Tea
A true exploration of the relationship between shamanism and tea exceeds beyond the scope of this offering. Thus, we offer some simple principles and encourage reflection on these principles in your own exploration of tea. At its core, the relationship between shamanism and tea centers around restoring our empathetic, subtle dialogue with Nature: the whisper of wind in the pines, the voice of the river, the wisdom of the seasons, the recognition of universal patterns, the ancient intelligence and feeling of being part of the world.
First Principle: Go Beyond the Mind. In the words of Carlos Castenada, “The internal dialogue is what grounds people in the daily world. The world is such and such or so and so, only because we talk to ourselves about its being such and such and so and so. The passageway into the world of shamans opens up after the warrior has learned to shut off his internal dialogue.” We spend so much of our lives lost in thought, in the daydream and anticipation of the future and conditioned mental reruns of the past. We do not see the world the way IT is; we see the world the way WE are. We maintain countless conditioned biases and when presented with new information, the mind sees what it is looking for, rather than seeing it fresh with a beginner’s mind. We tend to take away evidence that supports our preexisting conscious and unconscious beliefs, thereby failing to expand beyond those beliefs. Further, social media, marketing companies, advertising agencies and the “algorithm” are designed to continually feed us information that appeals to our preexisting predilections, thus preventing us from challenging our traditional assumptions about reality. Shamanism encourages us to approach our questions and problems by losing our biases, recognizing that they are illusions, and then go hunting for better illusions and questions. As Einstein pointed out, “We cannot solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them.” Shamanism values open questions over closed answers. A mindful morning tea practice is an invitation to quiet the mind, open the perceptive faculties of sensation and feeling, and come into contact with deeper, truer and more authentic questions. The way of tea is a path of good questions and attentiveness, not a linear path of data-gathering and mechanical movements.
Second Principle: Honor the Edge. In forest management and permaculture design, the edges between two or more ecosystems are called transition zones. These are highly active areas, with energy and resources constantly in flux. This creates more useful connections, acting as a net and sieve for energy that captures and contains more useful elements between systems. The ecotones capture materials, nutrients, and heat from different sources, moving them across boundaries without a high expenditure of energy. These flows exert a strong influence on the fertility and productivity of ecosystems that taps into the spirited dynamism of life, and fosters an increased exuberance within nature, and fills it with vitality. All this is due to the increased area of interaction created by the edges.
By exploring the edges of our own beliefs, conditionings and perceptions, we create fertile conditions for our growth, expansion and exposure to new resources. Shamans often engage in trance or meditative states that challenge the boundaries of ordinary conditioning. Tea is a gentle, psychoactive plant medicine that supports our exploration of our edges without the physiological toll taken by stronger entheogens. It allows us to explore altered states and edges without causing any damage to our psychic system in the process. Further, by starting our day by cultivating a beginner’s mind through mindful tea practice and meditation, we are better able to see opportunities for living “on the edge” rather than in the convenient, mechanical, “safe,” and well-trod road. Edges are all around us. They are the reason we talk things over with other people and form committees with diverse members. Under duress, mutation rates increase in the genome and life evolves. Even at the microscopic level, bacteria often engage in sex-like activities when stressed in order to share genetic material, which produces new solutions to hard problems. Look for edges and lean into them. This is how true growth happens. The ultimate edge exists between life and death. In the words of Don Juan, “A warrior must focus his attention on the link between himself and his death. He must let each of his acts be his last battle on earth. Only under those conditions will his acts have their rightful power.” And further, “The basic difference between an ordinary man and a warrior is that a warrior takes everything as a challenge while an ordinary man takes everything as a blessing or a curse.”
Principle 3 - Hunt for Meaning. Opening oneself to a shamanic worldview means recognizing that we can develop a sacred knowledge of life, that we can observe and align with the rhythms and forces of nature. Shamans are capable of walking the threads that link the invisible and the visible worlds. They help people remember that all trees are divine and that all animals speak to those who listen. To them, every species and every aspect of its environment had the power to remind them of what they could manifest within their own life. It was an aid to bridge the natural world to the numinous, awakening the realities of both within the environs of their own lives. In the shamanic view, every existing creature manifests some aspect of the intelligence or power of immanent divinity. In this regard, early Chinese Taoists who certainly worked with Tea as a plant medicine, lived from the same shamanic worldview. Inspired by vision, shamans pursue a radical and wild practice aspiring to a deeply ecological liberation: the integration of individual consciousness with landscape and with a Cosmos seen as harmonious and alive. This mode of inspired and awakened living requires that the shaman actively seek signs and develop a deeper capacity for listening. The shaman seeks for meaning in every moment and every chance encounter along the way. They weave these signs and encounters into a cohesive narrative that reveals universal meaning and active participation in the archetypal forces that flow through our lives. By relating to tea as a means of connecting with the natural world through the trees, we create space for this dialogue to open up. Drinking tea in stillness, learning proper brewing methods through study of the five elements, learning to listen to the way that each unique tea wishes to be brewed- all of these practices facilitate the development of our capacity to communicate with nature. In the words of my tea teacher, Wu De, “We’ve lost the ability to read water signs, track the forest, follow the animals, read the stars or smell the toxic versus healthy plants. And in our solipsism, ignoring Nature to explore our own desires and satisfaction, we have polluted the Earth; and only now that the warning voice has reached a cataclysmic volume is humankind once again beginning to hear and understand what has been sacrificed in the name of technological development. Obviously our social problems aren’t about a lack of science or information. We have so much information that huge computers can’t store it all. Wisdom is what is needed and the proper application of the sciences. We need guidance to steer our research and the resulting technological innovation. And that should supersede the decision to create more or bigger, newer versions of the same.”
Principle 4 - Live By Vision and Dream. Take your visions and dreams seriously. Taking the visions seriously means you allow new solutions to come into consideration. It also means that when we feel the tug in life to talk to someone, to visit some place, to pursue some “illogical” endeavor, we listen and take action. Life is a dream, or a sequence of dreams, but this definition of dreaming goes far beyond what we normally think of. Dreams are a door or a hatch opening to other worlds and leading us to apprehending the totality of ourselves. Dreams occur during waking life and sleep, with varying degrees of vivifying force. Part of shamanic practice is to develop a deeper capacity to know what dreams and visions are guiding us. By taking them seriously, we realize over time that we are being guided and that there’s no such thing as coincidence, as Carl Jung pointed out in his writings.
Part of the reeducation process involves learning to silence the inner critic. As elders in the creative arts point out, one must get down to the business of creating, allowing creativity to create. So many people never pursue their true wish because of 1,000 excuses. The shaman goes beyond this fear and hesitancy, knowing that there is no such thing as failure. Only through failure can we learn, and only with great courage will we continuously honor our edge and venture beyond our previous selves, shedding old skin and discovering the entirety of experience available to us. Through this process, we dream a new world into being and discover a new, evolving vision of reality. By learning to “listen to the trees” through a tea practice, we make space for visions and dreams to communicate through our prosaic experiences. This is one understanding of the Zen approach to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary. In the ostensibly normal moments of our everyday lives there exist messages, guidance, depth, and beauty, if we are open to seeing.
We dream in the stories that we live in. Our stories help us to better understand ourselves and our reality, because they create the potential for emotions and a scope of possibility that extends far beyond what our day to day lives will allow. In doing so, they create a web of relationships that allow us to see beyond the ordinary horizon. Our visions are the shoulders we stand upon to see over the land of possibility. Einstein had a daydream of flying on a beam of light. Coleridge followed an opium fueled dream into the land of Kubla Kahn. Kekule discovered the ring shape of the benzene molecule after having a reverie or day-dream of a snake seizing its own tail, the ouroboros. Steve Jobs envisioned a computer screen that could do calligraphy. Descartes dreamed about the unification of science and profoundly contributed to the development of the scientific method, all while excavating the Bible for its codes. Take your dreams seriously. You do not know where they might lead.
The Summer Collection
Living Tea seeks out farms or wild tea gardens that have a healthy, reverent relationship to all aspects of tea production. The following are qualities of a Living Tea: seed propagation instead of trees from grafted clippings with shallow roots, plenty of room for the trees to grow instead of tight rows like you see on tea plantations, biodiverse growing regions instead of clear-cut mountainsides or valleys, growing practices that avoid all chemicals including pesticides, chemical weed-killers and fertilizers, no irrigation, and living wages for all employees.
SUMMER TEA SERVINGS: We recommend using 3-5 gm of tea per session, or simply, use enough leaves to lightly cover the bottom of the pot. This is true as a general rule of thumb for all teas included in this collection. You might enjoy After the Rain White tea with a couple leaves brewed directly in a bowl, which allows you to watch the beautiful leaves unfurl.
BREWING SUMMER TEAS: We recommend brewing these teas by pouring off the first flash steeping to “awaken the leaves,” and brew the first five to six steepings for very short amounts of time (2-4 seconds). This practice of short steepings is different than European tea whereby you steep the tea for a long time. Into the Mist and Awakening can be brewed with water just shy of a rolling boil. Awakening is best in the morning as it is the most uplifting of the teas. Blanket of Night is best brew with water around 190 F, and later in the day or evening as it can make you sleepy. After the Rain is best brewed with water around 180 F, and can be enjoyed any time of day.
In the spirit of shamanic tea, we’ve decided to leave the typical lengthy description of each tea up to your experience. We encourage you to explore the concepts in this pamphlet through your exploration of these stunning teas. If you feel that you MUST know more about each tea, please email us.
After the Rain – Aged Organic Bai Mudan White Tea 2006 - Fujian Province 1 oz
Blanket of Night – GABA Oolong – Nantou, Taiwan 1 oz.
Awakening – Meizhan Honey Orchid Red Tea – Fujian, China 1.5 oz.
Into the Mist – Aged Liu Bao Black Tea 2009 – Guangxi, China 1.5 oz
written by Living Tea founder Colin Hudon