I grew up in an environment where everything felt predetermined as either right or wrong. Being raised in a boarding school campus and a house with 9 other kids my age meant that topics with innate fluidity in morality and decision-making were automatically placed on the pendulum of good and bad. This created order amid the potential chaos that came with a packed household of children. Unfortunately, it also meant that there were challenges when exploring certain topics that possessed a spectrum of outcomes and consequences. While it is safe to say that many students did not share the admission to adhere to the strict guidelines and viewpoints held by those who led campus life, I was quite content following the rules. Decisions were mostly made for us and I went along with the flowing current in general agreement.
College forced me to evaluate doctrines I held onto and presented un-sheltered situations where a decision was solely mine to make.
Decide. Move forward. Rinse. Repeat.
I was challenged and grew with every fork in the road. While my relationship with tea did not take off until a few years later, the growing parallels gong fu brewing presents between the preparation of tea with great skill, to the human experience as it pertains to freedom of choice and acceptance, are undeniable. It is in reflection that I came to this perspective.
Maybe it is the fact that straightforward answers and clear cut decisions rarely occur. Or rather, to be decisive often requires a leap into the unknown – a result that informs the following decision again and again. A Gong Fu practice is an invitation to play within this decision-making space. Time and dedication to chá yì 茶艺 (tea craft or art) bring us closer to living the lessons tea has to offer. At times we strive to understand tea by its visual markers. It may or may not provide insight as to water temperature and infusion duration. Regardless, it is not until a decision is acted upon and we taste the brewed result that we reflect upon the hand dealt and move forward. There is no inherent right or wrong, but a lesson in how to approach the next infusion based on personal preferences. In life, we commit to hundreds, if not thousands of decisions a day. Some seemingly insignificant while others made with insurmountable difficulty. Tea under the gong fu discipline asks us to arrive and remain in the moment, to experience the leaf fully, to adjust parameters, and steep again in a cyclic process of learning by practice and reflection through decisiveness.
Decision-making through this tea experience is meditative and encourages me to remain open to decisions in life. It blends the structured discipline of detailed parameters with the demand to be flexible and throw that away when the outcome arrives. These aspects of choice and acceptance that make me an eternal student of tea and I find this process to be a beautiful exercise that is further reinforced when sharing tea with others. I am called to remain open-minded in recognizing the infusion shared is not mine to experience alone. In this vulnerability, we share the invitation to decide and move forward, together in the community.