Sunday, April 1, 2012

Lessons of a Tea Connoisseur

~                   Warning, this post is not for the faint of heart.                   ~
Continue at your own risk. Seriously, you have been warned.

I believe the concept of Dharma is simply a teaching. More specifically one's ability to 'see' or one's openness to be aware of it within one's surroundings.
I don't think Dharma is necessarily a teaching or doctrine to introduce or indoctrinate one into Buddhism. The truth is simply out there and existent with or without our noticing it. Dharma is when we become in tune with it. I might be wrong, but that's how I see it.

Recently, during my black belt testing in Taekwon-do I inadvertently stumbled across Mindfulness.  I've always understood mindfulness – at least from an intellectual perspective – but experiencing it first hand is drastically different than understanding it.

Under normal circumstances I would not consider myself a connoisseur of tea. I do drink tea, and I do have a taste for a variety of teas. (No, not the 'girly' herbal teas). My particular taste favours Yorkshire tea (it's a strong tea) and long-leafed green tea. (It's a great aid with digestion, not to mention I simply like the look of near-full tea-leaves unwounded and open in the cup!)

I make reference to myself as a tea connoisseur only because I feel I can safely say I have had teas I am sure most people definitely have not had - ever! (And I have seriously questioned myself on this topic as well). You see, I suffered from Asthma and it had been controlled through Flovent, a steroid inhaler for decades. Although this treatment worked quite well the long term side effects are frightening!

I had decided quite a time ago to deal with my asthma once-and-for-all (hopefully) through Traditional Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture. I had gone through approximately 15 months of TCM and Acupuncture therapy. At one point I was put on an 'herbal' tea for 10 days.

Ziheche or, its Latin name, Placenta Hominis.
Dried Human Placenta.
That's right. Dried – human – placenta....

…. I consider myself a Syncretist and quite open minded, however, I was getting close to my limits. I won't lie to you; I had a hell of a time 'getting it down the hatch', so to speak.

I've tasted worst teas. Earlier during my TCM treatments I was on another tea (numerous and various herbs) that was simply awful. I can honestly say it tasted worst than this Ziheche tea. But it wasn't the taste that gave me such a hard time. It was a combination of the smell and the knowledge that I struggled with. ...and it is here that this discussion becomes difficult. You'll have to forgive me because I am going to jump about on various tangents to make my point, so please, be patient.

Some smells are so strong as to be nearly a taste. The scent of a lilac is a perfect example of it. You can nearly taste their scent.

I believe scent is by far and away the strongest sense we have to memory. Nothing can bring back certain memories like a particular smell. We can even associate an unpleasant smell with a particularly pleasant experience or memory and 'remember' the scent in a positive way.

When I grew up my father was in the Canadian military so we moved quite often due to his postings. I lived in France, Germany (twice), England, and (of course) Canada. My mother was never in good health so often times she (or we) would fly from Europe to Canada for certain medical treatments and/or operations. Airports were no strangers to me as a child.

The smell of jet engine exhaust is a putrid, dirty and unpleasant smell, yet still to this day when I smell it, it always lifts my spirits, gives me a sense of hope and a strange feeling a being “home”. Odd how that is, isn't it? That we can associate such a bad smell with such a good emotion to the point where that bad smell becomes good.

In Buddhism they speak of disconnecting our subjective thoughts, feelings, emotions, (interpretations?) and simply 'seeing' or experiencing a reality for simply what it is. (No simple task). I think my example of jet engine exhaust is a perfect example of what the Buddhist is not speaking of.

...but to jump topics, to switch tangents – back to some scents having a smell so strong as to nearly having a taste. Cunnilingus fits this description. (And yes, I know, in this case there is a taste involved, but bear with me please. If you are not familiar with this term, Google it. I am already pushing the envelope with this post as it is). It is not a particularly good smell/taste at all, but what we associate with it (the memory, the experience) that influences it.

(Time to change gears again). I can also remember when both my children were born. They had a ever-so-slight scent about them. For the first day or two in the hospital both my wife and I were aware of it. For the first day - maybe day and a half - after we got them home, it was only perceptible ever-so-slightly in their hair. And then, it was gone. It was the scent of the womb. I don't believe the babies weren't cleaned after their births. I believe that – after spending 9 months within embryonic fluid – their skin was inundated with it. It would take some time for it to totally evaporate out.

Again, it isn't a particularly pleasant smell, but due to the experience and the emotions attached to the experience, we “remember” the scent in a very emotionally positive way.

Let's jump back to the Ziheche tea.
It had the scent of both these two experiences, yet completely without the attached subjective emotional reference points. Coupled with the knowledge of what I was consuming... I'm not sure whether it is a testimony to a potential depravity or my perseverance and indomitable spirit. Truth be known I really don't want to know.

I apologize for the topic matter of this post and I apologize for the graphic details I shared. I sincerely hope none were too offended. But I return to the concept of Dharma, or at least my concept (misguided?) of Dharma.
A fact simply is.
How do we separate ourselves from our subjective thoughts, opinions, feelings, and emotional attachment or interpretations of things? Are we even aware of our interpretations?
If nothing else, this experience taught me that our perceptions are illusions. Or if not illusions, then projections at least.

One individual described the mind like a pool of water. All our subjective thoughts, emotions, interpretations, and feelings are like dirt in the water. The dirt never actually touches the clear nature of the water. By quieting the mind (meditation?) what we are doing is allowing the dirt to settle by not stirring it up. Little by little the water becomes clearer showing its true nature.
Now your thoughts can no longer move you one way or the other. To remain in this state continuously, settle all the sediment in your mind. If you do not stir the water, it is clear; and if you leave your mind alone it is blissful.
Maybe pouring a cup of loose leaf green tea holds some insight. When the boiling water is first poured in, the cup is a chaotic swirling mess of leaves and stems. Only when the water comes to rest does all the bits and pieces settle to the bottom of the cup and the water is stilled.

I can't say this experience necessarily settled the waters of my mind.
But it has taught me a lesson and made me unequivocally aware of how potentially fleeting my thoughts, feelings, and opinions must be.