MAGIC IN EACH SIP: HOW TO HOST A SACRED TEA CEREMONY

When can drinking a cup of tea make you feel like you’re “melting into kaleidoscopic clouds”? When it’s part of a Living Tea ceremony, says Madeline Giles. Images: Lisandra Vazquez Photography

Setting the scene…

This time last year I enjoyed my tea bagged, bought from Whole Foods. I took jasmine green for breakfast, cacao yerba mate in the afternoon, and chamomile after dinner. If you asked me what I thought about tea then, I probably would’ve said: “It’s a cozy alternative to coffee. It tastes good. I like it. Yum!” And that would’ve been the end of that. Like most Westerners, I related to tea as just a beverage. A constant companion I told my life’s story to, but never considered listening to for a response. I didn’t know any better. I didn’t know there was more!

Then I moved to California, and by the grace of the tea gods, shortly thereafter I experienced my first taste of Living Tea during a love potion consultation. In one simple sip, the Tea pulled me out of my overly contemplative mind and into my body, where I felt transported into that magically meditative place where everything and nothing is known at once. It was heaven and earth alchemized in one simple swallow, and, as dramatic as this might sound, I felt I would never be the same.

“Really good Teas – that I call Living Teas – are from Old Growth forests in the high mountains and valleys of Yunnan, China and Taiwan, where the trees are hundreds and sometimes thousands of years old,” explains Living Tea founder Colin Hudon. We’re seated in his quaint Santa Monica cottage enjoying bowls of Purple Tea, which smells like wildflowers and makes me feel like I’m melting into kaleidoscopic clouds.

The author enjoys a bowl of Purple Tea at a Living Tea ceremony

“If you think about a tree that’s 100 or 500 or 1,000 years old, it’s been gathering and concentrating a profound accumulation of chi – or energy –from the sun, the moon, the stars, the birdsong, the plants, and all the animals it’s encountered over that time. The roots of a Living Tea tree can grow up to 100 meters deep, so they’re pulling up trace minerals and phytonutrients that we don’t get in our regular diet – that most plants we consume don’t have. Then we process it in a certain way and bring it back to life with fire and water. It’s alchemy.”

Hudon began relating to Tea as a Tao when he synchronistically connected with a Taiwan-based Tea teacher during his travels through Asia in 2010. “I stayed for a whole month at [my teacher’s] home, which is also a center called The Tea Sage Hut. I was profoundly moved by my experience there – it really kicked off my whole deep immersion into Tea. Prior to that it was just a curiosity of mine, a hobby.” When Hudon returned to California, he began selling Tea, serving Tea ceremonies, and ultimately inspired a local tea community that’s been growing ever since. Here, he shares the wisdom of Living Tea…

WHAT MAKES LIVING TEA DIFFERENT FROM CONVENTIONAL TEA?
The vast majority of Teas I carry are Old Growth, so they’re from hundreds to thousand-year-old trees in wild forests. Unfortunately, 99 percent of tea in the world today is industrialized plantation tea. These tea farmers deprive the soil of certain nutrients so the trees are forced to grow more leaves for sustenance. Then, they pick those trees eight to 12 times a year, sometimes more.

Really good Teas – what I call Living Teas – are only pruned once or twice a year, and sometimes even left for a couple years, to grow as wild trees in the forest. Also, drinking Living Teas and relating to them as medicinal botanical herbs is very different than sipping a cup of plantation tea from Starbucks, or even a bagged tea from Whole Foods.

With Living Tea founder Colin Hudon

CAN YOU SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS ABOUT USING LIVING TEA AS A TOOL FOR MEDITATION?
Oftentimes meditation is about shunning the sixth sense – the mind. In an attempt to turn inwards [various Eastern] traditions often refer to the five senses as distractions to that path. Yet ultimately, we exist in the world – and you still have to get up and pay bills and call your dad and you’ve got to walk the dog and do the dishes, you know? So the question is: How can we bring that degree of mindfulness, of presence, of awareness, of connection, of open-heartedness to the more humdrum, prosaic aspects of our lives?

Tea is one bridge from the inside to the outside, because if I can brew Tea and talk to you and have a daily practice of coming back to this awareness of my body, my being, and of my life through Tea, then I’m building up this energy of mindfulness. And the more you build it up, the more of it you have. Tea is just one of many tools, but it’s a very profound and powerful tool for this – especially if you come back to it every day. It’s also very accessible, whereas for many people, sitting in meditation and observing their breath – doing some form of meditation or yoga or whatever they do – can be very challenging.

WHAT DO YOU RECOMMEND FOR PEOPLE WHO ARE INTERESTED IN DEVELOPING A RELATIONSHIP WITH LIVING TEA?
I tell people you can relate to Tea like a person. Every person we meet, we have an impression of them. Some are aggressive, some are loud, some are abrasive, some are gentle and soft and quiet and introspective and creative, and on and on and on. We meet people from so many backgrounds, and you can’t meet a person without also meeting their education, their enculturation, their upbringing, their family – and the place they came from, which is true of Tea, too.

A lot of times when we do these Tea meditations or Tea ceremonies, it’s about the senses initially, but as you drink tea, if you really pay attention, oftentimes images will start to arise and people can see the place from which the Tea came. We say when She or It or the Tea starts to communicate with you, then She or It becomes the teacher. Soon, how long you steep a Tea, how many leaves you use, what type of Tea ware is the most appropriate – all of that is something that the Tea communicates to you, It’s not something you can read in a book.

“Start with just a bowl and a couple leaves…”

HOW CAN PEOPLE WHO DO NOT HAVE ACCESS TO A TEA COMMUNITY GET INVOLVED WITH TEA CEREMONY?
When a person starts to open the door to Tea beyond it just being an everyday beverage, it can be overwhelming. People will go, “Do I need to buy all this Tea stuff and do I need to learn all these traditions?” But the essence of Tea as a Tao, as a way, is simplicity. When my teacher, Wu De, introduces people to Tea, he says start with just a bowl and a couple leaves. Four to eight leaves of a large leaf Tea – because if it’s too small, the pieces get stuck in your mouth.

All you need then is just a way to heat your water, a big leaf bowl, and the leaves. Step two is more about the methodology and aesthetics of Tea, whereas step one – bowl, leaves – is about letting all of that go. You can do that alone or invite friends over and explore. It’s not about conversation, it’s about experience.

WHEN I FIRST MET YOU AND TOLD YOU ABOUT MY INITIAL EXPERIENCES WITH THE TEA, YOU SAID, “YOU MUST HAVE GOOD TEA KARMA.” WHAT DOES THAT MEAN TO YOU?
There’s a saying in our tradition that as the man seeks the man, so the leaf seeks the man. If a person has a profound respect and reverence for Tea as a path, if they create space in their life for it, then certain types of Tea will find their way into their lives. If a person relates to Tea the same way they relate to any beverage, then a different type of Tea will find their way into their lives – but that’s true of anything. In a sense, we get what we give.

To learn more about Tea as a Tao and tea ceremony, check out LivingTea.Net and Global Tea Hut. Numinous readers can also get a 10% discount on any purchases from Living Tea – just add the code “NUMINOUS TEA” at check out.

Madeline Giles with Living Tea founder Colin Hudon

SXSW SPIRIT GUIDE: 36-HOURS IN AUSTIN

Yee-haw, here comes the annual music and culture mash-up that is Austin’s SXSW festival. But there’s a whole other side to the town that’s more hippie than hipster (in a good way). Here’s our recipe for a weekend of self-discovery  and spiritual hi-jinx in the Portland of the South…

SATURDAY

9AM BLACK SWAN YOGA

The girls who run this donation based studio ($10-$15 suggested, $7 minimum) made a grainy, black and white freaking yogic music video as the intro to their website. All classes – Beginner, Power, Sweaty and Flow – take place in a 90-degree heated room, and if you can’t get to one of the four Austin locations there are even online classes to do. We suggest kicking off your Austin tour with the 9am Power class taught by Adam M at the Downtown studio. Set to a soundtrack of hip-hop, reggae, and, um, tango; “The idea is that we’re working ‘towards’ being the best version of ourselves and having some fun doing it,” he says.

Blackswanyoga.com

11AM JUICELAND

Now it’s obviously juice o’clock, and with seven locations dotted throughout Austin this is the place to get your greens on. We say go straight for the hard stuff and make your selection from the “Next Level” menu. How about a Cold Shower (cucumber, parsley, mint, watermelon, lime, salt) to cool you down after that hot yoga session? Or if you really need waking up, the Xtra Holla Pain Yo! (jalepeno, garlic, carrot, orange, cilantro, lime, salt) should do the trick. They also do smoothies and soups, and there’s a vegan, gluten free “Functionally Good Food” menu too.

Juiceland.com

12 NOON THE HERB BAR

You’re invited to switch off your mobile phone before you enter this magical mystery emporium, which, open since 1986, looks like Bilbo Baggins hobbit cave with its little red door almost buried behind the ivy bush that covers the front of the building. Inside, you’ll find everything from herbal tea blends and massage oils to locally produced natural beauty products and remedies, astro paraphernalia, crystals, prayer flags and wind chimes, all served up by super-friendly owner Twila Dawn Willis. Yep, it’s basically Numi retail heaven.

Theherbbar.com

1PM UNCOMMON OBJECTS

 

 

There’s plenty more magic to be found at this Austin stalwart, but rather than try to describe the kind of treasures a root around this sprawling space might uncover, we repeat for you their manifesto; “We relish the time worn and well loved. We are crazy about genuine patina. We cherish folk arts and parlor crafts from around the world. We reflect the melting pot that is the American experience. We adore ingenious repair. We honor beauty found in unexpected places. We are inspired by the joy found in serendipity.” And seriously, where else are you going to find a skate board that doubles up as a ouija?

Uncommonobjects.com

2PM MR NATURAL

There’s A LOT of amazing vegetarian food in Austin, but we’re sending you to this meat-free take on a traditional Tex Mex joint for a couple of reasons. 1) It comes highly recommended from Twila at the Herb Bar. 2) They do an ENTIRE GLUTEN FREE MENU. 3) There’s an yoga studio attached where they offer a ‘spiritual Hatha’ practise. And, maybe most importantly, 4) They produce a huge assortment of insane wheat / sugar / dairy / etc free cakes and pastries out of the on-site bakery.

MrNatural-austin.com

5PM SPARTAN

This ridiculously hip lifestyle boutique is essentially what the Numinous would be if we had a store (now there’s an idea…) Owner Currie Person has curated THE chicest collection of spiritually aware fashion, jewellery and homewares, while some new arrivals for spring include a crazy cool tie-dye leather bag from Creatures of Comfort, a selection of vintage Andean blanket rugs, this set of Bing Bang skull studs and the great felt hat by Janessa Leone pictured here.

Spartan-shop.com 

8PM CHEER-UP CHARLIE’S

With kombucha on tap and the MOST delicious vegan food truck parked out back, this indoor-outdoor bar / live music venue is a one-stop healthy hedonism shop. They also serve fresh pressed juice cocktails, while a parachute canopy covering the patio creates an other-worldly, that-bar-from-Star Wars kinda vibe. Oh, and check out the rad décor on the dance floor! Who needs ‘shrooms with all this trippy black light s*** going on?

Cheerupcharlies.com

12.30AM STARRY EYES

If you can drag yourself away from the fun times at Charlie’s (see above), Starry Eyes – described as “an occult tale of ambition, possession and the true cost of fame,” is being screened as part of the official SXSW schedule. Following the (mis)fortunes of a wannabe actress in Hollywood, after a series of strange auditions she lands the lead in a new film from a mysterious production company. “But with this opportunity comes bizarre ramifications that will transform her both mentally and physically…” Yikes!

SXSW.com

SUNDAY

10AM BARTON SPRINGS POOL

This man-made pool in Austin’s Zilker Park is filled from the water of the Main Barton Spring, the fourth largest natural spring in Texas. Open for year ‘round outdoor swimming, long before the pool was built the springs were considered sacred and were used for purification rituals by tribesmen of the local Tonkawa tribe. So where better to refresh your Sunday morning head?

Austintex.gov

11am JYOTISH ASTROLOGY WITH ANNE BEVERSDORF 

This renowned Austin astrologer goes back and forth between traditional Western and Vedic astrological systems during a reading, cross-checking information to give a totally in-depth, 360-reading. Coming to astrology as a healing modality, “My goal is to open doors for a deep flowering of your innermost Self in relation to the world. My peace is in hearing that YOU have found meaning in both joys and sorrows,” she says.

Stariel.com

1PM WHOLE FOODS RAW VEGAN FOOD BAR

Not only does Austin have one of the biggest Whole Foods in the world (or at least what feels like it, this is the home of their HQ after all), there’s also a WHOLE counter of the infamous salad bar dedicated to vegan (and mainly raw) cuisine. Well, hello broccoli cashew crunch, chickpea chix salad, pumpkin seed cheese, and raw German chocolate cake. Oh, or how about a raw flax seed tortilla was topped with kale and avocado, spicy cashew cheese, mock sour cream, cilantro and pico de gallo? Yes please.

Wholefoodsmarket.com

3PM GARDEN OF THE ANCIENTS

A 15-minute drive out of town, this “herb emporium and nursery” carries over 300 medicinal and culinary herbs, while the store itself is set among the creeping vines of a sprawling working herb and vegetable garden. They also grown a large selection of “ethnobotanical”, or medicinal, plants, including Daturas and Morning Glories, Wild Dagga, Baby Hawaiian Woodrose, Wormwood, Skullcap, Wild Lettuce, Wild Tobacco and the legendary San Pedro cactus. Properly witchy stuff.

Gardenoftheancients.com

5PM CUSTOM CRYSTAL DESIGN SESSION WITH FORREST LEE

Fort Worth native Forrest Lee has been creating his beautiful Healing Vortex Crystal Wraps since 2009, when he was gifted his first crystal – “with intense compassion from a dear brother in a hard time” – with life changing results. Now, “my goal is to spread healing and compassion by igniting that heart flame in each human. The crystals help remind us of our divinity,” he says, and a custom design session with Forrest is the best way to find the crystal that will work the hardest for YOU.

Facebook.com/healingvortex.crystalwraps

7PM BANGERS

Time to balance today’s air and water energy activities with some low down and earthy SAUSAGE. Bangers is Austin’s famous “sausage house & beer garden” – and, yes, their veggie options (beet and goat cheese or veggie BLT) get a huge thumbs up from us. The veggie ranchero brunch and sides (jalepeno cream corn with onion gratin anyone?) are also ridiculous, and all washed down with libations from the gluten free beer menu (yep, you read that right!)

Bangersaustin.com

9PM SOUND HEALING WITH TINA RODRIGUEZ

This incredible local healing artist, who works with crystal bowls as well as the sound of her own sweet voice, hosts regular group sessions and is available for one-to-one healing. As the rest of the SXSW revellers rock out to the closing sets of the festival, send your spirit soaring high on her beautiful cosmic vibes.

Facebook.com/tinalasirena

For full listings of what’s up at SXSW go to the festival website.

@SXSW

With thanks to Caleb Campaigne.