I grew up in England but my mother was not British so I was able to see some of their idiosyncrasies from a different point of view. One that bemused me was their obsession with tea. It acts as the social ritual on entering someone’s home, it acts as the primary caffeine delivery mechanism of choice, but it is also the solution to all problems.
You’re feeling bored – put the kettle on.
You’re feeling a bit tired – put the kettle on.
You’re feeling a bit depressed – put the kettle on.
Your best friend has just run off with your spouse? Hold on a moment, I’ll just put the kettle on.
What are they thinking?
Then I came to the United States and when I started teaching meditation it suddenly made sense. Tea is hitting the pause button and taking a breath.
Life is hard. This is a harsh truth of life. We wish that it wasn’t. We think it should be easier than it is. But it isn’t – it’s hard. And it’s hard a lot of the time. There are many moments in life, in a week, or sometimes even in a day that are overwhelming. However, the Brits have this weird little ritual that somehow improves the situation. We get the kettle, we fill the kettle, we wait for the kettle to boil. We get the tea out and put a teabag in the cup. We pour the hot water in and then we wait and let it steep for a bit. Then (and this can be a touchy subject amongst Brits) take the teabag out BEFORE putting in the milk. Even then you have to wait to drink it because it’s too hot.
In the five to fifteen minutes it takes to make and drink a cup of tea literally nothing changes. Whatever the condition of your life was before the tea is the same after the tea. And yet the tea works. It doesn’t change anything but it allows you to hit pause and get some perspective. Life is always a bit better after a cup of tea.
Meditation is very similar and of course as a meditation teacher I’m going to suggest it’s even better.
Our minds are a mess. Your mind is a mess. My mind is a mess. The truth is everyone’s mind is a mess. We have this relentless battle inside our of head of conflicting hopes, fears, dreams, desires, beliefs, and ideas. Many of these aren’t even our own, we’ve inherited stuff from our parents, teachers, culture and the media that is inconsistent and often contradictory. Many of the bits that are our own were generated based on a tiny number of experiences we had as young children and still form the basis of how we view the world. Then we have to engage with colleagues and bosses at work, with our children, spouses, friends. Throw into the mix the way we react to internal and external events and we have to navigate our emotions and feelings. The push and pull of so many forces is not surprisingly confusing, often terrifying, and ultimately exhausting.
Meditation is a pause button, it is a cup of tea for the soul.
In meditation we stop. There are thousands of different techniques but many of them are merely different ways for us to disengage from the usual way in which we relate to our minds. Normally we are in the middle of the battle trying to decide what to believe, to listen to, and ultimately what to do next. Instead, in meditation we simply stop. We stop and we practice simply being present to reality as it is right now, without reacting to it. We give ourselves a short break from our responsibilities, our hopes, our fears, the demands being placed on us by our parents, our family, friends and most importantly by ourselves.
Nothing changes during a meditation. Your life is exactly as you left it. But everything changes.
The British think tea solves all things. It doesn’t. But it is a great first step before you do anything else. Likewise, meditation does not solve all problems. But it gets you out of the mess that is your mind. Even if just for a few minutes. And that break, that pause, that reset is an awesome first step.