Creating Connections with an Old Bag of Tea

We power through cups of tea at our house. I’ve been saving the wrinkled and wet used tea bags in a bowl. Don’t judge me. I have my reasons.

Not quite finished. The dark flecks are tea. The red pigment comes from pounded rose and geranium petals.

In June I began a year long virtual course of study with India Flint. India is an artist who works with plants and found objects to create beautifully dyed paper and cloth. India’s course of study is why keen eyes might find me in the wee hours of the morning gathering handfuls of eucalyptus leaves from along the bike path that parallels El Camino Real and stuffing them into the pockets of my baggy cargo pants.

India Flint, and this course, is why I save used tea bags.

India’s teaching style is that of a storyteller. Rather than providing precise step-by-step directions – like the sort you’d find if an Ottolenghi cook book – she weaves a tale of her experiences with the plants she is using, the mistakes she’s made, the lessons she’s learned. She gives permission for us to take what we need, to leave the rest, and to be inspired by her life’s work.

I’m inspired.

Our first journey was through the making of a book. I didn’t have much of what was needed – proper paper, a sewing machine, a very sharp pair of scissors – but this course is filmed with such care and beauty it didn’t bother me that I wasn’t playing along. I was still learning.

Which is how, this morning at 5 AM, I found myself carefully deconstructing a dozen or so tea bags, emptying their contents into a bowl and spreading the fragile paper out like one might smooth a bedsheet.

But there is more to this story:

Over the weekend my friend Diane – a talented and dedicated artist – gifted me Beth Pickens’ book Make Your Art No Matter What: Moving Beyond Creative Hurdles. This is a book that weighs much more than it should and its Times Roman font is a point size or two smaller than my eyes enjoy. The first chapter, however, is about time. Something I’ve been pondering lately.

And here’s a little more to the story:

I had lunch yesterday with a friend I’ve not seen since before the shut down. Carolyn and I laugh when we’re together. We laugh a lot. But yesterday, as we were talking about how the pandemic changed us, we thought of something that stopped us in mid-giggle. The shutdown gave us time. And now time feels more precious. Both Carolyn and I are discovering how different life is when we treat time as a gift and not a commodity to burn through. We’re learning to say ‘yes’ to what we love. Even if that means saying ‘no’ to something we love less.  

And that is how I found myself at 5 AM this morning gently opening the tea bags that had been drying for a day instead of reading emails and absorbing all that had happened in the world as I slept. India’s course is inspiring me to explore. Diane’s book is encouraging me to love my inner artist. My conversation with Carolyn is reminding me that time is precious.

Deconstructing tea bags is a slow, careful process. While I sat at my desk, my Ottlite breaking the pre-dawn grey, I fell into a sort of meditative reverie. I thought about the tea, how far it had traveled – the Ashwaghanda from India and the green from Japan – I thought about the farmers who grew and harvested the tea then bundled it off to factories to be processed. I thought about the work it takes to create the paper that holds the tea and about how I was moving the process of creation forward by turning the old tea into dye and the these fragile scraps of paper vessel into a new vessel.

It was a profound moment to experience that deep sense of connection. It felt new to me because it wasn’t cerebral. The connection came from my heart. 

I hope I can hold on to that feeling of connection.


A Fresh Dawn

IMG_6311My bookclub met via Zoom on Wednesday. The book up for discussion was Pema Chodron’s When Things Fall Apart. It was published fifteen years ago but the gifts it offers are timeless. In these extraordinary times we would be well served to keep a copy nearby to dip into when life teeters on the precipice.

Something that was said last night has stuck with me. It was one of those observations that takes us from one point in the conversation to another. Just a toss off – nothing that we lingered on. In the book Pema advices us to breathe. We all agreed it’s easier to watch the news or scroll through Facebook or find a hundred other reasons why sitting still and taking a simple breath is not an option. This morning it’s the plaintive mews from Bruce the Cat.

My alarm rings at 5 AM. Bruce the Cat receives a bit of attention and a dollop of Oh My Cod or Salmon Enchanted Evening.  I’m at my desk with a cup of coffee by 5:15 AM. Five mornings a week I gift myself this wonderful hour of quiet solitude but the truth is that, until today, it’s been wasted on me.

My intention is to use this hour that glows with the breaking dawn to write or meditate or do both but as I sip my brew I’m reading daily briefing emails from Huff Post, CNN and the New York Times. Then I’m responding to messages that landed during the night. I cuddle Bruce the Cat for a moment and the next time I look at the clock that golden hour is gone. It’s time to say good morning to Ben the Human, to strap on my running shoes and begin my day.

Distractions. The emails, the social media, the news – during the first hour of my new day they fill my brain until there’s no more room for what fills my heart the same way eating candy before a meal leaves no room for nutrition.

What distracts you from the calls of your heart? 

My morning cruise through the news is nothing but a habit. The solution is simple. Break the habit. Create a new routine. Answer the call. Breathe.

We can find the motivation to do this by asking ourselves why it’s important. When we lost the structure to our days a few months ago we laid a new foundation and built a new structure. The foundation for my new reality is this hour. When I choose to scroll through emails the foundation weakens. When I answer the call of my heart – when I write – I feel strengthened.

This dawn hour is important to me because the discipline of writing sets the tone for my day. What do you do to set the tone for your day? To keep your foundation strong?

The 5:40 train to San Francisco rumbled through ten minutes ago and Ben’s alarm just rang. Red finches are spreading their wings and with raucous chirps are bullying their way around the feeder outside my door. The world is waking up and my hour is winding down.

It was a good hour. I think I’ll do the same thing tomorrow.


Building a Better Me, Part II

IMG_1317I realize Building a Better Me is wrong. Not what I wrote, but how I named it. I am not challenging myself to be better (although there’s always room for improvement). I’m re-structuring my life in order to return to the joys that define me.

So how’s that working out? I’m about fourteen days into the journey.

The habit I am in the process of releasing is that of hearing the alarm, reaching for my iPad and then staying in bed for another twenty minutes reading the news. This habit is not helpful on two levels. The first is that the habit steals time. The alarm chirps at 6:00 AM for a reason. On a deeper level, waking up and immediately turning to the headlines – which are rarely good – sets an energetic tone to the morning that is unhelpful. In these last fourteen days I have given in to habit once. I chose to stay put.

I am cultivating three new habits.

The first is to not feel bad when I choose to stay put.

The second is this: when the alarm rings I stand, I stretch, I kiss Ben good morning and sip my coffee. And then I sit down and write. I’ve made a promise to myself to put down 500 words a day. Sometimes the words end up as blog posts. Sometimes they end up filed away in some dark corner of cyberspace, never to be seen again.

The other habit is this: keeping a planner. The amount of money I have spent over the years on journals, diaries and planners that have promised to change my life would probably feed me for a year. And yet, even when I consider my past experience with planners, I am attempting, yet again, to use one. These calendars that ask us to define our goals and ambitions have an unsettling effect on me. I feel set me for failure and yet, here I am, giving it another go.

My new planner, so far, is different. Or maybe I’m different.

I can’t over-think this. It doesn’t matter if it’s the planner or if it’s me. What is important is that here I am, wrapping up five hundred words (give or take an adjective or two) for the fourteenth day in a row (cue balloons and streamers). Yesterday I submitted a short creative non-fiction piece to a small writing competition for the first time in about five years.

Heady days, indeed.

We’ll see where I’m at in another two weeks. So far, making room for my creative heart’s desire has made every facet of my life shine a little brighter.

And now, while I get ready for my first client, it’s time to see what the world got up to while I was sleeping.


A New Practice

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To say it has been a busy few months is an understatement.

A friend asked the other day, So, how do you feel now that its all over?  She was referring to the conclusion of two years of study at Sofia University and the success of my final paper (which you can read here), my year-long adventure in yoga-therapy training at Niroga Institute, and the end of Samyamas first 8-week teacher training program, The Dharma Path, where I had the honor of assisting John Berg in the teaching of asana and methodology.

Are you excited?  Or is there a void?

The possibility of there being a void in my life was something I hadnt considered.  But Hillarys question encouraged me to step back and assess how it felt to reach the end of this hectic and amazing chapter.  When I did, I realized there is indeed a gaping hole where writing assignments and reading texts and lesson preparations used to reside.  The undercurrent of urgency that roiled through my psyche has mellowed to a gentle ramble.  The fractal-esque symmetry of lifes repeating pattern of work, teach, study, sleep, work, teach, study, sleep has been disrupted.  Like a Jenga tower with one too many blocks pulled form its foundation, Im teetering toward the unknown.  Im restless.

And its unnerving.

Its the faith I hold in the order of life that binds my fragile personal yoga practice together.  When my faith is challenged and order is disrupted, my practice is challenged, too.

The charge, however, is not how to keep my practice alive, its how to keep it moving forward.

The key, I think, is to accept this shift in my space/time continuum as a gift.  The end of school and the other recent commitments that took constant and attentive energy did not generate a gaping black hole.  Nor did they manifest a void in my life.  If anything, the end of these commitments created an opportunity for me to see my world and my personal practice with a new perspective.  I have a chance to re-tool my practice and to put the pieces of my life together in a new way.

And thats what I intend to do.  To accept the gift of open space instead of searching for ways to see it filled.  Is it possible that this is what my personal practice was meant to be all along?  That I should allow my arms to open wide and that I should listen – really listen – to the sound of my breath and beating heart echoing in the space of a less busy life?