Pu-erh, Genmaicha and the Hero’s Journey

Beeng Cha teacake pu erh tea and Japanese teapot

Image by Scott MacLeod Liddle via Flickr

I’ve been thinking about tea. Real tea.  My favorite teas are black Pu-erh and green Genmaicha.

Pu-erh is an earthy tea. Its scent alone transports me to a dark woods.  One sip and I feel I’m walking on a soft forest floor inches thick with fallen, decaying leaves and pine needles.  Moss grows around tree trunks and drapes over the rocks that line my trail.

Genmaicha is light and clear by comparison.  It’s roasted with brown rice that softens bitterness and adds a warm, contented note. When I drink Genmaicha I think of standing in an open field with the sun on my back and a broad, cloudless sky above.

But to enjoy the complexity of these teas, they must be brewed correctly. Pu-erh can be brewed forever.  Manhandled.  Genmaicha requires more finesse, water just below the boil and a short brew time.

Thirty-six hours ago, when I posted Mani/Pedi Om, I didn’t know it would be my penultimate weekly (sometimes daily) post.  But as I moved through the day I couldn’t shake the feeling that while I was good at observing life, I wasn’t doing so well at living it.  My life had become as weak and diluted as a cup of tea brewed from a used, day old bag.  Sound familiar?

There’s something missing and I mean to find it.  There’s a gap between what my life is supposed to be and what it has become.

Every time I sit down to write a poem or work on a book proposal or even think about composing a query letter and instead become distracted by Facebook or Twitter or this blog, I’m throwing another bucket of sand on the fire I used to burn with.

I’ve lost track of who I am.  I’m not brave anymore.  I used to be brave.

If I remain glued to this chair, this desk and this laptop engaging in barely witty repartee with people I’ve never met; or if I struggle to be profound in one hundred forty characters or less, I’ll never see Norman Foster’s Millau Viaduct.  I’ll never walk through Tate Modern again, or cry when I see Prague’s St. Vitus’ Cathedral for the first time.  I’ll not drink a pint of the black stuff at a session in Donegal, toss back too much sake and belt out bad karaoke in New York, or play guitar with Mike in Reno.

I’ll never be published.

And I won’t find someone to read to me.  And that is my favorite thing in the world, when someone reads to me.

If I stay here, doing this, I’ll never find out what happens next.  I won’t ever really know how my story is supposed to end.  My only view of the world will come courtesy of Wikipedia.

I learned about Pu-erh and Genmaicha in the garden of the Santa Cruz Zen Center five spring times ago.  A man I knew and maybe loved read TS Elliot’s J Alfred Prufrock to me in the afternoon sun.  We brewed the Pu-erh and Genmaicha.  And then he served sliced oranges dressed in rose water and cinnamon.  I’ve not seen the man for years, but I’ll never forget that quiet, perfect afternoon.

So I’m taking a break for awhile.  It’s time for me to dig a little deeper instead of tossing off six hundred easy words because I can.

Last night I finished reading Karen Armstrong‘s The Spiral Staircase (for the second time).  Towards the end, she talks about the hero’s journey:

The hero has to set off by himself, leaving the old world and the old ways behind.  He must venture into the darkness of the unknown, where there is no map and no clear route.  He must fight his own monsters, not somebody else’s, explore is own labyrinth, and endure his own ordeal before he can find what is missing in his life.  Thus transfigured, he (or she) can bring something of value to the world that has been left behind.

I’m not going on a hero’s journey – at least I don’t think I am – but Armstrong’s words certainly inspire. So do these:

“Not only our actions, but also our omissions, become our destiny.”

And I, for one, have no intention of leaving anything out.