Relationships change. This is not only true of relationships between people, but relationships with “things”. Of course, the most important relationships we have are indeed with other humans, this is not an argument against that. I am in agreement that human to human relationships are the most important things in our lives. Because this is a consensus I can pretty confidently say that is congruent with all people of all backgrounds and beliefs I just want to make clear that this is not what I’m talking about.
Whether we realize it or not, we have relationships with things, with objects, places and experiences. Superficially, we can know this, but we are often quick to dismiss the importance of our relationship with particular things. Most people find themselves shying away from admitting their love of particular possessions or deny their dedication of certain hobbies. I believe this is mostly because we are afraid of crossing the line between a healthy affinity to certain things and materialism. Most people do not want to be described as materialistic or obsessive. The only people who unabashedly admit and bring attention to their love of things are children, especially toddlers. Enter a toddler’s domain and you will quickly know what is “theirs” and what their favorite things are. Toddlers don’t see anything wrong with this, in fact, they want to assert that they have things that they own and that there are some that they like better than others. Parents know that no one is going to have a good night if their little one happens to forget their favorite stuffed animal at a restaurant- so they turn around and drive back to find it, even if they were already home. A stuffed animal that has been with your child since birth all the way to adult hood gains a special life that others don’t have- it’s not the stuffed animal in itself that is special, but the relationship it has to your child. The memories, and experiences that your child has poured into it and has made it special. One look at this toy and you can almost hear your child’s voice of when they were a toddler, you can envision his little feet running towards you while holding this toy by a limb, you can even remember the feelings you were having, the doubts of wether or not you were being a good parent. A child is one who readily accepts comfort from objects and is also the first to proclaim discomfort from them.
While things do not affect other things in the same way people affect other people, things can affect people and people can affect things. People have a relationship to things that things do not have to each other. Human life wouldn’t be possible without a relationship to things, we depend on plants (which we cultivate, harvest and cook for food), water (which we must drink to survive) , structural buildings (for shelter), fabrics (which we manipulate and process into things like clothing), and other items. You see things play a part in who we are, the clothes we wear, the decor in our home, our niche hobby items. Things create culture.
By now you might be wondering if I forgot that this is a tea blog or if you accidentally ended up on a different page than you intended. Allow me to explain, tea, is a thing. It is a thing that you and I have a relationship to. Even if at the thought of “tea” you only get an image of a mug and a teabag in it, you have an understanding of what it is and your experiences with it. If you’re reading this blog, I take it you have a deeper relationship with it than the average tea drinker. For us “tea people” tea holds a special place in our lives and you as I know that this relationship changes constantly depending on where we are at in our life’s timeline. My relationship to tea has changed quite dramatically in the past years. I went from tea bag, to loose leaf, to knowing what terms like “Cha Qi” and. “Gushu” mean. I will share in detail my tea journey in my next post but for now I’ll attempt to draw some similarities of between tea and people, the animate and the inanimate.
For tea people, our favorite teas and tea wares are important, they represent more than the matter they are made out of. Of course there is no life in it of themselves but we infuse them with a particular life that is unique every cup brewed. Every single object involved in gong fu cha, cha do, and any other type of tea art, has a story and a purpose. The care, attention, and detail in the hands of of the artist who created the vessels we use, teapots, gaiwans, tea cups and fairness pitchers are reflected in the beauty of each item. The soul, the ways of life, and the thoughts of each person blended and fired into the clays and sands used to shape our tools. Things can be a fruit of passion, of love, of intellect, of wisdom and of ingenuity. We can take things and create other things, things that come from us. Tea, is the reflection of the farmers, the places, the soil, the current state of the environment. In this thing, tea, we can absorb the earth, we can smell the spirit of of both plant and person who delicately interacted with the leaves. In each sip we can taste the conversations, the laughter, and the strife of those who worked with their hands and the sweat of their brow to produce this coveted thing. In this thing, tea, we can offer friendship, extend a hand of hospitality, nourish the tired body, uplift the exhausted spirit. In this thing, tea, community is formed, both in those who produce it and those who consume it. For me personally, this thing, tea, is a way to dream of peace between nations, between families and within individuals. We are a lot more like this thing, tea, than we realize.
You see, we ourselves are matter, we are things, if we try to break ourselves down and study everything that we believe makes us a living being we will find that we are essentially inanimate. In the sense that my arm is an arm, my leg is a leg. By itself my body is only a thing. However, humans and animals, are alive, we think, feel, speak meaning that we are also spiritual. We cannot be purely matter because matter is not sentient. Where is our sentience contained? If it is not in our limbs then is it in our organs? Our heart? Our brain? No, even if you were to hold my heart in your hand, you would not find me, you would find a soulless organ that has the duty to pump blood. If you scoop out my brain, you will not hear my thoughts, you will not know my intentions, you will only see a pile of slimy, squiggly flesh. Is my life then in my vocal chords? In my ability to speak, to say what I feel and what I think? Am I found in chemical interactions? In electrical impulses? Chop me into pieces, look inside every cell, collect every drop of blood, inspect my bone marrow under a microscope, but you will not find me. Soul and body combine to create me in a mysterious process that no one has really pinned down yet. There is no denying that we are more than material beings, we are spiritual, there is an unseen, intangible element to our existence. We not only a body yet not only a soul, we are a combination and when those two are separated, we find death. In death we do not mourn only the cessation of a functional body, nor do we only mourn the loss of the spirit, we mourn the combination of these things. We are not our parts, we are a whole that has been brought together.
When both water and leaves from the Camellia sinensis plant are combined in a particular way, we get tea. The water is transformed, no longer being water, and the leaves bleed essential parts of what makes them leaves into this water, they too are no longer complete in themselves. We, with our sentient advantage, are the ones who bring these two elements together to bring to life a new creation. We create this lovely thing in order to enjoy it, to share it and to express our own existence in a tangible way. When we consume this new creation, what is left behind is again the matter, the leaves but it is no longer tea. It has lost it’s life. Observe the leaves, study them, you will not find tea. Bring these leaves to a lab, break them down to their basic chemical components, you will not find tea. Observe water, watch it come to a boil, you will not find tea.You will find an essential parts, but not tea. Tea is not its parts, but a whole that has been brought together. We as humans have both leaves and water within our reach, we are capable of bringing wholeness out of parts.
If we bring tea into a whole? Who brings us into a whole? What being has access to the immaterial? Who has access to a realm we have never seen but have most definitely experienced? Who can bring both body and spirit together and fuse them into a person?
Our reality is one of both immaterial (or spiritual) and material nature. Our thoughts, emotions, intentions and questions cannot be seen physically, they can only be reflected in chemical reactions, facial expressions, and decisions we make. Still you cannot point and say “see here, this thing is love, and this thing is courage” these are not things. The spiritual may be interpreted differently by every individual but the material is a unifying factor in all our lives. We are material beings, we have a body, organs that work constantly, and things that interact with our material selves each and every day. Things that enrich our lives, and enable our existence.