Thursday, January 20, 2005

Spaciousness and tea

I read a section of a book of essays and excerpts this week called Simpler Living, Compassionate Life, edited by Michael Schut. The section that particularly attracted my attention was called "Time as Commodity, Time as Sacred" and had this quote as the section beginning, "We measure our time in terms of money, and find that we can't enjoy time at all." ~Cecile Andrews.

In this section, Juliet Schor provides an excerpt from her book The Overworked American which outlines what most of us feel: we work harder to stay up with where we were years ago, and have less time and energy to enjoy our life, and have more stress related illnesses, child neglect, sleep deprivation, and marital distress. Time has become more valuable than money and more scarce. Money has begun to matter so much that we can't enjoy the fruits of our labors, because we are laboring so long.

While that confirmation was useful, although not news during this past week that I was taking a full 3 credit class in one week, and keeping up at work via email and at home without a lot of sleep, the essay that really spoke to doing something about it was entitled "Entering the Emptiness" by Gerald May.

May explains the concept of spaciousness, especially the "spaciousness of love." "From the biblical Hebrew, the letters yodh and shin combine to form a root that connotes "space and the freedom and security which is gained by the removal of constriction." He talks about three primary ways of having spaciousness in your life: form (uncluttered and open, physical), time (pauses from demands) and soul (inner emptiness, openness and possibility). He reminds us of the fourth commandment, to remember the Sabbath and keep it holy. "Sabbath was meant to be a day of spaciousness in form, time and soul. It was to be an uncluttered day, a day not filled up, a day of rest and appreciation, a day of freedom just to be."

He also talks about the way that we fill our spaces or dull our awareness with television, phone calls, or a drink, to name a few. He challenges us to "realign our attitudes toward spaciousness. We must begin to see it as presence rather than absence, friend instead of enemy." Even our practices of prayer, meditation or reflection have become filled with spiritual activity, allowing no real space.

Reading that, I realized that what I most wanted and needed at that moment was some spaciousness. So after I'd put my daughter to bed, put in a load of laundry, and finished that thirty pages of reading, I looked for a spacious moment. I lit two beeswax tapers and turned out the light. I stretched, working the kinks out of my body from sitting all day. I chose several pieces of recorded music that have been spiritually connecting to me, and I sat down and stared into the candle flame, and just let myself be.

It may not have been much more than 15-20 minutes, but what a gift it was.

Then in another essay from Aurora Levins Morales, from her book Medicine Stories, she talks still more powerfully about spaciousness. She talks about leaving victimhood behind. "So what comes to mind is the high price we pay when we settle for being wronged. Victimhood absolves us from having to decide to have good lives. It allows us to stay small and wounded instead of spacious, powerful and whole. We don't have to face up to our own responsibility for taking charge of things, for changing the world and ourselves." Being spacious is freeing.

The class I took this past week was called Money Matters, and one of our assignments is to keep a money journal for a week. With spaciousness on my mind, I realized a motif in some of my own everyday life.

I am a tea drinker, and my favorite tea is Earl Grey, which is flavored with oil of bergamot. I usually buy loose tea and brew a pot each morning. I ran out a week and a half ago, but had a box of Earl Grey tea bags that carried me over for the week of class. The box of 25 bags cost $1.69. It takes two bags to make a strong enough pot of tea for my tastes.

I was going to meet a friend Friday night and on my way I could pass the tea store in Harvard Square, so I went in early to get my tea. They sell their tea in grams, not pounds, so I always have to stop and think about the conversion, but last night I was too tired to ask for it in grams, but I thought I remembered how much I had paid the last time. So I asked the person at the counter for $25.00 worth of bin 212 (which is the Harvard Square Earl Grey) because I said I couldn't remember how many grams. He did a quick price check and said, "That's 250 grams. That's a lot of tea."

I was struck by how odd it seemed to me that he would think that. He's selling tea, after all.

I said, "I have a tin that size that it fits in, and that way I don't have to worry about running out and having to get it so often."

I realized that the whole thing around loose tea and this particular flavored tea has layers of meaning for me. I calculated that if I bought boxes of bagged tea, instead of loose, that I could get 6 months of tea for the same $25 that currently lasts me two months. So, I started to do that as I was looking for ways to save money as I started back to school. But then it seemed like I had to buy tea every time I went to the store, and I don't really have room in my cupboard to store two months worth of boxed tea. So I went back to buying loose tea.

In reflection now, I realize that I like the ritual of putting the loose tea in the tea ball in the morning. I like being a "real" tea drinker with a teapot--it feels like part of a heritage of tea and civility, and soothing, and a tea bag doesn't quite meet those ritual requirements. Making tea is also a part of my morning quiet/meditation time, so it is a part of that ritual, so the ritual elements of the making are important somehow. I like having an abundant supply of tea in the cupboard so that I don't feel like I'm operating from scarcity. I like going into the tea store and asking for my favorite blend. I like that personal interaction around this symbol of civility and spaciousness, rather than throwing the box on the conveyor at the grocery store.

The hymn that came into my head this morning as I was thinking about this and about the reading from Gerald May that talked about spaciousness again was what I used as my morning prayer:
O grant us, God, a little space from daily tasks set free.
We meet within this holy place and find security.

Around us rolls the ceaseless tide of business, toil, and care.
And scarcely can we turn aside for one brief hour of prayer.

Yet this is not the only place your presence may be found;
On daily work you shed your grace, and blessings all around.

Yours are the workplace, home and mart, the wealth of sea and land;
The worlds of science and of art are fashioned by your hand.

Work shall be prayer, if all be wrought as you would have it done;
And prayer, by you inspired and taught, shall then with work be one.
(New Century Hymnal, #516, text by John Ellerton, adapted)

May each of us find some places and moments and ways to be spacious. May you clear space, pause, and open yourself to the power that you have when you let the Divine and Holy be in your heart and life. And the next time you have a cup of tea, I hope that you take some space too.
Spaciously yours,