Learning about freedom

Some days ago I had lunch with a friend. After dessert, they asked us if we wanted some coffee. I passed on the offer as I don’t like coffee. My friend, who is a perceptive person, nudge me to get tea. I decline with a smile. He knows I’m a big tea drinker and was teasing me.

While we kept on talking, he paused to sip his coffee, put it down, pushed it away and told me how bad it was. I had to chuckle. He looked at me, and he asked me how I did it. How I got around when most tea restaurants offer is, well, not the most pleasurable tea.

A big smile sprang in my face. This question has been in my mind for some time now. The conversation reminded me of a tea saying:

“When learning: observe 
To speak of “right” & “wrong” 
In a place of learning 
How foolish, 
How foolish.”
- Takeno Jōō

There is a big difference between tea tasting and tea as a lifestyle. I don’t drink tea just because I like its taste and aroma. I drink tea because it resonates with the Dao, the Way. I am, but a lowly student of the Dao and tea is my teacher.

That’s why, when someone offers me tea, I’ll take whatever they can provide. It’s not about the taste, but about the spirit of the offering. Every interaction with someone is special and unique.

As of lately, I’ve been walking away from judging ‘good’ or ‘bad’ tea. There is no such thing. Tea is life; it’s nature. If a tea tastes bad, it’s because it was abused, not because it’s bad.

This perception makes a big difference. I will drink offered tea anywhere, as long as it’s safe for consumption (some teas are heavy with toxic agrochemicals). I don’t require high grade or expensive tea to make my life beautiful.

When someone asks me what’s my favorite tea, I always have a hard time answering. The truth is, I drink many different kinds of teas each day. I don’t pick favorites; I just let my body tell me what tea it wants to drink each day. Sometimes it’s a premium one, others it’s a very regular one.

Any Way is about inclusion, not exclusion. The more elitist you become, the more you’ll suffer. My friend was baffled by my answer. He told me he could only drink high-quality coffee now. I smiled because I had been there. I guess it’s the usual path.

“The beginner enters the shallow into the deep, and once having attained the depths, emerges again into the shallow.” — Shinkei

However, the path doesn’t stop there. It’s when you transcend those good, bad connotations that you’re truly free. It’s when you go back to basics when you turn a beginner again.

I enjoy being a beginner. I relish going to the most basic of teachings. I find myself brewing tea in more straightforward and simpler ways. I still savor a formal tea setting, but my love for tea is allowing me to enjoy the simplest forms too. There is nothing wrong or shameful in them. Appreciation of life, in all its forms, is happiness, no matter what label others attach to it.

Work your way to perfection. The more advanced, the more you’ll realize that it’s an illusion. Acknowledging the dream will take you closer to the truth and a sense of blissful freedom.

Let yourself be free.