There exists a place in this world where experiencing mindfulness is inevitable. Even if you think you have never experienced the practice of mindfulness before and you don’t know what it is, you will learn about it here by means of virtual or spiritual osmosis. This place is called The Hidden Peak Tea House and it is located in Santa Cruz, California.
It is a place in which the owners do not allow any type of electronic device to be used. Although they also offer outdoor seating, when you enter the large, open space which comprises the inside of the tea house, you are enveloped in a calm, dimly lit sense of peace. It feels quiet and private in spite of other conversations which are taking place. You become discreetly aware of your own presence as if, prior to stepping into this space, you weren’t really present.
You get to choose any of the mostly hardwood seating areas, some of which are covered with a lightweight, cushiony fabric. At each seating area, there is a wooden table with a seemingly lacquered, wooden draining table on top. I discovered the drain’s presence when I placed my small teacup on an uneven part of the slightly angled surface, and the tea liquid just disappeared without spreading its joyful self all over the table and the floor. No cleaning up necessary.
This is not English tea. This is the way ancient China has traditionally practised the art of tea drinking for thousands of years. You are handed a menu, which is most likely printed on fair-trade, recycled paper, and your jaw drops at the quantity of selection available as you turn the pages. Some of the teas are marked as sold out. You think you know about tea drinking? Think again! This is an art of a practice whose language few people in America speak.
There are multiple ways of being served or of serving yourself tea, which takes place with the assistance of multiple small devices which are made to hold hot water and tea leaves for a short quantity of time. There is no such thing as “one cup of tea.” Every single tea leaf sold in this place is meant for multiple infusions of hot water. You let the essence of the leaves seep into the water as it becomes what they call “tea” and then you pour it out of the containing device slowly and carefully, or rapidly if you are experienced, into the small, doll-sized hole of a cup without handles. You wait for it to cool just enough to where you can sip it and then you repeat the process all over again.
Boiling Water is Also Mindfulness
Some teas require being infused with a different temperature of water other than boiling. Others need a boiling temperature. The pure water is presented to you in a metal thermos of already-warmed liquid. Encased in the metal thermos is what seems like a glass bottle which lines the inside of the thermos perfectly. That way you can pour the hot water into the electric kettle without scorching your hands. No, just because the water is hot in the thermos doesn’t mean you can use it right away. With most of the teas the water can only be used moments after it has reached a boiling temperature, and nothing less.
Imperial Guardian Lions
There are wooden tea pets in the centre of the draining tables to which you can give an offering of tea. Once you have filled your cup you can then pour a portion of the hot tea over the tea pets. It then drains away. Our tea pets were “Fu,” young dogs (lions, actually) surrounding a wooden ball which looks like a miniature globe and which rattles along the inside of the wooden structure when picked up. David, one of the owners, said that this is “fun to do and aesthetically pleasing” to watch the water make its way down the wooden sides of the ornament.
The Origin and Quality
The teas and traditions offered here have come from the region of Yunnan, a province in the Republic of China, according to Wikipedia. Some of the teas come in hard blocks which you have to chip away at with special tools, including a hammer, in order to obtain leaves to infuse. One cup of as many infusions as you want costs between $3.50 and upwards of $400. The weekend my family and I were there marked their sixth anniversary in that location. Because of this, some of the items they offer for sale were at 50 percent off. Some of these items included clay painted bowls which date from between the years 1880 to 1920, with no particular year assigned to any particular item.
Your Own Mindfulness Journey
If you have never experienced mindfulness, you have just experienced it by reading these paragraphs. Mindfulness, in my mind, is the practice of paying attention to whatever you are thinking or doing, or both without judgement. It is also the practice of not thinking about anything. Because our minds experience thousands of thoughts per day, this is a time of bringing your attention to a thought, acknowledging its existence, and then watching it float away. One way of doing this is, in your mind, placing the thought on a leaf and then watching that leaf float away in a river. Then you repeat this process until you become practised with it. Just as you can practise mindfulness in the process of tea drinking or reading printed text, so too, you can experience it while eating an apple or by doing practically anything you desire to do. The possibilities are endless.
By reading this text, you followed along with me on a journey within your mind, and now this journey is coming to an end. Try to not think of this as an ending, rather, a continuation of a story which you yourself are narrating. You control your destiny as do I mine. We make choices and then we take responsibility for having made those decisions. And that, my friend and my reader, is what we call life. Let’s make it a life well lived.