Studies of Life

Learning by doing.

Have some tea, take a walk: daily rituals

02 October 2017 by Jim

Tea drinking (or coffee, if you prefer) and walking are incredibly simple activities, but have something deeply ritualistic.

When you drink tea, you have a series of steps to follow, an algorithm if you like, that involve boiling water – in itself a multi-step process – using some form of tea leaves, in a teabag, or loose-leaf in a metal or ceramic filter, and combing them to transform these initial ingredients into a product that is like a cake, like something you cooked or baked.

Of course, using loose-leaf tea, a pretty cup, or even a ceramic teapot makes the process more ceremonious than a microwaved plastic cup with a cheap tea bag in it. But in any case, it’s a ritual. And so is walking for 20 minutes or so, for the purpose of walking. Not the kind between your desk and the toilet, which is utilitarian in nature, but longer walks that you could reasonably cover with other forms of transportation, yet choose to cover with your feet. That, again, is a ritual where you become aware of what you are doing and do it for its own sake. You don’t walk to arrive from A to B as quickly as possible. The car can do that better than your feet. And you don’t drink tea because you’re thirsty (a glass of water would do) or in the mood for really nice taste (there’s coke in the fridge).

Rituals are the things we do for their own sake.

And they help us, by being different from our regular activities, which are usually utilitarian. They punctuate the day with enjoyable moments that disconnect us from the everyday rush we’re in, and reconnect us with something simpler.

Even if the world ends tomorrow, I will have time for a few more cups of tea until then. The rituals of tea, of walking, are like meditation in this regard. The goal of the activity is the activity itself. They are like when you play with a ball as a child, not to become a professional footballer or to win a match, but playing for the sake of fun itself, without keeping score.

Even creative writing, for me, lives in such a dimension characterised by a certain tension, what the Germans call “Spannungsfeld”, a tension between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. I usually get the idea of a new writing project because I have a vague plan for literary grandeur or success, but once I get going, what keeps me writing is the intrinsic enjoyment of seeing something take shape in front of your eyes, of the text becoming something I hadn’t fully comprehended before I did it, of exploring the realm of my own potential, of the things I can do without knowing that I can do them.

I think we could all do with some more of those intrinsically focused activities and rituals. They also have the benefit of drawing our minds into this careless, egoless dimension that children live in most of the time, and that explains much of their carelessness and good mood.

So, the next time you struggle with anything, take a time out, go for a walk, and then make a cup of tea. By the time the cup is empty, you will have learned that the world kept on turning, and that nothing can deny you these simple pleasures. A useful lesson, if there ever was one!

Leave a comment | Categories: meditation, Philosophy, Thinking

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