“There is a cloud in my tea,” is one of my very favourite quotations from Thicht Naht Hanh. It encapsulates so much in such a simple beautiful image. There are just so many ways to approach this and I urge you spend some time in your own contemplation of its meaning to you as well.
For me, it is an easy way to reflect on (and explain just a little about) non-duality and interbeing. What are those little, big words? Crash course: Non-duality means so much more than ‘not one.’ If you say ‘we are one’ it can sometimes imply that ‘we are two’ is possible. However, non-duality encapsulates the principle that there is no such thing as one and the other, which the word ‘dual’ implies.
Thicht Naht Hanh is fond of using the example of a piece of paper. One side cannot exist without the other; they are the same. This applies to everything we traditionally think of as external to ourselves. Non-duality emphasises that we are inescapably intertwined with everyone and everything else. This is the essence of interbeing. When you really think about it, where do you end and what you put into and on your body begin?
To help get a better understanding of the concept of non-duality, let us use “there is a cloud in my tea” as a jumping-off point. Sit quietly with your cup of tea – I’ll wait while you go make it.
Take a deep breath. Take a sip of your tea. What is in the cup? For now, let us pick one element – the tea leaves that have been dissolved in your hot water, giving it flavour, colour, aroma and so much goodness. Where did they come from? Most recently your cupboard, probably, but how did it get there? Who put it on the shelf in the store, so easily displayed for you to find? Let your mind travel with your tea – back to its factory, back to its country, back to the fields it grew in. These things, these places are not really ‘back’ anywhere. They still exist right now, and as you inhale the scent of your warm brew, you are with them.
Each leaf has been picked from its respective branch, each one unfurling from its juvenile state of tenderness. Watch in your mind’s eye; imagine one of those time lapse videos, if that helps. Can you see the soft green sprout that your tea leaf came from, growing from within the warm dark earth where it was nurtured? Minerals, water and other nutrients all seeping in, helping the seed grow stronger and stronger until finally, you see it push through the surface. For the first time, seeing the sun beating down her warmth. Can you see the rain this time, gently touching your leaf? Look up – smile at the cloud releasing those drops of water for your cup. Slowly, as she empties, she fades. Did that cloud cease to exist? No, it is in your tea.
With each sip, there are so many elements we can be aware of. How many hands have played a part? When we drink our tea, we have the opportunity to reconnect with all of this. We can use this moment to realise that we are part of each and every step of the process – this is the nature of interbeing in this dynamic universe.
This is just one possible exploration of this mindfulness teaching, which applies here particularly to mindful eating. Try each time you drink or eat to recognise those connections that we take for granted. I hope you will be able to see the amazing oneness we share and take with you a conscious awareness and recognition of what you really are gaining when you take even such a small action as a sip of tea.