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Holy Everything: This spiritual practice starts with a sip

March 5, 2018 GMT

Tea-drinking has been around for about 5,000 years. The consumption of tea can be an experience both delicious and spiritual.

Garret Sorensen, owner of Mandala Tea, an online tea distributor, recently invited me to join him for a tea session. Tea-drinking is this week’s spiritual practice for our Lenten series.

Between sips of oolong tea from China’s Fujian Province, Sorensen described tea-making and drinking in profoundly spiritual ways. He began with a brief history lesson.

There is an ancient story that the drinking of tea began thousands of years ago, when a religious teacher was traveling through the forest. He brought with him some boiled water and sat down to drink it.

The story goes that a rush of wind blew a few leaves into his hot water. The teacher found the presence of the leaves to add a delicious flavor.

So began the story of tea. Initially, it was consumed only medicinally. These days, tea is the most common beverage consumed in the world other than water. It is estimated that the inhabitants of this planet drink about 6 billion cups of tea a day.

Sorensen developed an interest in spirituality and wellness around 1986. That was the year when, at the age of 20, he attended his first Grateful Dead concert. The experience was very spiritually influential and led him down a pathway toward yoga, meditation, and community-building.

He’s had several wellness-based businesses over the years. Tea became a more prominent part of his life around 2002, when he was working as a massage therapist. “I would serve tea before massages. I saw the value in the idea of connecting and the ritual. Then clients began saying, “I’ve never had good tea like this before. Where do I get good tea?”

He did some research and imported his first few pounds of Chinese tea in 2005. His path eventually led to owning a tea shop in downtown Rochester, which he has since closed.

“When I closed the retail business in August of 2016, I thought maybe I was done … but I kept the wholesale thing going,” he said.

The business is now far from over. Instead of declining, it’s growing in new ways through the power of digital marketing and social media.

His spiritual and entrepreneurial journey continues. “Now, at the age of 51, it’s like life is kind of just beginning in so many ways,” he said. Tea-drinking as a spiritual practice has been and continues to be a powerful component of his daily rhythms.

Are you interested in developing a new, more spiritual approach to your tea consumption? If so, Sorensen recommended beginning with the desire to make it a priority. Then set up a space in your home in a meaningful way as you would to meditate or pray.

Cultivate an attitude of reverence. Turn off your electronic devices. Then drink tea. It is as simple as that.

Sorensen shared a quote from Sen Rikyu, a 16th century Japanese tea master: “Tea is nought but this: First you heat the water, then you make the tea, and then you drink it properly. That’s all you need to know.”

Tea-drinking at its best is about paying attention and being present. Inviting people into that awareness is why Sorensen got into the tea business in the first place.

“I sell tea for my job,” he said. “But it’s really just a front for the connection and experience. Connection with self. Connection with others.”

I’ve enjoyed tea for a couple decades, but until my time with Sorensen, I had never paused to consider it a spiritual practice. My awareness has been expanded, and I will hold closely to Sen Rikyu’s timeless wisdom. Heat the water. Make the tea. Drink it properly. I look forward to future sips infused with an extra measure of awareness and reverence.