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Placing Attention: Nature & Tea

Author: Adam Clarke, Get Outside in Somerset Ambassador 

“A tea session is modelled after the silence of retreat; a time to enjoy life far removed from daily existence.”  – Sen Joo

Nestled in a quiet, secret corner of the forest, a galaxy of dappled sunshine swayed with a web of shadows, born of the ascending boughs and branches above me. The air was warm as midday approached, the sounds of the forest giving way to a precious silence. A slight breeze kept me company as I looked out from the edge of Combe Hill woods, a place I have roamed and revisited since my childhood.

I had found my way to this familiar secluded spot to escape a series of subtle, yet potent, tectonic recent moments; to create time and space to reflect, and attempt to make sense of the uncertainty the next few months may hold. It’s fair to say I have a passion for solitude, and have often found some of the most insightful advice and guidance when able to rest deeply and embrace the altruism of woodland light and air. 

Purposefully, I had left my mobile phone at home. I wanted no interruptions. I wanted even less the temptation to interrupt my own solitude with note-taking, listening to music, or worse still, replying to an email. The intention of this day was a true self imposed exile. I wanted to focus upon connecting with myself and with nature, heightening my awareness of the world’s sensory textures. I wanted to rest in a woodland cathedral, embrace a genuine technological abstinence, and hopefully find some semblance of clarity.

Yet, as I sat there, curling the grass between my fingers and toes, attempting to focus upon breathing in the scent of a quiet forest, I was being taunted. From afar a pocket-sized insidious mesh of circuits, metal, plastic and glass, reached out to me; a parasitic lure of unwanted contact secretly whispered to me a digital vibration. It lay discreetly cradled upon my bookshelf, obnoxiously shiny and silent, somehow riddling my want for a quiet mind. Why and how, beneath a perfect blue sky, embraced by the sun’s white heat and light, surrounded by the peace and silence of trees, was my mobile phone intruding upon me?

It was wholly uncomfortable. Like an itch I couldn’t scratch; but it wasn’t the device itself of course. It was what the device symbolised: connection. The inevitable flow of information that cascaded towards it; calls, emails, text messages, social media “DM’s”, the synching of files, folders, and more. I frustratingly stood up, dug my bare feet into the ground, and lifted my head to the sky, allowing my arms to fall backwards. I stretched and opened my chest. I took a series of deep, focused breaths, forcing every inhale to fill my lungs deeper than the last. What I was feeling was the incessant chatter of ‘Techno-Stress’. 

I have always been suspicious of technology; more precisely, how it is not more mindfully used and adopted. I am not a techno-phobe, it has immeasurable value, but only when used consciously. It feels like we have become hastily attached to ever powerful, expensive devices, that are crafted with the intention to increasingly distract and detain us from ourselves, eachother, and our reality. There is no substitute for real interactions, whether that be with one another or the world around us. The term ‘Technostress’ originated in Craig Brod’s book titled Technostress: The Human Cost of the Computer Revolution (1984), and perfectly encapsulates what so many of us feel, when we uncomfortably struggle to endure sitting at our computers for another hour; or in my case, the uncomfortable detachment from a device that wants and craves me to use it!

I plant my realisation at the forefront of my mind, and ceremonially sit back down upon the warm grass; I organise my gongfu tea tray. I place my tea bowl to the tray’s left, my red clay teapot to its right, the tea boat to the right again. I take a scoop of the black green needles hugging the shadows of my tea caddy. I let them fall gently in my tea boat, their dark green suddenly singing against bright white porcelain. I take a moment, breathing slowly, upright, admiring the simple order of the process. I hear and then listen to faint birdsong. I know the scent of the sun, and feel a slight movement of air. I lift the lid of the teapot and in a simple movement pour the dry tea leaves inside. I pick up my flask, within which waits water of the perfect temperature. I pour slowly, and start a three minute count aligned to my breathing. I place the flask aside and replace the teapot’s lid. My breath count continues. I picture the water brewing to a deepening green. I imagine the blue sky as a breathing veil draped around my body. I focus upon feeling the heat of the sun, awakening every pour, replenishing and grounding me where I sit. A final exhale, before pouring the thick luminous green broth. It splashes and furls a subtle wave up to kiss the lip of my tea bowl. 

With both hands I lift it to my mouth, and hold it there. I close my eyes, and breathe in the delicate intoxicating scent of umami. My chest lifts as I imagine the alveoli, the tiny branches of air tubes deep within my lungs, coming to life as a shimmering green, as fresh spring buds blooming, vibrant. I take a single sip. My phone is gone.