Traditional Korean Tea Meditation

My little mountain town, Taebaek, finally got an impressive hit of snow last week. With an insanely dry winter and temperatures regularly below -10 degrees C, the past winter has been a bit miserable without the joy of snow.

Thankfully, the snowfall brought a beautiful layer of white over town and its surrounding mountains. And what better way to enjoy the stormy outside than with endless cups of tea?

Even better, couple that tea with a reflective tea meditation session (and loads of delicious snacks), and you’ve got a great learning opportunity. Thanks to a traditional tea house and Buddhist temple in town, I was able to experience traditional Korean tea meditation for the first time.

The ceremony started by preparing the surface. Large, flattened stones like the one below are typical in Korean Buddhist tea ceremony.

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The ceremony included four different types of tea, including a white tea, a fermented green tea, an earthy herb tea, and white magnolia tea. The fermented green tea is particularly special as it is wild harvested from the Jirisan mountains and processed by a few remaining ajummas (older Korean women) who maintain the secret of the specific fermentation process. It is unlikely this tea will exist after the women have passed on.

While the first tea was enjoyed without any particular meditation practices, the second type brought our first challenge to the table. Before each cup, we were to take three deep breaths, focusing on the colour of the tea. Then, the cup was to be consumed in three sips, first focusing on happiness, then love, then “another word for happiness” (the translation didn’t quite go through). With free flowing tea, there were plenty of cups to offer practice and we slipped into meditative rhythm before switching to the next tea.

Our third tea brought the greatest challenge. Dark, earthy, and akin to wine in many ways, this tea accompanies the deepest part of the meditation. We were lead through a thirty minute practice, beginning with deep breathing and…negative experiences. I was surprised that we were asked to recall some moments starting from our earliest memories where we were unhappy, wronged by others, or wronged others ourselves.

As we breathed and sipped, we explored those moments and acknowledged our feelings about them. The next step was to let go and forgive those moments in order to move past them and heal.

Relieved of our stresses from past experiences, we then had to recall some more positive moments, or things in general that bring us happiness. For me, these consisted of a lot of physical sensations–things like warm sunshine or lake water on my skin, the smell of sweet decay in the forest, and the soft sound of grass underfoot. One again, breathed these moments away in a quite meditation.

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Quite different from other forms of meditation I’ve tried, tea meditation actually encourages deep thought in combination with letting go of thought. I didn’t leave the experience feelings relaxed or relieved, as I expected. Rather, I left feeling reflective and actually quite enlightened about a few things in my life.

It is definitely a practice I’d like to come back to, and perhaps even use as a tool for introspection from time to time. If you even have the opportunity to try tea meditation, I would definitely recommend it. But be prepared to experience adversity!

 

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