Monthly Archives: April 2017

The power of acceptance – Dealing with difficult situations

We are continuously being informed that building a business takes time. It requires patience and we mustn’t rush ahead, but what does this actually mean? How doe we become patient if we aren’t yet? And how can we recognise whether or not we are acting impatiently?

I haven’t been too patient myself and I have always rushed ahead. Of anything that I have done, I have always been able to clearly see the desired outcome; the goal I am eagerly seeking to achieve, but have constantly been oblivious to the path that leads toward that image. When I want something, I want it now, and that is how we somewhat have become conditioned in our current society. When we want something, we buy it. Do you feel sick? Take a pill and the symptoms will go away. Want to talk to a friend? Pick up the phone or send a text message.

Everything has become instantly available, and we are slowly forgetting what it means to be patient. But, even in this rapid paced world of today where everything is readily available, there still are things that can’t be obtained immediately. Human relationships and love are things that take time and patience to build, acquiring a skill takes time to learn, and building a business is just as much one of those elements.

The Internet is flooded with guides on creating an online business, or courses and books on starting your own entrepreneurial undertaking. Entrepreneurship has become so prominent a concept in our lives that our younger generation can start a business of their own just as easily as they would take up a new hobby. We don’t want to work for an employer anymore because it limits us in our doing, but we still need the money to sustain our living expenses. Starting a business is in this light a very viable and appealing option.

Nevertheless, what we tend to forget is that it takes time and effort to build a successful business, and it requires the patience and persistence to make such an undertaking profitable. Not understanding this sufficiently means that when things don’t look as good as you had initially anticipated, or sales are insufficient and there is a shortage of cash flow, you may quickly loose faith and confidence, and quit. But, it is in dealing successfully with these down times, that we may find the key to success.

But, how can you stay calm on such an occasion? I believe that since we have become too used to being able to get what we want instantly, that we have lost our patience and willpower. To be patient means to accept the situation and to be satisfied with what we have at that current moment. Willpower drives us to continue striving for our goal no matter what the difficulties we encounter. Acceptance is an important factor here, because it is only in being able to accept the current situation, that it is possible to take steps in the right direction. When things don’t go well, I often use the phrase ‘I accept that things aren’t going as I would want them to. What do I do to make things better?’ Realizing what the situation is you are in, and accepting the fact that it is what it is, provides you with the strongest steppingstone to start moving forward.

But how do you maintain this tranquility of mind when your world appears as if it is about to fall on your head and squash you underneath its weight? I find meditation to be extremely powerful. Meditation is the art of acceptance. As you sit, and focus on your breath, you let your thoughts flow, let everyday activities rest, and take time for relaxation. In this moment, you take your mind off the thoughts that circle you deeper and deeper into the difficulty of the situation, and may even lead to extremely harmful doom thinking. You practically distance yourself from what is troubling you, and in effect get a broader view on the situation, making room in your mind for new ideas or solutions to enter.

As Einstein said it, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” Abraham Lincoln adds to this “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” When we find ourselves in a difficult situation, wise people have advised us not to jump onto the problem at once. I meditate to sharpen my mind before attacking the problem, and simultaneously devise a different mindset from which to approach the problem. Meditational practice is a powerful tool to prepare us to stay calm in any situation, but I am not urging you to start practicing the art of zazen, or tea ceremony, or yoga as I do. Similar results can be achieved through going for a swim or a run, or engage in another physical activity, go on a short holiday or short break, read a book, etc. Do something relaxing.

The first step in dealing with a difficult situation is to temporarily let go of it and accept that it exists. As a wise Zen master once said when a pupil entered his quarters with a million questions, “Sit. Let’s have tea in silence first!


Meditation in Hospitality; Hospitality in Meditation

What is the rite of tea? Some refer to it as a meditational practice, others point to the considerate alertness it nurtures within the practitioner to the needs, comfort and delight of others; in short, the hospitable face of this praxis. Although these two sides are seemingly opposite to one another, it is my belief that the true value of what we can learn from the praxis of tea is hidden in the paradoxical combination of simultaneously the meditational aspect, which works on the individual, and the hospitable side, which nurtures mutual respect and consideration for others.

Both items indeed seem to work against each other. When we are in meditation, then how can we be considerate of others? And when we are working to serve others, how can we also be in meditation? I believe that it is exactly this paradoxical combination – of unbroken meditation with considerate alertness to the needs, comfort and delight of others – that characterizes this rite as something of which I feel contemporary society is in sore need.

The point in the seeming impossibility of combining meditation, and consideration for others in one and the same praxis, lies in how we perceive meditation. Meditation is most commonly seen from a Zen perspective, in which an adept sits cross-legged for an extended period of time. We see this exercise as a means to ‘distance‘ ourselves from what is current, but in fact it is quite the opposite. Through meditation, the learner practices ‘being present’ in his current environment. The exercise gives means to train his/her mind to become free from conceptions, and to focus on exactly what is actual in our direct environment, seeing it for what it in essence is without distinguishing between right and wrong.

Meditation is an activity that trains us to nurture inner peace and to accept. And I have consciously chosen to call it an ‘activity’ for two reasons. 1) Obtaining peace requires an effort. 2) Meditation is not limited to only sitting quietly. The practice of sitting was originally selected from a wide range of Yoga exercises by Zen monks, from the belief that it was the most effective practice to nurture inner peace and train in the objective observation of our surroundings. But this practice can in fact come in various forms, ranging from being focused and present in the most difficult of Yoga poses, to sneaking out of the office for a 30-minute swim during lunchtime.

The rite of tea is meditation in practice. It is only through the exercise in hospitality that this rite becomes meditational, and it is meditational because the activity and environment demands the practitioner’s full attention and focus. Through meditation, an adept trains in 1) introspection to understand and accept his/her true nature, and 2) selflessness to take peace with who he/she in essence is to enable oneself to fully commit to love and give to others. It is this component of meditation that is essential to the rite of tea, for without the ability to unconditionally love and give to others, a service of tea cannot come about.

The Habit of Stocking Tea Well

Drinking tea is a habit, and many tea drinkers I know like to sample different teas instead of drinking the same tea all the time. But people are habitual beings as well, and when we have found something we really like, we tend to stick to it. Quite a few of the customers that drink tea from The Tea Crane come back to buy the same tea they liked, and some of them have actually asked if they could purchase larger quantities at once.

For those habitual drinkers, I gladly offer bulk packages of one kilogram or half a kilogram each, which does not only save on shipping costs, but also come at much more advantageous wholesale pricing. The question I however am continuously being asked, is how to best preserve such a large quantity of tea? Because obviously such a large batch takes some time to finish.

While I have given some guidelines in a previous post on how to preserve tea, these mostly apply to smaller quantities. But actually keeping a ‘stock’ of tea is again something slightly different. In the course of interacting with those customers, I have tested several approaches, and have learned from their feedback as well. Now I feel that we have found the most beneficial method and wish to share this here for future reference.

Keeping one kilogram of tea on the shelf may cause the tea to become vulnerable to external influences such as humidity, heat, light, odors, etc. and cause the tea to oxidize and loose flavor. For a tea to last, an environment that is free from these perils is mandatory, and that is why cool and dark places are generally recommended. Also re-sealable bags are commonly used, and to extend shelf life, tea comes packaged in vacuum aluminum lined packages with inclusion of one or more oxygen absorbers.

Once opened, these aids become useless, and it becomes necessary to find a different method to preserve the tea. For smaller quantities, a refrigerator may appeal as the ideal environment because it is cool, dark and low in humidity, but odors may affect the taste of the tea. For larger quantities, I have in due course recommended to take some tea for direct use out of the batch, and keep the remainder in a well-sealed bag in the freezer. Providing a cool, dark, humidity free and odorless environment, this indeed is the ideal setting for conservation.

The issue with this solution however, is that when you needed to replenish your supply for direct use, the bag has to be taken out and opened several times. In case the bag is not left to acclimatize for a sufficient period of time, humidity in the air could condense on the inside of the bag and may affect the tea that is kept for later use.

The answer to this problem – and it couldn’t have been more obvious – is to pre-pack the tea in smaller portions in double zip-lock bags for example, and keep them in the freezer. This way a large batch can be kept in cold storage and supply can be replenished without having to open the bag with the remainder several times over. This will allow the tea to stay fresh and unaffected, and each replenishment can be enjoyed in its original state. It may be a small effort initially, but instead of unnecessarily exposing the tea to external menaces multiple times, this solution limits the uncovering to only once.

Do you stock tea in larger quantities of tea for later use? Was this article useful? Or do you have another approach that works well in your environment? Feel free to leave your thoughts or remarks in the comments below.

The hidden minstrel in a cup of tea

Tea is more than just a heap of dried and/or oxidised leaves. Tea is associated with relaxation; taking time to distance ourselves from everyday activity and to allow our mind a moment of peace. Recent research has pointed out that tea contains certain components that actually help us to relax and relieve stress. And more than coffee – which is mostly consumed for its stimulating effects – tea has become identified as the tool to obtain that what we lack most in our contemporary lives.

But tea is not a medicine; and stress is not a sickness. Tea cannot be relied upon the way we do with contemporary medicaments. Whereas with coffee for example, we can drink a mug of black to get an instant boost, tea doesn’t ‘work’ in this magnificent manner. A cup of green won’t give us instant relaxation. It isn’t the wonder potion we sometimes believe it is. But then how does it work?

Tea, as I indicated above, is but the ‘tool’ that can aid us in finding a rare moment of peace and tranquility. It provides us with the means and the opportunity to create such a moment for ourselves, but unfortunately it isn’t going to do it for us. Running to the kitchen to pour some hot water in a mug in which to dip a low quality tea bag, just to hurry back to the computer to continue work won’t do anything more than just quench our thirst. Tranquility is not obtained that easily and, contradictory it may seem, in fact requires a little effort.

It is not the tea that relaxes us, it is the moment; that instant with tea, that provides that well needed break to reset. Now, how does tea actually help us to obtain such a treasured moment? Since we have all become too used to teabags, instant coffee and vending machines, tea does seem tedious to prepare. But it is exactly the time taken in carefully brewing a cup of tea that focuses our attention on doing just that. The care and caution taken in the preparation, simultaneously enhances our drinking experience, because our taste is not just limited to ‘strong or weak’, ‘sweet or bitter’. We can start to recognize less outspoken flavors and scents that – even with the same tea – change with each brewing. It is the understanding of how we brew our tea that allows us to recognize in greater depth what it as a beverage comes to express.

This being said, it isn’t only our understanding of the brewing process that adds to our experience of the tea. It is ‘understanding’ in general that widens our pallet, and the way we get to enjoy our brew. The more we understand, the more we start to recognize the true taste of tea.

It is my experience that – having sampled a great variety of tea – it is not the one that said ‘premium’ on the package that was most delicious; it was the tea that I understood best that appealed most to my taste. If we allow ourselves to fully emerge in that tranquil moment with tea, and open ourselves to listen to it carefully, we may discover that tea can tell us many stories. Some teas tell stories of blood, sweat and tears; the effort that went into their production. Others bring tales from the times of old. Each tea has a story to tell, and listening to this story while savoring the moment in the company of tea is what I believe to be the strongest tool to momentarily forget our daily worries and find that moment of peace that we so strongly crave.