Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Aspects of Mindfulness

"Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally." - Mindfulness teacher Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, Wherever You Go, There You Are (1994), p4.
MBSR is very specific in it's definition of mindfulness.

This video by Kristin Neff, associate professor in human development and culture at the University of Texas, Austin; Kristin Neff: Mindfulness and Self-Compassion (from the "Practicing Mindfulness & Compassion" conference on March 8, 2013 co-hosted by The Greater Good Science Center and Mindful magazine) is interesting because of the way Neff breaks mindfulness down into layers as follows:

M - Mindfulness
m1: Present Moment
m2: Non-judgement
m3: Compassion
m4: Wisdom

She states that each level is cumulative; that one cannot have m2 without m1 first being in place, and one cannot have m3 without m2 being in place, so this gives us a linear view of how mindfulness unfolds as we learn how to apply it.

Sunday, 23 February 2014

Guardian News: Should we be mindful of mindfulness?

On 23rd February 2014 The Guardian online posted an article in the News>Society>Mental Health section titled: Should we be be mindful of mindfulness?

Here are some key quotes:
"Mindfulness is everywhere at the moment. If you don't know someone who has done a course, downloaded an app or read a book, you will soon. Based on centuries-old Buddhist meditation practices and breathing exercises, it is prescribed to thousands of patients on the NHS each year to help prevent anxiety, depression and stress. Even more pay for private classes believing that they improve the quality of their lives and relationships. And over a million people looking for mindfulness on-the-go have downloaded apps such as Headspace. The mindfulness industry is vast, and growing weekly."
"A good example of how it can work is when you're kept awake at night thinking," says Williams. "You toss and turn and you get angry because you can't sleep. The anger doesn't help, but you can't seem to stop it. Mindfulness isn't about suppressing those thoughts, but about enabling you to stand back and observe them as if they were clouds going past in the sky. You see them and you cultivate a sense of kindness towards them."
A review of the research in Clinical Psychology Review last month by researchers at the University of Montreal looked at 209 studies covering 12,145 people. It concluded that mindfulness was an effective treatment for a variety of psychological problems, "and is especially effective for reducing anxiety, depression and stress". Other studies have shown that it is effective for preventing anxiety and mood disorders and may be good for other psychiatric conditions including bipolar disorder.

These are the best of the recent studies – but the published evidence goes back further. In 2004, Nice – the NHS's rationing body – was convinced enough of the benefits that it ruled mindfulness-based cognitive therapy was cost effective. Its most recent advice, updated in 2007, is that it can be prescribed for people with three or more episodes of depression. There is also growing evidence that it's effective for chronic long-term health conditions such as ME.
Oxford University and the Mental Health Foundation (MHF) have worked on a 10-session online course, available for £60. On its website, the foundation claims that "the effectiveness of the online course is the subject of a highly significant research paper by Oxford University published in BMJ Open". It adds: "The reported average outcomes for completers of the course show participants enjoying reductions of 58% in anxiety, 57% in depression and 40% in stress."
That is true, but only to a point. The MHF website glosses over an important caveat in the BMJ Open paper. The authors, who include Prof Williams, point out in the paper that the study had no control group, meaning there was nothing to compare the course with. More research is needed.
Williams is acutely aware of the dangers of overclaiming.
"A lot of people think it will cure everything. But we know there is nothing that cures everything. There is some interesting work in psychosis, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia but it's in its early days. There's a lot of hype around mindfulness and we need to be cautious because it doesn't serve our science or patients well if we're overenthusiastic. We have to make sure the science catches up with the enthusiasm."

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

The Necessary Length and Frequency of Formal Seated Mindfulness Meditation

"Not everybody can sit for forty-five minutes right away..." - Mindfulness teacher Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, Wherever You Go, There You Are (1994), p152.

Deciding how long is long enough for a formal seated mindfulness meditation session can be difficult to fathom. Professor Mark Williams of the Oxford Mindfulness Centre recommends that one can trust oneself to do as much as one needs, stating in Mindfulness: A practical guide to peace in a frantic world (2011), p246:
"How long should you meditate for? The practice itself will teach you. Recall that meditation was first developed when humans lived in and off the fields. Indeed, one of the words that we translate into English as ‘meditation’ actually means ‘cultivation’ in the original Pali language. It originally referred to cultivation of crops in the fields and flowers in the garden. So how long should the cultivation of the mindfulness garden take each day? It is best to go into the garden and see for yourself. Sometimes ten minutes in the garden of meditation practice will be needful, but you may find, once there, that your cultivation will slip effortlessly into twenty or thirty minutes. There is no minimum or maximum time. Clock time is different from meditation time. You could simply experiment with what feels right and with whatever gives you the best chance to renew and nourish yourself. Every minute counts. Most people find that it is most helpful to combine some regular (every day) formal practice with mindfulness in the world. There is something about the ‘everyday-ness’ of the practice that is important. By every day we mean that a majority of days each week will find you taking yourself away to be by yourself for a period, no matter how short."
This is supported by Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychology at Harvard Medical School Ronald D. Siegel in his book The Mindfulness Solution (2010) where he compares meditation stints to medical 'doses' of medicine, p46:
"Most people who take up mindfulness practice will choose to do a mix of informal and formal practice. How often and how long you meditate will be up to you. Both scientific studies and informal reports suggest that the effects of these practices tend to be “dose” related, meaning the more time you dedicate to them, the more profound their effects will likely be. Regularity also helps. As with the gym, doing formal practice at least several times a week will help you see its cumulative effects. For one person this may involve setting aside 20 minutes at a time; for another 30 or 45. But again, if you don’t have the time or inclination for such a commitment right now, simply entering each day with the intention to do informal practice will also be useful."
Mindfulness teacher Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn points out the value of even five minutes per day, in Wherever You Go, There You Are (1994), p123:
"Five minutes of formal practice can be as profound or more so than forty-five minutes. The sincerity of your effort matters far more than elapsed time, since we are really talking about stepping out of minutes and hours and into moments, which are truly dimensionless and therefore infinite. So, if you have some motivation to practice even a little, that is what is important. Mindfulness needs to be kindled and nurtured, protected from the winds of a busy life or a restless and tormented mind, just as a small flame needs to be sheltered from strong gusts of air."
He states that for people not suffering from stress-related illnesses, daily practice of fifteen minutes minimum can be enough, p124:
"When we teach meditation to medical students to help them with the stress and sometimes the trauma of medical education in its present form, or to college athletes who want to train their minds along with their bodies to optimize performance, or to people in a pulmonary rehabilitation program who need to learn a lot of other things as well as meditate, or to employees in a lunch-time stress reduction class, ... we challenge them to practice every day for fifteen minutes at a time, or twice a day if they can manage that."
Siegel points out in The Mindfulness Solution that the longer bouts of formal seated mindfulness meditation (which have produced the more famous results related to depression) tend to deliver more tangible outcomes, however, p65-66:
"While it can be helpful to do even a few minutes of meditation, most people find they need at least 20 minutes at a time to begin to develop some degree of concentration. People often report that 45 minutes is ideal, as it allows the mind to settle, but is not so long as to produce a great deal of physical discomfort. Probably the most widely known program teaching formal meditation practice in the United States is the mindfulness-based stress reduction program started by Jon Kabat-Zinn at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center. They teach a variety of concentration and mindfulness practices and typically ask participants to do 45–60 minutes of formal practice each day, six days a week. While this is a significant commitment, participants report that at this level of practice they experience tangible improvements in their sense of well-being."
Kabat-Zinn emphasises this necessity for daily longer formal seated meditation sessions if one wishes to benefit from MBSR's more profound effects, in Full Catastrophe Living (2005), p14:
"...anybody who is interested in achieving the kind of results seen in the stress clinic should understand that our patients make a strong commitment to practice the formal techniques as described in this book on a daily basis for a period of at least eight weeks. They are required to practice with the tapes for forty-five minutes per day, six days per week, over the eight weeks." 
He explains why he prescribed fourty-five minutes in Wherever You Go, There You Are, p121:
"...we went with forty-five minutes as the basic required practice time at home every day. Forty-five minutes seemed long enough to settle into stillness and sustained attending from moment to moment, and perhaps to experience at least tastes of a deepening relaxation and sense of well-being. It also seemed long enough to allow for ample opportunity to engage the more challenging mind states that we ordinarily hope to avoid because they take over our lives and severely tax (when they don't overwhelm completely) our ability to remain calm and mindful. The usual suspects, of course, are boredom, impatience, frustration, fear, anxiety (which would include worrying about all the things you might be accomplishing if you weren't wasting time meditating), fantasy, memories, anger, pain, fatigue, and grief."
In Coming To Our Senses (2006), he describes how the eight week MBSR practice and necessary formal meditation session time lengths were presented to participants, p356:
"From the very beginning, we presented MBSR as a major challenge, and made it very clear it was a huge lifestyle change just to take the program, as it involved committing to coming to class once a week for eight weeks, plus participating in an all-day silent retreat on the weekend in the next week, plus daily meditation practice using tapes for guidance for at least forty-five minutes a day, six days per week. I often found myself saying that you didn't have to like practicing the meditation for homework in this disciplined way; you just had to do it, whether you felt like it or not, and whether you liked it or not, suspending judgment as best you could; thus, at the end of the eight weeks, you could let us know whether it was beneficial or not. But in between, the contract was that you would just keep practicing and coming to class."
In Full Catastrophe Living, Kabat-Zinn emphasises daily habit above all else, and even though short formal meditations can be beneficial, he states that in order to become acquainted with mindfulness to any worthwhile degree, a similar course of practice to that of his Stress Clinic patients is strongly recommended, p141-142:
"The most important thing to remember is to practice every day. Even if you can make only five minutes to practice during your day, five minutes of mindfulness can be very restorative and healing. But as we have pointed out, we require the people in the stress clinic to commit to between forty-five minutes and an hour of practice per day, six days per week for at least eight weeks, and we strongly recommend that you commit yourself to a similar schedule. The mindfulness practice tapes can be of considerable help in getting started, and you will find in the following pages indications for which side of which tape to use at various times. However, as we pointed out before, there are ample instructions in this section of the book for you to develop a formal mindfulness practice without the tapes. We recommend that you study all the chapters in this section from time to time to review the descriptions and suggestions that they contain, whether you are using the practice tapes or not."
Once the eight weeks are up, then MBSR teachers often say week nine is the rest of your life. Kabat-Zinn advises that one should not lessen the amount of formal practice, and these sessions should accompanied by weekly yoga (which can lessen muscular pain arising during longer seated meditations), p435:
• Sit every day. If you feel the sitting is your major form of practice, sit for at least twenty minutes at a time, and preferably thirty to forty-five minutes. If you feel the body scan is your major form of practice, then make sure you sit as well for at least five to ten minutes per day. If you are having a "bad" day and have "absolutely no time," then sit for three minutes or even one minute. Anybody can find three minutes or one minute. But when you do it, let it be a minute of concentrated nondoing,
letting go of time for that minute. Keep your focus on the breath for stability and calmness.[...] If you feel the body scan is your major form of practice, then do it every day for at least twenty minutes at a time and preferably 30 to 45 minutes.
• Practice the yoga four or more times per week for 30 minutes or more. Make sure you are doing it mindfully, especially with awareness of breathing and bodily sensations and resting between postures ."
As he states in Wherever You Go, There You Are, this is where discipline really comes into the equation, p34:
"You could do it walking, standing, lying down, standing on one leg, running, or taking a bath. But to stay at it for even five minutes requires intentionality. To make it part of your life requires some discipline."
Siegel points out in The Mindfulness Solution that longer sessions are more effective for forming a good daily formal mindfulness practice habit because the greater benefits we will inevitably experience from longer formal sitting will pull us through the periods of lower motivation. In this way we will form a natural appetite for mindfulness practice which will reframe it as something we will look forward to rather than see as a daunting experience, p65-66:
"What’s important is to make a commitment to a practice pattern and try to stick with it over a period of days or weeks. It’s relatively easy to commit to informal practice since this doesn’t require taking time away from other things. We can decide to just try to pay more attention to our moment-to-moment experience when we shower, drive, or brush our teeth. Committing to formal meditation practice, however, is a different story. Many of us are strapped for time. You may cringe at the thought of taking on “one more thing” and think it might therefore be best to start light. Surprisingly, many people actually find it easier to practice more than to practice less. This is because more practice, whether in the form of longer practice sessions, more frequent periods, or both, tends to create more noticeable changes to our state of mind. These changes in turn become self-reinforcing and can even make the rest of our lives feel less pressured. It’s like any other skill. If we practice the piano for only a few minutes every few weeks, we’re unlikely to feel as though we’re learning to play very well and will get frustrated and quit. On the other hand, if we practice often and long enough for the songs to start to flow, we may really come to enjoy and value our time at the piano."

Sunday, 16 February 2014

Guardian News - Mind over cancer: can meditation aid recovery?

On 14th February 2014, The Guardian online published in article in the News>Society>Living with cancer section titled: Mind over cancer: can meditation aid recovery?.

Here are some of the key quotes:
"In the largest trial to date, published last year in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, breast cancer survivors who practised mindfulness were found to have increased calm and wellbeing, better sleep and less physical pain.
Headspace's chief medical officer, Dr David Cox, prescribes cancer recoverers a dose of 10 to 40 minutes mindfulness practice a day.
Cox says medical professionals have known about the benefits for a while and mindfulness offers a "glimmer of hope" for tackling the spiralling cost of healthcare on the NHS. Because sufferers of depression tend to be more apathetic about looking after themselves and taking medication, compliance with treatment is therefore worse.
One of the reasons that mindfulness is really catching on is that it can be delivered in a way that is entirely secular, stripped of any religious connotations, making it entirely acceptable to the wider population.
"Around 30 years ago, yoga was probably sniffed at a little bit and now it's much more mainstream," Cox adds. "To me, it's the perfect storm for something that can really help a vast number of people. I hope in five years' time it will have the same level of acceptance as brushing your teeth every day, eating your five a day and doing 30 minutes' exercise.""

Thursday, 6 February 2014

Mindful Tea - Part 7 - Modern Mindful Tea Practice Methodology

"There's a vast difference between drinking a morning cup of tea with full attention and drinking it while preoccupied by our plans for the day." - Japanese Zen tea connoisseur and Psychotherapist Tara Bennett-Goleman, Emotional Alchemy: How Your Mind Can Heal Your Heart (2003), p27.

"Freedom is the basic condition for you to touch life, to touch the blue sky, the trees, the birds, the tea, and the other person. This is why mindfulness practice is very important. Yet it is not something that you have to train yourself for many months to be able to do. One hour of practice can help you to be more mindful. Train yourself to drink your tea mindfully, to become a free person while drinking tea. Train yourself to be a free person while you make breakfast. Any moment of the day is an opportunity for you to train yourself in mindfulness and to generate this energy." - Vietnamese Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh, Anger - Wisdom for Cooling the Flames (2001), p44.

"...even for those who practice nothing specific, the quietness and harmony in tea is there regardless of what insights are derived from it." - The Way of Tea: Reflections on a Life with Tea (2010), p149.

The previous post in this series discussed how a traditional tea ceremony from the Far East nurtures the same state of being as a formal mindfulness practice; bringing people together through a common positive experience, enjoying a product of nature, placing emphasis on the present moment, nourishing one's body and spirit, being wakeful, and drawing attention to the basic elements governing life no matter the time or place. In this way drinking tea was practiced in ancient China as a discpline all in itself - a spiritual path which could lead to a transcendence by engaging with what may be seen as a mundane activity.

This simple attentiveness to normal everyday tasks lies at the heart of mindfulness practice, as Professor Mark Williams recommends in Mindfulness: A practical guide to peace in a frantic world (2011), p76:
"Choose one of the following (or another of your own choosing), and each day for the next week, see if you can remember to pay attention while you are doing it. You do not have to slow it down, or even enjoy it. Simply do what you normally do, but see if you can be fully alive to it as you do so.
• Brushing your teeth
• Walking from one room to another at home or work
• Drinking tea, coffee, juice
• Taking out the rubbish
• Loading the washing machine or tumble dryer"
Even though mindfulness practice is now being scientifically proven to be deeply rewarding, it is very difficult to do because our mind is so preoccupied with predicting and controlling our environments. Vietnamese Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh writes the following about how flighty our minds are when we normally drink tea, compared with when we drink mindfully, in Anger - Wisdom for Cooling the Flames (2001), p43-44:
"When you drink tea in mindfulness, your body and your mind are perfectly united. You are real, and the tea you drink also becomes real. When you sit in a café, with a lot of music in the background and a lot of projects in your head, you’re not really drinking your coffee or your tea. You’re drinking your projects, you’re drinking your worries. You are not real, and the coffee is not real either. Your tea or your coffee can only reveal itself to you as a reality when you go back to your self, and produce your true presence, freeing yourself from the past, the future, and from your worries. When you are real, the tea also becomes real and the encounter between you and the tea is real. This is genuine tea drinking."
By practicing mindfulness we are freed up from the unnecessary burden of our misfortunes and associated anxieties so that we can truly enjoy such experiences as drinking a delicious beverage, p44:
"Tea meditation is a practice. It is a practice to help us be free. If you are still bound and haunted by the past, if you are still afraid of the future, if you are carried away by your projects, your fear, your anxiety, and your anger, you are not a free person. You are not fully present in the here and the now, so life is not really available to you. The tea, the other person, the blue sky, the flower, is not available to you."
Thich Nhat Hanh inherited his mindful Zen tea-drinking practice from the Chinese tea sage Lù Yǔ (733–804), author of the The Classic of Tea, who was later awarded the honorary title of 'Tea God'. Lù Yǔ was very precise about his tea drinking methodology; honed over many decades and many cups of frothy powdered green tea, sometimes mixed with a little salt. The Way of Tea: Reflections on a Life with Tea (2010) relates an overview of Lù Yǔ's method as follows, p164:
"Lu Yu spoke of nine ways that man must invest himself completely in tea, which were:
He must manufacture it.
He must develop a sense of selectivity and discrimination about it.
He must provide the proper implements.
He must prepare the right kind of fire.
He must select a suitable water.
He must roast the tea to a turn.
He must grind it well.
He must brew it to its ultimate perfection.
He must, finally, drink it."
This deliberate contact with, and full immersion in everyday nature - the elements of water (being boiled), wood (tea leaves and fire wood), fire, metal (brazier), and earth (pottery) - owed a lot to ancient Taoist practices - for example Taoist alchemy, and gave people a daily ritual with which to  ground themselves and interface with what were considered the primeval forces of the universal Tao. The skillful 'management' of these elements via tea preparation was also a clear reminder of man's civility - our ability to rise beyond the natural forces which other creatures so often must react to and against - allowing us to bring more peace and confidence to our lives in amongst accidents, misfortune, and loss inevitably appearing here and there.

This ancient approach to tea-drinking needs to become a way of life in order to prove effective, however, and yet it is something which can still be practiced today, p22-23:
"Cha Tao can be realized in the everyday life of any person. When guests come, a cup of tea is offered and conversation flows more smoothly. The culture of tea then becomes an interchange between friends and is often transmitted in this way. Later, one finds a kind of rich simplicity and abundant stillness through the ritual of drinking fine tea daily. The profundity found just beyond the silence that tea inspires is deep, giving rise to joy and reflection, contemplation and meditation. Without such introversion a life is incomplete. ...so many of the problems in the modern world are directly related to an ignorance of the dialogue between Nature and Man that can only arise when all external stimuli are removed and tranquility is sought. A healthy life with serenity, equanimity, and wisdom is not a figment of ancient stories, nor just the aged beauty of those hoary scroll paintings. Even in this day one can live in harmony with the Tao."
Thich Nhat Hanh states in The Sun, My Heart (1988) that such tea sessions can take many hours - which when one thinks about the hours some people spend with friends in pubs, bars, and clubs, this is not something particularly extreme, p15-16:
"The secret of meditation is to be conscious of each second of your existence and to keep the sun of awareness continually shining-in both the physical and psychological realms, in all circumstances, on each thing that arises. While drinking a cup of tea, our mind must be fully present in the act of drinking the tea. Drinking tea or coffee can be one of our daily pleasures if we partake of it fully. How much time do you set aside for one cup of tea? In coffee shops in New York or Tokyo, people come in, order their coffee, drink it quickly, pay, and rush out to do something else. This takes a few minutes at most. Often there is loud music playing, and your ears hear the music, your eyes watch others gulping down their coffee, and your mind is thinking of what to do next. You can't really call this drinking coffee. Have you ever participated in a tea ceremony? It may take two or three hours just being together and drinking one or two cups of tea. The time is not spent talking - only being together and drinking tea. Perhaps you think this is irresponsible because the participants are not worrying about the world situation, but you must admit that people who spend their time this way know how to drink tea, know the pleasure of having tea with a friend. Devoting two hours to a cup of tea is, I agree, a little extreme. There are many other things to do: gardening, laundry, washing dishes, binding books, writing. Perhaps these other tasks are less pleasant than drinking tea or walking in the hills, but if we do them in full awareness, we will find them quite agreeable."
Some people would call such long tea sessions indulgent or escapist, and yet they may be only looking at the consumption involved, rather than the more subtle mindful dimension - something we need as many excuses as possible to integrate into every moment of our daily lives, as stated in The Way of Tea, p172:
"Sometimes in the West this kind of “escapism” is viewed as unhealthy, but traditional Buddhist and Taoist culture viewed it as something quite natural: taking a break from the doldrums of ordinary life to, even for an hour, be like the Taoist monk who wanders about “like a cloud” with nothing more pressing to do than listen to the birds or the song of a river — all this is viewed as something necessary and healthy to a living being."
Thich Nhat Hanh remains a big fan of such tea meditations to this day as a means of socializing with friends. In Anger: Wisdom for Cooling the Flames he writes, p44:
"You can organize a tea meditation to provide an opportunity for your friends to practice being truly present in order to enjoy a cup of tea and each other’s presence."
Our preconceptions of such a tea ceremony may be of some stark formal ritual lacking in freedom and spontaneity, and yet the ceremony itself, if approached properly is nothing like that. It can be liberating to the point that sharing tea in mindfulness can free one from the often unspoken constraints involved in one's regular social encounters - awkward silences, self-absorbed consumption, reinforcing social hierarchies, etc. With mindful tea drinking, the guests can transcend these limiting factors and allow their positive hearts and the sharing present to speak for themselves, less hindered by any prevailing negative propaganda filtering in from the mindless world, as stated in The Way of Tea, p23:
"The Way of Tea is not some somber religious ceremony held in dimly-lit halls by a bunch of solemn tea weirdoes chanting between sips. There is no cult of tea. The “teaists” I know find in tea a Way of sharing their inner peace with each other, of relaxing the ego, allowing us to be free and open with one another. Drinking tea with Tao is about letting go of all our “stuff ” and just being ourselves as we really are, in our true nature. And that “original nature” is the Tao, is harmony with Nature itself, and does help us find that dialogue of “Man/Nature” so missing in the modern world."
Since letting go of all human constructs and allowing our positive 'mutualism' to manage proceedings lies at the core of mindfulness practice, no rules actually need to be followed - one can trust that the most appropriate action will arise by itself while one remains mindful, p113:
"You don’t need a ceremony or a method. You just get together with some people whose company you enjoy and let go of yourselves. Tea really can be that simple."
As this method of mindfully enjoying tea took hold of China 1500 years ago, and Japan not long after, taking place day after day, certain actions and behaviours originating from spontaneous expressions of the heart became standard parts of tea ceremonies within specific contexts, such as Buddhist monasteries, government official building complexes, restaurants, or in the countryside.

In the same way there is only one direct, most efficient route from an arrow to it's target, or a beam of sunlight to the heart of a lotus flower, certain actions pertaining to the preparation of mindful tea became 'direct and efficient ways' of expressing the positive heart we share. In this way a ritualistic dimension was introduced into mindful tea preparation in order to make such practices habitual and to preserve the direct nature and efficiency for the benefit of others. These rituals will, of course, differ depending on context, and so must not be confused as being mindful practices themselves - rituals performed emptily without an understanding of their root in mindful living are pointless - such shallow rituals are merely a formal cultural dance.

Since the tea ceremony emulates any act of socialising, consuming nourishment, sitting, and spending time within a building, it's values can be used as a guide for many other aspects of life. Preparing the space within which a mindful tea experience will take place, for example, can bring attention to various aspects of how we prepare domestic spaces in general (or how we don't prepare spaces enough). The Way of Tea has the following to say on preparing the space used for a tea ceremony, p160:
"Arranging the tea sink, teaware, flowers, cushions, and artwork of the tea space are all aspects of the expression that has ever made tea an art form. Not only do they allow for creativity and intuition, they create an environment of comfort and calm, relaxation. The best tea houses, tearooms or even tea spaces in a house are the ones that immediately relax one as soon as he or she arrives. Before the tea is even served, one already feels outside the busy flow of the ordinary world, comfortable and ready to enjoy. This will directly affect the experience of the tea itself."
One can enjoy finding creative expression in how one decorates the room - something the Japanese 'Tea God' Sen no Rikyū (1522-1591) practiced, p179:
"Masters like Rikyu could completely change the environment of a tearoom by placing a single, beautiful blossom in a vessel of water, finding an interesting stone to use as a lid-rest, or even carving something out of wood or bamboo. Just by bringing artistic energy into your tea, and life, you will find your tea so much more enjoyable, and that participation is what can make a life of Cha into a Tao."
In China and Japan this approach was even taken to the extent that they dedicated or built seperate rooms for tea ceremonies, p112:
"The ancient Chinese and Japanese built tea huts in their backyards that resembled mountain hermitages because they understood that in order to live a healthy life, even a government official who lives in the heart of the city must have a time and a space where he can occasionally go to shed all his rank and responsibility, and for that little while be just as the carefree hermit out walking the clouds."
 Keeping the space uncluttered and simple is as much of an art as decorating it appropriately, however - especially when it comes to cleanling it, p171:
"It may seem silly at first, but cleaning the tea space will take as many decades to master as learning how to pour the kettle, gauge the amount of leaves or any other skill one normally associates with tea preparation. This is because cleaning isn’t just about sweeping, mopping, and washing the tea towels — cleaning also involves removing unnecessary furniture and decoration so that the tea space is uncluttered, for example; and ultimately, like all principles that lead to a concordance with the Tao, cleaning is a mental and spiritual exercise."
Cleaning is not only about getting rid of small items like dust and crumbs, but also about larger items also, p174:
"...cleaning the tea space should start with the removal of all unnecessary objects, decoration, and furniture."
Items representing unfinished projects and busy activities not connected to the tea ceremony can be unsettling distractions, p175:
"...it is amazing how much of a relief it is to enter an empty space, where our mind is free to settle down. In such a cluttered world, a bit of empty space is a rare find."
This cleaning of the tea space does not only take place before the next ceremony - it is an on-going activity - a stance on life in general - symbolic of the purifying of one's experience of every moment, p175:
"...it is a good idea to clean the tea space before and after every session, every time. Even if you are having tea alone, don’t neglect this practice."
We mindfully clean our living space in the same way we mindfully drink tea - giving ourselves enough time to do things properly instead of rushing through in a panic. This means one can carry one's mindfulness through to the enjoyment of preparing and drinking tea - something which can deeply enrich a tea ceremony, as Thich Nhat Hanh states in The Sun, My Heart, p18:
"If I am incapable of washing dishes joyfully, if I want to finish them quickly so I can go and have a cup of tea, I will be equally incapable of drinking the tea joyfully. With the cup in my hands I will be thinking about what to do next, and the fragrance and the flavor of the tea, together with the pleasure of drinking it, will be lost. I will always be dragged into the future, never able to live in the present moment."
Practicing such mindful preparation for a tea ceremony, so that guests can feel as comfortable as possible in one's presence can be a great resource for everyone to draw upon should they be in need of support in their lives, something The Way of Tea refers to as follows, p112:
"If the one brewing lets go, relaxes and finds his or her calm center, this will be communicated to the others present and they will similarly let go of their cares for a while."
And, p167:
"We may come to the tea space troubled, guilty, or fraught with physical or emotional turmoil, but in that space we are all free to show our true natures, as one great being and mind. There is life-changing power in such a sharing. The greater, deeper experiences to be had through tea are also possible if the environment and participants are committed to expressing such ideals."
One can also take inspiration for how to live from the tea leaves. At one point they were growing on a bush humbly expressing their true nature in the way a mindful tea drinker does, p30:
"We are learning to live: to live without any drama or effort, like the leaves themselves."
Using the tea ceremony and the activities associated with it to practice mindfuless throughout one's life in this way is referred to in Japan as "tea life", p170:
"Rikyu defined the four characteristics of a tea life as: Harmony, Respect, Purity, and Tranquility."
This 'tea life' became a way to best express one's heart - to speak with one's actions - while living in amongst other sentient beings, p22:
"Using the metaphor of tea brewed or “spoken” as wisdom, the idea is that one speaks/brews plainly from the heart, and those with eyes and wisdom to see and hear will be drawn to such a “tea session” to have a cup, while those without the ears to hear will favor other, less pithy and silent tables..."
Such 'heartful' tea sessions are often punctuated with more silence than more regular meetups, as hosts and guests practice being grounded and humble, p113:
"Successful tea company is about being in harmony with Nature and each other, best achieved in quiet, but if there is talk it should be gentle, free, and spontaneous without any need to puff up the ego and show off tea knowledge, which is all terribly unimportant anyway. I have watched some of the greatest vintages of tea ruined by a bunch of “tea scholars” arguing silly and inconsequential details as they drank, rather than paying any attention at all to the wonderful tea before them, or the wonderful company around them. The participants should also have respect for the tea and each other, often best expressed within humility. We practice humility and gratitude to the tea, the one brewing and the whole situation, placing the tea ceremony itself above ourselves."
And, p120:
"Once people begin talking, all the aspects of their egoes come to the surface, and all too often the conversation leads to debate — even if it is about the tea itself. Of course, not all conversations are thus, and there are many we can chat with freely and comfortably, spreading Calm Joy. However, when people and talk mix, it is very easy to lose the tea in favor of the conversation."
Thich Nhat Hanh also recommends a large dose of silence to fully enjoy one's tea, in the book Savor: Mindful Eating, Mindful Life (2010), p125:
"At all Plum Village practice centers, we eat our meals in silence during the first twenty minutes of the meal so that we are fully immersed in the experience of eating. We encourage you to experiment with a silent meal at home — even just a silent cup of tea. But you do not need to eat every meal in silence to become a more mindful eater."
Rules of conduct do not need to be read out or adhered to - a peaceful atmosphere manifests spontaneously from mindful people - from allowing peace to manifest within ourselves, p112:
"The best tea isn’t monitored or controlled by rigorous parameters. As anyone who has ever had a terrible day can testify, the more frustrated and tense you become, the more mistakes you make, which only compounds the problems you’re facing. Similarly, tea cannot be controlled like an experiment. The best tea sessions are relaxed and smooth."
The onus lies on the person brewing the tea to set the appropriate mindful tone of the gathering, since they will be governing the pace of the ceremony, p153:
"Most of what makes the tea ceremony transcendent is in the approach of the people at its center. In the Way of Tea, we take out our utensils and prepare our water with reverence — not as devotion to anything other than the act itself, its ordinary poise and our own inner serenity. So many enlightened beings past and present have taught that all meditation and prayer is a “practice,” a method for approaching life. We are, in effect, learning how to live; how to use our lives as meditation. By refining, perfecting, and purifying every aspect of our tea preparation, we are seeking the essence of something ordinary and alive. If we find the Tao of Tea, we will have found the Tao. It’s that simple."
Thich Nhat Hanh gives the following instructions to a person who would brew tea mindfully in The Miracle of Mindfulness (1987), p85:
"Prepare a pot of tea to serve a guest or to drink by yourself. Do each movement slowly, in mindfulness. Do not let one detail of your movements go by without being mindful of it. Know that your hand lifts the pot by its handle."
The Way of Tea states that this mindful approach is an intention underlying the whole ceremony - to do the best one can with what is available, p153:
"...intention is the key; it unlocks all the Tao in Cha. The Way of Tea is all about intention: the intention to find the best leaves, the best water, and to bring them together in harmony and grace, quietly serene.The idea is simple enough to be mundane, yet difficult in application. And not because we can’t find leaves good enough or because the water near us is polluted, nor because our teaware isn’t high quality — for these galaxies all orbit the one at the center of the ceremony, the one creating it and then experiencing it."
In order for guests to enjoy the experience they must feel that the space and teaware being used are clean and hygienic. For this reason, the host washes all the items which will come into contact with the brew and peoples' mouths in front of the guests; even the tea itself, p171:
"...when the guests finally enter the tearoom, the utensils are all thoroughly cleaned before their eyes. This has its equivalent in the Chinese gong fu tea ceremony, which also suggests that the host rinse all the teaware, and tea, before the guests. The fact that this cleaning is not done before the guests arrive is more than just a gesture to show them that the utensils are hygienic."
There is a symbolism in this act of washing everything while guest are present - highlighting that the event is one of purification and compassionate intent. The shape and construction of the items themselves can also have symbolic value, as well as being visually engaging in their own right.

The teapot used can have aesthetic, functional, and cultural appeal, depending on the host's choice - of course the effect it has on the steeping will be a key point, p160-161:
"A teapot with excellent function that doesn’t at all inspire one may not be as good of a choice as one that functions a little bit worse but is gorgeous. Again, balance and harmony are the ideals of tea."
The Tea Enthusiasts Handbook (2010) says that smaller teapots allow for a more in-depth experience of the tea being drunk, p31-32:
"Small-size teapots allow tea enthusiasts to enjoy multiple steepings of the tea, using short infusions of less than one minute to just over one minute.[...] Each infusion presents another nuance of flavor, giving the tea drinker slightly different variations in flavor to savor over the course of several infusions."

The water one puts in the teapot should be of the best quality - a pleasure to drink on its own, and should only be boiled once, p35:
"A cup of tea is composed of 99 percent water. If the leaf is the soul of a good cup of tea, then water is the heart. It bears constant repetition that the water that you use for making tea must be as pure and delicious as that which you drink from a glass. [...] The best water is fresh, oxygenated, and somewhat sweet tasting. If you must purchase water for tea, experiment with different brands of bottled spring water. [...] Installing a simple water filter in the home will often result in good water for tea making. One last caveat: water should be boiled only once. Heating water and regulating the heat to maintain a constant level for a short tea-steeping session is one; reheating water that has come to a boil and cooled completely will create flat-tasting, lifeless water."
Next comes heating the water. One of the main reasons why it is necessary to practice mindfulness when steeping green tea is because the green tea leaves can easily be burnt by water that is too hot, or not release enough of their flavour if the water is too cold, p35:
"Water temperature is critical; water that is too hot can scorch the leaves, turning what would have been a nice cup of tea into a bitter stew. It will also rob the tea of its aromatics, rendering the fragrance flat and dull. All the careful handling in the tea gardens and tea factories will be for naught if the water temperature is out of kilter for the intended tea."
Cold water can be used to reduce water from a boil (a technique Lù Yǔ used), and one can observe the formation of bubbles as the water heats up, as well as the water's noises and movements. The Japanese Way of Tea: From Its Origins in China to Sen Rikyu (1998) relates the following about the Chinese 'Tea God' Lù Yǔ's detailed method of boiling water for tea, p23-24:
"...he took up the right way to boil the water, which he called the first, second, and third boil. What he called the first boil was a temperature that produced small bubbles and a faint sound, which he described as “like the eyes of fishes and with a distant voice.” The second boil produced “a bubbling spring around the edges like a string of pearls.” The third was like “the crashing of breakers upon the shore.” Boiling it more than that would exhaust the water and make it undrinkable. Throughout, his mode of expression was rich in simile, while his attention to detail was minute. He further noted that one could add salt to taste during the first boil. At the second stage one should withdraw a ladle of water, set it aside, and then stir the center with bamboo chopsticks. At this point one put powdered tea into the center. When it started to boil again, after a time one could return the water one had set aside and reduce the boiling once more. In this way one would “nurture the flower” of the tea."
The Book of Tea (2001) translates the same passage as follows, p14-15:
"There are three stages of boiling: the first boil is when the little bubbles like the eye of fishes swim on the surface; the second boil is when the bubbles are like crystal beads rolling in a fountain; the third boil is when the billows surge wildly in the kettle. The Cake-tea is roasted before the fire until it becomes soft like a baby’s arm and is shredded into powder between pieces of fine paper. Salt is put in the first boil, the tea in the second. At the third boil, a dipperful of cold water is poured into the kettle to settle the tea and revive the “youth of the water.” Then the beverage was poured into cups and drunk. O nectar!"
The Tea Enthusiasts Handbook gives the following water temperature recommendations for green tea brewing, revolving around allowing boiled water to rest in order to cool down sufficiently, p35:
"Japanese green tea, and Chinese spring green tea: 160° to 170°F [71°-77°C]. Bring the water to a boil and allow it to rest for 5 minutes before using.
Green tea (standard): 170° to 180°F [77°-82°C] “Column of Steam Steadily Rising.” This is the period during which a visible pillar of steam materializes. Or bring water to a boil and allow it to rest for 3 minutes before using."
The delicate nature of the procedure can not be emphasised enough - hence the need for strong mindfulness on the part of the host, p57:
"Being more delicate than most other classes of tea, green teas require steeping water that has cooled from the boil. Water that is too hot will force the leaf to become bitter, rather than encourage it to yield the sweetness inherent in the leaf."
Once the water is at correct temperature, the tea leaves can be added in the correct proportions depending on how much water is being used. For every cup that will be drunk from the steeping, roughly 1 tablespoon of leafy Chinese green tea, or 1 teaspoon of rolled bud Chinese green tea, p57:
"Tea Type / Amount (per 6 ounces [177ml] of water):
Green teas from China: 1 to 2 tablespoons for leafy tea; 1 to 2 teaspoons for bud tea.
Green teas from Japan: 1 to 2 teaspoons"
LùYǔ was very clear about not adding any additional ingredients to the tea leaves and water other than salt, and it was green tea that he found most satisfying to drink according to his method. Since there are different caffeine contents and calorific values relating to different teas and their traditional preparation methods, it is wise to be aware of the potential to put on weight or experience insomnia, as noted in Savor: Mindful Eating, Mindful Life (2010), p116:
"Tea or coffee can be a healthy choice for most people, in moderation (up to three or four cups a day) and may even have some health benefits. Skip the sugar and cream to keep these beverages low-calorie and healthful. Pregnant women may want to limit their caffeine. People who get jittery or have sleep problems when they consume caffeine may also want to limit caffeine."
The flavour and general quality of standard green tea available in the West comes nowhere near the fresh tender leaves harvested in China and sold in shops across the country for prices per gram Europeans would consider a little expensive for tea. Should one have the fortune to taste this green tea for oneself, one may be truly surprised and then convinced as to why the Chinese have been so fanatical about it. If one is not familiar with a certain type of tea, then The Tea Enthusiast's Handbook gives the following advice, p35:
"When tasting a tea that is new to you, start with a two-minute steep, taste it, and taste it again every thirty seconds. Jot down the results. Green, yellow, and white teas are rarely left in the water for longer than two minutes (and often less). [...] Green, yellow, white, and oolong teas can always be steeped again, at least once but sometimes three times or more, depending on the tea. Additional steepings may call for a cooler or hotter water temperature than that used for the initial steeping."
Once the brew is ready to be drunk, it is poured into the cups, and there is another opportunity here to amplify the transcendent dimension of the experience by selecting approriate cups, as stated in The Way of Tea, p158:
"...teaware can improve our ability to relax, and help inspire our connection to our own personal tea ceremonies. When we are in a beautiful setting that inspires calm, it will be easier to find the quiet place that Cha Tao flourishes in."
And, p160:
"Learning about the various roles that teaware plays in the creation of the best cup is exciting and adds to the passion of tea. Tasting the water heated in different kettles, for example, is so insightful and often improves the way tea is made thereafter. It is, nonetheless, important to maintain a balance between the teaware that will improve the ceremony functionally and that which will inspire the one making the tea aesthetically."
Mindfulness is maintained throughout the whole ceremony, and Thich Nhat Hanh gives the following guidance in The Miracle of Mindfulness for when one is pouring the tea, p85:
"Know that you are pouring the fragrant warm tea into the cup. Follow each step in mindfulness. Breathe gently and more deeply than usual. Take hold of your breath if your mind strays."
Regarding the amount of tea poured for each guest, The Tea Enthusiast's Handbook suggests filling a cup only two thirds full, p36:
"Fill your teacups only two-thirds full; leave the remaining space to collect the feelings and emotions of those who have gathered to drink tea with you."
Then the cup is brought to one's mouth and one finally tastes the brew so carefully prepared, as mindfully as if it were for the first time, something described in Mindfulness for Dummies (2010), p80:
"When drinking tea, do some mindful drinking. Feel the sensations as the cup comes towards your mouth, and enjoy the refreshing taste of tea."
Thich Nhat Hanh guides on how to be mindful when drinking as follows, in Freedom Wherever We Go: A Buddhist Monastic Code for the 21st Century (2004), p4:
"When we are drinking tea, our mind is wholly in the act of drinking tea. I am drinking tea and I know I am drinking tea." 
In The Miracle of Mindfulness, he adds, p24:
"...when you're drinking tea, drinking tea must be the most important thing in your life. [...] Each act is a rite, a ceremony. Raising your cup of tea to your mouth is a rite."
The Way of Tea reflects this approach by stating, p123:
"The more fully aware we are of the moment, of the tea, the more we will find the quietness inherent in the tea (or perhaps you could say it will find us). There is no need to really put any effort into quieting the mind. Just practice making the environment still, and concentrate on the tea. Enjoy it, drink of it fully, notice every nuance of its flavor and aroma"
And turning to the Chinese 'Tea God' for inspiration once again, it states, p154:
"Lu Yu reminds us to “always sip tea as if it were life itself”"
The Tea Enthusiasts Handbook (2010) relates the following methodology for enhancing one's experience of the tea, p31:
"When you really want to taste your tea, use this technique that we learned from one of our Taiwan tea associates.

1. Breathe out.
2. Take a sip.
3. Hold the tea liquor in your mouth and breathe in through your nose.
4. Swallow the tea.
5. Breathe out.
6. The aroma of the tea should fill your retro-nasal passages."
Once the gathering has come to a natural end, then washing the teaware can be a nice way of sealing the experience and preparing the space and objects within it for whatever is next to come. Here is The Way of Tea on this, p172:
"...you might want to practice washing off all the teaware at the end of the session as well, showing not only a care for your teaware, but also as an expression of the fact that the tea gathering we have shared now echoes in eternity, singular and complete forever."
And p177:
"Take care of your teaware. It is a precious companion on your tea journey. Don’t leave your teaware dirty, staining it with neglect. Wash, dry, and replace it with care each time you use it, so that it may find in you a friendship equal to that which it gives."

Here are some general overviews of the process covered above, beginning with Thich Nhat Hanh in The Miracle of Mindfulness, p30:
"...prepare a pot of tea to sit and drink in mindfulness. Allow yourself a good length of time to do this. Don't drink your tea like someone who gulps down a cup of coffee during a workbreak. Drink your tea slowly and reverently, as if it is the axis on which the whole earth revolves-slowly, evenly, without rushing toward the future. Live the actual moment. Only this actual moment is life. Don't be attached to the future. Don't worry about things you have to do. Don't think about getting up or taking off to do anything. Don't think about "departing.""
The Tea Enthusiasts Handbook (2010) gives the following wonderful pointers, p30:
"For Asian tea drinkers, there is an expectation on the part of the host who prepares the tea and the tea drinkers who share it regarding the tea and the common experience of drinking tea together. The experience is all about the tea; the preparation, steeping, and drinking utilize all five senses.
• Look. Look at, appreciate, and evaluate the unique appearance, shape, and color of the leaf.
• Touch. Feel the dry tea leaves. Are they light or soft, dense or fluffy? Feel the clay and the glaze of the tea cup: is it smooth or rough?
• Hear. Listen to the sound of the water simmering in the kettle and then as it is poured into the teapot, the sound of the teapot lid slid across the top of the teapot, and the sound of the tea being poured into the cup.
• Smell. Inhale the aroma of both the tea liquor and the wet tea leaves after steeping. Each should have a refreshing and enticing aroma.
• Taste. The tea should be a well-balanced combination of sweet, spicy, bitter, and earthy. Each class of tea offers tea enthusiasts something different to savor: from sweet and light to spicy and strong, or with nuances, such as woodsy, floral, kelpy, minerally, and nutty, the overall style and flavor is experienced by the palate as something unique."
Theravada Buddhist monk Ven. Henepola Gunaratana outlines how to drink tea mindfully in his book Mindfulness in Plain English (2002), p163-164:
"There is much here to be experienced. View your posture as you are sitting, and feel the handle of the cup between your fingers. Smell the aroma of the tea, notice the placement of the cup, the tea, your arm, and the table. Watch the intention to raise your arm arise within your mind, feel your arm as it rises, feel the cup against your lip and liquid pouring into your mouth. Taste the tea, then watch the arising of the intention to lower your arm. The entire process is fascinating and beautiful, if you attend to it fully, paying detached attention to every sensation and to the flow of thought and emotion."
And finally, The Way of Tea, p122:
"We just sit and be with our tea, enjoying it fully — the taste is deeper, the aroma more fragrant and the energy in our bodies more imminent. And as I have already mentioned, the one who brews the tea is more important than any other aspect of the ceremony — all the best leaves, teaware, and a gorgeously peaceful tearoom won’t help if the one brewing isn’t steeped in the Tao — so, by practicing peace, your skill at brewing and appreciating tea will improve."
The fruits of all this practice reveal themselves when one is finding more peace and happiness in one's life, as Thich Nhat Hanh writes in his book Fidelity (2011), p72:
"When you’re mindful and concentrated, your tea becomes something very real and the time of tea drinking makes you so happy. Your mind is not disturbed. It’s not dwelling in the past, in the future, or on your current projects. Your mind is focused entirely on the tea. That’s concentration. Tea is the object of your concentration. So drinking tea in that moment can make you very happy; and the more you are concentrated, the happier you become."
One of his students, a chef, teaches mindful tea drinking - an experience of which is related in Savor, p122:
"Chef Sati showed us how to drink tea. He held a cup of tea in his hands, breathed in the fragrance consciously a few times, and said, “Conscious breathing will bring the body and mind together. When the mind and body become one, we feel solid and become fully present for the tea. As we drink our tea, we should be completely aware that we are drinking the tea. When we truly meet the tea in the present moment, we feel alive. Only then are we really living our life.” After a few attentive sips, we all experienced that drinking tea had become the most important thing at that moment."
One can gain very deep spiritual insights from the practice, as Thich Nhat Hanh describes in The Miracle of Mindfulness, p42:
"Through sitting, our bodies obtain harmony, feel lighter, and are more at peace. The path from the observation of your mind to seeing into your own nature won't be too rough. Once you are able to quiet your mind, once your feelings and thoughts no longer disturb you, at that point your mind will begin to dwell in mind. Your mind will take hold of mind in a direct and wondrous way which no longer differentiates between subject and object. Drinking a cup of tea, the seeming distinction between the one who drinks and the tea being drunk evaporates. Drinking a cup of tea becomes a direct and wondrous experience in which the distinction between subject and object no longer exists."
Such depth of experience requires that one never takes one's eye off the whole and our seamless connection with it. As The Way of Tea likes to put it; always getting closer to the Tao, p21-22:
"The Way has always been about harmony, through the streaming moments of life to the stream of Tao itself: and the Way of Tea is no different. Through tea, we learn to listen to the unfolding moment, adapting and flowing in harmony with it, for we quickly realize that the best cups are prepared in such an unaffected way. We learn that even the flavor of tea is as much dependent upon the skill of the one brewing as the quality of the leaf. And beyond skill, we find insight in the very pronounced differences the mind has on the tea liquor. The best tea sets are in harmony with each other; the best tea is made when the water, tea, and one brewing are in harmony; and the best sessions are created when the host and guests are all in harmony with the environment, tea, water, and teaware. Harmony, more than anything else, is how we steep the Tao, brew the Truth, and pour it for others. It also teaches us how to live, so that through tea we find a guide to lead us through our lives. The tea, rain, and sun, the water and all the teaware have a principle and current guiding them towards the perfect cup, and only when the person becomes but another natural aspect of this creation will the cup of tea that has “Li” be made and drunk, putting the drinker further in tune with the grain of the Tao. The master is a natural part of the tea ceremony in the same way the rain or sun are all natural parts that go into the growth of a tree over time. Rather than manipulating the leaves, water and utensils, he becomes a part of a single river of experience leading from the Tao to the cloud, the rain to the tree, the leaf to the liquor, which is drunk towards a return to the Tao."

As ever with these disciplines, however, getting closer to the Tao of tea requires dedicated practice rather than mere intellectual pondering, p182:
"You can’t read your way to better tea — the kind that makes everyone in the room feel relaxed and peaceful. You have to live it. Like spirituality, too many of us try to approach tea as some kind of science project — something to wrap our brains around; and if we only read and study more, we’ll get it down. But this is like reading books about art in an attempt to create a masterpiece. You can’t learn art, it has to be felt and lived."