Art of tea drinking and lace making towards inner peace & mental agility
by Ruvini De Alwis
Ups and downs...welcome the bipolar world called life!
If I was to sum up very briefly what brings me inner peace, calm and a bit of serenity in my everyday scenarios, I would say two things....lace making and a cup of tea.
I will get to the craft part but first let’s begin...with a cup of tea.
Stage 1 of inner peace – (before craft)
So I have walked now for a full hour. The sun beats down heavily as if the rays are literally squeezing the air around into the ground. Sweat beads trickle down my back. I feel their warm, watery droplets seeking lower ground. The grass is not quite green but a green brown here, having seen too many days of sun. A welcome breeze from the ocean reminds me I am nearly home. I pass the marina, big, new yachts, slumbering wastefully in their spaces, not quite wanting to hit the ‘road’ today but perhaps that’s not a bad thing, the less we do, the less we can contribute to climate change.....
Inside now, the moment I lay my keys down I somehow make my way to the kettle and before I know it, the water is running and it’s on. Is this conscious or a subliminally automated action based on a need for stress release or comfort or replenishment...hmmm, that a really hard one. Not sure my brain can answer that right now because I am gasping...yes for a cup of tea.
Before you know it I am curled up on a chair with a brew, Earl Grey, my favourite and already I am easing into my humanness as if it had somehow been waylaid through the day’s events.
Is it that the body requires more rest than we give it or is it that our conditioning about our physical activity is all wrong...either way something’s definitely up!
My own conclusion to this is that perhaps we are in need of more love, more precisely, loving. This could be how we are ultimately wired. I shy away from using words like pleasure because that’s not quite it either, there something more refined that our brains recognise as perhaps fruitful, because we are doing or giving something to ourselves and in this is what I am definitively describing as loving. There are many examples, this is only one. Perhaps the body recognises that it is being cared for or loved and this is something that it needs, well being....that’s the humanness.
It has been proven that those tea drinkers whose choice is earl grey are definitely benefiting from drinking this brew because the bergamot oil is thought to reduce heart disease. My consciousness is saying, very loudly it understands me better than I know myself and this could be intuitive, something we sense. After all we are sensory beings. It’s easy to miss things that connect our hearts and brain/mind, assuming of course that the mind is definitely where the brain is. The mind somehow doesn’t feel constrained to an organ but feels more connected to...everything. Maybe the organ helps in connecting this connection.....either way science is still trying to answer this question, for me the jury is still out on the matter but if you go with your gut (another sensory organ) you may find yourself in the right place....if you get my meaning because maybe the whole body is a complete connection that requires deeper understanding.
The things we do either feed it or damage it to some greater or lesser degree. Humanness is conscious driven, it’s seeking betterment and your body has a way of telling you that the relationship you are having with it is healthy or unhealthy. This is the loving and well being I am speaking of in reference to a much needed cup of tea. Perhaps there is some inner guidance because the body and mind are showing you; the person, the spirit, the consciousness that there is so much more as a human you can be, achieve, understand but this requires clarity. Now I can elaborate but I would rather give examples and my craft has a way of speaking to me and it’s helping me get better. This may seem like an exaggerated or unlikely concept but really the simplest things have a tendency to bring knowledge and reward and by this I mean – toward ‘bettering’ yourself.
How can ‘bettering’ be defined, I think it’s fair to say something along the lines of fulfilling your potential as a human being and this may require you to become more sensitive to your body and it’s needs, ultimately this leads to health awareness. The reverberating effect of this will extend to the wider environment, which can only be a beneficial thing.
Stage 2 of inner peace with craft
Now that the stage has been set, I am reaching for my lace making pillow. I make Honiton lace or bobbin lace, a type of lace making that has evolved in the Honiton region of Devon, UK- bought here originally by Flemish refugees...a beautiful and complicated art form that is perhaps not the most pleasurable when it comes to sitting in one place for a long time, working your fingers but there’s a slow magic brewing, much like a cup of tea. At first it seems very intensive but the trick is to ease in to the stitching, before you know it the intense concentration of working one bobbin over the other in the many stitches that are a part of Honiton lace has wiped everything from your mind. Suddenly you are in the lace zone.
We make lace in a group of about 6 women, all grandmothers apart from myself. Here I am a non local, of a different ethnicity, a lot younger, completely unsuited to this type of craft as my life revolves a lot around outdoor life and physical work and the daintiness of lace is such a contrast to the person I have become and yet here this difference is welcome.
When we sit together after settling down in class the silence is deafening. Conversations are rare, we try to not have those because a momentary slip of concentration may mean you drop a stitch and will have to go back. It seems severe but concentration is how you will get through the class and the intricacy of the work already means it will take several hours, days, months and sometimes years to complete. Time is precious, every stitch counts, the work can be an elaborate, simple, dainty, pretty, complex design but whatever the design the work requires your complete attention, there’s no room for anything else.
When I come to class, I leave my troubles at the door along with my shoes and know it will be silent intensity for two full hours broken only by a question from a student and the smell of a lovely cup of tea which I am already looking forward to.
Would I call this meditation...perhaps! It requires you to be still, for a long period of time but it’s not noticeable because you are still active, using your hands. The lace makers describe it as mental agility or building mental agility but it is only possible with silence. The kind of silence that has birds chirping in the background and leaves rustling, maybe rain pouring on a windy day but not much else. I am struck by how easily mistakes are made if you are agitated, angry or feeling unhappy with life. Sometimes on a quiet evening, I get my lace out and immediately the threads break, I miss a stitch and do not realise until I have completed a whole row and then have to undo it....plus all the reverberating effects; frustration, impatience, tiredness, etc.
Mental agility, what is that exactly? I think this is like stimulation or training. Could my brain be stimulated from lace-making. That really is a strange thought but maybe the combination of calm, quiet, concentration and gentle action is really pleasant for the mind and its sending signals to my brain to say that I am loving this.
I have noticed that my concentration is much better and prolonged since making lace but can offer no proof that the two are tied but they are intrinsic and that’s what counts. I would describe it as a subliminal process that has become entrenched as I have gone along. I hope that’s satisfactory for now. I am still exploring.
I wonder about this and have come to realise that there is much more to lace making than meets the eye now. The skill is not just in the detail of your design piece but in the whole process. Mental agility, concentration, calculation and timing, silence, love for your work and the women you are sharing this exercise with and a kind of respect for the art because it is complex and not an easy thing to learn. All things considered, maybe this is more like Japanese sword work or using a sword after all, it has that edge of complete concentration and not missing a beat. I take a breath, maybe I am getting a bit ahead of myself but going back to the body and brain, my senses are sharpened yet I feel calmed. This is a dual effect and I am sensing that my brain and my physical domain somehow knows that this is something beneficial, not just for my mind but my being.
I am not going to explain that scientifically because I can feel the warmth of this exercise and I just want to bask there a little longer.
Right now, I am thinking that a tea break would be wonderful to break the silence, because I am relaxed and feeling calm and serene and in a place that is reserved for lace and nothing else. It’s also the best escapism I can think of. It’s a space that rather than thinking about things, you are actually NOT thinking about anything besides the lace. It’s calm, austere and quiet...so quiet that you can hear the clock tick when you are working.
As if on cue my teacher offers us a cup of tea...a short break. Suddenly there is an ease and we slowly start conversations and stretch our shoulders and back. A momentary rest from the restrictive restfulness, like coming back from a deep silence, again this is marked by a cup of tea. It makes the whole exercise rewarding.
Tea drinking is a mystery to me, the more I think about it the more questions come to mind. If I were to make a piece of film about my life, I would have a clip of tea drinking between every scene and scenario. It makes the mundane interesting....I feel thirsty.
What a strange combination – tea drinking and lace making. They are an art that I am still trying to take apart, unpick, understand, because I am never bored...but unlike the ladies of old, I am new to this. Although even after 10 years, you are still a fledgling, we are talking about 50-60 years of lace and I am told you will still not understand it completely. I am definitely onto something here, I can feel it in the air and in the brew.
When lace making it’s the one place I feel at peace and notice all the subtleties that would otherwise go unmissed. It draws your attention to detail but the most intricate but I wonder could this peace really be helping my mental agility. I have to think about that!
My lace teacher, one of only 13 really good Honiton lace teachers left in the UK that teach this type of lace making has over 50 years of experience and I have come to appreciate what this really means. There are no quick fixes, patience is really where it’s at and when I am working I feel that is what I am learning. She expects you to rise to the occasion whatever your problem, issue, insecurity or complaint on the day, it’s very compelling.
Perhaps eventually I will discover more....about the secrets of tea drinking and lace making and its effects on the body and mind but today I give in to just enjoying the lace making among interesting individuals and tea drinking with friends.
The wall clock ticks, we are at our lace pillows again, all is quiet. In the air, the subtle smell of tea lingers and on the floor a tray of empty cups....not a word is spoken.
By Ruvini De Alwis