1. Tea meditation
This is what I do when I first wake up (on most days). For a long time I wrestled with the difficulty of meditating immediately upon waking up. When you do that, you essentially sit down and go back to sleep. It’s really difficult to have just woken up and sit down to meditate because you’re just dozing off the entire time.
Bringing in a simple tea meditation ritual changed all of that. I drink mostly green tea, partly because that’s just what I’ve drank for years but partly because of the caffeine. I’m not a coffee drinker, so the caffeine in the green tea is the perfect wake up call. After I drink my tea I’m alert enough to sit in meditation without dozing off, so it’s really worked out nicely.
Admittedly, this is one of my favorite parts of my day. I call this tea meditation, but when you fully engage yourself in what you’re doing with mindfulness everything becomes meditation, so this is really just “drinking tea”, nothing more than that.
To do tea meditation, you simple need to do every part of the tea making and tea drinking process with mindfulness. Take
your time making your tea with mindfulness- heat up your water, get your cup out, pour the water, and sift the tea. Then, take your tea and sit down in a quiet place with it. Drink your tea like there’s no tomorrow. Drinking this tea is the most important thing in the world.
When I sit down with my tea, after each cup I pour I set the cup down in front of me, put my hands together, and give thanks for the tea. I bring my awareness to all those people who work the fields and harvest the tea, the people who package and ship the tea and so on. I make sure to first fully respect the tea and express my deep gratitude before drinking it.
After paying my respects to the tea, I simply drink it slowly with mindfulness. I usually drink a few small cups (about 1/4 of one cup at a time), but you can drink however much you’d like. You can shorten the practice down to just 10-15 minutes from start to finish by drinking only one small cup and drinking at a moderately slow pace.
After I’m done I put my empty cup down in front of me and give thanks once again for the tea. I do this for each cup of tea I drink. (You could always choose to do this with coffee if you’re a coffee drinker.)
2. Zazen (sitting meditation)
This is my cornerstone practice and what I do every morning immediately following my tea meditation. While tea meditation has become an important practice in its own right, I adopted it solely as a way to be able to meditate soon after waking.
Before I started doing tea meditation, I would sit down to write for a few hours before meditating, because otherwise I would find myself dozing off and have a very ineffective meditation session.
I sit down once, occasionally twice in the morning typically for 45 minutes to an hour. Over the years my meditation sessions have lengthened, starting with just 5 minutes a day in the beginning.
I mostly let myself develop naturally, never advancing to a lengthier session unless I felt totally comfortable with my current session length.
If there was one practice on this list that I’d say do every single day with absolute dedication, meditation would be it. Most everything else can fluctuate to some extent, but a daily practice of sitting meditation is one of the most powerful daily practices there is and really should be consistent if you want to get everything you can out of it.
3. Get creative
The morning is a great time to flex your creativity (visual arts, writing, singing, creative thinking, etc.). When a novice monk or nun begins studying Zen, many times, if they have any natural inclination towards art within them, as time goes on they naturally begin to create art of some fashion more regularly.
It’s difficult to describe in words why this is, but imagine you’re a tuning fork. Through your spiritual practice you’re attempting to attune yourself to the ultimate, the one in the all and the all in the one. When it gets down to it, realizing this is really the central idea behind all spirituality.
So through your practice you gradually begin to tune yourself closer and closer to it, and when this happens you naturally wish to express the all becoming the one, or the great expression of life coming to be in this moment.
This is what art really is, and the peace and quiet of the morning is the ideal time to look within yourself and feel a deep connection to the world around you. This brings out your natural creativity, and self-expression that comes from it is natural and nourishing for the mind.
About once or twice a week I practice Zen calligraphy. I learned calligraphy as an elective course back when I attended Peck School of the Arts. I fell in love with it instantly. Zen has uncontrollably possessed me to express myself with pen and paper in this manner, and it feels great.
If you’ve practiced drawing, painting, or anything else before or want to start doing so then the morning is a great time to do it. And flexing your creativity in the morning is a great way to get your creative juices flowing for the rest of the day.
Writing is what I usually do in the evening or right before bed in my journal, if you're writer mornings can be hugely beneficial to your writing practice.
Writing has become one of the most beneficial practices of my entire life. I have kept a journal since a young age continuing throughout my entire life. Writing opens you up and spurs you to bring form to thoughts and ideas in your mind like nothing else can. If you’re going through a tough time, trying to figure something out, or gain clarity about something then writing is the most powerful exercise I know to do so.
I can’t fully describe how powerful it is to take ideas in your head and have to figure out how to place them down on paper. This isn’t always ideal, language has its limitations, but writing is a powerful exercise with great benefits nonetheless.
And whether you’re a writer or not, you can get these same amazing benefits. You don’t have to good at writing, you simply need to write. If you’re trying to figure something out, anything really, just sit down and write about it. Even better, imagine you’re writing TO other people. This is part of why writing has been so powerful for me, writing something I know other people are going to read can be a lot of pressure, but it can bring a lot of great things out from within you.
Writing itself is its own meditation for me. I just put my pen to paper, or hands down on my keyboard and let whatever comes out of me fill the page. This can be really revealing, but also very therapeutic.
5. Keep a journal
When I am journaling on the computer I absolutely love Om Writer, it is more of a writing environment rather than a writing program. It is minimalist, and eliminates distractions. You can even choose from a handful of peaceful zen like music to play as you write.
Keeping a journal has all kinds of benefits. There are a couple different ways you can choose to keep a journal, the first notable way being to note all the good things that happened on a given day, however small. This form of keeping a journal can help to increase your confidence, make you happier, and give you better perspective during days that seemed tough and unproductive.
Another way of keeping a journal, and to me the most powerful, is what I’d call a mindful journal. It’s essentially keeping a journal and noting down any thoughts or feelings you have throughout your day. You don’t have to note down everything, mostly just those things which were unexpected or needed some introspection, but keeping a journal in this way can be a great partner to your meditation practice.
There are numerous ways to journal, let your journaling becoming personal to you and your experience.
6. Start a project about something you love
This is why I originally decided to wake up early. The peace and quiet of the morning is unparalleled, so it’s a great time to work on anything you want or need to do.
If you’re still figuring out what you want to do with your life, or you just want to have some fun doing something you love, design a fun project around it and do a little each morning. The uninterrupted time of the morning is easily the most productive part of my day, and the perfect time to stretch your creativity as I mentioned earlier.
I began meditation and yoga, a little while after I began waking up early. So yoga is another one of the things I did the most in the morning at first. Now I do a brief set of stretches early morning and do a slightly more rigorous yoga routine in the afternoon a few times a week. The morning is a great time to go for a run too. It’s so quiet and peaceful in the morning, you could go for a mindful run and have little interruptions. Everyone's physical practice and routine will be different.
What you do in the morning has an uncanny ability of setting you up for the rest of the day, so the energy and vitality you get from exercise is a great thing to do in the morning as it keeps you energized for the entire rest of your day.
Tea Rituals for Focus, Health & Slowness
As I write these words, I sit with a bowl of matcha, the Japanese powdered green tea used in traditional ceremonies, and enjoy the quiet morning hours.
Tea is a form of meditation for me, a way of being present and practicing paying attention. It is a way of slowness, of savoring life.
And it is a way of focus for me. I find that if I’m having trouble concentrating on one thing, pausing to brew some tea is a great way to regain that focus. I’ve gotten some of my best writing done with the aid of a cup or bowl of tea.
I’m no tea expert, so this guide won’t be a guide to how to brew the perfect tea or how to choose great teas. In comparison to actual tea experts, I will have many novice errors. I am fine with that, as my purpose here is simply to share some rituals I use for focus, for slowness, self nurturing, and for health.
All three of these rituals help with focus, slowness, self nurturing, and health. I’m giving them separate names only to help show how I use them, but really they can be used interchangeably.
The Focus RitualWhen I need to get my most important work done, I will often take a few minutes to brew some tea. This is a small ritual that signals that it is time to stop with all the distractions (and yes, I have many of those), and clear away everything but what I want to focus on.
I heat up some water in a kettle. I’ve used a metal kettle and an electric one. The electric one gets the job done just as well, though obviously is less traditional. Filtered water is best, but the water in my house tastes so pure I often won’t bother.
I scoop some matcha with a bamboo ladle into a tea bowl. I use two scoops of matcha, as much as the bamboo ladle can carry. I use a rustic looking bowl because I enjoy the rough texture in my hands as I drink.
I fill the bowl halfway with water, and use a bamboo whisk, inexpertly. I rapidly whisk the tea and water until there’s a light green foam at the top.
I rinse the ladle and the whisk, and put them away. I savor the smell of the tea, the lovely color and brothy look of it.
I clear away everything on my computer and desk but what I need to write, and my bowl of tea. So the browser gets closed, all apps but my writing app, all other devices shut down.
I take a sip of the green tea, and enjoy its thickness, its slight bitterness (people often offset this with delicious Japanese sweets or crackers), it sweetish aftertaste and fine grit left on my tongue.
I sit, I breathe, I write. Then sip, and repeat.
The Slowness RitualModern life has a tendency of becoming rushed, of moving from one appointment to the next, one email to the next, until our days are a blur. I find tea to be perfect for helping me to slow down, to return to the natural rhythm of life.
So in the afternoon, when things become rushed, I pause. I put some loose, whole-leaf tea (a sencha or an oolong) into a small teapot as the water heats up. I take a moment to enjoy the sight of the consistency of the leaves, hand-picked by farmers from small farms in Japan or Taiwan, and breathe on the leaves to evoke their fragrance.
I pour just a teacup full of water into the pot, and pay attention to my breath as the tea steeps for about 30 seconds (I like the tea lighter, not bitter). This breath watching is a short meditation, like the rest of the ritual.
I pour the slightly steeped tea into a small cup, about half the size of my fist. I savor the color, texture, smell, and try to see what aromas I can detect (I’m not always very good at this).
Then I sip. The first sip is a revelation, as the rushed world fades away and the delicate tea hits my tongue, washing in its warmth and with flavors that began their journey in the earth, thousands of miles away in a country that has been doing this for a millennium or two.
The tea is not overpowering, but subtle. It is mostly water, with only a slight essence of the leaves infused into the liquid, so timid that I have to really pay attention to notice it at all.
The moment is entirely floating in this whisper of a broth, slowed by the hesitation of my attention as it stops its monkeying around and starts to enjoy the stillness.
The Self Nurturing RitualMy life is ruled by three liquids: water, wine and tea. All have their health benefits, but arguably tea rises slightly above the rest.
I drink water throughout the day and night, and it is the life stuff that runs through me. Wine is my unwinding ritual, and means that the day has been good.
I start my day with tea. Tea is a signal for slowness and focus that I use in the middle of the day. It’s also a way for me to satisfy little hunger cravings that used to trigger unhealthy snacking. I use tea to make my mouth happy, so it doesn’t look for sweets, salty snacks, or grease.
So between lunch and dinner, I often have tea. It might be a bowl of matcha, or a pot of loose-leaf tea brewed repeatedly as I work or relax. It’s a healthy snack that makes my day better.
A Simple Tea Meditation
The Japanese tea ceremony is quite a ritual, and depending on what school (yes, there’s schools!) you follow the ritual will be different.
But I feel that, while at times beautiful and meaningful, these rituals often dilute the essence and over complicate that which should be kept simple.
The below tea meditation, which is the same tea meditation I do almost every morning, is simple, easy to do, and profoundly nourishing and beneficial. The steps are as follows:
1. Make your teaYou should do everything– from each step of preparing your tea, to sitting down, to drinking your tea, to finishing, and cleaning up- in mindfulness.
No matter how you choose to prepare your tea, what tea you drink, where you drink your tea, do so carefully with a complete awareness of the present moment. Give yourself completely to the entire process of preparing and drinking your tea.
Once your tea is made, find a nice quiet place for you to sit and drink it. Once you’ve sat down, take a moment before starting to “simply sit” with your tea.
Notice the aroma of the tea, admire the look and color of the tea, and imagine the delicate balance that had to be kept for the tea to go from being a leaf on a tree (likely from another country) to becoming the delightful cup of tea in front of you.
2. Give thanksBefore you begin drinking, take a moment to give thanks for the cup of tea in front of you.
Contemplate for a moment on the graciousness of the tea plant that has lent its nourishment to you.
Appreciate the cup of tea and everything that had to happen, and the careful balance that had to be maintained, for you to experience this amazing cup of tea.
Express your gratitude for all those things which helped make your cup of tea a reality, and for a moment expand that thought to yourself and the knowledge that you also depend on an infinite number of living and non-living things to exist as you are now in this moment just as the tea does.
Sit with those feelings for a minute or two before beginning.
3. Drink your teaThis is the main event. Your tea has been prepared, you’ve expressed your appreciation, and now it’s time to drink.
All you have to do is drink your tea fully with mindfulness. Take it slow, only drinking very small sips at a time. You should be taking your time and really savoring every sip.
Specifically, while you drink, your object of concentration can be various things.
I often focus my mindfulness on the raising of my arm, and then of the sip, swallowing, then lowering of the arms, and lastly take a few nice deep breaths before taking another sip. This should be cycled throughout the length of the meditation.
And as usual, any thoughts, feelings, or sensations that arise while doing each individual activity simply gets gently acknowledged and I proceed to going back to my object of meditation.
Fully commit to the act of drinking your tea, whether you’re with someone else or alone. Be fully awake for the practice of drinking your tea, understanding that this moment, and this tea, will never exist again.
4. Give thanks (again)Once you’re done (again, the length of your meditation is up to you, it could be 10 minutes and it could be one hour), give thanks once again like you did in the beginning.
It’s important to finish the practice like we started, helping put the tea, and the meditation, in perspective.
This simple tea meditation, which can be done in as little as 10 minutes and as long as one full hour (it’s really up to you), has a whole list of great benefits: