Kingdom of Tea Heaven

Looking up at the bamboo trees outside swaying in the whispering wind of this day, and I find moments like this to contemplate on what is before me. Yet, I am still there, comprehending, wondering, exploring my mind within it’s stonewalls of all the mystical creations dripping with lush verdant tea trees. In one breath I was swept in stillness and excitement imagining the likes of those who prayed here before me had something to do with that feeling.

Wuyishan is a unique and sacred mountain... a place were Buddhists, Confucianists and Taoists alike, came to pray, to heal and to explore deeper spiritual paths, free from conflict.

They wandered in these mountains meditating for most of their days, and because of this  frequency is like no other...  Certainly of higher dimensions, even a tourist without any spiritual practice could feel a shift when staring at a five story Buddha in the midst of this enormous landscape.

The whole surroundings of Wuyi in truth is STUNNING, like an enormous opulent empire, one can not explore her nature without wondering if this truly is THE kingdom of heaven, Or, perhaps where giants once lived. The fact is, my photos won’t do any justice here; this was a mere glimpse, a memory that has unfolded of once upon a time when our collective energies embraced the nature of tea and made everything that much more beautiful.

The feeling being back from our tea journey was more arduous than anticipated; even the jet lag seemed longer. Although we have seen many beautiful places and returned with a similar longing, perhaps the message here is that of our calling to come to Wuyi strengthened a life in tea that I have never felt before. Now all that exists within our own walls must be bound by spirit within our practice.

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I can say with certainty that being home, reflecting on our entire trip, merging into the landscapes of our transient city, my chords feel sensitive now maybe somehow out of tune. That  time in the park has made me now wonder if profound trips such this are great big messages on how we need to exist in the world.

As time passes on, I have been in observance with everything I do and say, carefully understanding my own nature, feeling the lineage upon serving tea, and being free in my excitement without repress or ego.  I spent a year listening to the sounds of water boiling, helping service water for others, and so this trip was a kindling to forge ahead with greater understanding and passion.

Each day I sit, meditate and serve myself tea..  one simple act still holds a profound insight.  a revelation of 'not taking anyone’s joy away'… Even if it feels uncomfortable, we must unselfishly allow everything to unfold naturally. In some ways we can attribute this as educating ourselves to be of our higher self.

Now in hindsight, we knew this trip would bring us magic, but it was so much more, an “unexpected beautiful climb into the abyss of tea heavens”…. While it may sound like I am speaking for myself or about the park. I am actually feeling the collective energy of the seventeen brothers and sisters and the extensive Global Tea Hut family, not to mention all the prolific teachings, the acts of generosity, and without a doubt unity in our presence.

 Here are some of our highlights, essays accented with some photos.

Although one may say photographs can take you away from the moment… In observance of staying in the present, respectfully, I took as much time as needed to share that space between being fully present and one with my creative expression. And in between made sure I thanked each amazing vista and godly creation that we were lucky enough come upon.

The Beginning We were in Xiamen, China during a layover when the faces began to take shape, the first moment of settling in and getting to know each other.

The meal itself was quiet a treat I must say. Thereafter, WUDE asked that everyone share a bit about ourselves and why this journey? We went around the table...  hearing words like; “I love tea and looking for a deeper relationship with my tea practice”… it was a great start in getting to know everyone from our extended tea family from around the globe.

(To add: Upon sharing… my beautiful husband shared the loveliest sentiment brought him tears to those with whom we just met. While the feeling was indeed mutual, my share began with the usual stage fright, followed by a more reserved response. And so, in honor of that, I share in my usual comfort of writing. I dedicate this piece from that moment to my dearest love, Thank you for your raw open heart and your honest soul. I am so lucky to have shared this journey with the most amazing human.

Here we go!

When we arrived at the monastery guesthouse it was late night, we were given roommates, two per room, which wound up working out pretty well with six women and an even number of men. As we settled in, there were people already brewing tea, realizing then we would be joined with other guest staying at the house. It was seemingly going to be a full house with other students, teachers and tea connoisseurs but indeed exciting.  The house itself was beautiful, rustic with presence of simplicity.

The nature of this week would start with meditation, followed by a group breakfast, then hoping on a bus with our tour guide to take us to the mountain. Our early evenings we would take rest, occasional naps for some, but for most it was a time for serving and drinking tea. later, group dinners with teachings, touring, parties and more tea to follow. Incredible.

Day One. River Rites of Passage.

The day was crisp clear as the clouds roam the sky. Upon arriving, I was immediately captivated by stature of the mountainous regions. a feeling of calm and awake settled in me just as the spirit of the tea calls, I was certain we were in the heavens.

We came to a place called Thread in the sky, and while there were many tourists at this point, beyond us was the first of many EPIC vistas, the beauty that was starting to unravel.

After many moments of jaw dropping wonder our journey started to set in.

As I close my eyes, I took in those memories of floating down the WUYI river, the Nine Bend Stream (九曲溪), in manmade bamboo rafts, seeing the beautiful art work on stone walled mountains, and temples that were softly hidden by the trees.

 

First of Many

That evening we were blessed to have a two-hour heart filled talk on the relationship with tea and practice by great Gongfu teacher Master Lin Ping Xiang with whom by the end of our 7 days was lovingly referred as Sifu.

 Sifu means great tutor, teacher or father

Later, we were whisked away to what I refer to as the Master Huang's Tea Museum. An invitation for a viewing demonstration on how tea is processed, dried and stored.  The museum was just at the rim of the park and was part of the Family Heritage. the same family whose guest house we were staying… such an honor.

I am not sure how this day could get any better, but seemingly days like this continued with wonder and grace throughout the week. The making and processing of tea was no doubt hard work. witnessing moments like this in action gave me a great understanding of loving what you do inherently comes out in the breath of your soul…  and we certainly feel their energy as we sipped tea.

While I write recounting these moments with great pleasure, as if everyone around me was feeling the same, this is written upon my own individual experience and with a notion that no words could truly express the feeling I had in my heart in those 9 days.

Day Two Rain fall upon us

That morning it was raining pretty hard. We arrived at the mountain and the rain persisted.  The Chinese guests on tour with us were not entirely sure if the rain suited them, and it was getting heavier. But our tour guide made the decision to carry on.

As we walked through the park, the stony paths were leading down the trails of tea bushes surrounding us. Wells of water dripping everywhere, it was magic. For myself, an amazing sight to see were tea farmers carrying big baskets would appear out of nowhere. They carried tea down steep slippery mountains with much focus… This was their livelihood, honor, and love of tea, and truly a very humbling moment for us to pay reverence to their dedication.

When we came across the Mother Tea Trees of Da Hong Pao, known as the Big Red Robe we stood in silence, honoring, praying… feeling the raindrops on our face… there was a mystical presence in the air and I couldn’t help but think of the story that once was… The rain felt like a deep cleansing of our spirits, washing away anything that didn’t belong. Now our journey has truly begun.

As we traveled through the base of the mountain with pathways of flowering teas, wet and plentiful, the landscape was like a deep lush valley with little hills, streams rushing underneath us, harmonizing the water into midst.

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I found myself standing in stillness many times over during this trip, breathing the fresh air, inhaling and exhaling… transcending... wondering what a fawn must feel like in her forest grazing. I felt one with this land, like I was here before, perhaps another time another dimension.  a voice continued in my head, “My tea people, my friends, thank you for coming to my land".

After our trek we stopped at one of the monastery where we had lunch. Later, with much rest, drinking tea and our usual group dinner, we were asked to dress in our nicest attire for an evening tea party. Of course we didn’t expect much but drinking tea with all the visitors, but we came to find this wasn’t just our tea party... we were invited to the 2nd Annual International Wuyi Tea Festival…?

Tea Gala Evening

Upon arriving at the Tea gala… We were all a bit perplexed as we stood in line to check in. No one had mentioned this to us, so this came as a complete surprise... but a really good one I must say.

Gift bags were being handed out, then we were asked to draw a number out of a bowl, and whatever number you chose, you were to sit at that table. Chris and I chose our numbers, he showed his to the host, I did the same. She giggled then said, “It is very auspicious for a married couple to chose the same number”.

As we walked in, beautifully decorated circular tables embraced the room; each table had a Gongfu Tea Master standing behind the table with chairs all around. WU DE was one of the tea masters to be serving tea, I remember seeing his face across the room all smiles that resembled a happy child.  Mia and Shen were the only two from our group at his table.

Our table was in front near a long rectangular table where Master Lin and the other dignitaries were seated. The prominences of these men were held with such honor, together, a Master, a Farmer, a Philosopher, and an Abbott.

In the space of what seemed to be beaming with tea royalty, our sweet translator Kathy of Essence of Tea, spoke honoring our guest and the teas we would tasting. Now, coming from Los Angeles where an event such as this with celebrities types are acknowledge, It was interesting to see the likes in tea, but mostly an honor to have that kind of experience. Beyond the elegance of it all, it was also a tribute to enjoy the finest tea one can only imagine.

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As the evening progressed, we were lucky enough to taste five different varietals’ of tea known as, Bu Zhi Chun (Unaware of Spring), and the four famous teas of Wuyi. Bei Dou Yi Hao >> Tie Luohan ( Iron Arhat), Bai Ji Gaun ( White cocks comb) , Shui Jin Gui ( Golden Water Turtle).

Later a fortuitous moment signaling us when a Bat flew in circulating the room. Knowingly, the Chinese were quite excited as Bat (fu 蝠) is a symbol of "good fortune" and that happiness has arrived.

Day Three. Stairway to Heaven

Coming off a high from a very lustrous tea event was not easy, we all felt exhausted in the morning, and some of us had even missed meditation. It could have been finally acclimating to time, as many of us traveled far distances with very little sleep, so the first two days certainly felt like the workings of an adrenaline rush.

We managed to move past our bodies feeling tired. the rain had stopped and we were back at the glorious park. WU DE decided to stay with the other students of Master Lin, his tea teacher.

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It was Saturday and tourist day in WUYI was full on. There were tons of Chinese guides with electric speakers all around us with herds of tourist following along. As we walked on, shuffling ourselves with the rest of the pack I could feel myself getting a bit claustrophobic; this wasn't something I experience often while traveling, but in understanding the Chinese culture, they like being in big groups with everyone else.

There came a feeling of separation as a few opted out of our group experience and some of us were feeling disappointed and divided in our thoughts.  But somehow Shen managed to gather us around for a pep talk reiterating that very instance of ' taking someone’s joy away'. 

I’m not sure why that pep talk continues to linger in me… but I reflect on it often while drinking tea. The simplicity in that statement felt so deep. How often do we take someone’s joy away for the sake of our own?

In that moment, we collectively gathered our emotions, egos and detached from one experience to embark on the next… after all we were in this amazing park?!

We were now at the base of Tianyou Peak (天游峰), said to be the most beautiful scenic views, which towers aloft over clusters of peaks and a stairway with thousands of steps to the top.

As we climbed the steep stairs the noise started disappearing and the view points were remarkable... magnifying and displaying how truly beautiful this park was. There were many more moments of silence and by the time we reached the top of the peak, I had reached clarity on why a day such as this meant.  

“Amidst the chaos, patiently waiting for you is beauty….

If you can only quiet the mind to get there then all is yours”.

The stairway took us to the heavens; it was breathtaking to say the least. Below, the river we had drifted down days ago looked so peaceful, and I could see images of elephants along the peaks.

Once we got to the top, we rested… continuing to contemplate life, another stream of insight came to mind… The understanding of what the guide meant earlier on our meeting time, which was part of the confusion. It wasn’t about going off on our own, but that the climb up the stairs would be different for everyone. Some would climb up the hill faster than others, knowingly some would trail behind to acknowledge time and our awareness? It was one factor of learning how to better understand the language barrier and to just trust that it will all work out beautifully. and it did.

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After break the tour guide lead us down a path for what seemed like not many tourist used.   This is when I suddenly became grateful to have a guide who grew up knowing the ways of the land.

This may have been his plan all along…but as we walked down the stoney pathways, the rushing sounds of waterfalls embraced us and once again we were practically alone with just our group.

Walking down these gorgeous pathways felt as though we were now in a tropical jungle with birds, butterflies and mossy greenery in our surroundings. the beauty continues to amazing me as I walk slower standing in stillness many times over. The way down was a two-hour journey, and if you could only imagine every step of the way was more magnificent than the last.

As we reached the bottom of the mountain, the light started to get brighter, as if we crossed the jungle threshold, and there before our eyes, yet another mystical wonder, a five story Confucius statue stood at the end of the trail and stairways that lead you down to this pristine little tea valley with a koi pond surrounded by temples and tea farmers.

We had landed at the bottom of this treasured land...  One of my favorite memories of the park, with all the commotion, shifts and changes but so momentous of how trying but beautiful life can be.

 “ Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it”- Confucius

All about the Purple Clay

That evening we witnessed Master Potter, Zhou Qi Kun perform his magic! In a theater like stage setting … with chairs situated for an audience.

His table consisted of a lamp and handmade tools, many of which he made himself.

a slab of the Purple Sand, known as Yi Xing Zi Sha was ready for work.

(Yixing clay was first mined around China's Lake Taihu, also known as Zisha, which are typically unglazed, very cohesive and can form coils, slabs and most commonly slip casts. Many potters use this clay for their artist expression).

Everyone clapped as he walked in... soon after he settled Master Lin spoke with commentary on the type of clay he was using and why this purple clay is the best to make teapots... which in turn makes for a fine cup of tea.

Watching an artist create a masterpiece in front of our eyes was no doubt exhilarating. Step by step, pounding and massaging this clay by hand... It was incredible to witness someone with this kind of mastery. Within two hours the beautiful hand-made teapot was finished. We cheered with a standing ovation… It was amazing to say the least.

By now we were learning so much about the subtleties and mastery of doing what you love and being immersed in those who are in their Tao.

Tao pronounced Dào is a Chinese concept signifying 'way', 'path', 'route'

 Day Four. Tea with Buddha

We decided to drink tea at the monastery located in the park, there was light rain, and so an easy day at the park drinking tea seemed lovely. I decided not to bring my camera on this day. It was spent in the monastery drinking tea with a few stories and teachings from Wu De.

That evening was the Liu Bao tasting night which was perfectly aligned. The last few hours I was not feeling well so I laid down to rest. my dear husband Chris, who frequently came to check on me, says " Ya know, Liu Bao is said to be great for the digestive".

Feeling like I did not want to miss out, and trusting he knew what he was talking about, because he usually does, I got dressed and quietly emerged for the tastings.

We tasted three different years, 80’s, 70’s 50’s… I started to feel back to normal, then elated, then there was laughter in my bones, I knew I was cured.  As the evening went on I felt joyous and even noticed many of us seem to be flying out of our seats  like me.  Liu Bao was like becoming a butterfly after being in a cocoon for a few hours... the color in my face came back strong.

This was one very special social night for the group; we stayed up late in the evening continued drinking tea until we could not drink no more. My stomach was settled, the evening of laughter and silliness was the best sleep medicine a girl can hope for! Thank you Liao Bao!

Day Five.The Water Fairy

Back at the park, it was beautiful day; throughout the whole week we had a bit of a journey with the weather, engaging in all the different types this mountain can give, which of course became perfectly aligned with our days.

In hindsight, it makes you understand our emotional limitations, and how much we can endure just like the tea.

We walked down the trails, once again feeling as if we had emerged into yet another tea portal unlike any place we had ever seen. The grandeur of this park is endless, with many lives… I kind of felt we were about to reach the heart… the energy was like a subtle drumbeat, we were in route to the area of the tea farmers and purveyors whose guest house we were residing.

This is where they once lived and where it all began.

There were twelve generations of tea farmers who lived on this land until the government declared it a national park and moved the families out.  In what feels like a bittersweet situation you can’t help but empathize with those who have been uprooted from their family land.  Noticing the amount of waterfalls in our surroundings was like stepping into a dream. bliss moments of staring off into the cave dwellings where occasionally we would see tea families picking the wild grown tea.

Once we arrived at the property the Huang’s had once lived, we all looked up, what is now called The Water Curtain, Shui Liang Dong, a forty story high waterfall that ends in a basking pool of water surrounded by succulent greenery. What an obvious truth of emotion to leave such a remarkable place. my heart skipped a beat when looking up.

We gathered underneath the water curtain honoring this land, and the tea trees above, now one of the four treasured cliff teas, called Shui Xian, which translates to the Water Fairy. After we walked up the steep stairway about mid waterfall to a seemingly flat area that was dug out with carved stone ruin tables that created an area to sit and enjoy the view.

We boiled water from the waterfall and drank the tea from the Water Fairy trees. There was a sweet presence in the air, an innate feeling to be soft and attune to the nature. We drank tea, meditated on stone stoops, and roamed freely while WU gave some insights and teachings for the next few hours as he served. I suddenly knew what it would feel like to be a hermit in these caves what my view would look like.

Like all the days here in the park I have stored each moment in my heart, the memory locked in my DNA, transcending to those who have called us to be here.

“ If I could pass each waking moment with waterfalls in my path, a lush verdant garden, the smell of treasured stones the size of giants beaming with floating orchids amongst the cliffs, then I know I have been reborn into a thousand-year old tea tree.   It was those waking moments of being next to these old souls, my love grew deeper and my breath expanded like the sunlight.   I stood in awe, holding her majestic beauty inside of me, so that every ounce of those filled would retain more than just a memory, more than just a dream, but a life that has called to us in the most epic way”. – sagelove

 An evening of Puerh

An evening was the Puerh tasting was upon us.  Oh, how I love this... Puerh is actually pronounced ( POUR-h), this is how the Chinese pronounce it, this is how it will be pronounced.

Puerh is a favorite of many in this tea practice. In fact, Puerh has substantially changed the notion of tea and meditation and that drinking Puerh can be quite the healing elixir. Our evening affair started with experiments, which lead to tastings, then more teachings with Master Lin.

I loved each and every moment when he spoke. In a way he reminded me of a beautiful orchid, his lean body just moves rhythmically with his soul, he was very poetic in his thoughts and was his tea.

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His teachings were some of my favorite memories of this journey. Knowing his desire for techniques, understanding the history was by far what changed my relationship to this tea practice.   Since being back, I relish in the memory of those nightly teachings, trying to remember every morsel, I am so thankful to have spent this journey with my husband whose memory bank is my saving grace.

 Day Six. The Graceful Temple

We were told this would be our last and final day in the park. It was the sixth day, and no doubt we felt the shift. What would we do with the information we learned? I write this now with a deep longing for those who were with us; our souls intertwined with a family who walked on clouds.

Perhaps this is why I wrote this piece... for all my brothers and sisters on this destined journey. For what wasn’t said during our time together know my heart will always embrace our serendipitous time in Wuyishan.

The surroundings in the rustic stone temple was a page in an ancient tea fairy tale… a small crowd of men were serving tea, while others prayed in the small temples… We then sat for many hours drinking tea... I caught of few good photo moments.

Later, we walked to what WU explains as his favorite place in the whole park. Down a sweet winding pathway and through a veil of tea trees covering narrow stone walls that lead to yet another stunning beautiful cove with water rushing to each side. We honored this space where many lives and many masters have once served tea.

Friends from far away lands.

What unfolded in this journey was knowing that our souls were part of a tea tribe long ago, and that somehow we were meant to be here once again. As Master Lin shared of this trip, this was a “predestined encounter”…. It’s with that notion that I share a beautiful moment, that since being home has occasionally brought me tears of joy.

It was as though tea trees were serenading us as we drank tea David had shared from a single tree more than 1000year's old.

We were seeds bursting open, elevating upward synchronizing our souls to become one. As we sipped tea from a 100 year old tree, women were outside singing a sweet song. In that moment, Kathy translated, “Calling to my friends from far away lands to come to my home”… We just all looked at each other in amazement, feeling like we had stepped into a divine tea portal. We were friends who came from far away lands? It gave me chills...  a perfect moment in time, I will never forget.

Thereafter, Mia sang a beautiful song... Our eyes closed as her soulful voice felt like a whispering trance into the clouds, surrendering to the most enchanting intimate moments of our trip.

It’s with all this I share my light in understanding The Way of Tea, and to honor Kathy and David of Essence of Tea  for their dedication, humble and gracious service during this trip.

I was completely astounded by their constant generosity... Beyond that we had the pleasure of drinking many of their teas the finest on this planet!

Our medicine, our joy, our reverence to our dearest family from far and away, we are with you and you are with us.

Day Seven. The Last Tasting

There are moments when you could feel as though it were never ending, and then those when you know it was… ending. This was to be our last day of our amazing tea journey… and so it is.

The invitation of this day was acknowledging our censorial. If our palettes had now a taste for refined tea, challenged by having tea in the park tea house, then heading over to the Huang’s museum for a fine cup of tea.

Our guide first took us to the river… wondering were he was taking us, it was all coming full circle. The river was where we started our journey. The boys were skipping stones and we took a few moments of calm to honor the past eight days before heading to the park teahouse.

We were seated outside with the view of the mountains beckoning … it was the best view in the house.   It was pretty interesting to try their tea. some would say mediocre now compared to the experience of tasting the finest teas.

When we arrived at the Huang museum they had already prepared some beautiful teas to try, and once again it was as though this journey was perfectly curated to end on the highest of notes. The Huang’s museum was also our first evening affair, watching them process and dry tea, and now ending the week with our last tasting.

I can still feel those last moments of our sweet teas tastings, our Kingdom of Tea Heaven. Every bit has been savored in my memory, and a great pleasure to relive all the moments through words and photographs.

*** a very special THANKS to WU DE…. Who shares the light so bright in all his wondrous intentions of tea, family, practice, wisdom and love. We have been so grateful for this infinite journey with you.

** For an a more in depth look into tea practice, types of tea and friends from around the globe. please subscribe to Global Tea Hut and see the June issue of our trip to Wuyishan!.

****out takes****

I spy many hugs with Steve.