December 1, 2013

Having Tea With Insomnia. ~ Jen James

Insomnia has me in its embrace tonight, or should I say this morning.

This morning is more accurate since it is far past midnight and the horizon is starting to get that faint glow that signals the coming of dawn and a new day.

As I’ve gotten older, sleeplessness has stalked me like a silent, plush cat; pouncing at the most inopportune times. There are nights before a busy day or after evenings that were filled with chores or activities that have exhausted me, and yet I simply cannot rest.

I’m too warm, or my mind is racing, or my heart is beating too loud or too fast. There is too much light from the city or noises that wake me. Usually, I fall  asleep around midnight or one and find myself awake an hour or so later, unable to find the rest I need; the deep sleep my mind and body craves.

I know that I will sleep sooner or later. Usually I finally get groggy with the dawn. I may be able to sleep three or four hours before the day awakens me and moves me forward into the light and bustle of life. But what of the sleepless night that came before?

There is a certain solitude that cannot be found in the bright glaring light of day that is ever present when one is awake and alone. Even the dog is asleep next to me. The only sound is the fan droning away up in the bedroom.

At this moment, I have surrendered to wakefulness and am no longer even trying to sleep. The fight is over and there is a certain comfort that comes with ceding the ground of dreams to the lucidity and peace of being awake in the early hours before dawn.

I have finally made tea. It is chamomile since I find it comforting, even beyond it’s soporific effect. I have gotten up from the sofa and chosen the tea bags carefully from my large stock of teas.

These are whole flower, organic tea bags that were a gift to me from oldest daughter, Jessica, for my birthday. They are in a lovely yellow tin and smell of summer.

Usually I drink my tea without a sweetener, but I pick up the honey that I purchased this spring at the local farmer’s market and add a tablespoon to a clear glass teapot that I have chosen so that I can enjoy the sight of the flowers as they bloom in the hot water and drink in the pale, yellow color of the brew.

Everything surrounding the brewing of this tea is carefully thought out. Something I never make time for during the day unless I am sick or am making a special effort to be mindful and take the time to notice the details of the tea.

But nighttime, when one is sleepless, brings a certain effortless mindfulness to all manner of activity because there simply are no distractions.

And so I choose my tea carefully along with my teapot.

Next, I choose a cup. But no, a cup isn’t right for this tea. I want a clear glass so I can continue to see the golden liquid that smells of flowers and grasses of summer and honeycomb. So I eschew the standard tea mugs and move to a seldom used set of glasses that were handmade by students at the local university and sold at their annual glassware sale for such a low price that I just had to have them.

These glasses are never perfect. They are handcrafted by artists who are just learning the art of blowing glass and the bottom still shows the kiss of the rod that held the molten glass as it was formed into the vessel that will now hold my tea.

The glass never sits perfectly steady because of this navel that shows where the glass was birthed from the hands of an unsure glass blower. The shape is wider at the bottom and the rim at the top thicker than commercially produced glassware. It is a beautiful, simple glass.

Two tea bags go into the pot and I draw water from the pump heater to fill the vessel. We always have hot water ready for tea in our household. Ever since I worked as a housekeeper for Tibetan monks whose means of welcoming people was to make tea, I have always kept hot water ready and waiting to brew a green tea, or a black or an herbal tea.

On nights like this, I thank those monks who were like brothers to me for this simple practice of having hot water ready and waiting to brew a cup of liquid comfort.

The hot water steams up the glass teapot and the tea bags float as I stir in the honey. Moving the tea bags around to saturate them, I watch the flowers gradually open and smell the aroma of those flowers throughout the kitchen.

I think fondly of my daughter who gifted the tea to me and wonder how she is this early morning. I also think of my youngest daughter who is serving in the Navy and who I had talked with earlier in the evening.

She had just left the previous week for San Diego and then will move on after three months for a ten month deployment aboard a destroyer in the Persian Gulf. This is the first time since she was born that she will be away from me for such a long period of time.

As I write, my eyes well up and tears begin to run down my cheeks as I miss her so intensely that I have to catch my breath.

I pick up my glass, take another drink, dry my cheeks and write.

As the tea steeps, I sit and write on my iPad. I set the teapot down on the black granite hearth next to me and enjoy the contrast of the drops of condensation that have formed on the lid. They are sparkling in the light like stars on the black backdrop of the fireplace.

I pour myself more tea and smell that bouquet fill the air around me. Suddenly, I feel some sense of peace again as memories of blooming fruit trees in my grandparent’s orchard flood my thoughts.

For a moment I let myself drift back to those summers as a child spent in the gardens and orchards of my mother’s family homestead. I remember lilacs and wild strawberries and huge, sweet peonies that smelled otherworldly and bowed their heavy heads when the warm rain fell on them.

All of those people and places only exist in my memories now.

I take another sip of tea as I think that I am now the end of a generational chain and my daughters are the links that continue that chain into the future.

Death always seems too close in the early hours of the morning. And so I drink more tea.

My tea is cooling now and with the change in temperature comes different characteristics to the scent and taste. The sweetness of the honey becomes more prominent as the tea becomes stronger and more gold in color. There is a slightly acrid flavor under the floral taste.

Time has a way of doing this to not only tea, but to life in general. The sweetness becomes more pronounced if only because we know the value of all we have and how short years truly are.

And yet there is a that underlying hint of decay and bitterness that comes with years of hopes unfulfilled and dreams that have vanished.

There is also the sense of ending—just as the tea in the pot nears the bottom, so it is with our lives as we age. We can still taste the sweetness of memory on our tongues, but we know full well that everything is impermanent, including ourselves.

And so I drink my tea the same way I live my life: trying to appreciate it in the moment and not dwell on the time when it will be finished.

I can feel my eyes staring to get a bit heavy as I sit and write and I think about the hidden gift of insomnia. How the quiet space it makes in a busy life can bring time for tea and reflection.

How, once I quit fighting it and make peace with the idea that sleep will be elusive tonight, I relax and enjoy the solitude, my tea and my thoughts.

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Assistant Editor: Karissa Kneeland / Editor: Catherine Monkman

{Photos via flickr.}

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