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January 27, 2022

This Thich Nhat Hanh Poem taught me Mindful Drinking.

These days, I learn about deaths on Instagram.

First comes the picture, followed by a quote. Then my chest tightens as I google the name: “Thich Nhat Hanh, Buddhist monk and peace activist, dead at 95.”

I take several slow breaths in honor of the man who taught this mindful breathing practice. The one who lobbied against the Vietnam War ravaging his homeland at the 1969 Paris Peace Talks. The one Martin Luther King Jr. nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. The one the spiritual community quotes widely from his 100-plus books on peace, love, and mindfulness. One of those writings connects me to him. It describes an act almost as essential as breathing: Drinking.

It started in college. Not because of keggers or frat parties, but because of an old friend. Anxiety. My school therapist searched for ways to help me feel safe beyond the bounds of my 9×12 dorm room. Since I could go anywhere with a cup—my crutch became a drink in my hand.

It started with Diet Coke. Then when I had kids, Coke morphed into coffee. When my career turned client-facing, I became the “wine lady.” You know us. We have wine signs in our kitchen and our friends shower us with imported vino and purse-sized goblets as presents. Remnants of our drinking appear on our stained lips, purple teeth, and puffy faces.

I knew it was bad for me. But like Thich Nhat Hanh said:

“People have a hard time letting go of their suffering. Out of fear of the unknown, they prefer suffering that is familiar.”

It was familiar. A habit. After years of capitulating, I found “The Alcohol Experiment” and realized I could replace wine with something healthy. But what had enough variety to pique my interest? What could give the same pleasure?

Tea.

Waiting for it to brew allows me to still my thoughts. And sipping it instead of wine provides a treat when triggered. A chance to recommit to my health. Mint tea, turmeric tea, lemon tea, Sleepy Time Tea—my empty wine shelf is now restocked with Amazon boxes of little bags. And because of not drinking, I am thinner, healthier, and less anxious. After years—decades—of doing this “thing” to myself, stopping felt so good. Drinking tea was transcendent for me.

And, for Thich Nhat Hanh. In his words:

Tea is an act complete in its simplicity.
When I drink tea, there is only me and the tea.
The rest of the world dissolves.
There are no worries about the future.
No dwelling on past mistakes.

Tea is simple: loose-leaf tea, hot pure water, a cup.
I inhale the scent, tiny delicate pieces of the tea floating above the cup.
I drink the tea, the essence of the leaves becoming a part of me.
I am informed by the tea, changed.

This is the act of life, in one pure moment, and in this act the truth of the world suddenly becomes revealed:
all the complexity, pain, drama of life is a pretense, invented in our minds for no good purpose.

There is only the tea, and me, converging.”

This giant of the spiritual world also found solace in a cup of tea.

Thich Nhat Hanh’s vision of an afterlife mirrors mine as well. Of death, he wrote,

“This body is not me; I am not caught in this body, I am life without boundaries, I have never been born and I have never died…Birth and death are only a door through which we go in and out…We shall always be meeting again at the true source. Always meeting again on the myriad paths of life.”

Comforting words for the faithful. That we can again—be with those who’ve passed. I hope to have the honor of meeting Thich Nhat Hanh someday. And if I do—I’ll know exactly what to serve.

~

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