I’ve written before about attachments and the yama aparigraha (non-attachment). The idea is that strong attachments or aversions to anything (objects, people, places, feelings) cause suffering. This is because impermanence is a fact of life. Objects break, people die, places change, feelings come and go, and to the extent that we are attached to them, we will suffer their loss. It works inversely for aversion. The harder we try to keep our aversions at bay, the more we suffer when our efforts fail us.
Here’s a story about how my attachment to black tea literally weighed me down on my recent visit to the Sivananda Ashram in the Bahamas.
I have a strong attachment to black tea, ideally with a generous glug of either cow’s milk or unsweetened soy milk (I even have an attachment to my favorite brand of soy milk, but I’ll leave that for another day). I like to drink between 2 and 4 cups of tea each day. To me, tea is more than just a hot, caffeinated beverage; it’s a symbol of agency and self-determination.
Let me explain:
Since becoming ill with chronic Lyme disease in 1999, my diet has been subject to many, many make-overs in an effort to support my body’s healing. I was vegetarian, then vegan, then paleo. I tried the elimination diet, the alkaline diet, and the candida diet. I once went a few months eating only red and orange cooked foods. I haven’t eaten gluten since 2011 and I’ve been ordered off sugar in all its forms for nearly two decades. This is to say that feeding myself is complicated and often tastes of bitter self-denial.
Enter black tea.
Black tea is the only area of my diet where I’ve put my foot down. I’ve never given up tea. I’ve switched between splashing dairy, soy, almond, and rice milk into it, but the tea has been constant. Has it slowed my healing progress? After years of wrestling with this question, I’m quite certain that any damage done by tea can be no worse than what would have been done by total deprivation.
(By the way, if you ever find yourself justifying your attachments, you’re in deep.)
Back to my story:
Caffeine is not prohibited at the ashram, but neither is it provided. I knew this going in. I also knew there would be a kettle in my room and plenty of fresh water to boil. All I needed were tea bags. I would have to go without my splash of milk for the week, but that didn’t bother me.
It worked beautifully. Each day when the 5:30am bell rang, I rolled out of bed and turned on the kettle. Once boiled, I steeped the tea in a mason jar, screwed the lid on tight, and headed to the meditation platform, jar in hand. The tea cooled to perfection as I joined the others in our 30-minute meditation. Then, as we chanted and listened to our morning lecture, I discreetly sipped my tea.
However, on my final day at the ashram, there was a change in the morning schedule. Instead of meeting on the meditation platform, we met on the beach for a walking meditation. The beach was still dark, the sun due to rise as we made our way eastward. Holding my hot mason jar in both hands, I considered my options: Carry it with me to enjoy during the chanting and lecture at the far end of the beach? Or abandon it in the sand to retrieve on my return? My body’s craving for the caffeine was undeniable. So, too, was my mind’s craving for its daily ritual. In the end, I carried it with me. The mighty mason jar has many admirable attributes, but, hot, heavy, and awkward as it was, it was undeniably burdensome as I made my way down the beach. I noticed others around me with their free arms swaying comfortably at their sides. I envied their lightness, their freedom.
More clearly than ever, I saw how my attachment to tea was weighing me down. This was no metaphor – I was literally weighed down and found it difficult to focus on our silent walk into the sunrise. Because I’m attached to tea, I suffer whenever something gets in the way of my cuppa. But this was the first time I noticed my cuppa getting in the way of my practice.
There are many reasons to practice aparigraha (non-attachment). My list now includes: less suffering, more energy, and the freedom to walk down a beach, arms swinging.
Image © 2017 Mish Boutet