I’m William Repetto, a first-year graduate student at Villanova University. This is the “‘Cat in the Stacks” column. I’m your new ‘cat. I’ll be posting about college life, about learning and growing here at Villanova, and, of course, about the Falvey’s role.
As her urge to practice #mindfulnessmonday, Hunter Houtzer attached this quote on her blog post Peek at the Week, “Drink your tea slowly and reverently, as if it is the axis on which the world earth revolves – slowly, evenly, without rushing toward the future. Live the actual moment. Only this moment is life.”
Thich Nhat Hanh, the founder of Engaged Buddhism, wrote these lines. Without some knowledge of the central tenets of Buddhism, it might be easy to reduce these lines to the final two sentences. “Live for today” and “focus on the present.” There’s more to unpack here, though.
First and foremost, let’s just start by saying that the tea of the first sentence can easily be replaced by coffee. So, what does it mean to drink your coffee “as if it is the axis on which the earth revolves?” To answer this question, you must know something about Buddhism; Buddhism (especially the school from which Nhat Hanh comes, but also in general) stresses the importance of practice and experience over theoretical reasoning.
Thus, to treat something as if it is the axis on which the Earth revolves is to take the thing itself as the epicenter of your existence in that very moment. The irony here is that the coffee or tea and even drinking could be replaced by any activity. At the core of the experience, then, is treating each individual thing as one’s dharma, or duty, for that particular moment. (One can easily see how this would transfer to the Buddhist practice of mediataion.)
Second, Nhat Hanh encourages us to act “slowly, evenly, without rushing toward the future.” Anyone who has rushed toward the future with the cup of coffee or tea in hand knows how damaging that can be for the tastebuds, but I don’t think Nhat Hanh is talking about burning your tongue here. Rather, these three guidelines for drinking tea (read: coffee) provide another blueprint for how we ought to do all activities in our life.
This is not to say, however, that Nhat Hanh randomly selected drinking tea among all the activities he could have said. In fact, some Buddhists practice meditation while eating, which involves the contemplation of textures and feelings associated with foods. (I guess we could also say that some Buddhists practice meditation in all aspects of their lives – some yoga experts speak in similar terms as well.) Aside from the breath though, eating and drinking represent the two other major ways that we take substances into our very core, so we can see why they would have a privileged position to Nhat Hanh.
This leads us to our last two sentences: “Live the actual moment. Only this moment is life.” While we might be tempted to boil down Nhat Hanh’s powerful words to just these two lines, I think it’s a better reading to see these last two sentences as the conclusion of the earlier experience. That this moment, the one we take slowly, evenly, and without rush, is life for Nhat Hanh indicates the types of lives we should all be living: ones wherein the present moment is always and dynamically treated as the very center of human experience.
Because Buddhism is about practice and experience over theorizing, I’d be wrong to leave you with an abstract thought about what Nhat Hanh might mean. I’ll give you a method of practicing: the next time you walk into the Falvey take your steps evenly and slowly without rushing to the important work that you know you must do. Enter our space slowly and reverently as if we’re the very axis on which the Earth turns. When you return to your work with the same attitude, you might find yourself refreshed, with a new perspective.
I’d like to thank Hunter for digging up such a powerful quote for her PATW post. I’d also like to thank some of the great professors I’ve had over the years – Julie Regan and Charles Desnoyers – who taught me the history and tenets of Buddhism that have been instrumental in my own life far beyond the explication in this blog post.
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