How To Drink Matcha in an Earthquake (Or, Lessons from the Chaotic Present)

I’m sitting at my kitchen table taking a rare and much needed late-morning “be in the moment” tea break. In front of me is a quickly whisked bowl of matcha, two miniature dark chocolate peanut butter cups still wrapped in their foil, and nothing else. In anticipation of “being in the moment,” I had swept the table of its usual pile of mail, half-read magazines, and breakfast crumbs, and wiped it clean with a dishcloth that smelled of a fancy dish detergent.

The day is beautiful: sunny, breezy, and cool. Birds are singing, butterflies are flutter-by-ing. The cacophonous parade of the morning trash collection has long passed and the neighborhood is quiet. OK. I’m ready. I wiggle a bit to settle my butt in the chair, take a few long, slow, deep breaths, and pick up the bowl of tea.

Sip sip sip. The matcha is perfect -- grassy, bitter but sweet, just the right temperature. Savoring it, I take a smaller sip and widen my attention. My eye is caught by the gold foil wrapper of the peanut butter cups. I slowly unwrap them and pop one in my mouth, letting it dissolve under my tongue.

Melty smooth chocolate; salty, grainy peanut butter. Simple bare wood tabletop. Tea bowl, sunlight. An intention to stay present. To be available, permeable. No distractions. Ah, yes.

And then I hear it -- a sharp yap, quickly followed by another. And another. My neighbor’s dog is barking, that incessant rhythmic kind of barking that means he’s distressed and obsessed and could potentially go on for hours. Poor pup. I assume this situation is just as bad, and probably a whole lot worse, for him as it is for me. I’m not without sympathy but I’m not without annoyance, either. I take another sip of tea and decide to try to ignore him, which is of course impossible. Should I fix it? Go over and grab the hidden key and let myself in? Should I employ advanced meditation techniques and attempt to hear the barking as “just sound?” Should I crankily text my neighbor who is obviously not home and can’t do anything about it? Don a pair of headphones?

Bark bark bark, sip sip sip and then, suddenly, rattlerattle shakeshake. A wee earthquake! I look at my phone -- fairly mild, 3.3, centered in the town just to the north of us. A neighbor appears at my door. Earthquake? she asks, a little alarmed. We talk, predictably, of earthquake kits and soon she heads back to her garden. I leave my kitchen door open to better let in the summer breeze and invite instead a restless, noisy black fly who seems very intrigued by the space about 4 inches above my head. No, wait. Make that two restless, noisy, black flies.

Sip sip sip bark bark bark buzz buzz buzz swat swat swat. I notice that the tea’s temperature is now far from perfect and watch as a fly lands on my remaining exposed peanut butter cup. Behind me, the pile of mail and magazines, jostled by the quake, slithers down and knocks a juice glass to the floor where it shatters into a hundred jagged pieces.

Hello, present moment! So nice to have you here!

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Here’s something people don’t often consider: When setting an intention to be in the present, we are making a commitment to be present with everything -- the sweet and gentle, the beautiful and inspiring, the scary, the annoying, the mundane. The whole catastrophe. Our purpose is not to push away the unwanted and only experience the pleasant for the simple reason that it doesn’t work. Or at least not for very long.

A better strategy is to cultivate a state of mind that welcomes, or at least can tolerate -- or better yet is curious about -- whatever decides to show up. When confronted with the chaos of everyday life, try flexibility, humor, or curiosity to remain engaged and present. Equanimity is a noble but sometimes impossible goal but laughter is often right at hand.

The good news is that flexibility, humor, and curiosity are pleasant states to be in. So (secret bonus!) we can get some of that bliss we were aiming for -- we just have to give up our desire for it and our impulse to control our experience. And yes, this is still good news despite the fact that it also takes some work. And practice.

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Eventually, the dog stops barking, the flies fly away, and the broken glass gets swept up. Eventually, the morning becomes afternoon and eventually the birds bring on their evening song and the bright golden sun slides away, leaving behind an indigo-washed dusk.

Again, I stand in my kitchen doorway and without any plans or preparation or special teacups, I find myself in the present moment, in the simple observation of the colors and smells and sounds of another beautiful, precious-beyond-measure day coming to an end. A full day, with its share of challenges and pleasures, pains and difficulties. A day cluttered up with the endless mundane activities of a human life. I can feel in my bones, in the softness in the back of my neck, in the way I have room in my head to notice the temperature and texture of the breeze, that it was day well-lived and appreciated.

Hello present moment. So very nice to have you here.

by Dana Velden