The Austrian Tea PotPhoto by: Koby Kasten

— by Susan Eirich, Ph.D. —

I took a handful of tea leaves and put them in my little Austrian teapot. Then I suddenly remember that I found the tea strainer yesterday. It had rolled away under the armoire. I had looked everywhere for it, given up, and just put the tea leaves directly in the pot, the old-fashioned way. It was fine except if you leave tea leaves in too long, the tea gets bitter. Still, it worked.

One day while looking for something else on my hands and knees, there it was! But I had been so long without it that I forgot the next morning and put the tea leaves directly in the pot again. Then I remembered. I put my hand in the small opening and carefully took out the tea leaves to put them into the strainer, trying not to lose any along the way. A couple fell through my fingers—tiny, black, dry shriveled leaves, but full of flavor. As I picked each one up to put in the pot, I thought how easy it would have been to discard them as nothing important, flick them down the drain as a bit of a nuisance. But then it occurred to me how each tiny, shriveled speck was once a shiny, green, thriving leaf on a tea bush flourishing in the sunlight, drawing up nutrients from rich soil. Handpicked, sun-dried, and sent to me. Suddenly the whole exercise of making the tea became richly meaningful. I was connected to the tea leaf, the Earth, the sun. It felt good. I wondered about how such a small event could be so grounding and add such meaning and enjoyment to my morning routine. But such things are not small at all. They create connection, and connection is calming.

After the tea leaves started me thinking, my next thought was of paper. Every single sheet was once part of a living tree, which in itself housed an entire community of life. How casual we are about throwing it away! How we take it for granted that we can go to a store any time and just buy it! Under the premise that all life is precious, each time I am holding a piece of paper in my hand or writing on it, I should be grateful to the tree that was, the living soil that nourished it, the many beings that lived on it and called it home. If, as we move around our living space, we begin to do this with more and more of the things we use that were originally alive, then we are surrounded by connections to life and things become more meaningful. Then we begin to need less because each thing fills us more. We start to use it with care. We waste less. Really, when you think about it, nothing that was once living should ever be wasted or treated carelessly. It is disrespectful to do so, and that approach to life does not nourish us. Connecting to what is around us also slows us down—which is a good thing. The idea is to savor the gift of life and its miracles, not rush through it. A tree is a miracle.

An interesting question: what would the experience of our lives be like if, as we moved around our living space, we were constantly aware of all the things around us which can be traced back to living origins? If that were our basic orientation?

I thought of the phrase we use at Earthfire to remind us of our mission: If all life is Sacred then how shall we live? If all life is precious—a gift—how should we live? Discarding the tea leaf, disregarding the fact that it was once living, disrespecting all it took to get here, then becomes a violation. It diminishes us and the quality of our lives. All it takes is a shift in our focus, a refusal to take things for granted, to bring joy into our lives. Then we naturally shift our habits to be less wasteful and thus make a difference in our environmental problems. It will take all of us to make this shift. It is good to help one another in this.

Dr. Susan Eirich is the Founder and Executive Director of Earthfire Institute Wildlife Sanctuary and Retreat Center. A licensed psychologist, biologist and educator, her goal is to widen the circle of conversation about conservation to include the voices of all living beings.

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