March 12, 2010

A Spot of Tea

We are creatures of habit. We have our routines, our way of doing things. Even if you aren't a branch in my particular obsessive-compulsive family tree, I would bet that you have a lot of routines that you rarely veer away from. When you shower, you do everything in a certain order. There's a right way to load the dishwasher. When you get home, your coat, keys, purse, shopping bags, etc. are all dumped in the usual spot. When you get ready in the mornings, there is a system to follow. For me, it's go to the bathroom, get dressed, do my hair, brush my teeth, eat breakfast.

But what about those things that we do that aren't habit? Do you have anything you do just because the act of doing it is enjoyable? Do you do anything that's become more of a ritual as opposed to a blind habit?

Dictionary dot com defines habit as an "acquired behavior regularly followed until it has become almost involuntary." We've performed these routines so often that they've become second nature to us--like going on auto pilot on the drive home from work. Your brain checks out while your body performs it's ingrained tasks.

Ritual is defined as "any practice or pattern of behavior regularly performed in a set manner." There's a slight difference between the two but it's there nonetheless. Habits are done so frequently that we can do them in the same way each time without thinking, but a ritual is deliberate. We perform in a set manner. We perform on purpose.

I have a ritual that I perform most every morning and sometimes in the evening. For me, my ritual is making tea. I know, I know. That sounds insignificant. How can that possibly be a ritual? Isn't that just a part of your everyday morning routine? Yes and no.

I do make a cup of tea most mornings to have with my breakfast but I don't do it out of blind habit. When I go through the steps of making tea, it is a very deliberate, even soothing, task. To begin with, I refuse to microwave my water. It's not that I have anything against the microwave, it's just that it's not the same if I don't use my water kettle that looks like a cow (it's a water "cattle", get it?). I fill up my kettle with water and set it on the burner. I listen for the sounds of the water heating, the burner quickly drying up any spilled water that may have run down to the bottom of the kettle. When I stay in the kitchen, I can tell the moment the water is about to boil and can take off the kettle just in time. Most of the time, however, I wander out of the room until I hear the familiar high pitch whistling, alerting me that I'm needed again in the kitchen.

I don't drink my tea out of a dainty, decorative tea cup. No, I drink my tea out of a mug, one that is ideal for a cup of cocoa with lots of marshmallows or even a cup of soup. My tea mug has weight to it. I can wrap both hands around it and let the heat seep into my usually frigid hands.

I use one bag of Stash peppermint tea. I don't use loose tea leaves and I don't drink other flavors, just peppermint. Peppermint is the flavor of winter, the flavor of cozy blankets, the flavor of comfort. And I always add sugar, real sugar--two scoops.

My favorite part of making my tea? The sound of the water as it fills my cup. I always have my mug ready and waiting with the teabag in it. When I pour that steaming hot water in, I almost want to sigh. It's a soothing sound. At that point, I can almost taste the mint, I can almost feel the ceramic warming my fingers, I can envision myself wrapped up in a quilt while I lose myself in my favorite book. Although this is rarely what happens next, the thought is comforting.

What happens next is always different. Usually I busy myself with chores or the computer until my tea has cooled enough to drink without scalding my tongue. Quite often I'll get distracted and only notice my cold and neglected mug hours later when I'm getting ready to fix lunch. At that point it's usually heated up in the microwave and drunk so it won't go to waste.

But how and when I drink it is never the focus behind the ritual. The focus is simply the task itself. The motions of making my tea bring more comfort than the tea itself. This is my ritual of contentment.

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