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Tea at 1024 Nuuanu

Teacups all around me in rows, in stacks, and in random groups. Cups, saucers, teapots of all sizes teeter and sit. Music, not exactly quiet but that feels quiet and helps mask the sounds of others around me. I feel alone in a small teashop waiting for slow steep tea and an afternoon teatray.
Flowers, hats, and patterned teacups surround me in a soothing comfort like Alice falling gently down the rabbit hole. Some are tied to their saucers to keep them together, like they might run away or leap off the shelf. One set is a saucer and small teapot with no cup. It reminds me of the women with saucers of tea in historic novels rather than cups of tea because it cooled quickly with no unmannerly blowing. An orange pot pops out at the eye in front of a jar of shells. A tray of blue and yellow teabags perches behind a music stand, slightly masking a set of tiny tins. Clear glass teapots rise in an acceding row on an old sewing machine. On the top shelf one pot perches precariously on the handle of another.
I ordered the vegetarian afternoon tea. An adorable tea timer with three sand clocks to determine strength arrives right before a fresh salad in a teacup. After that, hte tray of bite sized bits lands in front of me and each piece is new flavor. Each thing was excellent and perfectly balanced with the others. The rich, creamy chocolate in a thick layer on a chocolate brownie is two bites of chocolate bliss. Perfectly spiced jackfruit in a fresh wrap is a bright tasting bite of pleasure countered by one of the 2 tiny scones with clotted cream.
Because I came late, the lavender scone is slightly stiff but the flavor is good and the cream softens it. The tray is set perfectly to alternate one savory to one sweet until done. Music, mostly instrumental opera soothes the experience. Friendly staff tries hard to keep up with the busy flow of people that enter and settle in for a long tea. I watch them setting up a tea party and greeting guests both planned and unplanned as I enjoy my tea.
Creamy kimchee bites are a surprise for a tea tray but are a fine counter to the sweet bites. It is creamy and flavorful but gentle and sits well. Each piece on the tray is two to three bites and all quite different from each other.
A creepy antique porcelain doll in a crochet dress looks down on my table. Soft fuzzy, sheep like chairs cushion me. Beaming little girls look wide eyed at all the cups, pots, hats, and accessories. A flash of bright blue eucalyptus stands tall on the top shelf.
My host was unwilling to serve inferior tea and recommended I alter my selection because upon review they had a bad batch of my first choice. Their attention to detail is part of the experience. You choose your cup and a hat and sit inside or out to have tea alone or with companions. They don’t intrude but are there to keep things flowing. When I finished my tea she refilled it with more water to re-steep the leaves.

A tall wicker dress form stands elegant by the eucalyptus, reaching for the ceiling. Butterfly wings hide in the next room. Tall silver candlesticks hold large pillars of white on the top shelf I see through the window into the next room.
The sweet clotted cream flavor lingers soothing my pallet as I take in my surroundings. A precariously tilted tray of stacked cups, saucers, and pots stand secure beside a running girl in blue. Glints of glass and silver sparkle around me. I can almost hear the dormouse in the large blue and white teapot. My red pot is as round as the queen’s skirts beside my sleek white cup with swirls like the white queen twirling and swishing away. One tiny tea set stands on a tiny cake stand that would hold a mini cupcake.
The berry cheesecake bowl like a tiny trifle and the storybook chocolate brownie square that is half creamy rich chocolate sit in my memory and taste buds as a girl in her pink hat counts teapots in the throne like window seat. I sit and enjoy a second pot of tea to settle my snacks and sweets.

At the back of the restaurant a door opens to a very Victorian hall comprising the passage to the restrooms, the stairwell, the entry to the kitchens, the doorway to the courtyard seating, and a couple work areas in the back. In the bathroom, tiny tiles sit under your feet as you stand at the old, low sinks that are from another time.This place is a quiet retreat from modern reality with soothing tea, foods, and simple environment.

https://www.teaat1024.net/

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Neverwhere and Distance

Taking the bus to work allows a lot of time to read. One of my books this week is Neverwhere. I am reading it again for a book club but it has been a favorite for years. One idea has especially stuck with me for years. That is how easily one falls from society and how hard it can be to return.
On the streets near my place you see a lot of homelessness. Mostly people ignore them, avoid them, and fear them. I often wonder why. What is it their fear? Sometimes I wonder if part of it is the fear they could easily be in that position themselves. Does it feel contagious or dangerous to get to close or acknowledge them? This is part of the the idea in Neverwhere. The act of acknowledging them, of helping them causes him to lose his place in society and fall through the cracks into the city under the city.
I understand this. Over the years I have spent a lot of time with homeless in many cities. There is a distance, a sense of separation from society that feels insurmountable. Being there either with them or as one of them you feel like you are in another world, a harsh and dangerous world far removed from the life you so recently knew. People rushing by have no connection to you and look down with a demeaning disdain and fear of contamination. Parents pull children away like you will eat them or infect them. Women move across the street like you are a threat to their safety.

By contrast, living in the high rise and living on the farm were vastly different from each other but they are connected. There is a pleasant and casual hostility between the sections within society, a rivalry of place and meaning. It is vastly different than the alien world underneath that none of them want to acknowledge.

The department head at one job asked the group how many of us were 1 or 2 checks from being homeless. Less than 5% could say no and most of those shared expenses with families. Working every day, many with multiple jobs, most with two or more family earners, many in school, most sharing expenses, yet we all lived paycheck to paycheck. Each of us knew that we needed every single check just to survive.

When that is always in the back of your mind (And how could it not be niggling at you to some extent) you see those homeless and know that you are one injury, illness, pregnancy from being where they are. Maybe the fear isn’t fear of them but fear of our economy and society that will not protect those on the edges. Would your friends be there if you went on the street? Would they blame you for being lazy or understand what happened? Would they help or would the distance grow? Would you be able to let them help or would your shame increase that distance?
I volunteer at a public garden and many people walk there or take the bus. Nearby is a walking underpass everyone avoids and says is unsafe. But the only reason anyone has ever given is that the homeless sleep there and need to have regular purges by the city. Daily I see homeless people. They are desperate, hungry, dirty, often broken. Many have given up. Sometimes they make me uncomfortable with smell or actions or talking to themselves but they don’t make me afraid.

But I approach them as someone that feels a distance from society and those around me at work, in stores, on the bus, on the beach. I still struggle to relate and communicate as a part of society. They talk about sports, family, nights out drinking, casual friendships, and simple lives they assume everyone relates to. Groups have always been hard for me anyway but life has made that more true rather than less. My degree was gained in classes with students half my age. My family is distant, callous and judgmental. Friends are far away. I worked my way to a high rise apartment and fell more than once in life. I have lived in many cities and in many parts and sections of society from the farms to the law offices, the hospitals to the construction sites, the streets to the high society events.
When people around me talk about how hard it is to afford living I remember mom sitting in the car calculating how she would feed 8 of us on $10 for the week. I remember selling cookies or anything else she and I could make so I could afford to be a part of the business meetings. When they talk about taking time off work or leaving their jobs or their 18 year old needing to look at getting something I remember I was a model at 14 and carrying lumber before 12. I remember working 5 part time jobs to pay for school and still being buried in school debt now. I remember driving my shiny new Mini and my limping 40 year old Honda. They talk about fearing the homeless and I remember the van of guys trying to grab me and the old man shooting the shotgun at the kids picking blackberries and us running unsure if he would really shoot us. I remember fights in the street and quiet nights answering phones in the room beside the morgue. I remember gardens and farm animals. I remember dark streets and formal dresses. I remember dying friends and casual game nights. I remember motorcycle trips and camping in the cold. I remember hospitals that couldn’t tell me what was wrong because there was no point in testing someone with cheap insurance and hospitals with spacious private rooms for comfortable recovery for those with the right insurance. I remember losing my job knowing I wouldn’t be able to pay rent and just leaving to avoid it. I remember using a public bathroom to get into my suit or formal dress so I could be at the event and smiling or the interview. I remember mother crying after a hellish trip to get to a meeting because she realized everyone there just had dinner, dressed, drove over and was reasonably calm and feeling normal and she was desperate, stressed and exhausted. The car caught on fire on the way there, her cancer treatments were possibly coming back, she had a migraine, one child was sick and another hurt, dad and she fought that day, a storm slammed into the house as we left for the meeting but there was no rain when we arrived and everyone else was dry, the floor in the bathroom collapsed and the mortgage company wanted to take the house.

Distance. It will never fully leave me. I can never completely escape the feeling I may not belong and that those around me can see it. Even when they cant and I know it, I feel like they can. I feel the distance so I can’t escape it. So, I understand the idea of falling through the cracks.

Distance

Society changes.

Changes happen, sometimes fast and sometimes slow but the interesting point is what changes. Often changes are skin deep or partial. I have been reading some of Asimov’s Robot series and the parallels in conversations to our society are still relevant. He shows this same point in the 50 worlds and their relationship with Earth, each other, and in particular with robots. When you look back in your own lifetime you will see many changes. Examining history beyond that reveals many more. But how many of them are complete changes in society and not overlays? How many fluctuate and move through various parts of society, thus never really uprooted? One of these is the sense of other, of the group beneath. Who that group is varies by place and time but there is a villain, a scapegoat, and an inferior. These may be each a separate group or combined in a complicated image of what a group is.

When the detective in the stories talks about the equality of robots on Aurora being only words you can see the same in society now. How many discussions have we had or read about equality for all and that this society or that doesn’t have discrimination. But inside we know that isn’t true, some are just more aware than others of the depth of the disparities. The poor don’t have the same opportunities and are portrayed as lesser people in most aspects. Different religious groups are viewed differently and often it goes so far as to call them evil and dangerous for no other reason than their faith. Races are treated vastly different in ways that range from the subtle to the downright deadly. Cultural norms of one group are considered superior or normal thus rendering all other cultures as other. Genders are not treated the same and are exposed to different expectations. Medical differences are hugely limiting on most societies I have visited or lived in. Gender or sexual variances are so divisive that many groups don’t acknowledge their existence and simply label them as evil. Educational groups are highly divided and mistrustful of each other. The difference in how corporate executives at any level view business people in other fields can be drastic in practice.
Changes happen though. Remember schools in the 1980’s and 1990’s? Remember offices in the 1990’s and 2000’s compared to recently. Suddenly we have seen a resurgence of many issues in recent months but there is a difference this time. Now, we can talk about it. some people always talked about it and always pushed for change but now you hear the discussion in the office, at school, in the news, on TV, at restaurants, and in the home. For the first time I talk to friends and we are all bringing up issues at work to be addressed and we feel that even if the changes are not made or are not complete, we are heard and we do not feel our jobs are at risk. There are still many jobs that is not true but change is permeating in a different way than it has before. What we are seeing is a society trying to change how it thinks and discusses issues which can bring about greater and more durable change. What we have is not a society with a sense of equality but rather a society trying to understand equality and trying to get all of society to see the issues. We have a society trying to communicate with each other from vast differences and sometimes succeeding better than others.

Robots on Aurora are expected to quietly stand in their niches in the wall when in a room with humans. They are not allowed in restrooms. Humans expect them to respond immediately to commands and keep silent unless there is reason or they are asked a question. I have personally been told to keep quiet at work or in churches. Expected to be quiet while the men speak or the important people talk I found myself remembering childhood in independent Baptist churches where my mother was in trouble for daring to teach men or question the word of the leaders. considering how to handle the situation I felt the feelings I had as a child told to be silent unless spoken to or brimming with anger as some man told my father to correct me and send me away from the dinner table for questioning his biblical statement that was directly in opposition to the verses I quoted to him. But then I thought of more than that, I thought of others outside myself and how their situation in this place would be different. When a coworker says a child visiting will be fine because he is a good Chinese kid he shows his racism. When a few days after saying how open he is to gays since they are a big part of this business world he makes a comment about two men that “well I think they are more than friends or coworkers are you sure you want to eat what they made?” he showed a massive bigotry and blindness to his own views. When a woman in town assumes the mas she passes is there to mow a lawn or that the man entering the courthouse is there for a drug trial when one is a business owner and the other is just getting some paperwork they show their racism. When a coworker puts his arm around me and says I need someone to protect me he is showing his sexism and is imposing intimacy on me without consent.

Reading articles, studies, news reports, and watching those around me I began to see that there was as much an issue with the deep bias and intrinsic bias as ever but that many people genuinely believe they aren’t biased. People that are opposed to discrimination will act or speak from the place of ingrained privilege and internalized bias that is so intrinsic in their society that it is normal to them. I noticed that some of them intended a compliment when they said these things. These are the things that require more than laws and regulations, they require visibility of issues, broad and pervasive conversations, they require a light to be shown on the assumptions people make and the limited viewpoints people live in.

Violence and mass shootings are growing to be commonplace in the United States and it is risking becoming a normalized part of society. Most of them are incidents that highlight these differences in society, the fear of either changes in society or of some other that has been vilified. Political discussion grow heated and angry in any arena from the home or the office to the media and online. These discussions center in almost every case I see on some aspect of other, of inequality, of difference, on fear and anger. As discussions about society and the differences between equality, justice, and equity grow and get into the commonplace they bring out fear in those that fear change and that are either aware of their bias and happy with it or unaware of their privilege and happy with it. Fear displays and anger and without opening to the discussion, the walls have come up in their mind.
When a person looks around and sees changes in society that make them think longingly of a past that they are remembering from a particular perspective. they are longing to have the next generation grow up in what they have created in their head. When people talk longingly of a simpler time, I always wonder what they mean by that. I know in general what they are thinking of but when you compare that image to the worldwide reality you can’t help but think it is so much more than unrealistic but that it was never a reality. Many people think back fondly to a happy childhood but how would their grandparents remember that same time? My parents worked hard and tried to buffer their kids from some things but they wanted us to know what was really happening. When we struggled to put food on the table I knew it. I don’t look back and think that a simpler time because while it was in theory simple for children my parents were literally killing themselves to survive and my friends from other countries lived in fear, my neighbors died in shootings or fires, and I knew to stay out of reach of any man in his 50’s.

Today, men in their 50s are still most likely to touch me inappropriately or say unacceptable things in situations like work or with guests. But I am not a child anymore, I am in my 40s so it is different. We still have victim blaming and shaming, especially regarding rape and race issues. People still fear for their safety when doing simple tasks, especially any person that knows they are an other by race, religion, relationship orientation, or medical needs. Doctors still tell patients that they need to lose weight rather than evaluating actual medical needs or seeing medical causes of their weight or even noticing when every test shows they are healthy. Black men are still more likely to be shot before arrested than any other group in the US. We have a lot of work to do. A conversation is a step but it is a step that causes reactive changes both positive and negative.
We can’t ignore our past or hide it. We can’t ignore the problems now. But we also need to acknowledge the steps that are working, not to pat ourselves on the back but to know what else we can do and what is working. When we discuss them we need to be honest about both positive and negative impacts of the work and changes. Science and research must be a guiding director that leads the conversation.

My high school had 2 black students. How many of that student body do you think came out of there and took the time and effort to learn and open their experience? In our school taxes was taught as the primary reason for the civil war. Christopher Columbus was a hero and religious leaders made historical lists above any social justice leader. Evolution was taught but in the context of a disproven theory, highlighting only faulty projects. My point is not to discuss the faults of my school but to highlight the ongoing need and some of why the issue is what it is today. Our education system is fractured and varied and filled with bias reinforcement. When students are taught to study using confirmation bias then they have a longer and harder path to understanding the issues and they must want to get there.

Conversation around me in the small town I am in or in groups of guests at work reveal the dominant biases and entitlement issues in play. Many people genuinely believe a woman in a short skirt or with sexy underwear is at fault in rape. They genuinely believe a man that has rapec or is okay with it is unbiased for a court trial but any woman that has even been harassed isn’t… actually the issue is they don’t want unbiased. People genuinely believe it is understandable that a cop shot a black man that was unarmed, the cop feared for his life. They genuinely believe it is okay a woman died in the jail a few miles away because if she wasn’t a criminal it wouldn’t have happened… Nevermind that her crime was a misdemeanor like their speeding. They genuinely believe asylum seekers are illegal and dangerous. They genuinely hold racial biases about most groups. I could go on for hours about the conversations I witness but it progresses nothing beyond teaching us that we have a lot of work ahead of us.

Meditation series part 4: Active meditation

Active Meditation is recommended for those with some experience with passive meditation. However, it can feel easier to those that have trouble with the extended passive meditations sessions. It will be effective on its own but a time of passive meditation should be combined with it for best results.
Quoting one source “Once the ego mind has quieted down after passive meditation, and you then shift into an active form of meditation, this is where you can truly harness the power of meditation for creating inner transformation and charging up with new energy.”

The first example many people will think of is the use of meditative yoga or walking. Other actions and work activities can be meditative: think of raking a zen garden. Any task you can drop into a meditative state while doing is appropriate.
All meditation trains your attention but active meditation can be a great help to those that have trouble with long periods of sitting or quiet. Although it is recommended as a later stage if it is needed to help train your mind, it is the right time.

Active meditations are used to develop a connection between mind and body, drawing your attention to breathing and making use of the adaptive network of the brain. As in passive meditation, active meditation will have distractions. Simply acknowledge them in general terms and let them pass. Do not try to make them go away or identify them, just let them go and focus on your breathing. This practice is one of the stages of developing full awareness and connection to all parts of the body and feeling every part of it.

The 4 types of meditative yoga are pratyahara, dharana, dhyana, and samadhi. Research and try different yoga forms and activities when you are learning.

In active meditation, you are using some of the same principles as in a mindfulness meditation. Here it is with intent to engage all your senses in the focus. This is often aided in early stages by having an actual physical focus such as a sound, a flame, a bowl of water, something you can physically interact with and engage the senses to help train yourself. This is one of many reasons active meditation is not step one, but a physical focus can be used in active meditation.

Walking meditations: think of the Christian practices like James Way in Spain. Many people walk to clear their head or relieve stress. Time to walk at lunch can change the work day. At many jobs or schools I have used lunch as a time for some type of meditation to keep stress down. In Zen, walking meditation is called kinhin and is combined with extensive sitting meditation.

I prefer to do walking meditation outside but it can be done in an office or other room. You know meditation mazes, paths, and other things designed to focus you but you usually just walk, pause, breath, and be a part of only walking. Two forms are done. One is a clearing and open form that is less focus than empty. The one we are discussing here is clearing the mind by focusing on walking. Do not go on autopilot, that is why it helps during work. For 10 minutes be actively aware of the steps and breathing and nothing else.

Start by being aware of the major components of walking: the lifting of a foot; then the standing and slow movement of that foot forward; then the foot lands on the floor, feel it; feel the weight shift off that foot and how the foot begins to lift. Different forms focus on breathing, the movement itself, the sounds you cause, or other parts of the walking.
Work meditations include gardening or cleaning. Think of monks and the work they do. Working at a garden I hear many people talk about gardening and although they may or may not intend it that way, they use it as meditation. The practice is very similar to walking.

Art meditations: think of the zen doodles or free-form painting. Other activities include flower arranging (Ikebana), calligraphy (Shodō), and archery (Kyūdō). Really, you have no limitations in art meditation and the details vary. This is definitely one I recommend. Art is a release anyway so it’s a perfect outlet. I do free form sewing sometimes also and you can research this and try activities for years without exhausting the options. Some are open or empty mind to allow the art to express. Others are focused like the walking.
Dancing: think of Dhikr in Sufism, trance meditations, Mevlevi Dervish and Sama. I love dance meditation. Although I have not done it recently, it was my primary form for a long time. When I would dance, I was alone even in a crowd. The only thing that existed was dancing. Fully immersed in dance you find a completely different place of meditation than walking or working. My choice is the free form dance with music that you just do as it feels.

Exercise meditation can be any form of exercise but most the recognizable will be yoga or tai chi. Tai chi is also the first option most think of regarding martial meditation. This is another section that could be a series of books to itself do I recommend research and trying them. Even if you plan to practice alone, taking a class can really help you. You want to learn the forms enough that you are not thinking about them. You want to be able to meditate.
Again with meditative there are many forms that include both open and focused. Empty mind forms often use yoga. Focused forms are often guided or use equipment like weights, blocks, straps, muscle focus, or music. Your form must be right both for safety and to be most effective. Take the time and training to perfect your form and work up gradually from repeating a couple of perfect forms to more. Yoga, for instance is good for you and the learning time is stress relief itself.
As with all meditation, find what works for you and in your path. Research, experience, and think of you in the activities. The important point is a consistent and continuous practice that you do every day. A combination of types can give you a way to do that. In some jobs I did yoga at lunch and sitting forms at night. Other places I walked at lunch or meditated on the beach before work and did a water meditation after. What I need changes, what is available changes, time availability changes. It will grow easier to make time but start by working we within your schedule and altering it as little as possible. You are building a practice and it will develop.