Quitting that cup of Tea

I am having my first cup of tea after 30 days. It feels like nostalgia as the tongue is wallowing in the familiar concoction of tea/ ginger/ pudina/ lemongrass. In these 30 days I have come to realise how deeply that cup of tea was entrenched in my life – it had been the 10 minute pause from everything, a calm before the renewed start, a diversion when things didnt make sense, and a shared moment with others over a chat. But this romanticism around drinking tea happened only when I couldn’t have that cup. I realised how much  my life was dependent on that cup of tea only after i decided to give it up for a month.

The cup of ordeal

Rewinding to 30 days ago… why even think of leaving something as seemingly innocuous as a tea? No, it wasn’t a life threatening condition or some mid-life crises (maybe it was), but the payoffs were highly attractive. It was Purushottam maas, the extra month as per the hindu calendar which is considered auspicious, and giving up something in this month is supposed to help speed up the spiritual progress. To me it sounded like a shortcut to spiritual progress without having to renounce the world to live in some cave in the himalayas, or to perform some severe austerities. So I decided to give up Tea as my offering, but then it turned out to be tougher than I imagined.

I suddenly found myself standing bare in front of each day facing its trials and tribulations with no cup of tea to hide behind or pause its onwards march. I could only count on myself to fight this battle. The first three days were quite a shock to the system and I realised how deep the habit was ingrained in my routines. But I persisted, and everytime the craving became stronger I just reminded myself that this was was a spiritual shortcut and was an easier path than sitting in some cave in the mountain with ants and animals for company, or standing on one leg or doing something more painful.

But struggle was a constant companion. I didn’t know what to do with my morning anymore; my system just didn’t get the signal to take the day seriously. As I got into the workday after the chaotic Mumbai commute, I didn’t have the tea-cup-pause to calm my nerves and focus on the work at hand. The post-lunch dip in energy didn’t get fixed from the sugar/ other stimulants in the tea to cajole my system to stay wake. The evening tea wasn’t there to give me the additional fuel to keep the energy level up. And once home, i didn’t get the closure to my day which I was used to. I had to face each of these situations on my own, alone, against the mighty day and its uncertainties that it would rain on me.

I had become a veteran at quitting intoxicants having been been off smoking and alcohol for over 2 years now. The insight for me after quitting has been the realisation that de-addiction from anything (not just smoking/ drinking, but maybe even other things that we cling on – jobs, people, situations etc) probably starts with accepting a basic truth that addiction is a crutch for an underlying weakness inside of ourselves  (well don’t reject this hyperbolic sounding hypothesis just yet, just postpone judging it for a bit, I know your system cant take the shock of this truth). So to take that hypothesis further, the ethyl-alchohol at the end of the week to ‘unwind’ the stressed mind, or the cocktail of 1000+ carcinogenic chemicals that you inhale in that smoke-break in the middle of the day to ‘let off some steam’ are symptoms of your not being able to cope with the grind of living, and are looking for an escape from that truth, dulling your mind and going away from the clarity. Reiki helped me to get over all this with a lot of ease. It helped fill the ‘holes’ that I was probably trying to fill with smoking and drinking. But tea, well that is another order of challenge, maybe because I underestimated the foe.

Giving up smoking was easy once I had made up my mind about letting it go. There is no social pressure for regressing when it comes to quitting smoking and the struggle is entirely internal. Also, you are more prepared for the ordeal because you know that the foe is aggressive, a seductress, a vicious vixen, a sweet whisperer in your ears tempting you to give up your vows, so you are mentally prepared for such trickery. There is a way to use our stubbornness, which we all have in bucketloads, to work for us by channelising it into quitting anything. I have quit smoking for over two years, and I don’t struggle with it anymore. Infact I cant stand the smell of smoke anymore.

Quitting alcohol was tougher because of the social pressure primarily. Drinking alcohol starts off as a social lubricant for most of us, and then somewhere the numbness that comes with alcohol starts becoming something we look forward to as a refuge for the frustrations and a way to let out the animal spirits that feel repressed since we dont know of any other way to handle pressures – so it weakens us and that is enough of a reason to give it up. I was a social drinker too and that too on the lower end of the binging. But quitting even that little bit was enough to make me feel like a social pariah. I realised that catching up with friends had become about having the alcohol rather than really catching up. But after giving-up alcohol ironically most of my social conversations in parties were still centred on alcohol – on answering why had I given up drinking, and answering that became pretty tedious. It was as if I had broken some sacred rule of friendship. I could sense the subtext of these questions – have i contracted some dreaded disease? have I become some saint? or god-forbid some holy man has corrupted my mind to take away the pleasures of life?

So I underestimated the innocent little cup of Tea, and it tested my resolve but I survived these 30 days. Now I am back to enjoying my tea, but maybe I am more spiritually enhanced. Maybe I wont really look at tea as my defender again from all the evil. Maybe I will just enjoy it for the sake of savouring that moment only. At the very least, it just leaves me little less dependent on things outside of me,   and helps me strengthen my letting-go muscles – the key to spiritual progress where all shortcuts count too.

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