Drinking Chai and Letting Go


Of possessions, priorities, people and philosophies.

“Drink your tea slowly and reverently, as if it is the axis on which the whole earth revolves - slowly, evenly, without rushing toward the future. Live the actual moment. Only this actual moment is life.” - Thich Nhat Hanh

My longest love affair has been with this humble drink called chai. It started with my coming of age when I went to live in a hostel during my engineering time in IIT Delhi. I would venture outside the hostel quite frequently to have my masala chai in this ribbed conical glass at Sasi ka dhaba. The love affair continued as I moved from one place to other within India. I especially remember having Rambhai’s chai outside IIM Ahmedabad and have “cutting” chai in Mumbai. The affair took a brief break in London as I could never cherish the dip-dip english tea made with the unending concoctions available in tea bags. But once back in India, it returned with a vengeance. People would invariably ask me for chai the moment they saw me and in one organisation where I helped with the digital infrastructure, they referred to me as CTO - Chief Tea Officer. To top it all, the sketch on the header of this website is me drinking a cup of chai.

So, reading this quote by Thich Nhat Hanh really made my day. Not that I have always been reverential in drinking my cup of chai - there were times when it was purely mechanical and driven out of habit. But also there have been times when having this cup of chai alone or with a group of friends has been the most meditative practice I have done. Reflecting on why it felt this way, for me it has to do something with presence. In some of those moments, I was really present and living the actual moment. Not always but sometimes. To do that I had to let go of the past and the future, only if it was for a moment. And if I can do that with every moment in life, wouldn’t that be great.

Letting go is not easy though. Here is how I see the different dimensions of letting go right now. There are 4P’s that I need to let go. The first and the easiest for me is possessions. There is an inherent simplicity and reduction in noise that happens when I have less things that I own and manage. I feel more free and alive to the moment when I am not worried about these possessions. My mother-in-law was recently keen on downsizing her house and was asking for advice on letting go of things. She wanted to know how do you ensure you don’t give away something that you would need later! There is an easy test. Watch yourself when you travel and you will find how little you need to go by. May be because when you are travelling, you are so much more present and aware of everything around you, that you don’t need your possessions to provide any additional security. I am not advocating a monk-like existence, even though I am attracted to the same. It is just about letting go of attachment to the possessions I have and also to the ones I may want in the future, which for me happens to be electronic gadgets.

“Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” - Antoine de Saint-Exupe

“One can furnish a room very luxuriously by taking out furniture rather than putting it in.” - Francis Jourdain

The second is priorities. Some people call it goals. I call it the chains of expectations. A large chunk of my initial life was led by implicit or explicit priorities. Priorities of doing well in academics, priorities of getting a good job in a named consulting firm, priorities of continuing to grow in a role out there or even priorities to go after love. And I was very attached to these priorities that they would take precedence over everything else in life. However, every time I achieved them, it did not move me closer to happiness nor did it allow me to enjoy the moment better. It all led to a hollow feeling of what next. Maybe it is time to let go of these priorities.

“The secret of happiness, you see, is not found in seeking more, but in developing the capacity to enjoy less.” - Socrates

“A good traveller has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving.” - Lao Tzu

The third is people. People are difficult because I am attached not only to the love and goodness they bring in my life but also to the hurt and betrayal they bring in. It is in my closest relationships that I learn the most about myself and where I am the most vulnerable. I am so very attached to the stories and experiences of the past, that they continue to colour my present moment. And I have deep expectations with them, which keeps me thinking, speculating and planning about the future with them. If I could stop ruminating about the past experiences and planning & worrying about the future experiences, maybe there is more hope of living in the moment. The buddhist have a great tradition in meditative practice in letting go - both of the past and the future - through their practice of forgiveness and loving kindness. I am practising some of them to learn to let go of people and their experiences.

“The past is over: Forgiveness means giving up all hope of a better past.” - Jack Kornfield

“Loving kindness offers care and well-wishing to another without expectation or demand. There is no distance between their well-being and our own” - Jack Kornfield

The fourth is philosophies. This one is the hardest. I am wedded to my philosophies and hold strongly to each one of them. Whenever they get challenged or shattered, I fight back like a wounded animal. Recently, I have been struggling with my philosophies on commitment and honesty in many contexts. I would get angry when my son would commit to go to school the night before and then back out in the morning. Or get angry when the tour operator on our holiday tour would blatantly lie about the conditions in the island we are about to visit. Or when I would figure out that a close one has lied to me about the past. Reading Dan Ariely’s book on The (Honest) truth about Dishonesty, though made me realize that we are all creative and always telling lies, most importantly to ourselves. I have also come to see that these philosophies are nothing but psychological attachments I have created. They make me happy as long as my world view fits within them and they make me unhappy as soon as they get challenged. May be it is time to let go of these philosophies also.

Here is hoping to drink chai slowly and reverently and of letting go of possessions, priorities, people and philosophies.

“If you let go a little
you will have a little happiness.
If you let go a lot
you will have a lot of happiness.
If you let go completely
you will be free.”
- Ajahn Chah

14 November 2014