Wednesday, January 18, 2012

How Into Tea Are You? How Is Being Into Dance Like Being Into Tea?

Lately I've been thinking a lot about my level of depth, interest, and focus, in various aspects of my life. A discussion on the Tea Trade Forums led me to an LA Times story on rare tea enthusiasts, which sparked some of this thought. When I first started working on RateTea, I was interested in tea, but was early on in the process of learning about it. Now, I know a fair amount about tea, having spent a few years researching it in a fairly intense manner, sampling different teas, and becoming tied into the tea industry in various ways. But I would not consider myself a tea expert, and I regularly encounter people who know far more about tea than I do, and perhaps more importantly, who are more into tea.

These people are more excited about tea than me. Tea is their passion. I will be the first to admit, tea is not my passion. Yes, that's right, I'm not that into tea. Just how much am I into tea? I'm into tea in much the same way I'm into dance. Here is a picture of one of the styles of dance that I like to do regularly, called lindy hop, a type of swing dance. This photo was taken at Rittenhop, an event run by the Lindy and Blues organization, whose tuesday night dances I nearly always attend:

There are some people who are really into dance: they dance many nights a week, and on weekends they frequently travel to various big dance weekends, which include weekends focusing on workshops and dance lessons, as well as those focused on social dancing. Some of the people with the highest level of enthusiasm for the dance scene will lose a lot of sleep at these events, and between their work and dance, they have little room for other hobbies and social activities.

When I dance too much:

There is such a thing as too much dance. I have gone to physical therapy twice for dance-related injuries, and they were both not acute injuries, but rather, injuries associated with chronic over-use. I've stayed up later than I normally would because of dance, and felt bad and off-kilter for the following day or two. And I've had moments when I realized that my whole social life revolved around the dance scene, and that I felt a strong need to diversify my social circles. And I cut back from dance and diversified my life in all of these circumstances.

I'm more interested in balance in my life. I like dance not for its own sake, but because I like the exercise and the social interaction, I like the sort of community of quirky, intelligent, creative people that the dance scene attracts, and I like the dance form as something that can be a source of creativity and inspiration in my life. I like dance because it produces good results in my life. But I am not interested in attending every big dance weekend, not even every one in my own city. I do not care about being the "best" dancer (if there is such a thing), and I do not feel like I'm missing out if I miss a major dance event. I value my sleep, I value having a broad range of hobbies, and I value having a diverse social life. I want to dance only to the degree that it enhances, rather than detracts from the other elements of my life.

My interest in tea:

My interest in tea is similar. I like tea not for its own sake, but I like tea because I like how it tastes, and how it makes me feel. I like the effect that drinking tea has on my life. And I like the effect that paying attention to how tea tastes, and learning about where my tea comes from, has on my life.

However, I am not interested in getting so focused on tea that it would detract from other elements of my life. For example, I'm not interested in drinking so much tea that I have trouble sleeping because of the caffeine, and I'm not interested in spending so much money on tea that it takes away in any substantial way from money that could be better put to use elsewhere. And I'm not interested in thinking or learning so much about tea and where my tea comes from, that I start thinking less about my food and where it comes from.

My interest in tea fits in a holistic way into my life. And at times, I find myself obsessing over tea, and I realize this is too much, and I need to hold back.

What I want to encourage in others:

I want to encourage this approach in others. I want people to become interested in tea, not to become interested in tea for its own sake, but so that they start paying more attention to food and drink in general. I want people to start listening to their bodies and raising awareness of their mind and bodies through paying attention to how tea makes them feel. I want people to drink tea with others and to take a break in their day to enjoy tea, and I want people to see the mental and emotional and spiritual benefits of taking these sorts of breaks.

And I think this is a good general rule to follow, when asking yourself how interested you want to be in something. Is your interest in this one thing making your life as a whole better? If so, then keep being that interested or more interested. If your interest is detracting from your life as a whole, by taking away from other aspects of your life, then scale back. This point will be different for different people. But I'm about at that point for tea. I'm not interested in being any more interested in tea, nor any less interested; I'm content where I am.

How about you?


  1. Well said. I've had essentially the same thoughts before. Being an artist/musician is much like this--it can become obsessive, because there is a high and deep joy associated with tapping into creativity, and in fact, to survive as a professional artist, one is often forced to be obsessive, or at least this mentality is encouraged, more or less. However, whenever I find myself on this track, I always try to take a step back and ask, "wait, what's the point of this again?" Nothing is so important that it is worth sacrificing the overall happiness of your life for it.

    1. This is interesting...I actually have encountered this "encouraged" obsession mentality, not just in creative endeavours, but in many career and professional activities.

      One place I especially encountered it was in graduate school. A lot of grad students would talk to me about having "no life" outside of their studies. People would often talk about grad school as if it were this all-encompassing thing that sucked up all their time. The thing is, for me, it wasn't. When I was at U. Delaware, I would do my homework, finish it, do my T.A. duties, and then I'd do other student activities, mostly populated by undergraduate students: swing dancing, I joined a feminist organization, attended campus ministry group meetings, took up birdwatching. I personally found that finishing my work was easier when I didn't succumb to the pressure to try to look like I was working 24/7. Whenever I'd try to work with people who were in this mentality, it seemed that most of the time they just sat around procrastinating anyway.

      It bothers me when people, like professors, or other students, actively encouraged the obsession mentality. But at the time, I don't think I had the self-confidence or assertiveness to stand up to it in a way that was non-confrontational. I often just felt frustrated and alone, disconnected from people. Sometimes I wish I could go back to grad school and assertively voice my perspective, that I know how to work effectively, that I learned that in college, and that for me, it involves limiting the amount of hours I spend on a specific type of task. It was not till two and a half years out of my second grad school experience that I wrote my manifesto on working hard vs. working intelligently; I wish I had had that document to point people to back then.

      Sometimes I think it's less about specific careers and professions than it is about a widespread cultural mentality, within America, and perhaps within other cultures (I see it sometimes in foreign students as well)...I also think it's worse on the east coast than it was on the west coast or in the midwest.

      Either way I don't like it and I like what you say--"Nothing is so important that it is worth sacrificing the overall happiness of your life for it." -- that's a great way of putting it. I think in the end, people do many kinds of work better when they're happy anyway!