Where Stories Brew
By Cassandra Lane
We exist in a world where people struggle to manage perpetually spinning wheels of careers, projects, families, finances and, even, vacation time. Our bodies, our families and our spiritual and emotional lives suffer in this rat race, even with the most ambitious of planning and good intentions. With ever-diminishing health and strained relationships, we are an overworked, out-of-time and weary bunch. If weekends are not spent trying to finish one do-it-yourself project after another, catch up on work from the office, run errands, shuffle the kids from one event to another, and make appearances at social obligations, they often are frittered away in front of something equally as draining— television, where visions of beautiful bodies, perfect families and romantic relationships leave one wondering: Where did I get it wrong?
My friends and I have often asked each other: Is it possible to create a sense of balance, or harmony, in our lives, to be multifaceted without leading divisive, schizophrenic existences? While some folks argue that balance is an unattainable ideal, I vehemently disagree. While it is difficult to learn how to achieve a sense of harmony between all the competing interests in our lives, it is futile not to make it our lifetime goal. (See Bronnie Ware’s book, Top 5 Regrets of the Dying).
After spending the first half of our adult lives trying to figure out how to get the hamster wheel to work for us, we at Harmony Writing Café jumped off the wheel to discover a way to narrow our focus on helping people (and ourselves) find this ever-elusive harmony—through sips of tea and a season of writing.
As fall slips back into our lives, what a perfect time for such a journey! Both writing and tea require preparation, trial and error, space to grow and expand. Both require planting and pruning, harvesting and sharing, steeping or brewing (a meditative state).
The initial seed for Harmony Writing Café was sprouted in an office—as many great dreams are—excavated from the passionate hearts of folks frustrated with their long hours and the confining walls of their work spaces. While we enjoyed what we were doing, we knew we wanted more—exhibited in our own lives and the lives of others—something beautiful, something life-changing, something creative,
something spiritual, something delicious.
(Very Important Disclaimer: The seed before the seed was planted in me back in 2003 when I first joined an amazing group of women, the Chai Bellas, who made it their mission to visit restaurants all over Los Angeles every three months to sample tea, food, culture and tea history. Still going strong, we will celebrate our 10th anniversary next year!)
Determined to cut down on our coffee consumption, one of my coworkers ordered a hot water machine one day so we could make fresh tea. We were already lovers of palate-tantalizing goodies, and had formed a “lunch club” to take weekly excursions to sample all of the restaurants within reasonable distance of our office—Indian, French, Peruvian, Thai, Japanese, Korean, Mexican, Taiwanese, Italian, Indonesian…
We discovered that we shared an obsession for spices and herbs—the tastes, the scents, the hues, the textures. As home cooks, we knew that these earthly ingredients are the secret to bringing any food or beverage alive. While one friend brought in the occasional baked good (her white bean bread melts so deliciously on the tongue), with much more ease and frequency, I was able to bring in dozens and dozens of teas and herbal tisanes—black, red, white, green, floral, spiced, vanilla-infused (a favorite). Pretty soon, I began experimenting with mixing loose teas to create more options. Soon after that, we had to use a large metal filing cabinet to hold our burgeoning “tea bar!”
In the middle of the most hair-raising deadlines, someone would hit the hot water machine button and the hiss of boiling water would calm us as we waited eagerly to steep and sip a cup of tea. What kind would it be? The possibilities were endless, creating a sense of play, mystery and adventure. Even our boss, as she would enter the room, was moved by the scent of the brew: “It smells like the holidays in here,” she would say, smiling.
Over time, it was not only the sweet herbs that interested us; as we continued to research teas, we learned and shared information about the healing power of bitter herbs—ancient remedies we as a pharmaceutical-reliable society need to return to today.
“For thousands of years, bitter herbs have been used in alternative healing. Known as ‘bitters,’ these herbs can affect physiological reactions within the body, working as an astringent, a tonic, a relaxer, a stomachic, and an internal cleanser. In particular, bitter herbs have been used to improve digestion and counter inflammation.” (Donna Cosmato, from www.lovetoknow.com)
Whether sweet or bitter, Harmony Writing Café aims to awaken the tongue, stimulate the mind and, ultimately, please the spirit. Our mission is to write well, to drink well, to be well.
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