Iron Goddess of Mercy

Although the title conjures up an image of some fierce warrior chick out of the Dark Ages wielding a sword and an icy, bad-ass stare, thanks to some creative minds at one of my local watering holes, it’s actually my tea of the moment.

It’s an oolong, a smoky compromise between green and black, a brew I’ve been revisiting after a co-worker got me strung out on his Taiwanese stash scored on Ebay at a suspiciously Black-market like price. My tea shop had a handful of other perfectly suitable oolongs, but how could I, quirky to the core, pass up Iron Goddess of Mercy?

There was also a bit of full-circle thing in the air because the scary, medieval-sounding name seemed symbolic of a personal struggle turned triumph. While most of the time, I exude that serene, happy glow, I have to say that it took me a minute to get here and tea was part of the path.

In my young, formative years spent in an abusive, alcoholic household, I was that angry, intense chick, who’d snap if I was too cold, too crowded, breakfast was oatmeal or any dozen things revolving around my father whose Hulk-like temper I inherited.  But as a skinny little spit of a thing with no muscle to put in it, my misguided warrior spirit was largely wielded through words.

I wish I could say I had the foresight to know the calm and comfort tea would bring into my life, but I took to it initially in my tweens because I didn’t like the feel of cold drinks in my mouth. Sipping Lipton, because it was cheap, I must have looked pretty eccentric back in the day when all the other kids were gulping down soda, milk and Tang, but there it was.

When I got older, I started hanging out at tea shops, sampling herbals, greens, whites, blacks, and blends with bits of coconut, chocolate or flowers, my favorites changing like the weather. The one constant though was the hypnotic sense of quiet ease I felt dunking the tea bag or ball, watching the color set, and savoring the taste of my accidental antidote to the storms brewing inside of me, and to this day, the mere sight of a tea cup, mellows me.

Unlike tea snobs, I avoid debates about proper water temperature, loose versus bag, and whether herbal drinks are technically teas since they, unlike black, oolong, green and white, don’t come from the plant Camellia sinensis. If a host is thoughtful enough to offer me microwaved hot water and a bag of no-name Chamomile, I will happily sip it, because the most important thing to me about tea was that it chilled me out and provided a deep sort of comfort and calm that I needed.

However, at some point, I became curious about its history, and discovered that ancient Shaolin warrior monks also drank it to enhance their energy and endurance both in meditations and battles, and shivers ran up my spine like some big-time truth was filtering down. I took it as a nod that, perhaps, one of my life lessons was to learn to manage that inner duality too.

Tea led to yoga, meditation, and building a spiritual practice that constantly nudges me to be more accountable for bringing good vibes into the world, so it takes a lot to get me Hulk-angry these days. The fight’s still there, just being channeled into positive things like dream-building, love, justice, joy and overcoming obstacles.

Still, I can spot a little warrior a mile away. The one with that jagged edge, that an iron swag that says don’t start none and there won’t be none.  At the risk of coming across like a tea-evangelist, I often have an urge to share my tea journey with them, yet I’m not presumptuous enough to think I can walk up and say, Hey, been there done that, let’s go get a cup of tea before you short-circuit yourself. I don’t know what wounds they’re working through and there are many tea-less paths to peace and balance. Instead, I hold a vision of them laying down their swords long enough to pick up a pen or paintbrush, a book or trade, a pair of Nikes or karate uniform, or something other grounding thing because they have gifts to explore and contributions to make once they get the anger out of the way.

To tea,

N. Shami

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