For many years, when I worked in an office, the lingering question: who makes the tea? caused interesting ripples. Some people didn’t drink much, others drank a lot. Some people were engrossed in their work commitments, or rushing about in meetings/busyness, that at times tea was never made.
In some offices, we had a rota system of who went to make the tea. In others, it was a free-for-all; just go when you need a cuppa and make one for yourself. In another office again, were people who just decided they wanted a cup of tea, and so would ask everyone else if they did also (the response often being affirmative).
At the time, none of these methods seemed satisfactory to me. I certainly drink a lot of tea, so my need for tea (so I thought) was greater than others. The rota system just produced some very grudging, grumpy cups of tea when the person who worked hard didn’t really want to make the tea and did so with mutterings and tuts. The free-for-all option seemed the best for a while, but that caused feelings of guilt, when seeing others working flat out without refreshment, why should I be allowed? This also interrupted the ‘rule’ of ‘going solo’ because other people would eye up the tea, or even interject and ask if I’d make one for them too. The other option, too, was not without its dilemmas. The responses to asking people about tea varied from ‘no’ with a stern look for even being talked to, to people demanding extra things, like more milk, or more sugar. And if there was no milk, the person making the tea had to go out and buy more milk.
Each possible route, then, all caused a bit of tension in each office. Some people, in some situations, NEVER made the tea, and were considered selfish oafs. Others felt they were took advantage of because of their need for tea. Do you see how a simple process of making cups of tea for a group of people can descend into all sorts of problems and thought patterns? Not to mention the emotions: guilt, shame, grief, anger…an unending stream of frustrations of not having tea, of having too much tea, or too little – and rifts extending between work ‘colleagues’.
Life is like this whenever people have a difference of opinion. Dissension and strife: the essence of suffering. Only, now I’m a bit older, I look back and examine that all of these contests of will were all run by the Ego mothership.
Ego – the bit of us that thinks only about ourselves. The thing that tries to separate us from everyone and everything. The thing that says ‘we are right and you are wrong’.
So, we come to the power of mindfulness: the practice of non-judgment, noticing what is occurring in the here and now with our awareness. I decided to adopt this mindful attitude from now on concerning who makes the tea.
So, without judgment, I let go of the ego thoughts about ‘why is it always me who makes the tea’, or ‘why can’t he get up and just do it?!’ or ‘I need a system here so everything is fair and just’. These are all mental formations based on what I believe to be good or bad (more judgments). Mindfulness isn’t like that. It’s not using the past experiences to label the present or affect the future. We don’t label at all. We just see what is going on in the moment. So what is going on in the moment? I’m thirsty. I have a craving for tea. Nobody else seems to be worried, but I don’t know for sure. So I get up and make tea. However, this time, I make tea for everyone. I don’t ask. I go and brew a bit pot of it, and I take what I need, and then I leave the rest on a tray in the office kitchen.
People get to know that I do this, every time I go and make the tea. I’m making the tea. I’m not annoyed that it’s always me that goes and makes the tea, because that’s just my judgmental ego speaking. I’ve let go of that; through constant hours of mindful practice (the practice is still on-going, I might add – that ego comes up quite often). But tea? I’ve cracked it.
Nobody suffers when there is no ego. In the present moment, just making the tea to make the tea, I get my needs met anyway without all this worry about things being ‘unfair’ or ‘unjust’. Moreover, other people who didn’t voice that they wanted tea have the choice to have some, or not. Either way is fine.
Interestingly, after time, people who see that I’m making the tea all the time will rise up and begin making the tea too. There comes a time in every human being where the real connectedness comes through, only sometimes it has to be shown and lit up. So, without my asking, or co-ercing, others start to make the tea. You might say this is a ‘guilt-trip’ for those people, and perhaps for some, it is. However, guilt is as much a lesson in mindfulness as anything else. Why do I feel guilty? Why does the ego make me feel guilty? Because deep down, we are threatened. We feel that if we don’t make the tea we’ll be labelled as ‘selfish’. So we act out this storyline in order to please others and let the spotlight move away from us.
If we can let go of this ego thought mentality, we lose our guilt also. Someone makes the tea. That’s it. Nothing more, nothing less.
Imagine a life like that!
I raise my current cup of tea to you all for reading 🙂