A Speck of Tea

The Righteous Mind

So many of us are struggling with the broad divide between values on the Left and Right. Being firmly entrenched on the left-looking side, and having traveled here over time from the right, it’s difficult to even use the term “values” when describing the motivations of the Right. Yet I’m sure “they” mirror that sentiment regarding the Left.

Jonathan Haidt’s book, The Righteous Mind, attempts to explain what its subtitle states: “Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion.” It provides good insights into what we – across the spectrum – need and believe is right and good, and how we believe we can achieve and protect that. It helps. But closing the book, one is left wondering what we can do about it. How we can dig down to that common place where we can agree – because it has to be buried down there somewhere – and build from there. How we can listen to each other and help each other understand. How we can move.

And while Haidt’s book helped me to better understand our divisiveness intellectually, it barely scratches the surface emotionally, practically. I still don’t understand. But I want to.

The feeling of helplessness that many of us are experiencing right now – the sense of trying to push back the tidal wave with nothing but a firm will, hand and hope – can be exhausting and sometimes feels just so, so small and inconsequential. The calls, the letters, the protests. They seem to be falling only on the ears and eyes of those who already agree with us. But it’s necessary, at least to the extent that each of us believes in it. 

Is there more to do?

I’m reading Yaa Gyasi’s profoundly moving book, Homegoing. James, one of the characters in the profusion of richness which populates the story, speaks to the diverse composition of the African setting: 

“His mother always said that the Gold Coast was like a pot of groundnut soup. Her people, the Asantes, were the broth, and his father’s people, the Fantes, were the groundnuts, and the many other nations that began at the edge of the Atlantic and moved up through the bushland into the North made up the meat and pepper and vegetables. This pot was already full to the brim before the white men came and added fire.” 

This image resonated with me and took a different form, a different twist, in my own thinking about what we’re facing now as a nation and a world.

A few nights ago I had a simple dream. I was tipping back a cup with the last sips of tea in it. I could see tiny specks of the loose tea floating, and knew that I was one of them. 

Humanity is a tea blend steeping together, making tea. Our essence flavors and colors the tea. Our essence is released in a way that would not be possible without the water — our connectedness, our common divinity. Strain out the loose tea yet the specks and essence remain throughout. It’s easy to lose our true identity, however you define it, and it is also necessary to lose our accumulated identity because it is generally false – our ego, who we think we are as seen through the eyes of others, and defined by society and our baseless belief systems. However, our true nature, the “intact place within us” (Sharon Salzberg) or that “small still voice” (Quaker teachings) remains and is vital, irrepressible…we just have to give it our attention to allow it to open. Our full attention. It’s the speck of crumbled tea leaf in the cup of tea. 

In living our internal lives, we must learn to allow our essence to be released into the water, the connectedness, to brew effortlessly and lovingly, enhancing our own, and all, divinity. Without this connectedness, this recognition of common divinity, we are but a fragrant, dried and crumbled tea leaf waiting for our brilliance to be released.

A wise woman recently told me that “the best form of activism is to raise your own consciousness,” and thereby raise the consciousness of all. I believe in this fundamental truth. But I think I’ll still make the calls anyway.

                                                                         “Truth will not lose ground by being tried.”

                                                                                      ~ Isaac Penington, 1616-1679