Tuesday, July 23, 2013

tea and crumping

Went to Dripping Springs, Texas yesterday (just west of Austin) to lead two Peaceful Habits groups at a brain injury rehab center there.

The first group was for the more severely injured patients. Most couldn't talk, or spoke very little. Some were in wheelchairs. One woman couldn't swallow. Another woman looked out of the window the whole time. Many looked back at me with blank stares. Which wasn't unexpected. People with brain injuries aren't always able to show their emotions through facial expression. The clinical term is "flat affect" and it can be a little daunting when all of your audience members have had brain injuries. You can't rely on their facial expressiveness to gauge how well your material is landing. Whether they're tickled or bored or intrigued by what you're saying, their expressions will always be the same -- blank. I did get several "thumbs up" from a mute woman, so that was awesome.

The psychologist who invited me to lead the group was surprised that one of the patients, a surly trucker-type, responded so enthusiastically to the tea. (At the end of the group he said he was looking forward to buying some tea at the store.) I told her that most people respond well, even the so-called tough guys. I told her that I've gotten only one negative response so far in all my years of Peaceful Habits groups. It was from a guy who told me that he didn't care much for my "little tea parties" and who refused to participate.

I told her that when I give the group to a predominantly male audience, I often present the tea exercise as a kind of "Zen warrior" training. Framing it this way helps to give the group a masculine edge. There's less of a "tea party" atmosphere. I start by asking them about their favorite martial arts movies. Then I talk about how a warrior has to train in the command of his senses before going out to battle. She said, "That's how you'll need to work with our next group."

For the second group, we drove to the other facility, which was more of a home-like setting than the first facility. The audience was young and mostly male, so I did my Zen warrior thing. I started with a pot of silk oolong, a silky golden green tea, creamy and tropical, then I pulled out my secret weapon: a coconut pu-erh tea. I asked for the adventurous people in the group to raise their hands. Then I asked them if they would like to try a tea that tastes like dirt. Five or six guys volunteered to drink the dark brown concoction. I've learned that it helps to make the tea experience seem a little dangerous. It draws people in. 

After tea we listened to music. I asked them to imagine how drinking tea is like listening to music. "When you drink tea, you take on the quality of that tea. When you listen to music, it's like you're swallowing it with your ears, and you take on the quality of the music." A guy in the back row who was adventurous enough to taste both teas put it like this. He said, "That light tea is smooth like Marvin Gaye. And that dark tea is like music people play when they be crumping." Then he started crumping in his chair. Everyone started laughing. I said, "Exactly. I couldn't have put it better myself."