Tea is the simplest way to experience the meditative mind, says Sam Gibb. Throughout 2020 and into 2021 Gibb has taken tea ceremonies into New Zealand schools to teach young people mindfulness techniques for a quieter, calmer mind.
Gibb first studied meditation in his early 20s, and wrote his Master’s thesis on mindful interventions for youth suffering from PTSD. A Kiwi, he headed to West Africa to work in post-conflict environments, then the Northern Territory in Australia, which became home for Gibb as a schoolteacher.
On a trip to Vancouver in Canada however, Gibb first discovered tea when he wandered into a teapot-lined Chinese tea store.
“I was instantly drawn to it and the experience never left my mind even on going back to Australia," he says. “I was working as a teacher in the school trying to implement mindfulness programmes into my day-to-day classroom environment without any real success. It’s at this point in the story where I really found tea. Unable to get that small tea shop out of my head I started looking for a place to learn and study.”
At this point, Gibb travelled to Taiwan. He found a small zen centre that focused on teaching meditation through tea ceremonies, studied there for a time, then returned to Australia and shared the techniques with his students at a Year Eight camp. “I began to integrate it into my day-to-day life, and found that it added richness and texture to everything,” Gibb says.
Despite initial hesitation from his students – and downright refusal from some – eventually a couple surprised Gibb by joining him in an early-morning tea ritual. “So before the sun had risen over the lake we sat and drank tea, watching the crocodiles silently moving through the water,” he recalls. Later that day, another two students asked to drink some tea with him. “Shocked again, we headed down to the lake and sat in the shade of a tree, hiding from the oppressive Outback sun. We drank in silence for forty minutes, which was the longest time I'd spent in silence with a student,” Gibb remembers.
“Afterwards, we did not talk much, but I overheard one say to the other, ‘the patterns in the tree's leaves are amazing! I've never noticed them before!’ To which her friend replied, ‘I know, and did you see the way the sunlight was shining through the trees, it was awesome!’ I just smiled.”
The following morning five students turned up for a tea ceremony, and over the subsequent days at this humble school camp, Gibb shared tea a number of times, “some in silence, some over deeper conversation, but I always left with the feeling that the students had experienced something they had not been exposed to, something out of the ordinary for them.”
Within nine months of travelling to Taiwan to learn the art of the tea ceremony for mindfulness, Gibb had served countless bowls of tea to students. With tea, for the first time in his life, Gibb felt he had found a way to bridge the worlds of physical and psychological with young people. “Without dogma, without words or concepts, a simple way to share the meditative mind with those around me,” he says of the process.
With that in mind, Gibb moved to Taiwan to focus my energy and life of serving tea to others, later returning to Australia. During the Covid-19 pandemic, he moved to New Zealand and is now based in Auckland.
The use of tea for mindful meditation, Gibb believes, is best described by Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk.
“Tea is an act complete in its simplicity. When I drink tea, there is only me and the tea. The rest of the world dissolves. There are no worries about the future. No dwelling on past mistakes. Tea is simple: loose-leaf tea, hot pure water, a cup. I inhale the scent, tiny delicate pieces of the tea floating above the cup. I drink the tea, the essence of the leaves becoming a part of me. I am informed by the tea, changed. This is the act of life, in one pure moment, and in this act, the truth of the world suddenly becomes revealed: all the complexity, pain, drama of life is a pretence, invented in our minds for no good purpose. There is only the tea, and me, converging.”
Benefits to young people
Gibb’s training company, Cloud Hidden, is set up to deliver workshops around New Zealand in mindfulness through tea ceremonies. His work continues the recognition of the need for mindfulness in the education sector, as identified by other programmes such as Pause Breathe Smile. The benefits to students, Gibb says, are:
- Attention and focus
- More effective emotion regulation
- Greater empathy and perspective-talking
- Reduced test anxiety
- Lower rates and severity of depression
- Better behaviour in school
- Increasing self-awareness and self-regulation
What students say
Tea for me is a safe, peaceful place
"I waited for my first cup of tea and when it came, I drank it. A sudden warmth came over me and I was completely calm, nothing distracting me, nothing in my mind, no troubles or anger; and for the first time in my life I felt at one with myself."
It gives me quiet time to reflect on the day
"The thing about tea that I enjoy the most is how it calms and relaxes you but at the same time makes you aware of your surroundings."
When I drink tea, the world seems to slow down
"I feel calm and happy after drinking tea at school, more than I’ve ever been. I’ve noticed many changes in my life since I’ve started drinking tea, such as being more focused, in less pain, and I’m happier."
Tea allows me to have an open and clear mind
"I like the way I feel after I drink it; it feels like I’ve been given relaxation pills or something."
- Asia Media Centre