self-care of a political dissident

a cup of tea anytime I want

This is the first time I’ve pulled something from my teablog (lahikmajoe drinks tea) over here, but I think you’ll appreciate it. Here’s what Václav Havel had to say about drinking tea in prison:

‘When I was outside, I didn’t understand the cult of tea that exists in prison, but I wasn’t here long before grasping its significance and succumbing to it myself. . . . Tea, it seems to me, becomes a kind of material symbol of freedom here: (a) it is in effect the only fare that one can prepare oneself, and thus freely: when and how I make it is entirely up to me. In the preparation of it, I realize myself as a free being, as it were, capable of looking after myself. (b) Tea – as a sign of private relaxation, of a brief pause in the midst of the hubbub, of rumination and private contemplation – functions as the external, material attribute of a certain unbridling of the spirit and thus as a companion in moments of focused inner freedom. (c) The world of freedom considered as leisure time is represented by tea in the opposite – in the extroverted and therefore the social – sense: sitting down to a cup of tea here is a substitute for the world of bars, wine rooms, parties, binges, social life, in other words again, something you choose yourself and in which you realize your freedom in social terms. . . . I drink it every day. . . . I look forward to it, and consuming it (which I schedule carefully, so it does not become a formless and random activity) is an extremely important component in my daily ”self-care” program. From ”Letters to Olga.” ‘

(source: The New York Times 8 May 1998 from an article by Michael Scammel called The Prison and the Cult of Tea)

Why on earth would you even care about that? Well, think about it for just a minute. You’ve lost your freedom, you have very little control over the smallest choices you have to make, and here’s something you can really focus all of your attention on. Possibly the single thing, other than your own thoughts, that you have complete control over.

Over the years I’ve heard several people say that living in modern society is like living in a prison of a kind. That the information overload of the internet and the mindless political cable television shows are a sort of existential jail. If you’ve ever spoken to someone who’s actually been locked up, this is laughably ridiculous.

There’s nothing like losing one’s fredom. Nothing.

Can you even begin to fathom what life would be like when the highpoint of your day is to hole up in your cell, and brew a little tea?

As I stand here in my kitchen with more selection than I honestly know what to do with, as I read about the madness of the outside world swirling round, as I think about all the people being held against their will (whether justly or not), I’m immensely aware of how fortunate I truly am.

now that’s old

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Rembrandt's Philosopher Reading

Was reading Andreas Heinakroon‘s blog earlier today about immortality (what I got out of it? the idea of living forever isn’t all it’s cracked up to be), and I got to thinking about something I find curious (before I forget, here it is: Immortality is overrated)

The thing I’ve been thinking about? It’s not a big thing. Blogging sometimes lends itself to pondering the minutiae. But as soon as I say that, I recognise it’s not such a small thing either. Primarily because it has to do with perspective. Enough build up. Let’s jump right in, why don’t we.

When you’re fifteen, you think twenty-five is really old, and thirty-five is inconceivable. I’d even risk saying that when you’re fifteen, anyone above forty is ancient. There might be exceptions to this, but you know what I mean.

So, ten years later? You’re twenty-five now. That’s not so old. Twenty-five is ok. Definitely not old. But thirty-five. Damn…that’s old. And it goes on, doesn’t it? Thirty-five seems old until you’re actually zeroing in on it. Once you’re there? Not so bad.

Throw all of this out the window if you’re unwell. If you’ve got some horrible illness or a loved-one is sick, that clearly impacts your perspective. But assuming you’re relatively healthy, isn’t it curious how subjective we are about age?

When I was a child, my grandmother was fifty-five. Not only was that the number I carried around as my yardstick for ancient, but for many, many years she was still fifty-five in my mind. It’s not as if I was delusional. Or not overly so. But if you asked me how old my Nana was, my immediate thought was fifty-five. Strange, eh?

Have often thought to myself that I’m a very old man stuck in a relatively young man’s body. I love  sitting in a café, reading the paper, drinking good tea (sometimes coffee), complaining about the state of the world swirling round me.

I don’t look forward to my body’s degeneration. Who would? That’d be madness. But to feel a bit less of the pressure that I have to accomplish things. The whole ‘youth is wasted on the young’ deal.

Over the years, I’ve spent significant time with older people. One thing I like about these ancient, from my perspective, folk is that they care less and less about what anyone else thinks. This is over-simplified. Clearly. But it’s logical that if you’ve seen enough of life’s experiences, you’ll become more and more accepting of your personality and your character.

The old man lurking inside of me likes the sound of all that. Immensely.