December 2017 “Ma Bao” 1990s Liu Bao Black Tea
I did not set out to make a piece that looked like the traditional bamboo baskets that Lui Bao is packaged in, and even more so, I did not expect the reflection to take me where it did. That’s what can happen though when you treat creativity like the relationship it is. You have to be willing to give and receive, but in return you get to dance and discover and go places and learn things you never expected.
I thought I was going to make a Chinese brush drawing on a rice paper scroll inspired by the additional origin legend that Peng Qing Zhong shared in an article in this month’s magazine about Liu Bao, the “King of Tea Trees,” being the embodiment of the God of Tea. Learning about this protective tree of life, that literally grew on the side of the cliff and was so valued for its magical healing medicine that people risked their lives to pick the sacred leaves by rappelling down the cliff from a rope, definitely inspired my soul.
Well, I did in fact create the drawing. I used ink made by mixing my ink stick with brewed “Ma Boa,” and for the leaves of the King of Tea Trees, I used a brewed tea leaf as a stamp in the green Chinese watercolor. But I wasn’t satisfied with my painting. I realized it was because the tree of life coming out of the rocks would look more like the scroll painting I have from Wu De, literally coming out of the rocks directly from the cliff face, not how I made it with a ledge you could rappel down to and then stand on to pick the leaves. No, you would have to gather them while hanging on from your rope.
I was going to try again, and even thought about cutting out the tree I had made because I really liked that part, and as I went to cut it came to me (thank you my creative muse), to cut the whole scroll into strips. Then, it came to me to weave the strips of scroll basket-style to represent the woven baskets Liu Bao is often steamed and packaged in. It didn’t feel right to use backed canvas for the weave so I did it simply on a piece of canvas, and that again was inspired, as it allowed the piece to remain pliable and able to be more basket-like when it was completed.
I thought that was the end of the interesting creative story, a story where I had to release and give away my original idea, and in its place, receive an inspired gift of a basket made from the scraps of my painting. There were more gifs to come, however, and the next layer of meaning was revealed several days later, when I started reading Robin Wall Kimmerer’s book, Braiding Sweetgrass.
Many messages have pointed me to read this book. Besides it being one of the founder of Global Tea Hut’s favorite books, I had also ended up at a retreat center where the other weekend workshop was hosted by the book’s author herself. When I got to this line in her book, “A gift creates ongoing relationship,” my art took on new meaning.
I truly believe Global Tea Hut is a gift. Yes, I donate a certain monthly amount, but more comes in my subscription than I could ever pay for and the gifts they give are of love, service, inspiration, and devotion. And I can’t help but respond. That’s how this monthly art started, I was so filled up and moved that I had to give back and honor what I had received.
And in each monthly package, along with organic and sustainable Living Tea, along with a work of art ad-free magazine, you receive a little gift, a different token each month that is tea-related. Except in December, because your gift in December is taking the money that would have been spent on a gift and putting it towards a higher quality Tea.
But that’s not the whole story, as we are told in this month’s magazine, that Henry Yiow, for the third year in a row, “matched Global Tea Hut dollar for dollar, which afforded us the opportunity to share a very special Malaysian-stored Liu Bao from the 1990s.” Yes, it is, again as Braiding Sweetgrass tells us, “A gift creates ongoing relationship.”
While the traditional baskets that Liu Bao was steamed and packaged in were of course made of the native bamboo and not Northern America sweetgrass, to me that is what this art represents – generosity of spirit and the importance of relationship. The strips go over and under one another again and again, giving and receiving, knowing that only together and only in relationship can they become what they were meant to be. Just as I let go of my original idea for this month’s art and allowed instead creativity’s idea to be visible on top, my original painting idea is still there in the strips. When a strip is underneath, when it is giving, it’s art may not be visible, but it’s surrender and letting go is what enables the weave of life.
There is something different about Global Tea Hut because it does feel like a relationship. It doesn’t feel like one-sided consumeristic purchase. It feels much more like a gift. And I think that has to be, in part, because they view the Tea as a gift they have received, so of course they would give freely what they have been given. We were asked to raise a cup of tea to Henry and his generous spirit, which far exceeded donating yearly to Global Tea Hut, and I would add next time you have cup to also raise it to creativity, and the relationships you can cultivate through giving and receiving that you could create in no other way. Life is a gift we have all received, and my hope is that my gift of art and reflection would in return inspire you to give good gifts as well, and to form a new relationship with yourself, all living beings, and this living Earth full of plants and spirit that continues to give us such good gifts.
Lee Ann Hilbrich, MA, LMFT, LPC, CDWF, RYT 200
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