How Tea Healed Me

A beautiful encounter, an open heart, a cup of tea. This pure meditative ritual could be the pivot in your healing.

By | January 16, 2021

There is a Japanese saying in Cha Dao or The Way of Tea: ichi go ichie. One encounter, one chance. We all come together in this space and share this tea, and then we all part and go our own solitary way, each bearing Tea Spirit with us. In life, there will be times when we all feel helplessness, our knees sunk low and deep into the mud of consternation, lost to the wild abandoning winds. It is in this twilight zone that we often find profundity in a broken heart, the light that gets through the shards. We seek God, the universe, our inner being, our highest self and thrive in our flow in concordance with the universe, and this flow is the Dao—in the words of our teacher Wu De, “As the Dao leads, we follow.” 

If you are reading this far in, you know you are awakening to this new earth, these winds of change. We are here because we seek radical, wild love. We are here because we believe in speaking our truth. Showing up as our authentic selves is the Way. Through harmony with nature and through honouring that sacred space within our hearts to which tea can touch, we will find that the guiding light already exists within us.

Before I dive into my story with tea, I should probably introduce myself. I was born in Malaysia, of Chinese descent. I have always had a bit of a wanderlust—I have had three wonderful university years at the University of Manchester in the UK, during which I had also begun to develop an eating disorder. On the surface, this may have seemed to be the beginning of a wild ride of anorexia and relapses through the years later, but looking back now, it really stemmed from a deep-seated lack of self-worth and self-love. 

Tea Ceremonies are held in reverent silence, allowing the head to drop into the heart and pure non-judgemental connections to be established in a harmonious atmosphere.

What began as a desire to fit into a dress for a homecoming dinner spiralled into a very strict form of calorie restriction gone too far. Eventually I started exercising more, eating less, and then, when I came back from the UK and started working at a marketing job for which I had no passion, I was also fresh out of a relationship, and had developed the one meal per day habit. I knew no hunger. I ran two to three hours in the park before heading off to work—and that meant waking up every single morning at 4am or 5am—and I sustained myself on dried fruits that I would masticate and then throw back out into the bin. When it caused a major tooth and gum problem, I switched and sustained myself purely on water all day and ate a bowl of cereal at night before bed. I slept every afternoon on the weekends as I was sapped of energy once I finished working out. 

And that speaks volumes of what a human mind is capable. Our bodies can be pushed very, very far if we put our minds to it, and in its bid for survival it would do its best to keep your blood pumping—and yet, all I was doing was flagellating it by burning my muscles without allowing them time to heal; by telling myself over and over again how disgusting I was, how imperfect I was and what a failure I was if I did not complete this circuit, or if I ate more than needed.

When I dropped to my lowest weight (32kg) around 2014, I was also suffering from a foot injury that did not allow me to run anymore (see again how amazing the body is in her ways of keeping us alive? Never ever underestimate something as seemingly innocuous as a flu. It is most likely a cry to you to take a break). I had to go for IV drips every weekend, and take tons of pills and injections and creams for my hormones and vitamin deficiencies. My foot injury inhibited me from exercising, which was a real cause for distress because the treatments had opened up the floodgates. In my eyes, it was my worst nightmare materialised—I could not exercise, but was eating like a glutton! How terrifying, how lost I was. I was engulfed in this black hole of insatiable hunger. One time, my father found me half-unconscious next to the toilet bowl. I had finished a whole baguette. 

The binges went on for months while I began to see a hypnotherapist. Kate helped me overcome my fears and past. She brought to light that inner child in me who had felt neglected all this while, who was so desperate to win approval and favours. Perfection is unattainable, I realise now, and it is okay to be wrong, it is okay to make mistakes. We own our faults and imperfections, and build our days from these foundations. I learned the art of letting go, and believing that I can be love; that I am worthy of love. So many years of desperation, of seeking for approval, crumbled and were swept away like dust. 

A before and after picture of LiYing in her anorexic days (left) and now, fully recovered (right).

I have had recoveries and relapses since then. It was not until 2016 that I decided to get well completely for good upon receiving a job offer in Hong Kong. So for six months, I slowly picked up a habit of eating when I was hungry, stopping when I was full. Even though I felt unattractive, I repeated mantras every night before bed, to remind me that I can have it all and that I love my body no matter what; that food is not going to take over my life, for there is so much to live for and I will not allow my fear of food to take all of those things away from me. I lost so many friends in those dark years; I would not let that happen ever again. 

Flash forward to 2018, I now had a daily practice of meditation but I still felt something was amiss. Whenever I stepped out of the space and got into the daily grind again, I would again feel discombobulated. I simply could not bring that stillness out of the meditation space. 

I have always considered myself a lover of tea, but it was not until I attended a tea ceremony with May Nogoy at Fivelements Habitat in Hong Kong that I truly felt for the very first time divinely led to serve purely from the heart. 

When I sat for tea with May, I remember feeling like my mind was coming to a grinding halt. I have always been one for daily meditations and self-improvement and spiritual well-being, but at that moment I realised how much more my being could transcend. I was able to see with clarity that I was able to trust in the universe, that everything that is happening now is all that is. I was able to make a decision, and in that moment say with nary a doubt, yes, I will move to Scotland to pursue an entirely new, unknown journey ahead in life. For what is more illuminating than love? Tea Spirit showed me the way, and continues to show me the way in my daily sits with Her.

LiYing serving Tea outdoors at the foot of Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh.

Tea found me at a crossroads in my life. I was stagnating in my career as a journalist, and I was also in the midst of summoning up the courage to start afresh in Scotland. Fivelements happened to just be in the same building where I worked, and it is no overestimation to say that when tea found me, going to the tea ceremonies gave me the spring in my feet and reason to go to work every day. I looked forward to the tea sits with Resham and May.

After tea met LiYing, she found inner stillness and acted more meaningfully and felt held by a higher power.

I knocked on my beloved tea sister and Fivelements Habitat Tea Curator’s door indefatigably and asked to learn as much as I could within the few months I had left in Hong Kong. Her generosity and knowledge helped me to leap into the world of tea. I sat at her ceremonies every day, sometimes twice a day along with May’s sessions, and I got to know so many other big-hearted beautiful people in the community. It was wonderful to see how tea had united us all. It is as though we had already known each other when we had hardly even spoken.

I used to think my wanderlust—satiated momentarily with great opportunities to travel through work and creative residencies abroad—would be a hard one to tame. With social media and talks about finding the best and most enchanting experience that could preferably be immortalised in pictures and writing, it was truly a life-changing moment when I sat down for tea, and simply became quiet.

With tea, gratitude for my presence imbues me with the understanding that I already have all that I ever needed to be satisfied and happy. This realisation truly went against the grain of my upbringing and beliefs—but it is incredibly freeing and transformative. I am able to see beauty in the simplicity of one cup of tea, and that longing for more, to escape my roots, have all dissipated. In fact, tea has given me, time and time again as I sat for the tea ceremonies, especially the ones I have had the pleasure to sit with Wu De when he visited Hong Kong in January of 2020, to rediscover and dig deep into my Chinese ancestry and heritage. At times when it gets painful, as the ego mind tends to rebel as it has wont to do all of my life, tea provides the medicine to clear the pathways of my mind and allow me to see more clearly that every single belief is just a belief, as every single leaf is a leaf, until we give meaning to it. And that meaning lies within our hands, how we would like to treat it.

Heeding the call of this plant spirit, I intend to spread the practice and build a community here in Edinburgh and beyond. Through time and solid practice, I have also started to uncover ways to revere this plant medicine and transmit Tea Spirit with crystals.

When setting up her tea space, LiYing personally likes to work with crystals to amplify the energetic field for healing and connection.

It is important to emphasise here that one needs not be a cloud-walking sage or Zen monk to feel the connection tea grants us to the universe. Anyone who comes to Her with stillness and presence will find clarity, and for some like me, She breaks open your heart and in that moment gives off a sense of tranquil completion. This is when you feel nothing else really matters but this present moment, when you feel so connected with your Self and love and all who are sitting for tea with you, when you feel there is no need, no want, no desire for anything else. When you drink tea in this way, you start to walk the Way of Tea in everything else you do in life. As you move out of this sacred space back into the realities of life you begin to breathe and live the Way. As you begin to feel this you also internalise this sense of connection with nature, and of course, then, the flow of the universe. Everything is as it is. You are abundant. You are the light. You are stillness and presence. You are completion. 

In this tradition we seek to be in service, to instil this peace and quietude through tea. We continue to practise, to show up for these delicious rendezvous with Tea Spirit, so to become the Dao. We become tea. We are tea.

LiYing Lim

LiYing Lim

LiYing Lim is a Tea Ceremony practitioner and keeper of the ancient practice of Cha Dao. She also does healing work for disordered eating through body-spirit connection. Her offerings can be found through www.whenstillwatersspeak.com She was previously the Beauty Editor of Harper's Bazaar Malaysia and Senior Digital Content Manager at South China Morning Post in Hong Kong.