By Jessica Diggs
The Mindfulness Tea Meditation program, a series of 15-minute Zoom sessions organized through Shields Library in UC Davis, led by Student Services librarian and veterinary technician, Erik Fausak, is a unique way to experience tea drinking as a practice in mindfulness.
Each Tuesday at 9:30 a.m., attendees meet over Zoom. They are told to have hot water, tea, and a bowl at the ready. Fausak begins by guiding the group as they pour hot water over their tea—loose, bagged, it doesn’t matter. The aim is to use the process of tea-making as a point of focus.
“Take a minute to appreciate the change of the water,” says Fausak. “How it changes from water to tea.” He leads a few sets of counted breaths. Fausak then asks the group to notice any sounds, “even the ones that may be annoying. They are just parts of life,” he says.
When the session is nearly done, the participants share what they are drinking. Flavors like almond, cherry, star anise, and elderberry are described. A couple of people also mention their new favorite cup that they are using that day.
At its core, the Mindfulness Tea Meditation series was born from a basic concern about mental health and the UC Davis community.
“Being in the veterinarian profession,” says Fausak, “I was acutely aware—as we can see in statistics—that there are four times the suicide rate amongst veterinary professionals than there is in the general community.”
Indeed, according to a 2015 paper published by the American Veterinary Medical Association, veterinarians have historically been at higher risk for mental health issues.
Before 2021, around the same time Fausak was thinking about this mental health crisis, he was also—and still is—an avid tea lover and personally knew its benefits for well-being. As a member of the Global Tea Initiative, Fausak says “tea has always been a comfort spot” for him, and decided to look for a way to marry his interests in tea and mental health.
Through GTI, Fausak became connected to the Global Tea Scholars, a diverse circle of academics. It was there that he met Zoe Peralta-Page, a Washington-based therapist who was interested in mindfulness.
According to Fausak, this was when the idea of linking tea to mindfulness practice started to take shape. “I said, oh gosh, I’d love to build some content with you for the veterinary community in Davis and probably more broadly.”
Fausak had also been in contact with Gabrielle Tirsell, a second-year economics major at UC Davis and practicing Buddhist, who was attending one of his first-year seminars. “She had an interest in looking at tea through the Buddhist perspective,” says Fausak. Tirsell soon joined him in finding a way to bring these two ideas to a wider community.
Once enough experts and enthusiasts agreed to work with him, Fausak was able to create the Mindfulness Tea Meditation program, offering it online—and briefly as a hybrid—series starting in 2021.
For those who are curious about the program, a webpage on the Shields Library site shares not only what to expect in these sessions, but how to cultivate a practice outside of them. “We decided to make an infographic, a video, and an audio piece for mindfulness and tea.” Fausak also shares that there is currently a paper that he is co-authoring on the same topics “currently in review on developing this kind of methodology.”
While he is aware of the deep cultural traditions tied to mindfulness, Fausak believes that secularized programs like this one helps make these practices accessible.
He also thinks the component of tea as a tool for mindfulness is underappreciated by Westerners. One of the few examples of public conversations that framed tea in this manner, Fausak points out, was in a 2010 interview with Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Buddhist.
“I thought it was beautiful,” says Fausak, reflecting on the interview. “A lot of what we were doing [in the program] obviously came from this—be appreciative of where this tea came from, the journey it took. Enjoy the smell. Enjoy the cup in your hand.”
While it initially set out to support veterinarians, Mindfulness Tea Meditations are for everyone. “The whole idea is [that] we can get this into regular practice,” Fausak asserts. “Really, 5 minutes of being in this moment…even with the busiest schedules.”
Sessions for Mindfulness Tea Meditation are currently being held online every Tuesday, 9:30-9:45 a.m. Click here to register.