It was clear when Resham Daswani moved back to Hong Kong from attending university in London that change was coming, little did she know where she would end up.
We all know that Hong Kong is a fast-paced city, but thankfully we have a spirited community of wellness professionals helping us to find a greater work-life balance. It’s thanks to work from people like Nikita Ramchandani at Kita Yoga, and spaces like Float On Hong Kong and Reviv Hong Kong that the overwhelming sense of business can be decreased in order for us to live our best lives in the urban jungle. Another special person helping Hong Kongers to find a more mindful path is Resham Daswani, founder of Spiral Spaces, whose tea ceremonies are becoming increasingly popular. We sat down for a chat about Cha Dao – The Way of Tea.
An interview with Resham Daswani from Spiral Spaces
I first met Resham Daswani at the opening of Enhale Meditation Studio in Central where she was running a media workshop during the centre’s opening. The idea of a tea ceremony for meditation was strangely appealing, and as I sat for tea with her and a dozen others that day, it astounded me how cathartic the ritualistic process was.
From the preparation of the sacred herb itself and the way that she, quite obviously, respected it, to the methodical pouring of the water and the drinking, it’s hard to describe how one can so easily find comfort in the practice. Afterwards, I knew that I had to learn more about her tea journey, so I hope that you enjoy reading about her fascinating path, and I urge you to sit for tea with her to better understand the ancient practice.
Hi, Resham. Thanks so much for sitting and chatting with me about how you found your way into tea. You were born and raised in Hong Kong, with parents who originally came from India. Tell me a little about how your younger years impacted where you are now.
What I find really interesting now is that I was always raised to honour and appreciate Eastern traditions. I was brought up in quite a typical Hindu household, where rituals like staring at the moon on a Wednesday or walking around a plant on a Friday was kind of the norm (laughs). But it was never something I thought I could really share with other people. It always felt more like private home life, so growing up in Hong Kong was slightly dualistic in that way.
I then went to university in London and was studying surface textiles at the London College of Fashion. Art was the way I found to express all of the things that were brewing in my heart. Through creativity, I could marry my own private practice of conscious cultivation and spirituality with expression, without it being strange to outsiders. When I graduated and came back to Hong Kong, I was looking for jobs in fashion although there was something inside of me that knew this industry wasn’t fully aligned with how I truly felt about the world.
So you returned to Hong Kong and what happened?
I’m a big believer that when the student is ready, the teacher appears, and eventually it really came to a point where quite literally the universe was telling me to stop and to follow my dharma. By then I’d left corporate fashion and I thought that developing my own collection was more in line with my expressive truth, and even though I was working with all these great factories and suppliers, the whole process was just really difficult, and at the time I couldn’t understand why that was.
Then, two months before the collection was due to be presented, consistent signs kept coming to me. It was incessant. For six weeks I delibertely ignored them, up until it was just the biggest slap in the face, and then I knew I had to entertain it, at least to better understand what these messages were.
The signs were all pointing me towards this tea centre in Taiwan, to live with a Zen monk – my now teacher – Wu De. So, I went on the website and I was like: ‘OK. They’re drinking tea… they’re meditating…” Honestly, I barely looked into it, I just saw they were offering courses, so, without really telling anyone, I booked a ticket and left.
Wow! That’s a pretty big leap of faith. What was it actually like when you arrived in Taiwan then?
When I arrived at the Tea Sage Hut – our school in Taiwan, I literally felt 10 years of pain, identities that weren’t real, just everything that wasn’t serving me, within about five seconds, it all just completely melted away. I mean, it felt super right, but I’d only just gotten there! So, I spent a few weeks there in tea, meditation, the most amazing food, and within the company of people who are now my dearest brothers and sisters together just learning and living a life in service to this plant.
It was when I sat for my first tea ceremony, somehow, this dialogue just happened, and I could understand how every moment of my life was so intrinsically woven together for me to end up right there, right then, in that moment of freedom. It was like a rebirth – I actually experienced being reborn into the Earth’s womb, a new slate; a new chapter. And I knew, as a part of me had always known, that I was meant to begin this life of service, sharing a way of compassion and healing with others.
But how do you come back to everyday life from that?
The night before I was meant to leave, I was almost in tears because I knew what I was coming back to. I mean, tea has always been an important part of Hong Kong culture, but that’s tea as a beverage – not tea as plant medicine. I could feel how resistant people were, at that time, to the idea of meditation. But, I did come back, and I sat with my practice, morning after morning, day after day and everything began to shift.
It was a little scary when I returned because before I left I was partying and in the fashion scene, but that kind of lifestyle was just no longer in flow. I was already vegan at that point, but I can only assume that people thought that maybe I’d been away in a cult! I did still try going out and integrating both lifestyles, but there was just no way I could sustain that type of living. Eventually it wasn’t even a question of choice as tea was so deeply-seeded in my heart by that point.
For my boyfriend, now my husband, I think it was like being with two people. I mean my family always knew that spirituality was always a really important part of my life, I would often study Zen books for example, but here I was just changing my whole entire life overnight.
And what was like trying to build your life as a practitioner of wellness in Hong Kong?
Well, slowly, I started approaching wellness centres because I wanted to share the power of tea, of this plant, how much it had changed my life and that is here to heal us and help us become our greatest self. But this was 2015, and people weren’t sure why I wanted to gather around and drink bowls of tea in silence. Yet, when we would sit for tea, often people would say things in a suprised way like: ‘That reminded me of when I was small and how I used to sit with my Grandfather and drink tea.’ People would be overcome with innocence, remembering and softening and it was very interesting to see those shifts.
So then, I began to start more women’s gatherings and create spaces where tea could be shared freely, just integrating instead of separating. I brought my teacher over from Taiwan earlier this year, and I think that milestone was when people truly began to understand what this practice was all about. We now have a monthly meetup community of our Global Tea Hut members in Hong Kong and it’s just been really nice to see this growth around tea and meditation over the last few years.
Can you tell me a little about your personal practice? What does an average day look like for you?
So, I wake up in 5am in the morning – it’s a new shift in my routine so I am still getting used to it! I start with a meditation for about 30 minutes then put the kettle on. I set up for tea, and it depends on the day, but I usually sit for at least an hour. I love it when the rest of the world is still sleeping, I feel like I have my space. Usually I then have offerings whether that be at studios like Enhale, or ceremonies for a birthday or a special occasion.
But the practice of tea doesn’t stop when we’re finished being seated for a ceremony. It’s about walking through life with the same reverence and respect, whether you’re brushing your teeth, or having a fight with a taxi driver (laughs); it continues outside the tea space.
And now you’re leading even more tea ceremonies. What has the response been like from people in Hong Kong?
It’s been fascinating to see the shift in Hong Kong because mindful practises or meditating is not exactly common in most people’s lives but now increasingly so there is much curiousity about the benefits. So I love how amazed people are when they sit for tea and realise how calm and clear their mind is simply from drinking a few bowls of tea. I think people enjoy reflecting on the elements within the ceremony too – the heat of the bowls, the sound of the water, the crackle of the fire, the warmth of the tea as it travels through their body, and just being in silence with total strangers is something that Hong Kongers don’t often do. But, as people open, they let what serves them in, and when a tea ceremony is something that helps shift them inwards, then a deep relationship can be very instant in that way.
Having spaces like Enhale Meditation Studio open in Hong Kong is amazing because they’re completely dedicated to nurturing mindfulness practices. It’s the first time I’ve actually been able to leave my teaware in one place, as usually I’m moving around, as there hasn’t always been a consistent space to gather.
Where are you currently with your personal studies?
I look formal initiation into the tradition last year and am now currently going through four years of further training with my teacher. You fully begin to realise why students back in the day lived with teachers in monasteries. I mean, there’s 19,000 years of tea tradition, history, practices, lore and so on to cover, and we’re just barely beginning to scratch the surface. It is incredible though and I feel grateful for the community everyday.
At our main center the Tea Sage Hut in Taiwan they run ten day courses where you learn about everything from tea, to water, to fire, to the ceremony basics and sutras. It’s open to all and absolutely free. It’s actually sustained by our donation-based monthly magazine called Global Tea Hut, which my teacher produces. Once you subscribe it arrives at your doorstep and is filled with incredible information all about tea and what’s really wonderful is that every month you get a different organic ‘living’ tea as the ‘Tea of the Month’, so that people can really begin to experience clean tea as nature and as a bridge to the meditative mind. I so highly love and respect the ‘business model’ of coming and learning for free and being sustainable by donation so the sharing, knowledge and love can eventually change the world, bowl by bowl, as we say.
And what are your hopes for the future?
I think to have a personal space that is an extension of the Tea Sage Hut in Taiwan and to offer, share and support the cultivation of meditation in both corporate and community sectors, schools and so on, that would be really beautiful. From day to night to have tea flowing, a sanctuary for people to meditate and be, that would be ideal.