During times of transition, I often wish I had a wise grandmother figure in my life, in whose kitchen I could rest while she prepared some delicious tea and after, who would read my tea leaves.
I’m sure I’m not alone. It would be so simple to listen to someone else’s interpretation rather than tune my ears and eyes to the tea leaves of my life. What are those leaves? They’re the shapes of life moving around us and our felt response to them.
Native American tradition has long associated meaning with animals moving through a landscape. Numerologists and astrologists ascribe meaning to numbers and stars as they constellate around us. But even things closer to us sometimes strike a chord. A lyric from a song on the radio enters straight to the heart, or an overheard comment hangs in the air at the right time. A perfect book falls from the shelf, or a page falls open to a paragraph rich with insight.
Just like the outer landscape, the inner landscape offers rich clues too. Dreams offer seemingly opaque symbols that break open when we wake and sit with them long enough, turning them over like treasure in the mind’s eye. And throughout the day, our energy, if we pay attention, rises and falls when we engage with different activities.
I feel myself expand in the presence of a creative project, even something as small as a new recipe. And when I spy a stack of paperwork that needs filing, my energy contracts. Cooking and organizing paperwork are both parts of life, but one is certainly more interesting to me than the other. That said, there are people who hate cooking but rise to the occasion of organization. Marie Kondo has legions of fans emulating her carefully appointed kitchen drawers.
I don’t need to have perfectly organized drawers to live a good life. I do need to listen when my heart swells in the presence of something that would make my life good. Does this make sense? One is shown and sometimes sold to me. The other resonates within me.
This may be an obvious example but subtle shifts in one’s energy—through interactions with friends, family, work, everyday tasks—are tea leaves waiting to be read. You may breathe more deeply when in the presence of something truly suitable for you. You may find yourself whistling, smiling, or feeling lighter.
To know oneself well requires awareness, a cultivation of regular stillness and reflection. Quiet and stillness can be hard to come by in our social-media soaked lives, when every moment can be spent scrolling past someone else’s thoughts and images.
I am not a grandmother (yet) and you’re not in my kitchen, but may I offer you this? If you find yourself in transition and confusion surrounds you, make the time to stop. To be still. To watch and listen. To pay attention to what’s outside of you and what’s happening inside of you. I promise that given enough time, you’ll understand your next step. You’ll be able to read your own tea leaves and make a choice that is waiting for you.
Lisa Groen is an author, part-time mountain monk, and instructor of Figuring Out What’s Next: Discover your new direction without blowing up your life (or breaking the bank), a course of self-discovery that can open a window to your imagination, and if you’re ready, steer you in a more resonant direction.