Who doesn’t love a fortune cookie? It’s one of those adorable little surprises at the end of a meal…when it arrives with the check it feels like such a bonus.
I be completely honest, I put way too much stock in those few little words on the little slip of paper in that little wafery (and delicious) cookie.
As a matter of fact, I still have one taped to a bookmark that I keep in my Bible that has traveled with me for more than 18 years. “One must not consent to creep when one has the impulse to soar,” it reads.
I wish I could capture with words the deep sense of resonance that message carried for me at the time. I was working at a good-paying job, doing work that was coma-inducing, if not, at times, making me want to crawl into a hole and die from boredom. I had already been considering applying for something else at the time, but I needed a good-paying job and I liked my colleagues. It was the work itself that was mind-numbing.
I was creeping when I had the impulse to soar. I didn’t know what soaring looked like, but it was not what I was doing.
So I joked about it with a colleague I had become particularly friendly with, who shortly thereafter offered me a job on his team. It was a unicorn position at an asset management firm, being given free reign to use my knowledge of our business, which I had gained through the mind-numbing period, and my creativity to make his team function better. When given a goal by someone I am eager to please, who clearly articulated what he wanted, and who gave me little time and space to attain it, there was pretty much nothing out of my reach.
I learned how to soar. This kind of thing can’t last forever, but it was absolutely amazing while it did. And it all started because of a fortune cookie.
From Fortune Cookies to Teabag Proverbs
I love chai tea. It was my father who introduced me to this treat, and I will never forget how he used the word “smooth” to describe it. I might have said “spicy” or “sweet.” But he said “smooth”, and now, while what I love about chai might be the spice or the sweet, I always rank chai on a “smoothness” factor. (Some people are coffee connoisseurs, some some are chai. Such is life.)
This year, I tried a new brand of tea, this one called Yogi. It is quite smooth, although not the smoothest I ever had (which was a grocery store brand chai from Germany).
However, what I love about Yogi is that printed on the little paper tag attached to the teabag string is a sweet little proverb. It’s like a fortune cookie, but you have the three to five minutes while your water is boiling and your tea steeping to meditate on the proverb.
Here is a non-exhaustive list of some of my teabag proverbs from 2021:
- Sing with from your heart
- Experience will give you wisdom
- Never try to impress others, try to impress yourself
- Let things come to you
- Peace of mind comes piece by piece
- Compassion will make you beautiful
The wisdom of the teabag
Although I do not expect the same kind of life change to occur from these little proverbs as what happened all those years ago from my fortune cookie, I do feel a profound resonance with these little proverbs.
As a singer, I have discovered the importance of being genuine and singing from my heart, and not to please an audience. If I feel no resonance with the music, if there is no authenticity, then it isn’t worth it to me to open my mouth to sing.
For all that I wish I had, at a young age, found a career path and stuck to it, this was not my fate. But for all that I missed the boat on being an expert in one specific field, having had the freedom to discover many different industries and to be able to apply my creativity to each of them has forged a different kind of wisdom. This wisdom is down-to-earth and practical, and widely applicable across many diverse aspects of life. I’m not sure I would have exactly put it into words like that without the teabag proverb. It puts a spin on my career path that makes me proud.
Along the same lines as the above thought, the fact that I gave up a career to be a parent makes me, at times, feel like a failure. But a failure to whom? How critical was it to consider, the time of a boil and a steep, that I can live in a way to impress myself, through making progress on the little things that matter to me, and not rely on the shifting sand of the opinion of others? Critical, I tell you.
The frustration of knocking on doors and being ignored or rejected for my novels is exhausting. Thus, doing it in parallel with other activities which are life-giving is tremendously important. Letting those life-giving activities flow, coming to me when they do, and ebbing when they must, and not trying muscle them around has been a precious life-lesson this year.
In the thick of the “I am losing my mind” drama of this year, it is helpful to remember that peace of mind comes not in one big flash, but in puzzle pieces of understanding.
And lastly, that word, compassion, one that is not what I would associate with any kind of beauty, reminded me of a biblical prescriptions for beauty. “A gentle and quiet spirit…” Viewing compassion–both towards others and towards myself– as an element of a gentle spirit was eye-opening, indeed.
Gather ye teabags while ye may…
In my eternal effort to “grow up“, I have discovered that there is great benefit in the willingness to consider all points of view. This childlike acceptance, however, is not enough. Holding up those points of view to our internal wisdom compass–to see if they resonate with what we believe to be true–is that next step which can guide us to maturity. It does not mean we absently accept everything. It means we consider it, compare it to our truth, and keep what is good.
Have you ever gotten wisdom from an unlikely source? An inspiration or encouragement from something random? I would love to hear about it.