The Tea Thief
Updated: Feb 25
Last night, I had a dream that resonated with me and speaks volumes about what we allow to happen to us and what rightfully belongs to us. In the dream, I made chai tea for myself. I left it to simmer on the stove and walked away. Then I heard someone say "Wow, this is really good chai!" I went back to the kitchen and all the tea was gone-- the pot just sat on the stove with a little ring of spices and a few milk bubbles crusted to the bottom. You can imagine I wasn't happy about it.
I went into the common area and told everyone they had to give me a pour from their cup until I had a full cup of tea, as it was my tea in the first place and was meant only for me.
Returning to the kitchen, I went to grab a cup but all the dishes were dirty. I tried to wash a cup but there was no soap. I found something that would hold liquid (pried out of some electronic device) and went out to where everyone was.
All but two people had left so they wouldn't have to share what didn't even belong to them. One person gave me enough for a sip but made no effort to hide their displeasure in doing so. The other sat in stony silence, refusing to even acknowledge my existence. I had lost an entire pot of tea and in return only asked for a cup and all I had received was a sip.
I am a firm believer that dreams-- though often entertainment-- sometimes try to tell us something-- especially when we remember them in great detail. So, what does this dream tell me-- and any of you it struck as familiar? Beware the tea thief.
Let's look at tea as your time needed to create or the money needed for supplies or the resources necessary to sell. These things are yours and everyone in your life who signed up to be a part of it understood that you were a creator-- a writer, an artist, a dancer. So you set aside time or money or other resources in order to do your thing and some people come along and take it little bits at a time. It's just for the afternoon-- just a little extra help or just a little money-- just till things get better. And while those things in and of themselves are not inherently wrong-- it is what friends do for each other-- it becomes an issue when you demand to be repaid in turn and you are left with only one sip.
As if the taking of time, money, and resources weren't enough, you have a sink full of metaphorical dishes to do-- responsibilities. As my family's primary care taker, it seems painfully accurate that I had to use something that wasn't even a cup because others had used the cups but could not bother to wash them. In a way, this searching for cups amidst responsibilities allowed others to leave with my tea.
Domestic duties are the invisible tasks that only get noticed when they are left undone. They often become a thankless expectation. It is a burden that can become significant and steals time away from your creative process. It is like the person who refuses to acknowledge your existence, drinking your tea while failing to notice your role in its making. If you are the primary care taker of your household, your contributions often go unnoticed and unrewarded, but they are contributions none the less. You are giving away cups of tea in the time spent caring for others. But none of these things mean we should keep all the tea to ourselves, either. We can, and should, share.
So what would sharing your tea look like? Let's start off by saying that no exchange will ever be completely equal. And what is easy for one person might be hard for another. Often, we find ourselves modeling the behavior that we want rather than demanding its reciprocation. For example, I will ask my friend to watch my wee one so I can run errands in peace and in exchange I will pick up some groceries for him. I ask for a cup of tea at the same time I am offering one back. But to say "Ok, I'll help you but maybe you could do this in return?" feels wrong to many people. Asking for help feels wrong. Even answering the question "Is there anything I can do to help?" feels wrong (maybe because it's largely a rhetorical question these days, like 'how are you?' No one expects you to answer, it is just a faux politeness.)
This week, I want you to ask for a cup from someone else's pot. I want you to say "Hey, I really need some help watching the kids so I can work on my story." Or "It's going to be great weather on Friday, would you switch shifts with me so I can paint outside?" or even "I've cooked and done the dishes every night this week. How about you take a turn?"
You start life with a pot of tea-- you can share it. It is good to share. But beware the tea thief who comes to steal all that you have and then complains when you demand its return. Do not leave yourself with only a sip. You are deserving of your time to create. You are deserving of the resources necessary to try and accomplish your dreams. Now, go get some tea.