The first thing Na’ama Givoni does when she wakes up each morning is sit for tea, a process that prepares her for her day and which she describes as a practice of fluidity. Every morning’s tea practice varies, but they each start with her tidying the area where she will sit for tea. She describes sitting with tea like sitting with a friend “who loves you very much.” Then, Na'ama—whose name comes from the word “pleasant” in Hebrew—plans her day by making sure she has time for more tea sessions, work, art creation and an unexpected adventure or two in her new home New York City. She calls herself a student of the leaf and took up the practice of Cha Dao, an ancient Chinese practice which means “The Way of Tea”, six years ago. And in case you are wondering (like I did): no, being a student of the tea leaf does not forbid a person from enjoying the occasional cup of coffee, which Na'ama does from time to time but she isn’t crazy about it’s taste.
Sun Sign: Taurus
How did you get into Cha Dao?
I was introduced to the Cha Dao Tea practice over six years ago by my dear friend and tea sister Baelyn Elspeth. Another amazing friend of ours, Colin Hudon, had traveled to Taiwan with his girlfriend at the time, in search of tea. And through the magic of adventure and universal guidance, they found Wu De, our tea teacher. Colin began to invite Wu De to L.A. to teach about The Way of Tea. During one of his visits, Baelyn sat with him, beginning her practice that would eventually spark my own.
What was your experience learning with Wu De like?
Well, like Wu says, “Everything I can teach you has already been taught to you by this bowl of tea.” Sitting with Wu and tea is like sitting with two dear friends who love you very much. Wu and tea have a very beautiful relationship and it’s felt. You experience the Qi of the tea. The Qi of tea is always there and will show up no matter who is serving, but if the server has done the work to empty themselves, then there is only the energy of the tea that will show up in your bowl. Wu sits with the lineage of tea, one that he was initiated into through his teachers.
My learning with Wu is also a forever experience. Each time there’s more to learn. He’s a great human. His teachings remind me that the kind of love, poetry and understanding that communing with nature opens is within each of us.
And what do you mean when you say that the Qi of the tea is always there?
That tea is a sensitive plant and will pick up on the energy that surrounds it. Having a tea practice is a lot like having a ceramic practice. When you sit at the wheel, you have to be centered or it will show up when you interact with the clay. Same for the tea. When you sit and serve, it's best to have as little "chatter" as possible in your mind because that energy will show up in the bowl of tea.
What does tea mean to you?
Community and connection. In a tea practice, everything is connected. Everything has purpose. All the elements are at play and have purpose. All of them are needed to have ceremony.
How does tea create community?
One of the many names of tea is “the great connector.” Across the globe, diverse cultures have a tea practice. You come over and tea is prepared. Americans do not have a strong tea practice the way other cultures around the world do.
Tea is an offering that has created community long before my time and will continue to long after. There are a lot of reasons why tea is a connector. The simplest answer is: sit and have tea with someone you are just getting to know and personally experience how it opens up our comfort level with one another.
I read that the type of water is crucial to the tea process. Can you talk about this (if it’s true) and which waters are your favorite? How do you go about picking your water?
The type of water is an important element to making tea because it is the only other ingredient and it’s going into our bodies. Just like your tea, you want the water to be as close to it’s form in nature meaning: pesticide free, chemical free, free of being stripped of its natural nutrients.
My first choice is sourcing local spring water. After that, I’d pick tap water that has had a good filtration. If neither of those are available and you have to purchase water, look for waters that have not been striped and that come from an integral source. Good water will “open” up your tea. But, we’ll get more into that another time.
What made you decide to become a student of the leaf?
I took up sitting for tea as a daily practice of reverence for plant and self because it spoke to me. I didn’t serve anyone for few years. Eventually, you hear her, the tea, asking to invite friends. Sometimes people sit for tea and the next day they want to serve. It was different for me. Slowly, I invited friends over and at a certain point I was asked to serve.
How is your relationship with tea and Cha Dao similar or different to your embroidery?
I can remember the first time my mom taught me how to sew, just the simple standard technique by hand. It’s a practice of our lineage handed down. I didn’t know then that it would come back years later as a form of purpose and connection. They are both art practices of discipline and repetition. In the space of repetition, you can feel the silence that lets you let go of the brain chatter and create from another place. They are both very simple in respect to what you are actually doing. With tea: you get water, you heat the water, you put leaves in a bowl, you add water to the bowl. Tea. With stitching: you get a needle, you thread the needle, you poke in and out of fabric. For both, you have to show up, make space, be present. Simple enough, you would think.
How would you describe your embroidery? And how long have you created this art?
I think my mom first taught me how to sew when I was like eight. I didn't do much with it until many years later when I began stitching words into paper. Sewing them into something somehow made them more permanent. When I started having a tea practice, I saw that I could learn other forms of stitching and embroidery to create runners.
What advice would you give your younger self?
How do you want this world to be different because you lived in it?
That's such a big question. I don't know that I do want this world to be different because I've lived in it. It's a pretty fascinating world as it stands. I hope that I'm adding to this world. I hope that I'm adding an expression of art that connects us to one another.
What motivates you in life?
Creating, love, and laughter.
What keeps you up at night?
The fear of not achieving my potential.