Mike Newton — In Presence of Tea: A Conversation on Mindfulness, Creativity, Art, Anime, and Sharing Moments That Matter (#37)

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We are here to learn and do something. And what are we here to learn and do? We are here to practice. And what are we practicing? We’re practicing living.

Mike Newton

This is one of the most important conversations I’ve had on the podcast.

This is a conversation about tea.

It’s almost 2 and a half hours long because we had to cover restroom clams, tea that tastes like compost, isolation, loneliness, the meaning of life, J-rock, happiness, nootropics, chemicals, bodies, hurry, anxiety, wine, coffee, God, sake, beer, seasons, anime, overwork, stillness, books — everything you’d expect when two perfect strangers meet. This conversation summarizes everything I love about podcasting.

How can a simple warm beverage be so profound, so elusive, beautiful, subtle, and wise? Is there anything useful we can learn from such an unassuming liquid? Those are the questions I asked myself as I went into this conversation with Mike Newton (@thetealetter), creator of The Tea Letter, a blognewsletterYouTubechannelPodcast about tea culture.

GO FOLLOW MIKE EVERYWHERE

The Tea Letter Blog, Newsletter, and YouTube channel

Mike Newton on Twitter

Mike Newton on Instagram

In this episode we cover…

  • (7:00) My attempt at homebrewing Pu’er tea over a stove without a teapot or kettle
  • (8:00) A tour of mike’s tea setup, and his tea of choice
  • (10:00) Tea as a hobby: “Low floors, high ceilings, and wide walls.”
  • (12:00) Life lessons from the practice of tea (we circle back to this point a lot).
  • (15:00) “Tea makes time real.”
  • (20:00) Are you awake at the wheel?
  • (23:00) What led Mike to discovering the practice of tea? How has tea helped him alleviate anxiety?
  • (26:00) What does Mike do and use to prepare the perfect cup of green tea?
  • (32:00) How does the preparation of tea, and the tea room itself, reflect the season?
  • (36:00) What are the differences and similarities between tea and coffee?
  • (43:00) How to reuse leftover tea leaves
  • (45:00) Mikes mission to spread the lessons from tea culture
  • (47:00) Happiness, doubt, and art
  • (53:00) A history of the World in 6 glasses, how the drinks we love define our culture
  • (55:00) How does tea create community?
  • (58:00) Nuance: coffee, tea, sake
  • (1:07:00) “You can spend a lifetime drinking Oolong tea and nothing else.” A lesson on what makes tea…tea.
  • (1:12:00) Why do we like what we like?
  • (1:16:00) The one thing about tea that shook Mike to his core
  • (1:20:00) What, philosophically speaking, is in a cup of tea?
  • (1:28:00) “Now we’ve arrived at the core of it.”
  • (1:33:00) Book recommendations
  • (1:37:00) Thoughtful reading, drinking, and living
  • (1:44:00) What constraints does Mike apply to do his best work?
  • (1:48:00) Scheduling empty space to boost productivity and think clearly
  • (1:52:00) Thom Yorke, Masaaki Yuasa, Satoshi Kon, FLCL, etc.
  • (2:11:00) What does Mike do to get unstuck?
  • (2:13:00) Sendoff: the final message

Mentions

The Book of Tea by Okakura Kakuzō

From Mike’s blog: Getting into gongfu tea

In Praise of Shadows by Junichiro Tanizaki

John Daub

A History of the World in 6 Glasses by Tom Standage

white2tea

Cliff tea – Oldwaystea

Organic Chaga Tea by Buddha Teas

David Perell

Ryan Holiday

Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

The War of Art by Steven Pressfield

Brave New World

Aldous Huxley

Carl Jung

The Bhagavad Gita

The Practicing Mind by Thomas M. Sterner

Tea in Japan by Paul Varley and Kumakura Isao

Wind in The Pines by Dennis Hirota

The Japanese Way of Tea: From Its Origins in China to Sen Rikyu by Sen XV Soshitsu

Wabi-Sabi by Beth Kempton

In Rainbows by Radiohead

Asian Kung-fu Generation

Masakatsu Takagi and Mamoru Hosoda

Kenshi Yonezu

Sakanaction

Jon Hopkins (the musician)

Coheed and Cambria

Masaaki Yuasa, Tatami Galaxy, and Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken!

Satoshi Kon

FLCL (the greatest anime of all time)

Jed Henry

The Four Pillars of Chanoyu

Please enjoy! Cheers, and here’s to your good health.

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Does The Penguin Latte Podcast remind you of fresh presents on Christmas morning? If so, please consider leaving a review on Apple Podcasts/iTunes. It takes all of 60 seconds (61 if you’re feeling extra spicy). Reviews make the podcast 1% better. If 500 of you leave reviews, the podcast gets 500% better. Plus, I love reading all of your juicy comments. Thanks!

This episode is brought to you (and powered) by Flow State Coffee!

My buddy Greg Frontiero started a company that sells products designed to put you in that groovy sensation called Flow. His first product, Flow State Coffee, is some of the best coffee I’ve tasted. Plus, it doesn’t make you feel like you’re about to have a heart attack after drinking 6 cups of it (I’ve tried).

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Use this link to buy a bag with code PAUL automatically applied for a discount.

Kat Law and Austin Lesher: Using Nanotechnology and Fashion to Fight Viruses and Save the Planet (#26)

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We want to be a very simple-minded company in the sense that our customer feels confident in wearing our clothes…we want people to focus on one thing, and that’s living life.

Today on the show I’m joined by the couple-turned-business-partners Kat Law and Austin Lesher. Kat and Austin run a new clothing company called SALT, which combines nanotechnology and fashion to combat viruses.

Their message? Make wise choices, increase the longevity of the planet. Kat and Austin are bridging the gap between industry and intention. They’ve got good heads on their shoulders. I could tell from talking to them that they’ve got a stable, clear, well-thought vision for their business and life goals. They’re not hustlers. They’re true artists in every sense of the word. Keep an eye out. The Salt Clothing brand will soon be a household name among groovy minimalists. Highly recommended.

Fans of my episode with Jamie Russo will appreciate this one. We talk at length about:

  • Why in the world would you start a business during a global pandemic?
  • Nanotechnology and why it’s not as scary as it sounds
  • Entrepreneurship as a force for good
  • What it’s like to run a business as a couple
  • How to get people to stand behind your brand
  • …and loads more!

So, please enjoy our conversation, and here’s to your good health. Cheers!
-Paul

Some links and mentions from the episode

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Every Sunday, I write a weekly newsletter full of advice for creatives, plus extra goodies like drafts of blog posts and previews of the podcast. Sounds good? Click here to subscribe and get the next issue delivered straight to your inbox on Sunday.

PS: Does The Penguin Latte Podcast remind you of the excitement of fresh presents on Christmas morning? If so, please consider leaving a review on Apple Podcasts/iTunes. It takes all of 60 seconds (or 120 seconds if you’re feeling extra spicy). By leaving a review, you’re making the podcast 1% better. So, if 500 of you leave reviews, the podcast gets 500% better (if I have my math right). Plus, I love reading all of your juicy comments. Thanks so much!

0.0001%* Of Your Life

If you’re learning something new, ask yourself:

How much of my life have I spent not doing this?

26 years of not speaking in Japanese.

37 years of not surfing.

81 years of not writing a memoir.

Of course it’s hard. Of course you’re forgetting steps, falling off your board, and faltering up the stairs. Of course you want to quit. But do you realize that you’ve only spent a miniscule fraction of your life trying to improve at this? And that you’ve spent the other 99.99something% doing other stuff?

The time you haven’t spent improving at this will always outnumber the time you’ve spent working hard to get better.

There’s a fight going on inside of you between an archetypal David and Goliath. In one corner of the ring we have You With Experience. And in the other corner, we have You With No Experience.

You With Experience has 4 days of Japanese grammar tutorials fresh in his head. This is you. You are David. You are naïve. Undisciplined. Untrained. Nobody expects you to win. The odds are against you.

You With No Experience has 26 years of Not-Knowing-Jack-About-Japanese Grammar Experience under his belt. This is also you. You are your own Goliath. You’ve been training your entire life in the ways of not knowing jack about the が particle.

Who do you think will win?


* Guesswork with a very rough ballpark estimate, maybe, perhaps.

Philosophy Means Love of Wisdom

That’s ‘wisdom’ – as a verb.

The old philosophers treated their bodies and brains as the object that wisdom would act upon. They treated wisdom as something transformative: something that would change the way they thought about themselves and the world.

And that’s exactly what wisdom is supposed to do. Wisdom is that which changes the way you think about yourself and the world.

Philosophy really means love of change. Love of transformation. Love of growth. Love of curiosity. Love of the person you are, and the person you could be.

But now, we’re getting dangerously close to turning wisdom into a commodity. Post a hashtag about how many books you’re reading this week, and you’re guaranteed at least ten hits of dopamine. I can’t tell if we’re rewarding people for discipline, or for taking pictures of well-known books.

It’s not hard to be wise. I can teach you how to be wise on one step.

  1. If everyone around you is thinking the same thing, think about something else if it’s appropriate to do so.

Correct: While everyone gets angry at the problem, you think about how to solve the problem.

Incorrect: While everyone cries at the funeral, you daydream about that Chipotle Burrito you ate for lunch yesterday.

I sat down with my buddy Pranav Mutatkar to talk about wisdom, where to find it, and why we should read old philosophers in a short (20 minute) conversation. Pranav is an excellent podcast host. He’s curious (the most important part), quick, smart, and knows how to hold a conversation no matter what format.


(*Pretend I didn’t write this in the middle of the lockdown.)

The Penguin Latte Podcast #20 – Uri Bram on Publishing a Newsletter with 50,000 Subscribers, How to Enjoy Writing, and Statistical Errors We Make Everyday

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Warning: what follows is a communion of two souls in a chance encounter.

Uri Bram is the publisher of The Browser — a weekly newsletter curated by Uri and his team, read by over 50,000 subscribers. He’s written two books: Thinking Statistically and The Business of Big Data. Uri is also the designer of three games: Lettercat, Person Do Thing, and Days Old.

Uri and I had never spoken before we recorded this episode. And neither had I heard of The Browser prior to two weeks before this post. The morning I discovered their work was the morning I became brighter, smarter, more entertaining, or at the very least, half as much as the folks working hard to produce the world’s favorite curation newsletter.

I kept scrolling through their site.

I was floored.

Their website is topnotch. The giraffe mascot is cute as all hell.

Most important, they collect only the finest, most entertaining and thought provoking articles on the Internet. I’m incredibly impressed at their high bar for quality. I promise that any article chosen by their hard working team is worth the read. This isn’t your typical buzzfeed bullshit. And nor is it as high brow as The New Yorker. The content they collect is fun, interesting, hilarious, and full of humanity. Reading articles from The Browser is now a part of my evening reading routine. It’s making me less stupid, and it’ll make you less stupid, too.

In this conversation, we discuss Uri’s writing process at length. Uri’s a much more experienced writer than I am. And I learned so much about how difficult it is to organize hundreds, if not thousands of ideas in a book. We also discuss content curation (not creation), and why The Browser is world-class at it, game design, meditation, getting unstuck, going for walks and getting out in nature, how regular people can benefit from learning statistics, and much more.

So grab your favorite coffee and please enjoy our talk!

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This episode is brought to you by my weekly newsletter, Hey Penguin. Hey Penguin includes tips for improving yourself through creativity, plus a bunch of extra goodies like drafts of blog posts, art I’m digging, letters from my audience, and previews of podcast episodes. Sounds good? Click here to subscribe and get the next issue delivered straight to your inbox on Sunday.