Is love in your future?I never quite understood exactly how those clever gypsies and turbaned fortunetellers interpreted tea leaves. It seemed so farfetched—what could possibly be told from a clump of wet leaves at the bottom of a teacup?

I’ve changed my opinion about this after exploring the nature of metaphor during a recent Through Your Own Lens retreat. I designed the workshops to divine previously hidden information about the nature of our lives, our experiences and our truest selves from the images we capture during the retreat. I created the retreats because I understood that it almost doesn’t matter what the subject, composition and lighting of the photo is—there’s always some deeper level of understanding that comes from regarding these pictures in new ways.

After the success of our last retreat, I’ve taken to saying, “Now I understand how people find meaning in tea leaves,” meaning: we can find meaning in just about anything if we are willing to seek it out. But the truth is, until this morning, when I finally looked it up, I really didn’t know how tea-leaf reading worked.

Turns out that there’s a name for tea leaf reading—in fact there are three: tasseomancy, tasseography or tassology. No matter what you call it, tea-leaf reading is, at its core, an exercise in abstract pattern recognition. The reader sees symbols in the dregs of the loose tea—an animal, a number, a letter, a shape or symbol—and uses those images to craft a profound, recognizable story.


We have the extraordinary ability to make meaning anywhere, at any time.

When that meaningful story we’ve created resonates with us, it opens our minds to new ideas, new solutions, novel connections, a new way forward. Our imagination and intuition give us clues, and we fill in the rest. We see a heart-shaped stone on the beach and take it as a sign that we are infinitely loved. We notice a cloud that looks like a rabbit drinking from a Coke bottle and we laugh, having been reminded to expect the unexpected. There’s a puddle shaped like Great Britain—maybe we’ll travel soon.

Wikipedia lists hundreds of “methods of divination,” including by seeing shapes in smoke (turifumy), by itches (urticariaomancy), by seeds in bird excrement (stercomancy), by studying the entrails of sacrificed animals (hieromancy), and my personal favorite: by cheese (tyromancy).

Just imagine being able to see the future in coagulating cheese! This must be a gift unlike any other. If you, or anyone you know, is a tyromancer, please introduce me.

All of this is to say: it doesn’t matter how you make the connections. You may not be able to accurately foretell events from whatever you notice around you, but you’ll interpret certain specific connections that open your mind, expand your thinking, solve problems and broaden your experience simply by noticing. When you allow yourself to see things differently by looking for new symbols or patterns, you will shift your perspective on the events, issues and circumstances of your life.

Try this in the next few days:

Step One: Quiet your mind with four long, deep breaths (four counts in, four counts out).

Step Two: Find your focus—what’s the question you would most like to have answered? Start with a small question, like, “What should I have for dinner?” before you get to the big questions like, “Should I marry my boyfriend?” or “What’s my true purpose in life?”

Step Three: Ask the powers-that-be (the universe, God, The Force—whatever you believe in) for an obvious sign, then allow yourself to notice what signs or symbols appear around you.

Step Four: Look at the clouds, the shapes of decaying logs in the woods, coagulating cheese—anything that delights you.

Step Five: Make a connection, no matter how farfetched, between what you’re seeing, and the question you’ve been asking, and see where that takes you.

The beauty of this process is that you’ll get some surprising answers to your burning questions, without the heaviness of “trying to figure things out,” which no one has done, ever, for important questions. Think of Newton getting conked in the head with an apple, Mestral’s dog, Einstein’s cows, or any problem you’ve ever had that you solved while singing in the shower or daydreaming while you were supposed to be solving problems.

Rather than suffering because you don’t have all the answers, maybe all you really need to do is have a nice cup of tea.

 For more on tea leaf reading:

Share This