Tea & Dialogue & Generosity

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Photo by Kathleen Fink

The photo above shows Annie Hoffman (left) and Jan Surrey sharing tea at Art and Soul Yoga on March 25th, 2018. It was one of those events where all the careful planning (see Preparing for Tea & Dialogue) just seemed to work. We kept to the schedule and it flowed better than I had expected given the complexity.

In a dyad session, the participants poured tea for each other and then drank the tea followed by Insight Dialogue where they commented on the truth of that experience. One participant said she enjoyed slowing down to really pay attention to the sensory details. Another appreciated how the flowing waters and energy of the sun captured by the tea plant become part of us – “We are the earth.” After remembering sharing tea in the past, one participant noticed it had hints of the depth and intimacy, the “Come over for 4 O’Clock tea” feeling that she now experienced on a deeper level.

The talk I shared on how both tea ceremony and Insight Dialogue teach us about generosity is reproduced below:

The powdered tea used for tea ceremony was first brought to Japan from China by a Zen monk. Tea was then planted in monasteries where it was used as medicine and to sustain awareness during meditation. The Japanese warrior class and then the merchants adopted tea and began holding gatherings to share tea and show off their tea utensils. Renowned merchant tea master, Sen no Rikyu with his strongly-held Zen values, shunned attachment to valuable utensils. His descendants, as heads of hereditary Japanese tea schools, continue to protect the standards Rikyu developed that became known as Chado or the way of tea.

Every aspect is designed to support tranquil awareness, starting with a walk along a naturalistic woodland-like path to the quiet tea hut or room. Sharing tea involves all of the senses, and the whole body. Rikyu made clear that those who follow the way of tea should put their whole heart into what they are doing, while at the same time keeping the tranquil awareness of all in the tea room in mind.

I was taught the flowing motions should be natural, and without artifice which paradoxically takes a great deal of practice, as well as calm awareness. Simple things are given the attention they deserve, and the only goal is to prepare tea and share it together. Like many, I experience time slowing down. Each moment becomes clear like the images in stop time photography.

Despite the formality of the giving and receiving, the warmth and caring generosity feel real because they are. This is life lived fully in the moment and with generosity born of a grateful heart. Tea ceremony has consistently brought me to centering peace over the years as I shared it with many different people. On occasion, I sensed awareness moving to the others present, then out to the tea garden, to all of nature and all that exists. I found my usual tendency to feel less than had no place from that perspective.

When I first encountered Insight Dialogue, Gregory Kramer’s guidelines of Pause, Relax, Open, Listen Deeply, Trust Emergence and Speak the Truth resonated strongly. I sensed immediately that these guidelines were remarkable in their power; nonjudgmental compassion would meet vulnerable disclosure for every participant. A new ease entered my life when I realized I could bring that same energy to any conversation no matter how stressful. The discussion topic also provided a means to gain wisdom. And we were all doing it together in powerful relationship, directly witnessing our fundamental interconnection. As Gregory Kramer describes on page 73 of Insight Dialogue, The Interpersonal Path to Freedom, “Compassion and joy create a virtuous cycle that promotes our finest relational qualities: lovingkindness, compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity.”

With Gregory Kramer’s guidelines in place, both speaking, and listening are generous and meaningful gifts. I now understand listening deeply to be one of the most meaningful forms of love. And the energy of that love has a tendency to spread to others who in turn become more open and generous.

Both practices foster tranquil awareness in interaction. It is clear that what is happening is real and that it matters – paying caring attention, acknowledging each other, offering thanks and really seeing how one’s actions affect others are all fundamentally important. Chado provides direct experience of what we are capable of in social interaction under ideal circumstances, while Insight Dialogue provides a way to release hindrances that get in the way of tranquil awareness in real life.

Both tea ceremony and Insight Dialogue show us how much we have to give and receive from each other when we open up and pay caring attention. Having experienced the profound benefits of these two relational practices, I wondered whether it would be possible to bring them together. Sharing tea might be a way to Pause, Relax, and Open before dialogue begins. Thich Nhat Hanh who finds much value in sharing tea notes, “We can communicate in such a way as to solidify the peace and compassion in ourselves and bring joy to others.” (p. 6, The Art of Communicating). Perhaps the peace of tea would help with that.

A tea scroll saying illustrates the kind of egalitarian generosity that comes from a deep grasp of our interconnection. In The One Taste of Truth, Zen and the Art of Drinking Tea, William Scott Wilson explains that scrolls that are used in Zen temples are also hung in tokonoma alcoves during tea ceremony events; “Among the implements of Tea, there is nothing as important as the scroll. For both the guest and the host, it is the scroll that has them grasp the Way of One Mind and absorb themselves in Tea.” What the scroll saying I have in mind says is: “Shaza kissa” (Sit down a moment and have a cup of tea.). Wilson explains, “In this way, you say, ’Have a cup of tea’ to whomever you are with” (p. 63).

This quote refers to a story where regardless of whether a visitor answered yes or no to Chao Chou’s question about whether they had been to the temple before, Chao Chou responded, “Have a cup of tea.” When the head monk of the temple, who had been listening in, asked Chao Chou about the meaning of his behavior, Chao Chou replied, “Head Monk! Have a cup of tea” (Wilson, 2012, p. 62).

This post is an example of using a blog post to share information with participants who met in live interaction. They were sent the link, and based on the visit statistics I would assume that several of them did read this post.

Author: katzlator

I am a graduate student interested in how we can support each other's growth and wellbeing through honest sharing and creative collaboration.