Floating flower petals took on special meaning during our video conference to share tea and dialogue on May 23rd, 2018.
At my suggestion, the other two contributed tea flowers:
And I hung a tea scroll within camera range:
Given we were actually in separate locations, each of us would need to act as both host and guest in preparing tea for ourselves. That is quite possible. It can be important, especially in cultures where taking time to offer oneself both respectful nurturing and gratitude is not given priority. In the context of our virtual meeting, listening for the sound as we poured hot water would connect us in generosity as much as if we were pouring for each other.
Remembering that humans tend to take things in best in sound bites, I paused frequently as I read aloud from William Scott Wilson’s wonderful book on tea scroll sayings, The One Taste of Truth, Zen and the Art of Drinking Tea:
“Ichigo ichi’e ‘Each meeting a once-in-a-lifetime event’…is included among the fundamental concepts…because it is the guiding life not only of Tea but of Zen Buddhism and the martial arts as well. Ichigo refers to a person’s life, from birth to death – something never to be repeated – while ichi’e is a coming together or an assembly of people. The world is transient, and it is natural that whomever you meet, you will part from. Every meeting is special and unique, and will never happen again in the same way. Thus, you should put your entire body and spirit into the encounter, whether it be in the tea room, a chance meeting in the street, in martial conflict, or in your own solitary thought. The message extends to everyday behavior: one should pay attention to things and events as though none will ever be repeated. Let happiness as well as sorrow be complete, and experienced with attention and nonattachment” (p. 19-20).
I suggested we focus on the “Pause” guideline from Gregory Kramer’s powerful Insight Dialogue guidelines as the pause brings one home to present moment awareness.
Once they had their tea in hand, I made my tea using traditional Japanese tea ceremony utensils holding them up so they could see:
I opened the container and placed two scoops of tea powder into the bowl. After pouring in hot water, I whisked the bright green matcha tea into suspension.
As we drank, I spoke of the warmth, the look, and the smell of the tea as well as how the taste is different with each sip. I gratefully acknowledged the energy of the sun captured by the tea leaves, the sustaining waters flowing through the tea plant and through us, and the effort of all those who planted, tended, plucked, dried, processed, packaged and transported the tea. Then there were also others who supported them, the ones who supported those others and so on…
After drinking our tea, we spoke making use of all of the Insight Dialogue guidelines – Pause, Relax, Open, Trust Emergence, Listen Deeply and Speak the Truth. One of them commented on how rarely we slow down to really pay attention but when we do, we can notice so many sensory details. Another comment was about all the moments involved in the causes and conditions that led up to our being able to share tea. I mentioned how slowly time seemed to be passing.
As we approached the time limit for a meeting with a free Zoom account, I requested that these two experienced Insight Dialogue facilitators send me their comments via email. But they wanted to provide feedback right away and had the time, so we signed out and signed back in again for another meeting. I expressed my deep appreciation for any comments they cared to share.
One of them said that the “relaxed friendliness” stood out the most for her. To me it had a quality like the direct simplicity and freedom of children playing. They told me I had managed to bring in the meditative, relational and wisdom elements of Insight Dialogue. I was glad to receive confirmation that phrases used for the Zen art of tea ceremony are appropriate.
When I asked what I could improve, one of them told me she had felt the giving as host and the receiving as guest in her body as I spoke about each of us performing both roles as we served ourselves tea. She would have liked a reminder about that before we drank our tea. The other suggested it would be better to invite participants to continue the practice as we moved into dialogue rather than using the words, “commence dialogue.” I can definitely make use of both those improvements for future virtual tea and dialogue sessions.
I was not surprised when one of them spoke about her impression that Japanese tea ceremony is about perfection. I explained that while there are practical reasons for the order of the procedures, the true spirit of Japanese tea ceremony transcends perfection. Its values of harmony, purity, respect and tranquility ideally make it possible for all participants to be truly present forgetting “the dust of the world.” I thought of how sharing tea is used as a focus for convivial interaction in many cultures.
The short film,“A Tea Gathering at San Francisco’s Urasenke Society” explains there is freedom in Japanese tea ceremony’s structure, and the focus on process serves a number of important purposes including bringing participants very close to each other.
As I watched that film again, I noticed that rapidly-fading flowers were mentioned as appropriate for display during tea ceremony. I thought of the petals on the flowers in their vases, and those floating downstream in the image on the scroll we used (see photos above).
We truly connected for a time even as the three of us, like petals ourselves, floated downstream. Sharing tea and dialogue via video conference seemed to work – opening a whole world of interesting possibilities for sharing that way…