The Mood of Tea

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In the tea hut, you can be yourself while at the same time seeking true empathy. At the heart of tea is the expectation that the host will put himself in the place of the guest and the guests will put themselves in the place of the host.

A stroll through the garden to the hut allows the guests to clear their heads and hearts of “the dust of the world.” The host will have arranged things in keeping with the season, the time of day and occasion. For example, to send a friend off on a trip a dawn tea may be conducted, with a scroll featuring a river and tea sweets with a flavor appropriate to the trip.

The scroll, flowers, and carefully selected utensils create a silent song. The wood of the hut, and the fragrant bark incense provide an elegant rustic undertone. Raindrops on the roof, melting snow, or rustling leaves add their essence. The mood is carefully orchestrated down to drops of water on the flower petals.

Such subtle pleasures inspire us to relax and perceive even more. Thus, one becomes increasingly open to the ritual to follow and to intimacy with the others present.

Over many years of practicing, we come to anticipate the meditative mood where breathing slows, time seems abundant, and hearts open to each other. Simple things are given the appreciation they deserve. There is no limit to the ability to expand one’s taste and to grow in humility and respect. Tea is not about ritual for its own sake, and it is not about religion. It is about living and taking the time to share what is truly important.

Once while traveling in Japan, the tour leader asked me to provide an impromptu talk about the tea ceremony as we travelled on a bus to a formal tea demonstration. I thought of my first exposure to chanoyu. I was wrapped up in trying to understand the ritual and could not even glimpse a hint of the meaning of tea. The number of people in the room and the strained environment further removed any possibility of intimacy or harmony.

To explain tea to my group, I decided to try an analogy that conveys my mood when anticipating a tea ceremony practice. I began by reciting Basho’s famous haiku: Old pond / Frog jumps in / Water sound.

I said, “Put yourself in an old boat drifting on that pond. You are content, almost dozing. You hear the crickets, the wind in the trees, and feel the slight rocking. You watch the ripples. A squirrel comes down an overhanging branch and stares at you and you stare back. You see an old friend unexpectedly on the shore but do not move or call out. Your friend sees you and the squirrel and waits, understanding.”

I told them, “Tea is about the heightened awareness of beauty associated with the transience of all things. The squirrel will leave, your friend will eventually leave, you will die, the pond will dry up, but let’s hope that frog of Basho’s will be around for a while.” I did go on to explain some of what they could expect from the ritual and that it was basically about sharing a bowl of tea with a few friends.

Afterwards, the woman doing the demonstration said that she was surprised that the group was so quiet, that normally she gets a lot of questions and interruptions. This pleased me. Maybe my squirrel analogy helped.

This article originally appeared in the September/October 2002 issue of the Journal of Japanese Gardening (Now Sukiya Living, The Journal of Japanese Gardening).

Can Blogging Be Mindful Communication?

Salt Marsh, ME

I am exploring whether blogging can be considered a skillful means for mindful communication for academic credit. I am deeply curious about that, but I am also interested in understanding how best to use my own blog.

I am interested in communicating about radiant refuges and their many benefits. To me, the place in the photo above has that potential. As a graduate student in mindfulness studies, I came to think of mindfulness as the ultimate radiant refuge. Mindfulness reduces suffering while increasing wisdom and compassion and its stillness goes with you for when you need it most.

I tend to be optimistic and would like to think that blogging might be used as a form of radiant refuge, but I also have reasons for concern. After reading several books on blogging and encountering red flags, the word “vigilance” came to mind for good reason, I think.

There appear to be a great many fascinating interacting factors to consider. Like the salt marsh ecosystem in the photo, dramatic shifts to the landscape seem possible. For example, bloggers could move to social media platforms as I read is already beginning to happen.

There are certain considerations that always apply to effective communication regardless of the means used. For example, an understanding of one’s audience may be challenging at times for bloggers, but it still matters. In addition, blogging might be right for some writers/ subjects/ purposes/ times but not for others.

I plan to start by developing good working definitions for “blogging,” “skillful means,” and “mindful communication.” As I continue reading what researchers, and experts have to say, I will be on a mission to identify relevant factors that can help me answer the question I am addressing. I plan to use posts in the “Is blogging mindful” category as workspace for particular topics related to my investigation.

Once I have gathered sufficient evidence regarding key factors, and analyzed their combined impact, I will present and defend my conclusion regarding whether or not (or under what circumstances) blogging as it exists today can be considered a skillful means for mindful communication. I suspect that some of what I have to say will apply to other forms of communication that rely on the Internet.

Besides helping me to decide whether to use my blog as more than a place to record my reflections for my own benefit, other personal goals include becoming a more discerning reader of blogs, and gaining practical experience with them.

Where Node Lines Cross

A radiant refuge is not just a matter of finding a beautiful spot in nature, or creating a special corner in a home (although those are both good), it is about our relationship with the refuge and how that evolves.  Over time, we may sense a wider connection, with ripples going outward from its still center.

Through our relationship with our personal refuge, we can begin to recognize the same energy when we encounter it whether in a beautiful fall leaf, or the smile of a stranger or even a blog.  We can bring this deeper perception that partakes of peace to our actions, and our dreams, and our refuge is there for us to return to when all of life’s challenges and distractions get to us.