Creative Tea and Dialogue with Art, Music, and Spoken Reactions

Creative T&D
Creative dialogue during tea and dialogue (photo by Jeff Klein)

Lidia Kenig-Scher painted while Jim Flavin played various instruments. Here, Jim improvises on the didgeridoo while singing bowls respond sympathetically.

In April and May of 2019, four of us worked on a project to capture footage of a creative variation of tea and dialogue while a painting emerged in response to our topic, “the unending sea of blessings” (a Japanese scroll saying). Besides contemplation of this topic, we were supported by Gregory Kramer’s Insight Dialogue guidelines – Pause, Relax, Open, Attune to Emergence (previously Trust Emergence), Listen Deeply and Speak the Truth. The video at the link below provides an idea of what occurred over three sessions that included spoken reactions and discussion:

Creative tea and dialogue video

After we shared tea in her living room, Lidia Kenig-Scher worked on the painting in her studio as Jim Flavin played a variety of instruments in the next room and videographer, Jeff Klein, captured the action. The materials, tools, and physical effort gave a grounded, down to earth quality to this multimedia dialogue. The video shows how the rhythms and the feeling of the music influenced Lidia’s brush strokes. Jim mentioned feeling connected to the painting process even though he could not see the painting as it evolved.

The tea we drank at the start of the second session had four ingredients. Since there were also four of us, that seemed a great metaphor for our communal awareness that retained what we each contributed to the blend.

We experienced a particularly vivid example of the stages described by Mitchell Kossak in Attunement in Expressive Arts Therapy: Toward an Understanding of Embodied Empathy where periods of seeking safety and risk taking ultimately result in an experience of the universal. Some time ago, Lidia had put up a quote about the wisdom of trusting emergence rather than forcing things on her studio wall. Jeff trained his camera on that quote and his comment about how well that quote expressed what happened the previous day is included in the video soundtrack.

After the doubt and empathic support, followed by effortless expansive flow, the completion of the painting recognized by a hug, felt particularly powerful. That hug also perfectly symbolizes the closeness the practice supports. I could not help but be grateful that we had captured all of it on video.

The plan was to display the painting in my tea hut (see below) for a later tea and spoken dialogue session.

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I am glad we discussed our common belief that creativity is not just for professional artists. Nor is it just for the young. Contrary to what younger people might believe, older adults can actually experience reduced anxiety and increased life satisfaction; they may no longer care as much about what others think about them, bringing a new and most welcome sense of freedom that supports creativity. In fact older adults bring a number of gifts to tea and dialogue practice. Creative tea and dialogue is certainly not just for professionals as is clear from this joyous example of collaborative storytelling with musical emphasis.

I am most grateful for the generosity of these talented artists:

Jim Flavin is a musician and certified practitioner and teacher of Jikiden Reiki. He collects percussion instruments from all over the world and shares them with others in the drum circles he leads. His work as a contractor provides many opportunities for the practical application of mindfulness. He believes in spreading unconditional love through expressing respect, kindness and honesty in all relationships.

Lidia Kenig-Scher is an award-winning mixed media artist and transformational catalyst. Her intuitively conceived works are installed in the interiors of successful homeowners and entrepreneurs, many of whom claim that the art emits a vibration capable of positively affecting their lives and the spaces where the art is installed. This highly decorated interior designer and Feng Shui master also teaches people to “paint from the heart,” a meditation-based technique grounded in more than 40 years of Buddhist practices and intense spiritual work. Lidia notes that her artworks invite personal growth because she too starts by opening her heart and trusting her brush to paint the truth.

Jeffrey Klein is a bilingual videographer with a 25-year career in multi-media production in Japan and the United States including podcasts and videos intended for retail, business, entertainment and educational contexts. Samples of his work are available at his website.

What it Means to Have Faith in The Unending Sea of Blessings

A video of how this painting on the theme of  “The Unending Sea of Blessings,” by Lidia Kenig-Scher* was created is available here.

The Sea of Unending Blessings SMALLPhoto of Lidia’s painting by Jean Abate, Framing & Fine Art Reproduction Specialist, Northeast Digital Imaging, Salem, NH

According to William Scott Wilson in The One Taste of Truth: Zen and the Art of Drinking Tea, page 135:

“The Unending Sea of Blessings

This phrase from the Kannon-kyo is the summation of the life, free of obstructions, that we can have if we put faith in the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara.

If, in a lawsuit, you stand before a magistrate,
Or are in dread and fear on the battlefield,
Think upon the power of Avalokitesvara,
And all the myriads of enemies and their hostilities will retreat and disperse.
The wonderful sound, the Perceiver of the World’s Sounds,
Brahma’s sound, the sound of the tidal sea
Surpasses the sounds of the world
And for this reason, should be constantly kept in mind,
Thought by thought, never giving rise to doubts.
Perceiver of the World’s Sounds, pure wisdom:
When in pain, suffering, or close to death,
He is able to provide a foothold and support,
Provided with all merit and virtue;
His compassionate eyes never leave sentient beings:
An unending sea of blessings.
For this reason, you should bow with deepest respect.

It is also a recognition that despite all our grousing and discontent, we are already fully blessed. To truly understand this, however, we must get past our egocentric selves. Avalokitesvara, the Bodhisattva of Compassion, enjoins us to act not in response to our own pain and suffering, but to that of all other sentient beings. This Bodhisattva is often depicted with a thousand eyes with which to see suffering the world over, and a thousand arms with which to act for its cessation.

In some understandings of Buddhism, all Buddhas, bodhisattvas, and attendant gods are reflections of our own potentialities. In this way, Avalokitesvara is the Unending Sea of Blessings, and we ourselves are Avalokitesvara, and are ourselves the source of unending blessings.”

*Lidia Kenig-Scher is an award-winning mixed media artist and transformational catalyst. Her intuitively conceived works are installed in the interiors of successful homeowners and entrepreneurs, many of whom claim that the art emits a vibration capable of positively affecting their lives and the spaces where the art is installed. This highly decorated interior designer and Feng Shui master also teaches people to “paint from the heart,” a meditation-based technique grounded in more than 40 years of Buddhist practices and intense spiritual work. Lidia notes that her artworks invite personal growth because she too starts by opening her heart and trusting her brush to paint the truth.

Beauty & Imperfection

With its seeming love for the one-of-a-kind and constant change, the natural world can be quite worthy of our detailed inspection. Even an oddly unique, or broken and incomplete natural object can be so beautiful it can take our breath away. So can an ordinary vista or an object that has been eroded by time. There is a story about Sen no Rikyu, a famous Japanese tea ceremony master – he shook a few leaves onto the moss after a tea garden was cleaned a bit too perfectly. Leaving a few fallen leaves on the moss points to the wonder and mystery of reality as it really is.

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We care about others’ approval because we need others in order to survive, and that can have us wanting to be perfect. But perfection in the abstract is a rather odd concept when you think about it. Toward what end? According to what standards does it operate, anyway? What matters to one person may not matter at all to another and different cultures value different things.

I have found that people actually love it when we can accept ourselves, imperfections and all, and when we are open about feeling vulnerable at times. Those who can accept their own imperfections tend to have an easier time accepting them in others which can be a great relief given how much we tend to fear being negatively judged.

Japanese tea ceremony teaches many lessons through the actions involved in sharing tea while engaging with various objects. Take, for example, the beautiful tactile tea bowl below that was made by my Japanese tea ceremony teacher, Giselle Maya.  While it is misshapen and has imperfections in its glaze that resulted from a collaboration with the kiln fire, irregularities and burnishing from age add depth to its beauty, something that we can learn to appreciate in each other as well as in tea bowls, even mended ones.

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The subtle and hard to define Japanese concept of “wabi sabi” embraces imperfection. It recognizes that since everything is constantly changing, perfection is impossible, except, perhaps, in perfect moments as Beth Kempton notes along with examples in her Wabi Sabi: Japanese Wisdom for a Perfectly Imperfect Life.

I find that looking for a beauty that embraces imperfection can provide great solace. At times we can even catch others and ourselves in the act of being beautiful. And seeing the light shining through that deeper beauty can connect us to all that is.

Below are examples of what might be considered imperfect beauty that called out to me. I recommend the wonderful adventure of finding your own examples.

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Viewing Stones

Many viewing stones are completely natural. Some are cut to have a flat base that fits into a carved wooden stand. Viewing stones may suggest a mountain rising above the clouds, a waterfall, or even human figures and animals. Stones with interesting surface patterns are also collected. All are valued for their ability to evoke a response in the viewer, rather than for being literally like what they may resemble.

A tiny metal animal or human figure is sometimes added to bring out the mood of a particular stone. Larger viewing stones are sometimes displayed outside in gardens. A number displayed together on a stand can make for a most interesting “conversation” among the varied shapes, colors, and textures.

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Sharing Visual Creativity

In June, 2019, a bunch of us shared art and crafts in a wide variety of media at Park Avenue Congregational Church. When someone (or in this case someones Karen Stark and Gwendolyn Phelps) takes the lead in organizing one of these shows, the results can be quite interesting. With luck, that will encourage those who think what they create is not good enough to submit their work anyway. We can all communicate things that matter this way. It need not reach the level of high art to express the joy of being alive. Children understand this. We should all learn from them.

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Water Tower Magic

On September 7, 2014, a unique event took place to celebrate a local landmark (below) that was turning 90 years old. The notice I saw spoke of images of local places by both youth and adults. Each art work would be briefly projected on the substantial Arlington, MA Reservoir structure before another took its place. Curious, I took my camera and portable canvas sling bench to the classical revival water tower.

The images can only hint at what it was like to walk up the road to the top of the hill as the glowing tower came into view. I joined the crowd that had gathered there as darkness descended and the Luminarium Dance Company interpreted the images to music issuing from two large loudspeakers.

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More Than Just Stones

I had the shadow box for some time before I discovered what I wanted to do with it. It was a multi-step process: 1) Pick a stone, 2) Find or take a photo that told a story about the stone, 3) Arrange the stone and photo in the shadow box, and finally, 4) take a photo of the completed arrangement like those below. I could not predict what would happen. The ones I struggled with could come together in perfect balance in the end. I kept thinking of new possibilities. This could be endless. Stones just have resonance.

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Morrisonite jasper with a landscape-like closeup 

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Lobster claw scholar’s rock with a lobster roll

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Bubble lace agate with closeup

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Hut stone with Japanese garden photo

Jasper pebble and the Whidbey Island beach where it was found

A Cat Kindred Spirit

Jude needed a new home. When Shah Hadjebi told me she was a special cat, I knew I could believe him. As it turned out, that cat and I were kindred spirits. When I was home she was always with me. Unlike most cats, she liked to be carried. Since she loved looking out the large kitchen window, I began to carry her for daily walks in my garden. She could be playful and active at times, loved catnip, and when she wanted to go somewhere she let you know it.

I cuddled her under a blanket “cave” when I knew her days were numbered. I told her, “All we have is the present moment.” Cats understand that. They live their whole lives that way. A year after she died, I asked Shah to paint her portrait. He used the photo of her looking up at a blue jay through the kitchen window, a most fitting way to celebrate the life of a cat we both loved.

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Jude

Kintsugi: Two Tea Bowls Mended with Loving Care

There are very few practicing the traditional craft of kintsugi (literally gold mended) in Japan, although you can purchase materials online and try it yourself.

You can also find examples with related concepts such as the illusive wabi sabi, mottainai (regret about waste), and mushin (openness to transience).  This post presents two examples that had great meaning for their owners.

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The first example (above) was a favorite “travel” tea bowl of a Japanese tea ceremony enthusiast. When it broke in transit during a trip, he had it mended using a nontraditional color. Kintsugi normally uses gold, silver, or platinum.  The owner treasures all of his memories of that special bowl, including those associated with its latest vibrant transformation.

When I first encountered kintsugi, I realized the process involved collaboration. The person who made the bowl, the forces that broke it, and the person who mended it all contributed something important as the object moved through time.

Of course, there are many good reasons to mend a bowl. But this art goes beyond the practical or sentimental. From tending my tea garden through growth and change and at times dealing with storm damage, I learned the wisdom of honoring the potential of what is here now.

Like everything else, we are subject to constant change. We are by no means immune from shattering.  But we are also gifted with the ability to work with the potential which informs the very heart of beauty right in the midst of transience.

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When this bowl by Brother Thomas broke, its owner considered having it repaired so the mend would be invisible.  In the end, he decided on gold leaf.  When shown the elegant results, Brother Thomas said he liked the bowl better that way. It remains a treasured object in the gallery owner’s personal collection.

Although Audrey Harris was not so pleased with her first attempts at kintsugi, the many important lessons she learned from the process with the help of her teacher were certainly treasures. Kintsugi can also be a most powerful metaphor for human healing as this  moving video makes clear.

Addendum: This post was updated on 3/11/19 to include the video on the meaning of kintsugi for a survivor.

Abalone Portraits

When the abalone shell arrived, it had a crack in it. I decided to take a photo anyway. What I saw in the image was much more than I expected. We are like this, I thought. We forget the extraordinary beauty that comes right up to our cracks.

I could not stop taking close-ups as abalone arrived at my door from all over the world. The slightest shift brought dramatic color changes. In this conversation with light and mystery I sensed a deeper connection. There were so many lessons here, a spiraling out to a universe of being. Joy and grief blended with so much at risk for the abalone and for us.

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