By Dianne P. Collins
In the 1990’s, a friend and I went to a Japanese Festival. One of the events we watched was the Japanese Tea ceremony. I thoroughly enjoyed this as I like tea. I became so engrossed in watching this ceremony that I was unaware of anything or anyone around me. The entire ritual is designed to focus the senses so that one is totally involved in the occasion and not distracted by mundane thoughts. The tea ceremony (called Chanoyu which in Japanese means hot water for tea) is the ritualized preparation and serving of powdered green tea called matcha, in the presence of guests. A full length formal tea ceremony involves a meal called kaisei and two servings of tea. The ceremony takes place in a hut apart from the main house or in a room in the house devoted to the ritual. Inside the house there is an alcove called the tokonoma where scrolls, flowers, calligraphy and paintings will be displayed.
The preparation of the tea is intricate and precise. The matcha or finely powdered green tea is kept in a ceramic container in a silk bag. The host scoops a portion of the tea into a ceramic tea bowl and carefully adds simmering water. With a small whisk, the host mixes the tea and the water until the drink is frothy and green. It is rooted in the Zen principles of wa – harmony, kei – respect, sei – purity and jaku – tranquillity. Talking about everyday life is taboo, instead attention is focused on the preparation of the tea, the beauty of the flower arrangements and the calligraphy hangings on the wall.
After watching the ceremony I realized that we often conduct our lives in a “robotic” manner. We fail to engage with and fully appreciate many beneficial aspects of our surroundings. To me it is a scary thought, that we go through life without thinking about we do on a day to day basis. Of course our modern lifestyle has contributed to this sorry state of affairs, with long working hours and the pressure to be busy, we tend to do things in a hurried manner. We often eat and drink without fully savouring what we consume.
It is as if we are like windup robots with a key in our backs in the morning and by the evening we run out of steam. We are in a rush in the morning trying to get ready for work, sometimes we may even skip breakfast and because of time constraints lunch is a hurried meal. We may watch television while we are eating our dinner, because our favourite programme is on the air or we may gobble down our food, so that we are finished before the programme comes on. Either way we are not fully savouring the functions of watching a programme or eating a meal. Japan’s tea culture provides a method to combat the robotic lifestyle and to truly appreciate unhurried time.
I am not suggesting we should have tea ceremonies, but what I am suggesting is that we become less robotic and become more engaged with life with our five senses. Enjoy the moment. Much of our life seems pretty mundane, but we should be savouring more of it!