May 17, 2015

10 things I learned at Midorikai

I look back on my time at Midorikai and I thought about what I had learned there. Some of the lessons I learned there have nothing to do with tea and yet they have everything to with tea and life.I am still striving to put these into practice every single day.
  1. Be open to the experience that life presents to you. Say yes more often than no. Opportunities may not look like what you expected or wished for.
  2. Be thankful everyday for the life you have. Gratitude, even for your troubles because they help you grow.
  3. Be kind to other people. It doesn't take anything away from you to encourage, listen closely, say something nice or do something for someone.
  4. Do your best, all the time. You cannot live life at half-speed, there simply is not enough time.
  5. Leave something for people who follow you. If you develop knowledge or expertise, pass it on. It does no good if it dies with you.
  6. The people you don't get along with are your teachers. At the minimum, it is good training for you to learn how to handle people and situations you don't like.
  7. Excuses are a waste of time.
  8. Be generous. You will be amazed at how much comes back to you.
  9. Be careful about acquiring things. The more you own the less space you have. What you buy or accumulate says a lot about you.
  10. Learn to let go. Of grudges, of mistakes, of behaviors that don't serve you, of people who are no longer good for you.

May 15, 2015

Return to Kyoto

I recently returned from a visit to Kyoto.  It has been many, many years since I last visited there.  My husband went with me, and together we explored the city.  I wondered how much it had changed, he discovered this charming city for the first time.

We ate very well including this cheap Japanese breakfast

The city has changed so much.  For one thing there are a lot more English signs, and now Korean as well.  The old Kyoto station with its wooden walkways and stairs have been replaced with a super modern and huge station and now the subway goes East and West as well as North and South.

And yet much of the city has remained the same.  There are the small narrow alleyways and courtyards of the Pontocho and Gion and much of the charming architecture of the city still remains.


The Teramachi shopping arcade is still there,

the department stores along Shijo and the Nishiki food market. Oike senbei, favorite senbei shop, Tsurugaya, Oimatsu and many of the the sweet shops are still there. As are Ippodo, Tsujirien, and Fukujuen tea stores.
I also had the opportunity to sit in with Midorikai for a few days.  I was lucky that the first day we practiced Shaza, my favorite shichijishiki.  It is an ensemble exercise with 5 people.  The second guest arranges flowers, the third guest lays the charcoal, the first guest does incense, the teishu makes koicha, and the hanto brings in and takes out all the equipment and makes usucha for the teishu. So much fun. The second day, I got to see the temae, gozumi shomo, or second laying of the fire by request.  The teishu cleans out the ro from the first laying of the fire and invites a guest to arrange the charcoal for the second time.  I had never seen this procedure and I was asked to lay the fire.  It was an honor and not so hard because all the previous fire had been cleaned out and made very neat.  And it boiled the water very well!.'

The third day I got to attend the student chakai.  I had forgotten that all morning we cleaned the tea rooms, machiai, garden, tsukubai while the teishu and hanto prepared the mizuya.  Since the sakura petals had recently fallen, we ended picking up individual petals out of the gravel walkway in the path leading up to the tea room. The chakai was lovely, with the uguisu serenading us at the break. How magical it is to attend a chakai in Japan!

Apr 13, 2015

My first chawan, ichigo ichie

I think I had been studying for about 3 years when I thought I would like to acquire my first teabowl.  In those days there was not the internet nor eBay to purchase utensils.  So we had to ask someone to buy it for us in Japan or find some other way of acquiring utensils.  I used to haunt antique shops and estate sales because living on the Pacific rim there were many people who have traveled to and from Japan.

Not the original bowl but similar
In an antique shop one day I found a modest brown and white chawan.  Though I went to look at it several times, I didn't want to buy it yet because I didn't know if it was a good one or how much I should pay for it.  In those days, I wasn't making much money and the $40 price tag was rather a large commitment for me.  I asked my sensei to look at it and give me her opinion.  So she went to the shop and talked with the owner and came back and told me it was a good bowl for me to get and that she had negotiated the price to $30 because I was her student.  Yay!

I went the the shop and purchased the bowl (it had no protective box) and brought it home. I was so happy.  To thank my teacher, I gave a chakai and invited her to tea at the tea house at the Japanese garden.  It was a lovely chakai, and sensei said that the bowl had presence and she was glad to drink from it.

At home, after the chakai, I was unpacking the car.  The tea bowl slipped out of the protective wrapping and dropped to the driveway, shattering into dust. There were so many small pieces, I could not even pick them up.  I had to sweep them into a dust pan. There was nothing left to save.  Truly ichigo ichie.  But at least sensei got to drink from it one time.

Mar 30, 2015

5 ways to make your temae go better

  1. Before you enter the tea room, take 5 slow deep breaths.
  2. Trust your body, don't try to out think it.
  3. Look at mistakes as opportunities to  learn.
  4. Don't forget to breathe during your temae.
  5. Remember that making a good bowl of tea is the most important thing.

Mar 25, 2015

Sensei says. . .

Wa, kei, sei, jaku: harmony, respect, purity
and tranquility
Many of these sayings have appeared in the blog before, and students will recognize many of them from my own teachings. I have gathered them together to best of my recollection.  I hope you can add your own "sensei says" in the comments.

The term “sensei” has been translated as “teacher.” Quite literally from the kanji, the term “sensei” means “one who was born before.”  If there is great wisdom, it is gained through life experience and wisdom imparted by their “sensei” born before them, going back through 400 years of Tea tradition.

My apologies to sensei for any mistakes due to the differences in Japanese and American culture and language. I am glad that someone was born before me to point the way. These words of wisdom, were spoken to me in class rooms and tea practice rooms by sensei who cared enough to help me develop in Tea and in life.

On life and Tea:

Wa, kei, sei, and jaku are easy in the tea room.  The hard part is making it essential in the rest of your life.
Tea becomes much more than a hobby or social event.  It becomes a lifestyle.
Tea becomes the yardstick with which you measure your life.
The attitude of gratitude is essential.
Don’t get ahead of yourself. Complete this moment before going on to the next.
Don’t expect, just adjust.
Tea is where you realize your own religious beliefs.
What makes us uncomfortable makes us stronger.
People who endure hardship in life become tougher, like misshapen charcoal, they last longer than those with an easy life who burn out quickly.
Tea is movement.  It gets us out of our heads, into our bodies, so we can touch our souls.

On learning:

You can not learn Tea by reading a book. You learn Tea by training your body and to do it well, you must do it at least a thousand times.
Every time you do Tea, you learn something about yourself, even though you may have done it many, many times before.
Tea is not a thing to learn from teachers. The things you seek are already within you.
The existence of the teacher is more important than what he/she says, does or writes.
Learn with more than your brain. Observe, train your body, ask your spirit and relate to your guest.
Before you ask your teacher a question, look and observe.  Try to figure it out on your own. You learn so much more that way.

On making mistakes:

You can do nothing right in class, but in chaji (formal tea gathering)you can do nothing wrong.
If you are going to make a mistake, make it beautifully.
There is no going back, just move forward.
There is no such thing as the perfect temae (procedure for making tea). Doing it perfectly is not the heart of Tea. Doing it as if it was the first time, finding interest and excitement like finding interst in your life, to avoid being jaded, that is the true heart of Tea.
The Tea room is a place where we abandon shame. Do not be afraid to make mistakes if you want to learn.

On form:

When you have mastered the forms, then you become free from the forms.
Learn the kata (form).  When you know it thoroughly it becomes your katachi (style).
The body learns the form: it learns the discipline until it goes beyond the rules and becomes natural.
First master the form. The form is a vessel for the content.  You need a strong vessel to hold what goes inside or it leaks away.

On training:

Awareness is not concentration.  Tea is training in awareness
Tea training also teaches us how to receive.
Every time you make a bowl of Tea, it is not practice Tea it is the real Tea.
In training for Tea heart and spirit, as you gain maturity, learning and knowledge, the rules and guidelines change into a total experience of life.
The most difficult training is not temae, but to watch your mind and your behavior when you encounter nasty tasks and people.
Every difficulty you encounter is good training for you.

On doing the work:

Do the work. Tea is not for the lazy.
There are no trivial tasks in Tea.
There are no shortcuts in Tea.
Cleaning is 80% of Tea.
No matter how accomplished you get to be in Tea, cleaning the toilet is always the host’s job.
The mizuya (preparation room)should be clean enough to eat off the floor.
The mizuya (preparation) work should be done as if it is temae (tea making procedure).
It is your own responsibility to get to the heart of Tea.
With Tea, we are sitting on a mountain of jewels, but you must do the work and dig them out yourself.
You should do everything right because it is the right thing to do.