Oct 3, 2007

Living with ambiguity and no right answers

I attended and intensive workshop for advanced tea instructors a couple of weeks ago. As we were going through some advanced procedures, the workshop leader told us that in tea, there are no right answers. This threw me into confusion. Because Chanoyu is an oral tradition passed from teacher to student, there are sometimes transmissions or interpretations for certain things.

When we were just beginning, there definitely was a right way to do things. What sensei said was the right way to do it, period. If there was an explanation, then that was accepted as to why it was the right way to do something. But with my maturity as a student of the rich and deep tradition of chado, it is like learning a language. At the beginning there are all the rules of grammar, punctuation, form and structure just as the beginning of tea there are the rules: of conduct, of placement, of order, structure and form. But as we become more fluent in the language or the study of chado, there comes a time when we know the rules and can decide if they can be broken.

This is the point then, that there are no right answers. Or, there may be several right answers, depending on the situation or the guests. What once was a solid foundation suddenly becomes a slippery slope. Where there was surety there is now ambiguity.

This is where years of training, experience and instinct come into play. By anticipating what may come up if one thing is done vs. what may come up if something else is done, we chart the waters of ambiguity and uncertainty the best we can. It is a chess game to see how far in advance we can think, to see and anticipate, knowing that something else may come that will change the whole playing board and we have to work it out once again. But isn’t that a lot like parenting? Isn’t that a lot like relationships, isn’t it a lot like life?

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