Feb 17, 2008

Everything is illuminated

I was sitting in the tea room yesterday morning and was marveling at the quality of light coming through the shoji screens. Outside the fog was just clearing and the morning light hit the windows without any softening of leaves from the bare trees. Inside the room, the paper had diffused the light so that it fell brightly but softly.

The guests that were sitting with their backs to the screen were silhouetted and it looked like there were halos around them. It made each guest look distinct and special. The contrast of the utensils, one part in the soft light and the other in softer shadow brought out subtle colors and textures of the pieces and the hint of gold in a dark lacquered piece. Even the black and white calligraphy scroll seemed to take on increased depth because of the light.

A favorite artist of mine, Vermeer was a genius at capturing the subtleties of light from a window. For a single moment, he put down in paint and canvas the play of light as it runs across the faces of the subjects and disappears into to the interior of the room. But even Vermeer cannot capture the changing quality of the light. As the fog clears the light is different, as the clouds move across the sun, there is a slight shadow diffused by the paper.

The placement of shoji windows is very important in the design of a tea room. What will be highlighted during the ceremony and where the light comes in during the day must be taken into consideration. The orientation of the room to the North, East, South or West and even the season is important. Will there be leaves on the trees to block the light?

The next time you are in a shoji room, look at the light coming into the room and how it is controlled by the shoji.

Feb 5, 2008

The wind in the pines

Matsu kaze is a beloved phrase of chanoyu and one of my favorites. In a poem by Sen Sotan, Urasenke third generation tea master, he wrote, “If asked the nature of chanoyu, say it is the sound of windblown pines in a black and white painting.” The pine symbolizes steadfastness because it doesn’t change color like other trees in the autumn. The wind symbolizes the ephemeral nature of life.

In the tea room, as the kettle begins to boil, it sings different tunes. You know that the temperature of the water is just right to make tea when you hear the sound of the the wind in the pines coming from the kettle.

This suggests the depth of the study of Chanoyu. All of the senses are engaged in a tea ceremony. It is not just a visual feast, the sound of the water, the smell of the incense, the taste of the sweets and tea, the roughness of the teabowl all come together in a kind of super experience that rarely happens today.

The phrase matsu kaze reminds me to become fully engaged with all of my senses for a fuller experience of life.