Jun 26, 2009

Did you have enough tea?

Tea in the living room

Tea on the dock

Tea on the Patio

Double Tea

Open Tea

Simultaneous Tea

Photos courtesy of Bettina, Rebecca, and Morgan

Sharing tea together in the lovely and intimate setting of Dai Bosatsu filled me to the brim with happiness. I could talk all day (and many times late into the night) about tea and nobody's eyes glazed over. I could drink my fill of koicha, usucha and work to my heart's content in making a bowl of tea for others. There is nothing like the intimacy of a chakai to get to know one another as fellow guests and observe the host make tea. I learned so much more about gardening, ceramics, shifuku, sweets and flowers.

One of the great things about the Friends in Tea gathering is that I got to meet so many new (to me) tea friends. Some people I have only known through the internet and it was great to meet face-to-face. One person I was anxious to meet was Morgan from Philly Tea. She also has a blog and a post about the Friends in Tea conference. Please visit her site and leave a comment. I know she would appreciate it.

Jun 23, 2009

Mizuya work

At the Friends in Tea conference, the tea space was improvised, so there was no mizuya to prepare for chakai. Thanks to our resourceful mizuya cho, Jan, she set up a temporary space upstairs near the tatami mats to make a working mizuya. I especially appreciated the fact that the mizuya was set up even though there was no running water or drain nearby. She did this by setting up tubs and buckets for clean and dirty water. These buckets and tubs had to be filled and emptied by hand. This was also a good reminder to be careful to conserve the clean water, and efficient in cleaning up so that the dirty tubs didn't fill up quickly and have to be emptied in the middle of a chakai.

With so many great utensils brought by the participants the cho had to double the mizuya space by setting up tables. Even though she did that, it still was tight to work there given that two chakai were scheduled at the same time. Part of tea training is to work efficiently and quietly in the mizuya.

Most mizuya that I have worked in are tiny spaces -- 1 to 3 tatami mats. That is 3 feet by 6 feet up to 6 feet by 9 feet. It begins to get really crowded in there when 3 or 4 people are all working to get things ready, or clean up from a previous chakai or lesson.

This is where training comes in. If you are not working in the mizuya, get out. The mizuya is no place for standing around and chatting. If you are working, do what you need to do quickly and efficiently and get out. Do not dawdle around or stay to look at things. Make sure your things are cleaned up properly and everything is put back in the proper place. If there is a kama with hot water coming, get up and out of the way. Most important, the cho is the head of the mizuya. You must do what the cho says without argument. There may be a meeting later about it, but at the time, the cho is in charge and what he/she says must be done immediately and without complaint. It is a big responsibility.

*Photo courtesy of Morgan Beard

Jun 20, 2009

Ichigo ichie revisited

During Eido Roshi's talk about Zen scrolls he discussed the often used phrase, ichigo ichie. We often translate this phrase as "one lifetime, one meeting." But Eido Roshi likes the translation, unprecedented, unrepteatable as a more clear translation of the meaning.

He said on that day that June 12, 2009 has never come before and will never be repeated. It is the only one of it's kind. This translation only emphasizes the uniqueness of this moment. I live most of my life going from one thing to the next without awareness of the passing of days . Ichigo ichie calls upon me to pay attention to right now before the moment has passed.

I did not bring my camera to the conference for some reason that I think had to do with paying attention. When I take photos, I feel somewhat separated from the "action." As an observer, I try to capture the moment rather than be in the moment. As we well know, the photograph will never capture the moment, but it can bring back the memories of the time that it was taken.

Eventually, if the people who were there at the time pass, even these memories fade. The very language of photography, to capture the moment, to take a photo seems to be an aggressive way of keeping a hold of or stopping time. We can neither stop the flow nor hold onto the moment. The moment is the moment and you can never recapture it.

Ichigo ichie -- unprecedented, unrepeatable.

Jun 19, 2009

Just dye your heart with Chanoyu

During the Friends in Tea conference, there were two formally scheduled chakai, the opening chakai the first day and the closing chakai on the last day. In between, there was what they called open chakai. The tatami mat room upstairs at the guest house at Dai Bosatsu was divided in half and people could sign up to make tea, drink tea or help in the mizuya.

Many participants brought tea utensils to be used at these open chakai, and with the sweet making workshops going on, we always had plenty of sweets. Wild flowers were growing in abundance and thanks to Jan, the mizuya cho, tea and everything was available to put on chakai.

You could also put together impromptu chakai outside, in the meeting room, on the terrace or on the dock over the lake. More than a few people brought chabako, and there was always an early morning chakai in the woodshed.

I would say that there were about 10 scheduled chakai a day in the tatami room and at least 2-3 more chakai that you could attend in other places. And still, I couldn't get enough of making and drinking tea.

"Don't look with your eyes or cock your ears to listen, just dye your heart with Chanoyu . Look with your eyes and listen with your ears, smell incense and grasp their meaning with questions." ~ from Rikyu's 100 poems.

*Photo courtesy of Morgan Beard

Jun 18, 2009

Take a left before you get to the Buddha

Certainly I am not a Zen student, I know very little about Zen. But I was on my way to the yoga class at the Dai Bosatsu Zen monastery, and I didn't know how to get to the library where the class was held. I had already wandered around and run into a room where the monks were chanting and nearly smacked into the Roshi during the services, so I didn't want to disturb them any further.

I asked around and these were the instructions on how to get there: "Go up to the second floor and take a left before you get to the Buddha." It rather struck me as funny that I would have to take a left before I got to the Buddha in a Zen monastery, but I suppose we all take detours in our life. I can also see this as a metaphor in following teachings that tell you to take a left before you get to the Buddha. If you took that left you would end up in the library with lots of words, and words could become confusing (at least to me) about Zen.

On the other hand, the yoga class was just what I needed. I never had yoga before. I am so stiff I cannot sit half lotus when sitting zazen. I have never taken a yoga class, and Jimin our instructor, said that she would not get so hung up on correct positions but make it more of a meditative experience. Through gentle stretches, breathing and the sound of her voice, I opened up my body. In opening my body, I am sure that I opened my mind and my spirit as well, to take in what was going on around me. Not just the things that were planned and happenstance to do with the tea group, but I became aware of the monks as they went about their work and worship in the monastery. Ah, "Zen cha ichi mi" or Zen and tea, one taste.

*Photo courtesy of Morgan Beard

Jun 17, 2009

Chabako, tea anywhere

It was a little early for me to sit zazen at 4:30 am with the monks, but I did get up for the 6:00 Chabako tea that was planned for that morning. We were to have tea on the dock out on the lake, but it was pouring rain. The wood shed was the alternate location and among the resiny smell of the newly cut and stacked wood we had tea. With a thermos and chabako, tea can be anywhere, no need of tatami room.

The sound of the rain on the roof of the woodshed soothed us and as I sat there drinking tea, listening to the host and guest talk about the tea and utensils, I felt a profound sense of belonging, of coming home to be with people of my own family (tribe) where I could talk about tea, drink tea, be immersed in tea and not be thought crazy or obsessed.

I also was reminded again of an essential tea lesson: The best laid plans will somehow be altered and it is best to remain flexible, rely on your training and go with the flow. Oh yes, and it is always good to make alternate plans. As Rikyu said, "Prepare for rain."

Jun 16, 2009

Four days of tea

I just got back from the Friends in Tea conference and I am exhausted, but full to the brim in my heart for tea. The conference was held at Dai Bosatsu Zen Monastery about 3.5 hours drive from New York City in the Catskills. It is so isolated that cell phones and GPS do not work there. When we reached the entrance gate after driving for miles on a one lane road that turned into a dirt road, I thought we had arrived, but we still had to drive 2 more miles to the monastery. Then we crossed a small bridge and there on a beautiful lake in the mountains was Dai Bosatsu. The long journey was like going through the roji before entering the tea house, and helped to shed the dust of the world and clear our minds for what was about to take place.

I will be writing more about my experience there in the coming days, but I would like to take this opportunity to thank all who planned and participated in the conference, and thank the Roshi and residents and helpers at Dai Bosatsu who made our stay there memorable, unprecedented and unrepeatable. Thank you.

Jun 9, 2009

Friends in Tea

I will not be blogging this week as I will be in New York for the Friends in Tea conference. Be back next week. I am sure that there will be plenty to write about.

No class this week. Make ups on Tuesday at 7 pm at Issoan, Wednesday 7 pm at Issoan, Thursday after 5 pm at Ryokusuido, or Friday at Peninsula Odd Fellows at 7:30 pm. Email and let me know if you are coming to a make up class.

Jun 2, 2009

Fushiki, not knowing

Today's characters are sometimes seen on scrolls in the tea room. They read, fushiki, in translation: I know not.

Reaching out into the unknown is a scary thing. I think of explorers, who had to go beyond where anyone else had been. (yes, the final frontier). It drives some people to explore and it terrifies others to go or do or experience something that they had not done before.

For me to try something new and not know the outcome is like exploring, too. Terrifying and exhilarating at the same time. My good friend Larry Toda says, "If your palms are not sweaty occasionally, it means that you are not really living." Really, trying something new is how we stretch and grow.

There was a study done on salespeople and performance. They took high performing salespeople and put them in low yielding territories and took low performing salespeople and put them into high yielding territories. Within a year, the high performing salespeople were back to their income and low performing salespeople were also back to their low sales records. The point of this is that we each have a comfort zone. If we are comfortable with a certain outcome (in this case income level) then we will gradually gravitate to that level. Even when people are miserable, they will only have what they feel comfortable with. It is called the comfort zone.

It seems that high performing people will take risks outside of the comfort zone and low performing people will not. It is not like taking big risks will make you a high performing salesperson, but the attitude of taking small risks helps build confidence in further risk taking. The risk can be as small is finding a new way home from work. The point is to try something that you don't always know what the outcome will be. If one approaches small risks with the attitude, "it will be interesting to see how this turns out," rather than one of success/failure, it takes a lot of the pressure off and one can look at the endeavor as a learning opportunity, no matter what happens.

Risk taking can take many forms, from the physical risks of extreme sports, to being vulnerable enough to love someone. So maybe today you will find a new way home and discover part of your neighborhood you had never seen before. What will the outcome be? Fushiki, I know not.