Apr 11, 2011

It's harder than it looks

I have a group of new students and some of them have told me that doing tea looks so simple that anyone can do it.  That is until we start whisking matcha, or walking in the tea room.

When we begin training in something like tea, it seems like we start with the boring stuff when what we really want to do is to make tea.   I started training and it was five months before I made tea.  I started with cleaning tatami mats, preparation work and learning to be good guest before I made tea in the tea room for anyone.

Someone said to me that people fall in love with the idea of Rikyu's tea, but when they begin tea training they are disappointed to have to follow the rules and do boring stuff like clean tatami. They just want to make beautiful tea.   It is like going to a concert to hear Yoyo Ma play cello, but when they want to learn the cello, they are disappointed to have to do boring things like learning bowing techniques, tuning your instrument and playing scales when they just want to play Bach's sonata.

My husband is a wood worker and he does the most incredible work.  However, when he makes a Japanese joint in two pieces of wood, it just looks like two pieces of wood come together.   But what is hidden is the complicated carving and fitting that goes on inside the joint so that the two pieces of wood lock together without nails or screws or glue. It is simple, beautiful and will last a lifetime or more.

It seems like many things in life we don't see what is going on inside or behind the scenes.  We see successful athletes and marvel at their incredible talent, but don't see the hours and hours and hours of practice in the gym or on the field.  We see successful businessmen, but don't see the sacrifices to social and family life.   We see artists and craftsmen, masters of their art, but we don't see the years of training, struggle and financial sacrifice.

It's like we expect to be exceptional at something without putting in the time, practice, training and sacrifice. Most people don't want to put in 25 years of tea practice, or spend weekends and nights for years getting a business started. Most people don’t pull consistent all-nighters to nail some key projects, putting them in place for a big promotion.

But if you want to do something badly enough, you will do what ever it takes to make your dreams reality. You need passion to get you through the the tough times and difficult choices you need to make. They do say that nothing worthwhile comes easily and especially nothing worthwhile will come your way without you driving yourself..   Every day is a choice with how you spend your time, how do you choose?


  1. The "boring stuff" is such a wonderful metaphor for dealing with daily life and your examples are excellent. Until we learn to appreciate and enjoy what we don't want to do, we don't really live in the moment.

    My own tea practice is just for myself before morning meditation so it only involves the preparation and cleaning. I thought it would be nice to learn in case I ever had the opportunity to serve a visiting Zen teacher.

    I come to it after having learned the perspective of formal Zen eating, oryoki, though. To me it really is just making tea, mindfully and without hesitation or regret of mistakes, but it's still just making tea.

    I'm sure in chado, it's difficult to let go of mistakes as in life, but one of the first things I told my Zen teacher after my first few oryoki meals is that it's fun to make those mistakes because the way you deal with them shows you so much about yourself.

    I think for those of us who have done the time and now teach others, no matter what the skill or knowledge, it's important to remember how difficult it used to be and that if you relax your focus you can still open the door for mistakes.

    Thank you for your blog. I've appreciated reading a more personal experience of chado than what's available in books as I've welcomed it as a practice into my life. I recently witnessed my first ceremony at the Houston Japan Festival last weekend and truly enjoyed my appreciation for what was really going on. (My girlfriend was bored to death)

  2. Kevin,
    Thank you also for reading this blog. It is not often that I get such thoughtful commentary on my blog posts.

    Please keep studying chado and making tea.

    As for mistakes, I have written about them before and I have made many, too many of them (and some are more memorable than others).

    You might enjoy reading about them:

    performance anxiety

    It's not about perfection

    Hataraki - working things out


  3. Thanks, I did. I'm slowly making my way through your archives and enjoy seeing the parallels between chado and both Zen and Aikido.

    Almost all the other blogs I read are focused on Zen and Buddhism so it's nice to read some writing that talks about it without talking about it.

  4. Kevin,
    Thanks for stopping by and I hope you continue to read this blog.