Last week, Issoan Tea and students gave a Chanoyu presentation at the Newberg Camellia Festival. It has been more than two years since we did one of these. In many ways, it felt familiar, but also a little scary and a little intimidating.
We have done this particular festival many times, and the organizers have worked with us over the years to optimize the place and setting so that it is a better atmosphere for the presentation. The first year we were on stage in a gymnasium, the next year in a tent with a major walkway to the bathroom in front of the stage. But we found a corner of the large lobby with nearby water and a drain. Eventually we got a stage and an enclosed seating area. But as I said before, it has been two years since we did any presentation. The organizers have changed and the set up was not exactly what it was before.
Hataraki, the creative working out of problems comes into play. Instead of a 3 mat layout, we had to do a two mat tea room layout. Instead of asking for guests from the audience we had one of us be a guest. Instead of making sweets and tea for the audience, we passed around an example of sweets, and talked about matcha.
How many of you have gotten lost in temae, either at a presentation or at a chakai? What do you do when you cannot remember the next step in the procedure? Hataraki, of course. You have to work out a creative solution. Many times when I lose my place in temae, I am either thinking too far ahead in the procedure or I am kicking myself for making a mistake.
Sometimes, I have an out of body experience, where I feel like I am looking down on myself sitting at the temaeza frozen, trying to figure out where I am. Which would you rather do: make mistakes in front of total strangers that you will probably never see again, or make mistakes in front of your sensei and fellow students who know and love you?
Minako sensei said, “If you are going to make a mistake, make it beautifully. “ People who have never seen Chanoyu before will never know you made a mistake if you make it beautifully. In fact, if you do not get flustered, sensei will probably not know you made a mistake. Why point out to the audience that you have made a mistake? Carry on and finish the temae.
If you are totally lost as opposed to an oops, in temae there are a few things you can do to regroup, refocus and move forward. One thing is to stop. Stop what you are doing, take a breath and look at where everything is. The placement of your utensils should help you figure out where you are. Nobody will fault you for taking a pause. In fact there are many places in a normal temae that have pauses built in. Now breathe. It helps get more oxygen to your brain so it can function again.
Another thing you can to do recover is to look at your first guest and smile. Re-establishing connection with your guest will help ground you in making the best tea for them.
Another thing is to rely on your training. All tea procedures follow a pattern: 1, Bring in utensils and purify, 2. making and drinking tea, and 3, closing and taking everything out of the room. Figure out if you are in place 1, 2 or 3 and proceed from there.
One more thing to keep in mind: We are not saving lives here. Making a mistake, or getting lost will not have consequences of life and death. When you have a little time and distance on it, ask yourself, what did you learn? All mistakes are opportunities for learning. Tea is safe place to learn that.