Paring back to the essential

Temae, the procedure for making tea, to our American eyes, may seem overly complicated and rigid with rules.   But these procedures have been refined for more than 400 years to be able to make a bowl of tea in the most efficient and beautiful way.

When we start to study temae, we start with the simplist form called ryakubon, or tray style and progress to more and more complicated procedures.   But as we study higher and higher temae, we are actually going back in time to procedures that were done at the beginning of the codefied tea ceremony.   What has happened over the years is that things have been pared away so that as we get closer to modern day, things get simpler.

Now that is not to say that procedures get easier.  Simpler does not mean easier.  In fact, simpler becomes harder because it exposes more and more of the person doing the procedure.  Just like Mark Twain said that he wrote you a long letter because he didn’t have time to write you  a short one, doing a simple temae and making it look natual and beautiful takes a lot of training.

I did a chanoyu demonstration once for a post-graduate  course of theater majors on movement.  After the demonstration we had a discussion of the procedure and one student said that it didn’t look all that hard to do.  But he failed to notice that I always entered the room with the right foot and exited with my left.  He also failed to notice that  when I folded my  fukusa all the folds and corners lined up, every single time.  He also failed to notice that everything was in its place, and not a centimeter off in a ten foot square space. “It looks so natural,” he said, “and simple to do.”

Part of living in these times, is that we have very complicated lives.  It takes a conscious effort to pare back the things in our lives to essentials.  That means we have to take time to decide what is essential to us.  What is a want and what is a need?  Indeed, Rikyu said, “There is shelter enough if it keeps the rain off, and food enough when it staves off hunger. We draw water, gather firewood, boil the water and make tea.”

I have a couple of students, and some friends in Seattle who do not own a car.  They have made the decision that a car is not essential to their lifestyle.  This eliminates car payments, insurance, gasoline, and maintenance.

What can you eliminate from your complicated life?



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