Is there magic in the world?

My husband teases me that anything I can’t explain, I just call it magic.  For example, we were talking about radio the other day.  Without a network link like WiFi or Bluetooth (both magic by the way), music, discussion, storytelling all get into these boxes. How does that work?  Magic!

When the sun sets, if you watch it go down, sometimes you can see a green flash.  Why does that happen?  Magic!

How can a commercial jet, bigger and than a house fly? Magic, of course.

See these brown things in my hand.  Put them in the ground and keep it moist. In about two weeks, these green things come out of the ground and grow up to be food.  Magic!

When there is heart to heart communication without speaking or even eye contact, what is going on?  Magic!

How does the human heart love or know compassion? Magic.  Forgiveness?  Magic again.

How is there hope and optimism in a world with such tragedy?  It must be magic.

There may be all kinds of scientific explanations for these things, but really, I myself cannot explain it.  It must be magic.

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The art of tea

I have been working with a journalist from the local arts web magazine on my journey with tea.  It is always difficult to gauge how deep to go with someone who has no notion of what Chado is about.  We started in January and he told me that he would like to interview me for about half an hour about Japanese Tea Ceremony.  He had seen a brief demonstration at the Portland Japanese Garden and thought that he could write a story from the interview.

Three hours later, he said that he would like to explore it further.  Then he emailed me and wanted to know if there was anything else he could read that might help him understand what it was about and why I had been studying it for so long.  I referred him to the SweetPersimmon blog.

I think he mined the blog almost from the beginning so many of the quotes in the article may be familiar to you.  He also did extensive research on his own about Chado.  And finally, I hosted him for a chakai in the Issoan Tea Room.  One of the few guests who have come to have tea in the last two and half years.

Anyway,  I am impressed that he captured the essence in such a short amount of time and extracted things from the blog relevant to anyone who doesn’t know about my journey.  Here’s is the link to “The Art of Tea,” by Brett Campbell.  I hope you enjoy.

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Lost in temae

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.

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The awakening

Here in the Pacific Northwest the primroses are showing a riot of color and daffodils, those happy flowers, are showing a beautiful sunny color.  Everywhere nature is waking up. In my garden ferns are uncurling, and new shoots are breaking ground after the winter and it gives me hope for the world.

I never understood why the Japanese loved the plum.  I thought Japan was all about sakura, but my Japanese friends were so enamored with plum.  That is, until I spent a winter in Japan in an old house with no heat and snow blowing in cracks. One day on my way to school, I saw a branch of plum buds and nearly cried because it was a sign that the winter is coming to an end and the promise of spring is coming.  

The plum is also revered for its strength and perseverance because it blooms in the coldest month of the year.  And it seems like we have been in the cold, deep freeze for two years.  Living with the Covid virus has disrupted the world as it has inundated us in wave after wave.  

But we are coming out of it now and beginning to gather again, and savor the warmth of being in the presence of people again.  As the masks come off, we can see the smiles on people’s faces again, and we can hear the sound of human voices, relish the touch of others and enjoy some of the things we used to take for granted.

The plum has given way to the peach blossom and promise of sweet fruit in the months to come.  And the beautiful sakura coming next, reminds us that nothing lasts forever.  That riot of pink and white flowers lasts for such a short time tells us that life has a finite span of time.  

Plants don’t care about the affairs of men, not disease, not war, not corruption.  They know when it is time to wake up and when it is time to show that it is a glorious world.  Each flowers in its own time and each can teach us if we pay attention and learn.

So, like the daffodil, we can be the sun that lifts up others. Like the plum, be strong and persevere, even in the coldest, darkest time. Like the peach, promise the sweet fruit of the future, and like the cherry, enjoy your relationships with others now, because nothing lasts forever.  

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Everyday is a good day

I just celebrated my birthday yesterday.  Thank you to everyone who sent birthday wishes. When I was younger, I did not think I would live past 40 years old.  Everyday since then has been a bonus and as a result, I not only celebrate my birthday, but the day after my birthday.  In fact, a lot of people know that I celebrate my birthday month. 

My mother died more than 20 years ago, and my sensei, Minako Frady, died 18 years ago.  I am now at an age where people I know, and loved ones are passing at an increasing rate. The tea community in Portland is seeing a generation of tea teachers, long time tea practitioners, and tea supporters pass on.  Just today, I learned of another long time tea friend who passed yesterday morning.

In the past two years, the world has suffered the devastating passing of millions from the Covid-19 virus.  Every untimely death is the loss to a family who mourns their passing. In addition to that, this past two weeks we have seen the sudden onset of war in Ukraine.

I don’t tell you these things to discourage you.  You know these things and many more that can discourage you. But perhaps we can use these things to be resilient by having gratitude and being hopeful.  I wake up in the morning with gratitude that I have one more day to spend with my husband.  One more day to enjoy tea that I love. One more day to work in the garden.  One more day to walk in the suburban wilderness.  One more day to just sit in the sun.  One more day to cook a tasty meal. One more day to make a difference in the world.  

In that case, with gratitude that I have one more day, then every day is a good day.  Someone yesterday wished me a wonderful year.  I intend to do so.  I think that I will be celebrating my birthday year.  If we lived everyday as if we were celebrating our birthday, what a way to live life.  Can’t we do that?  In spite of our sorrows, and our fears, we can celebrate life everyday with gratitude.

Yes, everyday is a good day.


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