Willows and flowers

I went walking in the suburban wilderness the other day after being inside for the last couple of weeks.  It is exuberant spring everywhere.  Daffodils are rampant.  There are sprouts of  grasses and flowers, new growth on bushes and leaves on trees.

And the willow trees are such a lovely shade of green.  I stopped and admired the leaves and hanging branches of the willow tree.  It brought to mind memories of the large willow tree by the pond at the Portland Japanese Garden now sadly gone.  And there was a willow tree near my workplace when I lived in Bellevue.  A huge, old stately presence with the branches like skirts trailing in the nearby creek.

As I kept walking I was surprised to see a camellia just beginning to bloom.  It  must be a late one because the camellias in my yard are done and the petals and heads have all fallen to the ground.

And the cherry trees are in full bloom across our neighborhood.  Weeping cherries came first, but the regular  single cherries are great fluffy clouds of pale pink.

In the spring, there is a scroll that is often hung in the tokonoma.

柳緑花紅

Yanagi wa midori hana wa kurenai, “Willows are green flowers are red.”

I first saw this scroll at the very first keiko I attended at Midorikai.  Mori Sensei was teaching that day and I asked her what it meant.  She said that it is nature as it is.  We see the willows in the spring are a lovely shade of green and flowers that are blooming are crimson red.  You don’t see red willows or green flowers.

Like any Zen scroll, there are many layers to this saying. We can understand at a basic physical level of green willow and red flowers, but perhaps there is an understanding that applies to life, that no matter how much we wish it otherwise, willows and flowers are as they are.  Not only nature, but life is not how we want it to be, but how it really is.  When we see life how it really is, when we are clear-eyed, we can begin accept life as it is.  Letting go of fantasy and accepting life as it is, is the beginning of finding the joy of living.

 

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Issoan Tea School on hiatus until further notice.

We live in a time of Corona Virus.  To protect everyone’s health, Issoan Tea School will be on hiatus until further notice.

Please be good to each other, take care of your health and the health of everyone around you.  Take time to practice self-care. Go for walks. Read. Clean out your closets. Write letters. Drink tea. And don’t forget to wash your hands!

In the meantime, I offer this virtual sweet and bowl of tea to all of you.  Thank you for your patience.

 

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How to haiken

There is a time in temae, the tea procedure, where the first guest asks the host to haiken the utensils.  Haiken means to look closely with appreciation.  The etiquette for haiken is to first say “osaki ni” to the next guest before placing the utensil in front of you.  First, look at the overall shape of the piece, then you can put your elbows on your knees and carefully pick up the utensil to look even more closely, turn it around and look at all sides of it.  Finally, place it back down and give it a goodbye look and then pass it to the next guest.  

Paying attention 

Many tea rooms in Japan are quite dark, even in the daytime.  Before electricity, the room was illuminated by candles at night.  From across the room, it was often hard to see the details of the utensils.  By asking for haiken, guests have an opportunity to see things close-up.  The host is out of the room during haiken, so guests can look at the utensils without the host hovering over them.  It is a time for guests to pay close attention to specific utensils. 

Looking deeply 

The first look you take of a utensil, look deeply.  What does looking deeply mean?  So often when we practice procedures, they become rote and we do it just for the sake of the form.  But when you look deeply, you have the opportunity to take time.  Looking deeply means you must be present, not thinking of the next thing, about your own upcoming temae or what happened before you got to class. I imagine that this first look is like falling in love at first sight.  It imprints itself on you heart, even though you may not know much about it. 

Looking beyond the surface 

The next part of haiken is putting your elbows on your knees and handling the utensil.  This helps bring your eyes closer to the utensil, rather than the utensil to your eyes and it keeps it closer to the floor in case of accidents. Also, it doesn’t have far to fall.  This look can heighten your appreciation if you look beyond the surface.  This is where you can open it if it has a lid and look inside.  Some utensils are just as spectacular (if not more so) inside.  Sometimes there is a surprise inside.  

Looking with feeling 

When you are looking during haiken, notice how it makes you feel.  What is it that really catches your eye?  What feelings does it evoke?  Sometimes we can admire the craftsmanship.  Sometimes we get the subtle joke that the artist has cleverly incorporated.  It could make you feel expansive, or perhaps more intimate.  Again, looking with feeling is paying attention to your own reactions to what you are looking at. You must be present and aware. 

Reading what the host is saying through the selection of utensils 

There are many aspects of haiken, but another consideration is to try to read what the host is saying with the selection of utensils.  How do they relate to the scroll?  How do they relate to the other utensils?  Do they expand the theme, or do they take it in another direction? Like a movie set, there is not anything thing in the room that was not put there by the host.   

The next time you have an opportunity to haiken the utensils, pay attention, look deeper, look with feeling and try to read what the host is saying. 

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New Year’s Poetry at Issoan

Four poets gathered at Issoan on New Year’s Day 2020.  It was a day filled with poetry, food, tea, sweets and incense.  Each poet in turn composed a stanza of linked verse to complete a poem of 24 links.

The format of the poem  was a list of 24 topics dedicated to the four seasons.  Each poet composed a five line stanza basing it on the next topic in line.  The poem takes the last line of the previous poem as the first line of the next poem.

The final product is a complete poem of 24 stanzas five lines in length.  The complete poem appears at the end of this post.

In between we enjoyed a bowl of somen noodles, tea and sweets, and listened to incense. There was plenty of sake to keep the creativity flowing.  People brought tea to share and we enjoyed a potluck lunch as well.

We enjoyed it so much that we are thinking of making it an annual event. Thank you to everyone who participated.  Happy New Year to everyone reading the blog.

Photos courtesy of Stephanie Wilson.

 

 


 

 

The four seasons

As I walk in the early morning
The cry of crows
nesting in the bare trees
Wake and startle, then
Take flight across the lonely field

Take flight across the lonely field
A breath of frost in the wind
Underneath a sparse carpet of maple leaves
The rush of clear water
As the crisp, subtle crack of thin ice heralds the change

As the crisp, subtle crack of thin ice heralds the change
Crunching under my footsteps
Sunlight gleaming
Winter’s blanket covers the land
Hibernation beckons

Hibernation beckons
Into the cavernous unknown
Dark days challenge
And yield generously
I learn to long for darkness

I learn to long for darkness
Keeping to myself
The wind blows through my cloak
And ruffles my hair
I turn to inspect the sky

I turn to inspect the sky
Rays of light creep slowly
Pushing back the encompassing shadows
Reclaiming the land from winter’s grip
The return of the light ignites the fire of rebirth

The return of the light ignites the fire of rebirth
The land warms
Weak light strengthens
We gather together to
Celebrate new beginnings

The Celebration of new beginnings
Adding more layers
Memories become fabric
Each sashiko stitch a petal
White on dark cloth

White on dark cloth
Snowflakes gather on my coat
Yet I know winter is waning
Hidden under the snow
The promise of spring is rising

The promise of spring is rising
Intrepid plum blossoms reclaim the upper reaches
Releasing tiny exhalations of life
Painting dabbles of color
Across the reanimating branches

Across the reanimating branches
Life returns
Sunshine sends encouragement
Revealing tiny flags of new iris
Tender green unfurling

Tender green unfurling
The plum trees
scattered petals
Give way to Sakura
With a sigh

With a sigh
I finally arrive at the hills of Yoshino
Landscape as far as the eye can see
Clothed in brocade
Dressed for spring

Dressed for spring
Great swathes of color
Painting tapestries across the fields
Delicate jewels sparkling in the gentle breeze
Casting shadows on the warm ground

Casting shadows on warm ground
Beneath the trees
The cool green of ferns
Poppies gleam
Illuminated by an errant sun beam

Illuminated by an errant sun beam
Yellow poppy
Mirrors radiant sun
We rise to face
The solstice sunrise

The solstice sunrise
Gives way to the longest day
With shadows far into the night
Lit by the light of stars
Flowing into summer

Flowing into summer
Carving refreshing pathways
Through the carpet of green
Slow ripples brushed on the surface
By a gentle breath of fresh air

By a gentle breath of fresh air
The breeze over the water
Hints of coming fall
I reach for a sweater
The night wind whispers

Whispers of night wind
Language of mystery
What do I hear
Who comes my way
Cloaked by moonlight

Cloaked by moonlight
Abundant fields
Are ready for harvest
The autumn bounty gathered
Before the first frost

Before the first frost
Diamond dust trickles through the air
A crisp inhale seizes the warmth in my chest
Crystals coat the leaves
As color seeps into growing shadows

As color seeps into growing shadows
Frost sparkles on the leaves
Gold, orange, and red
Background for dew bejeweled spider web
Shadows lengthen

Long Shadows, then none
Cloudy skies
Form blank canvas
Returning to one
Beginners heart

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The turn of the year

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here we are at the winter solstice of 2019.  Right now the Pacific Northwest is experiencing a category 3 Or 4 Atmospheric River described as a long, narrow plume of tropical moisture carrying intense rainfall across the atmosphere like a river in the sky.  “These columns of vapor move with the weather, carrying an amount of water vapor roughly equivalent to the average flow of water at the mouth of the Mississippi River,” according to NOAA.

I like to call it more poetically the aerial river.  Here we are used to rain in the winter time.  Boots or galoshes and  rainproof coat with a hood are standard gear for us.  But it is also a time to stay inside, keep warm and dry and reflect on the year passing.  It seems like every year it passes more quickly than previous years.

There were many challenges for my family and for a lot of my friends and students this past year.  But here we are at the end of the year having survived and grown.  There were many highs to this year as well.  Especially for me, this year saw the re-opening of Issoan, a beautiful tea room built by my husband.  This  has been a dream of mine for many years, and I am so thankful to have this special tea space to practice and teach the way of tea.

I am grateful for this blog and other social media that has allowed me to keep in touch with the wider world of Chado, and to connect and re-connect with my fellow chajin on the path.  I am hoping that the new year will bring much joy and happiness to all of my friends and acquaintances from around the world.   I offer this virtual sweet and bowl of tea to everyone.

And if you find yourself traveling to Portland, please come share a bowl of tea at Issoan.

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