Issoan Annual Poetry Gathering

A new year dawns and the students at Issoan gathered for the 2nd annual poetry gathering.  Because of social distancing, we met over zoom and composed 36 verses in a modified linked verse format. Each verse is a 5 line poem based on the link theme.  The last line of the previous poem becomes the first line of the current poem.  It was easy and a lot of fun, even if some people didn’t feel comfortable at first in their poetic abilities.

Along the way we had snacks, sweets and tea, and lunch.  And sake.  Lots of sake to grease the wheels of creativity. It was a relaxed social time, and it was way for individuals to bond and contribute to the whole project.  I loved how the last line of the last verse is the first line of the first verse.  Enjoy

The poem for 2021:

A new day dawns
Bright and hopeful
I stand on the porch
Thinking of the year
The past is behind us

The past is behind us
Shadows brushed away
A breath of new hope
The birth of the first dream
Sunlight gently revealing

Sunlight gently revealing
Glowing pink rays
Rise behind the mountain
Dawn’s mist slowly waning
Light glimmers on her shoulders

Light glimmers on her shoulders
White cape brilliant against the sky
Stark and lonely
The mountain sleeps
Waiting for spring

Waiting for spring
Frosty breath
Brisk morning walk
A turning
Scent of seiryobai (green dragon plum tree)

Scent of seiryobai
Permeates the garden
Soon the sprouts under the earth
Will be breaking the ground
Reaching for the sky.

Reaching for the sky
Stems peek out of the snow.
From last year’s seeds,
Come sprouts by the thousands,
Bringing the potential of spring.

Bringing the potential of spring
Rising from the ground
Slender and fragile
We wait expectantly
For the promises of spring

For the promises of spring
Spots of green burst to life
Painting the dark landscape
Green buds dotting branches
Young shoots reclaiming the garden

Young shoots reclaiming the garden
Behind my neighbors fence
The hop vines begin their journey
Clinging to the strong twine
Tiny buds among the woolly leaves

Tiny buds among the woolly leaves
Breezes rustle gently
Colors play as branches move
Somewhere in the tapestry
Petals open to the sun

Petals open to the sun
Dew dries, ants tickle
Fragrance rises
Glory
Even as the peony falls

Even as the peony falls
The hills come alive
With the brocade of the season
I long to see
Places that I have never been

Places I have never been–
Oh so many, both near and far.
Perhaps I will visit them
And share some tea
To forge new friendships

To forge new friendships
Filled with new hope
We laugh and plan
Waiting for spring
Eager for new discovery

Eager for new discovery
We wander far and wide
Seeking the edge of the horizon
And circling back again
To retrace your steps

To retrace your steps
I return home at last
Familiar landmarks in view
My own front door
How many sunsets ago?

How many sunsets ago
Did we last gather?
The night has been so long.
But light follows after darkness,
Wind clears away the clouds

Wind clears away the clouds
A cooling breeze
Skips down the west of Mt. Hood
Floods the valley
With hope

With hope
I look for a rest stop
In the shade
Where I can eat my lunch
Under a tree

Under a tree,
The sun filters down through the canopy.
I stare at the glimmers of light
And hear in the distance,
The sound of flowing water.

The sound of flowing water
Joyous and abundant
Spilling down the mountain
Carrying life and hope
To the valley below

To the valley below
Rays of sunlight dance through the trees
Casting a golden hue
As the hearth begins to ward off
The afternoon chill

The afternoon chill
Harbinger of fall
Have the leaves begun to turn?
I light the fire for warmth
Harvest comes

Harvest comes
We toil in the sun
Day after day
Now the fields are empty
Our storehouses are full

Our storehouses are full
We celebrate
Harvest of abundant
Grain, tea and
Memories

Memories
Moonlight shining down
Shadows reaching out
Following me home
I look overhead

I look overhead,
The skeletal limbs creak above me.
There is no sign of life
But surely there will be blooms next year.
For within the cold, there is a spark.

For within the cold, there is a spark
Glowing bright with promises
The cozy fire burning in my hearth
The chair warm with reflected light
Curled around a cup of tea

Curled around a cup of tea
I nest near the fire
Exploring far flung worlds
The written word my sole companion
As the year ticks away

As the year ticks away
Hours, like seasons
Come and go
Hush of anticipation
Silent fall, the first flakes

Silent fall the first flakes
Eyes wide in wonder
Coats donned against the cold
People dance among the flurries
Joyous laughter fills the air

Joyous laughter fills the air
Children shrieking and
Chasing each other
Playing hide-n-seek
Abundant energy.

Abundant energy.
They tumble and dash down the hill
With fierce momentum they roll
They stop. One stands up.
“Oh no!” says the girl. “Where did it go?”

Oh no!” says the girl. “Where did it go?”
They pat their pockets
And look around
Bright eyes joyous in the moment
Caught in time and perfect

Caught in time and perfect
The children return home
And adults venture out
Past and future circle and chase
A new day dawns

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Merry Christmas


Season’s greetings and Merry Christmas to all my friends and family.  I hope your holidays are healthy and safe.

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At the turn of the year

Broken things can be mended, to be made stronger and more beautiful.
In the darkness, there is a light to guide your way.
In winter, the turn of year will eventually bring the spring.
What troubles you today, will pass.

Here we are at the turn of the year 2020.  For so many it has been a hard year.  Covid has disrupted most people around the world.  We can no longer gather freely as we once did.  Friends and family members lost, economic hardship.  It seems like it will never end.

And yet nature continues oblivious of our woes.  The winter solstice means that the days will begin to lengthen again and the light will return. Spring will come, and broken things can be mended.

With the announcement of Covid vaccines, there is hope at the end of a long year.  And that is what I want to focus on.  As big and overwhelming our lives have been,  eventually it will pass as night follows the day.  The sun will shine, birds will sing and flowers will bloom again.  This is what gives me hope and gratitude that I am part of this endless cycle of living.

This year end makes me contemplate my own attitude of gratitude.  And there is much to be grateful for.  Even though Issoan is empty and lonely, I have never felt so connected to the tea community at large.  Beginning in May with the Midorikai OneWorld chakai, lectures, workshops and sweets demonstration have been so generously offered.  I am thankful that we live in this time that technology can connect us.  It is wonderful to see so many friends’ faces on the Zoom.  Thank you to all of you who have so freely offered your time and expertise to allow us to continue our Chado education.   And thank you to all of you who have participated in these activities to show us your interest and dedication to the Way of Tea.

I cannot say enough how grateful I am to my partner Craig who has put up with me these past nine months with just the two of us in the house.  We have strengthened our relationship by spending so much time together.  We have learned to cook many new recipes together, and grown more philosophical in our conversations.  We really like each other.

So even though we are still locked down due the Corona virus restrictions, I have Chado, teaching, cooking, gardening, Shodo calligraphy, and now watercolor painting to keep me occupied.  There is a return of the light and spring will come.  2021 may not instantly return to normal, but there is hope that eventually we will be able to gather, share tea, and come together again.

Thank you all for reading the blog and for your kind comments.

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Sitting Alone

There is a scroll hung in the tea room 独坐大雄峰 Dokuza Daiyūhō, Sitting alone on the great sublime peak. Or sometimes translated as Sitting alone on the great hero peak. Doku (alone,) za (sit), dai (great), yū (sublime), hō (peak).

The Zen story is that Hyakujo Zenji was asked by a monk, “What is the most fortunate thing in the whole world?” To which he replied, “Sitting alone on the great hero peak.” Great Hero Peak was the name of the mountain where his teacher lived, and as a place of practice it was known for the strictness of both Hyakujo and his teacher.

In this time of Covid-19, sitting alone for these last six months in my tea room has not been, to my thinking, the most fortunate thing in the whole world. As social entities, people have come to rely on others to share burdens, sorrows, and work. Together we can accomplish greater things than we can alone. Working for something greather than oneself and being part of a team can feel empowering and uplifting.

And yet, sitting alone these past few months sometimes feels like a prison, isolating, and lonely. I haven’t held tea lessons in the tea room, I haven’t done any Chanoyu demonstrations, and I haven’t made tea for anyone or received tea from anyone either.

But consider the alternative. This past weekend, because of the Covid-19 pandemic, the U.S. has surpassed 200,000 passed away, and the world has lost more than 900,000 people. None of these people can sit anymore, not even alone, on the great hero peak. So in this sense, the most fortunate thing is to be able to sit alone on the great hero peak. It is a matter of perspective. Change your perspective and we can be grateful for the circumstance that we once thought debilitating.

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Loneliness of the tea room

About a year ago we opened Issoan, the tea room built for me by my husband.   It took him two and a half years, but it was worth the wait.  I have been teaching Chado for about 25 years and I was thrilled to have a tea room with a raised floor for a sunken ro, a real tokonoma, shoji windows, fusuma wall and nijiriguchi.  The students and I enjoyed having class there for about six months until the Corona virus hit and we had to close the tea room for events, demonstrations, chakai, workshops and classes.  Now the tea room is empty and silent.

In the mornings I go to sit in the tea room.  The light in the morning is so beautiful. Even though it is empty and silent, it is still peaceful.  I clean the tea room in the morning, hang a scroll and arrange flowers.  Sometimes I put on kimono and heat the water.   Then I make myself a bowl of tea.   Occasionally I will hold my zoom classes in the tea room, but it is not the same as having guests to tea.  Who will eat the sweets?  Who will drink the tea?  Sadly, it is me, by myself to enjoy this stark beauty.

Being alone in the tea room has made me appreciate having guests to make tea for.  As I kansha before drinking  my tea, I am thankful that is possible to drink tea surrounded by such beauty.  Often I find myself “sitting alone in contemplation” about the circumstances we find ourselves in with the Corona virus.  There is loss of sharing with other people, but also through technology, we can also share time with people we would not otherwise be able to see.

Until we can meet again safely, Issoan will be closed.  In the meantime,  I will be here in the silence of one host, no guest.

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