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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After the gathering (revisited)

After the gathering, after guests have left, and the helpers have been served there is the clean-up. All of the dogu is cleaned, the fire has been picked and the kettle returned to dry. If the gathering has taken place at a rented venue, everything needs to be packed up and loaded in the car to be brought home.

Once home, the dogu needs to be unpacked, washed again, inspected and left to air dry overnight. As I was working after the last gathering, I was thinking of how much a pleasure it is to re-wrap each piece, put it in its box and put it away.

When I pack each piece, I kind of do a silly little thing by silently thanking each piece, before I wrap it carefully and say goodbye until the next time I use it. Because I have several storage places in the house, I try to put it back in exactly the same place so I can find it again next time I want to use it.

I have recently put my dogu inventory online. Each piece has as description, photo(s), when and how I acquired it, any notes about the artists, style, etc., and where it is (supposed to be) stored. In addition, I have labeled several shelves in the dogu closet, and sometimes on each box so I know what is in each one.

This project took me years, but now saves so much time. I can pick a toriwase from photos online and find them in the closet without too much digging. After a gathering, everything has a place to be put away. I used to have piles of dogu all over the house because I didn’t put things away immediately and I had to dig through piles of things for the next gathering.

In gratitude, thank you to all the dogu for your work this gathering. That is also thank you to all the people who have gifted me with much of my dogu, and thank you to all the artists for creating these beautiful pieces for me to use. Kansha.

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Up your game

Seeing blue sky can help up your game

When I was in my corporate life, I met with a development coach. I complained to him that I didn’t think that the job I was doing was making much of a difference in the world. He asked me if that was what I wanted to do, make a difference in the world. Of course, I said. His reply to me was to go make a difference in the world. In other words, he told me to up my game.

Play on a bigger stage

My coach told me that if I wanted to play on a bigger stage, I could go play on a bigger stage. How? How do I change what I do now to what I want to do? He gave me some advice on how to change the circumstances of my life, but warned me that it would not be easy. Not only had I become complacent with my life, but everyone surrounding me had become complacent too. People who were used to me doing one thing would resist the change. They would try to keep me from changing because it meant that they would have to change, too, if only to change the expectations of what I was and what I wanted to do.

The most fundamental thing about this life change for me was to decide what it is I wanted to do. Make a difference in the world is a pretty broad scope to work with. The more specific I could get, the more successful I could become. This definition of what it was had to be powerful and resonate so much that I would be able to overcome not only my own resistance, but the resistance of other people around me.

Find what resonates

I decided that what I wanted to do was teach Chado. I had been studying with my sensei for a couple of years at that time, but it was something that did resonate with me. Of course, there were many obstacles to overcome from convincing my sensei that I was serious (I was not a particularly serious student at the time), to convincing and getting my husband to support my dream. There was also the obstacle that I barely knew anything about what it meant to teach Chado.

The fact is, we do have choices, but there are trade offs. We can up our game and change our circumstances, but it requires sacrifices and may not manifest instantaneously. Hard work, persistence and ongoing negotiation with the people in our lives are required. The advice my coach gave me was to hold the vision. He also said to do one thing that moves you closer to it, and one thing that nurtures the vision every day.

The dream doesn’t materialize instantaneously

This dream of mine did not manifest within the year. In fact, it took more than 15 years. In the meantime, I became a regular student with my sensei who became much more strict with my training. Even though I was intensely focused on learning, I still didn’t know enough to be able to teach. I had changed jobs several times (not voluntarily) and started a business. I did not give up my day job until sensei thought I was ready to apply to Midorikai.

Taking a year off of work and leaving my husband and family for a year took a very long time to negotiate and convince everyone around me. I wanted to do it in a way that people would support me. If they didn’t understand why I had to do it, at least they would know that it was very important for me to live in Japan for a year and study Chado.

The dream seems farther away

After Midorikai, I thought I was farther than ever from becoming a teacher because I had found out in my year in Japan just how little I knew about the way of tea. I also had to get a job because of depleted savings and other people were depending on my income. But I continued to study and go to lessons every week. I became immersed in the local tea community and studied on my own nearly every day.

I spent another seven years working and training in tea before I started my own place to study and began teaching. It did not happen overnight, and there were many times I felt discouraged and wanted to change direction. I had to plan and negotiate reduced income with my family. In many ways, it felt like would be easier to give up and just do what I had always done, go to tea lessons once a week, go to work and earn money in an unfulfilling job.

But hard work, negotiation and never letting go of the vision helped to achieve what I once thought was impossible. Now, I am a teacher of Chado. I have upped my game and I do feel fulfillment in what I am doing. And yes, in my own little corner, I feel like I am making a difference in the world.

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This glamorous and beautiful tea life

I am reminded almost daily, that not everything associated with Chado is glamorous or beautiful. The other day I was sifting damp ash for the ro and making a mess of it. While making damp ash occurs in heat of summer, by the time November comes around, my ash has dried somewhat and clumped together. I was trying to rehydrate the ash and sift it so that it becomes the lovely, soft, fluffy ash used in the ro for sumi demae.

My husband came out and asked me what I was doing. When I told him, he said that it was not pretty and it is a good thing guests can’t see me doing it. After I finished with the ash, I cleaned up and started to prepare for class. That meant washing all the tea utensils, cleaning the upstairs bathroom, vacuuming the carpet and zokining the tatami, making sweets and many other things.

“Sensei says, “Eighty percent of tea is cleaning.”

In fact, just about everyday (even when I am not teaching class), I zokin the tatami and clean the tea room. I clean the mizuya, as well as have my students clean the mizuya. All this cleaning and preparation is not what the guests see in the tea room.

Guests don’t see me peeling beans or stirring a pot of bean paste for hours, before I make sweets for tea. They did not see me out this summer washing the ash in a bucket and spreading it out to dry, breaking up lumps in my hands before sifting it several times before storing for the ro season.

“修行 Shugyo, for important, yet dirty, tedious, and unglamorous tasks that need to be done, not just in tea, but in everyday life, too.” ~Bruce Hamana Sensei

I put housework and pulling weeds in the yard in the category of shugyo, as well as cleaning toilets, ironing, laundry, and the millions of other necessary everyday tasks that need to be done.

And yet, there is satisfaction in the doing of these tasks. Preparations in the tea room and mizuya means that there will be tea later in the room. Even if there is no tea later, having a clean tea room and mizuya means I won’t have to clean it up later. I am happy when I get up in the morning to come to a clean kitchen because I washed the dirty dishes and scrubbed the pots and pans before I went to bed.

My granddaughters are in the school musical and they had their opening in night last week. They put in hours and hours of rehearsal, built sets, worked the lighting, made the costumes. We did not see their shugyo, but the performance was a magical thing to behold and took us out of our lives for a couple of hours.

Shugyo also means sacrifice and things that take time. Driving across town in rush hour traffic to get to tea lessons, I consider shugyo. It is always tedious and frustrating, yet I am always glad that I made the effort to attend lessons. Not going out with friends and saving money for tea lessons was also worthwhile to me. Working two jobs to earn money for my first trip to Japan was shugyo as it was a transformative experience for me.

Everyday there are tasks and things we don’t like to do, yet are necessary. It makes it easier if we choose to do them and use them for fuel to transform our lives.

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