Focus, attention and feedback

Before I started to study Chado, I was a flighty person with a very small attention span.  So much so that my Sensei called me ‘the flying girl’ because I was so ungrounded.  I was great at starting things, but lousy at finishing them. I even had trouble making my bed because I would become distracted before I could finish it. I had closets of artwork, writing and studies.  When I began my tea study, friends laughed because they knew it wouldn’t last.  But for some reason, tea attracted me so much that I have stuck with it for many years.

In the beginning to sit through a two hour tea lesson was difficult for me.  That is not to say I haven’t started other things that I never finished, but for a while I didn’t start new things because tea showed me how unfocused and chaotic my life was.  Through the patience of my sensei and discipline of temae, I have learned to focus my attention.   The discipline of meditation has helped, as well as consciously learning to say no to  impluses that could take me away from what I am doing until I complete it.

And yet, I still find myself daydreaming when I should be paying attention.  I have a rich imagination and inner life.  Even when I am concentrating, I still have lapses of attention.  Besides tea and meditation, two things I have taken up have helped give me feedback on my lapses of attention:  calligraphy and archery.

Both of these studies have given me instant feedback on when I am not present in these endeavors.  You can see it in the ink, every hesitation, wrong direction,  loss of brush control, stopping short or continuing when I was not supposed to.  Starting in the wrong place, not controlling my breath, or getting lost in the strokes, each show up on the paper.

Archery too, is a sport of consistency and repetition. Controlling your breathing, doing it exactly the same way each time with the same body posture and same movements and being present shows up in your results.  The slightest movement of finger or tightness of grip will affect your shot.  The smallest loss of focus affects where the arrow goes.  Recently, I had my best round  where 5 arrows all landed in an area the size of the palm of my hand, with each shaft hitting the target at exactly the same angle.  I haven’t been able to do it again since.

But these instant feedback loops show me where I have work to do.  It shows how often my mind wanders and how I can pull it back to stay focused to complete my task and do my best.  And it has the added bonus of improving my temae and making me a better chajin.

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Happy New Year 2018

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Introduction to Chado class now forming

Chado, The Way of Tea
Japanese Tea Ceremony

Introduction to Chado class
Starts on Wednesday, January 17, 2018, 7:30-9:00 pm. 10 weeks

The essence of Japanese culture is contained in Chado, the way of tea.
Students in this class will learn the etiquette of how to be a guest at a tea ceremony, the basic order of the tea ceremony and how to whisk green powdered matcha ceremonial tea. Students will also participate in 6 Japanese tea ceremonies from informal to semi-formal tea gatherings. An overview of Japanese arts and how the tea ceremony has influenced Japanese culture will be presented. Students will learn about tea ceramics, Japanese gardens, calligraphy, kimono dressing, and incense ceremony. They will also be introduced to zazen meditation and discuss how to put tea practice into every day life.

Places are limited. Reserve your spot with at $50 deposit. Use the button at right.
Fee: $250, includes all materials, tea and sweets for 10 weeks
Location: The Jasmine Pearl Darjeeling room, 724 NE 22nd Ave., Portland, OR 97232

For more information contact Marjorie Yap, Instructor
Phone: 503.645.7058
email: margie[at]issoantea[dot]com or use the contact form at the bottom of the About page here

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The difficulty of Chado study

Beginning Chado study is hard. Nobody is inherently beautiful and graceful and perfect out of the gate. Even Japanese people who begin to study make mistakes. It is like learning a foreign language. You are not going to be fluent after a few lessons, and even after years and years of study, you never feel like you totally get it.

There really is not anything that prepares you for your Chado studies, though some people have particular talents like a good memory, or body spatial awareness. There may be some training that may help you, like martial arts or dance, but Chado is not like that exactly. You may have studied Japanese language or literature or Zen but really these things do not really help you to do temae or be graceful when eating a sticky sweet like mochi.

Do you remember how difficult it was in the beginning to fold your fukusa? Do you remember how hard it was sit down and get up off the floor in kimono? How hard it was to remember the order of temae?

At one time, we were all beginners. We all had to learn to walk correctly, sit down in the proper place and could not figure out right foot, left foot and which one we had to use first.

At one time, we discovered we didn’t know much about what were doing. We saw advanced students doing different kinds of things, and asking questions about things we had no idea what they were talking about.

At one time, we helped with a tea demonstration and got lost in temae. We have had that panicky feeling of what do I do next, and how am I going to get through this procedure in front of everyone?

At one time we were all frustrated with where we were in our Chado training. We saw other students studying different temae and wondered if we were ever going to progress enough with so sensei would advance us to the next one.

At one time, we all felt like we were never going to feel competent in the tea room. If we only had a little more knowledge, or remembered everything we learned, we would feel more confident.

The thing about Chado study is that it is hard. There is so much to learn and so much to remember. Did I say that Chado study is hard? Yes, Chado study is hard. And to continue to practice it even when we know we are not very good at it is hard and sometimes discouraging. To persist in practice at something we know we are not good at is humbling and makes us want to quit, to move on to something we can excel and look good at doing.

And yet there is a sense of accomplishment when we begin to get it. When the secrets of temae begin to open up and we understand some of the lessons we couldn’t get before. It is a good feeling when sensei asks us to help a new student to prepare in the mizuya and we know exactly what to do.

But will we ever feel fluent and competent in the tearoom? Looking back on 30 years of training in Chado, there is always something that I feel like I don’t know much about or am unsure what to do. I do feel a certain comfort in that, generally speaking, I know what is going on, and what I need to do at certain times.

But then again, I just spent a weekend attending multiple seki at the Hakone Daichakai, and felt like a fairly new beginner again. I was unsure when I was asked to be the shokyaku if I would mess up the experience for the rest of the guests. I don’t know if it is worse to humiliate yourself in front of total strangers that you will never see again, or fellow students and teachers who have seen you mess up many times.

And you know what, Chado study is hard. But how will you learn anything new unless you try it out?How else will you get better at something you suck at if you don’t practice, mess up, and re-do it again and again? If we only stuck with things we know how to do and look good doing it, our world would be small and unchallenging. It is a myth that if you love something, you will be naturally good at it. Lots of things take unending practice and effort, and yes looking not so good when you are practicing it. But if you love something, I think there is motivation to move through the humiliation of not being very good at it, and to continue to practice until you get better at doing it.

After all these years, I am learning Japanese language, and I suck at it. But I am practicing every day, and little by little, I am getting better. I may never be fluent, but I am understanding more about myself through the study and application. And that means a lot, too.

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Hakone Daichakai

I was fortunate enough this year to attend the Hakone Daichakai held at the Hakone Gardens near San Jose, California this year.  The Hakone gardens were so beautiful and the weather was perfect.  It was so lovely to see so many people in kimono (both men and women).

A big shout out to Harvey Harvey, Holly Harvey and Laura Dodd for inviting me and taking care of me.  Also thank you to John Larissou and all the other people coordinating and holding seki in the garden.

I had such a good time being a guest at this annual event. There were eight venues within the garden where several schools of tea were holding seki, plus the terrace where the bento lunch was served.  I got to attend 5 seki. 2 usucha and 3 koicha, and that means 5 sweets, and 5 teas throughout the day.

It is always interesting to see other schools,  and it is always interesting to see how people adapt to the surroundings and make everyone feel comfortable and welcome.   The differences in the schools were not so great that I felt uncomfortable as the order of temae is essentially the same.   But the arrangement, the choice of utensils, the feeling of hospitality, the welcome was so very nice.  I think that I would like to attend again next year.

A big highlight for me was the seki in Shogestu an.  It is a tiny 2-jo daime (2 and 3/4) mat tea house at the top of the garden.  You have to climb the hill to get to it, but you rewarded with koicha seki in an exquisite jewel of a tea house. 

I just wanted to highlight the scroll in the tokonoma. It was a waka poem brushed by Sen Kayoko, Tantansai’s wife.



aki wa nao
tadanaramu koso
omo(h)o yure
ogi no uwakaze
hagi no shitatsuyu

autumn, especially
as it turns ever more splendid,
provokes deep feelings
wind over miscanthus grass
dew fallen from bush clover

by Sen Kayoko Ōokusama

One of the best things for me was to meet my twin, Marjorie Oda-Burns.  Two Marjories, we both have been studying tea for more than 30 years!

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