by Marjorie Yap
One day I decided to go bungee jumping, which is the sport of jumping off a bridge with a heavy duty rubber band (a bungee cord) attached to you so that you spring back from the fall. As I stood on the edge of the bridge all harnessed up before my jump, I finally looked down 180 feet to the bottom of the gorge. I squeezed my eyes shut, then opened them wide before I launched myself off the bridge into the air, knowing that I was about to die. It seemed like I fell for a long time before the rubber band snapped me back. I had survived death. After I was pulled back to the top of the bridge, I was in a totally aware state. I could hear the small frogs in the creek 180 feet below. I could see colors that were more vivid than I had ever imagined. I felt every breath in my body, every beat of my heart. I felt exhilaration and joy at being alive.
While this very aware state was induced by a near death experience, I do not recommend it to everyone. It is true however, that the more aware I am, the more alive I feel. Studying Chado has brought many levels of awareness into my life. I attribute this awareness to the practice, discipline, and commitment of study. Awareness of the seasons, awareness of my body and of my mind have had the most impact on me. A few things that I have learned about awareness: 1) being uncomfortable often leads to a new awareness, 2) resisting awareness is harder than accepting it, and 3) the more I am aware, the better focused I am on what needs to be done.
In modern life, we go from our heated and cooled houses to climate controlled offices in air conditioned cars. Rarely did I notice what season it was. When I thought of seasons at all, it is to get my turtleneck sweaters and boots out, or that my heavy wool coat is too hot for a May evening. There was no awareness of which month the cherry blossoms came out, or when the last of the roses faded.
Preparing for chabana, I never noticed what exactly was blooming in my garden. Looking for flowers for chabana has made me aware that there are some seasons when the only flowers I can find are wild weed flowers. I’ve grown to appreciate them. Arranging chabana also caused me to notice how those flowers grew before I cut them.
The change from furo season to ro season and back to furo season used to upset me very much. I was used to making Tea one way and was comfortable doing it that way. Changing the placement of the fire confused me, made me anxious and uncomfortable. Recently, I have become more sensitive to the changing seasons, and I welcome the change. I finally understand that the seasons continually change. Welcoming and celebrating these changes brings me closer to natural rhythms, and brings me a sense of belonging.
When I began studying Tea, I felt clumsy in the Tea room. Upon entering or leaving the room, I could not remember which was my right foot and which was my left foot, and I could never figure out how close I was to my place before sitting down in the proper position.
While practice, exercises and experience made it more comfortable for me to move around in the Tea room, one thing has never become comfortable for me. That is sitting on my knees for long periods of time. At first, it was hard to pay attention to anything else while my feet and legs were screaming at me in pain. I tried sitting in the bathtub with warm water. I tried stretching exercises, holding my breath and many other techniques to get the pain to stop. One day I asked a senior student, who could sit for days without apparent pain, “When will the pain in my legs go away?” He told me that the pain never goes away, but after a while you won’t mind it so much. After a very long time of thinking hard about this, I became aware that in resisting the pain in my legs, I was filling my mind up with the struggle to resist the pain. That left little room in my mind to pay attention to what was going on in the Tea room. More and more, I am able to “not mind the pain so much” and to notice a lot more of what is going on around me.
When I do things over and over, as in basic Tea procedures, my body often takes control and my mind wanders. Learning the order of Tea procedures is not as much of a challenge to me as staying conscious and aware through procedures that I have done hundreds of times before. When my mind wanders, I get lost or forget my place. Sometimes I am so focused on an end result, such as getting to the end of the procedure, that I forget about the present moment and make mistakes. Reminders from my teacher about what my hands are doing, how I pick up and place utensils, how my posture is, and where my position is, sometimes can be overwhelming to remember. But they also help me stay focused and conscious on doing what needs to be done. In fact, many of the procedures of Tea help me quiet the inner voice and leave room for more awareness.
Last year a big awareness came upon me that how I am in Tea is how I am in life. The same challenges that face me in the Tea room face me in life. Wanting the pain to go away in my legs is like wanting all the difficulties in my life to go away. The truth is, there is no life without struggle. When my mind wanders or I am doing things unconsciously, I make mistakes. I can use the lessons that I learn in the Tea room to enrich and appreciate my life. The challenge for me then, is committing to put it into practice in my life.