Lost in temae

Last week, Issoan Tea and students gave a Chanoyu presentation at the Newberg Camellia Festival.  It has been more than two years since we did one of these.  In many ways, it felt familiar, but also a little scary and a little intimidating.

We have done this particular festival many times, and the organizers have worked with us over the years to optimize the place and setting so that it is a better atmosphere for the presentation.  The first year we were on stage in a gymnasium, the next year in a tent with a major walkway to the bathroom in front of the stage.  But we found a corner of the large lobby with nearby water and a drain. Eventually we got a stage and an enclosed seating area.  But as I said before, it has been two years since we did any presentation.  The organizers have changed and the set up was not exactly what it was before.

Hataraki, the creative working out of problems comes into play.  Instead of a 3 mat layout, we had to do a two mat tea room layout.  Instead of asking for guests from the audience we had one of us be a guest.  Instead of making sweets and tea for the audience, we passed around an example of sweets, and talked about matcha.

How many of you have gotten lost in temae, either at a presentation or at a chakai?   What do you do when you cannot remember the next step in the procedure?  Hataraki, of course.  You have to work out a creative solution.  Many times when I lose my place in temae, I am either thinking too far ahead in the procedure or I am kicking myself for making a mistake.

Sometimes, I have an out of body experience, where I feel like I am looking down on myself sitting at the temaeza frozen, trying to figure out where I am.  Which would you rather do: make mistakes in front of total strangers that you will probably never see again, or make mistakes in front of your sensei and fellow students who know and love you?

Minako sensei said, “If you are going to make a mistake, make it beautifully. “  People who have never seen Chanoyu before will never know you made a mistake if you make it beautifully.  In fact, if you do not get flustered, sensei will probably not know you made a mistake.  Why point out to the audience that you have made a mistake?  Carry on and finish the temae.

If you are totally lost as opposed to an oops, in temae there are a few things you can do to regroup, refocus and move forward.   One thing is to stop.  Stop what you are doing, take a breath and look at where everything is.  The placement of your utensils should help you figure out where you are.  Nobody will fault you for taking a pause.  In fact there are many places in a normal temae that have pauses built in.  Now breathe.  It helps get more oxygen to your brain so it can function again.

Another thing you can to do recover is to look at your first guest and smile.  Re-establishing connection with your guest will help ground you in making the best tea for them.

Another thing is to rely on your training.  All tea procedures follow a pattern:  1, Bring in utensils and purify,  2. making and drinking tea, and 3, closing and taking everything out of the room.  Figure out if you are in place 1, 2 or 3 and proceed from there.

One more thing to keep in mind:  We are not saving lives here.  Making a mistake, or getting lost will not have consequences of life and death.  When you have a little time and distance on it, ask yourself, what did you learn?  All mistakes are opportunities for learning.  Tea is safe place to learn that.

Permanent link to this article: https://issoantea.com/lost-in-temae/

The awakening

Here in the Pacific Northwest the primroses are showing a riot of color and daffodils, those happy flowers, are showing a beautiful sunny color.  Everywhere nature is waking up. In my garden ferns are uncurling, and new shoots are breaking ground after the winter and it gives me hope for the world.

I never understood why the Japanese loved the plum.  I thought Japan was all about sakura, but my Japanese friends were so enamored with plum.  That is, until I spent a winter in Japan in an old house with no heat and snow blowing in cracks. One day on my way to school, I saw a branch of plum buds and nearly cried because it was a sign that the winter is coming to an end and the promise of spring is coming.  

The plum is also revered for its strength and perseverance because it blooms in the coldest month of the year.  And it seems like we have been in the cold, deep freeze for two years.  Living with the Covid virus has disrupted the world as it has inundated us in wave after wave.  

But we are coming out of it now and beginning to gather again, and savor the warmth of being in the presence of people again.  As the masks come off, we can see the smiles on people’s faces again, and we can hear the sound of human voices, relish the touch of others and enjoy some of the things we used to take for granted.

The plum has given way to the peach blossom and promise of sweet fruit in the months to come.  And the beautiful sakura coming next, reminds us that nothing lasts forever.  That riot of pink and white flowers lasts for such a short time tells us that life has a finite span of time.  

Plants don’t care about the affairs of men, not disease, not war, not corruption.  They know when it is time to wake up and when it is time to show that it is a glorious world.  Each flowers in its own time and each can teach us if we pay attention and learn.

So, like the daffodil, we can be the sun that lifts up others. Like the plum, be strong and persevere, even in the coldest, darkest time. Like the peach, promise the sweet fruit of the future, and like the cherry, enjoy your relationships with others now, because nothing lasts forever.  

Permanent link to this article: https://issoantea.com/the-awakening/

Everyday is a good day

I just celebrated my birthday yesterday.  Thank you to everyone who sent birthday wishes. When I was younger, I did not think I would live past 40 years old.  Everyday since then has been a bonus and as a result, I not only celebrate my birthday, but the day after my birthday.  In fact, a lot of people know that I celebrate my birthday month. 

My mother died more than 20 years ago, and my sensei, Minako Frady, died 18 years ago.  I am now at an age where people I know, and loved ones are passing at an increasing rate. The tea community in Portland is seeing a generation of tea teachers, long time tea practitioners, and tea supporters pass on.  Just today, I learned of another long time tea friend who passed yesterday morning.

In the past two years, the world has suffered the devastating passing of millions from the Covid-19 virus.  Every untimely death is the loss to a family who mourns their passing. In addition to that, this past two weeks we have seen the sudden onset of war in Ukraine.

I don’t tell you these things to discourage you.  You know these things and many more that can discourage you. But perhaps we can use these things to be resilient by having gratitude and being hopeful.  I wake up in the morning with gratitude that I have one more day to spend with my husband.  One more day to enjoy tea that I love. One more day to work in the garden.  One more day to walk in the suburban wilderness.  One more day to just sit in the sun.  One more day to cook a tasty meal. One more day to make a difference in the world.  

In that case, with gratitude that I have one more day, then every day is a good day.  Someone yesterday wished me a wonderful year.  I intend to do so.  I think that I will be celebrating my birthday year.  If we lived everyday as if we were celebrating our birthday, what a way to live life.  Can’t we do that?  In spite of our sorrows, and our fears, we can celebrate life everyday with gratitude.

Yes, everyday is a good day.

 

Permanent link to this article: https://issoantea.com/everyday-is-a-good-day/

For the long haul

The dictionary defines the long haul as a prolonged and difficult effort or task.  It also brings to mind carrying something for a long distance or time.

I am great at starting things: projects, cleaning, research, study.  When I started my Chado studies, I was hungry for lessons.  I wanted to know everything.  I jumped in with both feet and immersed myself, insisting my sensei give me more.  At least for a while.

But I am not so good at continuing or finishing.  Learning Chado has tested my commitment over and over.  My study has no end, so the goal of finishing is not an incentive. I have wanted to quit many times.  Sometimes I was bored with my studies. Sometimes it seemed like to much trouble to continue. Sometimes I felt there was no end, so what was the point.  Sometimes I felt like I just didn’t have the time, the money or the energy to continue.

But always, there was something that pulled me back and made me excited and enthusiastic about it again.  I was trying to articulate to a friend of mine who asked my why I have devoted so much of my life and time to the pursuit of Chado. Sometimes, I attend a tea event and the magic of the gathering makes me remember how Chado has changed my life.  Sometimes a student will ask me a question I cannot answer, and I try to find an answer.  Sometimes I come across something that I want research to find out more about.  Sometimes I set myself an assignment like leading a discussion, making a presentation, or writing a blog post.   Sometimes I introduce people to the way of tea and their enthusiasm reignites my passion for it.

At this point in my life, I cannot imagine my life without it. I am more than committed, I am devoted to the way of tea.  What tea has taught me that I get out of life what I put into it.  The intensity I put into something equals the intensity of the experience I get out of it.

I have been studying Japanese calligraphy for 6 years.  Starting something new was exciting and fun.  But as a complete beginner student after many years as a teacher, it was humbling and frustrating.  Last year I started learning how to paint watercolors.  Again exciting and fun, but after awhile frustrating and humbling.  My expectations for these things were that I would be competent — no I wanted to be good, if not expert with 6-10 weeks of intense effort.

It wasn’t until I accepted the fact that I was not going to be good or expert at something that I put short term effort into.  I didn’t see much improvement until I buckled down and began to work on basic skills and fundamentals, and yes, hours of practice, practice, practice.

But with many things we say it takes only talent or good luck to achieve, it is setting expectations, getting a foundation with basic skills, and practice.  Getting in shape?  Yes.  Athletics?  It is the  same thing, with gardening, with relationships, with parenting.   You have to be in it for the long haul.

Permanent link to this article: https://issoantea.com/for-the-long-haul/

The Four Seasons: A New Year’s Poetry Gathering

Issoan students from Portland and across the world gathered on this New Year’s day for a poetry gathering.  While we composed poems, we shared incense, snacks, sweets, tea  and of course Sake.  It was a relaxed and social time on zoom.

The 25 verse poem we collaborated has become an annual event and everyone who participated  wants to do it again next year.  I hope you can join us.

Here is this year’s poem

The Four Seasons, A Poetry Gathering

Behind the clouds
first rays appear
snowy glacier glistening
silent glory
a new day.

A new day
Brings fresh beginnings
Hopes and joys
For all the beings
New Year has come.

New Year has come
on the back of chill wind
breathing fresh life
snowflakes trickling over a blanket of snow
undisturbing of what lies ensconced beneath.

Undisturbing of what lies ensconced beneath
the snowy hills sleep beneath the sky
waiting for the sun
Green life slowly waking
A farmer dreams of spring.

A farmer dreams of spring
Deep in the mountain village
He prepares the earth
For the coming planting
He looks at the sky

He looks at the sky
And dreams of long days
In the warm sunshine with
neighbors and friends
Working in fields that he love

Working in the fields that he loves.
CLAP-CLAP “Hi no you ji!”
Startled awake by chants from the road.
A dream, just a dream of the start of spring.
Mild weather ahead but not on this day, a safe fire for warmth

A safe fire for warmth
a chill still in the air
fresh new leaves unfurling
undaunted by the cold
blossoms bursting open

Blossoms busting open
With the snow still on.
Fragrance of plum
Is in the air
Followed by spring

Followed by spring
the hills come to life
sweeps of color emerging
painting in broad swipes
a blooming undulating sea

A blooming undulating sea
wind making waves across the field
carrying the scent of flowers
everywhere I look
Petals dancing in the air

Petals dancing in the air
Pink and white snow swirling
Gathered in drifts against the fence
Life passes so quickly
Gone in a breath.

Gone in a breath
the warm breeze carries
carries the fragrance
out to sea
Blessing the waves.

Blessing the waves.
Rising and falling.
Pink and white palette.
Pita, Pita, Pita…
Raindrops gently kissing each crest.

Raindrops gently kissing each crest
the sun sinks toward the horizon
Bright beams and shifting shadows
Birds twitter softly
Returning to their homes.

Returning to their homes
in twilight
to have a rest.
What brings the next day?
No one knows…

No one knows…
what remains hidden
under the scattered light of the stars
the night sky reflected
in the dark waters of the river.

In the dark waters of the river
The fish play hide and seek
While on the banks
Plush green covers the rocks
Cool and comfortable.

Cool and comfortable
Lush and humid in a fern grove
Under the waterfall
Looking out through the mist
Nurturing life.

Nurturing life
The water flows
down the mountain
to the fields encouraging
the bountiful harvest

A bountiful harvest.
Collecting late under moonlight.
Fall has come.
Ice rings around a fall moon.
Full circle of life.

Full circle of life
now the seasons turn
a bite in the air
crisp and clear
What change is coming?

What change is coming?
Cloudy skies
instead of bright sun.
They always bring rain
And autumn cold.

And autumn cold
settles in the tea room
disrupted by steam curling off the hishaku
warmth creeping under the tatami
in a lone hut hidden in the forest.

In a lone hut hidden in the forest
Friends gather for tea
Generation after generation
A solitary pine stands guard
Evergreen

Permanent link to this article: https://issoantea.com/the-four-seasons-a-new-years-poetry-gathering/