The longest night

Here we are once again at the turn of the year.  I like to mark the winter solstice and the return of the light.  The days from now on will be getting longer, and in six months we will be sitting in the sun on the longest day of the year.  Seasons turn around year after year without paying attention to the concerns of people.

It has been a tough couple of years for many and I truly thought we had turned a corner this fall when I reopened Issoan for in-person lessons.  But Covid continues to spread around the world and closer to home.  It has been a bad flu season with hospitals filling up again.  The war still rages in Ukraine, and politics continue to divide us in the U.S.  I have also lost some very good friends to cancer this year.

I was always proud, too proud maybe, of my ability to sit seiza in the tea room.  This summer, I was diagnosed with arthritis in my hands and knees, and now I have periodic flare ups that make it painful to walk or go up and down stairs.  At these times, it is impossible to get up and down in the tea room or sit for more than 10 minutes.   I have trouble holding utensils in my hands, and yes, typing can be painful.  Fortunately, with physical therapy, exercise, and medication, I can mitigate it.

I am getting to the age where all these things make me feel my mortality.  And so today, as we reach the zenith of night, I am contemplating the winter of my life.  I have such an extra ordinary life.  I could never have predicted the richness of my experience, nor the relationships I have and had with such amazing people.  I am grateful for my comfortable life with electricity, water, and heat at the turn of the button.  I have permanent shelter and I am free from financial worries.  I get to pursue my passion with the support of people around me.  Everyday I wake up and see my husband.  I tell him that I am so happy to have another day with him, the love of my life.

With all of these advantages, I have been able to help people around me.  Sometimes financially, sometimes just lending a sympathetic ear.  During the last few years of my Dad’s life, as I was taking care of him, he started calling me “Sunshine” and looked forward to my visits weekly, and at the end of his life, daily.  My husband calls me the bringer of light, otherwise he says his life would be a much darker place.

So now we are here, at the turn of the year where we crave the light after the longest night.  We will return to the light in the sky as the days begin to lengthen.  But we can all be the bringer of light to the people around us.  Be the light you want to see in the world.

You cannot force a flower to open, but you can become the sun.
~The Algonquin Medicine Man.

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Things Chado has taught me, part 2

Thank you for the great response to the previous post on what Chado has taught me.  I would like to extend my gratitude to those who read these posts and never comment, but I find out later they have been following for a very long time.

If you would like to share things Chado has taught you in the comments, I would love that.  Thank you, and I hope these posts contribute to your own journey with tea.

Here are the next 10 thing Chado has taught me:

  1. Be humble. Respect others. Give appreciation without flattery. 
  2. Everything has a spirit and a story. Don’t just consider something by itself, consider all the hands that touched it, shaped it, and used it before you. 
  3. Cleaning and preparation takes more time than the temae. 
  4. There is a lot of hidden work that goes into a tea gathering. Consideration of such unseen elements applies to many things outside tea. 
  5. Hataraki. Making it work when things aren’t as you expected or exactly as they’re “supposed to be”. 
  6. Leave the world outside when entering the tea room, but bring the tea room with you out into the world. 
  7. Tea is not a solo event. The best tea is shared. 
  8. Patience. Everything has its own time, and the journey is where the value lies. 
  9. Going back to basics. It’s important to continually practice the most basic forms. It’s easy to pick up bad habits when you are focusing on more complex procedures. 
  10. Tea is best enjoyed with a working knowledge of all the elements involved – ceramics, woodworking, tea making, ironwork, bamboo work, calligraphy, etc. 

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Stardust is everywhere

With a heavy heart, we send off Genko Kathy Blackman with prayers, candles and incense. Another chajin we will be missing from our life. She was an inspiration to many as she walked her talk and lived a live full of Zen and tea. She was also funny, a good writer, and widely traveled. I studied tea with her in Seattle for a few years before I moved to Portland, but we often kept in touch. We spent time together in Japan on the 25th anniversary event for the Seattle Branch. We would meet at tea events, or sometimes when I visited Seattle to have dinner or just get together. She was always an inspiration to me in the graceful way that she navigated relationships and moved through life.

When she gave away her dogu collection, I was fortunate to receive several pieces from her and whenever I use them, I feel her presence in the tea room with me. There was some kaiseki dogu that we purchased together that was absolutely her taste and became mine as well.

Even though she prepared us well for the end, it still is a shock. Before she passed, her last project was 100 days of haiku illustrated with photographs she took of her many travels, in her garden, or what ever caught her artistic eye. She also included many charming sketches she drew.  A couple of weeks ago, I received a book from her titled, “Stardust is Everywhere, 100 days of haiku.” with all  the haiku and pictures, and I began to read them one a night, as I hoped she would hang on for 100 more days.

I have a strong tie to Genko as she was the one who helped Genki Takabayashi Roshi name my tea room, Issoan. The first iteration was in Bellevue Washington. I had a seki biraki in March of 2002 and Genko came to dedicate it with an incense offering and chant an incense poem composed by Roshi.

Shofu haru o hakonde
Baika kanbashi
Konnichi kaiseki su Isso-an
Dare ka shiru ichiwan kenkon ni mitsu
Komen no mizudori
Yuyu to shite iku

Spring! Pine wind blows,
Bringing the fragrance of plum flowers.
Today is the opening of Isso-an
Who knows one bowl of tea?
Lake Washington’s water birds skim the
waves with boundless ease.

Genko, may the pine wind blow the fragrance of plum to you, while you watch the water birds skim the waves, and drink many bowls of tea in your well earned rest.

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Things that Chado has taught me

I have been reflecting on my journey with tea.  I feel so lucky that Chado has come into my life and I have had so many opportunities of a lifetime.  From my study at Midorikai, to meeting Daisosho, to experiencing tea events that were transcendent and transforming.  I want to express gratitude to all of my teachers who saw potential in me and assisted me to go further than I ever imagined.  And to all of my sempai to have taught me  so much and served as examples all along the way.  Thank you also to my class mates, kohai and students who have taught me more than they can ever know.

So, in looking back at my career in tea, I started to put a list together about what Chado has taught me.  The list kept getting longer and longer, but I will do this in a series so it won’t be overwhelming.  I hope this promotes discussion in the comments.  What has Chado taught you?

Here’s the first 10 things Chado has taught me. It is not in order of importance, but just as things have come to mind.

  1. Everyone makes mistakes. The longer you do something, the more mistakes you will make.
  2. When you make a mistake, make it beautifully.
  3. True mastery doesn’t exist. There will always be more to learn.
  4. Tranquility can also mean perseverance in the face of difficulty.
  5. Something that appears or sounds simple is likely much harder and more complex than it first appears.
  6. Good manners differ between people and cultures. Learn how to communicate and show your appreciation in a manner the other person will understand.
  7. Sometimes silence is more profound and intimate than words.
  8. It’s important to not let your brain get in the way of learning. Be like a child and just absorb everything around you without questioning it.
  9. It’s important to not let your brain get in the way of doing. With practice, your body knows what to do.
  10. Don’t get ahead of yourself in temae. Give each action your full attention. Live in the moment.

What do you think about this list?

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The longing for belonging

Growing up, I went to six different grade schools, two junior high schools, and two high schools.   Moving every year or every other year, we were always the new kids in school.  That meant my brother was always getting into fights to prove himself.  For me it was the mean girls.  We never lived anywhere long enough to fit in, or develop lasting friendships. 

I always wanted to be part of a group, but ended up alone a lot of the time.  The good part is that I learned to be alone.  I like my own company and don’t fear being by myself.  Growing up not belonging in America because of how I looked, it was always the taunt, ”Go back to where you came from!” And yet not able to go “back” anywhere because I was born and raised here.  I did live in Hawaii where my parents were born and raised, but since I did not grow up there, it was obvious that I didn’t understand the slang, and nuances of culture.  Living in Japan also, I did not speak fluently enough to fit in with the culture, even though I physically looked like I did. 

In my working life, I was often not only the first and only woman in the room, but also the only Asian. So, for all of my life I have had a longing for belonging.  When I started studying tea, I found a place to belong.  It is because most of us who study tea who are not Japanese, we are strangers in another culture.   We can bond in our love of Chado, the beauty, the learning, and the life changing experiences.   The friendships that I developed over the 40 years I have been devoted to tea, have enriched my life in ways I could never have known.   

When there is a very large gathering, for example a koshukai, or an anniversary event, it is like a homecoming or a reunion of extended family.  I imagine it is like being a fan of a sports team (which I have never been) or attending a Comic con.  You don’t have to explain why you have been a student of tea for 40 years, or why you are moved by a dark brown, out of round, pottery bowl, or how sublime the sweet is before you eat it.  

When I introduce the way of tea to new people, I want to make them feel welcome to the world of Chado.  I want them to belong in a way that I was welcomed to that world by all of my sensei, sempai, classmates and students who helped me along the way.  I finally belong. 

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