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.

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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

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Happy New Year

Happy New Year to all my tea friends.  I hope the year of the tiger brings you everything you could wish for.

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Be here now

Here we are at the turn of the year.  It is the winter solstice and once again we are facing a new virus variant that they say is more transmissible than the previous strains. Will we never be rid of this disease? Nearly three years of sickness, death, disruption, threats,and  travel bans. We are all weary and tired of the vigilance and missing parts of our lives that we used to take for granted.  Looking out to the future, it doesn’t seem like there is any hope that we can get back to the life we used to have.  From here it looks bleak and depressing.

What can we do to counter these thoughts that weigh heavy on our mental health? One thing we can do is strive to be here now.

What does it mean, Be here now?  What is this moment? It is not the future and thinking about what ifs that are unending.  It is not to look back and wish for how things used to be.  It is just this very moment.  Cats and dogs are very good at be here now.  They don’t worry about the future nor dwell on the past.  Small kids are good at be here now.  I look up into the night sky and the moon is so excellent at be here now.  As is the garden, especially the garden.

It is mid-winter in the garden, not the spring nor summer.  Bulbs are sleeping in the ground until it is time.  They don’t think of the future growth.  I have one camellia in full bloom that is bright red with brilliant yellow  centers.  It is not thinking of dropping flowers, or remembering before the buds.  It is blooming now.

One of the questions I have gotten during a tea presentation is,  How long did it take for you to prepare for today?  Of course, at the time, it was tea presentation coordinated with an art gallery, exhibition opening, and a festival. It  took six months of planning, several site visits an hour away, practice, packing, loading, unloading, unpacking and a couple of hours of set up.

But in reality, it took 35 years of preparation for the presentation.  35 years of training in tea procedures. At least 25 years of putting on presentations to know what type of presentation to do, what to pack, how to use the venue to advantage, how to talk with an audience, how to answer the questions in the Q and A.  All that planning and yet, I had to be there at that moment, to show up in my entire being and make tea and try to convey to the best of my ability the essence of Chado.

I have a grandchild and she is totally aware when I am present and when I am distracted or not paying complete attention.  I think other adults in her life have so much going on that cannot give complete attention all the time, even though they try. It is a gift to others in your life to be here now.

A young monk went to the Roshi and said, “I am discouraged with my practice.  What should I do?”

”Encourage others,” said the Roshi.


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Starting again

As the world begins to open up again after Covid, activities that we used to enjoy can be intimidating to start again.  As I contemplate starting tea lessons in person again, I am thinking how can I ease the way for students who may be hesitant to come to class.  I will do my best to put together some procedures for making and drinking tea together, sanitizing, clean up, and social distance for  everyone to feel a little more comfortable.

As we have been practicing alone in our own tea spaces, making tea in front of other people can be scary and anxiety producing.  Will other students judge us, have I forgotten how be a guest, what will I do if I cannot remember the most basic things?

Back in 2011, I wrote a blog post about starting over.  But I have come to realize, when you return to tea after a break (no matter 1 month or 25 years), you don’t start over. You start again at a deeper level.  Because you have experience in learning how to fold your fukusa, when you start to do it again, your body knows at a deep level how to do it.  If you haven’t been on a bicycle in years and you go out for ride, you don’t have to start with training wheels and learn like you did the very first time.  You may be wobbly, but instinctively your body remembers how to ride.

So we may be rusty for a few things as we come back to the tea procedures, but the greater challenge is how to be with people again.  Some may have social anxiety or are reluctant to share.  In the period of isolation from others, we may have forgotten how to consider others first.  Osaki ni may not be instinctual before partaking sweets and tea. In bowing we may not be aware of when the other person is rising to match our movements.

But with practice and patience, it will start to come back.  We should not expect to come back to the tea room and pick up where we left off as if nothing happened.  There will be a period of adjustment in getting used to people and social situations.  So it is really not starting again, but reviewing where we are and practicing diligently to move forward from where we find ourselves.




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