I’ve just returned from my local metaphysical bookstore and meditation refuge, Phoenix and Dragon. Tonight was Don Simmons’s annual Tea Ceremony meditation. This is the third that I have attended. There have been seven previous, eight including tonight.
I love the tea ceremony for its combination of ceremony and whimsy. Don really knows how to make this tradition light-hearted and official at the same time.
To clarify the whimsical side of the ceremony, he tells us about Wabi Sabi, the Japanese tradition of accepting things just as they are, and finding beauty in the imperfections in life. So, he says, he will practice Wabi Sabi quite a bit during his tea ceremony and he hopes we can see the beauty.
We all laugh, but really, the wabi sabi is much of what creates the beauty of the ceremony he is conducting. He asks us to listen to the sounds, the water pouring, the propane and the “ancient light stick,” an everyday lighter, igniting a flame to heat the water. He heats this water to pour over our tea towels. He passes out to each person in the room a warm cloth that he has personally picked out, cut and blessed. He asks us to really see and feel the cloth he hands us, our tea towel.
The tea towel is one of my favorite parts of the ceremony. As I walked into the room tonight, I had to duck to get in. There were tea towels past draped down in front of the door and a line of them up on the ceiling. Each square sewn together to show the eight years of ceremony. Don explains that the two squares hanging in front of the door are to encourage us to bow when entering the room. This is a Japanese custom and means to make us all equal. In Japan, kings bow to come into the room for a tea ceremony just the same as a commoner would. This connects everyone on the same level – brings us all to God, so to speak.
I have two tea towels from years prior. Don tells us to use them – treat them ceremoniously but also see them as profane, or useful. He tells a story of being in Hilton Head and riding a bike down the beach. His chain becomes clogged with sand and grease and will no longer go forward. The only something he had to help was his tea towel from his ceremony. He used it to wipe off the grease and sand and was able to continue his beach ride.
“Don’t keep this towel in a file. Use it. Make it profane,” he says.
Honestly, mine are all in my little “sacred cabinet” I have in my bedroom. I did profane my towel up when I came out of the meditation tonight. It was raining and I used the towel as an umbrella for my beautiful, silk covered, meditation chair.
Maybe this year I will get my towels out and really do something with them. After all, 2012 is the year of change, growth, manifestation, and freedom. This sounds like a good year to make my tea towels past and present work for me.
After wiping our hands on our tea towel, Don explains The Way of Tea. “This meeting is one time, one meeting,” Don explains. “We may have more tea ceremonies, but we will never have one exactly like this one in this moment.” In Japanese it is “ichi-go, ichi-e,” appreciating the sacredness of every moment.
We fold our tea towels into little pillow-like squares and really feel the moment. Then Don explains a philosophy to help understand the tea ceremony as sacred, a saying Chop Wood, Carry Water, Drink Tea.
Don explains on his Facbook Page, The Mystic Path, “Chop Wood, Carry Water, Drink tea is a philosophy of charity, service and inclusiveness. Chopping wood, a yang or masculine energy, is the beginning action of transformation (fire) for all to experience. Carrying water is the yin or feminine action reflecting the “bringing of life” to others. Drinking Tea is the balance of work and service – bringing pleasure and rejuvenation to self and others.”n you drink Tea, contemplate the Balance of your life and enjoy yourself and friends.
Before beginning the making of the tea, food is served. In tea ceremonies in ancient times, the people coming to the ceremony would have travelled far to get there. In addition to being thirsty, they would have been hungry. I didn’t eat much myself before going, so when Don exposed his plate of cookies, I was happy to be the first to be offered one.
I took a dark brown, ginger snap type of cookie with the word “Lotus” written across it, when I noticed he also had those cigar-shaped cookies with the thin wafer wrapped around a chocolate inside. Those are one of my favorites. So I did something I have not done before, yet proving this really is a different tea ceremony, I took two cookies. I asked first, and Don was more than obliging of my request. I noticed too I wasn’t the only one that did this.
We are told to really savor the cookies in our mouth; to eat them mindfully.
It feels a little funny sitting there in a room full of adults eating cookies mindfully, but that’s what we do. Then Don sits down and, like a kid, eats his own cookie with a gleam in his eye.
After the cookies, it was time to heat the water for the tea. Again, the water is poured with an intention of mindful listening. The propane is lit, the water set to boil. Don tells us, there are three types of boiling water. Crab Eye, when the water starts to make a shift, energy of the water is changing; Fisheye, the bubbles are forming and coming to the top, but small; Old Man Boil, when it is really boiling. For tea, Fisheye is the optimum boiling point.
While we are waiting for the water to boil, he pours some of tonight’s loose tea into a holder to pass around for us to inhale the aroma. The tea is Plum Berry. The aroma is sweet, like smelling a flower. The berries and plums mix to emit a wonderful smell. Like the way waffles smell cooking on a waffle iron, I was hoping the taste would replicate that exact smell.
As the water begins to boil, Don tells us a story of his being in Egypt on a job assignment. They were filming a sun set and got the shot only to discover if they ran up a hill they could see the sun setting again, and get another shot. He tells of what that feels like, running up a large hill with 80 pounds of camera weight attached. And also tells us that they were invited to tea with Egyptian people having tea on the mountain.
“They don’t use these little baskets (he holds up the tea leaf basket to show what he would have put the tea in),” he explains. “They just throw it all in the pot and pour the water over it, and that is what I am going to do tonight.”
Interesting; I’m picturing tea leaves in my teeth as I leave tonight to go back into the world.
As the water boiled and the tea was spooned loosely into the bottom of the tea pots, Don took the pan of boiling water and poured it into the tea pots with the tea leaves mixed with Plum and Berries. Immediately the smell of the tea filled the room. I heard someone close by comment that they could smell it too.
He pours it into the small white porcelain cups. When he gets to the end, he runs out of tea with only one cup left. Using two pots, he went back to the first and there was enough to fill that last cup. Then one was knocked over when he was going around to each person serving the tea – wabi sabi.
There is a way to drink the tea in a tea ceremony. Hold tea in right hand, left hand is under the cup. Take a breath. Exhale. Bring tea cup up, inhale the tea’s aroma. Exhale. Bring tea cup up, take a sip, savor, swallow. Start the process over. And if you don’t get that all perfectly “correct” then wabi sabi at you again. And the only real rule there is: do this ritual mindfully and you are doing it “right.”
So in the end, I went, I ate, I drank tea, I laughed, and I was part of a wonderful ritual – a mindful experience with a peaceful, yet festive, atmosphere.
I was reminded to be mindful of the energy I bring to the room when Don talked of a friend he has that says he never goes to a party unless he can bring something positive to the room. I like that philosophy for just entering a room on an ordinary day.
I was given tools for my year coming up. Don, who is adept at numerology, explains, 2011 was a year of stability and stability can often mean stagnation. 2012 represents the number five. Five is the number for forward motion, change, growth, manifestation, and freedom. This year will be on the go – watching the manifestation of actions in life.
Don made sure to remind us of the willingness to let things happen, to see the beauty in the imperfections of life. Sometimes when things do not go exactly as I plan, I remember that the Universe might have plans much larger than I can imagine for myself.
Tea Ceremony, for me, is a perfect way to bring in my year anew. If I see this ritual as a representation of my life, I am able to look at the sacredness of each act I am completing and I am also able to see the humor of those moments. Even in a serious moment, like handing out the “sacred” tea, when the tea cup falls over, it was just fine to laugh.
In Positive Energy, by Judith Orloff, she dedicates a portion of her Seventh Prescription to the “Sacredness of laughter.” One of her accounts reminds me how a serious moment can turn into something more if I am only able to see the humor. Orloff tells a story about how a friend’s grandmother with Alzheimer ate tulips that were on the table instead of the food. She writes, “…out of a mix of respect and the utter goofiness of the moment, the friend began eating tulips too.”
So, in honor of my third tea ceremony, today I go into my world seeking a path to my highest good, as my most useful self, but I am also out there making sure I see what’s amusing about it. Today, I trust the process of life.