|There’s nothing very frightening about tea time…is there?|
|Life today at home with the Captain.|
Tea Ceremony workshop this weekend at the University of West Florida! I am all over that!
I am lucky to be able to stay home with Captain Goodbaby in this season of life. This spring I enjoyed a tea ceremony demonstration at UWF that made me feel like I was floating between seasons—spring in Japan and spring in Florida; life with Isaac and life before. Chris and I made a New Year’s resolution to not talk about Japan all the time and be those people who can’t move on, so as I watched the Introductory 1 tea workshop to brush up on the basics before the Introductory 2 course I’d signed up for, I exhaled a sigh of balance. Here we are moving into the future while continuing to practice this ancient art of hospitality and gracious thoughtfulness through tea! The past fusing into the present—How exciting! How complete! I even got to help a little with serving tea. Inner happy dance!
|Ms. Misako Miyahara from the Urasenke Chanoyu in New York City leads the workshop|
|Incense sets the stage for wonderful tea.|
The Intro 1 class learned the basics: the importance of the tea ceremony fan, tea ceremony theory, how to fold the silk fukusa. Most of the Intro 2 ladies followed along, adjusting our elbows to look “wide and generous,” looking for small ways to communicate to the guest, “your world is there, my world is here, and both worlds respect the other.” Floating my brain up to refocus on the tea world is my favorite part of tea. The best part was Miyahara-sensei’s instructions for bowing, especially on why to avoid awkward wrist positioning during the bow: “If you see this—ghost! It’s scary. It’s not appropriate to be a ghost. Try to avoid it.”
The students enjoyed tea and she complimented their consumption: “Very good. You look nicely balanced, well-grounded.” I want to look nicely balanced and well-grounded! I’m so glad I came! I had been really nervous; I haven’t practiced tea since before Isaac was born. Would I mess up and embarrass Sumie-sensei?! When I signed up I asked Sumie what I should study and she responded quickly—don’t worry, just study taking sweets and drinking tea, and smile. That took a load off. Right—it’s not like this is an exam or something.
|Baby pics counter-balance the feelings of awkwardness|
The Intro 1 students left and another American arrived. Yes! That helped me relax—at least the class is sure to not be in Japanese now (all the other Intro 2 ladies were Japanese). Let’s call this other American “Wilma.” Wilma bustled in, flopped onto a chair, and promptly unloaded a bag of random tea things, including a rusty old tea pot. Huh? She bragged about how cheap everything was on ebay. Oh my word, my stomach sank—is that what my blog sounds like?! How obnoxious.
She started yammering about how she’d ruined all her tabi socks with Japanese dance lessons. “Oh, how interesting,” I said. “Tell me more about that.” She eyed me suspiciously. “You’d have to talk to the teacher about the class,” she sniffed. “I really can’t speak for her. I don’t know if she’d take more students.” …huh?? “Oh, there’s no way I could take a dance class with my baby,” I reassured her. She became warm again and continued to praise the class and her own performance with The Dragon. “That’s what I call the other student,” said Wilma. “She’s fierce. Just awful.” “Um…have you studied tea, too?” I asked to change the subject. She tossed her head dismissively. “I come to all these workshops.” Hmm.
I heard the sensei mention my name to the organizer in a flurry of Japanese. The organizer invited me to perform tea first. What? WHAT? I made big eyes to subtly communicate that I was wholly unprepared to do this.
Miyahara-sensei came over to me and spoke softly. “It takes a lot of courage to be the first, because you’ll have no opportunity to observe someone else. Can you do it? Can you be courageous?” My heart crumbled a little, revealing enough courage to publicly shame myself with a tea bowl of failure.
Some of my mistakes brought giggles from the teacher and observers. That’s a good sign. Giggling I can live with. Silence of shameful condemnation would be worse. Sensei prompted most of my movements, pausing to work on the angle of my wrist or adjust the direction my fingers should point. I learned a lot, and wished I’d studied so as to honor Sumie-sensei’s labor of love in teaching us all those months! I haven’t practiced tea since last September, and even then I was so pregnant and hot it was really difficult to sit on the floor and pay attention.
There were several times I just flat out froze with no idea what to do next. I wiggled my fingers in their resting position near my knees. “Don’t do that,” Miyahara-sensei said. “When you do that it suggests you don’t know what to do next.” Well then, I’ve communicated accurately! She was very gracious, and I felt very silly. “If one person has perfect procedure and makes a poor cup of tea, and another person has bad procedure but makes very good cup of tea, I give more points to that person, because it is all about making a good cup of tea,” she said as I whisked the tea into a froth. Then she took the tea bowl from me and fixed the tea foam too. Complete fail. Oh well, then it was over and I got to observe.
“You can tell by Honda-san’s movements her personality is very gracious,” Miyahara-sensei noted. “Have any of you read “The Book of Tea”? Most of the six of us nodded. “His first chapter is ‘Bowl of Humanity.’ Why is this?” One of the students, a very elderly woman in a gorgeous silk kimono with wonderful posture, had told me earlier she has studied tea since she was 11. I was interested to hear her thoughts on Bowl of Humanity, or any other insight from the experienced students.
Instead, Wilma—the only one who hadn’t studied tea ceremony—spoke too loudly, “It’s like the Holy Grail.”
“Like the Holy Grail…?” Miyahara-san trailed off, tilting her head. Everybody knows this is a polite way of saying, “Completely wrong. Next answer!” Everyone except Wilma, who continued.
“Yeah,” she said, tossing her head back with an authoritative nod while she shifted her bulk on the tatami, “The Holy Grail is the water of life.”
“Yes,” said Miyahara-sensei, meaning ‘no, be quiet.’ “Bowl of Humanity is how you bring your personality to tea ceremony and share personality with your guest. It’s how you get to know each other, through your movements and procedure.” Here she avoided looking at me: “First you learn the temae (procedure), then your personality can show through.” She addressed the guests taking tea. “To understand tea, think about this moment. This is the only time you will experience this bowl of tea, this place, these others.”
That is what is beautiful about tea.
“Did you have fun?” Chris asked when I got home.
“Well…I’m glad I went. I’m not sure I had fun, but I’m glad I went.”
And there’s another session this afternoon!