Things I Learned in Tea Class

This semester I took a class about the Japanese Way of Tea, which I mentioned way back when it began in August.  The experience did nothing but exceed my expectations and even though I wasn’t formally registered, I wanted to take time to reflect on

SAMSUNGwhat I learned.   I personally feel reflection is a terribly important step which if left overlooked steals part of the experience from you.  It goes along with #3, devoting the necessary energy it takes to fully appreciate what you are doing and what you’ve done.

  1. Ichi-go Ichi-e (One life, one opportunity) – The power of this quote really struck me when Jennifer reintroduced it during kaiseki, the formal dinner we shared.   As we finished our meal, Jennifer spoke of how this experience could never be recreated – even if we were all to dine together again we would all be different people, the world be different, and therefore the experience would be different.  We have but one opportunity to make the most of every opportunity we have.   It was one of those moments where a quote with infinite depth, which we far too often skim over, caught my attention enough to cause me to pause and fully examine its truth.  In that moment, with a stark awareness that my time in school was finally coming to a close, I felt humbled by my ability to appreciate only the surface of experiences.  I looked around the room full of individuals who had come together, and hoped my mind’s pleading – that we all forget the world, if only for a moment, so as to fully appreciate what was before us – could be realized.  Since then I continue to seek moments of full awareness, but I’ve been noticing how this is much easier in certain contexts than others. Which brings me to…
  2. The impact of environment – In a number of ways this year has taught me how our physical environment largely commands our physical being (our thoughts, actions, and interactions).  We discussed the architectural and environmental elements of tea ceremonies fairly often, which was good.  Because it addressed things you had already learned simply through experiencing them.  Walking into Japan House, even the walk up to Japan House put you physically in a space that encouraged intentionality, calm, tranquility.  I loved the days my mind instantly responded, I found myself taking deep breaths entering a state of introspection.  On other days, my mind fought this – choosing to stay engulfed in to-do lists, worries, day-to-day happenings and the like.  Through this I learned there is a mental strength you need, that environment can only go so far, but it was fascinating to face the mental dissonance of being in conflicting internal and external spaces.SAMSUNG
  3. The beauty of slowing down – It’s still a bit difficult for my Western mind to fully understand why you would make an activity take significantly longer than it needs to, but I also have been thinking a lot about what is “enough” to do or accomplish in a lifetime.  And what pace should be used for going about doing these things.  I made it a point to spend time before or after class doing something relaxing, but it is still difficult to not get caught up in racing to the next thing.  I think this goes back to our environment influencing our actions – we live in a society with a very rapid pace of life where success is almost measured by busyness.
  4. That my vocabulary to express beauty, among other things, is insufficient.  – I really love words, and discovering new words.  Being introduced to four new words that describe beauty was a notable part of this course.   Hade, shibui, wabi sabi, and iki are each distinctly different so it seems lacking now to return to our vague words to describe aesthetically pleasing things now.   I’ve come across this in other languages as well, where they have really great words we don’t.
  5. Impermanence of all things – Some days, most days, I found this comforting, embracing the constant change that ensures all things will come and then go.  There is still an impulse in me though to cling to certain elements of life, never wanting to let go.  Like when I was younger and my friends and I would promise to always be best friends, and I really couldn’t imagine a time when that wouldn’t be true.  Our lives momentarily feeling like they’d align forever.  Now that I’ve gotten older I see how people, how feelings, how all things go through seasons; aging as time passes, sometimes slowly, sometimes quickly. Part of me still saddens at the thought of eventually losing everything I once had, but I also find it invigorating, a hard-pressed reminder to appreciate every opportunity

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