Translation by Mara
Today I finished reading a book our Tea Ceremony Teacher suggested all of us students.
It’s actually a pretty light reading, nothing as philosophical as you would expect by the author, Morishita Noriko — an experienced Tea Ceremony Teacher.
I could recognize myself in every single word of her book “Every Day a Good Day”, in which she talks about the 25 years has spent in the Tea Ceremony practice.
Recommending this book, our Teacher used the same words she said the day when the first Japanese student joined our class; that is that many Japanese people know nothing about Tea Ceremony — Cha no yu —, so we weren’t supposed to expect more from her just for being Japanese. She didn’t mean to justify her, instead she wanted us to understand that she would be as shambling as we were, and she would make as many mistakes as us. Because Tea Ceremony isn’t something that comes just from being Japanese, it is a Ceremony in itself, that elicits its own way of thinking and acting.
Federico and I have been attending classes just for two years now. Everything started by folding a handkerchief — fukusa —, and today it’s a complete otemae; simple, very basic, but a complete one.
It brings with itself its rhythm, its breaths, the kettle sounds and the whole morning our Teacher commits to the preparations for our class. It also means to me to spend half an hour wearing my kimono before we begin, time I value very much to get to that inside emptiness I will need to open the door to announce the beginning of my Ceremony.
Today, when I closed my book, I started thinking about the attitude and the rituals that allow me to perform a complete otemae to just make tea for my guests, managing to breathe normally, without thinking.
Obviously I can’t compare my studies to the 25-year experience of the book’s author and I am sure that should I read this page again in five years I would make many changes, not to mention in 15 or 30 years.
But still I remember my very first attempts: I was clumsy and couldn’t remember any of the passages, I had to follow our Teacher’s voice step by step. I never used to practice at home, if not a few times on special occasions; I was not a good student all things considered.
After two years, I can perform otemae with almost no mistakes, I sometimes forget small details realizing at the same time why I keep leaving them behind. Once I realize what the mistake is and why it happens I manage to internalize it and that mistake just vanishes, I won’t do it again. It’s something that keeps amusing me: at first there’s something I can’t do, and the next time not only I can do it, but I also understand the reasons why it needs to be done.
Learning wating to learn
Tea Ceremony, talking about the simplest among all kinds of otemae, is optimization becoming aesthetics, becoming zen; simplicity and elegance blend together to make everything flow. However, until you get to understand the reasons behind it you’re just a clumsy mess of thoughts.
Our Teacher never explained “why” everything needs to be done in a specific way. You start with folding two different kinds of fabric — fukusa and chakin — which are used in two separate moments of the Ceremony, but then you suddenly find yourself “thrown” in a complete Ceremony, from entering the room to leaving it.
It’s not like our schools or classes, where you keep repeating the same small steps of something, may it be a choreography, a poem, a procedure, until you’ve learnt it and then move on. Here you learn while you are waiting for learning.
After all, even the book says: “At school you are taught to think so that you can give the right answer in the established amount of time. The more the answer is quick and correct, the higher the score. On the contrary, if you overrun your time or, still, can’t get used to this system, your score will be low.”
This way of thinking does not exist in Tea Ceremony, because time has no limits, answers can’t be right or wrong.
Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.
Leonardo Da Vinci
It may sound odd, we are used to think about the Ceremony as something solemn, refined, far from our regular lives. That’s because our culture in these times keeps pushing us to set goals, to be competitive.
Tea Ceremony is actually much more free than it looks like, but it becomes such only when your mind is free as well, leaving back the mistakes, the meaningless searches for reasons that do not exist, stopping to hold your breath in worry.
When I used to dance I had a goal I dreamt about every night, I cried about every day, I chased 24/7. Until it got so exhausting I had to abandon it, because I found out it had pushed me away from the actual reasons why I wanted to dance.
When I started practicing Tea Ceremony I had no goals, I didn’t even know if there were meant to be any. I chose to keep it like that, for my past experience had consumed me inside and out.
I don’t want to set goals, because I don’t want to compete even with myself.
“Today I’ll do better” isn’t something I keep repeating myself to motivate me. I don’t say anything, because I don’t have to be anything. It’s just tea, a moment with myself. Something that may be called zen, but that is often mystified.
– A goal is the target of an action or an initiative; the result you hope getting to: “I practice Tea Ceremony to get to be flawless and perform more complex Ceremonies”.
– Motivation is what pushes you to do something — or not: “I practice Tea Ceremony to have some time for myself and my personal growth”.
There is a huge difference.
[…] in Tea Ceremony you relate with yourself from yesterday.
Tea Ceremony changes you a bit — actually, a lot. But what I’m looking for isn’t just change, I don’t even like the idea of “looking for something”. This doesn’t mean I don’t want to learn, or grow, but I want to take my time, I want this feeling of “doing without thinking” to extend to many of the things I usually do.
I quote from the book: “Both school and tea aim to the person’s growth, with a substantial difference: at school, you relate with others, whereas in Tea Ceremony you relate with yourself from yesterday”.
I believe this is essential for many aspects of life and I thank my parents every day for teaching me Tea Ceremony without even knowing it.
Learning is the best way to get to know yourself, but to actually grow I believe it’s necessary to live in the present, knowing our past and accepting both the mistakes we made and what we gained, without being anxious about the future. Nowadays our idea of the future is too strongly related to competition, which however keeps looking towards others without leaving us the chance to look inside ourselves and give us the necessary space to grow.
Cover: Shōrin-zu byōbu, Hasegawa Tōhaku