1/14/17: Tea Ceremony

The main feature of today was a tea ceremony with Dairik. We started the tea ceremony by picking up the water and sweets we would be using. He emphasized that tea ceremonies were the product of several different disciplines coming together. Each step was carefully considered and executed. Even the water used had to be from a particular sacred well.

After arriving at Dairik’s house we prepared the tea room. This consisted of sweeping and wiping down the floor. In addition to the obvious benefits of cleaning the room, Dairik explained that it helps him connect with his environment. It shifts focus to the floor, which is typically overlooked. I have to admit that carefully scrubbing the floor with hand towels isn’t something I do too often. It was unusual enough that I think it did jar me somewhat from my usual “autopilot” mode of perception. Instead of looking out for cars or signs, the concern was dust particles and bits of dirt.

I was a little surprised at how casual the ceremony was. I came in expecting to struggle with arcane formalities and pain from sitting seiza for extended periods of time. Instead, we were encouraged to sit however we found comfortable and were subject to little protocol. It became clear that the kind of tea ceremony that Dairik practiced was not defined by rigid adherence to tradition. He later stated that for him one of the most important aspects of tea ceremony was simply learning how to offer a part of yourself without expecting anything in return. Looking at it from this perspective makes much of the formality a secondary concern. Above all, Dairik tried to convey good will and inclusiveness. He expressed hope that people everywhere could use tea ceremony spread peace.

What I experienced most strongly during the tea ceremony (especially the first session) was a feeling that everything was as it should be. For some reason it made perfect sense to me that we were there. It seemed right for it to be snowing and for school children to be milling around outside. I think this came from the fact that there were relatively long periods where we would do nothing at all. Nobody would talk or move. We were just there, as everything else. In retrospect it’s sad but I honestly can’t remember the last time I was in a room full of people who didn’t appear to be preoccupied or distracted in the slightest. Despite this inaction, we were all perfectly fine. The result is remarkable: by doing nothing you realize that frequently there’s nothing to be done.

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