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Archive for April, 2019

Taiwanese Tea Ceremony

Nine months after an enforced hiatus necessary for my recovery from a broken shoulder, I am deeply grateful to all my healers, and thrilled to be traveling again, offering my EurythmyAlive workshops in Asia.
     I began with a 7-day workshop in eastern Taiwan, with a group of 28 committed students. This was their 4th EurythmyAlive module, and we worked intensively on tone eurythmy to a piece by Beethoven, as well as on several speech eurythmy pieces. Our study focused on Cosmic Evolution and the personal journey towards self-actualization.

     As always, at the end of my workshop here, I took time to visit the Open Heart Temple, a a Taiwanese-Zen Buddhist temple located nearby. The Master of this temple is a 72-year old nun who, despite being nearly blind, is one of the most loving and joyful people I know. After 10 years of service in a mountain monastery she returned to the city to work in service. Teaching herself architecture, she designed and commissioned this remarkable temple. With elegant and understated forms, its concrete and wood walls stand in the open landscape, surrounded by acres of green rice fields.     
   

     One of the main practices her community has developed is their ritualistic Tea Ceremony, and it is an honor for me to take part in it every time I visit.
     The small group of five participants are ushered into a quite room, and offered seats on tatami mats on the floor, around a low table made of polished wood. There we are greeted by the “hostess,” a novitiate who has spent months or years learning the art of tea ceremony. She has meticulously prepared the space by laying out cloths in beautiful patterns. She has cleaned and arranged the teapots and pouring vessels and the 6 tiny teacups in which the tea will be served. There is a quiet floral arrangement near her serving table, and behind her hangs a quite picture of Qwan Yin, the Buddhist goddess figure whose name means “She who listens.” She represents the capacity to listen beneath the surface of things, to perceive the essences of the world.
     After we take our places, we close our eyes for a few moments, to still our minds and become fully present. From that point on, all is done in silence, without conversation, until the ceremony is finished 90 minutes later.
     Even as we took the time to slow way down to be present in those minutes, I will painstakingly and lovingly describe at least a bit of the ceremony, so you can imagine the experience of quieting the inner chatter and entering into the condition of “Zen mind,” presence-without-absence.

     The hostess has trained herself to move in complete grace and quite. She touches only one object at a time, and gives her full attention to what her hands are doing. Nothing is proscribed, yet everything is deliberate. As she begins, she lifts the lid off the tea jar on her left side, and puts it on the floor beside her. Then she lifts a shallow bamboo dish with the left hand, and passes it to her right. Her left hand then picks up the tea jar, and she pours the tea into the dish. She places the jar down again and covers it. Then, putting two hands on the dish, she raises it, first to her heart and then to her nose, and inhales the fragrance of the dried tea leaves. The dish is then passed slowly around the circle, and each participant also takes a moment to its scent deeply, before passing it on.


 

     Continuing in graceful stillness, when the dish returns to her, she lays it down. Then she smoothly pours boiling water into the tiny waiting clay teapot with her left hand. This warms the pot, and for a few moments all is still. Then she pours the hot water away, into an empty ceramic bowl. Next, she pours the tea leaves into the warmed teapot, and the steaming heat it holds causes the tea leaves to release their next layer of fragrance.

Now she lifts the pot, again first to her heart, and then to her nose, and smells the new scent. This pot is once again passed around the circle to all the guests, slowly and patiently.
When the pot returns, she places it carefully in the middle of the space on the floor in front of her. Then all the tea cups are ritualistically warmed, one by one, with hot water. This hot water is then poured into the same large ceramic bowl.
     At length, hot water is poured over the waiting tea leaves. Instantly, the leaves flavor the water, and the tea is poured off, only half a minute later, into a beautiful small serving cup. From there, the six tea cups are filled. Only now, at this point, does everyone lift their cup. Slowly and thoughtfully, we drink the tea, letting the heat and the fragrance and the smell fill our senses.


     This kind of tasting-touching-feeling, to me, opens a door to a pure sensory experience. I find I am unable to name these sensations: there are no words to describe or narrate to myself what I am tasting. The automatic habit of overlaying every experience with intellectual cognitive descriptions withdraws into the background. We all take time to allow the sensory experiences to blossom within us. I feel reverent gratitude and wonder for the gifts of the natural world and of the caretakers who have planted, tended and harvested the plants, made the tea, and brought this gift to us. My senses, now stilled, drink in the beauty of the flowers, the light playing on the cups, the air we are breathing. As the hostess continues her ritual, the etheric aura of the room becomes rich and full. All of us, as participants, have brought focused our attention forces on the present moment. There is love.

     After we have drunk the tea, the cups are carefully returned to the space in front of the hostess. Four more times she carefully repeats the action of pouring water over the tea, pouring the tea into the serving cup and then into the tiny tea cups, and sharing them with the participants. Her exquisitely patient movements continue to hold us in the quiet of the present moment.
     At last the teacups are carefully rinsed one last time, the tea leaves are smelled one last time and emptied into the ceramic bowl. Then the hostess pours opens a second basket that sits beside her, and takes out six simple napkins and six pieces of beautiful dried fruit as a delicate desert.
After all is finished, the participants are invited to engage in quiet conversation, reflecting upon the experiences they just had.

Every season, when I return to this simple but elegant temple and partake in this healing ceremony, my experience goes a step deeper. How infinitely precious is this world we live in! And how precious are the human beings who sanctify this world by acts of loving culture.
 Qwan Yin: “She who listens to the inner heart of things.”