I finished "The Tea Ceremony" by S. Tanaka the other day. Last year I was taking instruction in the tea ceremony but had to bow out. The instructor is a Japanese National Living Treasure, although I'm not sure how that works since he isn't living in Japan. Part of the year he spends here and part of it in Illinois where he is on the faculty of a university. He's away now so no classes are being held but I am hoping to be able to re-enroll upon his return.
I am a pretty tightly wound guy. I hold my body in an almost continual state of tension. I have to remind myself dozens of times throughout the day to relax, to drop my shoulders, to breathe. Certainly yoga, meditation, stretching, tai chi, something is needed to uncoil me. I enrolled in the class hoping it would be a form of meditation I could do, since I've never had much success with the more traditional form. I figured something task oriented, particularly focused on the exceptional exchange between host and guest might allow me the structure I feel I need to "get out of myself".
In the class there was another restaurant owner who has been taking instruction for 4 years. When I started he was preparing to go to Japan to take his examination to get his bachelor's degree in tea as the instructor put it.
The restaurant this guy owns is horrible. It caters to the most repulsive elements of our town, uses crappy ingredients and is astonishingly ugly. They are of course, quite busy. Their double-pour margaritas help, but I can't see the appeal on any level. So I was really astonished to see this guy at tea ceremony.
Reconciling your spiritual or aesthetic beliefs with the material world always poses some difficulty but I just don't get how someone can pursue the tea ceremony to the point of wanting to take the examination and not have that translate at all into the rest of their life.
The classes I took were very focused on the mechanics of the ceremony. I don't know if this was because this guy was getting ready for his exam or not. I understand that in the ceremony the mechanics are an integral part of the spiritual aspect, kind of a "the medium is the the message" thing but I wanted to know more about the kakemono (wall hanging) or the flower arrangement, or how the ceremony evolved, or the significance of the particular sweets served before.
Perhaps this is a case of wanting to run before I can walk. If I re-enroll I'll bring this up to the tea master. I think though trying to learn the actions without the understanding of the spiritual function will frustrate me. Empty formalism just isn't my thing.
Perhaps I was there to learn some lessons from the other restaurateur about compassion, judgment and a few other things I'm sure I'm not aware of. At this stage though I'm not evolved enough to get beyond annoyance.