Replenishing

I’ve been feeling weary lately.

I’ve just moved house, and my goodness I forgot how much work it is. Quite apart from packing up all my worldly belongings and moving them from Point A to Point B (South of the River for once), I’ve done a lot of decluttering and selling on gumtree. Not only have I cleaned the new house to make it comfortably habitable, but I’ve cleaned the old house from floor to ceiling over several days. (Beth I even had to go back because we hadn’t sufficiently dusted the lights or scrubbed the insides of the window sills.) We’ve been taking bushfire safety seriously and I’ve been climbing ladders and sawing branches. I’ve cleaned and returned a car we’ve been borrowing, been cleaning the dojo more thoroughly and have been teaching three times a week (one more class than my usual two). Not to mention the psychological fatigue of learning how to survive in this new location – learning how to use the oven, to find the shopping centre, to get the nearest petrol station… It’s been an exhaustive amount of newness.

Yesterday, after teaching karate the night before and then getting up at 5:25 to teach it again, I was worn quite thin. I was snappy and impatient and peevish. Poor Beth, nothing she did could cause me to smile or feel less vexed.

So I went to bed around 10:30, a little later than planned. And I slept for eight hours, and it helped. I longed for escapism (Shadow of the Tomb Raider or Overwatch would have done nicely), but I forced myself to engage with the outside world. Getting dressed I saw my tea set, and I had a sudden desire to experience tea ceremony. I gathered my things, and as I prepared each utensil I felt as if each layer of worry was slowly being lifted off me. I performed ryakubon, tea ceremony done with a tray, and it was perfect. Not in the sense that I made no mistakes, but in the sense that every movement was intentional, every experience in the present moment. The tea was wonderfully invigorating, too.

I’ve been thinking a lot about burnout lately, partially because Beth is recovering from it after some trying work experiences, partially because I’ve been burning hard and fast lately. I’m reminded that if energy out is greater than energy in, burnout is inevitable until something changes. I cannot keep up this pace forever, and so today I will rest.

I’d like to finish with a thought that came into my mind.

It might be easy to walk a mile when you’re healthy and hale, but it’s a lot harder when you have a broken leg. Being determined not to let it slow you down and walking on it anyway will just do more harm than good, and when infection finally sets in and the pain is so great you collapse, the recovery period will be a long and slow one.

There is no shame in noticing that you are depleted, that you are beaten down, that you are hurting. It’s good to rest, if you can, so that when you’re ready you can pick up your load again and continue on the journey. Forcing it before you’re ready won’t do yourself any favours, let alone those who love or rely upon you.

Be kind to yourselves. It’s a gift to those around you, too.

PS: Thought I would share with you the new homes I’ve found for my tea utensils.

The Way of Tea

Chanoyu, or the Japanese art of Tea Ceremony, is something that’s become increasingly close to my heart over the past three years. I thought long and hard about whether to write this piece in my personal journal, or whether to write it here on my blog, accessible for all time to the wide public. I don’t want to bring discredit to my teacher or my school through my ignorance or my thoughtlessness, but at the same time I want to live in a world where I can read other people’s blogs as they walk their own path of chado – the Way of Tea. So, here I am. Suffice it to say that all mistakes are mine, and that these are my personal reflections.


I will start by saying I was recently reading Miyamoto Musashi’s “Go Rin no Sho” (The Book of Five Rings). Musashi is one of history’s most famous and most skilled swordsmen, and in the opening chapters he strongly advocates for all so-called warriors to deeply pursue the arts. Musashi himself was a master of many forms of art, and so I find it comforting to think that by studying chanoyu I add a little yin to my yang, and deepen myself as a person and a warrior.

But going through the motions has nothing to do with chado at all. It doesn’t matter if I sit perfectly in seiza for half an hour, carefully and exactly moving my body to produce perfect bowls of tea, if my heart is not in each and every moment. This is a humbling lesson that I was reminded of by the delightful Tsutomu-san of the Green Tea House in Subiaco. “The steps are easy”, he said, “but the mind is hard”.

I’ve been thinking a lot about wa, kei, sei, jaku lately – the four tenets of tea ceremony. Harmony, respect, purity and tranquility. Simple words with profound meaning that I could spend my life pursuing and still never quite live by.

Humility

I spend a few minutes preparing my utensils in a separate room.
I wring and fold the tea cloth and place it in the bowl. I select a whisk and a scoop based on my mood and preferences today. I prepare the waste-water receptacle, laying the other utensils within easy reach.

When I am ready, I gather myself as well as my things and approach the tea room, kneeling at the entrance.
There is no one inside it, and I have a quiet smile. I recognise that I am going to pour my heart into the ceremony regardless of who is there to witness it.

I lay my utensils before me and bow deeply.
To who, or what, I cannot say. All I know is that my deepest wish is to humble myself before something great, and beautiful, and worthy of my respect.

This is tea ceremony.

Simplicity

Time seems to slow down in the tea room.

Every detail seems enhanced, and each experience more vivid.

I have a higher consciousness. Not only do I see and feel more, I am more.

Light seems to look different. Dust motes seem to hang in the air. Clothes feel rougher on my skin, scents are sharper in my nose. I feel like I could spend hours poring over the finer details of even the simplest bamboo scoop.

When my sense of appreciation is so highly attuned, you can imagine how much I cherish the smell of fresh matcha, and how deeply I enjoy that first sip.

I am finally beginning to understand the value of wabi. The simpler life is, the more one appreciates. This is why the tea ceremony exists in a world of it’s own. It is a beautiful gift.