Sometimes when I’m at a tea ceremony lesson, I seem so connected to the present moment that I can solve problems the instant they come into existence. It’s like having a moment of perfect clarity that if that snowball were to start rolling it would cause an avalanche, and so as the snowball is starting to form I disperse it. It feels like a kind of magic foresight where for a moment I can see the future, and know exactly what is required to prevent that future from becoming.
I’ll see that the water is a little low, and top it up quickly and quietly so that it’s ready for the next person to use without them having to worry.
I’ll notice there’s a tiny speck of tea powder on the floor and wipe it up with a tissue before it stains anyone’s clothes or utensils.
I’ll notice that no one has been designated as an assistant, so I’ll quietly move my osensu (fan) out of the way so that my bundle of kaishi (paper) is easy to access. Before anyone even has the chance to look around for who will retrieve the tea, I am already sliding into place with a new bowl and my kobukusa (small silk cloth).
It’s a dozen tiny moments like those that make me feel intimately connected to the tea room and everyone within it. Like before a thought has even finished forming in the mind of my teacher, I have understood it and already begun to act on it. It is a rare feeling, and only comes when I am at my sharpest on my very best days.
And I don’t always get it right, either! Sometimes I think I’m perfectly placed to solve a problem when all I’m doing is stumbling into the way of other people. Or I’ll think, “Sensei would find it helpful if someone would take care of that”, and I’ll jump in when she was deliberately waiting for someone else to notice so that they could learn the lesson themselves. Sometimes when I take the initiative, it is very presumptuous, and very mistaken!
But sometimes it is like magic. It makes me think of the “harmony” described in the phrase “Wa kei sei jaku“.
The more I practice, the more I get the sense that tea ceremony is not something that can be understood with words, or even action. Every time I see a ceremony, I get a glimpse of something indescribable, a sliver of some great and beautiful truth. It must be very difficult for my teacher to help her students discover what cannot be taught!