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WHY WE PRACTICE TEA by Tim Sowa Olson

Two words are used in talking about what is often called the Japanese Tea Ceremony:

Chado, Tea Way or Path, the spiritual path that one follows to reach a state of enlightenment, and Chanoyu, hot water for tea, the day-to-day practice that moves one along that path.

Essentially Tea is the attitude and art of hospitality raised to the level of a philosophy and an art form. It involves host and guest giving every consideration to each other so that a beautiful and mutually satisfying moment can be shared.

Chanoyu offers an opportunity to take refuge from the noise and confusion of the world for a brief time, and to become still and simple right down to the core of one’s being.  To underscore this idea of passing from one world or plane to another, the tea practitioner is made conscious of passing through a series of stages or thresholds:  the wearing of special clothes, garden gates, the purification basin, low doorways, etc.

As a personal practice, Tea can be a means for achieving enlightenment.  According to Zen, an eminently practical view of life, enlightenment can be achieved by performing ordinary everyday tasks with reverence and mindfulness.

The practice of tea is a way of affirming and clarifying relationships such as those between teacher and student, host and guest, and guest and guest.

The Way of Tea, like other Ways (the Way of Incense, the Way of Flowers, the Way of the Brush, the Way of the Sword), is directly transmitted from teacher to student--it cannot be learned from a book. 

Further, Tea must be learned by body, mind and heart together, fully integrated and acting as one.  Athletes sometimes function this way at the top of their game. At a certain point the practitioner becomes his art form, and there is no separation between intent and action.

Tea works as a Way when its principles, attitudes and behaviors are applied outside of the tearoom as well.  For the tea student, the practice of Tea will be a model for daily life, and if one strives to live according to its values in daily life, one brings more to the tearoom experience.

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A 75-YEAR TRAIL

By John Dillon

Tea has brought me many cherished friendships, yours among them, which is why I’m sending you this email. Below you’ll see something I’ve just posted on Facebook. It’s about my father and how, through a long journey, what he did while I was a boy led me to tea.

Before I do that, though, let me thank you again for your friendship and wish you a most joyous holiday season!

75 years ago today, my father (Lou Dillon, Jr.) headed out early to attend church. On his way, he heard ominous sounds overhead and looked up to see the horrifying sight of hundreds of Japanese warplanes bearing down on Pearl Harbor. He rushed to the Navy dredge on which he was serving to help get it out of its dock and to safety, since it would be certainly needed for the clean-up that would follow the attack.

He wrote an account of what had happened to his mother in Portland and she shared it with THE OREGONIAN newspaper. They published excerpts of it, making it the earliest first-hand account of the attack and it’s aftermath to be reported by a Portlander. I still have the paper . . .

This is how the war began for my dad and more dangerous assignments awaited him. He eventually worked as second mate (the person responsible for navigation) on the Bozeman Victory and, as a member of the Merchant Marines, he was serving in the branch of service that had, percentage-wise, the highest fatality rate in the US armed forces during World War II. His closest brush with death came near the war’s end. His ship was off-loading ammunition on Okinawa when a kamikaze pilot ended his suicide mission by plunging down the vessel’s smokestack, a maneuver that should have destroyed the Bozeman Victory and ended my father’s life. Miraculously, given the explosive cargo on board, neither happened.

After the war, dad gave up his life at sea so that he could be an ever-present parent. By the time I entered boyhood, he worked as the on-shore representative for a steamship company. Part of his job was to meet ships as they came into the Portland harbor, bringing them important papers and payroll. If he had to visit a ship on a weekend, he’d often take me with him and some of those ships were from Japan. Despite his wartime experiences, he maintained his respect for the Japanese and their culture, a admiration he’d developed during his pre-war sailings to Japan. Though I visited ships from all over the world with my father, I loved boarding the Japanese ships the most. After all, no one dotes over children quite like the Japanese and I always came home with an exotic gift from that far-away land.

It wasn’t a surprise, then, that early in my theater career I developed an eagerness to explore Japanese theater, making my first trip there in the late fall of 1977, soon after I’d taken over the artistic directorship of the Milwaukee Repertory Theater. What I didn’t know was that that trip would be the first of over two score extended journeys to Japan involving multiple productions, trips and lecture tours that would take me to every corner of the country, from Hokkaido to Okinawa. And after we moved to Seattle in ’93, I began my study of the Japanese tea ceremony (“chanoyu”), an exploration that would last over two decades and bring me even closer to Japanese culture and that would lead to some of my dearest friendships.

And so this day brings a powerful brew of emotions for me as I mourn a father departed, grateful to his service to his country and for opening my eyes to a world beyond my hometown. And there’s thankfulness for all the friends I’ve met through my explorations of things Japanese and the profound sadness for all the tragedies that war always brings.

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How My Trip to Seattle Gave Me a Much-Needed Mental Health Boost

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How My Trip to Seattle Gave Me a Much-Needed Mental Health Boost

By Luis Garcia

Sometimes, the only way for me to get perspective is to escape to a new place and make it my own. I recently took a trip to Seattle in the hopes of clearing my head, but ended up getting so much more than a fresh outlook. Seattle helped me realize how small most mortal problems are, and how important it is to look up and appreciate the vast beauty of the world.

There is so much to see and do in Seattle, including many very relaxing, very unique options, such as participating in a spiritually nourishing tea ceremony at East-West Chanoyu Center. The tea ceremonies are so calming that they have a meditative quality about them.

I started my own expedition by simply picking a direction and walking. Sometimes I’ll walk specifically toward a landmark to see what lies along its path, and other times I’ll simply pick a direction and just go. For Seattle, I chose to walk toward the water. Though it had rained the entire night before, by the time I made it to the pier the sun was shining and the weather was warm and breezy. I decided to take the Bremerton ferry and found a cozy spot to myself with a perfect view: mountains in the distance, sparkling blue water ahead.

I often wear my headphones when I travel, but I decided for the ferry ride I would completely immerse myself in the scene. Down the line, there were two young children who were clearly experiencing the ferry for the first time and could hardly contain their excitement. It was impossible not to smile at their joy, but I think what I loved the most was their genuine awe at the natural beauty around them. They were amazed to hear how tall the mountains in the distance really were, and how even though it was sunny where we were, their peaks were topped with snow. I realized that it really was something special, and it wasn’t just because it was pretty to look at. These colossal, ancient mountains had seen thousands of years of history yet still stood tall. They had adapted to their environment and withstood countless tests of strength. It was truly humbling to consider. In comparison, anything I considered a challenge seemed laughable.

A friend had suggested I visit Volunteer Park, especially so I could check out the view from the water tower. She had told me the view was worth the work, what she didn’t mention was the part about it being 107 steps to the top! But it truly felt like working so hard to get the view was a gift — when I finally made it to the top, it truly took my breath away! It was as if the rain from the night before had turned the leaves and grass greener, the flowers brighter. It was easy to see why they call it Emerald City! From my spot in the tower, I felt like only a small piece of a massive, beautiful world. And something about that was really comforting, even empowering. I realized how small I really am in the grand scheme of life and the universe, that even my biggest mistakes would barely register on a grand scale.

I spent the rest of the day exploring the park and reconnecting with nature. It was as if the air was different — lighter even. I suddenly couldn’t remember what had made me feel so overwhelmed that I had to flee home, but I was grateful for it because it had been years since I had felt so relaxed. Seattle helped me find my center and peace of mind in a way I never expected, and all it took was a day surrounded by its beauty. In fact, the city has made such an impact on me that I’m thinking of moving here for good! 

I’ve been to many different cities across the country, but there’s just something special about Seattle. It’s rejuvenated my spirit and made me feel fearless and free — and for that I will always be thankful!

Luis Garcia is a nomad at heart. He never likes to stay in the same place for too long. He co-created WellnessVoyager.com with a group of friends to share his travel stories and advice. Through the site, he hopes to encourage other young people to leave the comfort of their hometown and explore the world.

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The Danger of Cutting Flowers

By John Dillon

One year, the legendary 16th century tea master Sen no Rikyu planted morning glories in his Kyoto garden. The all-powerful regent and second unifier of Japan who brought to an end the Warring States period, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, heard of the beauty of the blooms and announced he would visit Rikyu's residence to view the flowers.  But when he arrives, all the morning glories have been cut down and removed, roots and all. Not a single blossom remains. Angry at the affront, he enters the tea house . . .

Before I tell you what happens next, let me tell you a bit about why this story interests me. I’m a theater artist and I was born and raised in Oregon. As soon as I finished my sixteen-year stint as the artistic director of the Milwaukee Repertory Theater, my wife and I headed to the Pacific Northwest for the next chapter in our life. One of the things that pulls me so strongly to our region are its vivid contrasts. I remember recently hustling back from a hike in the Cascades and zipping out of my soiled mountain togs so that I could make the curtain of an urbane English comedy at a downtown theater. And on that same drive back to Seattle, I remember making a note to change the dates of our rodeo tickets in Ellensburg so that I could participate in a special tea ceremony to be held in the Arboretum. Life is more vivid here (despite the more than occasional gray skies) because the contrasts are so striking. And that makes me think of the story of Rikyu and the morning glories, with its humble Zen priest and angry Shogun, of the royal retinue and the fragile teahouse. And then, of course, there’s the mystery of the missing flowers . . .

As Hideyoshi enters the tearoom he finds one perfect morning glory, the glorious flower shining with dew and arranged simply in a bamboo container in the small room’s alcove. As Hideyoshi begins to grasp the meaning of Rikyu’s gesture, a side panel slides open and Rikyu enters to start the tea ceremony.

Without even articulating the story’s meaning, there is something I find dramatically satisfying in the simple tale. To begin, of course, are the contrasts already mentioned. Such conflicts/contrasts are the heart of theater. Next emerge three principles I find vital in drama: selection, context and danger. Rikyu chose one flower to represent the many. A playwright chooses only one character to represent a myriad and he or she chooses only a few events to reveal the meaning of a full and complex life. Next, Rikyu took this one flower he felt represented the multitude in his garden and moved it indoors and placed it in a carefully chosen container. Likewise, we can sometimes see our lives better by viewing another life in the openly artificial context of an art form like the theater. Even the most realistic play has a missing wall through which we view the action to say nothing of the stage lights that grow and dim and the proscenium arch that frames the action. Somehow, viewing the private act publicly allows us to see it better. Selection and context are vital tools in helping us see meanings in the life around us.

Finally, there’s danger. Hideyoshi’s power over life and death was absolute. Rikyu risked his life to make his unspoken point. If you doubt that, you should know that some years later (1591 to be exact), the Shogun sent word to Rikyu that he was displeased with the tea master and that Rikyu was to commit ritual suicide (seppuku). Although the reason for Hideyoshi’s displeasure was never revealed, Rikyu complied. And out of respect for Rikyu, morning glories haven’t been used in the tearoom since.

All of us in the theater live in danger, even if it falls short of the extreme danger that a determined 16th century Zen tea master faced. Each time we decide which play to put on (selection) and in what style to produce it (context), all of us know the result may be disaster. The wrong play, the wrong time or the wrong approach and you harvest angry audiences.

During my years of running the Milwaukee Rep, I never saw anything speed by so fast as a successful production. Full houses and happy actors made the days rush by too quickly to fully savor. By contrast, time never crawled by so slowly as a bomb. Sullen audiences in a half-full auditorium and the dispirited faces of the actors as they left the theater made the weeks of a run feel like years. As much as grants and endowments cushion us from the economic uncertainty of the box office, as theaters and theater artists we live or die by an audience’s financial and spiritual approval.

The world of the visual arts and music are full of stories of the misunderstood genius whose work only gathers a wider audience after their death (the Vincent Van Gogh’s and Charles Ives’) but such stories don’t exist in the theater. We succeed in our lifetime, in front of contemporary audiences, or not at all. The only exception I know of is a minor 19th century German playwright whose very obscurity helps make the point.

So, any time a theater artist is at work, making choices, they are selecting and arranging the flowers, as it were, that will soon be put on display. It’s a nerve-wracking process, you see, and we’re always a bit on edge because the shogun might show up to see the results . . .

 

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