*This short story relates to my original post about Mindfulness in piano playing.
Last month, I attended a traditional Chinese Tea ceremony at the local House of Leaf & Bean organic cafe. The presenter told us he learned the ceremony from his Chinese and Asian colleagues while teaching English in Japan. Sitting among the other attendees and after tasting three cups of black tea he carefully prepared, he said, “Would anyone like to try making this tea?”
He looked around at all of us and patiently waited. Then came the lingering awkward silence. One woman blurted out nervously, “Oh! I’d probably spill it all over the place! I couldn’t do the movements as gracefully as you?!”
He responded with, “Part of the experience of the ceremony is participating, not just observing…” The space of silence continued.
By now, a small knot was forming in my stomach, and his eyes were scanning the faces around him once more, silently signaling someone to take him up on his suggestion. Before I could let the sensation (and silence) grow any larger, I raised my hand and said “I’ll try it!” He thanked me and said, “We’ll switch seats, and you can begin” I got up from my chair and walked behind the small table-I knew I didn’t watch every gesture he made up until that point, but I knew there was no going back. There’d obviously be lots of pouring between containers in silence...
Once seated, all eyes were on me. I playfully said to myself, “I’ll do my best?!” I tentatively grabbed the gaiwan bowl of leaves and then put it down, realizing I had to put water in it. I took the container of hot water and poured it into the bowl of tea leaves, remembering he said something about “enough water to cover the leaves.” (this wasn’t the ‘put the tea bag in water’ like I was used to!). Then I let the leaves sit and the next step escaped me. Not sure what to do next, the teacher said “then you drain the water out,” I awkwardly picked up the gaiwan and saucer with one hand, trying to tilt the lid; it was tricky trying to pick it up while also tilting the lid with one hand. The teacher said, “tilt the lid, and put your thumb on top and your middle finger on the bottom..” I felt myself getting flustered, so I took a deep breath and followed his instructions. I began to feel more comfortable with the gaiwan’s special shape, lifted it, and quickly poured it in the glass with the strainer. Realizing I just performed the first infusion, all that was left was doing it two more times to make enough for everyone. As I repeated the steps, the teacher commented, “Wouldn’t you say it took him some courage to come up and try it?” “It’s like playing a Sonata, isn’t it, John? You’re not going to get all the right notes the first time…!” I smiled and thought it funny he kept referencing music while I felt like a beginner just learning to play all over again.
After 3 pours, I took away the strainer, more mindful of the gestures the teacher used. With cups in front of each person, I carefully poured each some tea...focused on pouring into the cups and not spilling any! Then, the moment of truth-I gestured with my hand for everyone to try. Silently I watched everyone lift the cups to their mouths and take a sip…
The woman in front of me said “This is a good cup!” Then I saw nods and smiles on everyone else’s faces. “Yes!” my mind cheered. I smiled to myself, felt a warm sensation of “I did it!”
The teacher smiled and said “Very good! Would you like to try it again?” Immediately I said, “No, I’m good!” and I quickly got up and went back to my seat.
While this story may seem trivial- “Why would someone be scared of making tea?!” I demonstrated to myself a bit of mindfulness and wanted to overcome my overthinking mind.
I noticed my usual habit of spiraling thoughts like, “what if I do it 'wrong,' ?" "what will they think as I'm doing this," “I wasn’t paying attention enough to know exactly how he did it” and went for the experience anyway. I chose curiosity over fear. I was paying attention to what I was doing and how I was feeling. I was open to learning and present in the momentary (nerve wracking) experience of making tea.
Classic Zen Story told during the Tea Ceremony: The Samurai and the Tea Master Story
Beyond the Bench Blog: