AN AFTERNOON OF TEA AND MINDFULNESS
This week I had the pleasure of attending a Japanese Tea Ceremony, in the unusual location of Hyde Park in Central London. I was invited by a work colleague who was acquainted with a Japanese Tea Master, studying at University College London.
I’d already experienced this ceremony in a traditional tea house in Kyoto, Japan a few years ago, so was interested to experience it again in the open.
It was a beautifully warm and sunny afternoon and the Tea Master, wearing a royal blue traditional silk Japanese robe, had found spot inside a cave-like tree canopy, so it instantly felt like a sacred space.
We were invited to be seated on a blanket as the Tea Master produced a small wooden box. He explained that this was a traditional tea set specifically to enjoy the tea ceremony when on a picnic in Japan. It contained two ceramic tea bowls, the matcha tea container, a selection of beautifully embroidered cloths, a bamboo whisk and a bamboo spatula to scoop the tea.
The unique characteristic about the Japanese Tea Ceremony is the zen-like method and precision that the Tea Master conducts the activity. They lay out the utensils quietly and gently. They take one of the cloths, fold it in a very specific fashion and gently wipe the utensils, to symbolically purify them. They scoop two heaps of matcha green tea into the bowls, add some boiling water from a flask, and then delicately froth the tea with the bamboo whisk until it has become a deep green foam. Finally they spell out the letter M over the foam of the tea, in order to burst the big bubbles, allowing the top layer of the foam to be smooth.
You can’t help but be mesmerised by the theatricality of the ritual.
Before being handed the tea, the guest eats a Japanese sugar confectionary, that compliments the bitterness of the matcha tea. As the tea is handed to the guest, they bow and say thank-you. It is then tradition to lift the bowl with your right hand and place it in your left palm. You then turn the cup 90 degrees clock-wise twice. This is because there is usually a motif on the front of the bowl and you want to turn it to the other guests so they can appreciate it.
You take 3-4 confident gulps of the tea, ensuring that the last one involves tipping your head back and making a vocal slurp with the residual foam from the cup, as an expression of politeness to show you have drunk it all.
You then place it down in front of you and the ritual begins again for the next guest.
Green tea was brought over to Japan from China in the 9th Century by a Buddhist monk and begun to be cultivated for medicinal purposes. It was a rare and valuable commodity, so the rules and formalities about the serving presentation became ritualistic, like a religious ceremony. The tea is specified as matcha, the purest form of green tea, because it is literally tea leaves crushed into a powder, so that you get the full medicinal qualities, and the caffeine hit (!). It is like drinking a coffee espresso!
Normally, the ceremony takes place in a traditional tea house and this is when you can experience the full benefit of the ceremony, as I did in Japan. For it is the environment in which the ceremony is carried out that encourages mindfulness and centreing yourself in the present moment, where each of the senses are stimulated simply and purely: the aesthetic of the artwork on the bowls, embroidery and decoration of the tea house; the smell of incense; the gentle sounds of the utensils and pouring of the water, and the silence in between; the rich taste of the matcha tea and Japanese sweet and the touch of the pottery and bamboo utensils.
Because I practice meditation, I find it easier to become mindful and present than I used to and it has helped with the anxiety and stress of modern life, therefore I appreciate being able to practice mindfulness through experiences such as the Japanese Tea Ceremony.
As I develop my Life Coaching practice, I have realised that I want to encourage this mindfulness in my sessions. I am very conscious that I remain calm, present and attentive to the client, giving them the space they need to explore their issues and discover their own solutions. Although it is self-endulgent to say that the mindfulness practice during sessions leaves me energised, my intention is that my energy is benefiting the client to give them the unique personal space that they may struggle to find in other areas of their lives.
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