Friday, November 2, 2007

Through the Lens of Tea

"Teaism is a cult founded on the adoration of the beautiful among the sordid facts of everyday existence...it is essentially a worship of the imperfect, as it is a tender attempt to accomplish something possible in the impossible thing we know as life." This quote comes from The Book of Tea, a classic treatise on tea by Kakuzo Okakura, and I think it is a true paradigm in my approach to cooking and life in general. The Tao Te Ching teaches us that the best place to live is in the middle since we are made up of both heaven and earth, since we live neither in total perfection or total baseness. That place in the middle is where the "imperfect" abides that Kakuzo Okakura speaks of. True happiness comes only when we understand we will never reach the summit of perfection and when we keep ourselves out of the pitfalls found on earth. Happiness, not only in my cooking but also in my life, comes when I am able to see the imperfections in my food and in my life, and smile. When I no longer see imperfection as a negative thing but see it as what it means to human, to be alive. It is a fine line to walk when allowing for the imperfections that naturally creep in and at the same time striving to be the best cook I can be. I have started this post several times only to find I was unable to finish it for what ever reason. Often I just did not have the words to express what I wanted to say or I found myself forcing a meaning that was not there. So I have spent some time thinking, often over a cup of tea, about what it means to worship the imperfect. What is it about tea and the culture of tea that gives us the ability to see the beauty amongst the sordid facts of life? While I will probably never completely understand, I think I may be starting to. To make a good cup of tea requires more than just boiling water and throwing in a tea bag. A good cup of tea comes from care given to the whole procedure, from choosing quality tea leaves, to finding good water, to providing appealing cups and a nice pot, to taking the proper time, to drinking in the company of good friends. Making good tea requires the tea maker to focus on the tea and nothing else. When the tea is made, to enjoy it takes focus, relaxation and peacefulness. Making and enjoying tea requires contemplation and over time the habit of making tea spills out into ones life, and for me, into my cooking as well. When I spoke of Sysiphus and his meaning to cooking I said I have come to believe that it was the task that was important and while I still believe that is the case, I would like to add that not only is the task important but how we go about the task. This it the lesson I have learned from tea. Making a cup of tea is not as important as the attitude and care I use to make the cup. My happiness comes from tackling the Sysiphien task of the kitchen (and life in general) with a cup of tea.

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