Thursday, December 11, 2008

Today's quiet repose

Today while taking a break from my usual hectic schedule I was drinking a pot of tea and reading through one of my favorite books called "The Book of Tea", by Kakuzo Okakura. I have found a copy online for you to read. I have copied the first two paragraphs of the book below for your enjoyment because they speak so much to me and always remind me why I love tea so much. Hope you get a chance to read the whole book, but if not, I hope you at least enjoy the first two paragraphs:

Tea began as a medicine and grew into a beverage. In China, in the eighth century, it entered the realm of poetry as one of the polite amusements. The fifteenth century saw Japan ennoble it into a religion of aestheticism--Teaism. Teaism is a cult founded on the adoration of the beautiful among the sordid facts of everyday existence. It inculcates purity and harmony, the mystery of mutual charity, the romanticism of the social order. It is essentially a worship of the Imperfect, as it is a tender attempt to accomplish something possible in this impossible thing we know as life.

The Philosophy of Tea is not mere aestheticism in the ordinary acceptance of the term, for it expresses conjointly with ethics and religion our whole point of view about man and nature. It is hygiene, for it enforces cleanliness; it is economics, for it shows comfort in simplicity rather than in the complex and costly; it is moral geometry, inasmuch as it defines our sense of proportion to the universe. It represents the true spirit of Eastern democracy by making all its votaries aristocrats in taste.

What I love most about those words is how they do not make excuses for the imperfections we find in everyday life, but in fact celebrate them, and raise them to a place of beauty and of art. Tea, as Mr. Okakura tells it, is all about finding what is possible in this life. Tea is victorious in its simple outlook! I especially love his use of the word, "tender" when referring to our attempt to find the possible in the impossible. Tender means given to gentleness and sentimentality as one dictionary defines it, and these are two qualities people generally do not associate with myself, though I would disagree. Sure, I am not the sappy type and I do not goo goo and ga ga over things nor will you find me overly emotional, but I do have a soft streak in me, though you may have to look a bit and over look some of my gruffness, but I digress.

I actually read the word "tender" in this context as not pushing your way through life but being delicate with it. To be tender in this way is to see life as something that is fragile or easily hurt, and life, like a great cup of tea, is fragile and easily ruined if not made with care. The movement of life is subtle and if we are tender with it we will find ourselves able to follow its movements and flow with them instead of battling against them.

I often will spend time just looking at the tea after I pour a cup and find myself simply enjoying the way it looks in the cup. The way it reflects the light and the beauty of its clarity and the delicacy of its color. What is tea really but a few leaves steeped in hot water? But to make a perfect cup of tea takes a life time of practice. There are thousands of varieties of tea in the world and each and every comes from a single plant. How one treats the leaves from the plant "camellia sinensis" determines its flavor. Call me Captain Obvious, but I'm going to point it out anyway; though we all stem from a single source, our shared humanity, we all do not taste the same, and how we treat our lives will be the final judge of its final flavor. My life, like tea, is easy to make, but to make it well takes tenderness, and tenderness is something I find myself having to renew daily.

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