The Everyday Tea Ceremony
Harmony, Respect, Purity, Tranquility. Elements of a Japanese tea ceremony that can be brought into our own lives and morning rituals. Currently I’m traveling in Japan, learning about traditional and contemporary food culture, including tea - the way that tea is grown, harvested, prepared, and enjoyed. Recently, after attending a matcha tea ceremony, I got to thinking about those little things that we can do, the small shifts we can make, that have the potential to change the course of our day.
These four principles (Wa Kei Sei Jaku) are at the heart of the Japanese tea ceremony. You don’t have to participate in a traditional tea ceremony to be mindful of these concepts and inspire a little zen while sipping your morning cuppa.
Harmony (Wa 和)
Tea Ceremony: Everything in a tea ceremony is chosen for a reason. The flower arrangement, scroll, bowls, attire, and menu all reflect the season and occasion. There is due respect to nature and simplicity, and the beauty of whatever is happening in the present moment - embracing change, the harmony of the seasons, and the unique balance of time and place.
Everyday: Take this moment to connect with your surroundings. Before enjoying your tea, step outside (weather permitting), observe the season, the mood, the colors, and the quality of light. Or bring the outside in - pick a leaf, branch, or flower, even if it is a simple weed, and place it near you as you sip your tea. Simply opening a window and observing the temperature, humidity, and scents in the breeze can be a breath of fresh air to begin or reset your day.
Respect (Kei 敬)
Tea Ceremony: A beautiful demonstration of respect during a tea ceremony centers around the tea bowl. Each ceramic bowl has a unique character. There is always a front side to a matcha bowl, and this plays an important part in the ceremony. Sometimes, the front of the bowl is obvious, with distinctive ornaments or markings, and sometimes you have to look a little closer to the maker’s mark at the bottom of the bowl (typically on the left side when the front is facing you). If neither of these is present, the front is whichever side of the bowl you are most drawn to.
During a tea ceremony, the guest is handed matcha with the front side of the bowl facing them. Before drinking, the guest turns the bowl 180 degrees clockwise so that the front side of the bowl is facing outward, as a sign of respect. The aesthetics and character of the bowl are admired and appreciated throughout the ceremony.
Everyday: If you have a special vessel that you enjoy drinking out of, take a moment to feel it in your hands, admire its beauty, and appreciate its story. Take this level of care and appreciation into your daily actions. Slow down, be deliberate, and acknowledge the care you are taking by nourishing your body in this moment.
Purity (Sei 清)
Tea Ceremony: Meaning purity of heart, or intention. During a tea ceremony this is both the act of physical purification, carefully cleaning each object that will be used for the ceremony, and cleaning the heart and mind. It is said that the purification of the tea utensils can naturally lead to enlightenment through the practice of simplification and acknowledging the importance of everyday acts.
Everyday: Sit down in a clean and uncluttered space. This is a good time to set intentions and clear your heart and mind. If something has been bothering you or if you feel scattered or tense, try visualization as a cleansing practice. In your mind’s eye, picture your emotion as an object. Let the tension take form in your mind, and visualize gently washing, blowing, or moving it away.
Tranquility (Jaku 寂)
Tea Ceremony: During a tea ceremony there is an emphasis on focusing on one thing at a time. The sweet presented before drinking matcha is meant to be eaten in its entirety before drinking the tea, so that it can be savored. Likewise, the matcha is meant to be enjoyed in one sitting, taking small sips if you would like, but not setting the bowl down until the tea is finished. There is no rush, no moving onto the next thing until the last has been completed.
Everyday: It’s easy in this 15-browser-tabs-open, 3 Instagram account, multitasking modern world to feel far from tranquil. Simplify, prioritize tasks, close the tabs in your mind (and perhaps close some on your computer, too), and try giving your attention to one thing at a time. Tranquility flows naturally from practicing simplicity and mindfulness.
Harmony, Respect, Purity, Tranquility. In the midst of chaotic mornings and busy weeks, incorporating these practices into a daily routine can shift stress into calm. Keep the tea ceremony in mind the next time you sit down for tea, and feel how it transforms your day.
By Kaia Harper. Plant-Based Food, Travel, Nature, Design, Photography.
Founder of Culinary Plant-Based Travel.