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Sentience

Entering a Japanese tea room for the first time, not only were the objects beautiful and asking to be seen and used, but the entire environment was quietly spacious, full of calmness. Suddenly, I could really see. I had entered a realm of art, where every thing and every action was designed to help me experience beauty by appealing, not to my mind, but directly to my senses. Functional, esthetic, and spiritual concerns merged. All the divergent interests in my life were converging into one small room. I was overcome with gratitude. I felt relieved, confirmed, and strangely, at home.

Tea is made and served in a way that delicately cleanses, opens, and stimulates all of the senses. There is the slight scent of incense, clear and undistorted sounds that rise out of and disappear back into deep silence – feet quietly gliding along tatami mat, a light, wooden framed door sliding smoothly within its wooden groove, the sound of water boiling, bamboo knocking cleanly against bamboo. There is the handling of silk, of wood, of clay, the taste, smell, and warmth of fresh green tea as it blends with the lingering taste of sweets just eaten. There is the kinesthetic awareness of being, of breathing, of relaxed, alert sitting, of offering and receiving. There is bowing in thankfulness.

There is almost too much to see – the calligraphy, and the long scroll from which it hangs, a simple woven basket with fresh fallen flowers arranged in a way that looks unarranged. Soft light and silent shadows. Is it dusk or dawn?

There is pottery, wood, stones, charcoal, fire. There is steam rising, sunlight diffused through soft, translucent rice paper windows. There is color and pattern. There are kimono. But most moving of all, there are people close by, human faces, human hands, warm human lips delicately and fully touching warm tea bowls. The taste of first growth, green tea nourishes your soul, as there you sit lost in the act of communion.

Sentience – the immediate, accurate, and inclusive perception of reality, received through a harmonious use of the senses, free from the intervention of language, thought, or analysis.

Peace of mind.

Ordinary movement is only functional. You do something to get it done. That’s it. Then it’s on to the next thing. In Tea, the movements are layered in significance. Below the ordinary, there is a delight in uncovering the simplest, easiest, most natural way to move and to be. And under that, there is the doing of what you are doing in a way that is beautiful to behold, beautiful because you are holding the being of your guest in your heart.

Movement becomes metaphor: Wiping the dust from a tea container becomes wiping the dust from your eyes. Holding the empty, circular, bamboo ladle, suspended in front of your heart, becomes a mirror reflecting all the love you feel in your heart, and have yet to express.

Each and every movement is at once functional, expressive, and full of meaning. In a world increasingly full of noise – cars beeping, “reality shows”, and cell phones, it is deeply refreshing to be in a space where little is said and so much communicated, silently, through the unspoken language of movement.

Thank you Brother Keenan for teaching me how to fold a fukusa. Thank you Taeko Shervin for your immense patience, for your severe gentleness. Thank you Mariko La Fleur for your multicultural mind and loving heart.

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