I’m British, I believe that almost anything can be solved over a cup of tea—it’s part of our national identity. Tea in the U.K. is a national obsession, so it’s no surprise that I grew up fascinated by this delightful brew. I spend many mornings blending different herbs together to produce a wonderful synergy of flavors. And lately, I’ve been drawn to the sacred nature of tea. The meditative qualities that arise when you silently sip and give thanks to nature for her bounty.
I am certainly not alone in my reverence of tea and tea-drinking. Many cultures around the world have developed their own rituals around it. The one I’ve been drawn to recently is the elaborate Japanese tea ceremony. I really appreciate that the Japanese have developed an entire ceremony around the humble cuppa.
The History Of The Japanese Tea Ceremony
The Japanese tea ceremony goes by many names in Japanese: chanoyu, sado or ocha, which translates to the ‘’Way of the Tea.” The Way in this context refers to the ‘right path’ or right way which lead to peace of mind and a spiritual awakening. For the Japanese, the tea ceremony is a spiritual, almost religious affair that reflects Japanese society and the principles they hold dear.
For thousands of years the Japanese have been perfecting the art of the tea ceremony. The origins of the tea ceremony can be traced back to China. Japanese monks brought the idea of a tea ceremony back to Japan during the Chinese Tang dynasty (618 CE). The idea spread that green tea in particular could be used as medicine; but at this time, it was only available to the elite.
In the late 1500s a man named Sen no Rikyu created what we now know as the Japanese tea ceremony. It was Rikyu who introduced the four main principles of the tea ceremony: Wa, Kei, Sei, and Jaku (harmony, respect, purity, and tranquillity). It was during this time that flowers became an important part of the ceremony as well as the wabi sabi-style ceremony which can roughly be translates as ‘simple is the best.’
The tea ceremony evolved into a meditative ritual and certain rules and procedures emerged around the ceremony. Rikyu introduced the idea that during the tea ceremony one should be present at each moment and be aware that every moment only ever occurs once. It is here that we begin to see how the tea ceremony became a mindfulness practice that is elevated from a humdrum experience.
Inspiration For Your Own Tea Ritual At Home
Typically, a Japanese tea ceremony room has an alcove, hand-brushed scroll, seasonal flowers, incense container, folding screen, and a half-door entrance. There are also clear rules on how to display the items in the tea room; for example, flowers are always displayed on the left side of the scroll.
If you would like to create your own ritual tea ceremony at home, it could be fun to create your own rituals around how things are displayed. One important aspect of the ceremony is that you sit on the floor. This is also a wonderful way to feel more grounded and connected to the earth while taking part in the tea ceremony.
In a typical Japanese tea ceremony, matcha tea is used. However, if you are re-creating your own ceremony at home, you can use whichever tea you feel called to use.
For you own ritual, I would suggest setting up a space in your home that is quiet and sacred. Display some beautiful seasonal flowers in a vase and make sure you won’t be interrupted for 30 minutes. Choose the tea or herbs you would like to brew and carefully select the cup and teapot you would like to use. The vessels are also important in the tea ceremony and should be treated with respect. An average tea ceremony in Japan can last up to 4 hours! If you set aside 30 minutes at home, you can really engage your senses and experience a mindful tea ritual.
Once you have chosen your tea and cup, and made your pot of tea, take these to your sacred space and sit down on the floor or meditation cushion. Close your eyes and set aside some time to ground yourself in the present moment. Once you have done this you can pick up your tea and smell the scent of the tea. Ask yourself how it makes you feel and if it transports you anywhere. When you feel ready, take your first sip. Slowly and mindfully drink your tea. No gulping this cup down! Notice any sensations you feel during this process. After you have finished your tea, sit in meditation for 10 minutes and see how you feel after taking this time out for yourself.
It’s lovely to complete this tea ritual with your partner, housemate or friends. It’s important to remain quiet and meditative during the tea tasting experience so that you can really drop into the present moment.
Lessons We Can Learn From The Japanese Tea Ceremony
Harmony is all around us if we look to nature. The simple act of brewing a cup of tea can be done in harmony with all the objects we encounter. We can also begin to try and live more peacefully and go with the flow of life rather than fight against our circumstances. We begin to appreciate the people in our lives and live more harmoniously within our communities.
Through the tea ceremony we learn to respect ourselves and others. We take time out for ourselves and we hold respect for other cultures and other people in our lives. We also learn to have a deep respect for the objects in our home and for the simple medicine of tea.
Aiming to purify your mind and body through meditation and living mindfully is a lofty goal. But we work towards this by making more mindful choices in our daily lives. By taking time out for ourselves to meditate, spend time in nature or to sit in a tea ceremony we are beginning to shape how we move through the world.
The tea ceremony helps us appreciate the small things in life that we normally take for granted. We can find peace amidst the turmoil of life if our heart and mind are tranquil.
The ritual of tea helps awaken our senses and find gratitude in each and every present moment.
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Photo: Roméo A. via Unsplash