Mindfulness, the practice of being fully present to current experience, has become popular. It can help us counter the pressures of busyness, constant distraction and always thinking about ‘what next?’ I like the principles of mindfulness because they connect with other things I love: being in nature, living slowly, noticing detail, cultivating gratitude, and finding joy.
Reading is one of the slow things I like to do. I have posted previously about why I read, so today I thought I’d reflect on how reading can be enhanced by mindfulness. I’m inspired by a recent experience of participating in a tea ceremony with a world tea artist.
The World Tea Gathering is a collective of artists who first gathered together in Iceland in 2014, and agreed to continue indefinitely and spontaneously. Their mission is ‘ to understand the essence of tea traditions and translate it into the contemporary world’ (https://www.worldteagathering.com/).
The experience I had was curated by the Art Gallery of South Australia and held in various locations in Adelaide last week. I attended one ‘performed’ by Yumi in the wisteria arbour of the Adelaide Botanic Gardens, with my adult son, a tea connoisseur. But performance is not the essence of Yumi’s activity. It was hospitality, welcome, community, rest and refreshment.
There were never more than six participants, and each who came was included whenever they arrived during the hour or so Yumi was available. We had tourists, a new migrant, long-time locals, a guide dog trainer, young and old. It was quiet, a beautiful spring day, and we watched and drank, speaking little but fully engaged. I could have stayed there for hours.
The modern tea ceremony is measured, patterned, rhythmic. The only tension is in the finely controlled movements of the artist and the patience of the participant. The art celebrates the use of natural materials (bamboo, pottery, stones). On a log in front of her, serendipitously found by her assistant even as we waited to begin, Yumi arranged hand-worked pots and a pottery cup filled with earth and a sprig of fuchsia she had found fallen nearby. When ready to begin, her collection of pots and implements was spread out before her on her flowered green, yellow and white overskirt. We sat on the woven grass mat next to her. Each bowl of bright green matcha tea was individually prepared and offered. There was no compulsion to try, no shame in politely refusing.
At one point a colourful fly landed on the mat. Yumi stopped what she was doing and simply rested a pointing finger on the mat near it, without words. I initially thought she was shooing it away; then I realised she was drawing our attention to it. We looked until she returned to her tea-making. I don’t especially like matcha tea but I drank two bowls gladly. The experience of the tea ceremony touched all my senses and my spirit too.
The tea ceremony is a framework I can use for other activities, such as reading and writing. Reading: observing but at rest, learning by immersion, a communion of readers, writer and characters. Writing: natural, playful, with a focus on being in the moment more than working for a goal.