While much of what we think in terms of tea occurs during the tea gathering, one mustn’t overlook the hours of preparation that happen prior to the event. The mindset this creates is as much part of the “action” of tea, and certainly is equally (if not more so) meditative.
As I collect items for an incense gathering that is due to happen later this weekend, I begin the “first steps” in putting together the affects for the “listening of incense” (聞香 mon kō). Pulled from their respective 桐箱 kiribako (wooden storage boxes), I produce a ceramic 聞香炉 kiki-gōro (incense cup) and complementary three-tiered 香箱 kōbako (“incense box”). Their shapes, when set together, reflect an ancient conception of heaven and earth, represented by a square and circle.
Once opened, the kōbako reveals a tiny world within, comprised of a thin mica plate, finely-cut chips of 沈香 jinkō (aloeswood), and wrapped-up slivers of precious 伽羅 kyara (highest grade of aloeswood).
As I continue to pull from my collection of items for incense, I find an antique fish-shaped 香合 kōgo (incense container).
Once opened, tightly-rolled balls of hand-produced 練香 nerikō (kneeded incense) are revealed, their scent to remain a mystery until pressed into the hot ash of the 炉 ro (sunken hearth) set for tea.
As I ready for the event, fine ash and charcoal are pulled together.
Each void of missing charcoal is a reminder of past gatherings.
Larger pieces of antique jinkō are found, as is a Korean celadon incense container.
Additional incense woods are pulled together (sandalwood, aloeswood, and kyara), all neatly wrapped in folded washi paper.
A final moment is spent mindfully setting-out and purifying the utensils to be used for the weekend’s gathering.
Once cleansed, I delicately set each into a small container made of sandalwood.
As I go through these motions, both physical and psychological, the sense of intention becomes profound, palpable. Motions meet mindfulness, breath meets the natural cadence of unfolding thoughts, and distractions fall by the wayside. Clarity arrives.
In taking time to prepare, a meditation occurs before a meditation.