Forgetting Time

On the final day of the final year of the decade, I find myself not wanting to celebrate in a bombastic manner. In stark contrast to previous years where New Year’s Eve was cause for loud, raucous festivities, my partner and I decided to make the journey from the clamor of New York City to the quietude of rural Delaware and the comfort of a close relative’s home on the banks of the Mispillion River. The attitude here is laid back, calm, pensive. The only thing that seems to shift is the wind that pushes through the pines.

Rather than stress about celebrations, I opt to make a simple bowl of tea for my partner and her aunt to mark the passing of the decade. Wishing to enjoy the waning light of the day, we decide to hold a small tea gathering in the chilly December air.

Upon a small table which has been built out of the scraps of an old wooden fence, I place a simple 盆 bon made of carved burl wood. Atop this are arranged the implements for tea: a vintage 益子焼茶碗 Mashiko-yaki chawan, an old bamboo 茶杓 chashaku, a red and black lacquer 甲赤棗 kōaka natsume.

Angular shadows of the late afternoon and Winter’s sunlight create a shifting landscape across the uneven surface of the old wooden table.

The kōaka natsume, which I tend to only use on days of celebration, looks like a large bright red sun against a pale blue sky.

Once opened, it reveals a low hill of bright green 抹茶 matcha.

As I move from cleansing the lacquered natsume to the implements within the teabowl, I move tea objects around the horizontal plane of the table, from table’s surface to bon.

For my partner’s aunt, who is new to the practice of 茶の湯 chanoyu, these actions seem as if they are part of some mysterious ritual. However, after the many years I’ve been practicing tea, they are nothing special. My movements are straightforward and direct, without flourish. Nothing fancy. Just enough. Everything I have prepared before, natsume, chashaku, tea whisk and tray are all I need.

The teabowl, the vessel which will convey the tea to my guests, is just that, a vessel. Nothing special.

I draw forth three scoops of matcha from the kōaka natsume, tapping the chashaku along the inside of the teabowl to remove the residual tea powder from its curved tip.

Pouring a measure of hot water from an antique cast iron kettle into the chawan, I whisk the tea into a thick foam.

Passing the bowl to my partner, I pause, listening to the wind pressing through the trees. The soft hum of pine needles shifting in the wind and the sound of an iron bell striking in the distance.

In the last days of the year, we can often feel as if we are working towards some sort of momentous climax. Even more so, we see the end of a decade as some final chapter closing. However, time rarely seems to work this way.

When we make tea, we begin not with the whisking of the tea or the heating of the kettle. It doesn’t even begin when we set up a tea space. Instead, it begins years before this, when we first learn how to make a bowl of tea. Perhaps it begins even earlier, when we first awaken to the mere idea of having tea.

Similarly, the tea gathering does not end when the guest finishes their bowl of matcha nor when the final bow is given between host and guest. It doesn’t seem to ever end. Instead, the tea further seems to meld seamlessly into one’s own tea practice and one’s own life.

Like layers of sand being pushed up, one on top of each other, by the continuous forces of the ocean. There’s no distinguishing between one layer or another. They just create this thing we call a beach, and this is only something that we can immediately perceive. There is much more sand on the bottom of the ocean. Time is rather like this.

We believe we see change and abruptness, and yet, when viewed in its totality, the change is regular, nothing special. We revel and rave at the shifting from one year to another, one decade to another, and yet, this, too, is nothing special.

In the practice of tea, my teacher has told me to learn the forms and then forget the forms. In learning the forms, we forget the self. When we forget the forms, we find that the once perceived barrier between form and self was merely something we had constructed, something we pushed up against. Much like how New Year’s Eve becomes New Year’s Day, this too is 無門関 mumonkan, a “gateless gate”.

When I cleanse the teabowl one last time and we take our last bows, the tea gathering doesn’t end, it merely transforms. When we forget time (年忘れtoshi-wasare, lit. “forgetting time/forgetting the year”), perhaps we can see what we get so worked up about. A year’s end. A decade’s beginning. Nothing special.


Filed under Ceramics, Education, Green Tea, Japan, Matcha, Meditation, Tea, Travel

11 responses to “Forgetting Time

  1. Danae Garriga

    Beautiful pictures and prose! Learning form in tea is the same as in poetry- each form is like meeting a new person, like listening to a variety of advice. But as one grows in practice of the art, one begins to create their own forms and thus add to the vast pool of knowledge and experience for others!

    • A beautiful reflection! I can’t agree more! Would love to learn more about your tea practice!

      • Danae Garriga

        Reading your post has inspired me to write about my take on poetry, tea and form! I’ll be posting it in the near future!

      • Wow! How beautiful! Please send the link when you are finished (no pressure or expectations though ^___^).

      • Danae Garriga

        Posted today! Had to get my ideas out before I lost them! Let me know what you think and feel free to disagree!

      • I just read this post (I’m working from home today and my phone alerted me to the link… which I soon followed to your article). Beautifully written! A wonderful cross-connecting if disciplines and mediums! Poetry, music, science and tea! I must admit, I rarely read other tea blogs (I am more research/translation-leaning these days) but I was excited to read a fellow tea person’s reflections on their own practice! I was not disappointed! I only wish we could share in a bowl of tea outside of this virtual realm…

      • Danae Garriga

        I’m so glad you enjoyed it! I’ve been prompting myself to read more tea blogs because it’s a way to get to know others, and to learn from them and thus get some inspiration as well! I agree that it would be nice to share tea “IRL” as gamers say lol (In Real Life) but I’m grateful that technology has made it possible to bring together a community thats spread all over the globe into one spot, even if it’s virtual!

  2. Powerful through being understated. You experience the gathering as it transforms; sometimes in a pivotal role as you direct the flow and sometimes allowing all to flow through you. Exquisite!

  3. Joyce

    Thank you for sharing your tea practice and reflections . I felt alongside you .
    Blissful new year to you

    • Many thanks for your kind words and good tidings for the New Year. Wishing you a wonderful beginning to this new decade. May we all have the opportunity to deepen our practice and join in a bowl of tea.

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