With a blink of the eye, the month of May has come to a close. At its beginning, Spring was in its last days of full glory. Blossoms blooming and bending every bough. Fresh shoots of grass pushing up through rich dark soil. The mornings keeping cool. Fresh breezes blowing.
In four weeks’ time, Summer has come. The myriad of flowers that once hung on trees now blow about as dried-out bodies on the streets, collecting in corners, dedicated and rotting. In their place flap large, billowing leaves of deep green, waving in the wind like huge unfurled sails atop masts of sailing ships.
During this month, the occasional rain storm has come and gone, leaving this new verdant world bedecked in a crystalline veneer of shimmering droplets. In this new world that emerges, the silence of morning pervades and lingers throughout the remainder of the day. The booming voices of birds echo through the neighborhoods. The soft patting of leaves fluttering produces a mellow, rhythmic murmur.
In this new world that has arrived, inspiration is tempered by loss. Creativity presses up against destruction. A new world arrives as the old world dies all around it.
In the quiet of my tea room, I cannot escape this. The silence of this early Summer, the lack of cars on the street, the hush that comes over passers by, the bated breath. The cause of sickness that has gripped the world where one loses their ability to breathe. The sickness that grips this nation where one is choked to death. This, too, creeps into the space of my tea room.
A wide bowl and low-slung tea caddy greets me.
A green 水指 mizusashi with a lacquer lid stands side-by-side the summery bronze brazier. Etched in its clay, green-glaze pooling within the carved and combed pattern, is the motif of 縄簾 nawasudare, a twisted rope curtain rustling in the breeze. What would refresh me and my guest on a hot, windless day, seems to do little to placate a sense of burning restlessness in me.
As I sit for tea, I do not do so to pacify the mind. I do so merely to observe its motions.
I cleanse the wooden grain surface of the small 平棗 hira-natsume.
I check its interior to see that the low mound of tea remains undisturbed. With care, I place the container down in front of the mizusashi.
I purify the 茶杓 chashaku and place it upon the lid of the natsume. The skin of the bamboo marked by hundreds of black spots. 緑雨 ryoku–u.
I lift the 茶筅 chasen and place it beside the natsume and chashaku. I lift a ladle’s worth of hot water from the 茶釜 chagama and pour it into the wide-rimmed Summer 茶碗 chawan. The sound of water splashing inside rings like a hollow bell.
The chasen is returned to the bowl. The bamboo tines open slowly. When the mind is focused, the heart opens. When one does something in service for another, the heart softens. I lightly whisk the chasen in the warm water and return it beside the natsume. Small beads of water still cling to the upright blades, slowly running down like held-back tears.
The teabowl is emptied and dried. The uneven glaze ripples across the circumference of its interior. It appears as a mighty mountain range surrounding the center, save for where one will eventually drink from, where the tea will climb up the side. An interrupted chain, breaking, building, abating to the crashing of the now like a wave upon the shore.
Nine rough spur-marks appear from the center where once another bowl had been stacked upon this one, each packed within the belly of a kiln, burned and born from the fire. How many countless beings had been destroyed in the passage? How many more have been broken in the service to others? By uncaring hands?
I lift the first of three scoops of green tea from the open natsume and place it in the bowl’s open center. Two more follow it.
A small mound is made and broken by the sigil of my school.
The remaining dust is tapped off and whatever still clings to the tip of the chashaku is carried over to sit upon the lid of the tea container.
Cool water is drawn from the deep green interior of the mizusashi and poured into the steaming mouth of the chagama. The hiss of the boiling kettle quiets as warm water is drawn forth and placed into the chawan. Bright green tea powder lifts upwards, floating on the surface, slowly becoming saturated by the water, and sinks.
I lift the chasen and slowly press it into the center of the pool of tea. With one hand I stabilize the bowl and begin to whisk, at first slowly, speeding up until it is a quick back and forth movement. My eyes focus on the chawan, on the water lapping against the inner edges of the bowl, on the mixing of the tea and hot water, on the size of the bubbles forming as the concoction turns into foam.
The mind focuses. The hand motions slow. The breath becomes more even and calm. One long out-breath. One long weight pressing down upon the chest. Exhale. Inhale. The joy of breath. The sadness that comes when one realizes how vital this is to life. How often individuals are robbed of this breath. Of this very moment they were given.
I offer up the bowl of tea to my partner. A simple gesture. A bowl for peace. A bowl for change. As a wordless lament.
Bubbles rise again from the iron chagama as the last of the tea is had. Small pools of foam still clinging to the interior of the chawan. The warmth of the tea still present. The heat still radiating from the clay of the teabowl until it slowly leaves the body. The flavor lingers. The scent wafting sweet like the blossom on a honeysuckle vine.
I draw forth a ladle of cool water from the mizusashi and pour it down into the center of the bowl. The last of the tea swirling around. Small granules of 抹茶 matcha sinking and rolling down to the lowest part of the concave form. Light shimmers and bends in the water.
Memories of a moment pass and bend with time. Distortion and a great forgetting can occur if we don’t steal moments away like this. If we don’t actively take back the time that is so eagerly pulled away from us by work, by leaders, by taxes, by expectations. Each moment, priceless and fleeting. As mundane as today. As special as Spring turning into Summer. A kind of magic. Inexplicable.
I use the whisk and cleanse the bowl once more. I and my partner inspect the rough-hewn 高台 kōdai hoping to learn something profound.
I wipe the remnants of tea powder of the chashaku. I arrange the wares inside the bowl once again, though their exact placement differs now.
The wooden natsume is placed beside the teabowl, side-by-side like two old friends. They may only meet once this year. This early Summer.
I decide for a small 拝見 haiken. Words don’t pass my lips. The objects assembled are just that, objects. This practice called 茶の湯 chanoyu. This Way called “tea”.
This dust we whisk into a bright, light foam. Will this change the world? Will this moment do anything to change the tide?
A wave crashes against the shore. A tiny rivulet presses through the mountain’s rock.
A tree expands in size throughout the course of a year. Dried-up blossoms rotting in the gutter. Large leaves billowing in the wind.
A subtle change. A mighty force to be reckoned with.