PURPOSE: spirit of tea
by: Jennifer Kemp
photos by: Tamara Jo Southard
The four principals of Tea Ceremony
Wa – harmony Kei – respect Sei – purity Jaku - tranquility
To practice the oriental art of Tea, one needs to be patient. The movements are delicate, precise, purposeful. The artist must create a serene and peaceful atmosphere; her guests must forego daily distractions. Like a vortex spinning down to a deliberate tip, so must all thoughts in the tea room be harnessed to one focal point: this particular moment in time.
Patience is not something we have in abundance as a society today. Multi-tasking is a prerequisite for most working adults. Who can limit their thoughts to just one day on the calendar, much less a single moment? Yet, this is precisely what Joy Sato yearns to teach those who join her in the Tea Ceremony. “My hope is that people will understand peace on a deeper level,” she says. With all of today's disruptions and insecurities “we want something that is akin to a moment of peace.”
On a hot August afternoon, I find myself in a rocking chair at the top of a mountain trying to extricate myself from worldly distractions. I am about to partake in a 1,000-plus-year-old tea ceremony and I want to be as close to “the moment” as I can. I have my doubts; singularity of thought is a stretch for me.
After four-wheeling up a 45-degree grade road in low gear, I have been introduced to Joy, who greets me with one of the warmest smiles I have ever encountered. She is a gracious hostess. I feel the pressures of the day begin to unravel as I contemplate the views from Koken - the name she has given her home. It means “high resting place.”
Joy is dressed in traditional kimono and obi. She hands me a poem to read to help me center myself, titled, The Tea Journey. I learn that this is also the name of the book she is in the process of writing. The poem is about experiencing the time we are given, rather than spending time on experiences. Or so I interpret it. Mostly I realize that I must try to reign in my thoughts and be present, today, at this time, in this place.
We begin the ceremony. The tea room is elegantly constructed in a corner of Joy's sunroom, complete with traditional sliding paper doors, artful floral arrangement and a calligraphy piece depicting Ichigo Ichie - One Encounter, One Opportunity.
Joy describes herself as a tea teacher, or tea ceremony practitioner. She has studied the art of Tea for more than 30 years. As I observe her meticulous movements - the deliberate clockwise turning of the tea bowl, the precise folding of the napkin, the graceful twist of wrist and tea whisk - I am stilled. “This is the highest art form in Japan,” Joy later explains to me. Every detail has aesthetic meaning. For example, the circular movements represent that, “We are one, we are all related. It is a relationship, this moment in time. You are walking the tea journey with me by tasting the tea, recognizing the time it took to grow, experiencing the calligraphy created by a master.” It is a blend of ancient art forms melded together in a single cup of tea shared between strangers. The ceremony was developed during a time of war and strife, she says. There became a desire to create a place of peace and serenity, where swords and spears were laid aside and enemies sat together in concord.
Joy studies and performs Omotesenke, an inclusive form of the ceremony. She is helped in this regard by her extroverted nature and the guidance of her father, who was her first Tea teacher.
“Father was in a relocation camp (during WWII) but considered it a blessing. He said 'at least we are in a safe place.' My father was never negative. He loved people.”
As I sip from this man's handmade tea bowl, I am struck by the realization that I am connected to Joy's father, through this ceremony, at this moment. A tingle runs down my spine. I am suddenly and sharply focused.
“I find that the ceremony, for men, touches a chord in their heart,” Joy says. “There is the assumption that it is feminine, but men used to exclusively perform the ceremony. Somehow, there is a masculine element to it.”
While in Japan teaching English as a second language, Joy took the opportunity to further pursue her Tea studies. She returned to San Diego to take up tutelage under Soso Kawasaki Sensei, a master Tea teacher.
“In Tea Ceremony, it matters who your teacher is,” Joy says. “Sensei was a survivor of the atomic bomb, and was later honored by the Japanese government as a 'living treasure.' She was a great inspiration of an individual who lived fully, through the Spirit of Tea, by being present, but realizing, too, that life is a continual place of transition and transformation.”
These days, Joy is the one doing the teaching. She has performed at the Denver Botanical Garden tea house and Cheyenne Mt. Library. She is often invited to conduct the ceremony as a blessing for new businesses, such as the opening of the Veda Concept Spa in Colorado Springs. One of her favorite experiences was sharing the ceremony with 50 Pueblo educators at the Sangre de Cristo Art Center.
As I descend from Koken, I ponder the intricacies of the ceremony. Perhaps, just perhaps, Tea becomes the way to address everything in life, I think.