life & death

Sitting still

I’m a talker. Always have been, and now I do it for a living. I love music, and am an auditory learner. My laugh is always too loud. Noise is life, and vital. But I’m also surprisingly good at being quiet. I spend silent time reading every morning, go on long solo runs without any headphones or company, and almost never turn music or television on when I’m at home alone. I crave silence, and am protective of it. But what I haven’t figured out yet is how to – in the midst of all of that quiet – just be still.

Even when I’m not moving, some body part is usually bouncing or fidgeting. In the best of circumstances, I’m distractible and moody. And in the current circumstances – living on an irreparably damaged planet, the looming threats of geopolitical crisis and war, a billion animals dying in a wildfire? – the daily stuff of life often feels unmanageable, for all of my agitation and constant, disruptive motion. I frequently tell the families and caregivers I work with that “you can’t pour from an empty cup.” You can’t be of service to someone when you’ve drained your resources, and have nothing to give. I currently have plenty to give in service to others. My cup is good and full. But it’s a bit unstable, and it’s spilling all over the place.

year of the rat
2020: The Year of the Rat. Source: Farmer’s Almanac

I’d just finished writing out my intentions for the new year, one of which was to work on cultivating more tranquility, when a friend invited me to attend the first tea ceremony of the year (hatsugama, or “first kettle”) on Sunday with the Urasenke Tankokai San Diego Association. I had never participated in a traditional Japanese tea ceremony and didn’t know much about it, but sitting quietly and watching people prepare cups of tea in celebration of the coming Year of the Rat sounded like a perfect way to still the waters of my own surface.

The precision of the ritual was mesmerizing, the focus and intention of every movement. The tea itself tasted like life – warmth, comfort, and bitterness. Nourishing and stimulating. The room was filled with color – the pottery, the bright green of the matcha, the kimono, the ikebana, and the bento that was served afterward were all feasts. It was joyful, while quiet and reflective. No music was played, so that we could listen to the sound of the water being poured from one vessel to another. The participants watched each other closely, smiled freely, and talked, gestured, bowed, and communicated with each other slowly and thoughtfully.

Chado, or the Way of Tea, is a celebration of every day life activities. A centuries-old discipline that today we might call an exercise in “mindfulness,” based on the four principles of harmony (with people and nature), respect (for others), purity (of heart and mind), and tranquility. It’s believed that the Year of the Rat will set the tone and course for the next twelve years, as the first symbol in the Japanese and Chinese zodiac. Perhaps focusing on harmony, respect, purity, and tranquility within myself, inside the boundaries of my little life, can provide more stability for the larger work that we all need to do.

The discipline of Chado isn’t something I can realistically take on, but pausing for the simple preparation of a daily bowl of matcha seems like a good, healthy idea. An opportunity to slow down, and focus. Prepared with love and attention. Holding the bowl still, and being careful not to spill.

My first attempt at matcha, at home. I’ve got some work to do on my whisking.

Source: Urasenke Tankokai San Diego Association

8 thoughts on “Sitting still”

  1. I love this, and what a thoughtful way to start the year. I was so sad I could not attend the ceremony, and after that beautiful description you just reinforced this. Thank you for sharing your experience.

    1. Well, I’m glad we could share it in this way, at least! Here’s to moments of stillness and peace amidst all of the adventure that this year year will bring.

  2. It was such an honor to share this with you. I felt awe. Perhaps the harmony and respect of sharing beauty and stillness with good friends joined with the purity of starting a new year, decade, and the start of the 12 year zodiac calendar, “cultivated tranquility”, even in a room of a hundred celebrating people.

    1. Thank you for sharing this life-changing gift with me! I will probably always struggle for stillness, but the stabilizing effects of the day linger.

  3. I love this post having experienced a similar event years ago. May the coming year fill your heart, mind, and soul with all good things. And thank you for sharing, Amy.

  4. I feel your lack of stillness and distraction and moodiness. The tea ceremony doesn’t sound like my thing but there must be SOMETHING out there that will still me, right?

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