How do you communicate when with a child, when you can’t use their native tongue? How do you motivate the child to twist their tongue differently to speak your native tongue? What if the students decide to band together and mutiny? Sitting at my new desk in my new Japanese school, I struggled to organize my thoughts and calm my anxiety.
The shy Japanese secretary asked me: “Would you like a cup of tea, Tiffany-sensei?”. I replied, “Yes, thank you”. She brought me a small delicate porcelain cup filled with green tea leaves floating in hot water. No sugar, No milk. No strainer. No spoon. I had no idea how to drink it. I knew Japanese people loved serving and brewing tea. Tea symbolized refinement and sophistication. The secretary felt honored that I would drink her tea. I had to drink it.
I simply stared at the leaves. My thoughts slowed. I watched the leaves swell with water, releasing vitamins, minerals, and grassy flavors. Japanese tea artisans steam the leaves, maintaining the emerald color and the natural flavors. The water slowly turned a bright emerald hue. I smelled freshly mowed grass. The smell reminded me of the manicured lawns and tree lined streets on my hometown. I felt the comfort and security of home. I focused on the aroma. When the leaves sank to the bottom, I sipped. It tasted like fresh grass with sweet notes and a slight bitter edge. Not bad. I enjoyed the leaf in its naked glory.
My stress and anxieties melted away. As I sipped my tea, I focused on planning fun, engaging English lessons. Living in the present moment I forgot about the ‘what if’ and ‘how to’. With my mind quiet, I heard my inner power directing me to success. My students enjoyed my lessons. They retained the few English sentences we practiced each week. They showed up early to play English games with me. The spirit of tea guided me to live in the present moment.
Life is fast and overwhelming in Tokyo. You have to find your peace amongst the throngs of people, flashing lights, heavy traffic and packed subway cars. You have to learn how to create and manifest inner peace.I believe the peace starts from within yourself. Quieting your mind requires regular practice. Drinking tea facilitates creating a space for peace. Tea brewing rituals are actually a form of meditation. The Japanese call the spirit of tea ‘‘ki’. The spirit represents a void. It is hard to find this void, because of the ‘noise’ in your mind and around you. All your thoughts, people demanding your attention, ambient noise prevents your from finding this void. Create your own personal tea ritual.
Tea brewing is an art, not a science. You decide how much tea, how much water and how long to steep. These factors depend on the size of your tea vessel. Your tea vessel is where you brew your tea either a teapot or a tea cup. Research the best water temperature for your favorite tea.
As you prepare and brew the tea, completely concentrate on the present moment. Ignore thoughts about the past and future. Ignore negative thoughts. Prepare yourself for the purity and beauty of tea. Focus on the aroma of the leaves. Focus on the heat of the water. Quiet your thoughts. The past and future don’t exist. Absorb everything that is happening in your physical surrounding. Soak in the colors, smells, and quiet. Find your inner peace. Listen to your inner power. Embrace the spirit of tea.
I learned the tea drinking habit accidently. The school secretaries offered me tea every day. Because of politeness, I could not refuse. I am grateful those ladies shared their culture with me. Drinking tea has brought me closer to my inner peace, my inner power and nature. Below is a poem, which describes how I feel about tea.
Thought I cannot flee
From the world of corruption,
I can prepare tea,
with water from the mountain stream
And put my heart to rest.
–by Ueda Akinari (Poem found in Tea of the sages: The Art of Sencha by Patricia Graham. p. 90)