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A Japanese Tea Ceremony

  • May 09, 2016
  • Blog

I’d wanted to experience a Japanese tea ceremony for a long time and jumped at the chance when a friend invited me along. When we arrived, we were directed to a waiting room where the rest of our group congregated. I read one of the brochures and was struck by its words:

Through the Way of Tea, students seek the principles of Harmony, Respect, Purity, and Tranquility.

Soon, we were escorted into a small room, given a brief talk about what to expect, and then watched a film that showed and explained the tea ceremony. Before the film started, the smiling woman dressed in a kimono said, “It might seem boring in spots, but give it a chance.”

I was certainly willing but at the same time, even with the film’s explanation, I felt there was a lot I wasn’t seeing, some underlying current that remained hidden even while watching the slow, deliberate movements of the people.

After the film, we removed our shoes (socks were required) and headed into a room where we sat on mats and admired the lovely rock and greenery garden while listening to another woman in a kimono explain the actions of two other women as they performed the ceremony in front of us, and finally, how it would relate to us and how we should act.

Remaining on my knees was not going to happen so I sat comfortably in a half lotus position. (I was pleased that they provided a chair to a woman who used a cane.)

When a plate with a cookie was placed before me, I bowed and broke the cookie in half as instructed—”Break it out, not in, and it will be easier.” I bowed again when the frothy green tea was placed before me and picked it up. My movements felt clumsy and a little fast as I turned the smooth teacup twice as I had been shown, and drank.

Questions were allowed, and finally we stood and admired the garden in its serenity. While I would have liked to take photographs, it was not permitted—another indication of being in the moment rather than documenting the moment.

It was a shock to leave and stand on the streets of Manhattan. For that brief time, I was in a place of quiet welcome and beauty and slowness. Each movement had intent, but my thoughts and body language felt out of sync. There were moments where I relaxed and let myself be, but I was also too busy learning and trying to understand and grasp what is only understood when one is literally aware of each moment.

Definitely something to practice, and not only inside a cup of tea.

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  • Christine • May 9, 2016 at 5:39 am

    Quite an experience. Save this memory for a future story. You can title it THE MYSTERY OF THE TEACUP . (not a very creative title, I admit. )

    • J. M. Levinton • May 10, 2016 at 2:46 am


  • Carrie • May 9, 2016 at 10:09 am

    Thanks for the article. It’s good to be reminded of what it can be like to be “in the moment” and not hurtling through time. I like the idea of slowing time in increments. Presumably at your next tea ceremony you would feel less out of sync and more present–though maybe the struggle is part of what counts?

    • J. M. Levinton • May 10, 2016 at 2:50 am

      I believe there are many different ways of practicing being in the moment and I’m glad I got to experience this one. Feeling out of sync might simply be a way of letting myself know I’ve been scattering my energies. Time will tell. 🙂

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