How can the tea ceremony teach us more mindfulness and concentration?
Mindfulness is at the core of the practice. Every step in the process is executed carefully and with full attention. This aspect is expressed during the execution of a service of tea by the host by taking care in cleansing the implements once more in front of his guests before taking them for use. As a guest care is given to showing appreciation for the hard work that has gone into creating the tea and expressing gratitude for making the occasion possible to the universe by first raising the bowl of tea in thanks. Then humility is expressed to the host by avoiding drinking from the front of the bowl, which usually has the most beautiful pattern on it. In doing so the guest indirectly acknowledges the host’s wish to please him with the best of the best, but simultaneously shows that he is mindful not to defile this superior area of the bowl. Only after having done this he takes his first mouthful.
The above is just an illustration of the various prescribed procedures that are observed by as well host as guest, but they go to show that what merely looks as tedious actions, when we understand the meaning behind them we can rediscover a whole set of valuable rules of basic interpersonal courtesy. Is it therefore necessary to go through the motions at every instant in our lives? Maybe not, but practicing them gives us access to discovering important frames of mind that can help us in our everyday interpersonal interactions as well.
What can business people and managers learn from the tea ceremony?
In the 16th and 17th Century the rite of tea was often used as a political tool. In the rigid social hierarchy of the time merchants and warriors belonged to a distinctly distant caste. In the formal areas of the house they were not allowed to share the same room and had to be at least 2 rooms away from one another. When business needed to be discussed a neutral messenger needed to move between rooms and act as an intermediary.
In the tea area however all social status, rank, age differences, gender, etc. are suspended. You could say that when participating in a tea occasion all participants have, only temporarily, taken the tonsure and, just as Buddhist monks, became exempt from social hierarchy. This notion is nowadays maintained by donning tea names to adept practitioners in accordance with the format in which a monk in the Rinzai Zen tradition receives his Buddhist name.
What is significant about this is that when people gather in a small room together to enjoy tea, and for that period are released from their social cloaks, they have nothing left behind which they can hide. Everyone in a sense becomes naked as a person. This creates incredible intimacy and in the course of a lengthy tea gathering you may come to understand a person better for who he or she essentially is; although you may not know any gossipy things about him.
What I believe this teaches us is that at any time we have the ability to see someone for the capacity he or she has as a human being. This allows us to in an unprejudiced way interact with that person and show respect and appreciation for his/her presence. When the warrior wanted to know if his business counterpart was worthy of trust he would invite him to a tea occasion and spend time together to build a relationship. When managers today oversee a lot of people at the same time it is not unthinkable that they get overwhelmed. What we should keep to mind though is that every person is a person, and that each being deserves the same amount of respect and attention as any other. This is key to strong relationships and is one aspect that receives a lot of focus in the rite of tea.
Would you say that executing a service of tea is a kind of meditation?
Yes. I believe that it is a strongly therapeutic thing to do. In an age in which multitasking is considered a valuable asset, our spirit cries for time to quiet down, to relax, to ‘monotask’. Solitary focus is the most relaxing and therapeutic activity for the mind. The rite of tea provides the practitioner with a tool to focus on the single activity of preparing the tea. Thereby other unnecessary thoughts are omitted and the execution of the service creates an area of quiet. Good tea practitioners actually exert this energy through their actions and can pull the guests into that energy. It is this spiritual tranquility that is the same as the mental state achieved during for example seated meditation.
How can business people benefit from drinking Matcha, especially for their daily lives full of stress and pressure?
As human beings we need times to reset, to relax and to take a breath. We can’t continue moving forward at all times. Sometimes we need to pause for a moment to refuel, or we need to stand still to be able to fully take in what is going on in our immediate surroundings. Doing all this ‘on the go’ is immensely exhausting.
Taking a moment of time each day to prepare a bowl or cup of tea allows you a moment to let go of all stress and worries as you simply focus on preparing the tea and mindfully savor the brew. It realigns us with the present and helps us to readjust our focus. Often you may find that by momentarily letting go of all the problems you are handling that, when you return to them you may discover something you hadn’t seen before or that you see them in a slightly different light.
Albert Einstein said “the significant challenges we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.” A tranquil moment with tea provides us with the opportunity to acquire a different level of thinking.