Friday, March 26, 2021


Sheltering in place: what has been a benefit for you? How do you feel about re-entering the world, walking on busy streets, or being in large groups of people? Or have you had to do those things all through the pandemic because your work is essential? 

As an introvert, I've found tranquility and focus during shelter-in-place. But I am puzzled by my anxiety about reopening. I feel the tension between losing my quiet existence at home versus working to regain the social skills that have faltered since shelter-in-place. Once again, as I think about what to write, I have seen the same question I am asking being raised by other writers and other commentators. This time the question is how do we deal with returning and opening up?

Springtime, good weather, and bright skies make it hard to stay home. As I take my walk under the flowering trees that carpet the streets with pink and white, I am reminded of Japan and how the Japanese tea ceremony can quiet the spirit. I remember the Japanese concept of impermanence called mo-no no a-wa-re, exemplified by the fleeting beauty of cherry blossoms. Maybe we can take lessons from far away to adjust our mindset and make our transition easier.

As Sen-no-rikyu, the first tea master, said,

"Tea is but this:

First, you make the water boil,

Then you infuse the tea,

Then you drink it properly,

That is all you need to know."

The Japanese tea ceremony includes some of the elements of ancient Japanese philosophy: harmony, respect, purity, and tranquility. Each word said slowly and by itself is important. A meditation in itself.

The tea ceremony evolved from simple tea at home and is often performed in a separate teahouse centered in a serene garden. The guests are encouraged to use the placement of steppingstones in the garden to meander their way to the teahouse. Visitors remove their shoes, slip on indoor slippers, and then pass through a low door -- all to remind them that they are entering from the outside world to an inner one. The guests are expected to admire the flower arrangement in the room, the calligraphy on scrolls on a low bench or wall, and the kettle where the water is brewed. They kneel on tatami mats that cover the floor and share a bowl of thick macha made from green tea powder whisked with a bamboo chasen. They admire the bowl as they drink, then turn the bowl to present it to another person. A sweet cake is offered to offset the macha flavor. From the first step in the garden to the end, the tea ceremony is a way to slow down and notice the environment around them. When the ceremony is over, the guests rise quietly, bow, and leave through the garden.

While in Japan I belonged to CWAJ, a women's organization that provided scholarships to Japanese and foreign students. When the students gave their oral presentations, they first participated in a simple tea ceremony in the gathering room. The tea ceremony gave them time to calm their anxieties and collect their thoughts before they faced a group of women examiners. Many companies in Japan still set aside tea rooms for the same purpose. 

With the mass shootings this week and the continuing political stalemates in Congress, we could follow the Japanese example and learn to quiet our thoughts before we act. 

Anyone for a cup of tea?

If you would like to learn more about the Japanese tea ceremony:

Cherry blossom viewing in Japan is as popular as viewing autumn leaves in the U.S. Usually, the parks in large cities are filled with crowds having cherry blossom viewing parties. Because of the pandemic, the parties are banned, but people can still walk through the parks to see the flowers.


  1. From Mary by Email: Yes, I’d love a cup of tea. I share your same misgivings about “getting back to normal”, but I think it’s just around the corner.
    Thank you for you words today.

  2. From Jane on FB: Beautiful paintings Martha!! We still haven't been able to get vaccinated and it will be a while so we won't be venturing out into crowds any time soon, which is fine by me for now.

    1. It's worth not rushing out just because Spring is here. Thanks for your comments too.

  3. From Linda D on FB: I got to participate in a tea ceremony in an Art Appreciation class at LA State College(now CalStateULA.) Our teacher was Japanese(Mrs. Takeshita) so it was part of our understanding Japanese art. It was interesting & thoughtful, but we were chided for rudeness after the ceremony for leaving the classroom & not thanking the persons who presented it. That & the ceremony made a big impression. Politeness & kindness & thoughtfulness are part of participation in everyday life, too often we forget it.

    1. You are so right about politiness, kindness, thoughtfulness. We need to remember those instincts!

  4. Very timely. I think I will enjoy a cup on tea. No macha or sweet cake though.

  5. Hi,
    Thanks for your comments. I hope you enjoy your own type of tea. Macha takes getting used to, doesn't it?


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