14 Feb 2020

CULTIVATING LOVE with CHANOYU (MATCHA TEA CEREMONY)


Tea: "the adoration of the beautiful among the facts of everyday existence. It inculcates purity and harmony. It is a worship of the Imperfect, as it is a tender attempt to accomplish something possible in this impossible thing we know as life."

-- Kakuzō Okakura, The Book of Tea

Hello, friends! Happy Valentine's Day. I have been reconsidering the art and act of love this year. I'm in a place where nurturing my relationship with myself is fundamental to the health of all my other relationships. As RuPaul exclaims at the end of every Drag Race episode: "If you can't love yourself, how the hell you gonna love somebody else!?" Point taken. 

So for this Valentine's Day, I want to share one ritual which allows me cultivate a deep sense of love, peace, and groundedness in my life: chanoyu! In English: hot water for tea. It refers to the centuries-old Japanese matcha tea ceremony developed by Taoist and Zen Buddhist monks. I'm going to talk about love for a second, then we'll get into tea, and finally you'll find my match tea recipe at the end of the post.

If I don't have a foundation of love and empathy for myself, I come into other relationships with fear, anxiety, and even jealousy. When I remember that I am already whole in my own identity, everything changes. I can live free from the fear of rejection and conflict, because I know that whatever happens, I'll be OK! This extends beyond just human to human relationships. This foundation of self-acceptance and love permeates to the whole universe. I am home in the cosmos when I recognize I am part of it, and that I was born good. I am inherently enough! This allows me to live in gratitude, compassion and wholeheartedness; instead of worry, dread, and hopelessness. In regards to the lesson of loving/accepting yourself, Tara Brach is an indispensable teacher. I recommend her book, Radical Acceptance. She writes: 

"On this sacred path of Radical Acceptance, rather than striving for perfection, we discover how to love ourselves into wholeness."

So! What does this have to do with matcha tea? Everything. Chanoyu is about embracing imperfections, balance, simplicity/austerity (wabi), ritual, respect, the present moment, and all the senses in order to connect with the universe and our own bodies. For me, this is an incredibly powerful act of acceptance of the Now, of myself, and of the forever-changing nature of the world. As I go through the stages of preparing and then drinking matcha, I am aware of my senses, and the temporariness of identity, feelings, and thoughts. All the lessons remind me I am but one mortal mammal in the universe, no better or worse than anyone else. Each imperfect part of the ceremony comes together to form a sacred whole, and I am part of this process. I am home. I deserve the tranquility chanoyu brings, and I deserve love. We all do.

I won't go into the details of the history of matcha and chanoyu, because other people have written about it with more knowledge and articulation than I possibly could. I am just beginning my journey into the ceremony. I recommend the following resources if you are yearnin' to learn more!

Videos:

Books:
The Book of Tea, by Kakuzō Okakura
Way of Tea, by Rand Castile, forward by Sen no Soshitsu
Tea in Japan: Essays on the History of Chanoyu, edited by H. Paul Varley and Kumakura Isao


MATCHA TEA (usucha)

2-4 grams ceremonial grade matcha powder (I've been using Matcha Kari)
60-80 ml water, just below boiling (70–85 °C)

Preparation: Before making your matcha, prepare your tea bowl (chawan) and bamboo whisk (chasen). Pour some hot water into the bowl and gently stir the whisk around in the water. This warms up the bowl and whisk so they are ready for your matcha. If you wish, wipe the bowl dry with a linen cloth. Now, let's make the tea!

Making the matcha: Carefully sift 2-4 grams of matcha powder through a fine sieve into your bowl. Next, pour in 60-80 ml of water heated to 70–85 °C. Introduce the whisk to the matcha and water, making a few W shapes slowly. Then, whisk as quickly as you can for 20 seconds in a vertical back and forth pattern. This will produce that wonderful foam. 

Drinking the matcha: drink the matcha right away, or else it becomes very bitter. Take a deep breath, coming back to your body and spirit. Notice all the beautiful details in your bowl of matcha: the colours, textures, smells and shapes. The whole universe is in this bowl! Take 3 and a half sips in total: the last half sip will be the remaining foam. With each sip, stay concentrated on how the matcha tastes and how it is moving through your whole body. This tea is nourishing, energizing, and becoming part of you. Think of all the people who played a part in bringing this matcha to you. Notice how the matcha makes you feel after you've drunken it. 

Optional additions: I like having my matcha with a sweet treat like a cookie to balance the bitterness. Traditionally in chanoyu, these sweets (wagashi) are eaten before the matcha is served to guests. You can also add nondairy milk or a sweetener to your matcha if you like. Or, have it over ice. 


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