Saturday, July 1, 2017

Chado in Context: Shakkei and Tidepool Tea

Shakkei (借景) is a term that refers to one of the three "types" of Japanese garden style: borrowed scenery. While Chinese in origin, one of the oldest examples of this arrangement that incorporates views of distant elements in the overall arrangement of the landscape features within a more immanent space is Sogenchi Teien (Sogen Pond Garden) at Tenryu-ji in Arashiyama.

I was delighted to be reminded of this idea when I was reflecting on my practice of "shadow-boxing" temae practice; going through the upper body gestures of a temae without the benefit of having the correct context -- including dogu, room, guest, fire/water, etc. -- whether seated or walking. Some times I even imagine this process without the benefit of actual movement.

Many years ago, I found myself visiting Esalen, the retreat center situated on the rugged Pacific Coast off PCH (Pacific Coast Highway) in Big Sur (south of Monterey CA). The sources of water are both salt and fresh. The waves crash against the coastal boulders with great dramatic effects of splashing, loud impact; in the distance, the sea level swells hypnotically. On the other hand, Esalen has been renown for its mineral springs since the indigenous people first inhabited the land. Soaking naked and silent in the cliff-side tubs of hot water under a full moon with the sparkling waves hundreds of feet below is one of the not-to-be-forgotten life experiences.

The atmosphere of this famed place of meditation, contemplation, education and deeply beautiful natural vistas and resources, is fully connected with that of the practice of temae.

I was at Esalen as a private guest, not participating in the many programs offered, but with full access to the baths, hiking, dining, dormitory facilities and the peacefulness of the natural landscape.

One day, I was walking to a distant point on the property, where I could see the mountains, large rock formations in the ocean and some man-made structures. I sat down and began to "shadow-box" a temae, incorporating a natural feature (rock formation) and a large built structure (perhaps the massage house or the main building) that were of equal prominence an approximately the size of the furokama and mizusashi at arms' length away. The coastal mountain range provided me with that essential background, separating that which is temaeza and that which is the "rest" of the universe. I have never forgotten the moment when I had to take the "roof" off the "building" to replenish the "kama". I still see the "bowl" of the "hishaku" held at arm's length with the background of the beautiful Santa Lucia Mountains in the distance!

Chado in Context: Introduction to a New Series

There is a theme running through my postings, and in fact, every discussion, not to mention presentation, of chanoyu: context.

The most notable one is ichi go. ichi e. One time. One meeting. Here+Now. C'est tout!

It is equivalent to a shechehiyanu ... a Jewish blessing traditionally said at the beginning of every festival and, by me, at every clear opportunity to remember that life is precious.

I have often written about my background as a left-handed, Jewish, cross-country skiing feminist. Matsumoto sensei corrects me with a kind remembrance that the right way is "natural", but, in my case, it must be learned. Chanoyu did not come naturally to me.

Many of my past postings are inspired by and discuss the situation in which a chanoyu demonstration takes place, such as on a mountaintop, a theatre or classroom, etc. Aside from Rikyu's tiny tea space, what is the most effective "container" for the gathering of host to share a bowl of tea with a guest? What are we keeping in? What are we keeping out?

The practice of chado emphasizes the seasons, of course. What is appropriate for the day just before the first snow? (How will we know until it snows?) How to schedule and stage a yobanashi-chaji that enables the guest to experience the sunrise after the long night?

There is also the matter of toriawase, the harmonious relationship of dogu used in a chanoyu gathering. Each piece brings out the best in the other without bringing attention to itself.

I will begin this series in earnest with the next posting. I hope you will enjoy.