Tea House Practice, Writing Practice
In the mornings I write on my computer with a cup of coffee by my side. And when I’m not at work, in the afternoons, I usually make a cup of tea and write notes in near indecipherable handwriting in a messy notebook. Why am I writing? As Jane Hirshfield says below, I’m trying to find something spacious in my own life.
Anne Lamott speaks about the ceremony of making tea, and how that’s a lot like writing. Writing is its own reward. We write to learn. We write because it’s an opportunity to listen, to set up a road side tea stand, as in the Rumi poem below.
And maybe we write to see what we ourselves are capable of holding. Where does our spirit fit? Where do we fit into the world? This is what Jack Myers queries in the last poem I’m sharing, titled, “It’s Not My Cup of Tea.”
It’s been awhile since I had out the teacups my mother-in-law gave me and which I’ve photographed many times over the years. It was nice to fill them up, wash them, admire the colours and patterns. That little ritual, too, as Rumi says, might be doing something for the universe.
So let’s pour ourselves a cup and begin with Jane Hirshfield and her thoughts on the teahouse practice:
“In Japanese Zen, it’s sometimes said that there are four kinds of Buddhist practice. One is priest practice, one is monastic practice, one is layperson’s practice, and the fourth is “teahouse practice.” Teahouse practice is the practice path of the old woman who runs the teahouse by the side of the road. No one knows why they like to stop there for some green tea and a small sweet cake. The fragrance of the tea, the freshness of the cake, are good, but nothing special. The old woman wipes the wooden counters with a clean, soft cloth and the wood glows a little, and each person who enters is met with a friendly and slightly curious look. “Who are you?” the look says, and “What can I bring you?” and something in it is also like the look of the truck stop waitress who calls everyone “Dear,” and means it. If she also sees far into them, it is into who they are just as they are.
Writing poems is a teahouse practice, for me. A way to look at my own life, and the life of us all, and find them larger, more spacious, and more multi-directional than I had realized, and more dear.”
– Jane Hirshfield, from the PBS film, The Buddha
“I still encourage anyone who feels at all compelled to write to do so. I just try to warn people who hope to get published that publication is not all it is cracked up to be. But writing is. Writing has so much to give, so much to teach, so many surprises. That thing you had to force yourself to do – the actual act of writing – turns out to be the best part. It's like discovering that while you thought you needed the tea ceremony for the caffeine, what you really needed was the tea ceremony. The act of writing turns out to be its own reward.”
― Anne Lamott
Never Too busy To Chat
Seeing how many miles you have to go,
I set up a little stall on your route.
I serve a nice cup of tea, and I am never
too busy to chat.
Things are Such
Things are such, that someone lifting a cup,
or watching the rain, petting a dog,
or singing, just singing – could be doing as
much for this universe as anyone.
– from The Purity of Desire
It’s Not My Cup of Tea
by Jack Myers
My wife wants to know
what difference does it make
what cup I drink from,
and I complain
I like what I like
and that’s the story.
We have many kinds of cups.
But this morning my favourite is dirty
and I’m hunting for something
that won’t make me think.
One’s a fertility goddess,
huge fructuous belly, little head.
Another’s pleasant enough for guests,
but has to have its finicky little saucer
underneath so it won’t feel embarrassed.
And another, which is a smaller version
of what I like, would require me
to get up and down too many times.
You think I am spoiled
or too set in my ways
or that I’m difficult
to live with,
and you’re right.
But there are so few things
that fit me in this life
I can count them on one hand,
things the spirit can sleep in
because whoever made them
put the things of this world –
vanity, greed, a sentimental wish
to be small again – aside.
I know, I could’ve found my cup
and washed it
and then I’d have my cup.
But it’s not my cup I want.
– more about Jack Myers here