“In my own hands I hold a bowl of tea; I see all of nature represented in its green color. Closing my eyes I find green mountains and pure water within my own heart. Silently sitting alone and drinking tea, I feel these become a part of me.”–Soshitsu Sen, Grand Master XIV, Urasenke School of Tea

Tea. Hot beverages in general. We all enjoy something hot to drink, especially when it is cold. It warms the heart, and some say, the soul. Some say a hot cup of tea on a HOT day actually helps to cool you down……hmmmmm.

The Japanese ( and other cultures) have a “practice” of making a cup of tea. In Japan it is called Chanoyu, or, The Way of Tea. And while you do get to sip a bowl of warm, frothy tea, the “practice” is not really all about the tea, it’s about getting there….about preparing, about boiling the water…the journey to the end, not the end itself.

For many of us, we experience life by striving to be aware and mindful of the journey we are on and try not to put too much emphasis on the what comes at the end of the road. Don’t get me wrong, the end result of our work, commitment and sacrifices are very important! But the experience of the journey…….that’s what molds us.

Back to tea!

History tells us tea was first introduced to Japan from China with Buddhism in the sixth century. In the 12th century Eisai, the founder of the Rinzai sect of Zen Buddhism in Japan, introduced powdered tea and tea seeds that he brought back with him from China. The tea seeds were planted by his friend the priest Myoe (1173-1232) at the Kozanji temple in the hills northwest of Kyoto.

The monks discovered that tea helped them in their practice, by keeping them alert/mindful.

In later years, the Way of  Tea became something more. It became a ceremony  based on  a meditation with tea, and the practice was meant to support awareness,  and harmony.

By learning and following precise steps and rituals, the mind becomes focused on the movements and actions….thought and distraction fade away.

It might be helpful to think of it in terms of tea consisting of 3 elements that teach us about our daily life:

Water‘s fluidity reminds us of the constant changes we face
Leaf represents life, and the community of life (people, nature) around us
A Vessel (cup or teapot) reminds us of that spiritual principle that part of us must be emptied so that we may be filled with something better.

The Way of Tea is a reminder of Ichigo, Ichie, the principle of one chance, one moment. Never again will that exact combination of tea, environment, and people (i.e. their perceptions) meet in precisely the same way. Savor the moment, and be intentional with it.

Tea drinking became identified as an act to represent the Zen belief that every act of daily life is a potential act that can lead to enlightenment.

Within the setting of a formal Tea Ceremony, we are also called to be mindful of the act of gathering together, of community. Beautiful tatami matted tea rooms were prepared especially for the quests…simple and elegant. A flower arrangement, a poem or calligraphy drawing to reflect upon, and silence. Except for the sound of the bubbling water.

For many of us today, the idea of this kind of ceremony is not always possible or interesting. For those of us committed to working on our own personal mindfulness practice, the link below offers a simple guide for preparing a cup of tea for ourselves in the same traditional and spirit of Chanoyu:


In the world of grande mocha lattes with soy and splenda, whipped up by a chatty barista , a cup of tea sounds pretty good.

What potential is there for you in  silently preparing a cup of tea, aware of every step required, and drinking it slowly and with intention?

Naikan and Synchronicity?

April 13, 2012

I have to admitt, I am chuckling! Obvioulsy today’s post is about Naikan, a method of self-reflection. In preparing to wirte, I was searching for other blogs and sites that mention Naikan. To my suprise, up popped The Huffington Post, and an article written just a few days ago. Back in the late 70’s friends used to mavel at the miracle of synchronicity: “Synchronicity is the experience of two or more events that are apparently causally unrelated or unlikely to occur together by chance and that are observed to occur together in a meaningful manner.”  HuffPo and my brain.

I came upon the idea of Naikan years ago when I was trying to figure myself out. (I am still working on that.)  It sounded and is in many ways, very simple. At first I couldn’t imagine how I would benefit…the second question in the practice actually scared me…did I even DO that to anyone, on a daily basis? I had much to learn.

Naikan is a Japanese word which means “inside looking” or “introspection”, or even “seeing oneself with the mind’s eye”. It is a structured method of self-reflection that helps us to understand ourselves, our relationships and the fundamental nature of human existence. It broadens our view of reality.

Naikan asks, “What is really important in our life?” Not just in this moment alone, but in our life every day.

Naikan asks us to face  our” self-cherishing nature” that desperately wants us to believe that so many other things are important – why someone is giving us a hard time, why does our spouse drive us crazy sometimes,  the mother-in-law’s opinions that make us angry – all of these and so many more,  block us mentally and emotionally, obscuring that which is able to bring a deeper inner happiness.

“Naikan teaches us to hold on to what is really important thus freeing us to be in the present moment and see the beauty of the day.”

Naikan is about asking ourselves three simple questions, every day. Writing your responses to these questions in a journal helps to make a daily routine easier. Set aside a few minutes towards the end of every day, and ask yourself the following questions and see what happens.

What have I received from ________?
What have I given to _________________?
What troubles and difficulties have I caused to __________________?

(fill in the blanks with the name of a specific person, “others”, a particular situation…)

The first question invites us to see the “gift and interconnectedness of life”. This is about being aware of someone giving you a paper clip, as well as the unknown farmer who grew the coffee beans for your coffee.

The second question asks us to reverse our thinking:  “Gifts are about both receiving and giving.” This question asks us to be fully aware of  those things we give others –” not just material things but also time, attention, knowledge and many other non-tangible things. We begin to learn that we can give in so many creative ways.”

The third question is a difficult one. It requires us to confront not what others have done to us to cause us trouble, discomfort, pain, but what WE have done to cause others trouble, discomfort or pain. Naikan teaches us to take responsibility for our lives.

When we really work on this third question in relation to our entire life  we begin to gain personal integrity.  It helps us choose what aspects of life to focus on and respond to…..what is important.



Metta: Loving Kindness

April 12, 2012

I  practice this meditation every night before going to bed. Lately I am thinking about trying to do it every morning too. I love that it begins with acknowledging our self, and requires us to put those who cause us sorrow, pain, frustration in a different light: remembering they deserve blessings too….

The meditation is done 4 times with only the name of the person changing each time. It can be very powerful.

The order of the meditation is:

• a respected, beloved person – such as a spiritual teacher;
• a dearly beloved – which could be a close family member or friend;
• a neutral person – somebody you know, but have no special feelings towards, e.g.: a person who serves you in a shop;
• a difficult/hostile person – someone you are currently having difficulty with.

(you could even end by saying the Metta meditation “For all sentient beings”….)

A simple version would be to start with yourself and say:

” May I be happy, may I be joyful, may I be at peace.”

Then replace “I ” with the name of someone you respect….

Continue on with the name of  a person you love, a “neutral person, and the name of someone you struggle with.

There are several variations of this meditation:

May I be free from inner and outer harm and danger. May I be safe and protected.

May I be free of mental suffering or distress.
May I be happy.

May I be free of physical pain and suffering.
May I be healthy and strong.

May I be able to live in this world happily,
peacefully, joyfully, with ease.

Or another still, the one on the prayer flag shown at the beginning of the post .

What is Metta meditation and why do it? from Steven Smith:

“Loving-kindness, or metta, as it in called in the Pali language, is unconditional, inclusive love, a love with wisdom. It has no conditions; it does not depend on whether one “deserves” it or not; it is not restricted to friends and family; it extends out from personal categories to include all living beings. There are no expectations of anything in return. This is the ideal, pure love, which everyone has in potential. We begin with loving ourselves, for unless we have a measure of this unconditional love and acceptance for ourselves, it is difficult to extend it to others. Then we include others who are special to us, and, ultimately, all living things. Gradually, both the visualization and the meditation phrases blend into the actual experience, the feeling of loving kindness.

This is a meditation of care, concern, tenderness, loving kindness, friendship — a feeling of warmth for oneself and others. The practice is the softening of the mind and heart, an opening to deeper and deeper levels of the feeling of kindness, of pure love. Loving kindness is without any desire to possess another. It is not a sentimental feeling of goodwill, not an obligation, but comes from a selfless place. It does not depend on relationships, on how the other person feels about us. The process is first one of softening, breaking down barriers that we feel inwardly toward ourselves, and then those that we feel toward others”    http://www.contemplativemind.org/practices/subnav/kindness.htm

As Steven says, it is all about the “ideal, pure love”, which everyone has in potential. If we are working to live a life to the fullest of our potential, we have to include the practice of  Metta. For ourselves and all sentient beings.

Jon Kabat-Zinn’s definition of mindfulness:
“Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way;
On purpose,
in the present moment, and

There are some words in the above quote that many of us have a hard time wrapping our heads around: mindfulness, paying attention, present moment, nonjudgmentally. I know I do. Put them in a sentence together and some days it sounds like a foreign language.

Thich Nhat Hanh helps us to understand the importance of practicing mindfulness. So many of us are caught up in worries about the future, regrets about the past, that the present slips past with us hardly acknowledging it let alone living it. “Mindfulness increases concentration and allows to see things more deeply and stop being victims of wrong perception.”

What about those of us who live to wallow in the past and re-live regrets over and over? What about those of us who are drawn into fantasy (wealth, house beautiful, body type, beauty, image, ego, etc)?  What if we just don’t care about mindfulness?

TNH goes further saying if our body is not united with our mind, we are not really “alive”. Our body and our mind have to be truly present, together, in order to reap the experience of Life. Mindfulness helps us become alive. Concentration develops and we learn how to see things more clearly, creating less suffering for ourselves and others.

TNH says that in practicing mindfulness “We will create less suffering for ourselves and for other people. We will begin to taste the joy of living and help others to enjoy their daily lives. We cannot force people to practice mindfulness, but if we practice and become happy, we can inspire others to practice.”

Do we have a responsibility to live up to our own potential happiness and to practice mindfulness, not only for ourselves, but  for others?

Want to start?  “Following Your Breath”, by Thich Nhat Hanh:

Breathing in, I calm my body.

Breathing out, I smile.

Dwelling in the present moment,

I know this is a wonderful moment!

Breathing in, I know I’m breathing in.

Breathing out, I know as the in-breath grows deep,

the out-breath grows slow.

Breathing in makes my calm.

Breathing out brings me ease.

With the in-breath, I smile.

With the out-breath, I release.

Breathing in, there is only the present moment.

Breathing out, it is a wonderful moment.



The great omission in American life is solitude; not loneliness, for this is an alienation that thrives most in the midst of crowds, but that zone of time and space, free from the outside pressures, which is the incubator of the spirit. ~ Marya Mannes, US author

Scott McIntyre wrote a nice little piece for Goodlife Zen articulating the difference between solitude and loneliness. He makes a statement I personally have thought about often, and believe to be true for many today: we are hesitant to seek out solitude because we are afraid of loneliness. “Aloneness” often brings to mind a lack of belonging.

“Solitude is refreshing, a time of being on your own where you voluntarily retreat from the company of other people.”

By engaging in this time of instant connections, are we loosing the capacity to get in contact with our inner selves?

How does solitude fit into manifesting our own potentiality? If we loose the thread of seeking out solitude as a means of growth and healing, what replaces it?