A Formal Japanese Tea Ceremony

Twenty eight New York City third graders set out in snow flurries two days back after February break. They boarded a yellow bus and put on seat belts. They tried hard to not lean into the aisle with their heads and their bodies. They resisted the urge to yell from front to back just to have someone’s head pop up and say, “What?!” On the bus, the third graders tried hard to keep from singing “Let it Go” so loudly that the bus driver might stop the bus at a light and just get off. (Public transportation could get her everywhere after all.)

They did pretty well. But, as we herded off the bus, it was loud. Too loud for a Japanese tea house.

These twenty eight third graders were heading to a Japanese tea house that was disguised as a regular office. On the outside, it was all brick and no windows. On the inside it was sky lights and giant ferns and absolute silence.

The thing is, these third graders, once the door opened to this peace of New York, were absolutely silent. We were there for two hours and they spoke only in hushed tones. The Japanese tea master talked us through each motion of the ceremony. Teaching us what to notice and what it meant. The kids sat on their knees and learned that they could speak only of the ceremony or the tea house itself. No other conversation was allowed. Nothing from the outside was allowed inside this silent space. At first the kids were just silent and then they began to try.

“Um, what is the mat made of that we are sitting on?”

“Why are the walls made of paper?”

“Do we get a container of this tea to take home with us?”

And, when the tea master told us that we must slurp our tea loudly so that we can pull the frothy green from the bottom of our cup, Brandon slurped so loudly that even the master laughed. He broke character. He was enjoying them. Really enjoying them.

I went on a class trip with twenty eight third graders to have a moment of contemplation in a life filled with hurry up and go. At this tea ceremony I remembered what it could mean to just be there, to just be in the moment. The third graders did too.

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