Time is not an illusion. Not for tea people, anyways.
Of course, it’s fun to say so amidst the haze of days coming and going many of us are experiencing during the COVID-19 lockdown in the US. On a morning walk the other day I passed a house that had a helpful sign on the front door: “TODAY IS WEDNESDAY”.
I chuckled to myself and thought: “No, it’s Tuesday.” Only one of us were right (spoiler alert: not me).
Still, just because we’ve lost track of the days doesn’t mean they aren’t passing.
Around my neighborhood, wildflowers bloom. Busy bees buzz from one vibrant blossom to the next, carrying out their important work of gathering pollen and propagating plant species. Public parks, left wild without city services, grow tall with grass and weeds.
Apparently Mother Nature didn’t get the memo the park is closed. Then again, neither did the trio of human mothers I see running their children around the basketball court in full view of posted signs.
But I digress.
In the tea room, spring draws to a close. Would you believe me if I told you summer is nigh upon us? Yes, it’s true. The end of hearth season (炉, rō) and the start of the “portable stove” (風炉, furō) season is the harbinger of spring’s end. This event neatly splits the year in two for tea people. Everything about the tea room and the way we practice or present tea changes.
It’s not just tea, either–scrolls, flowers, confectionaries, food, and fashion all change accordingly. The heavier kimono is doffed in favor of the lighter yukata. As weather continues to warm through May into June, the doors and windows of the tea room stay open to let the comfortable breeze waft through. The stove is moved away from the guests to avoid making them feel uncomfortably warm. All themes and symbols are crafted to evoke the feeling of coolness.
This is how we celebrate the passage of time in the world of tea, and by celebrating it we make it real.
It’s not that the names and numbers of months or days matter–those are arbitrary systems humans made to have a way to talk about time together–but the rising and setting of the sun, the changing of the seasons, and the shifts in nature do matter.
In my opinion, these shifts, however small, make up the beautiful mundanity of chanoyu. It’s the universe writ small. You can experience all of creation in your own backyard.
So get out and take a walk, even if it’s just out back for a bit. With everything going on, I recommend we all take the chance to celebrate the reality of time for ourselves.
Wishing you all safety, health, and happy drinking.
(Featured Photo by Aron Visuals on Unsplash)