At the end of every year I choose a word to represent the theme of the coming year. For 2019, that word was “equanimity”:
Equanimity (noun) – “mental calmness, composure, and evenness of temper, especially in a difficult situation.”Oxford Dictionary
The theme was intended to be aspirational, as I knew I had a difficult year coming even at the end of 2018. It turned out to be very appropriate, indeed.
In 2019 I quit my job, wrestled with my mental health, struggled to find a new direction, and finally gained some traction at the end of the year. I started studying chanoyu, explored business opportunities in the tea space (more on that in the future), and discovered what seems to be a promising new path for my life in the way of tea.
Equanimity was not always present in each of these endeavors, but overall I’m in a much stronger position mentally and emotionally. Closing 2019 and opening 2020, I think I’m in the strongest position psychologically I’ve been in for quite some time.
With all that in mind, I began my traditional year-end reflection. Here’s what I’ve learned about myself.
Living life based on outcomes
At the core of the struggles I’ve experienced in the last 10 years is an unhealthy amount of importance placed on outcomes. What do I mean by “outcomes” exactly? Focusing on the destination, not the journey.
Until now, most of my life revolved around reaching the destination, or achieving a goal.
This type of mindset leads to immense suffering. We say to ourselves: “Just a little more. I’ll be happy when I have that next job. I’ll let myself rest when I make a little more money.”
I’d like to blame capitalism and consumerism for promoting this kind of behavior, but ancient wisdom tells us this type of malady is nothing new.
Wisdom in a washbasin
In Japan, it’s not uncommon to see a tsukubai (蹲踞, stone washbasin) at the entrance of many holy or religious sites. It’s there for visitors to wash and purify themselves before entering. At Ryōan-ji, an ancient temple in Kyoto, lies a tsukubai inscribed with the following:
吾唯足知Inscription on a stone washbasin at Ryōan-ji temple, Kyoto
Ware tada taru wo shiru
I only know plenty
This simple phrase can be translated as: “I have myself, and that is everything I need.”
This idea is a core tenet underlying Zen Buddhist belief. It’s the guiding principle of the impoverished monk living off the land and the kindness of neighbors.
If all we need is nothing more than ourselves, what then is the point? What’s the purpose? Why are we here? It certainly isn’t to collect a whole bunch of fancy paper or shiny objects. None of those things give meaning to life.
In my opinion, the meaning of life can be summed up in one word: process.
Life is about living
I drive to work most days. When I’m stuck in the hellish purgatory that is Highway 101 in the Bay Area, I have time to practice patience. One of the ways I do this is to simply let my mind wander–-no noise, no music, no audiobooks– just thinking and observing myself.
So it was, on one such day, I was struck with what might be the most important epiphany I’ve had in a long time: the meaning of life is learning how to live it.
Regardless of how you feel about the nature of life and what happens after it’s over, I think people of all types can agree we should use the time we have here to live a life that leaves us feeling content when it ends. To me, what makes that possible is by focusing on the process of living life.
Every single day we are presented with opportunities to enjoy what we’re doing. From the sights and sounds of an early spring morning, to the tactile sensation of brushing teeth, to the sensory delight found in a cup of tea and even being stuck in traffic, all things in life are part of a circular process–the cycle of life.
Every day ends and begins anew. Every life starts and ends, then begins anew, perhaps in some other form (spiritually, or in the case of our body’s decomposition, literally).
The pine tree has no color and nothing is new under the sun.
Whereas this used to cause me despair, it’s turning into something that sets me free.
2020 is the Year of Process
In light of all this, it became clear what my thematic word for 2020 should be: process.
I’ve spent far too many years punishing myself for not having done something to spec, or “failing” to accomplish something I set out to do in an arbitrary amount of time. There’s a reason religious texts rail against the suffering of desire–it creates unhappiness in us when we feel stuck between the current reality and the desired reality.
Enough punishing myself. Enough feeling miserable. Enough worrying about what I don’t have. Ware tada tare wo shiru–I only know plenty. I am everything I need.
I find joy in this idea. I find peace in it. I find excitement and new passion for feeling the joie de vivre–the joy of living. Not only that, but I find tea–chanoyu in particular–to be the perfect vehicle for me to discover this new path as it unwinds before me.
Tea, writing, and the blog in 2020
On tea, Sen no Rikyū says: “just make tea”. If we were to ask him about writing, I’m sure he’d say: “just write”. The thing about both writing and tea is they are things that appear simple but are difficult in reality. They require focused study, practice, and concerted effort over a sustained period of time.
What could possibly be better for pursuing process than practicing tea and then writing about it?
To that end, here’s what’s in store for The Tea Letter in 2020:
- I will put something on this blog once a week, every week this year. That means 52 posts in 2020 (yes, this one counts).
- I will be posting things that don’t meet the self-imposed mark of perfection. Making something good requires an immense amount of work that ranges from “not bad” to “never let this see the light of day”. I will never publish the latter, but I expect to be publishing more of the former.
- I will begin posting tea tasting notes. I started this blog with the idea I would never do this, but I’ve changed my mind for two reasons: I get a lot of requests for tea recommendations and it will turn into a fun way to look back on past teas I’ve consumed and what I thought of them.
- I will be exploring topics that take me further afield from exclusively tea-related content. The wonderful thing about tea–chanoyu in particular–is it touches on so many other aspects of life: art and aesthetics, design, craftsmanship, food and drink (sake), clothing and fashion, culture, philosophy, poetry, and more. I’m excited to explore and discover these places myself and I hope you’ll join me if it sounds even remotely interesting to you.
Here’s to the Year of Process
I’m excited about 2020. Whereas last year I was filled with no small amount of trepidation, I begin this year with hope. I will continue my practice of enjoying the process and focusing on the journey, not the destination.
I hope you will find your own theme for 2020. If you do and want to share, I’d love to hear what it is in the comments or on social (Instagram/Twitter).
Thanks for all the support and here’s to a wonderful year together.
本年も、どうぞよろしくお願い致します！ 🙇 🗻