You can't have mountains without valleys.
My friend Joan and I had a delightful experience yesterday. We went to Tea Garden Ithaca for the Japanese tea ceremony. The web address is www.TeaGardenIthaca.com. We were greeted by a kimono clad woman named Sheela who showed us a path to the pond so we could begin to prepare ourselves by just experiencing the beauty of nature, the sun and lovely trees. She then offered us each a poem and a small cup of sweet minty tea while she told us about the ceremony and her kimono and the symbolism of it.
After another cup of tea we rinsed our hands and walked down another meandering path to the tea house. Sheela slid open the shoji screens, asked us to remove our shoes and seated us on benches - my back has been bad and I requested a chair, not kneeling. She then entered by another door, behind a screen and came out with small dishes of sweets. We ate these while she prepared the aromatic fire. Disappearing once again, she then returned with all the utensils for tea ceremony; the tea, lovely bright green matcha, the tea scoop, tongs, a feather fan, a bamboo water scoop, a whisk, a cleaning cloth.
Everything was done with great precision and grace, from the folding and unfolding of clothes to Taking up and putting down the various implements. It was very serene. It truly was a time apart from our normal lives. We could just be in the moment. You felt you needed to speak softly, but it seemed natural, unforced. Sheela was so good about explaining things and answering questions. The bowl I was given was over 300 years old and had come with the story of all its owners on the box it was kept in. Joan's bowl was newly made by Sheela. She liked the contrast of old and new. The tea was a lovely frothy bright green, with some sweetness and something of an asparagus taste.
When the ceremony was over, we were told we could remain or walk through the gardens. We sat for a while and then wended our way home, coming away with peace in our spirits.
Sheela trained in New York and Kyoto to become both a tea ceremony master and teacher of tea ceremony. She views tea ceremony as a way of serving others, of enabling them to be at one in themselves and with each other and nature. I certainly think that was accomplished yesterday.
If you should be near Ithaca, NY and have the time - about 1 1/2 hours, make the reservations and go, I think you'll be glad you did. The cost is $12 per person and well worth it.