philosophy

The Great Balancing Act

Thoughts on Chaos and Calm

balancing_act.jpg

Do you ever wonder when Americans slow down?

What habit have we, as a culture, perfected to offer enough literal and mental space to slow down and calmly, but thoughtfully, reflect on the subtle beauty of our world?

I am asking this question because I recently attended a Japanese tea ceremony demonstration and it left me feeling uplifted and gentler. I felt calm.

Expecting simply to sit on the floor and sip a cup of tea, I was astonished to be told that the tea ceremony itself is akin to performance art; that there is a theme to each event, that guests are honored and purified upon entering and that the (up to) 4 hours spent inside is time for host and guests to muse/discuss/contemplate beauty and tradition (more). Business discussions and world news are forbidden. The tea room is for contemplation about works of art, things of beauty, tradition, stories, myths, symbols. The guests are guided into the tea room where a particular scroll is hanging. The scroll sets the theme or tone of what’s discussed. There is a loosely placed flower/s in a vase. The flower chosen not for its hardiness but for the opposite; the guest admires this bloom knowing that that will soon fade and die. A suggestion and reminder of the temporal nature of life. The tea bowl is observed and carefully handled, its history felt in the hands, its beauty in form, function, and imperfection (more on that in another post).

There are so many levels of looking, reflecting, admiring, discussing that the ceremony becomes a hive of noticing things with a reverence not typically accomplished. The gathering pauses our chaotic drive towards goals and lets us revel in the fruits of our (and our fellow human’s) labors. We connect to those who have gone before us and who have added to our experience of our worlds.

Thank you Urasenke Chanoyu Center, NYC

Hide and Seek

Here is a short audio clip from Alan Watt's You're It

If the clip doesn't work, here are the words: 

..."In the same way that perhaps you could say that the protective coloring of a butterfly who has somehow contrived to make it’s wings look like enormous eyes so that when a bird who is about to devour this beast is confronted by these staring eyes, the bird is a little hesitating, like when you stare at somebody they are always taken a little bit aback, and so the butterfly appears to stare at the bird. And perhaps you see this phenomenon of the marvelous staring wings of the butterfly is in some way a result of anxiety. Then anxiety to survive all the problems and struggles of natural selection. Nevertheless in this intense struggle we are unknowing poets." 

Quiet your mind.

It could be 300 BC or 2015 AD.

Our instincts don't change much. 

Alan Watts, 1915-1973, a British-born philosopher, writer and speaker, best know as an interpreter and popularizer of Eastern philosophy for a Western audience.