By Kimine Mayuzumi
Ichigo ichie (一期一会 ), literally meaning “one encounter at a time,” is a Japanese proverb often applied to Japanese tea ceremonies as well as everyday life. It says that each encounter is unique and exists in its own space and time. Although the procedure of a tea ceremony is quite rigid and complicated, this proverb teaches us to focus on the unique quality of each experience. Sen Soshits XV, one of the great tea masters of the urasenke school, advocated this principle as a core philosophy for tea ceremonies:
It is no exaggeration to say that awareness of the uniqueness of each and every tea gathering is the core of the study of the way of tea and the only way to gain its three elements: the way (spirit), the learning (culture of the way of tea) and the reality (practice through making tea). The pleasure of tea relies on the indescribable charm of a host conveying his or her deepest feeling to the guests, by selecting the tea utensils and tableware, assorting and arranging things according to their due, the season and the theme… If the host and his or her guests can develop a rapport in this atmosphere, therein lies the essence of the way of tea. (Sasaki, 2002, p. i)
Moreover, in the tea ceremony, words are of little importance compared with the mindful hearing of the sound of water in the silence when the host pours water from the hisyaku, a wooden ladle. Because every sound is associated with a spirit (Matsunobu, 2007), all your concentration is centered on the water. Therefore, the tea ceremony allows us to reflect on what is surrounding us and how we feel about it through all our senses. It is meant to slow us down.
In this neoliberal era, when “productivity” and “efficiency” based on outcome-oriented views are prioritized in many institutions, stakeholders are bombarded by intensification and extensification of work under siege by this striving mentality. Academia is no exception. The dominant “work ethic” discourse and the resultant workload have bolstered time pressure on faculty (Vostal, 2015; Shahjahan, 2015), who are now increasingly experiencing “hidden injuries” (Gill, 2009) like burnout, guilt, insecurity, stress, anxiety, and shame (Berg & Seeber, 2013; Shahjahan, 2015). Coerced to view their worthiness only through academic output, many faculty feel lost and torn in terms of their identities because of the growing gap between institutional expectations and their personal autonomy (Canaan & Shumar, 2008).
Within such a workaholic climate, how can one sustain oneself in the long run? How can one spend quality time with their family, friends, and/or a beloved one on a regular basis? Work-life balance has been a challenging topic for many academics, yet it is key to faculty wellbeing (McCoy et al, 2013). As a partner of an academic, I don’t want my partner to carry emotional baggage during our family time, though I am compassionate to him when he does. But, I would also like him to heal from the “injuries” inflicted in the modern workplace.
Not only as a partner of an academic, but also as a scholar whose research area has been women in higher education for the past decade and as the author of a well-received article entitled, “The tea ceremony as a decolonizing epistemology: Healing and Japanese women,” I propose that the spirit of the tea ceremony could help busy academics go through a healing journey.
What do I mean by “healing”? In the context of academia described above, it is about “making a peace with yourself, who you really are.” Morrisseau (1998) says:
Healing is a matter of the heart and not just the “head.”…What we lack is the confidence and knowledge to recognize what is important in healing. It is this gentle pearl that must be cultivated and brought back to life. (p. 6)
Let me address three interconnected elements of the tea ceremony that can be applied to our healing process. Please imagine that you as I are in a tearoom as one of the guests.
1. Wholeness and balance
In the tea ceremony, by going through the details of the moment, I aim to preserve the view of the whole microcosm representing our natural world. I am to acknowledge not only the taste of the tea but also the calligraphy on the wall, the flower-decorated alcove, where the teacup was coming from, what season the cake represented, and so forth. As all these elements come together, the entire space becomes central to the tea ceremony.
Healing is also about being whole. It does not enhance domination of one thing (e.g, work) over others (e.g., the rest of one’s life) but promotes harmony and balance in our entire life. Questions we need to ask are: Are all my life aspects acknowledged? What does work-life balance look like for me? Peter Reason stated that “to heal means to make whole: we can only understand our world as a whole if we are part of it: as soon as we attempt to stand outside: we divide and separate” (as cited in Shilling, 2002, p. 156). Am I part of my world as a whole?
Healing involves well-being including physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual aspects of soundness, all of which interact with one another just as the pleasure of tea comes from all the different aspects of the ceremony. Then, “Is my body well taken care of?” “What is my emotional status?” To heal is to be a whole. By paying attention to all, from physical to emotional and spiritual, we can move from what we are healing from (e.g., burnout, stress) to what we are healing toward (e.g., personal aspiration for life).
In a tea ceremony, the relationship between the host and me as a guest holds significance. We share the same space and time and communicate not necessarily with words but through the spirits that we carry through the process of tea making. We, the guests, also acknowledge the environment in the tearoom as a microcosm reflecting the natural environment. The tearoom becomes a space of unity for a community.
When the work is already stressful, isolation and loneliness make things worse. Community is important for the relational nature of healing seen in the tea ceremony. Let’s think of communities each of us care about and need support from in our life (not just our professional life). Community can be family, friends, colleagues, and one’s ethnic/racial group and so on. Morriseau notes that, although the roles that community members play are important, how members relate to one another is more significant. The sense of connection and belonging gives us hope in terms of where we are. It has to be nurtured. Malidoma Somé believes that “a true community begins in the hearts of the people involved” (1993, p. 51). This relation involves sharing a space and spirits, and it helps one heal when the space is full of respect, harmony and care.
In a tea ceremony, the process of making and having tea is more meaningful than simply drinking tea. By being mindful of each step, I can foster care and respect for other beings and non-beings that create the space of unity. For this reason, I have to slow down.
In healing as well, the process is more important than the outcome. If we rush toward the outcome, we can easily fail to notice many important things that are happening during the process, missing possible enlightening opportunities or our callings. In this day and age, we hardly have a chance to slow down unless we make conscious efforts to do so. The time crunch is evidenced in the speed of our busy lives, and multi-tasking instead of being present on just one task at a time. Being “busy” is associated with being productive.
Doing nothing and spending time just for ourselves or even with our family makes us feel guilty. Speed is also a way to escape from fear (e.g., a fear of being in the process and knowing oneself). How can we be rushed to heal toward making a peace with ourselves? As the Chinese character of Busy (忙) represents a “dying soul,” one’s soul must be alive to heal. Slowing down is to live in the present in a meaningful, pleasurable and sustainable way. It is a political act against acceleration caused by corporatization (Berg & Seeber, 2013; Shahjahan, 2015). It is about integrating the concept of ichigo ichie (“one encounter at a time”) into our life.
These lessons are also applicable to any other people who feel busy all the time. Then how can we apply those elements of healing to our life instead of losing our personal autonomies by becoming slaves of time? I am hoping that, by imagining a tea ceremony described above, we will not only learn the elements in our head but also feel them in our heart. It is such embodied knowledge that inspires us to live and humanizes the process of healing.
What do you think about this strategy?
Berg, M. & Seeber, B. (2013). The slow professor: Challenging the culture of speed in the academy. Transformative Dialogues: Teaching & Learning Journal (6)3.
Canaan, J. E. & Shumar, W. (2008). Structure and agency in the neoliberal university. New York: Routledge.
Gill, R. (2009). Breaking the silence: The hidden injuries of neo-liberal academia. In Flood, R. & Gill,R. (Eds.) Secrecy and Silence in the Research Process: Feminist Reflections (pp. 228-244). London: Routledge.
Matsunobu, K. (2007). Japanese spirituality and music practice: Art as self-cultivation. In L. Bresler (Ed.), The international handbook of research in arts education (pp. 1425-1438). Boston: Springer.
Mayuzumi (2006). The tea ceremony as a decolonizing epistemology: Healing and Japanese women. Journal of Transformative Education (4)1, 8-26.
McCoy, S. K., Newell, E. E., & Gardner, S. K. (2013). Seeking balance: The importance of environmental conditions in men and women faculty’s well-being. Innovative Higher Education, 38(4), 309.
Morrisseau, C. (1998). Into the daylight: A wholistic approach to healing. Toronto, Canada: University of Toronto Press.
Sasaki, S. (2002). Chado—The way of tea: A Japanese tea master’s almanac (S. McCabe & S. Iwasaki, Trans.). Boston: Tuttle.
Shahjahan, R. (2015). Being lazy and slowing down: Toward decolonizing time, our body, and pedagogy. Educational Philosophy and Theory. 47 (5) 488-501.
Shilling, R. (2002). Journey of our spirits: Challenges for adult indigenous learners. In E. V. O’Sullivan, A. Morrell, & M. A. O’Connor (Eds.), Expanding the boundaries of transformative learning: Essays on theory and praxis (pp. 151-158). New York: Palgrave.
Somé, M. P. (1993). Ritual: Power, healing, and community. New York: Penguin Compass.
Vostal, F. (2015). Academic life in the fast lane: The experience of time and speed in British academia. Time & Society, 24 (1), 71-95.
Featured image by mrhayata