The Art of Closing
I place the tea bowl on my left palm and mindfully turn it twice clockwise. As I bring the bowl to my mouth, the deep aroma of matcha caresses my nostrils. Once my lips touch the earthy ceramic bowl, thick tea slowly enters my body, turning every cell into forest green.
The boundary between me, the tea, and the tea room disappears. For the moment, nothing exists except for the tea, which contains the whole universe. I’m absorbed in here and now. After a couple of minutes that feel like an eternity, my sensei (teacher) bows and begins the closing segment of Sado, the Japanese art of tea ceremony.
Once the tea bowl is returned to her, she picks up a wooden ladle, dips it into the water in a ceramic container, and transfers it into the bowl. The sound of water echoes in the silence. She then holds a whisk with her right hand and gently stirs the water in the bowl clockwise. Every movement is done in slow motion with great care.
After cleaning the whisk and tea scooper, the sensei pours fresh water into the iron pot in the same amount taken to serve tea. She symbolically prepares for the next tea ceremony while closing the current one.
The sensei places the lid on the iron pot and enters the final phase of the tea ceremony. Never in a hurry, she picks up each tool or utensil, holds it properly, and brings it back to Mizuya (preparation area), one item at a time. After picking up the last tool, the sensei walks on the tatami floor to the paper sliding door as the swan glides over the lake.
Once stepping outside the room, she gracefully turns around, kneels, and sits down. She lays the last tool in front of her knees, places both hands on the tatami floor, and bows deeply. With the closing of the sliding door, the tea ceremony comes to an end.
I have been observing sensei’s each move; focused, precise, calm, and refined. Nothing is overdone or lacking. Her every action has a purpose which she achieves with no grandeur yet elegance beyond words. She gets things done without any distraction or hesitance. Throughout the entire process, she never loses her concentration. She is there just to conclude the tea ceremony.
Whenever I need to end a chapter of my life, I recall the image of my sensei closing a tea ceremony, following every step with focus, mindfulness, and grace. I remind myself how she paid full attention to the closing as much as the beginning. I think about how she prepared for the next ceremony while bringing the current one to an end.
The impatient part of me often wants to rush into the next life chapter: a new adventure, a new world. Starting something new is exciting while ending it is tiresome and sometimes even painful. When I get frustrated in the long process of closing a chapter of life—much longer than I hoped, I remind myself how my sensei never succumbed to the temptation to hurry through the tedious steps of ending a tea ceremony. It is the art of closing, which takes much patience to learn and experience to master. Closing is more important than beginning. How we close shows who we are. If we could close with mindfulness and grace, we would be the embodiment of those qualities in any phase of our lives.
"Tea … is a religion of the art of life."
― Kakuzo Okakura, The Book of Tea