Last week I accompanied my 7th grade daughter's history class on their field trip to the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco. As our docent Ted was guiding us through the exhibits, there was one stop that particularly resonated with our group: the traditional Japanese tea ceremony.
Normally, expecting undivided attention from ten 12- and 13-year-olds would be nearly impossible, but it was the docent's backstory on the tea ceremony that gripped them. And me, too.
Ichi-go ichi-e: One time, one place.
Ted explained that the overarching cultural concept behind a tea ceremony was known as ichi-go ichi-e which, roughly translated, means "one time, one place." This phrase serves to remind its tea ceremony participants to cherish the gathering, for the meeting may not have the chance to be repeated. Even if the attendees meet again, the dynamics will shift, and thus, the conference will never be the same. In this way, each meeting is unique and to be treasured.
Ted told us it was also important to note that a tea ceremony was designed to make this concept possible by asking its participants — samurai and wealthy nobleman as well as farmers and everyday people — to come together as equals. In the tea house, no one outranks another, and everyone has something to contribute. In fact, to enter the tea house, one must leave one's non-essentials (the samurai's sword and helmet, for example) outside and then pass through an intentionally low opening, bowing as one does so. This physical act of leaving behind extraneous possessions and lowering your head is yet another reminder to be present.
The kids got it. You could see the wheels turning in their minds. They were nodding their heads in silent agreement, envisioning an ancient gathering of samurais and common folk over tea, where everyone was equal and completely present.
You probably used to to get it, too. You understood that people feel most comfortable and trusting when we fully engage with them. And because of that, our kindness is then reciprocated, making for a more pleasant and satisfying exchange all around.
Imagine if you approached every meeting with the ichi-go ichi-e mindset. How would your clients, prospects, and colleagues react if you were actively listening instead of fidgeting with your phone? What might you learn if you treated everyone as a valuable contributor? When you check your ego (and cell phone) at the door, good things happen.
Wa Kei Sei Jaku: Harmony, Respect, Purity, Tranquility
Building on the ichi-go ichi-e concept, Ted added that there are four principles tea ceremony participants are asked to adhere to in their ritual and to integrate through practice into their day-to-day lives:
Wa, or Harmony, represents the positive interaction between the host and the guest in a tea gathering.
Kei, or Respect, is the ability to understand and accept others, even with those whom we disagree.
Sei, or Purity, refers to the capacity to treat oneself and others with a pure and open heart.
Jaku, or Tranquility, is where one reaches selflessness through intention and practice.
When you come together with others, think of them and their needs first. Be open to and respect those with contrarian points of view. Remove the temptation to employ ulterior motives for your gathering and instead remind yourself to be present.
After all, a meeting and its attendees are to be cherished; there is only one time, one place.
If 7th graders can understand and embrace that concept, so can you.
© Amy Blaschka, 2017