To obtain enlightenment, mix together ceremoniously:
-1 really excellent and really strange vegetarian monk meal
-4.5 cups of tea
-4 hours of sitting on a cushion with your legs folded lotus-style
-1 part intense concentration while trying to understand Japanese
-10 parts having to pee…really…really…badly
-1 part being too embarrassed to interrupt the ceremony to get up and go to the bathroom
Yesterday I went to a zen-style tea ceremony, which was a lot of fun and very interesting. I was expecting to have to kneel for the entire time, but instead we got to sit on little spherical cushions in the lotus-position – deceptively comfortable for about the first hour. The main part of the ceremony seemed to be a meditation, after which I was shocked to discover that it was 30 minutes long. Shocked, because a) I’ve never meditated for that long and b) it should have been beyond the physical realm of possibility for my bladder not to have exploded during that time, considering how badly I had to pee BEFORE the meditation started. My final thought before forcing my mind into stillness was “how much longer is this going to last? I should not have had that tea at lunch. I always have to pee like this when I drink tea. When I drink coffee too. And alcohol. Oh man, if they made a drink that had coffee, tea and alcohol in it, I would probably die.” The rest of the meditation went by surprisingly quickly.
Afterwords, the tea and snacks were served. While we were eating the guy leading the ceremony chatted with us about verious aspects of the ceremony and zen and we were allowed to get up and stretch and go to the bathroom. I tried to focus the best I could on what was being said (in Japanese) until around 4 o’clock (this thing started at 1). The guy must have said “owari” or “owatta” or “owarimashita” (all of those mean “finished”) about 10 times, but then he kept talking for another hour. And in that hour, his voice faded into a soft droning in my ears, I decided that I didn’t actually have to go to the bathroom THAT badly (even though I did…again), I gradually became accustomed to the searing pain in my hips and knees and suddenly I wasn’t really sure if I were still a part of reality. Things seemed to be happening and people seemed to be doing things around me, but I didn’t seem to be a part of any of it. I was feeling strangely detached from what was going on around me…
Call it enlightenment, call it delirium from the amount of pain I was in, but either way it was pretty cool.