The first time Peter Bregman watched “The Last Samurai” he was mostly drawn to the fight scenes. When he saw it a second time, several years later, he was transfixed by the tea ceremony. Link here.
Maybe it’s the wisdom that comes with age, or maybe it’s something else, but Bregman draws a compelling conclusion from his meditation on the picture of a Samurai warrior drinking tea.
Here’s Bregman’s description:“Sitting at a low table, he moved deliberately, singularly focused on his tea. He contemplated it. Then poured it. Then sipped it, tasted it, and, finally, swallowed it.”
For people who are always in a hurry, who never have time, Bregman recommends an antidote: the slow, deliberate, patient way that the Samurai drinks, or better, delights in a cup of tea.
Take the time for a time-indulgent action and you will feel less stressed, less hurried, less harried.
Surely, the ritual feels like a meditation that consecrates a moment, transforming it from a function of personal appetite to a function of social and sacred being.
When the Samurai sips his tea he looks like he is living in the moment, but we must understand this as a momentary moment.
Living in the moment cannot be a way of life. Otherwise you would ignore the lessons of the past and never plan for the future.
The tea ceremony, the slow, meticulous consumption of a cup of tea represents a punctuation mark, a momentary pause, that gives structure and order to one’s life.
When people talk about living in the present they are talking about suffering constant surprises, where everything is so spontaneous that there is no real order or discipline.
A tea ceremony is not performed on impulse. There is nothing spontaneous about the gestures or the actions involved.
Like other daily rituals, like saying a prayer before dinner, the ceremony is meaningful because it does not express anything about the performer or the participant.
Since the ceremony is produced over and over again in exactly the same way, there is no possibility of surprise. Yet, the tea ceremony permits you to savor your tea in a way that you will never experience as you slurp down your coffee while running to the next meeting.
Bregman also grasps the central point: the warrior who knows how to savor a sip of tea gains great strength from the exercise. His is the strength of discipline, of self-control, of participating in a social ritual and therefore affirming his place in society.
Without these character traits his mind will be disorganized and chaotic, unfocused on the task at hand, running from distraction to distraction, prey to spontaneous impulse.
For a Samurai warrior spontaneous impulse is a death sentence.
Of course, the principle does not merely apply to Samurai warriors.
Bregman is recommending that you take a moment before a meeting to greet everyone, to wish everyone a fruitful meeting, and to encourage everyone to participate.
It is not about expressing a feeling. It’s about consecrating the meeting space and allowing everyone to transition easily out of their pre-meeting activities and into the space/time of the meeting.
We are well aware of similar rituals. A greeter in a Japanese department store bows when you walk through the door. Westerners shake hands when they meet someone.
The Samurai’s experience of sipping tea does not involve an aesthetic emotion. It is not the same thing as contemplating a petunia that you have discovered in a field.
For a Samurai, being in the moment means that there is no difference between the moment when he decides to thrust his sword and the moment when he actually does it.
The Samurai is trying to arrive at a state where there is no gap between thought and action. He is not trying to make his act automatic and mindless, like a tic, but to have it be purposeful and correct.
To do it right without thinking about what you are doing... that is the goal. And that is why the Samurai warrior, when he is sipping tea, wants to get to the point where he is not thinking about his actions; he is just savoring the tea.