The Zen Master Sen no Rikyu was a visionary. In the 16th century he introduced philosophies for Chanoyu or the Way of Tea in Japan. He incorporated the spiritual teachings of his master Ikkyū in the tea ceremony with the concept of Ichi go Ichi e, understood as a unique time that we should treasure during the ceremony itself. Today, this poetic and practical vision permits us to reflect upon the unrepeatable nature of each moment where we realize that we are never going to live it again. If we go deeper we can become aware of the existence of this eternal present.
During a pilgrimage in Japan, while I was walking through the streets in the cities or the country roads, I observed the actions of the people and was curious. They moved slowly and carefully: when they were attending to their beloved plants, waiting for the light to change at the traffic lights or serving food, they did their actions with a state of peace and harmony. In a conversation with the Zen Priest Rev. Takafumi Kawakami, he affirmed that the Japanese life is full of acts of mindfulness. He recognized that in the collective consciousness they have incorporated meditative states into daily life.
If we accept that transformation is a constant and that our existence is fleeting, we too can receive an existential invitation to cultivate Ichi go Ichi e.
I remember an experience when I visited the beautiful Sanzen-In temple, established in the 8th century in the Ohara area north of Kyoto. This peaceful scenery has ancient and exquisite gardens. As I contemplated them, I observed an older man kneeling, patiently picking up the leaves that fell around him. With tranquility and a sense of perfection, he collected them to take care of the beautiful moss “carpet” that covered the place. When I passed by him, he looked at me and smiled. I could only perceive his contentment and dignity performing this simple act.
This mixture of the acceptance of the transience of life and perfection in action is common to appreciate in the Japanese people. The understanding of impermanence has its roots in Buddhist philosophy, but their comprehension also comes from their firsthand experience of natural tragedies and wars. Faced with these events, it is possible to perceive a strong will inside of them to begin life again, and transform their country. At the same time, they constantly celebrate the changes in nature and have the virtue to treasure the present moment. If we accept that transformation is a constant and that our existence is fleeting, we too can receive an existential invitation to cultivate Ichi go Ichi e.
Living from a deeper place in us requires a training of our Being. One of the facets of this process is the discovery that we have an essence of innate peace within us. To begin to unite with this source we must learn to bring our attention to the state of Being. In today’s world, we are accustomed to Doing, we value our rapid movements, jumping from situation to situation, allowing our minds to be in a constant acceleration. Although dynamism may be a quality, for our mental and emotional well-being it is absolutely necessary to cultivate the ability to access calmness.
I propose a strategy of four keys that together will guide us to the Being, where we can appreciate the unrepeatable nature of the present moment. These keys are: the Slowness, the Pause, the Meditation and Time.
The first of the keys is the slowness. The majority of us have had times when we have longed to be calm, but our minds move very rapidly. The serenity may come if we learn to decelerate our daily activities, with slower movements that have the capacity to penetrate and transform our mind’s rhythms.
In the privacy of our own homes, we can experience simple exercises such as the following: Go to the kitchen. Take a deep breath and with all the attention placed on your movements slowly prepare a drink. Observe your hands, breathe: prepare the cup, breathe; unify your mind and your hands. Avoid making quick actions, while enjoying the grace and simplicity of your movements. With the slowness and exclusive concentration in your actions, your mind will start to relax and serenity will begin to dwell within you.
The second key is the Pause. The practice of slowness guides us towards the importance of creating moments to detain our actions. The objective being to realize that it is possible to have an identity beyond our activities or roles. This bond with our inner self produces a feeling of intimacy. At the same time we will need to activate our will and constantly inspire ourselves especially because our list of tasks in daily life is endless! Pauses can be brief moments, even five minutes, where we give ourselves the privilege of waiting and lingering in the moment. The incorporation of pauses will create a renewed identity and vision of life, which has its foundation in calmness and the state of Being.
The slowness and the pause will be part of a strategy that prepares us to experience meditative states. The term “Meditation” is in reality a reference to a set of techniques from different traditions that seeks by distinct means to take us to states of intimacy with ourselves, to the discovery of the presence and the experience of the Totality of existence. Meditation is an essential vehicle to enrichen our identity with Being. At the beginning of the practice we discover the mind’s games, as it brings with it the impressions from the exterior world and we see how it leaps from thought to thought. However, as we allow ourselves to relax and we guide our attention, we head towards the center of our being, to that place where it is possible to live in silence and with inner peace.
Ichi go Ichi e is an offering, one of the many bright lights that the Japanese culture gives to the world.
In this great inner strategy to recover our inner peace, time is our most important ally. Beyond the vision of “living in the present” it is necessary to accept that we are going to need time to achieve our goal. The Indian master Sri Aurobindo affirms in his book Synthesis of Yoga: “We need time as an instrument for in all things there is a cycle of their action and a period of the sacred movement”. Perhaps patience is one of our greatest challenges as human beings; we want answers and quick results, just as rapidly as our thoughts move. One of the beautiful gifts of my pilgrimage in Japan was the importance to creating time and investing time for the cultivation of the consciousness and the deepening of the state of Being.
When we approach the ancient philosophies, without the prejudices of our mind, we can realize their relevance today. Ichi go Ichi e is an offering, one of the many bright lights that the Japanese culture gives to the world. It teaches us about the importance of savoring the present: the special and unrepeatable moment, places, people, words and sensations.
The slowness, the pause, the meditation and time are four valuable keys to begin to live the deepest and most peaceful rhythms of our Being. That is where we will find the source of our most luminous and generous qualities, the terrain where we understand that not only do we seek to live the awakening for our own well-being, but to offer this state of consciousness and its actions to others.