Humans are like tea bowls

Personally, this is one way I like to apply wabi sabi in my life. It is just my way…

The first time I encountered the concept of wabi sabi was during my tea ceremony classes here in Kyoto. Traditionally there was only Wabi, or to be more precise: Wabi-cha, which is a style of practicing the tea ceremony in a very rustic and humble way. But Wabi-cha is another subject and shall be talked about some other time.
Most people in Japan will tell you that they can’t explain wabi sabi in words. They will certainly know when they feel it, but words will become more and more vague as they try to define it.

Because I grew up in Europe, I believed that “good” tea cups and coffee cups were made of fine bone china and came in sets. They were thin to the touch and white to the eye. I liked them like that, they seemed refined to me, delicate.
However, when I came to Japan and started taking tea ceremony classes, the bowls that appeared were never thin or white. They were mostly black, a bit wonky, some seemed unfinished. To be honest with you, they all looked pretty much the same to me.
After practicing for a while I understood that thick bowls do keep the warmth of the matcha tea for a longer time. And I could imagine that bright white china cups would clash with the dim light of a tea room. Holding these bowls in my hands, week after week, they started to feel comfortable. What at first felt heavy and awkward, soon fitted nicely into my palms, they were organic, and they gave me a sense of warmth. I didn’t miss having a saucer anymore, placing the bowl directly on the tatami mat made me be more careful and more gentle. Soon I started to enjoy these irregular bowls.Even though they had all looked the same to me at the start, I could now see that they were all clearly different, their shape, their weight, the lip part at the top, the foot at the bottom. It would be hard to describe them one by one, I would be limited to the same vague words (black, earth, clay…) to define different bowls. How could I do that, they felt so different from one another!
So maybe I understand why people can’t explain certain things in words…

This is what these bowls have taught me. Humans are like tea bowls. Each bowl has its own beauty. We cannot compare them to one another because they are simply different. Not better, not worse. As they age, bowls bring out a deeper colour that was not planned at the time of the making and that gradually transforms their appearance, they become even more unique. The more they live, the nicer and cozier they feel in one’s hands. When they eventually crack or break, they can be repaired with kintsugi gold powder and, with that, they come back stronger than ever.

Wabi sabi has taught me to see aging as a beautiful process of acceptance and strength.

The Writer’s info:

Audrey Flett

Audrey has lived in Kyoto for over 20 years and practices tea ceremony, martial arts, and qigong.Her father is English and her mother Japanese, but she was born and raised in Barcelona and lived in various cities before settling in Kyoto.With a diverse cultural background, she also offers special Kyoto tours for foreign visitors based on her deep experience and knowledge of Japanese culture and her connections with traditional artisans.

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