Tea #5, Leap Tea: Navigate Change Using Delight
03.02.2020, 4:28 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

“Pattern penetrates everywhere. But a bitter pattern won’t be inexhaustible… To navigate danger use delight… Heaven and earth are made of pattern, and so the four seasons come to completion. If you establish laws using that same pattern, you won’t wound prosperity of injure the people.“-  Pattern #60,  from the I-Ching: The Book of Change, translated by David Hinton

Human Standard Time appears to flow in a predictable pattern. Birthdays arrive each year on their pre-given, designated calendar day. So do most holidays. We can make plans far into the future because we know that if we sign up for a class, or trip, or schedule an event, on say, March 21st, 2022, we and others will converge when the calendar tells us that day has “arrived.” Leap Day’s anomalous appearance last Saturday led us to consider what makes such temporal alignments possible for humans — and what gets lost along the way.

The link between the Gregorian calendar and the movement of our Earth around the sun is calculated to afford all kinds of human coordination and communication. Linear clocks and calendars attempt to impose uniform, repetitive, predictable “time” onto the universe’s non-repetitive, ongoing flow of change that remains a mystery to modern scientists. Time isn’t a “line” that we and the universe’s events ride upon. It is the duration that it takes for an event of change to unfold.

As things and beings interact, they form and deform each other. Sometimes this is visible and sensible to humans. What we humans experience as “time” is actually our subjective experience of the duration of a particular change that we are watching or living out because it happens to be relevant to us. The earth rotates on its axis and there is a duration to it. We call one complete rotation a day and, culturally, “measure” its duration as being approximately 24 “hours.” The earth travels in an orbit around the sun, and there’s a duration to it. We contemporary humans measure the duration of one complete orbit as being about 365 “days.” A tulip grows, blooms, dies back, and hibernates. Its transformation has a duration. We measure the duration of a tulip’s cycle of transformation with the concept of “seasons.”

Though Leap Day might feel like a “bonus” day, the real bonus is to realize time doesn’t exist as a separate thing or force outside of or beyond the universe’s continuous process of change and movement. Time ultimately escapes our attempts to measure it, because there is no such thing as “time” for us to capture. It is our subjective, human experience of the duration it takes for something to change place from here to there, or to change form from what it has been to what it is transforming into.

No clock actually exists that is capable of “keeping” time in any absolute sense (see here for scientific explanation) because no two clocks exist in the exact same conditions or moving point in space/time. As Einstein discovered, that means no two clocks ever achieve perfect synchronization.

The “clock” of the earth’s movement around the sun is “out if sync” with the “clock” that is the Gregorian calendar for another reason. Unlike the Gregorian calendar, with its gridded, repetitive durations of days and months, Earth’s journey around the sun is irregular, ungridded, and non-repetitive. Each orbit (“year”) has a different duration than the last one, and the next one. Adding a day to the calendar on Leap Day is our (perpetually unsuccessful attempt) to re-sync the Gregorian calendar with the Earth’s orbit.

In a previous work (“Times of the Leap Second” in Living Deep Time Calendar Year 000001), we found the idea of Leap Day to be a fantastic, if not absurdist, example of how arbitrary human conceptions of time can be. And this year, we found it to be a worthy reason to stage Tea #5 of Tea in the Dark — differently.

To begin to imagine how we might stage tea #5, we threw three coins in the tradition of the I-Ching (The Book of Change). The result was hexagram #60: Pattern. There were three changing lines in our throw, which resulted in hexagram #1 Heaven. Combining excerpts of David Hinton’s translated text for these two hexagrams, we arrived at the title for Tea #5: Leap Tea: Navigate Change Using Delight. We also decided our ideal guest for Tea #5 would be our friend and artist Tattfoo Tan.

For this tea, we wanted to acknowledge the beautiful forms and patterns of tea making and sharing, but also leave them open to the joys of variability and difference that they also encourage. Previously for Tea in the Dark, we put great efforts into measuring amounts of tea precisely, timing the steep of the tea, and calculating water temperature. These practices can easily direct our awareness away from the alchemic unfolding what is occurring in front of us. The “gridded” process of recipes and calculation can actually prohibit us from developing skills and trust in our own abilities to read and respond to changing interactions for ourselves, as they are happening.

So, on Leap Day, we selected tea and various utensils in advance and set the basic premise for Leap Tea. But we decided that the remainder of the tea process would be co-created, with Tattfoo, within the duration of the micro-production’s unfolding, and in response to the variables of the day. Together, we would invite and enable various configurations of elemental forces (tea, water, heat, day, season, humans, fire, utensils) and attempt to taste and enjoy the difference the would emerge.

We originally intended to meet at Central Park on the afternoon of the 29th. But when the weather forecast reported 20mph winds and a high of 35 degrees, we collectively decided on morning tea at our apartment. Tattfoo arrived at 10am, February 29, 002020.

Upon his arrival, we paused to sense the sun streaming onto the stage of our micro-production, the warmth of the apartment, and the beginning of our time together. While enjoying a tea sweet, we decided that we would make three bowls of matcha by rotating the production elements for making each bowl among us. This would give each of us a chance to “read” and creatively respond to each of the steps in the process:  scooping and straining the tea; measuring and pouring the water; and whisking. In this way, we co-created the three bowls of tea.

For the first bowl, Liz sifted an unmeasured quantity of matcha, Jamie decided the quantity and temperature of the water, and Tattfoo whisked the tea for a duration invented through the process. We poured this bowl into three small cups and tasted the alchemic unfolding of this configuration of tea, water, heat, whisking, and its duration. For the second bowl, Jamie added tea, Tattfoo added the water and Liz whisked. The second bowl of matcha was remarkably different, perhaps better, than the first. For the final bowl, Tattfoo scooped the tea, Liz added water and Jamie whisked. The differences among the three bowls was distinct.

After drinking the tea, Tattfoo offered a reading the tea leaves which, in this case, consisted of traces of matcha foam left in the bowl. Rather than a personal divination, the reading was offered as a response that could inform collective strategies for meeting the Anthropocene.

Tattfoo responded to the traces by suggesting that the part of the micro-production that was the making and drinking tea could be seen as “life.” And the material traces that remained in the bowl could be seen as “death,” in the sense that the stains/traces were material artifacts of what had been lived/drunk. He added that, in spite of the interpretation he offered, the material traces left in the bowl are actually empty of meaning — in the sense that they are empty of such human stories and interpretations, as is life.

In the context of Leap day, fixing meanings and interpretations to the change-event that is tea (and all other things) is a bit like the grid of the Gregorian calendar. It tries to “fix” or capture what is, in fact, ongoing dynamic change.

In our invitation, we had offered Tattfoo the Chinese concept of shi/勢 (propensity of things) as a concept we might use to inform the micro-production. For us, shi is a useful term for illustrating the space/time waves that pass through us and all things in the Anthropocene, shaping the propensities and dispositions of the tea foam left in the bowls.

With this concept in mind, in the days before Leap Tea, we had experimented with creating “stamped” impressions of matcha “tea leaves” onto washi paper. We have enjoyed how these impressions have changed color and density as days pass. Their transformation in color and texture illustrate the duration of their ongoing interaction with the air, light and time. After Tattfoo’s reading, we each pressed a circle of washi paper into our bowl. We look forward to seeing how these traces continue to change in coming days, and we appreciate how they are a reminder that the tea we ingested continues to change through, and with, us.

We finished Leap Tea sensing that a useful skill, or awareness, to develop within the Anthropocene is the ability to see, experience, and embody the changing of patterns and their singularities—and co-mingle with that change. There is no fixed pattern or recipe to get “right” — “right” is simply reading the shi of the conditions of making the tea, living/drinking the resulting configuration with attention — and moving on.  Otherwise, in the words of the I-Ching, patterns are likely to become bitter and exhaustible.

As the Pattern hexagram suggests, “navigating danger” or change by “using delight” could mean allowing time to become aware of change itself. Perhaps this makes the going slightly less dangerous. Perhaps, if we follow the changing lines that exist in all patterns, we might transform the lines of our lives’ unfoldings in the Anthropocene into a version the I-Ching‘s Heaven hexagram.

All origins penetrating everywhere, heaven is inexhaustible in bringing forth wild bounty. How vast and wondrous the heaven of origins! The ten thousand things all begin from it It governs the sky — the movement of clouds, the coming of rain. It give all the various things their distinct forms. How vast its illuminations of ends and beginnings! When the potent places of these six lines are realized in their proper seasons, the seasons mount the six sun-dragons and soar through the sky. The Way of heaven is all change and transformation at the hinge of things, where the unfurling nature of each thing itself is perfected. It nurtures vast harmony in wholeness, and remains inexhaustible in bringing forth wild bounty. When its dragon-head rears up among the innumerable things, it unites the ten thousand kingdoms in wholeness and peace” – Heaven #1, – from I-Ching: The Book of Change, translated by David Hinton

* all images this post FOP 002020

Additional Leap Tea details posted on our digital Chakaiki 茶会記 page.

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