Tea #7: Tea without Reason
05.07.2020, 3:33 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized


an everyday tea set-up for FOP/smudge studio

Making, sharing, and drinking tea has been a daily practice for us for many years. The ongoing pandemic has given it a new valence.

A few weeks ago, the “daily life” surrounding our familiar morning tea routine turned entirely unfamiliar. 

From the outside, it might appear to be the same: tea happens after breakfast and before starting our work for the day. But activities on either side of tea have been reconfigured entirely, and continue to change — from how we procure the food we eat (via vast distant national networks rather than the local Brooklyn food co-op) to the nature of daily work and communication (now almost entirely online). 

Everyday actions in domestic space have come to comprise nearly the entirety of life. Over the past month this has become a global reality. Actions that support the dailiness of life (food sourcing and preparation, health care, basic transportation, exercise, hygiene) have earned a new name: “essential services.” Many such services were counted as “domestic work” a few months ago. In many ways, there is a renewed appreciation and acknowledgment of the labors that support healthy human life, and that must be renewed over and over on a day by day basis.

During the recent “stay at home,” we have lost track of linear time, often wondering what day it is. Simultaneously, we have grown more attuned to the sounds of birds, cleaner air, the coming and goings of clouds, the necessity of sleep, the preparing and sourcing of food — the everyday.

With less ability to move, make, or do freely beyond the very local, it has become more apparent how many of the actualities and essentials of the everyday are contingent on the non-human world.

gyokuro tea leaves, day 4, FOP/smudge studio

We’ve also realized that many of the lived, material realities of the pandemic have emerged “without and beyond reason.” There is no quick or simple way to “figure this out.” The ongoing pandemic is an evolving situation with seemingly infinite factors and vectors in constant motion.

All of this has made it clear that we do not need Reason—or a reason—to appreciate the enigmas of daily life. Nor to drink tea. Daily drinking of tea is an occasion for embodying and experiencing aspects of “the everyday.”  The everyday doesn’t need a reason. It simply is.

These realizations compelled us, in the midst of the pandemic, to continue our Tea in the Dark: Koans for the Anthropocene project and stage Tea #7, Tea without Reason.

We felt that this tea has a particular power to activate the original intention of Tea in the Dark. Reason alone will not guide us through the uncertainties of the days and years to come. Much of what will come is unknowable from here. We will pause with this “darkness” in the light of each morning, to have tea without reason. 

Duration felt important. We decided to take a full eight days to learn what we could from this tea event. We also felt we needed a guest and a context to help us hold the everyday meaningfully and with intentionality. So, we invited a dear friend and artist from Guelph, Ontario, Lisa Hirmer to “join” us in the process over the week. The parameters were simply to have tea each day, without any further reason. We would meet on online at the end of the week to share the final daily tea and discuss what unfolded.

What follows are notes and reflections documented from within the process between April 25th and May 2nd, 002020. Further details can be found on the Tea in the Dark 茶会記/chakaiki, tea record.

eight days of tea, from Tea #7, Tea without Reason, photo: Lisa Hirmer

eight days of tea, from Tea #7, Tea without Reason, photo: smudge studio


April 25, Saturday Tea #1  smudge studio (ss): albino sencha (no spills) / Lisa Hirmer (LH): Japanese sencha (left over from an old project) 

ss:  Provincetown, MA, 7:50 a.m., sunny, 40s, calm wind. Black clay teapot. There is a pull outside because of the bright sun and low tide (at 7:40 am) , a planetary pull. Tea is shorter and more unfocused than usual due to this pull and attempting to align with the forces beyond the human. Time outdoors is more seductive and sacred than a few weeks ago. First pour is watery. Second pour is richer. Talk over tea: planning a day offline tomorrow (there were many Zooms this past week), listening to Stephen Bachelor’s Art of Solitude

LH: Guelph, ON, bright blue sky, wispy cloudslate morning, blue speckled teapot, old lavender mug, no spills. I notice that the sound of traffic at the intersection down the road has gotten louder again after weeks of being uncharacteristically quiet–a measure of a world gone slow. As news of reopening picks up, so does the noise. At this point the provincial government is only beginning to plan a future reopening and it will take a long time for any reopening processes to change my day to day reality, but I feel this change. It is something more than the intrusion of slightly annoying noise. It’s the context of the energy around me. The atmosphere matters. The tea is astringent but it is welcome. 


April 26, Sunday Tea #2: Ayame sencha / Japanese sencha 

ss: Cloudy, many bird songs. Black clay teapot. Preparing to “virtually” sit meditation with Ayano in NJ and ZMM (NY) after tea. The everyday is without reason. The everyday is with no reason, it follows the propensities and happenstances of each day. The everyday IS the daily forces at play. It is humble because it is tempered and shaped by the forces at play, even as our activities humbly shape those forces.  Talk over tea: started watching Bella Tarr’s seven+ hour film Satantango last night, and it is reshaping life in beautiful ways. 

LH: grey day, but no rain, late morning, same sencha and teapot. Dark grey mug, some small spills. Today it is much harder to focus and be with the moment. I struggle with the desire to make this daily tea practice into something more deliberately “meaningful” in a way that is pre-considered for how it could be presented to others. But I come back to the invitation. Not having a reason is important. With a reason I could distract myself from the unique hardness of this day. Without reason things take on a different meaning. I feel a pull towards ritual and wish I had special cups for this task…some kind of tactile cue that this is something in particular.


April 27, Monday Tea #3: Maiko gyokuro (lots of spillage) / Japanese sencha

ss: 9:10 a.m., rainy mist, windy gale, grey blanket sky, no bird songs. Black clay teapot. There is nothing everyday/mundane about the everyday. There is no end in sight to the virus.  B train stops running in New York. This is our local train. Will it ever resume? There is rather intense wind and rain/gale today.  The everyday is excruciating, focus is impossible. Happenstance: luck/fate+circumstance/surroundings. The wrapping of forces in play around one’s position—the luck and fate of where we happen to be. First pour is perfect, second pour is watery. Talk over tea: Recalling many things, such as our visit to Rice University hosted by Cultures of Energy/Roy Scranton several years ago. The abundance of academe at that time. The current crashing out of global economies.

LH: bright sky, a few clouds, early afternoon, same sencha and teapot.  Owl mug, no spills. Again, focusing on the moment is difficult. My mind drifts towards a thousand practical things that need doing. With the reopening looming something becomes harder…an unknown date of shift feels more difficult than an indefinite stretch. I am grateful for what it means and welcome the lifting of difficulties so many people face right now. But, there is a part of me that longs for the quiet to continue. A measure of the relative, fortunate comfort I have, definitely. And also a surprise. 


April 28, Tuesday Tea #4: Takumi gyokuro / Organic Green Ceylon 

ss: 8:40 am., cloudy, windy, grey and white clouds, low and billowy. Past the rush, despite grey skies, lighter feeling after torrent / cathartic breakdown night. We chose a “special” tea for today. Daily life is “special” and worth celebrating, we welcome back the “old” familiar taste of Maiko’s gyokuro.  Talk over tea: Just finished Zoom session with student in Turkey at 8:30 am. First seemingly real news/reporting about possible vaccine in September. The local is much closer now, we are attempting to slow down out of necessity.  This afternoon we will finish watching Satantango before our online Chi Gong class “in” Brooklyn.

LH: dark skies, heavy air, storm coming,morning, organic green ceylon tea, arrived in the mail yesterday. White speckled mug.Today I am hungry for the moment of introspection and do the tea earlier than planned. The morning is filled with the uncomfortably still air of an arriving storm. The tea feels very interior, the world almost absent. I am missing a feeling of growth or maybe just movement. I think it is a process to learn how to live with stillness, or at least growth of a different kind. Or what about retraction? What would it be to retract in a world so governed by exponential growth? I challenge myself to think about this in a very real way.


April 29, Wednesday Tea #5 Ayame sencha (5 pours of tea + sunlight) / Japanese sencha

ss: 8:45 a.m., sunny, calm winds, soft blue sky behind white and green blossoms. Black clay teapot. One million+ known virus cases in US. Now “hooked” on watching each day’s spring changes arrive. The everyday is a fast cycle of returns, and yet each return is so different, especially in the transitional time of spring. First pour is filled with umami.  Talk over tea: what food to attempt to buy online today, as there were many empty shelves at local Stop N’ Shop this morning.

LH: grey, cloudy skies, late morning just before lunch, small mug from the back of the cupboard, last of the sencha. Day 5 is a day of escapist daydreaming and distraction. Maybe I should plant a garden? Google nurseries and shade plants. It’s hard to just stay in the moment, there isn’t enough traction. What happens exactly today doesn’t feel like it matters. Even though this day is so specific. I think about how to introduce textures into the day. Schedules? Or is this an important part of slowing down into nonlinear time, these days of no texture? Tea was too strong.


April 30, Thursday Tea #6 Miyabi sencha (no spills) / Organic Green Ceylon

ss: High grey cotton ball clouds, 40s, 17 mph winds. White ceramic teapot. Seventeen students in online class starting later this month. Overwhelming tasks ahead — entirely online. Feels like a receding horizon to be able to pause with the quiet outside the door. How is it possible to feel and actually be, more “busy” despite going nowhere?  First pour’s taste is sharp, bright, tangy, and changes to more umami as it sits in the cup. Quiet, slow, this everyday rhythm is becoming a rocking bough of ease and unknowableness, with flashes of joy. Talk over tea: preparing to talk to student in Shanghai at 8am, what is our schedule for the day?

LH: grey skies, light rain,early afternoon, another old mug from the back of the cupboard, big spill. The reality of how long this pandemic could stretch feels real today after receiving a cancellation, though I knew its arrival was inevitable. I drink tea with this sense of expansiveness. Feel something that I can only describe as a desire to build something, a way of being with each day so it doesn’t slip away. I get distracted by shopping online for a new desk clock. Spilled tea. 


May 1 (Beltane), Friday Tea #7  Miyabi sencha / Organic Green Ceylon 

ss: Splattering rain, grey blanket skies, wind and blossoms. White ceramic teapot. The EVERYDAY is strange, unknowable. Work/life has been vastly rearranged, and yet we don’t leave the house. Mind is preoccupied/busy/full. Much more livelihood “work” during these days, in stark contrast to the growing rates of unemployment. May Day blossoms: green, grey, yellow/green. We’ve taken to having two teas each day, one in the afternoon as well as in the morning. Talk over tea: FDR, logistic of manufacturing vaccines

LH: bright sky with big bright clouds, late morning, green ceylon, lavender mug again. No spills. I return to sitting on the floor as I did for the first few teas, I like this cue for opening a different space for thinking. There is so much time for thinking these days, it becomes a way of making this moment different. I realize that the cues that pulled me through the days before are missing: the shift in noise that happens between 8:30 and 9 am, the feeling of Monday, the journey to my studio. But I have become attuned to new ones (which are perhaps old ones): the light of the morning, the setting of the sun, hearing people walk by, my dog insistent that we should sit on the couch together in the evenings. But rather than pulling me, I have to look for them.


May 2, Saturday Tea #8  Ayame Sencha /  Organic Green Ceylon 

LH: bright sky but covered with field of small cloudssame teapot, white speckled mug

ss: 10 a.m. tea with Lisa. Brilliant sun, many birds and blossoms. Black clay teapot. One of us arriving to this day from a place of deep exhaustion and screen/logistical fatigue; the other from alternating fogs of not-knowing and clarities of “just this,” and yet:

Talk over tea together via Zoom: Original face koan, what cues make a day “worth” living. The monastic nature of these days. The difference between life as an artist in Canada and the US. The quiet, the vibration that human existence causes — how this affects all of us and every other being. How artists can meet this moment/context. How the process of sharing the tea with one another made what we consider the “everyday” more noticeable, and that all we have is the everyday — and the “everyday” of life co-existing with the changes wrought by the virus means infinite things, but makes what we do each day all the more vital and nearly impossible to take for granted.

The externally imposed/expected daily markers of “what makes a day” have shifted — our own activities and sensibilities become markers of this “having been a day,” or “making up a day.”  The “daily” is a relatively rapid cycle of “returns.” It’s not the longer cycles of the seasons or years. The daily is more “human” in scale. “A day” is met in the midst of its own arrivals — not in the abstractions of seasonal or long term goals and anticipations. So many of the markers of the everyday happen “for no reason” — just eat; just sleep; just dress; just wash. This makes the everyday feel less populated with our own human projections of plans and expectations—more real, more immediately emergent “in the midst.” Without reason, everyday activities somehow become more meaningful, in that their meaning arises from within themselves rather than from some external function— and this feels like ritual. The affordances of utensils and cups, the experiences of using them deliberately and the embodied cognition in the moment.  We wonder how/whether these practices will continue without knowing the other is doing them as well. 


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