Entrepreneurial thoughts about the Tea Ceremony
You might have heard of the tea ceremony. It describes the famous, ritual-like preparation of tea, and has its origins in China. It made it’s way into several Asian traditions starting in the 12th century.
Tea had long been valued by Ch’an monks in China to keep them awake during meditation. According to legend, when Bodhidharma, the founder of Ch’an (Zen), struggled to stay awake during meditation, he ripped his eyelids off, and tea plants sprang from the discarded eyelids.
From early days body hacking to practicing mindfulness – its depth is fascinating, and many aspects can be applied to modern life. Let’s have a look at what entrepreneurs and coaches can learn from this ancient practice.
How the ceremony works (briefly!)
Entire books have been written about this. Let’s have a brief look at what the ceremony actually is about. We’ll have a look at the Japanese version, which is the most famous and widespread adoption of the ritual today.
If you want, the tea ceremony is basically a SOP (Standard Operating Procedure) for making and serving matcha tea.
It’s a step by step set of instructions that covers: preparation of the tea house, heating the charcoal, making the tea, welcoming the guests, serving the tea, and cleaning everything up again. While that can sound like a household routine – it isn’t meant to be practiced just like this. Mindfulness and total awareness make the difference. The practitioners, especially when they are monks and not just doing it for social reasons, try to be consciously aware of every moment and of every movement. As we all know, that’s not an incredibly easy thing to do, and makes this process about so much more than just tea.
So what can entrepreneurs learn from this?
Being in the present
We’ve all heard that before, haven’t we? Every guru or other kind of spiritual person has a different way of putting it. It seems to be one of life’s secrets, which can’t be simply understood mentally.
But there’s a practical application of it, which we can use in business every day: focusing on the tasks that have to be done right now. Of course we have big goals, they might even be so big that it’s hard to see the road ahead. A foolproof way is taking small, constant steps on this long road. For this it helps if you focus on the small step, the chunk of work that you’re actually capable doing of now.
Example: You have to clean up your basement, which you haven’t done in years. It seems an impossible task to go through all the boxes, and sort out the things you want to keep from those which can go. Focusing on all boxes doesn’t help reach the goal. Focusing on one box right now helps you get closer.
This approach includes generating a certain “blindness” on purpose. Making yourself unaware of the final goal, and shifting all the awareness into the little chunk. But don’t worry, as the unawareness is being made consciously and under control, it’s not the same as being unaware in the first place. You’ll have to have the large goal in mind somewhere for it to work motivation-wise.
Even though this might not be “being in the present” in the most holistic way, it’s a practical approach of this big thing which we can start with right now.
It might be simple, that doesn’t mean it’s easy
Let’s talk about another thing I personally pull out as a takeaway of the tea ceremony:
Many things in life are incredibly simple. Losing weight for example: intake fewer calories than you’re burning. Everyone understands this mentally. But obviously, not everyone is capable of doing it. Same with the tea ceremony: it’s a (rather) simple practice. Once you have learned the routine, you don’t have to be utterly intelligent to follow the step by step instructions. But doing it regularly with the correct state of mind is challenging. Even though it is a meditation practice and will have benefits – it’s still hard to stick to it.
This is totally applicable to being entrepreneurs. Most of the time we know what would be the right thing to do – but doing it is hard. I for example have a “SOP for success” which, if I follow it, makes sure I’m getting up harmoniously, I’m focused, have the right mindset, and improve many of my skills. Still, there are days where I don’t follow it. Morning meditation? Come on, not again!
We can learn a lot from the Japanese mentality here. The perfectionism, the not complaining about the circumstances, and the precise following of guidelines. Plus a determination which can move mountains. Definitely things worthwhile being inspired by from from time to time. Why not while making tea?
Care! Especially about aesthetics
The tea ceremony’s goal is not drinking tea. Its goal is being present, caring about the process, and the fact that everything is being done in the most elaborate way. They don’t use a water kettle, they have a ritual for lighting charcoal in a special way. I’m not entirely sure if I’m using the word correctly, but I would say they really care for the aesthetics.
You should too. If you move in an environment that is chaotic and random, some parts of your mind won’t be satisfied. I’m not only talking about your desk. I’m talking about things like: communication, processes, workflows, software – as well as: desktop, website, hardware, and posters on the wall. Care!
My working day starts with opening my laptop. I really like the way the laptop looks and feels, and I enjoy opening it. After starting up, I see a nice, consciously chosen picture under which I enter my password. Even the password itself is something positive. Aesthetic if you want. Because I care. Then my desktop loads. No background wallpaper (because that’s what I prefer, but hey, your cat might do a great job too) and no clutter. No need to continue – you know what I want to say, right?
And the same caring can, and in my opinion should, be done in communication and other aspects of business. Be excellent to each other, and you will enjoy opening your email inbox.
Where to start?
I hope I can inspire you a bit by applying some of my highly subjective takeaways from the tea ceremony to daily life business principles. While I guess none of my suggestions are wrong or anti-beneficial, you will probably get much more out of it if you start reflecting on it in your own way. Brewing some matcha tea (or your next cup of coffee) is a great way for clearing the mind. As we all know, thinking about something entirely different can often solve problems we’ve been dealing with before – e.g. the famous shower thoughts. A tea ceremony can be utilized as a purposely generated opportunity for this to happen.