Upon hearing the word “art,” many people conjure up an image of a famous painting or sculpture, thinking loosely about visual expression and representation. Fewer people acknowledge that, in many cultures, art is central to life—significant well beyond the walls of a museum. Art is rarely just aesthetic. It plays a pivotal role in cultural traditions and can be spiritually powerful. Many celebratory and revelatory rituals are predicated on it.
The Japanese rock garden, for example, encourages meditation and fosters an awakening of the self. The creation and maintenance of a rock garden is the art; that is, when you fashion lines in the gravel by raking, you are engaging in a Zen ritual, attaining wisdom by being present in the moment and doing. In such scenarios, knowledge and enlightenment are achieved by experiencing, rather than by studying or watching. The same principal is present in Japanese tea ceremonies, the objective of which is to calm your mind and rouse your spirit. This ritual espouses the primacy of process over result. It is the performance of the tea ceremony that is art—from cleaning the serving bowls to preparing the tea leaves to presenting guests with matcha (powdered green tea).
While some art rituals celebrate a way of life, others assist in the acceptance of death. In Mexico, vibrant flower arrangements and joyfully decorated skulls honor deceased loved ones during Day of the Dead festivals in early November. In Japan, ancestors are commemorated during the Bon Festival, in which mourners aid the deceased in their journey to the next realm by floating boats—often crafted by family members, and believed to carry the spirits of the dead—down the river. In African Dogon society, masked performers participate in traditional dances to usher souls into the afterlife. In these practices, art is a welcome part of the mourning process; its presence infuses the bleak with beauty.
Allow the art of ritual to help you find your Zen. The following tea ceremony will quiet your body and mind.
- Select your favorite tea and prepare it accordingly. Choose a special teapot and a beautiful cup. Limit thoughts and try to just be while readying and preparing for your tea.
- Treat yourself. Before drinking your tea, grab a sweet treat like a small pastry or a piece of fruit from your pantry. Go to a quiet place, stretch, and sit calmly with your teapot, cup, and sweet treat.
- Honor the ritual. Pour your tea into the cup and bow toward it, admiring its visual qualities. Sip your tea three times, take a bite of your treat, and place both in front of you. Finally, say or think a blessing of your choosing before continuing to savor your tea and treat.