When Drama Meets Tea Zen

by  Min-hsuan Chen,  6-9th Grade Class Teacher at Cixin Waldorf School in Taiwan

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Going through the baptism of a Shakespeare play – Twelfth Night two years ago, the impact of participating in this play led me to look forward to performing with my colleagues again. In our next play, The Tempest, unlike my role of the CLOWN in Twelfth Night, I tried a very different role – the PRINCE.

Bringing with me both familiar and strange feelings, I started a new journey into this play. After the play ended, a lot of perceptions emerged from my heart and started to affect my soul.

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Not long after the play ended, it was my turn to be the tea master in a Tea Zen class which I was participating in. Before other classmates came in, I got myself ready with a sense of ease by practicing a warm up which David taught the drama group before our performance. I looked at the tea set and decoration, which were like the props on a stage in a play. I closed my eyes and tried to connect with them while waiting for Master Wei Rong and other classmates to enter the room.

When my guests were ready, we all practiced pranayama and meditation for a while. I imagined them around me as the audience. I started to connect with them and the space. Suddenly, a picture previously described by David arose from my mind – a star was behind me infinitely far away. It sent light to me! I was surrounded by this light as I started my Tea Zen journey.

I was relaxed but I kept awareness. Although I still forgot some of the elaborate procedures, I was not disturbed by that. Just like David had often reminded us, through attending to the action and movement in a scene, the lines will come out automatically. There were several times that I forgot the next step, but what was so amazing was that, as I finished one process, the next process was awakened automatically. I did not need to memorize them forcefully. The more I relaxed, the more the process was fluid.

Although there were some mistakes in the procedure, I totally accepted my situation at that moment. I smiled and had no judgment or criticism, only change and adjustment. I sensed myself being comfortable and harmonized. Even the tea tasted particularly good and sweet!  

In the feedback section of the Tea Zen experience, one of my classmates mentioned that she could feel I was pleased during the process. It seemed I had indulged in my own sense of a flowing, brisk process, and was not sensitive to other people’s needs – for instance, they might have liked to have a slower experience, in order to taste every moment. This comment reminded me strongly of similar experiences in drama and became an echo of my inner thoughts.

Looking back at play rehearsals, before I could memorize the lines or capture the archetypes of my roles, I had a hard time receiving responses from other actors. Fortunately, because I played the same role in both casts, I had more opportunities than other actors to practice the lines and movement. When I was skilled at the lines and could capture more about the characters I played, I could more easily ”receive” and “give”, and spontaneously respond in kind with other actors. This is like Tea Zen. If the basic training was not practiced enough, the tea master had difficulty sensing and responding to the guests’ needs and changes in the surroundings. Therefore, the basic practice is the foundation of everything.   

My experiences in both Tea Zen and Drama have caused me to reflect on my life. Moreover, when I look back on The Tempest, these lines from Prospero are so impressively imprinted on my mind……

“Our revels now are ended.

These our actors,

As I foretold you, were all spirits and

Are melted into air, into thin air:

And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,

The cloud-capp’d towers, the gorgeous palaces,

The solemn temples, the great globe itself,

Ye all which it inherit, shall dissolve.

And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,

Leave not a rack behind.

We are such stuff

As dreams are made on, and our little life

Is rounded with a sleep.”

Each time I hear these lines, a four-line stanza from the Diamond Sutra always comes to mind:

“All phenomena are

Like a dream, an illusion, a bubble and a shadow,

Like dew and lightning.

Thus should you meditate upon them.”

How coincidental! The Tempest, Shakespeare’s last work, through the words of Prospero reflected his philosophy of life which resounded with the Buddha’s own words. It’s an interesting journey when Drama meets Tea Zen.

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