Monday, August 20, 2012

Tea Is Preparing

After a time away I always approach Innermost House with a feeling of high expectation.  It is always the same, as if with each step along the way I approach more nearly to our place out of time.  We cross over the creek and walk along the winding dirt road.  We climb the hill and pass into the woods. We are on our way home.

Most guests visit us only one once.  You enter the land and leave the world outside.  You wind through the orchards beside the stream.  You follow the markers of stones, turn left, turn right, turn right again.  Oftentimes we hear tales of curious deer or wandering turkeys or even a bobcat encountered along the way.  From time to time a guest will get a little lost, but step by step they find us out, or we find them.

The woods are like a listening ear held up the land.  I sometimes hear a guest's footsteps hundreds of feet away, long before they see the house.  There is something strange in the sound, so near at hand but somehow still inexpressibly distant.  You are almost upon the house when at last you see it.

It is the custom to stop and refresh yourself on the porch.  There you can pause and catch your breath, wash your hands and pour yourself a bowl of water.  There is never a sound from withinside.  There are only the unceasing sounds of the forest, and the light, sweet scent of fruitwood smoke from the fire, and the slow moving shadows.

As you enter the house the first thing you feel is the cool of the air.  You feel it on your face.  I have felt it elsewhere only in caves.  There is a freshness in it that precedes the time of houses.

Tea is preparing.  As your eyes adjust to the low light the shapes declare themselves
the black cast iron kettle over fire-mottled coals against the almost-white of the ash.  The books, the chairs.  Myself.  I'm so glad you're here.

The tea water comes to a boil with a sound like soft rain on the worn cedar roof shingles.  I lift the kettle off the coals and set it on the forebricks of the hearth.  I have watched my husband do all of this so many times that I can feel him moving through my own hands.  Quick off the coals then slow to descend.  The slightest ring of iron upon iron as the pot touches the resting plate.

The tea powder is as fine as dust and bright green as the spring.  It is kept in a little container made from a cherry tree.  The outside preserves the heavy brown-gray underskin of the tree that might be taken for ancient leather.  Inside the container is streaked through with the polished deep red of the heartwood.

I scoop a little powder out into your bowl on the hearth.  The plain bowl is the color of stone.  The dull glaze is crackled with fine lines from the kiln.  The drinking edge is burnt brown and deep green and rust red.

I do my best to hold the full heavy kettle steady in my hands as I pour out the hot water over the tea.  The steam that rises is like smoke from a fire, all white against the darkness.  For a moment I cannot take my eyes from the steam.  There is an urgency and relief in its rush, like a spirit released from its body.

Again I feel my husband's hand as I take up the smoke-darkened bamboo whisk and mix the tea and water.  All slow, then quick, then round and slow again and out.  It is finished.  A chocolate star shell sits among green leaves on a treen plate next to you.  I mix my own tea and put the kettle back on the fire.  Now is our time for talking. 

Over the weekend I was asked a question, "How important is a place like Innermost House to having a rich inner life and deep conversations?"  Tomorrow I want to try to answer from my own experience.


  1. The arrival, taking pause for refreshment on porch, and then act entering the home and having tea poured.. acts which are done simply and perhaps a thousand times in each of our lives.. yet described here by someone who is consciously in the moment shows us the beauty of awareness.

    Diana, I sense that you see time move around you. That you feel time approaching and leaving. It is almost like you move within, or between the seconds. Thank you for this description. Your words have awoken something within me.

  2. This is beautiful Diana! Instead of "welcome to my house", it becomes "Welcome to my World." What an enchanting and beautiful ritual to transition others, and yourself from the outside world into yours!

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  4. The air is slightly crisp and fragrant with the tantalizing hint of oncoming autumn as I walk through the woods to your home. I stop often just to breathe deeply of the fecund scent of decaying leaves underfoot and to listen to the rustling sounds of the vibrant, alive forest all around me. The leaves of the trees bordering the marked path flutter as the breeze ruffles them with whispers of my passage, and a fat, inquisitive squirrel briefly stops ahead of me on the path to look once in my direction, twitch its tail and then scamper away. I turn a bend in the path and aah, NOW I see your house! It stands so still in the lengthening shadows that caress its walls, even as the last golden rays of the waning sun dapple its contours with the dying vestiges of daytime warmth. I slowly climb the porch stairs and turn one last time to survey the path I have travelled, then turn again towards the door, gratefully noticing at the same time a small pitcher of water and a glazed bowl on a small table near it. I pour myself a cool drink and dribble some of the remaining water over my hands to freshen them. I’ve been foraging along the way, after all, and have little souvenirs of my journey tucked in my jacket pocket to show for it. I’m tempted to sit on the top step of the porch for just a little while longer to become more attuned to the stillness of the place, but no, I can feel the house and YOU waiting for me inside and so I tap lightly on the door.

    After the briefest of pauses, the door quietly opens and there you are, smiling at me with genuine welcoming delight. I start to offer my hand to you but instinctively realize that it is not enough; only my wholehearted hug will do. So, I open my arms to you, and as you move into my embrace I feel the timelessness of this precious moment AS me. You gesture to me with a smile and an open, upturned palm to come in and make myself comfortable, and as my eyes adjust to the dimmer light inside, I look at the two chairs before me. I’m initially tempted to sit in the one closest to the door, but no, on second thought I decide I want to sit deep within the recesses of the shadows of the farther corner, away from the light at the window. I sit myself down in the chair nearest your office and gaze around for a moment while you attend to the tea. The home is such a true embodiment of your own 'beingness'—-graceful, still, pregnant with the ever-unfolding potential of the present moment, and beautiful in the utter ‘rightness’ of its shape and form. I turn my attention to your preparations and become absorbed in the precise way with which you interact with the kettle, the container of loose tea, the whisk and the glazed bowls. Each item is handled by you as though it was a sacred object, turning the tea preparations into a sacramental ritual of love.

    I suddenly become aware of my own body—-inside I feel all jittery much like the sensation of having a caffeine high, and I can sense the energy in my body struggling to rise up to meet the higher vibrational level that is so palpable in the room. You delicately hand me my bowl of tea and I smile as I cup my hands around its sides like I’m holding a chalice. I gently close my eyes and bring the bowl to my forehead in a reverent gesture that acknowledges the greater gift it represents. At the same time, my attention is drawn down into the fullness in my heart and I choke back the tears that the swelling of pure love that rises up to meet my awareness induces. As my lips touch the rim of the bowl, I’m immediately cognizant of the multitude of others whose lips have sipped their own tea from the same bowl. It’s as though without the earning of it, I have become an integral part of the whole that is Innermost House and I’m struck with a sense of wonder and gratitude at my great good fortune. I look up to see you gazing at me from the bottomless reflecting pools of darkness and light that are your eyes and with a small smile you softly say, “Where are you from and why have you come?” And so, our Conversation begins…

  5. How gracious it all is, Diana! I read somewhere once that a thing done with grace is a thing done with power. I was unable to find this quotation today, but what I DID find is that, in the Bible, the words "grace" and "power" are almost always used TOGETHER. This fits. This is TRUE.

    I attended a Davy Crockett days celebration with my granddaughters this past weekend. I saw this very grace when my oldest granddaughter, Jade, got her turn to churn the butter. Her hands moved so beautifully that I was literally mesmerized by watching her. It was like she was performing an ancient ritual or weaving a spell. Wonderful, wonderful...and I am certain that the resulting butter was exquisite for her putting her hand to it. (She threw a pretty mean tomahawk, too...haha.)

    1. Thank you, Julie for sharing the saying: "a thing done with grace is a thing done with power." This is a very useful reminder when I am finding it difficult to maintain my composure during the many stresses of my day.

      -- And I also believe the butter would be superior after having your granddaughter tend to it so thoughtfully.

    2. Leah, it can be almost impossible to slow down and do a thing with deliberate grace when everything has to be done right now, can't it?

  6. Simply beautiful and so evocative. I could almost smell the wood-smoke and hear the leaves crunching under foot.

    Thank you for the quote Julie. For some reason it reminded me of a quote about inner stillness written by Anne Morrow Lindbergh who was quoting Charles Morgan, "the stilling of the soul within the activities of the mind and body so that it might be as still as the axis of a revolving wheel is still."

    1. Celeste, that is awesome. I have been pondering on this one all day. Thank you.


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