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Matcha as a Ritual

Matcha as a Ritual

While there are certainly right and wrong ways to make matcha, there is no right or wrong way to consume that matcha once it’s made. Some folks down it like a shot of whiskey and others sip it slowly. Some drink it as a part of a structured morning routine and others whip up a bowl whenever they feel a whim come on. One not so common way to drink matcha is as part of a daily personal ritual, maybe as a part of your morning meditation or yoga routine, but also as a standalone event.

When people hear the word ritual, they often think of religious rituals, which is understandable. Most rituals we participate in are indeed at a church, temple, or mosque. But religion is not the sole agent of ritual. It is possible to participate in secular rituals -- that is, a ritual that does not have a religious affiliation and is not in service of connecting with or worshiping a deity, such as a secular wedding or funeral. But when I think of non-religious rituals, I often think of them as more personal than secular.

Why personal and not secular? By definition, secular means absolutely no spiritual involvement, but some people who don’t find resonance in religious dogma and imagery still have a basic need for a sense of reverence, and to enter more deeply into their experience. Even if you’re not religious, there are times when a ritual, with its gravitas and sense of connection, is what’s called for. As a Zen teacher once told me, rituals are “in service of full engagement with the sacred -- and everything is sacred.”

Another way to think about it is that rituals bring forth the sacred, and for that reason they usually have a physical component -- you don’t just think about a rituals, you enact them with your body. So it helps to have what Zen people call ‘forms’ or guidelines for behavior. This can be something as simple as always using two hands when picking up your teacup or bowing at the start and end. How tight, or loose, your forms are depends on you, but I would advise them to be just a touch more formal than you’re used to. This tightening up creates a container which supports your ritual, helping to distinguish it from any other moment or activity in your day.

What are some other ways to bring ritual to your matcha moment? The most important thing is to make it a singular event. There is no multitasking in ritual making, quite the opposite, in fact. Look at the whole experience -- making, drinking, and cleaning up -- as a ritual. The forms of making matcha, with its precise measuring and temperatures, are an excellent way to enter into ritual space. While consuming your matcha, be as fully present as possible with the taste, texture, smell, and temperature of your experience. No screens, no mindless chitchat. And the cleanup tasks are perfect for making the transition from this sacred space into a more everyday way of being.

Other things you could do: light a candle at the beginning; take 5 minutes to meditate before, or after, your tea has been drunk; save one tea bowl in particular just for this purpose; try to do it at the same time each day. Do you enact a ritual when drinking tea? What are your matcha forms?

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