Sunday, October 09, 2011

Wu-Wo at Chinese Garden

Yesterday I had the joyful opportunity to be in a demonstration of a Wu-Wo tea ceremony at the Chinese Classical Garden in Portland.  I've been part of a group that practices Wu-Wo for a little over a year.  I've waited to blog about it because I wanted to do a good job.  As a novice I didn't feel ready, and I still have so much to learn, yet my desire to share this beautiful experience with you outweighs my hesitance.  After all, Wu-Wo was designed to be a tea ceremony for us all. 

Thanks to my friend Mitra for taking the photos.

The Portland Chinese Classical Garden, our splendid setting for Wu-Wo

Here is the introduction from the program materials:  "Wu-Wo Tea Ceremony is based on traditional Chinese Gong-Fu small pot brewing dating back to the Ming dynasty more than 300 years ago. Traditional practice was modified in Taiwan in 1989 to create a ceremony that allows many participants to brew and serve tea together. Wu-Wo translates as 'selfless' or 'void of self.' There is no ranking of participants by level of knowledge, nationality, religion or social status and there is no expectation of reward. This ceremony helps participants develop a tolerant attitude and cultivate cooperation and thoughtfulness toward others while sharing a cup of heartwarming tea."

I distill the experience to that of enjoying tea in community, in nature, while quieting my mind and focusing on the moment.   Please note that my description of the ceremony is based entirely on my experience, and is not meant to be presented as instructional.  Cultural, regional, and personal variances play a role, and I am new to this.  I learn something new each time I join the group to brew, serve and drink tea.

My Wu-Wo mat and equipment
The larger white tea cup was used for the demonstration, to show the color of the tea liquor

The basic equipment includes a brewing vessel, a serving vessel, four cups, a thermos of hot water and a tray for serving.  Since Wu-Wo is typically done outside, you also need a blanket or mat to sit on (or a small stool).  A timing device is helpful, and coasters keep the tea cups brought to you well-balanced in the grass.  My entire kit above packs into my backpack.  That's one of the best parts - you can take this on a hike!  One can use humble tea brewing vessels.  Any tea is welcome, and this spirit of diversity and appreciation is central to the ceremony.   

Pouring the first steep into our serving pots

The general flow of a Wu-Wo event is to arrive and set up your mat/brewing space.  We use a unifying process of unpacking that keeps the experience orderly and tidy.  After everyone is settled, we have time to socialize and admire each person's arrangement and equipment.

Next, we enter a period of silence and brew the first round of tea.  Here is where careful observation of your own tea and of your community is important.  We move as a group to serve one another, though we are not speaking.  Typically, we sit in a circle and serve tea to three people on our left and ourselves. 

Serving the tea
Dewey explains Wu-Wo to the guests

We often brew, serve and drink three rounds of tea. When I drink the tea from others, I try to focus on the tea:  its aroma, flavor, temperature, aftertaste, etc.  I try to notice the subtle changes between each steeping.  I also offer a silent thanks to each person who has brewed, to the tea plant, and to all that has gone into making the tea.  For me, this becomes a meditative component, and I love it.  Sometimes my chattery mind wanders off to other matters entirely, but I try to guide it back to the tea.  

We drink the tea

Reading a poem

At the end of the ceremony, someone may offer a poem or reading to bring the event to a close.  Since we are outdoors, the birds and breeze often join us in this moment of appreciation.

Range of oolong teas brewed at this Wu-Wo event

Many people in our group love oolong tea, and so we often find ourselves drinking a splendid range from light to dark.  Remember, though, that any tea is welcome and honored. 

If you ever have an opportunity to participate in a Wu-Wo gathering or demonstration, I hope you will.  More information:


Marilyn Miller said...

It was a fun day! Thanks for sharing in this special event. My post will be up in the morning.

amherstrose said...

This was such a lovely time for all who participated.

Thank you for sharing the ceremony and expalining it in detail.

You are fufulling Norwood's challenge to tell everyone about how wonderful tea is in building realtionships and sharing meaningful time with friends and family. I am sure he would be very proud!

Mary Jane

massagematters said...

This looks like a wonderful demonstration! Wish I could have seen it in person. I love your Wu-Wo mat and setup.

Marilyn Miller said...

Left a comment last evening, but it disappeared. I loved your coverage of this fun event. It was total delightful to share tea with you.

Teafan said...

Wow - This is a tea ceremony I've never heard of. So cool to see one that's based in tradition, and modernized, too.

Karen's Place said...

Thank you for sharing such a lovely tea ceremony.

TeaMasters said...

What a wonderful place to brew tea! I hope you're inspiring lots of people!

Colleen said...

I loved reading this post and seeing the pictures to better experience this interesting celebration of tea. It intrigues me to look around the SF bay area for such a group.
ALSO I must comment on your beautiful blouse! Did you sew or buy this lovely blouse?- it looks so perfect for this ceremony.
And to second Mary Jane, you are doing a wonderful job sharing the meaningful ways of tea.

Steph said...

Thank you, Colleen! I purchased the blouse, and it is a favorite.

Anonymous said...

I loved reading about your experience. Thanks for sharing, Steph!

Angela McRae said...

This particular tea ceremony is new to me, so thank you for making it seem so approachable! Everything is so lovely, so thoughtful, but you know what appeals to me most? The period of silence! I too have a "chattery mind" (great term!), and I find the world incredibly noisy sometimes. To quiet the mind over tea, among friends, in a beautiful setting ... heavenly!

Rosemary said...

Looking forward to participating in my first Wu-Wo Ceremony on Sunday, May 6th! After studying your photos, I think I have just about everything I need! This will be a unique experience, I'm sure!

Icetea8 said...

wish i was there, we just had a tea appreciation day, wu-wo tea ceremony style, i posted the pics and info here


许玉莲的喝茶慢 said...
Please get the information from the above website,Wu-Wo Tea Ceremony is now Changing of Name in English (Spring, 2012)‘Sans Self Tea Gathering’
and ,The 14th International Sans Self Tea Gathering will hold in Korea (Busan,Kyung Ju and Daegu), 9th to 13th October 2013,please visit website: