Tag Archives: Beauty

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Thoughts on taking pictures

Photography allows us to do a whole lot more than what we were able to before its invention. Taking pictures allows us to recount moments in the past of which we would otherwise only have a faint memory. Taking pictures of children when they grow up for instance helps us to at a later stage in their lives remember how they looked, and what they were like. It also enables us to show other people an image of what we have seen or done. One example of this is our travel photography, which we use as an illustrative tool when we tell our stories to those that stayed home.

But sometimes we take so many pictures, or become so preoccupied with making photographs that we forget to also register our impressions and emotions at a given site or occasion. When I return home to Belgium, I very often hear people make reference to the stereotype of the Asian tourist who has visited every European capital in just one week. This stereotype traveler is usually so busy with taking pictures that he/she has merely seen these cities through the eye of their camera lens, and that memories of this visit are likely to be only made upon return to their home country during a review of the photos collected.

I believe that taking pictures is a nice to have, but should not go at the cost of first having had a genuine experience of what is going to be registered for later use. At our tea ceremony workshops we have at almost every occasion received the question whether or not our visitors are allowed to take pictures. And while I believe that taking a photograph or two may be useful to later on recount the experience, we have been kindly requesting our visitors to take pictures with their ‘camera of the heart’.

Gradually we have changed our policy however and now more often do allow guests to take a few pictures in the course of a service, and afterward. And, interestingly enough, the majority of participants did take a few shots, but eventually forgot to take pictures of the parts they actually were looking forward to capture, as they naturally became engaged in our activities.

Now, we give the opportunity to take pictures, but at certain times request to place cameras aside and focus on what is going on. Especially during the progression of a service of tea, it is more important to become part of the service and to actually feel and experience what the atmosphere of such an occasion is like. You can find several demonstrations of traditional Tea services on Youtube — we have even uploaded our own. But, you will never be able to gain the same understanding by just watching it, as opposed to actually having been part of one such moment.

That is why we feel that rather than taking images of every motion we make, it is more important to register the atmosphere, the sounds, and the feelings you have during such a service. Two or three pictures may help you recall these emotions, but they will never be a genuine replacement for this once-in-a-lifetime-only experience.

I don’t think that this is only the case with similar experiences, but also with taking pictures of children or sites you visit during travel. An image can only be an aid in recounting an experience if you have actually had that experience. This is why we encourage our guests to occupy themselves with engaging in our activity, and only make pictures occasionally.

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The beauty of imperfection

For the rite of tea, utensils that are slightly damaged, or slightly faulty shaped are favored over mechanically looking seemingly ‘perfect’ utensils. While in the West we would simply throw away a teacup that fell to pieces, in Japan these objects are skillfully mended with for example gold lacquered glue, and may in addition become even more valuable than when they were whole. In flower arrangement for tea, to give an additional example, one would chose to arrange flowers until he feels that adding just one more will complete the display.

When in the rite of tea, this notion of imperfection, or the preference for what is damaged or incomplete is mostly expressed through the objects chosen for a service, I believe that this concept also applies to our lives in general, and to our handling as a human being. The trait of being a perfectionist is simultaneously perceived as strength as well as weakness. I can relate to this, since in our family this characteristic has been passed down for generations on my father’s side. Being a perfectionist, when we create something and complete it to the point where we feel confident to release it, it is most likely to become something great, but in most cases perfectionism limits us from getting things finished.

Having realized this, I have also discovered that being a perfectionist, originates in a lack of self-confidence and in the illusion that something is not good enough while it may already sufficiently serve its purpose. This brings me to my following point. What actually is something that is perfect?

I don’t believe that something as a perfect thing exists. A creation can always be improved. And when something is seemingly perfect in one instant, it may be insufficient on another. Also, what one person perceives as perfect, may be different for someone else. Perfection is a concept that has as many possible forms as there are people on this globe. The concept of ‘a perfect thing’ or ‘a perfect occasion’ is an illusion we have created of something that is ideal, but will never actually come to existence. Achieving ‘perfect beauty’ is something that may be attempted by girls putting on make-up, or we may wait for ‘the perfect moment’ to start a business, but what we actually do is only to turn ourselves away from what actually matters in life. That is, to be happy with what we have, to be who we are, and to do what we love.

What the rite of tea teaches us in this respect is that while things do not need to perfect, they may at the most be suitable to create an enjoyable occasion. This occasion in effect does not have to be perfect. What is more important than the proper execution of the service itself is that all participants can be grateful for having gathered together, and to have shared this special occasion. Because, even if we wanted to, and even if we would try to re-construct the same occasion with exactly the same implements, on the same location, with the same people, it will never be the same. This is what the Japanese proverb ‘Ichi-go Ichi-e’ [once-and-once-only, 一期一会] refers to. Rather than to look for perfection in the execution, be grateful for what is happening here and now because it will never return.