Hello all!! March is finally here, and with that comes the knowledge winter is drawing to a close. I say knowledge rather than awareness because you wouldn’t think it from this weather!
This winter has made me think a lot about the mechanisms we use in our day to day lives to cope with fast changing events. I was recently reading ‘Thousand Cranes’, by Yasunari Kawabata, a beautiful novel in which the narrator describes the various relationships he has had across his life, and his attempt to come to terms with the inherent uncertainty which comes from relationships. Set against a backdrop of Post World War Two Japan, it evolves to become a tale of how to cope with the broader changes and uncertainties which came from the latter half of the 20th century. Kawabata develops this meaning very slowly, almost without you even noticing, utilising prose that evokes a portrait of quiet , micro-emotions, whether that be happiness, yearning, or even despair.
Among the strongest of relationships that the narrator has, and what drew me first to the novel, is with that of the Japanese matcha tea ritual, which becomes a symbol for the uncertainty present throughout the text. As the novel progresses, the narrator becomes disheartened by the power both himself and those around him place upon the ceremony. What follows is a novel driven by its characters' use of, and indeed, reliance upon, rituals. Rituals become a symbol of solace but also of a removal from the everyday reality which comes from uncertainty. A performative way to reject existence without finding any meaning in that rejection. It is this which I think of first when I am forced to think of my own rituals; funny, old fashioned sounding things, passed down from parent to parent. Presents before or after food at Christmas. A Roast Dinner only allowed on Sunday.
As I think more about these rituals though, it becomes clear to me that while they may very well be pointless, they are also pivotal to our relationship with those events. As soon as I try and imagine Christmas with presents in the order I don’t expect them, a cold dread fills me. It may not matter, of course it doesn't, but I can’t change how it makes me feel. The beauty of Kawabata’s novel is that there is also power which comes from rituals. They are
simultaneously a marker of the most important and also of the most superficial aspects of the world.
Following on from this, I believe that rituals represent the small parts of our individual lives which keep us tethered to our sense of self in an increasingly discordant world. Inter connectivity might be all anyone ever talks about. We have all doom scrolled around the horrors of social media and of the decline of the high street. But while we don’t all need to be shaking our fists and railing against technical progress, which has really been quite beneficial to all of our lives, we do need to remember certain things. As everything becomes more and more interconnected, our bodies swept along into vast neurological networks, it seems like we all do need to keep something that is entirely our own. To me, rituals are the tiny, almost inconsequential things which invert my life from that network. They are my own, established not in laboratories or dictated to me through instruction Manuals. Little things, perhaps irrational, which I have gathered from my own praxis, with the only end in sight being my own sense of peace. It is important, I think, to stop us from becoming entirely caught up in efficiency and time-management. Sometimes it's good to do things a bit slow, a bit silly.
For better or for worse then, rituals are an integral part of how we cope with the world. Of Course we at Hoogly cannot offer quite such a ritual, but I think there is something in our message which attempts to construct some sense of ritual back into life. I walk into the kitchen to make myself a cup. Danish pastry I think this time. I measure out the tea, place it in the teapot, pour water at the correct temperature, turn over the timer, and wait. I then pour out the tea into a cup. Drinking it slowly I think of other things I do, other repetitive acts which I really don’t need to do in quite such elaborate detail, but which I do anyway, and which, when I do them , make me feel a whole lot better. I always walk in a circle to work and back home. There is no requirement as to which way I walk, in fact it changes daily. But if I walk one direction in then I have to walk the other way back. I can’t really think why but I know that it helps. I hope you all go and make a cup of tea after reading this, and as you make it,
think of all the little things you do each day which made this winter not just bearable, but enjoyable.
Written by Euan Reid