1. Donnelly, Gloria F. PhD, RN, FAAN

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The final activity of our annual leadership retreat was a tea ceremony, held in an authentic Japanese teahouse nestled in a grove of trees not far from the center of the campus. As we walked the winding path to the tea house, I caught of glimpse of the tea master in his colorful kimono. He bowed and led us to the room where the tea ceremony would be held. We all knelt down on the soft, matted floor, and leaned back on our heels. The room was very small with bamboo walls and a soft matted floor. The tea room's windows were asymmetrically situated in the walls, one high, one low, none centered. I asked the tea master about the positioning of the windows. He explained that the windows were placed to capture the most light possible during the course of the day blending with nature in as harmonious way as possible. The only decoration in the room was a scroll hanging on the back wall.

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At the far end of the room, the tea master readied the implements of tea: the tray or bench, cups, and finally the tea, brewed over a small charcoal fire. He carefully poured the tea, bowed, and offered the pottery cup with its symbol facing toward the recipient. The tea was green, thick, smooth, and pungent. We quietly sipped as the tea master served the group.


Drinking green tea originated China in the 12th century for medicinal uses. Zen Buddhist masters later developed the tea ceremony for spiritual renewal. Through the centuries there have been many forms of the tea ceremony. In the 16th century, the tea master Sen No Rikyu developed the simplified, stark tea ritual that we were experiencing at our retreat.1 What might participants hope to gain from the experience of the tea ceremony?


Serving someone tea is a symbol of caring and empathy. It is an invitation to share thoughts, fears, and pain; it is a time to comfort and reassure; it is an opportunity to nourish. The tea ceremony is quiet and unhurried, unlike our usual day-to-day activity. The environment is simple and serene. The tea master pays great attention to the details of serving another, readying the implements, preparing and pouring the tea, positioning the tea bowls, and serving the sweets. Taking tea with colleagues reminds us of all we have in common, of life's simple pleasures, and of how we might give to one another in ways that promote colleagueship and collaboration. The tea ceremony is a dual path to self-reflection and concern for others, attitudes so necessary to living a harmonious life.


The tea ceremony can also be symbolic of how nursing care should be given: simply and quietly, with total focus on the patient, with a caring attitude, and with impeccable attention to details. For nurses, the tea ceremony can be a path to personal and professional renewal.


Gloria F. Donnelly, PhD, RN, FAAN






1. The tea ceremony: The aesthetic ritual of tea. Japan Access. Accessed June 1, 2007. [Context Link]