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Meditatively stitching the clothing of freedom

Having been born to meet the spread of this Dharma, if we cover our body with the kasaya only once, receiving it and retaining it for just a ksana or a muhurta, that experience will surely serve as a talisman to protect us in the realization of the supreme state of bodhi.

Dogen Zenji, Kesa Kudoku chapter of Shobogenzo (Nishijima/Cross translation)

Some of us recently began meeting monthly on Zoom to practice our zen sewing. Our small friendly group started on Sunday afternoon, with two sewing periods. These were interspersed with time in the middle for the Takkesage chant, a brief chat about Master Dogen’s Kesa Kudoku (Merit of the Kasaya/ Okesa) and a break for a cuppa.

The sewing periods are peaceful times of practice where we can carefully attend to whatever task we are working on, and still ask for help when we need it. Michael and Margaret were on hand to give detailed advice, with Margaret expertly guiding us in the warp and weft of the fabric 🙂

Most of us are just beginning our sewing projects, either a rakusu (5 row robe worn over the neck), or seven row okesa (worn over the shoulder) and also zagu sitting mat which is often used for prostrations. Some of us have sewn okesa before whilst others including myself have sewn a rakusu or two but are now preparing for the okesa. And some of us are at the exciting stage of getting ready to sew their first rakusu, with the plan to receive Jukaie precepts after completing their sewing.

Each stitch, each moment of sincere, committed action, one cause in many from which the completed okesa emerges. It can be said that the work of sewing the okesa is never finished. The stitches of the okesa are the actions of our Buddhist life, dedicated to all beings. At the end of that life, the okesa of a lifetime of actions are unfolded and spread out.

Michael Kendo Tait

We have been enjoying chatting online (using Slack) about fabrics and stitching and what equipment is best to use, but it was really nice to have some time together to help each other and discuss in more details about the practice. It is a friendly and easygoing group with practitioners from Glasgow and other places further afield – wherever you are you are welcome to join us 🙂

Please read more on the Okesa Sewing Group page.

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‘Life is too short to be in a hurry’ – Thoreau

Transitions (Wellington Southern Walkway, NZ)
Transitions, photograph by Anne Dick, Wellington Southern Walkway, NZ

A practitioner’s perspective, on and off the zafu – Two

There’s something rather absurd about rushing to get to zazen (meditation) yet that’s sometimes what happens –  arriving to sit out of breath and with a head still teeming with the busyness of the day. For some people lockdown will make that less likely, for some people more of a risk.

Although our practice of zazen is of just sitting without any specific focus it can help to have a transition at times like that, just before the bell rings at the start.

Counting the breath from one to ten can help recalibrate. Counting one on an in breath and two on the out breath then continuing like that up to ten before dropping from the counting into full awareness. 

If the body is tight with tension, doing a brief body scan before the bell rings, without making any conscious effort to relax, can allow your body to have the space to release into the sitting.  

First becoming aware of the breath in your abdomen before taking your awareness up to the top of your head then from the top of your head, over your face and neck down your shoulders and hands to your fingers then from your shoulders down your torso, back and front, down your legs and feet then returning up the body back to the top of the head, noticing as you travel through the body in each direction how each part feels, without trying to change anything. 

Then the bell rings and you can just sit.

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A Zen Life in Trousers

Trousers!
Zen trousers, photograph by Anne Dick

A practitioner’s perspective, on and off the zafu – One

When I started sitting with the group the  suggestion was to wear something dark and loose to allow for flexibility and minimise distraction.

My first stage of experience with Zen was dominated by a preoccupation with finding the right trousers. Somewhere there was a pair of trousers credible enough to wear to the office and stretchy enough to help me navigate zazen (sitting meditation).

This continued as an undercurrent. Although I had a sense that the sitting I was doing was worthwhile, I gathered aiming to get results was not quite the point so put much of my effort into sourcing the right trousers.

By now I was accumulating a fair number of stretchy black trousers and began to feel optimistic about integrating my work and sitting needs via my wardrobe. Then I cracked it and found a pair which had it all – accommodating but not baggy, pockets, the works.