I met on Sunday again with my jukai group to work on my rakusu. Amazingly, it is actually beginning to look like a rakusu, since I am far enough along to have sewn together several of the strips for the face, into that wonderful rice paddy configuration of alternating long and short pieces.
There are nine of us in total, although so far the gatherings have consisted of at most six people, as we all struggle with scheduling conflicts. Two are from a group in Sebastopol; the other seven of us are from the Healdsburg sangha. We meet at the home of Connie Ayers, our sewing instructor, in Sebastopol.
The big open room that we sit in has a large work table, a small altar, and an ironing board. Scattered about the work space are half a dozen desk lamps, an iron, a box of pairs of scissors, another box filled with metric rulers, and our own individual sets of cloth, pins, needles, and thread. We spend the four hours on Sunday afternoons bent in concentration over our project, pinning, stitching, and measuring.
At times, I look around the room in wonder at it all. Who would have thought, even five years ago, that I would find myself here? Part of a Zen community, pursuing lay ordination – I had no idea this was in store for me. And sewing? Never would I have guessed that I would be sitting, needle in hand, making something myself.
The stitches in the rakusu on the surface of the cloth are small, likened to “poppy seeds.” Underneath, the longer threads show, in parallel diagonal stripes. My stitches are not perfect; even with concentration, every few inches I veer off slightly, have a stitch out of balance with the others. But when I look at the overall piece, and the lines of nearly perfect poppy seeds, I am stunned. I think, “I did this!”
I love the satisfaction of creating this rakusu with my own hands. It is a meditation practice, a building of sangha, and a creative act, all rolled into one.
I am evidencing my Buddhist vows, one stitch at a time.