Random Ordinary Fragments

by Polly Gemmon Lauser

We asked people to share their memories of the places where we practiced for a quaarter-century in southeast Portland. You can find these posts using the “MemoryBook” tag.

Chan Radiators in the Zendo

Just back from the China Pilgrimage. Fresh in my mind: images of ancient Chan monasteries with shrines containing great numbers of tiny Buddhas in tiny alcoves, lit by candles. Sitting back at the Zendo, my eyes drift up and rest on a radiator that is announcing the coming of heat. My unfocused eyes are aware of the radiator’s top edge, a silhouette somewhat reminiscent of heads and shoulders. They combine light with the design motif of the old iron to create a row of a tiny Buddhas in small alcoves, looking as though they are lit from behind. In that instant, the radiator spans time and space to connect our Zendo to the ancient temples in China.

Sewing in Winter

Quiet work waiting patiently. The swoosh and rustle of fabric being moved and the rhythm of the sewing machine stitching. The snip of threads that says some thread has done its part and the metallic sound of a scissor being put down. The warm hisses, whines and clunks from the radiator that are the harbinger of warm. Chatting with Genko, discovering there are many dharma lessons to be learned from thread and needle.

Sewing in late Spring

Blind stitching black fabric with black thread. Genko says the steps of the Zendo would be a lovely place to sew, so that’s what we do. The warm sun feels so good on bare feet, and the light makes the stitching go fast.

First full Sesshin’s distraction

There is a woman in the window, looking pensive. She is looking to the northwest and I wonder who or what she is waiting for. I can only see part of her face, but her hair is done up, appropriate for the 19th century. There are other faces, some fierce, some humorous, some animal, some human. There are maps, too. The blue is water, the green is meadowland, the purple is mountain. Stained glass on the south side of the Zendo; an early lesson in how easily I can be distracted.

Carpet old and new

The old carpet told stories, and became an image of the English countryside from above. Clumps of trees, lanes winding their way through hills, valleys, farms and villages. The new carpet has cat faces. Puppy faces. Teddy bear faces. Geometric shapes. I wonder if anyone else sees those, and then try to return to my zazen again.

Outside on the grounds in Autumn

Leaves upon leaves upon leaves falling down accompanied by the sounds of rustling and the rake mixed with traffic. Catching the glint of sun through the yellow and red leaves, like the stained glass in the Zendo. The punctuation of the rain of the leaves still waiting to fall. Witnessing the synchronized dancing of leaves letting go together in the wind and the giggling of leaves letting themselves be blown from a pile.