The wisdom of koans

The wisdom of koans

In my previous article, on finding out what you want in life, I already discussed the deep questions that are difficult to answer: “what is the meaning of life?” or “what is death all about?”, “what is my life’s purpose?”. I discussed that by taking 5 to 10 minutes each day and finding answers that flow from your heart, you will generate I wide range of satisfying answers. You can journal about it, create a video of your experience, make audio recordings, or use whatever form suites you. Personally I am a fan of journaling. The pace of words flowing on a white sheet of paper feels great. I can stop for a bit, think, reflect, and continue writing. 

I will explain a second powerful method to generate answers on life questions. So called koans.  This is on age old Zen-Buddhist meditation technique where the person meditating, slowly and repeatedly floats a question in their head. Each exhalation this question is again asked. It is used to gain insight in the true nature of your own spirit. In my meditation classes we experimented with this concept.

It requires complete presents, connect intensely and vividly with the question, and to notice answers bubbling up from your unconscious mind. Write your answers down somewhere so you can reflect on them. Important is to discuss your results with, preferably, a close person or spiritual guide. He or she can reflect on your answers and steer you, if necessary, in finding your true answers. Their is no right or wrong answer, these are your answers! What you will find is that life experiences and desires are interwoven in your answers. And this is exactly why this is such a powerful technique. You will start to see what keeps you busy, what aspects are maybe unconsciously floating around in your head but are there. With each answer you will dig deeper into yourself.

I experienced this powerful realisation when I started with koans in meditation classes. We were asked to contemplate on if the flower in the vase was dead or alive? This green straw with small green leaves and a beautiful colourful flower on top, if it was living or if it was dead. I let it sink in and immediately I recognised a resistance feeling coming up in my stomach. As I’m putting these words on paper, I can feel it coming up again. My head wants to have a quick answer but it cannot comprehend the question. It doesn’t know but it really wants to.

A second thought that came up quickly, is that it is biologically still consuming nutritious (water and air), so it has to be alive. Well, this is a beautiful example of my well trained analytical mind trying to solve the problem in a structured way.

Then the difficult part for me showed up, letting go of my structured mind answer and making space for new aspects to pop up. At points during the meditation you feel like forcing answers. But the goal is not to force it. There should be no ‘neediness’ in it. Eventually new answers will pop up and so it did: ”Alive but separated from its strong roots, no potential to grow”, “Alive and able to move around”, “Dead by decaying into dust”.

I encourage you to start with this simple koan: “What is the value of a bucket without bottom?”. Let me know if any interesting answer come up ;)!

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