Life May Itself Be A Koan

Rachel Naomi Remen

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Awakin FeatureConsider the Zen practice of the koan, the question or problem proposed by Zen masters to each other or by masters to students. The koan is a dilemma, a mystery which the rational mind cannot solve. The key to the resolution of a koan is a shift in the being of the student which allows for a new understanding of the question itself. 

In presenting a koan, the teacher engages the student with mystery in a highly personal way. By putting the habitual mind into a place of stuckness, a sort of fruitful darkness, we may inadvertently step back into that fertile and pregnant place of not-knowing called in Zen "beginner's mind". [...]

The resolution of a koan requires a certain trust of mystery, a faith that there is an answer which will come in time. When the answer and the seeker have grown toward one another the answer seems to emerge by itself. The resolution of a koan is usually obvious; it has been staring us in the face all along, but we have never seen it before. Once glimpsed, it is difficult to believe that we ever saw things another way, and indeed we will never see things in the old way again. Our eyes have been changed by the way in which we have met with the unknown. 

Like good science, the resolution of a koan requires a trust in the larger pattern which underlies the happening that the mind does not understand, and the understanding which is gained is often accompanied by a deep appreciation of the elegance of that pattern, the intelligence of the nature of things. A sense of wonder. An appreciation of the very mystery which has frustrated us. A sense of belonging to it. 

Many of the problems Life poses us are seemingly without solutions, much like the koans the Zen teacher presents to the student. Yet meaning and wisdom emerge from one of Life's stories much in the way that the resolution of a koan emerges. Awaiting this meaning is almost like awaiting a birth. After we live a story or hear a story we become pregnant with its meaning. Sometimes the pregnancy may take weeks or even years. Often over time, pregnant with one story, we may give birth to many meanings, each one deeper than the one before. Most of the best stories I have ever lived or been told are like this. 

Certainly suffering and illness are koans. Life may itself be a koan. Those people who are able to meet with life the way a Zen student meets with a koan will be moved along a spiritual trajectory by events which reduce others to bitterness and defeat. Not only their physical body but the quality of their soul may be changed in the encounter. 

Rachel Naomi Remen is a pioneer of Relationship Centered Care and Integrative Medicine. Her groundbreaking curriculumn, the Healer’s Art is now taught yearly in more than half of American medical schools and in medical schools in seven countries abroad.  Excerpt above from 'Kitchen Table Wisdom'.

Seed questions for reflection: How do you relate to the notion of being pregnant with a story and giving birth to many meanings? Can you share a personal story of a time you were able to meet with life the way a Zen student meets with a koan? What helps you develop a deep appreciation for the intelligence of the nature of things?

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15 Previous Reflections:

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    On Mar 26, 2020 Web Design wrote:
    That's a posting full of insight, Thanks for sharing the article!
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    On Mar 25, 2020 Rajat Mishra wrote:
    Patience is the key to solve life's problems. This title 'Life itself is a Koan' reminds us to find Koan in our life's challenges. One must wait for the answer with immense trust that the answer is going to emerge from life's challenges. It gives us a new outlook, a freshness in the approach as a child curious to seek answers, totally unafraid of the outcome.

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    On Mar 24, 2020 maria wrote:
    The image for me is seeing a split, one being fear the other love.
    yet I also see it as two teams partaking in something beautiful and bringing together the birth of a whole new self. Something new and fresh is to be born. Each contraction maybe painful and fearful and just when it reaches the peak, the mother and baby meet and see each other for the first time. Yet they have always been together. We are all partaking in this change, the new birth, all teams having a part to play. The observers who hold space and keep calm and those who allow the fear to come up, be exposed and let go. Nothing is separate although it may look like on the surface.
    we have created something together, in agreement of our fuller potential and higher vibrational loving energy, to be with Mother Earth and experience the knowing of our connection.

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    On Mar 24, 2020 Samm wrote:
    There is nothing I can add to'just notice'.
    How the light changes as this day shifts towards evening.
    That is my story today, wrapped in shadow & light.

    1 reply: Aryae | Post Your Reply
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    On Mar 24, 2020 Varsha wrote:
    There are times that a puzzle swirls in my head, it is there in the back and surfaces now and then when I am in a quiet reflective mode, walking or cooking. It is usually during a mechanical repetitive task that the movement seems automatic and yet the mind gets into this joining the dots, and times when the aah moment arrives after days or weeks or even months.There is growth and sometimes it is just clearing some cobwebs/fluff around a subject and revealing a clearer understanding.

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    On Mar 24, 2020 Tyler wrote:
    Thank you for this beautiful post! I love this analogy of being pregnant with a story. It is easiest for me to relate my own actual pregnancies! (I've had 3, one ending in miscarriage). All have been so incredibly meaningful and each, my greatest teachers! My 2 sons have taught me more about life, myself and God than anything else. They have challenged me and given me indescribable joy. My miscarriage taught me how to let go and grieve well. My oldest son is a 2 time cancer survivor and his journey has been the bedrock of my faith. And my younger son has been the role model of steadiness and temperance for me. I lost both of my children while in rehab for alcoholism. Losing them taught me that I don't own anything in this life. It is all a gift! Gratefully, they have returned to my life and I'm able to enjoy them as young men;observing, delighting and rejoicing in them as beautiful souls that call me, Mom. Love and Light to All as we experience the unfolding of this moment ... [View Full Comment] Thank you for this beautiful post! I love this analogy of being pregnant with a story. It is easiest for me to relate my own actual pregnancies! (I've had 3, one ending in miscarriage). All have been so incredibly meaningful and each, my greatest teachers! My 2 sons have taught me more about life, myself and God than anything else. They have challenged me and given me indescribable joy. My miscarriage taught me how to let go and grieve well. My oldest son is a 2 time cancer survivor and his journey has been the bedrock of my faith. And my younger son has been the role model of steadiness and temperance for me. I lost both of my children while in rehab for alcoholism. Losing them taught me that I don't own anything in this life. It is all a gift! Gratefully, they have returned to my life and I'm able to enjoy them as young men;observing, delighting and rejoicing in them as beautiful souls that call me, Mom. Love and Light to All as we experience the unfolding of this moment in time with wonder and compassion. 💗🙏🏻[Hide Full Comment]

    2 replies: David, Bernard | Post Your Reply
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    On Mar 23, 2020 Sunil Mor wrote:
    Lockdown is for the physical body but not for the soul.Meditate. Let the soul fly. Practice to Transcend from body consciousness to soul consciousness helps. The more one can remain in the soul world the better.

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    On Mar 23, 2020 Mariette wrote:
    Yesterday, I got back from Thailand, after my 3-month Peace Fellowship was cut short by the US's "do not travel" requirement to return to the US or stay for an unforeseen amount of time where ever we'd be allowed to stay. A day into my self-imposed self-quarantine (as Thailand is actually significantly safer than the US right now), I feel the ocean air coming through the windows and realize that there's a lot more cleaning to be done than simply unpacking the suitcases. Tiny moments - as small as not remembering which cupboard holds the tea - remind me of the distance that's been carved in me since I was last in this "home." Experiences change us but it's only upon the return that we realize just how much has shifted and transformed. All this transformation can be squashed by a non-appreciation of it. I sit in the reflection, realization, exploration and awe of it all.

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    On Mar 21, 2020 Jagdish P Dave wrote:
    A tree is born in the womb of a seed. The seed is invisible though it is there in a dormant state. So is the life. Our life is pregnant with unseen and unknown meanings. We need to relate to this dimension of our life with open mind and open heart, open eyes and open ears to see and hear and feel the wonder and awe of life. Our life gets nourished, enriched and expanded by embracing the manifestation of beauty, wonder and awe. I will always remember the experience I had in a Zen retreat. While doing sitingMindfulness Meditation I saw myself flying in the open sky with my feet firmly planted in the solid ground of the Mother Earth. This experience taught me not to confine myself to the limited and narrow mindset and heart set I was used to. I realized the meaning, value and the power of the "beginner's mind." The mind that is not bound by preconceived notions, opinions and assumptions. It is not attached to and bound by the chains of the past and lost in the worries of the... [View Full Comment] A tree is born in the womb of a seed. The seed is invisible though it is there in a dormant state. So is the life. Our life is pregnant with unseen and unknown meanings. We need to relate to this dimension of our life with open mind and open heart, open eyes and open ears to see and hear and feel the wonder and awe of life. Our life gets nourished, enriched and expanded by embracing the manifestation of beauty, wonder and awe.
    I will always remember the experience I had in a Zen retreat. While doing sitingMindfulness Meditation I saw myself flying in the open sky with my feet
    firmly planted in the solid ground of the Mother Earth. This experience taught me not to confine myself to the limited and narrow mindset and heart set I was used to. I realized the meaning, value and the power of the "beginner's mind." The mind that is not bound by preconceived notions, opinions and assumptions. It is not attached to and bound by the chains of the past and lost in the worries of the future. The present moment is free from the right and the wrong. It is an open meeting space in which life blossoms and offers gifts of love, joy, compassion, and kindness to others.
    I am very grateful to the gifts of naturethat I receive everyday in my life. I watch the sun rising and setting, smell the fragrance of flowers, birds chirping, rain falling and the earth keeping me grounded. Sadly, how often we take the gifts of nature granted and miss offering our gratitude to nature.
    Namaste!
    Jagdish P Dave'









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    On Mar 21, 2020 David Doane wrote:
    I think that being pregnant with a story and giving birth to many meanings means that life including the life of each person is pregnant with new energy, new possibilities, new meanings, and new life now. Each life is pregnant with choices to be made that will author the story of a life. I think I meet life the way a Zen student meets a koan when I have a beginner's mind free of preconceived notions and expectations, open to see outside the box, and open to see and respond to life as it is, a mystery and wonder, beyond reason and logic. Such times are pregnant, alive, awesome, satisfying. To me, that is the meaning of and answer to life. What helps me develop a deep appreciation for the intelligence of the nature of things is knowing that there is intelligence in every cell of every being of nature, and it's to my benefit to listen and learn.

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    On Mar 20, 2020 susan schaller wrote:
    I began a journey to Germany on March second, but the journey, as almost always, was not the one I planned. After a beyond-imagination week, I have finally arrived home to my woods in N. Idaho. The glimpse of the unknown, unknowable was given me over and over the last few days. I was able to breathe, smile and keep moving. And everyone seemed beautiful. Almost everyone smiled and gave of themselves. The CDC screener in Dulles airport, with mask, gloves gave me my instructions and said, "I am giving you a gift. Everything is a gift." I am now quarantined in a room, but the universe is all here. I will breathe, smile and keep moving in love, the glimpse of the glue that holds us all.

    1 reply: David | Post Your Reply

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