From Dr. Kaiya Ansorge
What is a koan?
A koan is a phrase or word used in meditation to train the mind. Usually the koan is a bit of a mystery to invite the mind to open up in unusual ways. In fact, the term is often translated as “riddle”.
Koan literature contains enigmatic sayings or questions which, when meditated continuously, are intended to be resolved in specific ways that indicate the path of insight for the initiate. On the other hand, other traditions claim that koans are not meant to be solved, but rather are ways of opening us to a contemplative relationship with ephemera in the mind – rather than rational, problem-solving approaches.
The history and development of Koan meditation is complex and goes back to ancient China. However, this form of meditation can be modified to help those of us who do not plan to become Buddhist monks or scholars. We can use koans in their original formulations or develop forms inspired by this practice that are applicable and relevant to modern life, such as: B. Video meditations.
Why Practice Koan Meditation?
The main reason to practice koan meditation is that we all practice it every day without even realizing it. Each of us has thoughts – even if we think in pictures. These thoughts work much like a koan. Whether we choose our thoughts consciously or unconsciously, we are in a continuous process of training our minds. The stories and thoughts we tell ourselves are the ones we increasingly believe in. Koan meditation brings our awareness into this process and invites us to explore further. Koan meditation slowly teaches us to choose, question and change our perception of the world. However, this is not hypnosis: instead of putting us to sleep, koan practice awakens us to a larger, more beautiful reality.
Some traditions prescribe a lifelong koan. What is associated with non-monasteries is that each of us is “assigned” a specific dilemma or attitude to life from birth or through early trauma / socialization. Most of us will have more than one koan that has arrived and has settled in our preconsciousness. These range from “You are not good enough”, “You are too much”, even “I hate you” or “You shouldn’t have been born” to “Freedom”, “Love”, “Joy,” or “ You are made of love ”. These voices in our minds can be explored and dismantled, if harmful, and then replaced with ones that correspond to the divine nature within each of us. The humiliating news always comes from an early injury. The messages that feel liberating – or like a peaceful home – are the ones that are true to our nature.
How can you incorporate koan meditation into your practice?
Steps to Koan Meditation
1. Choose how you want to practice. Would you like to do a sitting, lying or walking meditation? You can even choose a non-traditional Buddhist practice like swimming or writing meditation. Many Buddhists use koans as continuous contemplation during their regular daily activities.
2. Choose a koan. You can use a traditional koan like “What does a hand clap sound like?” Or, you can try koans, which you discover through a source such as Moti Media’s video series on koan meditation. Or you can choose a poem or phrase that you want to translate from your mind into your whole being. Affirmations and prayers are powerful in this practice.
Here is a list of koan sources and ideas:
– Traditional sources are the “Blue Cliff Record” (Pi-yen lu) and “The Gateless Gate” (Wu-men kuan).
– Poems by Mary Oliver are especially helpful for those who practice in nature.
– Choose prayers from your religious background or, better yet, another religion to expand your awareness and challenge it in a way that mystifies you and opens up new perspectives for you.
– A new kind of Koan meditation are short exploration videos like “What’s There?”. “The Pursuit of Heaven” and “Cycle”.
3. As you meditate, rest your mind gently on your chosen koan.
4. If you notice that your mind is deviating from the kôan, you can follow the thoughts, but with awareness, or you can gently bring your thoughts back to the kôan. I find it helpful to mix these two approaches: while my mind explores the trajectories of the koan I am watching, but when I wander off the subject or in the direction of judgmental trajectories, I acknowledge the lost thoughts, thank them, and return to the koan return .
5. As you observe your thoughts around the koan, allow yourself to notice these thoughts as you cultivate interest and make judgments. Rhythmic, gentle breathing helps us translate our judgmental or fearful thoughts into a pattern of calming embraces and liberation.
6. When you finish your session, offer gratitude or love to the koan, your mind, and ultimately your body for that session.
Life is made up of koans. These koans come to us in the form of personal, interpersonal and cultural tensions and puzzles. As we learn to work with koans in meditation, we begin to translate our approach to the challenges of our own lives through this lens. Koan practice also trains our minds to be flexible and creative, thus adding flexibility and creativity to our lives when challenges arise. This kind of mindfulness training leads us in the midst of the dilemmas and challenges of life into an unexpected curiosity, freedom and joy: in other words, we become permeated with amazement.
Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Dr. Kaiya Ansorge. Kaiya is academically trained in psychology, philosophical theology and religion. She teaches at the University of South Dakota. Since Kaiya loves to explore the spirituality of the place, she has lived, studied, written and traveled to 24 countries on 5 continents. Her earlier works include The Nature of Miracle, The Relationship between the Word and the Ding, “How to Use the 7 Chakras to get in touch with personal vitality” and “Ascension: a Different Art of Gravity”. Kaiya has appeared on Theology Today, Daily Cup of Yoga, Your Motivational High 5, and on Sunny 93.3, South Dakota Public Radio, and KELO-TV. You can find them on their website or on Facebook.