If you attend any of my classes, you already know that I start every class with a 3 – 5 minute dharma talk. Quite simply, I share an idea, story, quote or poem that is currently inspiring my own personal practice. This might be something that translates on the mat, out in the world or, hopefully, in both places at once.

Recently, in the synchronistic ways that the universe works in, I’ve been drawn to Zen koans. This is totally new to me in many ways. I’ve never studied Zen specifically, but I find many of the teachings I’m discovering to be already known in my body. Have you had that experience before? Although it is something new to you, somehow your body says, “Ah, this. Yes, more of this, please.”

I’m toying with the idea of sharing a few of the koans that have been resonating with me over the next few weeks or months. This sharing might not be terribly deep or even “correct” since I’m not a Zen teacher or really even a Zen student. But, in the same way I teach any yoga lesson, I will share my own experience with this work. I hope maybe one of these upcoming posts will be an “ah, yes” moment for you too.

So, a koan is really a seemingly impossible question, statement or conversation. Something along the idea of “what was your name before you were born?”. When a koan resonates with you it seems to be vaguely understandable in your mind or body. In that way, you might feel like an explanation is on the tip of your tongue but when you try, you come up with silence instead.

What I am really loving about this work is how truly simple it seems to be. As I understand it, the practice is really just to let the koan live with you in every moment of your day. Much a like a song getting stuck in your head, it’s an ear-worm. With every experience, the koan replays in your mind, and, slowly or suddenly, your heart/mind/eyes begin to open.

Let’s start with this one:

Zhaozhou asked Nanquan, “What is the Way?”

Nanquan said, “Ordinary mind is the Way.”

“Should I turn toward it or not?”

“If you turn toward it you turn away from it.”

Zhaozhou asked, “How can I know the Way if I don’t turn toward it?”

Nanquan said, “The Way is not about knowing or not knowing. When you know something you are

deluded, and when you don’t know something, you are just empty-headed. When you reach the Way beyond doubt, it is as vast and infinite as space. You can’t say it is right or wrong.” With these words, Zhaozhou had sudden understanding. 

Ordinary mind is the Way. What if every moment of every day was the Way. What if your kid crying, sitting in traffic and doing the dishes are the beautiful, the sacred, the Truth. Doesn’t that feel easy? Like you don’t have to do something powerful and life-altering to awaken? You are simply already there. Stop searching. Ordinary mind is the Way.