I find koan practice immensely helpful on many levels. Among other things, it has taught me a bit about discernment more generally – about how to chart my course in life.
When I try to force an answer to a koan I invariably miss the mark. The traditional response ends up being something much simpler and more meaningful. And, like hand and glove, it just fits.
Sometimes I try to rush to an answer, as can happen when one is working with a new koan and it’s one’s turn for dokusan. This rushing to answer can be as much of a hindrance in life generally as it is in koan practice.
Most, but not all, of my big life choices that have led to some measure of unhappiness were rushed or otherwise forced. I needed to sit with, and in, the situation that presented the question longer than I did, or differently than I did.
When I’m feeling stressed about something these days, I try to take that as a queue to slow down just a bit. I know the discomfort I’m feeling likely has something to teach me. I need to turn toward it, rather than turning away or trying to blast through it.
Often a good answer just emerges, without much doing on my part, if I just sit tight, rather than trying to force the answer into existence or jumping at a “solution” that has a hollow feel to it. When something is right, it usually feels just right. It can take some time for that feeling – that knowing – to arrive.
Sometimes swift decisions and actions are what’s needed and are likely to hit the mark. When the house is burning down, get yourself and others out. When one knows the domain well, quick judgments may be spot-on 99% of the time. After 25 years on the job, I make quick, good decisions at work all the time. Sometimes the costs of more processing outweigh the likely benefits of searching for a “better” answer.
But life regularly presents us with koans, and sometimes we need to sit with them for a while.