Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Kōan Walking and Problem Solving

The Theory of Relativity

Journal Entry, September one to September 17, 2010: Average coinage find for the last 17 days = $1.43; Average weight for last 17 days = 171.75 pounds.

Journal Entry, September 20, 2010: Weight = 172.2 lbs; Coinage = $2.33, 63 pennies (one wheat), 1 nickel, 9 dimes, 3 quarters (one super find in a parking lot consisting of 2 quarters, a nickel and two pennies); Glass bottles retrieved = 8; Ground Scores = 3 (one, a 25 cent gum ball machine that was promptly opened by picking the lock, retrieving the money (a total of one penny), cleaning all parts both inside and outside, painting the antique cast iron “carousel” base, and reassembling. The trophy now holds a featured spot in the MoneyWalker’s herrenzimmer.

Feature Entry: Kōan Walking and Problem Solving

A friend that knows well both the personality of the MoneyWalker and about the orthodoxy of what it means to be a Southern Baptist once remarked to me: “You are not a Southern Baptist but a Zen Baptist.” I thought of his remark after reading Gretchen Rubin’s blog about happiness . This link is to her recent comment about Pablo Picasso Paints Fakes? -- A Koan about Creativity. Being a Zen Baptist is not the same as being a Zen Buddhist so I had to look up the term “koan.”

A kōan (most in the West ignore the correct spelling) consists of a story, a question, or a statement whose understanding cannot be understood by rational thinking but is accessible through intuition. Zen Buddhists would use the word heart as in “accessible through the heart.” In Western thinking kōans are often reduced to mere riddles, puzzles, or meaningless statements. However, in Zen practice a kōan requires a thoughtful response. Kōans are used in Zen Buddhism to demonstrate the inadequacy if not the futility of logical reasoning.” To a Zen Buddhist, “doubt is strength.”

Kōans are often presented as paradoxical poems or anecdotes in a question format. Yet there is no solution. A devout listener when presented the Kōan will meditate for meaning outside of logical thought processes. Kōan’s then, although not riddles, will initially appear as a riddle to the mind. In the case of Picasso, an art dealer asks him to authenticate a Picasso painting. Picasso said “It is a fake.” Later the art dealer returned with another painting. “It too is a fake,” said Picasso. Perplexed, the dealer replied, “But I was with you as you painted this very article.” In which Picasso replied, “I often paint fakes.” While this example is not a true Kōan, it is Kōan-like. This rather simple example for me relates to why 21 days have passed since my last blog. The blogs were all starting to feel redundant; whatever the title or theme of the blog, I felt as I had written it all before.

As for kōan walking, Robert Baker Aitken (aka, Roshi Aitken) in his book The Practice of Perfection: The Parameters from a Zen Buddhist Perspective, suggest that the practice of using kōans during meditation is to practice mindfulness, the practice of noticing what you are doing. He uses walking to illustrate his point. Walking, for efficiency, is below the awareness level and the very act is controlled by autonomic brain/body processes. Mindfulness for walking is the act of bringing the subconscious to consciousness—to be aware and noticing the "heel, foot, ball, toe action as you walk." To consciously process the feeling of all aspects of the walking behavior is kōan walking at its simplest. One may say, “So what?” Thus, a critical part of utilizing kōans for meditation is to practice mindfulness, to delve deeply into the obvious with questions that have no logical answers.

Kōan questioning is related to kōan problem solving. “So what, what?” is a kōan. As we walk, the mind must be occupied with something and often the mindfulness of that something takes the form of a problem. Kōan-like problem solving contains at least three stages according to John Tarrant in his blog essay “The Power of Koan Practice.” First, “contain the problem.” In the MoneyWalker’s current crisis of allowing three weeks to pass without writing a blog, containment meant getting back to the basics. Note the specificity of the above Journal entry. Recently, I had gotten away from what journals provide, a written history of the specifics of a practice, in this case walking for fitness and using the excitement of finding money and “ground scores” for external motivation to persevere. Thus, by being specific, I began the process of containing the problem.

Second, Tarrant would say, “focus upon it.” This entire blog about kōans is allowing me to focus on why I have lost the motivation to write two or three blogs a week about walking, health, and motivation. In truth, trying to contain the problem and focusing on a solution occurred weeks ago, even before my last blog of August 31st had been written. My focus has many prisms one of which is “Why I am writing a blog that contains, to me at least, such a cerebral requirement for something as straightforward as walking for health?” Don’t ask me, I’m still in focus mode.

Third, in Tarrant's tutorial is “allow its solution to emerge.” Tarrant says, “With a problem, listen to the mind’s conversation before trying to solve it.” A great turn of phrase is that thought to “listen to the mind’s conversation.” Kōan walking is a perfect time to listen to the mind’s conversation.

Well, it is well past time for the MoneyWalker to cut his losses and turn off the word processor. But before leaving, a great walk need not be a kōan walk, but when the MoneyWalker has a problem there is nothing better than taking a walk to contain the problem, focus on it, and let a solution present itself.

Perhaps kōan walking leads to good karma whatever that might mean



  1. Aack!! Mixing letters and numbers?!? Makes my head hurt just looking at it!

    Zen Baptist? That will provide food for thought for the next month. Also, I will now be checking out koans.

    It was good to see a post from you. I agree, finding new topics (and the time) is getting more difficult all the time.

  2. Hi,

    You've got a very good weblog. Most of the people will not fully grasp what mind power can do to one's success.

  3. Hi,

    You've got an incredibly good blog. To become a effective human being the simple factor should be to have positive thinking.