Video: Meditate on Koans.

2010 Happiness Challenge: For those of you following the 2010 Happiness Project Challenge, to make 2010 a happier year – and even if you haven’t officially signed up for the challenge — this month’s focus is Mindfulness. Last week’s resolution was a quiz, How mindful are you? Did you take that quiz? How did you do?

This week’s resolution is to Meditate on koans. A “koan” is a question, story, or statement that can’t be understood logically. Zen Buddhist monks meditate on koans as a way to abandon dependence on reason in their pursuit of enlightenment. Even if you’re not seeking satori (or, I should probably say, you’re not seeking it), I’ve found that thinking about a koan stimulates mindfulness. Because koans force me to challenge the usual, straightforward boxes of meaning, they push me to think about thinking.

I love this koan: The best way out is always through.

If you want to read more about this resolution, check out…
Find your own koan.
Life’s cruel truth: you get more of what you already have.
The extraordinary happiness of completing a project: Four to Llewelyn’s Edge.

A propos of Buddhism, I make the following observation: it’s continually surprising to me that Buddhism, with its emphasis on gateless gates and transcending the bounds of rational thinking, has so many numbered lists! I love them, but still, it seems incongruous. There’s a koan to be written about it, that’s for sure. Let’s see…how about, “Use numbers to throw away enumeration.”

If you’re new, here’s information on the 2010 Happiness Challenge (or watch the intro video). It’s never too late to start! You’re not behind, jump in right now, sign up here. For more ideas, check out the Happiness Project site on Woman’s Day.

* Speaking of koans, Wikipedia has an entry on hacker koans, which are hilarious, and truly thought-provoking.

* About 43,000 people get my free monthly newsletter, which highlights the best material from the blog and the Facebook Page. If you’d like to add your name, click here or email me at grubin [at] gretchenrubin [.com]. (Sorry to write in that odd way; trying to thwart spammers.)

  • clearlycomposed

    “Wherever you go, there you are!” 🙂

  • Laura

    One of my favorites is Milton’s “They also serve who only stand and wait.”

  • Raindancer

    The ice is thin enough for walkin’
    The rope is worn enough to climb
    My throat is dry enough for talkin’
    The world is crumblin’ but I know why
    The world is crumblin’ but I know why

    The storm is wild enough for sailing
    The bridge is weak enough to cross
    This body frail enough for fighting
    I’m home enough to know I’m lost
    Home enough to know I’m lost

    It’s just enough to be strong
    In the broken places, in the broken places
    It’s just enough to be strong
    Should the world rely on faith tonight

    The land unfit enough for planting
    Barren enough to conceive
    Poor enough to gain the treasure
    Enough a cynic to believe
    Enough a cynic to believe

    Confused enough to know direction
    The sun eclipsed enough to shine
    Be still enough to finally tremble
    And see enough to know I’m blind
    And see enough to know I’m blind

    Should the world rely on faith tonight

    Faith Enough~Jars of Clay

  • mem5435

    Thinking about thinking and dedicating time to metacognate each day can give everything a purpose and strengthen the mind. I love the “koan” idea, I think it’s a perfect way to challenge the mind and maintain its vigor.

    Visit my blog at:

  • mem5435
  • Veronica

    Hmm. I had a different understanding of the Johnson quote. I thought it meant something about the price there is to pay for everything-even good things; if you desire to possess the wealth of the Indies you have to think about the difficulties of this ownership. Sort of: more is not necessarily better.
    “We set out to be wreaked” I felt described the boys’ love of the high romance and drama of a dangerous imaginary adventure: pretending to go to war or slay dragons.
    Perhaps different personalities understand koans in different ways.

    • gretchenrubin

      Yes! That’s the beauty of a koan. Because there’s no one straightforward
      meaning, everyone finds their own.

  • Michael Yanakiev

    The Johnson quote,to my modest opinion deals with a growth -mindset that
    the individual has developed, as to cope with issues that go beyond the conventional. Thus it should not exclude happiness…However,Veronica’s
    interpretation sounds also very convincing.
    The best way out is always through….It is obvious..Anything else sounds artificial and tends to miss the point. So you will never truly understand a truth until you live through can not be taught in a formal lesson.
    “We set out to be wrecked” – I tend to agree completely with Veronica’s

  • Carrie

    My version of “The best way out is always through” is: “There’s no way through it but to do it!” The ability to reduce everything to a rhyme never misses with my preschoolers.

  • Jill

    Hmm, I’m not sure if it’s exactly a koan, but I’ve been meditating on the quote.
    “If someone shows you who they are, believe them.” – Maya Angelou

  • Thalgyur

    talking about numbers, how many stars are there in the sky, Gretchen?

  • Well, it’s gald to read your post, but I wouldn’t understand your meaning well. Thanks all the same.

  • Well, it’s gald to read your post, but I wouldn’t understand your meaning well. Thanks all the same.

  • Saritamar

    I’m late to the party…but my favorite one is “Go slow to go fast.” Recently I drove the speed limit from Oregon to California and I made it faster than I had ever done it.