Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Preparing the soil.


When I was a boy, living in the Kansas heartland, my grandmother taught me about farming. Her first rule was “good soil” so we used a fair amount of fertilizer and before ever planting a seed she had me till the soil. After that the soil had to sit a few days (I guess to catch it’s breath) and then we planted seeds. That lesson stuck with me all these years and I employ that method in teaching and writing. Tomorrow I intend plant a few seeds and expose you to an innovative way of exploring creativity, so I am now preparing you for receiving that seed.

Creativity depends on input just like the soil depends on seeds. The more input the better but eventually all of that input needs to be digested, assimilated and processed for creative output to emerge. Fortunately we are quite capable of both rational analyzing and creative insight, but they are different. People who are predominately analytic may not be the most creative and vice versa. Others seem to be more balanced and excel at both.

People who engage Zen meditation are trained toward the middle road of balance and in one tradition (Rinzai Zen) a device is employed to foster this balance. The device is known as a koan which is essentially a means to force you to move beyond the limitations of the rational mind and use another part of your mind to tap into insight and intuition. A koan is a riddle and the only way to solve these riddles is by using your intuitive juices. There is no rational solution to these riddles and the harder you try, the further away you get, and that results in frustration and reaching the point of yielding.

If you immerse yourself in the koan process long enough you eventually “break open”, the struggle ends resulting in a flash of insight and an intuitive answer, quite unexpectedly leaps out. The opposite way (incorporated in Soto Zen) is to engage in extensive intellectual study until you become saturated with the ingredients and then experience enlightenment (hopefully). In either event both the intellect and intuitive faculties are important. The Rinzai way fuels the sudden way and the Soto way fuels the gradual way but common to both practices is zazen—the meditation process of calming and emptying your mind which causes a shift to the intuitive side of you brain.

So tomorrow I will walk you through a particular koan to demonstrate how this process works. 
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