Kōan \ˈkō-ˌän\: A paradoxical question or parable intended to provoke enlightenment or great understanding.
Life is the greatest kōan you will ever receive.
Over ten years ago, I received information that transformed my life forever. In many ways, you could call it a kōan. I was twenty-one years old and, unbeknownst to me, a rare form of chronic leukemia had been ravaging my body, transforming my once-healthy blood into a thick, useless white sludge. Young and stubborn, a senior in my final year of college, I’d ignored the symptoms for months. Night sweats, light-headedness, “white outs” of my vision, a persistent skin infection from an old rock climbing injury – these I nonchalantly attributed to stress or simple misfortune. Little did I know that without immediate medical care I would find myself at the threshold of death’s door within a few months. Doctors delivered the diagnosis on an idle Tuesday afternoon in mid-October. They were incredulous that I was even alive. My world was never again to be the same.
Within a month I became a vegetarian. Within six months I completed my first 100-mile bike ride for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. Within a year I adopted a regular practice of meditation. Within two years I found myself practicing at a local Zen Buddhist community. I was willing to try anything and everything that would both keep me healthy and grounded in an attitude of gratitude for every passing moment. Life is precious, and perhaps nobody knows that better than someone who has experienced first-hand its fragility.
But life also has a habit of getting in the way of itself. I got married (then divorced), tried my hand at a few software startups, went to graduate school, took on a job in the corporate world. Regular practices fell by the wayside, new circumstances took precedence, and bad habits seeped back in. Modern medicine has kept me alive physically, but it was a mindful and simple lifestyle that enlivened and sustained my spirit. A decade after diagnosis, I’m still a vegetarian and I still practice Zen, but the roaring fire and passion that drove me to this lifestyle has since faded to the subtle glow of a mere bed of embers.
“The Kōan” is an attempt to rekindle this fire.
An experimental publication, The Kōan aims to grow into a collection of essays and short stories pertinent to anyone interested in cultivating the “small footprint” lifestyle of mindfulness, health and simplicity. In it, I’ll share not only what I’ve learned during the past decade, but also what I hope to learn through future life “experiments.” I’m also hoping that mine will not be the only voice, but that in the near future, other like-minded authors will share their words of wisdom as well.
Like Zen, this site offers no promise or guarantee of enlightenment, but I do hope it may nevertheless prove enlightening, inspiring and useful to those who read it.
With that, there's not much more to say than, “Onegaishimasu.” Let’s begin.