STRIVING, NON-STRIVING, AND TAKING HOLD OF THE VOID
If your teacher gives you a koan, you might carry it around like a sacred stone: sitting in meditation with it, carrying it into the grocery store or the shower, eating with it, washing dishes with it, dreaming it.
Or maybe you set the koan aside entirely and take it up only when you meet one-on-one with your teacher who will ask you to demonstrate your understanding.
It's helpful to hear about how others work with koans, but each of us has to, via trial and error, sit our way into understanding the cul-de-sacs we create to make a koan difficult.
One of the most subtle challenges with koans is to practice without striving. We understand that this path promises wonderful things like happiness and creativity and connection and profound insights but it's also clear that if we proceed with a striving mind, we create a duality where there's a.) practice, and b.) the expected results of practice. And if we remain in that goal-oriented mindset, never the twain shall meet.
So the practice is just to give yourself to the koan, to sacrifice all expectations and on the altar of not-knowing.
Then there's no room for anticipating some cosmic experience or subtle insight. There's no room for believing that you're inadequate, or comparing your koan practice to the imagined koan practice of other people.
If your teacher gives you the koan How can you take hold of the void? you might begin by thinking it's absurd or impossible or irrelevant to your life or that it's just some trickery of language.
Or you may think that if you crack open this koan, you'll be ushered into some secret club. So it becomes something to conquer like a distant ridge.
So it's good at some point to try a different approach and to hold the koan lightly like a flower.
Then one day you actually take hold of the void. It's so obvious and simple and relevant, and you wonder what all the striving was about.
The teacher doesn't give you an award or hand you a secret club membership or throw you a party. You just get another koan. And then another koan. And then another koan: each koan, like each breath, another chance to see the world anew, another chance to let the light in and step forth a bit more open, a bit more free from agendas and private manifestos.