Finding Meditation/How a Particular Koan Came to Meet With a Step

Finding Meditation

Even though meditation is a vital component of Step Eleven, in my first eight years of recovery it never occurred to me to actually do it. Eventually I became interested and spent almost two years reading about meditation. Reading about meditation isn't meditating. Then, after being coaxed by several 12 Step fellowship friends, I finally walked into a Zen meditation hall to begin practicing meditation. "There are no benefits to meditation," I once read, "... but the side effects can be great!"

Remember that potato chip ad, "I'll bet you can't eat just one?" Addicted personalities do not know the meaning of "just one." We all have addictions or compulsions to some degree; but for the purpose here, everyday life means recovery from one or more grave addictions. If you think you may have an addiction problem or are early in recovery, then working the 12 Steps with a sponsor is probably your best first choice -- it will set you free. Koans are not a substitute for the 12 Steps; but they can add
an interesting twist to 12 Step work. Not only will they take you deeper into the Steps, they take you deeper into life.

Under the guidance of John Tarrant Roshi, one of the goals at Pacific Zen Institute ( is to bring koan practice into everyday lives. It's amazing how thousand-year-old koans have relevancy today. Don't even try to figure them out in your head (you'll try anyway). To allow a koan to enter your life, not to be argued with, not cross-examined or dissected; but to be carried about gently like strolling hand-in-hand with a companion. If just a portion of the koan sticks to you, then sit with that part.

How a Particular Koan Came to Meet With a Step

The PZi Monday evening protocol is to meditate for 40 minutes, then a short break, then tea, a talk and the sutras. It's during the meditation period when the teacher offers a koan to sit with. On this one particular autumn evening, as soon as I heard what the koan was, I balked -- my mind didn't want to go there and instead produced all sorts of reasons not to: "I've heard this one before, it's not really that interesting, blah, blah, blah, all giving me exclusive permission to go elsewhere, eventually delegating the teacher's voice to that of background noise.

Two days passed. It was early morning; it came to me as I was walking around the neighborhood with my dog, Ryla -- a pastime offering great meditation opportunities, minimal thought, silence,
just the easy cadence of breath and footsteps.  Silence turned to
revelation.  Something inside exclaimed, "HEY, that koan last Monday is really about the Third Step!"  I didn't know then;  but this was the moment when I began exploring 12 Step/koan relationships.

The day brightened, my walking seemed effortless,  the Steps and koans had been introduced.