Who Would You Be If… A Koan

  When working with clients, it is disturbing but a delicious moment when repeatedly coming up against fixed notions of who the client believes they are – as if they are an object like a table or something. This is especially so when the belief is not even serving the individual well in their everyday experience of themselves – their experience of life with this set of beliefs.

The good news and the bad is that we are NOT objects; we are verbs. So…this is why I ask a client the question: ‘if you didn’t know (as in a fixed set of beliefs) who you were, who would you be?’

The difficulty in this koan (above) is that we are attached to our fixed notions when indeed we have a freedom – and the responsibility that goes with that – to CHOOSE. So…why are we so resistant to choosing? I don’t really have the answers though I do have some ideas about the resistance. But if we choose to approach this conundrum as a koan, we are off the hook for an answer.  :-) Koan (Japanese Kōan), in Zen Buddhism of Japan, is a succinct paradoxical statement or question used as a meditation discipline.

“Among other things, Zen is the task of re-learning how to live your daily life with a quirky, sometimes poetic spontaneity.”

(This quote is from Zachary Turpin, doctoral candidate in literature, 2016).

So the real task might be the need or the opportunity, given the right support, to relearn who or what we believe to be true, i.e. ‘carved in stone’ right…We even do this with our notions about fitness, relationships, roles as partners, parents, pastors (???) even. LOL. Why would we resist the freedom to simply choose a new definition of our self? Minimalism is beginning to gain some popularity as a lifestyle. What if we were to marry these two ideas: Minimalism and the fact of being verbs?   Could it be as simple as what Mary Oliver shares in a stanza of her poem, When Death Comes:  

“When it’s over, I want to say: all my life

I was a bride married to amazement.

I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.”

  Couldn’t we assert that if we are not willing to live LIVE, like a child verbs through his/her moments, thriving… that we are simply getting by, settling for and lamenting, or possibly even lauding, comparing, judging, fearing, or gloating based on someone else’s thinking (a fixed set of beliefs). Mary Oliver closes out her poem saying, “I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.” What about you? Verb and vitality or ‘same old, same old’ and lacking zest that celebrates the gift of the life you have been given?  

Choose! What would you have to relearn in order to freely choose?


Judith L. Harrison