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Look at Koi fish for 2 minutes in a meditative fashion. That’s it. 

For those of us who still have to-do lists popping up while we’re looking at the koi fish (or we just don’t have any nearby):


Monks used riddles to confound their minds. They would think about a paradox for so long that their mind would tire out, and in the space between thoughts they would experience total presence. These riddles are called Zen Koans.


kōan (公案) (/ˈkæn, ɑːn/;[1] Chinese公案pinyingōng’àn[kʊ́ŋ ân]Korean공안 gong-anVietnamesecông án) is a storydialogue, question, or statement which is used in Zen practice to provoke the “great doubt” and to practice or test a student’s progress in Zen.

Here are a few common western Koans:

How is a raven like a writing desk? – Alice in Wonderland

Which came first, the chicken or the egg?

“Whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again” – John 4:1

It is possible to accurately measure the position and momentum of two photons if information between them travels faster than the speed of light… i.e., with quantum entanglement. – Einstein–Podolsky–Rosen paradox (EPR paradox)


And here is an eastern Zen Koan:

Koshin Paley Ellison
Co-Founder of the New York Zen Center for Contemplative Care

Once a monk made a request of Joshu.
“I have just entered the monastery,” he said. “Please give me instructions, Master.”
Joshu said, “Have you had your breakfast?”
“Yes, I have,” replied the monk.
“Then,” said Joshu, “wash your bowls.”
The monk had an insight

Mumon’s Poem
Because it is so very clear,
It takes longer to come to the realization.
If you know at once candlelight is fire,
The meal has long been cooked.
— The Gateless Gate

“I love this koan. I am the student in the midst of my life, waiting for life to happen. I am the teacher pointing to this latte on my desk. I am the bowl that needs washing and the breakfast already eaten. How do we enter our life fully? It is right here. How do we want to live? Can we allow all the joys and sorrows to enliven us? Or do we just go along with all our patterns and habits? People who are dying always remind me: ‘I can’t believe I wasn’t here for most of my life.’ That’s one of the most common things I hear, and the biggest regrets. Many people have not inhabited their life because they’re just waiting for other moments. Are we waiting for life to happen in the midst of life? How can we give ourselves fully to our lives, moment to moment? Don’t wait. Life is always right here.”

This excerpt from These Zen Buddhist Koans Will Open Your Mind by 


Visual Koans

“Magic Realism” is an art and literature movement that started around the time Dali started painting. It’s the style just before surrealism.

The point of the style is to bend reality just enough to make you look a little more closely at the piece and confound your brain.

Using Paradox to Upgrade Your Sensory Experience

Our brains work by auto-filling sensory information to protect us from over-processing data and save energy. 

This means that you only actually see, hear or feel about 20% of your environment. Your brain predicts the rest based on your past experiences. 

When an image contains data that does not match the brain’s auto-population, there’s a mental disruption. The moment you spend looking closely and wondering about the odd element in the image, the more you train your brain to auto-fill less. You begin to see.

This is how stories, poetry, Zen Koan’s, and meditation can re-program our brains. When we assume less and less, assess and expect less and less, there’s room in the mind for vibrant, HD reality. 

Then, there’s room in our experience of life for vibrant, unforseen experiences and emotions. If our perception is always, “I know,” then we will only ever see what we know. Nothing new. Same scenes, same stories, same thoughts, same life. 

Challenge: find something you’ve never noticed in your environment before.

How many times have you passed it?