Recently a friend who feels very close, although we are separated by the width of a continent, sent me a short note about his work with a koan.
"When I went through this koan originally, I 'passed' it but had no friggin idea what the hell it meant. For me, a sign of danger for the koan tradition.”
Good point. It could be a point of danger - if we don’t continue our koan work. I have found that, especially at the beginning of koan work, people can step into a koan almost unconsciously. Basically, our body (our somatic intelligence) responds before the mind can make sense of what just happened. It takes time for our cognitive processes to catch up and offer an explanation that our intellect can make sense of.
The thing is we grow in biological time, not at the speed of thought. We may have an intuitive leap of understanding or our unconsciousness may suddenly, and often somatically, release something that we were previously blind to. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean we grow and are able to hold this new insight. Growth takes time and continuing practice. This is the embedding and integrating phase of koan work.
A volcano may spew something from the depths into the air and make it visible. That doesn’t mean its work is finished, it may never be. Koans are like this.