Coin Lost in the River is Found in the River

Koan: A coin lost in the river, is found in the river.

I like to think of the lost coin as our liberation and tied up with our liberation is the 1st Noble Truth that there is suffering. My teacher, John Tarrant, reminds us that most of the things we try to do or think that might alleviate our pain or fear, generally deepens or exacerbates our suffering. We are either pushing away what is here which is never too successful and often painful. I have found that when I push things away they tend to push against me. That old adage, “What you resist, persists” seems to be true.  Pushing down what is here is often the source of illness, so that too is unsuccessful, or we try some other technique that never really does the trick either such as distraction or obsession.

The essential element of living a human life is that we tend to  feel, believe or KNOW that we have lost something;

Our happiness or joy,

a marriage,

it might be our heart,

a love, a job, our health,

a loved one, our security,

our home or even ourselves.

The idea of things getting or being lost is such an interesting concept to me. It implies that we own things. They’re ours and so when they are no longer ours, then they are lost.  I’ve been playing with this myself and noticing with my students and clients when and how this kind of mind (thinking) is present and where it leads.

Recently I was traveling to lead a retreat. I stopped for gas so my assistant could use the bathroom and I could fill my gas tank. For some reason (something I never do) I placed my wallet on the roof of my car. Because I never do that, I didn’t notice it was up there and I drove off without putting it away. Inside was $800 for the food for the retreat.  Five minutes down the road I recalled putting it on the roof of the car and forgetting to retrieve it.  We retraced our steps but no wallet was to be found. I was sick about this.  For a few days I suffered every time the thought arose (which was often). Finally, I let go and did what was at hand. Five days later, someone called to tell me they had my wallet.  Everything was in it, except the money.  It was both a sacrifice and a give-away. But right there was freedom. My faith in humanity restored and I noticed that I had so let go of ever finding it that getting it back was a strange feeling. Was it still mine?

This past week I led a Vision Quest in Mount Shasta. I offer this program every year and have for the past 11 years. A Vision Quest is a Native American Death Ceremony. It is a two to four-day ritual of fasting, prayer and meditation alone in nature. It is a ceremony designed to die to your past and current life in order to be re-born into the life you have been destined for from the beginning of time. It is essentially an Indigenous Enlightenment journey.  You discover your true essential nature by meditating on the moment – each moment. You watche as the sun rises, the day unfolds, the miracles of nature take place, the sun sets, the moon rises and the cycles of life reveal themselves.  All is a reflection of your true self. You are naked, all thoughts cease and the vision for your life is revealed.

There is much preparation for this journey, but the journey itself is the river of this Koan. One of my students had to let go of his marriage, thinking it was “his” marriage but he discovered that what he thought was his marriage was actually not his at all. His letting it go allowed the truth of the relationship he was in to be revealed. We all have ideas of what a marriage is, forgetting that it is essentially a relationship that we are dedicated and devoted to. Dying to the marriage allowed him to find the truth of that relationship flowing in his heart all the while flowing with the river of life instead of his will.

When your health status changes, your children grow up and move out or your loved ones die, you might discover, as I have, that they are not lost at all. Something transforms but within that transformation is the very thing, the very essence of what you thought you had lost.

Koans such as this one, begin to loosen the mind so that you might begin to identify with these beliefs and thoughts a bit less or even stop identifying with them all together. Even if you continue to identify with your thoughts, this is not really important or a problem. What is powerful and empowering is that there is a little bit of space created when you are entertained and amused by your thoughts – and right there is a piece of freedom.

I often encourage my students and clients to experiment with allowing the river of life to just carry them. The river will eventually bring you to the shore. Just like when you are river rafting, the guide will always tell you, “If or when you are thrown out of the raft, put your feet up and let the river carry you to the shore. If you fight the river, you will lose. For the river has its own course and it is much stronger than you or your will.” This feels like such a great teaching about life. It has been for me.

Zen practice allows me the opportunity to notice my mind, (the judging, criticizing, the feelings/thoughts of lack or should, etc ) – the way in which I habitually or conditionally navigate my world and then allows me to be with my thoughts and feelings just as they are and to just notice.  That simple (but not easy) practice prys open a little space for realizations and ah ha’s to happen and for me to experience a little bit of what freedom feels like. And every bit of freedom, is all of freedom.

There is a great exchange that takes place in Alice in Wonderland: Alice asks the Cheshire Cat, “What road do I take?”  The cat responds. “Where are you going?” Alice replies, “I don’t know.”  The cat says, “Then it doesn’t matter. If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.”

That is what it’s like to set an intention without an attachment to outcome or what I would say is surrendering to the river of life. I notice when I do that, what I thought was lost, was not really lost at all. Something else, far more astonishing and valuable, is found – every time.

“The sun and moon are travelers in eternity. Even the years are wanderers. For those whose life is on the waters or leading a horse through the years each day is a journey and the journey itself is home.”  Matsuo Basho