From Koan't to Koan


On a crisp November weekend in 2015, I found myself navigating curving country roads to participate in a three-day program, Therapeutic Stance, at Spring Green Dojo. I was a newly minted faculty member with the UW Department of Family Medicine and Community Health and had registered at the urging of a dear friend and mentor, Cindy Haq. Unbeknownst to me, I would come to know these roads by heart, ferrying myself and many others along Sneed Creek Road in the years to come.

As for many of us, my introduction to the dojo was fortuitous yet vital. I had never sat on a zafu, held a calligraphy brush, tied a hakama. I arrived with curiosity, unaware that the tools I required were already in my possession. By the conclusion of the weekend, I proudly sat zazen for a full twenty minutes - !

The more I welcomed training opportunities into my life, the more my daily activities began to resemble training. Efficient. Solid. Powerful. Those around me noticed the shift: my husband, my co-workers, my animals.

At Spring Sesshin in 2019, I received my first koan, a question or statement used to aid meditation discipline for novices. We drank jasmine tea; split wood. We sat. And on Sunday morning, as Dokusan approached, I readied myself. Morning zazen had been strong and my body vibrated with enthusiasm to share my response. At the sound of the gong, I leapt up and sprinted to meet my Roshi.

The energy of the weekend followed me home. I sat in the pasture with our nine goats. Our youngest, Vinnie, sidled up to me with curiosity. He leaned in, the weight of his body pressed against my flank. His sister followed suit. Then his mother, aunt, and on, until nine medium-sized, fluffy goats encircled me. Never before had they demonstrated such trust and compassion towards me. They, too, felt a shift.

In the coming weeks, you will continue to hear stories from our dojo, from our incredible Roshi as well as our fellow trainees. My hope: our stories will resonate with you and your path. Perhaps you will rediscover yourself in their words.

I am grateful to the many teachers who have come before me. Through sweat, clay, wood, ink, and earth, we come together. Because of you, my training inches forward.

Please join me in supporting the Madison Dojo, Daikozen-ji, as our community continues to grow and thrive.


Bethany Howlett

Bethany Howlett