Search our site
• • • • • • • • • •
 
 

 

THE ZEN OF PONDERING PUZZLES
   

"When an ordinary man attains knowledge he is a sage; when a sage attains understanding he is an ordinary man."

For those unfamiliar with the art of Zen, it is an ancient system of ‘thought' in which enlightenment is brought about by introspection and insight. At least that's what Webster's dictionary had to say about Zen. A fuller definition would be that it is an attempt to understand the world we live in, who we are and what our potential is. What makes it different from other religions or philosophies is that it does not rely on the usual forms of "thought" or "thinking" to answers these questions.

Zen of Pondering Puzzles

Zen monks are given a "koan" to contemplate. Koans are apparently impossible puzzles, problems without solutions. One we are familiar with is, "What is the sound of one hand clapping?" Another is "What was the appearance of your face before your ancestors were born?"

The point of the koan is to push the trainee beyond linear "thinking." Normal thinking tends to go round and round in circles, looking in obvious places for obvious answers. Normal thinking also depends upon association to find solutions. When no apparent associations are found, the puzzle is considered impossible.

Every Zen master knows though that the answer is "in" the question. There is no such thing as an impossible problem or enigma. The only thing that makes a solution "impossible" is the route used to find it. If you're going off on circuitous paths that lead nowhere, then nowhere is where you'll end up.

This leads us back to our question of, why do puzzles? The most prominent reason is that it takes different kinds of "thought" to find the solution to different kinds of puzzles. Most of us rely exclusively on "figuring it out." We ignore our intuition and the insight that is showered upon us daily from our deeper minds. O.K., so what is our deeper mind? Well this has been given many names by many schools of thought. The subconscious, higher self, unconscious self, the Id, psychic self, etc. No matter what you call it, we're all aware that there is a level of mind within each of us that lies in the background of our daily conscious thinking. This is the mind that keeps our heart beating, our lungs breathing, our blood flowing, and all those other biological functions that keep us alive.

 

This deeper mind is available to us whenever we call on it. Many branches of psychology are now studying the different ways we can access this portion of our consciousness that lies below the surface. Even religions and spiritualists are using different mechanisms to bring to light this aspect of self. At Enchanted Mind we are proposing that one very simple and fun way to access this deeper mind is by presenting the conscious mind with puzzling situations that can't always be reasoned out. In doing this, we come to the end of our usual methods of determining solutions. We are forced to turn it over to the level of mind that can handle the problem. Like any exercise, the more you practice this the better you get at literally "groking" the answer.

It takes a certain kind of attention and recognition to be aware of intuition and insight. So many of us have these insights all day long, but we dismiss them, usually because they are not "rational". Western culture tends to "educate" this insightful kind of thought out of its students because it isn't logical. There is a place for logic. In fact, logic taken to its highest form is pure reason. We aren't throwing out logical thought here. But what we are doing is learning to exercise and discern the other kind of thought process that goes beyond sequential, rational and logical thought. This analogical thought pushes us out into the unknown.

This highly unused analogical portion of our mind can see the entire picture of any given situation. It knows the answer. It knows that the answer was in the question. Pure analogical thought doesn't rely on time or space, so it whispers the answer to our conscious mind almost instantly. The problem is, most of us are so entrenched in our usual step by step linear modes of thinking, we ignore this simple tiny whisper. And, if we do hear it we discount it.

Here's a good example of the kind of thinking that most of us learned in school and have taken for granted as normal. Years ago some experimental psychologists were investigating the ability of chimpanzees to solve problems. A banana was suspended from the center of the ceiling at a height that the chimp could not reach by jumping. The room was bare of all objects except several packing crates placed around the room at random. The test was to see whether a lady chimp would think of first stacking the crates in the center of the room, and then climbing on top of the crates to get the banana.

The chimp sat quietly in a corner, watching the psychologist arrange the crates. She waited patiently until the professor crossed the middle of the room. When he was directly below the fruit, the chimp suddenly jumped on his shoulder, then leaped into the air and grabbed the banana.

The moral here: a problem that seems difficult may have a simple, unexpected solution. The chimp followed her instincts. Man was hoping for her to use the logical sequential approach that he would have used to accomplish getting the banana. Standing on the crates and reaching up. Not only does this show that there are a number of ways to solve any problem, but that the approach to the problem can be critical to a simple elegant solution. The chimp wasn't stuck on sequential logic. She knew the answer, different from the one they had hoped for, and seized it in the moment.

This is where Zen comes in. The solution to the koan is the simplest most elegant approach. Amazingly, most of the time that is an answer that will be intuited, perhaps after some contemplation. Contemplation is different than "figuring out." When you contemplate something you ponder it from all sides. If you're skilled at this, you become the problem that you're working on. Once you become it, the solution will reveal itself almost as if by magic. As you do this more and more the simple, elegant solution becomes immediately apparent to you.

 

Hence, the purpose of this web site is to get people to challenge their minds daily with simple puzzles. Many of these puzzles will defy their usual ‘thinking' processes. This gives them an opportunity to practice using higher reasoning when necessary, or learning to listen to that small intuitive voice that whispers the solution in their ear. This is the "Aha" voice. Listen to this voice. The more you do, the louder it will become. The louder it becomes the more you realize it is there all the time to help you see the solution to any problem you may have.

It's true that we're all beset with a myriad of little problematic challenges every day. Anyone working with computers certainly has this happen frequently. Hardware and software just don't want to cooperate sometimes. And, sometimes human beings don't want to give computers the keystrokes the computer needs to perform properly. In any case, I personally have learned to pause, contemplate the problem, and more often than not, a little internal voice will whisper a solution. Since I haven't been to computer school, I haven't had these illogical solutions bred out of me as ridiculous. 90% of the time the solution is simpler than it first appeared. The other 10% of the time it helps to get out the manual and read it, because I don't have enough information to understand what the little voice is saying.

In any case, experience is the test of any proposition. Something doesn't become wisdom until it's experienced. Eloquent philosophies are useless unless they work in daily life. I created this site because this method of challenging myself daily with various puzzles was helping to open my mind to new ways of "thinking". What I learned is that often this turned out to be "non-thinking." I pass it on as a simple, lighthearted method to expand and strengthen your ability to get solutions to any enigma life may present you with.

© J.L. Read, 1996. All Rights Reserved.
Back to Top
Back to Inspiration page
Back to Creative Illusion page
 
SUGGESTED READING:

 
 

 

 

 
 

 

This site is dedicated in loving memory
to its creator, Janet L. Read
1949 — 2000

 

  | Puzzles | Creativity | Science | Books |
Home | Site Map | Links


© Enchanted Mind, 2002. All rights reserved.
"Magic Happens™" is a Service Mark of World IT Professionals, Inc.
Unicorn symbol courtesy of MJV Spring