Practicing with Confusion

Ken McLeod has always been one of my inspiring teachers. He has a great e-newsletter and website. Check him out at

In his February newsletter he wrote about a practice tip:

Find peace and clarity in the confusion, not by getting rid of it.

He takes us through a process of taking a tradition slogan or teaching and adjusting it or expanding it so it makes very practical sense in our ordinary day-to-day life.

The traditional translation is:

May confusion arise as timeless awareness.

It seems when I am in confusion or in a fog and I notice my state enough to come back to the activity of the moment, somehow the confusion seems to evaporate as I focus on what I’m actually doing right now. What confusion is there to resolve? The confusion is all in my thinking. What is beyond thinking, here?  Just do, as Katagiri-Roshi would say.

Next, he has a looser translation:

May confusion become timeless awareness.

His aim was to put the emphasis on transformation. Not that we can WILL transformation but just by being with and accepting our confusion, it changes.

His latest variation is:

May I find clarity and peace in the difficulties I experience.

He writes:

“This is not really a translation. I’ve replaced the technical term timeless awareness with the more experiential phrase clarity and peace . Instead of confusion , I put difficulties I experience. Difficulties are only difficulties because they elicit confusion in us. And I’ve moved away from the vocabulary of arising and transformation to the vocabulary of discovery. This variation is based on my own experience. I have found that as long as I retain the slightest wish to be rid of an unpleasant or difficult feeling, the reaction mechanism stays firmly in place.”

This brings us back to our teaching of Radical Acceptance. In order to release our reactive emotions we have to feel the underlying fear or pain that produces them. I often work with the phrase: Experience releases itself.  If I am willing to receive or sit with the difficult feelings or experiences, they will naturally have their duration and then move into something else in the flow of life. It is when I resist feeling what I need to feel, that the movement is stopped. I extend the “duration” of phenomena by refusing to feel it. This is one of the wonders of sesshin, a long intensive retreat, where, because there is no escape, one learns to sit with whatever is coming up and just be it. Eventually one observes the impermanence of the state of mind and can see how it changes to something else.

McLeod writes:

Even so, I cannot say that I decide to experience it. I can only decide to keep facing it, and I face it by resting in all the different experiences, the physical sensations, the emotional storms and the often conflicting narratives, it throws up. At some point, something changes, but not because of an act of will or anything “I” have done. Rather, it’s when the “I” gives up, which is definitely something I don’t decide to do. Then there is a peace and a clarity in the confusion, in all the difficulties. The difficulties don’t go away. The pain or fear doesn’t necessarily go away, but it’s possible to be completely clear and at peace in those feelings. And that is quite an extraordinary experience, something that doesn’t seem possible, yet it is”

Ken McLeod is coming out with a new book called “A Trackless Path” in the Fall. Along with his current book on the market “Reflections on Silver River.” He also has a blog called Reflections on Infinite Space.