“The Brick and the Mirror”

A Daylong Koan Workshop with Henry Shukman


This daylong will offer:

— help for sitting with a koan or question

— pointers for self-enquiry

— practices to settle and calm the nervous system

— practices to enliven the spirit of curiosity

— a period of mindful movement led by Shana Smith

— guided meditations

— Talk and Q&A

Curious about what a koan is, and how to work with one?

Looking for a practice that can help us calm and settle the nervous system, and at the same time that points us toward nondual experience?

Koans offer a wonderful method for examining our experience, of coming to know ourselves in wholly new ways, and of making massive discoveries about the nature of our relationship to the world.

In this daylong workshop-retreat experience, we will explore a famous koan from early Zen in which a great master and his student (later to become a great master too) have an exchange that cuts to the core of meditation practice, of the path of awakening, and of our own lives. Who are we? How can we grow in wisdom and compassion? How do we uncover our own “buddha nature”?

Workshop Description


(Please note, this workshop is designed for all levels. We invite you to dive in, whether you’re new to meditation, or many decades down the path…)

In this daylong workshop, we’re going to focus on this koan, the Brick and the Mirror.

This koan relates a story about one of the great figures of early Zen: Mazu (or Baso in Japanese).

When Mazu was a student, he spent a lot of time meditating. One time, his teacher Nanyue asked him, “Why are you meditating so much?” Mazu said, “In order to become a Buddha.”

In response, Nanyue picked up a brick and started polishing it. One story is that he ground it on a rock nearby. And another is that he rubbed it with a tile. 

Naturally enough, Mazu asked him, “What are you doing?”

Nanyue said, “I’m polishing this brick in order to make a mirror.”

Mazu responded, “How on earth can you make a mirror out of a brick?”

Nanyue said, “How can you become a Buddha by doing meditation?”

What is this strange dialogue pointing us to? In a sense, it’s expressing the heart of what the Original Love program is all about. We totally honor the mirror. But we also love the brick. 

Koans contain truths about our lives, even when sometimes they are really baffling. What does this story really mean?

How can a mirror be made out of a brick? How can a Buddha be made out of a meditator? But wouldn’t we practitioners think that that’s why we’re meditating – to become awakened? Isn’t that what we’re here for?

Why then does this great teacher Nanyue say that’s not possible?

There’s a deep truth in that statement. The purpose of koans is to make us look more deeply – to go to these points in them that don’t seem to make sense –  these unreasonable things that the masters in the koans often say – and explore what hidden wisdom they may contain.

It’s precisely when we go to these age-old statements and apply them to our own experience that breakthroughs can happen.

But koans also provide a beautiful context for calm states of absorption to develop. It can be very settling to learn to sit with a koan patiently, without needing to understand it, and instead just trusting it as a kind of presence in our meditation. In this daylong workshop, we’ll be talking about how to do just that.

At the same time it is wonderful to become more familiar, even intimate, with some of the deep archetypal figures from the long tradition of Buddhism. There can be a sense in which we start to feel we’re getting to know these ancient teachers from long ago, here and now in our contemporary lives.

Sometimes it’s as if they speak to us here and now, in the midst of our 21st century activities, in a way that’s timelessly relevant – in a way that can reveal how deeply they studied human experience and human consciousness. It is after all the very same consciousness with which we’re equipped, and that we are experiencing right now.

These ancient teachers devoted themselves to examining it, and to sharing their discoveries with their immediate students. These discoveries have come down to us today. To have that immediate connection with somebody from so long ago, and find that it meets us right where we are, is a remarkable gift the koans offer.

We will be exploring how to unearth these gifts ourselves, in our own experience, by sitting with a koan.

Questions about the workshop? Please feel free to email Jeremy, the Original Love Program Manager.

Workshop information


Sunday July 16, 9:30 am – 3pm MT

For those of you in different time zones, or who can’t make the scheduled meeting times – all workshop sessions will be recorded, and you will have access to recordings within 10 days.

Original Love is 100% online, there are no in-person events scheduled this year.

Workshop components:
The workshop consists of live sessions with Henry include guided meditations, talks and Q&A. There will also be a segment of mindful movement instruction with guest instructor Shana Smith.

Weekend Workshop: $75

We have a limited number of scholarships available. We don’t want anybody not to be able to take the program because of financial need. If you need financial assistance, please contact Jeremy, the Original Love Program Manager.

If you have any questions, please contact Jeremy. We’re happy to answer any questions and look forward to having you join us!

Original Love

Learn to love meditation in a whole new way