What Is The Sound Of One Hand Clapping?

Is the above sculpture a Zen koan? 

I encountered this piece of public art near Puget Sound in West Seattle on a hot summer day in 2020.  The koan “What Is The Sound of One Hand Clapping?” rose in my thoughts. 

Koans are meant to bewilder, to provoke what Zen Buddhists call the “great doubt.” 

Could things be any more bewildering than the Summer of 2020?  A time capsule of our uncertain times:

  • We have a global pandemic
  • The tragedy of George Floyd’s death and its global repercussions
  • Protests and riots across the country
  • Fires raging across the West Coast

What do the above events have in common with Zen koans?  From what I have read, koans are meant to free one from the constraints of rational thought, by offering something different from formal logic. 

Formal logic?  How to explain anything? I thought the day I encountered the sculpture. 

And then I looked beyond it, to Puget Sound.  I was surprised and cheered by the sight of a few bold souls who braved the chilly salt water inlet with its sharp rocks and sea lions. 

Perhaps the sound of one hand clapping is the point beyond which speech exhausts itself.  The point where we know when the world is too much with us and we try something new.

I vowed that I, too, would plunge into the chilly water.  I returned the next day in my swimsuit and watershoes.

Be the water, I gasped.  It was exhilarating!

Stay tuned for the Summer of 2021 — I hope to be taking more dips in Puget Sound.

And may the planet be at peace!

Shift Happens

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Let us spend one day as deliberately as Nature, and not be thrown off the track by every nutshell and mosquito’s wing that falls on the rails. ~ Henry David Thoreau

 

I thrive on walks in Seattle’s Lincoln Park, which faces Puget Sound.

Curious how the driftwood belched up by the Sound looks sculpted into the shape of animals.  First I spot a sea lion in  a log amid pebbles, and now a swan ~

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Lythe young bodies jog past me on my way to my meditation bench.  Some clock themselves with Fit Bits.

The show-offs!

In my forty-somethings, I walked more briskly.  With each decade — surprise — I have slowed down.  In my fifties, I developed plantar fascitis and now, in my sixties,  lower back issues.

Shift happens.

I reach my meditation bench.  At its base, a plaque engraved with the words Carpe Diem — Seize Today.   Nowhere does it say Carpe HisternoSeize Yesterday.  Nor Carpe MananaSeize Tomorrow. 

I am here to calm the internal chatter, to feel the pulse of this sacred, public park.  I am here to spend time as deliberately as nature, to notice the cries of  gulls, the flute-like melody of thrushes, and lately the sight of sea lions.  I am here to engage my senses and practice what the Japanese call Shinrin-yoku — having a forest bath.

Lowering myself onto the bench, I hope to spot my sea lion today.

Seagulls scud across the water.  The tide froths against the rocks.  Opening my ears, I try to memorize the rhythm of the tide. Inhaling the kelp-scented air, I consider the irony of “smelling the Sound.”

What would Henry David Thoreau have made of the sea lion that bobs up during my dusk quietude?   Most likely he would spend an entire day  in this spot.  Thoreau would stand motionless for eight hours beside Walden Pond to watch young frogs, and all day at a river’s edge watching duck eggs hatching.

Thoreau may have been extreme in his nature studies and solitude. During  my forest baths I have at least learned to leave my cell phone behind.

A dog trots past, smiling.  Is he experiencing a forest bath too?  I smile back.

Eyes half-focused on the horizon, on the quicksilver water, no sea lion appears today.  But something shifts and releases in my hips just by being here.