The Sound of One Hand Clapping

Ask a person “What is the first thing you think of when you hear the word, ‘Zen?'” Most people will respond with ideas about an imperturbable state of calm. However, if you ask them about the second thing, they may reply,” Isn’t it the sound of one hand clapping or something?” This person is remembering part of a Zen koan. Furthermore, they’re actually probably a little closer to the heart of Zen with this answer. This week at Barn Life Recovery, we are working with koans. These tools can grant us a greater understanding of ourselves and the world around us. But what exactly are koans? And how can they help us?

Empty Your Cup

A famous master, Lao-tzu, once said, “Understanding only goes as far as that which it can understand.” Put another way “Ya don’t know what ya don’t know.” As soon as we think we know something, then we become rigid and unresponsive. You know the famous phrase: “For the beginner, there are many possibilities, but for the expert, there are few.” Maintaining a mind of “not knowing” allows us to respond to situations with openness, freshness, and joy. This is where koans come in. Koans – sometimes called spiritual puzzles – pose questions or situations we can’t answer or understand using logic, and thus force us to go beyond the mind. Koans can be stories, poems or phrases. They convey a direct feeling rather than an intellectual idea.

Working With Koans

In practice, a student is assigned a koan by a teacher or master. The teacher will ask, “What is the color of wind?” or “What is your original face before you were born?” The student is then expected to “live with” and meditate upon the question for some time before returning with the “answer.” If these questions sound like nonsense to you, you’re partially right. Remember, koans work to push us beyond logic toward a realm of feeling and intuition. William Blake was working with koans when he wrote about the Sick Rose, as was Denis Johnson in his stories about fringe characters in the Midwest. This week, we are assigning koans to our clients and seeing what they come up with. The beauty of this technique is that the interpretations are endless and we are ready to uncover truth around every corner.

Barn Life Recovery is the first treatment center in the state of California licensed to treat mental illness on an outpatient community-based level. If you are feeling depressed, anxious, or just plain overwhelmed, please consider giving us a call. Our admissions specialists are standing by to offer a free consultation. Learn to love life again.