The Koan

I recently read an article on JD Salinger that opened up with a koan—the koan if you’re into these sort of things—”What is the sound of one hand clapping?”

It was a good reminder, that question. I began to think of my own path of awakening health as a sort of koan, too.

A quick referesher: koans are questions in the Zen tradition, maddening for the mind to try to answer, and meant as a tool to access deeper pathways of heart and gut-level wisdom. In short, you’re not going to get to an answer by thinking about it harder and longer, or by just saying someone else’s “right” answer.

But it’s not merely a whimsical or rhetorical pondering. The answer matters; it has a weight and a consequence.

Sound familiar?

“What should I be eating?” “How often should I exercise?” “Is jogging good for me or bad for me?”

“What do I do to be healthy?”

There are plenty of answers out there, but as one Zen master explained it, “a fat lot of good it does you if you don’t know it for yourself.”

Beyond the stacks of diet books (both fad and traditional), the exercise programs, the supplement regimes, the constant warnings that both too little and too much lead to premature death … there’s a little voice asking, “Yeah, but what do you feel?”

Living with true health and awareness in the 21st century, or any century for that matter … what finer, more mind-maddening, heart-and-gut-journey-inspiring koan could we imagine?


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