What is the sound of one hand clapping?

If you recognise that question you could be into Zen philosophy. Or you could, like me, have heard it asked in Van Morrison’s song, Enlightenment.

In fact the question is derived from a Zen ‘koan’ – a concept described by Encyclopedia Britannica online, thus:

‘…  a succinct paradoxical statement or question used as a meditation discipline for novices … The effort to “solve” a koan is intended to exhaust the analytic intellect and the egoistic will, readying the mind to entertain an appropriate response on the intuitive level.’

So, set aside your analytical skills and your egotistical will and think about that question. I’ll come back to it later.

First, though, I ought to tell you why I was pondering it this weekend.

On Saturday, a cold, drab winter’s day I spent two hours standing around on Victorian cobbles outside a huge neo-classical building. I was in Liverpool, in the company of my husband, my friend Heather and hundreds of peaceable strangers, women, men, children, babies – and dogs.

I was part of something wonderful. And by the time I left I’d made a new friend.

Meet Stanley.

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Stanley is 7 months old and can’t bear to let his owner out of his sight as you can see. But he does like having his head scratched.

This is how the organiser, Kirsty, billed the event:

“On Saturday, January 21, 2017, millions will gather in Washington, D.C. and in hundreds of cities around the world. Here in Liverpool, we will stand together in solidarity with those women, and with partners, families and friends of all genders, to remind the US administration, our local leaders, and the world that the majority of us stand for and will defend human rights.

The city of Liverpool, the UK and Europe are closely connected to the US in so many ways. What happens there affects us all.

This is a peaceful rally – not a march – to show that we will not accept intolerance or injustice in Liverpool or anywhere else”

Victorian Prime Minister Disraeli  representing the patriarchy ;-)

Victorian Prime Minister Disraeli representing the patriarchy 😉

It was one o-clock when the first speaker piped up, using a not-quite-worse-than-useless megaphone.

We kept quiet – and listened hard.

Across the Atlantic, in that land where so many ships arrived that had set sail from Liverpool, the Women’s March in Washington was setting off.

A minute’s clapping was our tribute.

My two hands clapping made a muted, thudding kind of noise, thanks to the sheepskin mittens. But, together, our hundreds of pairs of two hands clapping made a sound like a monsoonal downpour of rain, falling on a hard, flat surface.

Augmented by whoops and hoorahs, we sent out our signal of transatlantic solidarity. They may not have heard it in DC, but it was there, somewhere, in the air.

And there were placards. Not the usual identikit printouts, but creative, personal statements. Some distinctively local:

'Trump is a blert' - a Scouse word for a fool;  'Trump is a bad arl arse; and looking ver appetising, a real crumpet on the placard stating 'Crumpets against Trumpets'. Sorry about the quality, had to crop a lot

‘Trump is a blert’ – a Scouse word for a fool; ‘Trump is a bad arl arse (on the right edge, brown one); and looking very appetising, a real crumpet on the placard stating ‘Crumpets against Trumpets’. Mostly very good spelling shame about the Empresess … Sorry about quality, had to crop a lot

Liverpool’s event, ours, was just one of the many amazing outpourings of people, placards and soft toys onto the streets – or not streets in the case of the Antarctic gathering – of the world.

My partner-in-crime Thel was at the march in Austin Texas and spotted this - all I can say is, don't worry, we're with you and we support you, we can overcomb! (no that's not a typo)

My partner-in-crime Thel was at the march in Austin Texas and spotted this – all I can say is, don’t worry, we’re with you and we support you, we can overcomb! (no that’s not a typo)

And a lot has been said, since then, about the extraordinary phenomenon. Some of it very sniffy.

Who are these feminists, daring to question the results of a legitimate, democratic election?

Where have they been all these years while Rome burned (that’s metaphorical, they mostly mention bombings, human rights abuses and such like).

And some rejoice in the harmonious outpouring of peaceful – what?

Protest?

Certainly for many it was. But it was both more and less than that.

‘Pussy grabbing’ was by no means the whole story, but it certainly fired the imaginations of women – and men – world wide. Such a crass, dirty, sleazy thing to say.

And there were plenty of pussies around on Saturday. Women and girls – to use another term. Warmly dressed. Cheerful. Tolerant (that megaphone).

There wasn't much singing - just the Star Spangled Banner led by some exiles who knew the words

There wasn’t much singing – just the Star Spangled Banner led by some exiles who knew the words

We all felt good. Heartwarmed. Reassured.

We weren’t shouting, throwing missiles or tearing up the old cobbles.

We were clapping.

And over a good brew of hot strong tea, later that day, it came to me. That question.

What is the sound of one hand clapping?

I’d always assumed I knew the answer. That it was silence.

But as we all know, one should never assume.

And now Van Morrison was stuck in my head. I had to track down that old cassette.  Get the tape deck working.

As I listened, to Enlightenment, I knew I had to find out more.

And so I delved into that tombola of strangenesses, the search engine.

My prize was a Hawaiian website devoted to ‘Huna’. Which, apparently, is a Hawaiian word meaning ‘secret’ which also alludes to the ‘esoteric wisdom of Polynesia’.

The author of a post on that site, Serge Kahili King,* suggests an answer to the riddle.

The sound of one hand clapping is, he posits, the same as that of two hands clapping. One hand doesn’t need the other to move in order to make the sound.

Then, he applies that principle to human relationships:

‘…everything is in a relationship to everything else …  if you change one side of a relationship you change both sides … We don’t have to wait for both sides of a relationship to participate before bringing about beneficial change. Change one side of that relationship and the other side has to change because the relationship has changed.’

Hug and smile a lot (I’m summarising wildly) and you’ll find other people hugging and smiling more. Try and see qualities you like in people you dislike, it will begin to change how you interact with them and perhaps influence how they behave and:

‘… the more your persuasion is based on a benefit to the other person, the more successful it is likely to be.’

Then he takes it much, much further:

‘In a strained global relationship, assuming our theory is valid … we might be able to get together even in a smallish group and rethink (or redream) our relationship with one or both countries involved. Theoretically … it ought to take only one person to make a change. On the other hand, the change of one person’s relationship to a country might only produce a very small change, so the more people the better. The thing to remember, in this context, is that you are trying to change how you think or feel about the country, not trying to change the country. It’s a subtle but important difference, and it applies to people as well as countries.

If this idea catches on we can introduce a Huna koan (the actual Hawaiian phrase is “nane huna,” a hidden riddle or conundrum): “What is the sound of one person loving?” ‘

Oh, I like that!

A global coming together, without violence, with smiles and hugs. With cuddles for babies and pats for dogs.

The sound of many people loving.

Spread the word.

Do you hear the sound of one hand clapping?

 


*Read the full One Hand Clapping blog post by Serge Kahili King:

http://www.huna.org/html/onehand.html

Listen to Enlightenment by Van Morrison here (unfortunately there’s an annoying ad):

 

 

 

Posted in Art, jaunts & going out, Britain now & then, Texas, Thinking, or ranting, or both | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“… Sharing a park bench quietly?”

A park bench.

Two old men, ‘lost in their overcoats’.

And two young men, Simon and Garfunkel, perceptive enough in their mid-twenties to understand the importance of that friendship – and that bench.

’How terribly strange,’ they sang, ‘to be seventy.’

Now well past that strange age themselves, I wonder if the old friends have shared that park bench, quietly?

Interesting, that ‘quietly’.  A silence of memories shared? Of times past? Regret for lost beginnings? An unwillingness to think of endings?

Were those young men really able to put themselves in the ‘round toes’ of the ‘high shoes’ of two old men? Sitting together, quietly?

Once you begin to look at benches, you soon realise their role in human lives extends beyond the merely practical.

Simon and Garfunkel were singing about park benches …

A bench in one of our local parks, just after Christmas, with floral tributes to memory of the person commemorated ion the plaque

A bench in one of our local parks, just after Christmas, with commemorative floral tributes hiding the name/s on the plaque

View from the bench in one of our local parks on a rather drab winter's day

View from the bench in one of our local parks on a rather drab winter’s day

…but they materialise in all sort of places, benches.

Hiding in clearings in pine woods.

Facing the crashing waves on promenades and piers.

Nestling in long grass on country lanes where they subtly infiltrate the landscape.

A bench invites you – if not to sit – at least to stop, look, share what other people see when they sit and stare and rest and think.

Memories abound around benches. Like invisible heaps made of fragments of lives.

Sadness and joy. Hope and despair. Boredom – and inspiration.

A place to open the thermos flask and eat the corned beef sandwich. A view to be savoured with each sip and bite.

The turning point, neither there nor back.

And, physically, a limbo for aching limbs, a respite for recovery.

Last summer we found a new place to walk that had many memory-laden benches.

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When I say walk, I’m not a 12 mile hike kind of walker. I prefer my walks enjoyable. With plenty of time to stand and stare. To breathe deeply, not huff and puff.

A five mile round trip’s my limit.

Our new strolling patch is far shorter than that, in a nature reserve not far from a northern industrial city.

It happens to be the city where I was born. I never lived there, being whisked back from the nun-run Nursing Home pretty quickly, but it still gives me a frisson of pleasure that I’ve ended up living so close to my roots.

Anyway.

The nature reserve is on the site of an old brickworks, where clay was extracted for many years. Hence its name, Brickcroft.

It’s now a string of ponds, fringed by trees and swamps. An oasis amid an old, almost suburban world of housing, horticulture and, across the road – a bakery.

The Croft Bakery’s not for the frenzied. Queuing is an inevitable part of the experience.

Pea and ham 'soup'

Pea and ham ‘soup’

If you want a generous slice of game pie, a freshly made sandwich of roast pork with apple sauce, a huge scone loaded with jam and cream – or a soup of pea and ham you can stand a spoon up in – you will wait.

Outside are some damp (it’s usually rained at some point, or the frost is thawing) picnic tables – with benches.

There we sit and eat, then sup a cup of tea before taking our weekend constitutional.

Around the two main ponds passing strangers nod and say hello – or more. We pat the head of the occasional dog – and notice the seasons changing.

Early autumn’s delicious colours.

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The bare dark branches and bright red berries of frosty blue-skied winter.

And now, the climate-change warmth of a mild, wet, rotting-leaved middle of January.

In the largest pond a cormorant sits like a statue on the branch of a sunken tree trunk protruding from the water.

White birds sit on the ice of mid-November, reflecting like a blurred image in the greyly frozen water.

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A scraperboard illustration my father of our 'family bird'

A scraperboard illustration, by my father, of our ‘family bird’

 

 

A lanky-legged heron flits across the sky, no sooner spotted than gone.

An omen for me, a good one.

He’s my bird, the heron. A source for my northern surname on my northern father’s side.

 

 

 

 

The ducks quack as regular visitors throw them seeds.

A robin follows us, bouncing one tree ahead, or one behind, till he rests on the back of a bench.

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And I think of the person, Dennis, commemorated on its little plaque.

‘Preserve your memories,’ sang Simon and Garfunkel, ’they’re all that’s left you’.

Or should that be, they’re all that’s left of you?

It makes me smile to think that, perhaps, somewhere in the ether, a soul is happily watching as a cheery little redbreast perches on the back of his old haunt.

And I look at the view.

Sharing.

Quietly.

The view from Dennis's bench, in winter

The view from Dennis’s bench, in winter

Simon and Garfunkel singing Old Friends (grit your teeth through the ad):

Posted in Lancashire & the golf coast | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments

Lights – and darkness. An encounter with Poland

A ferocious wind blew us in to Wroclaw* airport, the landing earning our pilot a well-deserved round of applause.

Eager to start our adventure (and the promised hotel shuttle bus proving to be an illusion) we took a taxi.

We sped past northern woods. Past car showrooms so new they sparkled.

Then, as we neared the city, came soulless blocks of concrete, home to the masses.

Women in headscarves, men in caps, packed in old blue-and-white trams.

The communist aesthetic surviving.

Our driver was a good guide. Points of local interest pointed out. Personal details slipped in along the way. A post-World-War-II baby, he’d seen plenty. And his face – like a thinner Lech Walesa – spoke the volumes he hadn’t time to relate.

By now our first day was already waning and after a quick check-in we set out onto the darkening streets.

The dismal-looking suburbs had made me apprehensive, but as we ventured into the wintry old town, the magic began to happen.

A vast tower loomed over a red brick church, its eerie windows reaching out into the street.

A chill inside was not merely physical. The icy fingers of tragedy reached out from the side chapels to touch our human hearts.

A memorial window dedicated to Katyn 1940. No words can speak of that.

The disturbing image of many heads and faces. A grey crowd, marching where? And why? I still don’t know. Tried to find out, to no avail.

There are some things that Wroclaw doesn’t seem to want to share.

And Pope John Paul XXII. A son of the city. A beacon of hope for those in despair, like the Madonnas and their offerings of amber, pearls and gold.

 

 

 

This was my first impression.

Cold churches and sad, haunted faces kneeling to pray, lighting candles in the darkness.

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But, striding onwards, jewel-rich Christmas lights revealed a gingerbread house come to life.  Streets bustling with people, hatted and coated, mittened and booted. Going places or nowhere, seeing things or rushing home.

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We missed the Christmas market, but the city remained beautiful in celebration as Wraclow’s year as European Capital of Culture drew to an end

lightsWe found a place to eat. With some difficulty. Despite a full hand of street maps to help us on our way.

I always rely on the expeditionary man to navigate my way round strange places. If you ask us both which way to go, then always, always, trust his answer, that’s my advice.

But something went wrong with his sixth sense in Wroclaw.

It took two days to work out why.

It was simple. He needed to know which way the north lay.

I tried drawing an arbitrary north on one of the better maps we’d acquired.

He sniffed the air, like a beagle seeking the trail – and sighed.

‘The shadows are falling the wrong way.’

We found our way, after that, when he recognised it for himself. But as for the rest of our wanderings – I’m going to let pictures and captions do most of the telling. I can’t do any better with words.

It was both a magical and a disturbing experience.

A swashbuckling history of heroic resistance – or dreadful inhumanity – depending on your sympathies.

From the tenth century onwards, this place has been tossed – or offered itself – from nation to nation, ruler to ruler, warlord to warlord – like some chip in a high-stakes gambling den.

Poland, Germany, Prussia, Bohemia, France, Sweden and – of course – the USSR. Before the states and princes, the Tartars’ galloping hordes.

Its recent past is one the liberal west warms to – the rise of Solidarity, the election of 1989, the victory of Lech Walesa in the presidential election of 1990.

The transition to a post-communist state. The entry into the EU.

And this beautiful old city is a monument to resurrection. A phoenix-like community, rising from its own ashes, again and again.

In the case of its Jewish inhabitants, literally so.

The citizens of Breslau (as Wroclaw was in its German days) welcomed the National Socialists.

An old photograph of the synagogue that was destroyed by fire in 1938, in an exhibition in the White Stork Synagogue

An old photograph of the synagogue that was destroyed by fire in 1938, in an exhibition in the White Stork Synagogue

On Kristallnacht in 1938, the grand old synagogue was burned to the ground.

White Stork synagogue

White Stork synagogue

Now, The White Stork Synagogue is resplendent in its calm façade. But it enshrines yet more tragedy. Individuals. Families. Masses.

Innocent lives lost to fear of the other, to intolerance, cruelty and genocide.

Most chilling of all was realising that the last (let’s hope) state-inspired exodus of Jewish people from the city happened as recently as 1968.

 

There are all sorts of reasons the why the guide books might be reticent about certain things.

Perhaps the omissions are accidental – or perhaps the pain is too deep. Or the shame.

Or, possibly, pride gets in the way.

I don’t know and don’t purport to know.

I do know we saw a host of poignant, breath-taking, glorious, quirky things in Wroclaw.

This ancient university city has espoused learning, embraced beauty, championed the new and cherished the old. Its rebuilt city a monument to its own belief in itself.

Yes, the city casts long shadows. But here’s the thing about shadows – if you listen to what they’re saying, they help you find your way.


 

I have assembled some of my pictures into collages (below) – they get more lighthearted towards the end …


One picture of the damage inflictedon Cathedral Island in World War II; a bust of Edith Stein, also known as St Teresa of the Cross, in Wroclaw town hall - born in Breslau, now Wroclaw, into the Jewish faith. later becoming atheist and finally converting to Catholicisim, Edith was a philosopher, she became a nun eventually and the Nazis took her from her convent in the Netherlands to Auschwitrz where she died in 1942 in the gas chamber; Dietrich Bonhoeffer, native of Breslau, was a Lutheran pastor and theologian and active in the resistance in World War II who has had a profound impact on the Christian church- he too died at the hand of the Nazis, being executed at Flossenburg in April 1845.

At the top left a picture of the damage inflicted on Cathedral Island in World War II; right, a bust of Edith Stein, also known as St Teresa of the Cross, in Wroclaw town hall. She was born in Breslau, now Wroclaw, into the Jewish faith and later became first an atheist then converted to Catholicisim. Edith was a philosopher and she eventually became a nun. The Nazis took her from her convent in the Netherlands to Auschwitz where she died in 1942 in the gas chamber. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, also a native of Breslau, was a Lutheran pastor and theologian active in the resistance in World War II who has had a profound impact on the Christian church- he too died at the hand of the Nazis, being executed at Flossenburg in April 1845.

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All around the old town you’ll find these little dwarfs but, cute as some of them are, there’s a deeper meaning behind their presence. The first dwarf was painted on a wall in 1982 and was a symbol of the resistance to the Communist regime.

Rising above the city streets are the restored (after over 50% being destroyed in WWII) towers of St Mary Magdalene, founded in 1359. A bridge links the towers and many steps lead to it – I have vertigo but had to do it. Note the characteristic red and green roof.

Rising above the city streets are the restored (after over 50% being destroyed in WWII) towers of St Mary Magdalene, founded in 1359. A bridge links the towers and many steps lead to it – I have vertigo but had to do it. Note the characteristic red and green roof.

Views from the top (more steps) of the Mathematical Tower atop one of the university’s buildings which is famous for its baroque art

Views from the top (more steps) of the Mathematical Tower atop one of the university’s buildings which is famous for its baroque art

University architecture and art – I have learned I really don’t like baroque style but it is impressive

University architecture and art – I have learned I really don’t like baroque style but it is impressive

All from the old town centre except the top right image from Cathedral island. The narrow blue building was our drinking spot, Academicus bar. The tower is of St Elisabeth’s church – the place I found most spiritually evocative – sparse decoration and severe windows and side chapels but a very beautiful altar. Couldn’t find out what the black figures on the corner building were all about.

All from the old town centre except the top right image from Cathedral island. The narrow blue building was our drinking spot, Academicus bar. The tower is of St Elisabeth’s church – the place I found most spiritually evocative – sparse decoration and severe windows and side chapels but a very beautiful altar. Couldn’t find out what the black figures on the corner building were all about.

Cathedral island. The twin-turreted cathedral itself left me unmoved despite the heroic endeavour of its rebuilding after WWII. All the other places I wanted to see where shut. The river Oder was looking very beautiful though. The red brick building linked by a kind of bridge has a legend attached – the ‘dumpling gate’. I’ve run out of steam or I would share it!

Cathedral island. The twin-turreted cathedral itself left me unmoved despite the heroic endeavour of its rebuilding after WWII. All the other places I wanted to see where shut. The river Oder was looking very beautiful though. The red brick building linked by a kind of bridge has a legend attached – the ‘dumpling gate’. I’ve run out of steam or I would share it!

Odds and ends - a window display in a lingerie shop, memorials form St Mary Magdalene church, an owl fresco from the city hall, Madonna from St Elisabeth’s, amazing flower arrangements at the market (how come flower arrangements speak a different language too?), a depiction of a trader sitting on a basket under an umbrella before the market building was theirs, the Polish Meridian line from 1791, a handle on a church door and a tram

Odds and ends – a window display in a lingerie shop, memorials form St Mary Magdalene church, an owl fresco from the city hall, Madonna from St Elisabeth’s, amazing flower arrangements at the market (how come flower arrangements speak a different language too?), a depiction of a trader sitting on a basket under an umbrella before the market building was theirs, the Polish Meridian line from 1791, a handle on a church door and a tram

The decor of Mama Manousch restaurant - so stylish and the best ever food - wild boar fillet and foamy things, white truffle paste wiht the bread I causally asked for... oh man! - and very reasonable ; elsewhere, pork chop with plums, fondant potatoes and sauerkraut, plus smoked cheese and cranberries in something green and tasty and a good view of the brick wall and associated floating fella; baguette with fresh blackcurrant confit at Vincents; John Lemon at the city museum; a very big pretzel at the Academicus bar (glass of Polish red wine lurking in the background

The decor of Mama Manousch restaurant – soooo stylish and the best ever food – wild boar fillet and foamy things, white truffle paste with the bread I causally asked for… oh man! – and very reasonable ; elsewhere, pork chop with plums, fondant potatoes and sauerkraut, plus smoked cheese and cranberries in something green and tasty and a good view of the brick wall and associated floating fella; baguette with fresh blackcurrant confit at Vincents; John Lemon at the city museum; a very big pretzel at the Academicus bar (glass of Polish red wine lurking in the background

I had to include this, taken somewhat surreptitiously I must admit, I felt guilty, in the Church of the Blessed Virgin on the way to Cathedral Island, In a side chapel is a massive nativity display - the Rocking Crib (there is one) - a display of lights, animations (old fashioned) and dolls/toys - very touching and very popular but imagine dusting it.

I had to include this, taken somewhat surreptitiously I must admit, I felt guilty, in the Church of the Blessed Virgin on the way to Cathedral Island, In a side chapel is a massive nativity display – the Rocking Crib (there is one) – a display of lights, animations (old fashioned) and dolls/toys – very touching and very popular but imagine dusting it.

And finally! Check out the guy with the hose pipe trained on the dust rising from the demolitions - what a job! It was freezing. Thought he deserved recognition ;-)

And finally! Check out the guy with the hose pipe trained on the dust rising from the demolitions – what a job! It was freezing. Thought he deserved recognition 😉

*[Wroclaw is the capital of Lower Silesia in Poland and is a nightmare to pronounce – think of it as Roteslaf – that’s not anywhere near accurate – but it’s better than rocklaw]

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