There’s a famous Zen koan that asks, “What is the sound of one hand clapping?”
I’d tell you the answer. But that would be cheating. You figure it out.
I have another koan, though: “What is the sound of one leaf in the wind?”
Yesterday was a windy day. Even though it was muggy and hot, it was windy. On our lunch-hour walk, my wife and I did what we usually do on a windy day: we listened to the trees. Specifically, we listened to the sound of a tree full of leaves “clapping” in the wind. It’s an amazing sound. Each leaf slapping against its brother on the branch creates a unique sound not unlike an audience giving thumbs up to a performance.
As we strolled by one particularly spectacular birch tree applauding our passing, I stopped to watch. And listen. After a moment, I left the path, waded through chest-high weeds, and stood beside the tree. I grabbed a branch to steady it and I looked at a single leaf quivering in the wind. I listened to it.
Before I returned to the trail, I took a picture of the leaf.
A leaf, by itself, doesn’t make much noise. It’s practically mute. Even in a brisk wind. But a tree full of them sounds like thunderous applause.
An applauding tree is a paradox. And a lesson.
People tend to want to band together to affect change. So they form groups. Amass numbers. Then wait for the wind to blow so they can “applaud.”
Yet, a tree full of clapping leaves wouldn’t be what it is if not for each single, mute leaf.
So which is it better to be: A tree full of applause? Or a single, silent leaf?
I could tell you the answer. But that would be cheating. You figure it out.