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.

And smiled.

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.

“Peace begins with a smile…”

There’s a story that Zen practitioners love to tell called The Flower Sermon. It goes like this:

When Shakyamuni Buddha was at Mount Grdhrakuta, he held out a flower to his listeners. Everyone was silent. Only Mahakashyapa broke into a broad smile. The Buddha said, “I have the True Dharma Eye, the Marvelous Mind of Nirvana, the True Form of the Formless, and the Subtle Dharma Gate, independent of words and transmitted beyond doctrine. This I have entrusted to Mahakashyapa.”

Many centuries later, Mother Teresa – likely not even aware of The Flower Sermon – captured some of its meaning simply by saying, “Peace begins with a smile.”

Life isn’t all that complicated. Really. It is made so when we walk through it scowling, grumbling, being impatient, angry, insensitive, rude. Especially when we’re having a Really. Bad. Day.

But have you noticed how someone’s entire demeanor can change if you smile at him? A simple smile can defuse a tense situation, uplift a weary heart, and state – without words – I am on your side…I care about you.

There’s a lot of wisdom in a smile. Without saying a word. And plenty of peace to go ’round because of them.

I think we can change our communities with a smile.

Want to give it a try?

What do we have to lose? (I’ll bet it’s not likely not half as much as we have to gain.)

Let’s see what happens.