The Uncarved Block

I know little about either Zen or motorcycle maintenance.  Though, if push came to shove, you’d probably prefer me to strip down your Harley than guide you on your way to enlightenment.  To me, Zen will always be the Liberator’s master computer voiced by the late Peter Tuddenham.  This probably indicates my spiritual poverty and certainly does explain why I still sometimes say “Confirmed” in a somewhat emotionless way.

So little do I know of Zen (the spiritual one) that I shall wilfully confusing it with Taoist philosophy in this post.  This will set it apart from the traditional western confusion of these concepts in that I shall be doing it in a state of decreased ignorance and with malice aforethought.  The one small fig leaf of intellectual integrity that I can offer for my approach is that Taoist philosophy provides some of the key underpinning for Zen Buddhism: well, that and the fact that this blog freely admits that it indulges in juxtaposition.

Taoists have the concept of the “uncarved” block as an idealised state for the mind, uncomplicated by experience.  My mind, on the other hand, has been subject to the attentions of obsessive whittlers for so long that I fear little remains but a pile of sawdust.  But, that’s entropy man!

Despite barely having placed my first step on the eight-fold path (does a right-angle count?), I have nevertheless been a living illustration of at least one Zen koan for the last few weeks.  Since injuring my wrist, it has been impossible to provide applause in the traditional way (for the hearing community, at least).  Striking my hands together to generate the sound of two hands clapping has been too painful to contemplate and so I have been forced to find my own solution to the Oriental riddle.  My answer to the sound of one hand clapping has been to press my right leg into service as a sound board and resonator: when struck by my right (undamaged) hand it simulates the concept of applause with a reasonable degree of fidelity.  I fear my solution to the age-old question would not pass muster and would illustrate once again the long journey ahead of me before I achieve Nirvana.  However, as it offered an effective, sonic alternative to more traditional applause, I stuck with it.

Yesterday, during an enjoyable afternoon of music at Dolfest (named for its location, the nearby Dolphin Inn) I briefly forgot my pain and applauded in the classic way (consumption of a few pints of  Spitfire Gold may have been implicated in this small act of forgetting).  There was no pain!  Even without the cushioning numbness of ethanol, I can now applaud pain-free!  My recovery is clearly proceeding apace, but those seeking self-awakening will have to look elsewhere for future inspiration.  Meanwhile, I shall return to whittling the sawdust of my mind into ever smaller particles.



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