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In case you’ve never heard of one- a koan is a device used to push past linear thought during meditation, forcing non-verbal, visceral enlightenment. It's a technique used by Buddhist monks to reach a clean place of truth- without words, without reason. The question “what is the sound of one hand clapping?” falls into the general notion of a koan, but I tend to agree with the playwright Matt Casarino who mentions in a work that it is inappropriate for a one-handed person to even consider clapping.

yoga pose

But anyway, another example of a koan would be the mention of this one in “Ishmael” by Daniel Quinn: "With man gone, will there be hope for gorilla?" Well, which is it? Is gorilla better off without man or is there something beyond that….if man destroys himself, he evidently destroyed the environment- will gorilla survive? You get the idea. You are forced to dredge something up from your core to answer that one. A geometric proof won’t cut it.

But this is certainly not an American method of searching for authenticity- exploring these subtle and strange crevices of the mind. Our truths are concrete and unwavering and will undoubtedly kick your ass should you question them.

The koan in the United States is not a mental exercise to be performed, but the act of being alive during these times. The nonsequiturs pile up as we swim through our day. Our entire 24 hours is a koan-loop and most don't realize that.

What is the sound of an entire nation not thinking?

We’ve become accustomed to gross disparity between word and deed. The most virulently “Christian” has become the most unchristian. The politicians who profess love for small government have become the ones most obsessed with authoritarian control over the most basic of freedoms.

And those libertarian notions that encompass the American myth -- they still exist, but are wildly inverted- the larger and corporate have the right to do as they please, but you can’t even build a tiny home in the country if it isn’t a minimum square footage. Because they care, right? They care about keeping you in the trap of consumption. It's a trap that will devour everything. And most Americans are just fine with that -- it's probably just a response to our unnatural state of living, not a conscious choice. Like the cruel experiments with monkeys who cling to terry cloth surrogates when normalcy is denied- we cling to odd items, be it possessions or beliefs.

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And it doesn’t get much better in the personal realm. Many are there when they require something of you, be it ego plumping or more tangible wares, but in the end, it’s very difficult to maintain a gift relationship of kindness. Because we no longer seem to know how to be reciprocal. The clawing for prestige and possessions or any manner of what we think “we should have” precludes quite a lot of the exchanges that make life worthwhile in a non-monetary sense. People simply don’t hear each other in the facebook/internet age- they project and perform. And frankly everyone is just so tired.

That’s why on any given day, we are living a koan.

Kathleen Peine

Kathleen Peine: Click image for more articles by Kathleen.

I suppose that becoming aware of it is certainly the first toddling step. There is no firm reason to guide, and there is no master’s level course to explain. But fully allowing the paradox to flood your soul -- well, that allows you passage through. It isn't possible to impart the fullness of it to others because it isn’t a realization found on reason. And it's all very personal, coming from the neglected part of what makes us human. This nebulous core knows what is valuable and comprehends when all manner of nonsense is being used to cage you.

And from it you will know what the sound is from a nation not thinking.

Kathleen Peine

Posted: Thursday, 13 September 2012