The Way Home
ONE HAND CLAPPING
Elsa Joy Bailey
Although we are in the same spiritual boat, we have never actually met Elsa Joy Bailey. In fact, except for a few biographical details which she provided us, we know very little outer about her. But, like the many others who visited Elsa’s wondrous website or come across her work elsewhere on the internet (she seems to be everywhere!), we know this: Elsa Joy Bailey is so full of enthusiasm for the spiritual process that it spills over into everything she writes, making it so deeply alive, that if you listen very carefully when you read it, you can actually hear it breathing. And if you let it into your heart, it will transform you. There is no greater gift a writer can offer.
Elsa tells us she began reading spiritual literature of all kinds about thirty years ago. At first, she was just a dabbler. But then, fifteen years ago, she received an inner call to attention, which she heeded. In her words, “one of those divine bolts from out of nowhere struck me, and I lived through it, and here I am.”
Elsa Joy Bailey lives in California.
One Hand Clapping was written expressly for The Zoo Fence. It is copyrighted by the author.
October 2021 – TZF’s Editor: Elsa Joy’s website does not appear at her domain, and the domain displays as for sale. Has Elsa moved it to a different server? Has Elsa herself gone into extreme retreat? Has she joined the French Foreign Legion? Has she died, and left no tracks? Has she experienced rapture? We do not know. But wherever she is, and whatever she is doing, she is not alone; we are with her. We love her, we wish her strength, health, bliss, and continued growth.
To be seared by the fire of God, as many of us are, is to be placed on the road to freedom.
Of course, at first it doesn’t feel much like freedom. Those who find spiritual pacemakers lodged in their hearts are immediately challenged to learn how to view life inside out – and whatever our history, that is not an easy task. As human beings, we are taught to think of ourselves as the body and personality we wear; discarding this notion often feels like we are being asked to pull off one of our own fingernails. And without anaesthetic. So much for easy transformations.
“Get ready for some hard work” ought to be the motto for those embarking on the spiritual path. If you haven’t discovered this yet, you haven’t caught on to the nature of the mission. Love is all there is, oh yes, but that doesn’t mean waking up is a matter of sending out more Hallmark cards; and placing a bouquet of scented candles over the fireplace. (Although there is nothing wrong with cards and candles!) It means discovering how relentlessly and persistently we avoid Being.
Noticing stuff like that can make your eyes spin. On the path we learn that our body, our history, and our personality are not who we are. We learn that we are Spirit, and that Spirit is an anathema to our everyday ego. Wars have been fought over the difference in viewpoint between these two sets of lenses. One viewpoint is real, one is not – but never mind that, wars are fought anyway.
Our ego's investment in remaining small, finite, scarcity-driven and headed for death is larger than the national debt. We are trained to be small and small is comfortable and comfortable is – well, let’s just say to the ego it is a plus.
So never ask why it is hard to meditate (a word which signifies pointing your attention toward God and away from Out There); far better to ask what amazing interior force drives you to attempt being Silent and Listening in the first place.
It’s that God stuff again, eternal pulses of Inner Light nudging you into remembering who you are. And nudging. And nudging.
And so: who are you?
There’s no way to say it perfectly, which means there are infinite ways to say it imperfectly. You are Spirit. And what is that?
Discovering what we are is why we are here. Somewhere inside we already know what that is, but the message hasn’t sunk into our bodymind yet. We are water drops searching for the answer to “What is water?” It takes time to uncover answers that are this difficult.
So we proceed. We seek. We study. We pray. We ask the right questions. Take the koan, “What is the sound of One Hand clapping?” This is one of those famous Zen mind-benders designed to pop open the mind of seekers for a split second so that Vision can enter and saturate the awareness.
That’s its purpose. Eight words. One goal.
And here you are, imagining one hand held up before you. It appears to have five separate fingers – all different, all useful, all fingers. Does each finger dream it is a separate entity? Because that is what we, a collage of human beings, think about ourselves: that we are separate entities scrambling for placement in an uncaring world.
We are finger one versus finger two versus finger three. Finger one is better off: after all, it is carrying a substantial and costly ring. Finger two has no ring, a child of poverty. Finger three and four have scars, inscribed since childhood, but they have overcome this obstacle to become useful and respected citizens. (Clearly, they deserve an award.) Finger five has power and leverage because it was born a thumb. All other fingers are jealous of thumb's high rank, but are too polite to let on, and are completely powerless to change the situation anyway. Finger five likes being the thumb but complains privately that it has to do most of the work. See? Nothing's perfect in fingerland.
Trapped by separation.
That’s us. Simultaneously trapped and entranced by thoughts of separation. Entranced, because there is the dazzling possibility that maybe we, too, can someday become a thumb and rule the universe. Trapped, because once we are voted thumb we discover the territory is limited and the rewards picayune.
You can see the problem: remain a material finger, even a thumb, and your world is still small enough to pinch.
So we turn back to the world of Spirit. What is the sound of one hand clapping? we ask ourselves again. Our bodymind replies that the question is absurd, impossible, ridiculous. And so, from a separate finger's point of view, it is.
But drop the question – bang! and keep very, very still, not-knowing, and something Else emerges out of the blue: Vision.
What is the sound of one hand clapping? You are.
You are not one finger, but all fingers, and the palm out of which they grow, and the wrist which underwrites the palm, and the arm which holds the wrist, and the shoulder which sponsors the arm, and the body which claims the shoulder, and the breath which informs the body, and the feet which carry the breath, and the earth which supports the feet, and the space which surrounds the earth, and the life which inhabits all space, and the luminous, vibrant, boundless, breathing, intelligent God from which all spring.
You are Spirit. You are the life, the light, the truth, the universe. You are the One, dreaming itself the Many. Why are you doing that? It doesn’t matter. Only one Fact is important.
You are the sound of one hand clapping.