What is the Sound of One Hand Clapping? It’s a famous koan – an insoluble question posed by a Zen Buddhist Master to his student. Give a clever-clogs answer and the fierce Master might bash you with a broom handle. Instead, the student must try to answer authentically, from the depths, and rise to a new level of understanding.

I was born with only one hand. The other – my ‘little hand’ or stump – has been a kind of personal koan I’ve had to ponder all my life. It has forced me, sometimes against my wishes, to grow in directions I may never have taken. I’ve written a memoir about it called The Sound of One Hand, because it is also inevitably linked with my Buddhist journey.

As a child I didn’t want to discuss it much. I didn’t want a prosthetic because I didn’t want to make any concession to it at all, not even covering it up. My parents told me I was no different from anyone else. At school I competed hard; winning stuff gave me recognition and helped me feel equal to my fully-armed friends.

This narrative persisted well into adult life. If anyone asked (which they rarely did) I told them the hand hadn’t affected me much: ‘A little bit of course… for practical stuff.’ I pushed to one side lurking suspicions of being different or awkward or weak. What was the point of exploring such uncomfortable feelings? I’d still have one hand missing and I’d be miserable aswell. I was doing okay thank you very much.

One day I was on my way to work on the Tube when I saw a guy with a missing hand. A banker, I thought. (We were at Bank station.) I quickly hid my little hand under a book, hoping he hadn’t spotted it. I didn’t want a chat with him on the inevitable theme. But this episode set me thinking: ‘I’m 29 and have been meditating for nine years or so. Surely I can face these feelings a bit better? Why don’t I want to meet anyone like me, let alone engage with them?’

In my thirties I started to talk about it more. An inner shift in me allowed others to ask how it had happened. ‘I was born like this,’ I replied, privately acknowledging the wish for a longer, more heroic explanation. I also started to breathe and pause whenever I felt the instinct to hide or tuck the stump into a sleeve. I still do sometimes, but it also helps to lean into the feelings and resist habitual urges; it opens things up in all sorts of ways

Through writing the memoir I’ve been able to reflect on how much my little hand has shaped me. It’s been a grain of suffering in an otherwise happy and fortunate life, a pinch point around which my growing self has had to forge an identity. As I approach my fiftieth birthday I realise more than ever that the way our lives unfold is a mystery. There are so many causes and conditions for what happens to us. For me, my hand is just one. Maybe not even the main one. I probably wouldn’t have been a rock star, even with two hands!

No doubt everyone, even the most blessed among us, has a difficult condition to contend with, bodily or otherwise. The pain and confusion that surrounds these deeper conundrums is often what opens the way, delivering us to the doorstep of Dharma practice. A paradox worthy of a koan. For, in the larger scheme of things, this may be the greatest blessing of all.