Thursday, May 16, 2013

A Bow To Bowing

What a marvelous little thing a well-placed, properly-intended bow can be.  There is the royal bow, the deep bending at the waist or the full curtsy to bended knee.  But these are intended as a sign of subservience or allegiance that acknowledges a supposedly superior one.  Those are the secular expressions of separation that some people incorrectly ascribe to all forms of bowing.

But then there are the bows not of separation and subservience, but of unity and equality of being.  The bow that, for a moment, returns us to the desirable state of proper humility.  Because arrogance is one of the greatest hurdles to insight and internal peace, and humility is a key to opening that spiritual door.  In this context, the small humble bow can make such a large impact.

The Buddhist and the Hindu place open palms together, with fingers pointed upward, in front of the heart.  The separate parts (the two hands) join together into one wholeness (the form).  She bows slightly from the waist to another, or to nature’s creations, not out of inferiority but in equality.  This gesture can be for one to honor and appreciate the other: the teacher honors the student who honors the teacher.  Through this simple gesture, she can express, “The Divine Light in Me honors the Divine Light in You.”

The Muslim can drop to his knees and touch head to ground.  By this action, he can also reaffirm a lack of personal arrogance or superiority – another form of expression of personal humility shown before God and all humankind.

The Catholic can genuflect before the image of Christ in the sanctuary (or elsewhere).  It can be an intended “interruption” and refocus as she mentally hustles mindlessly from current task to the next to-do item.  The genuflection can remind her to always stop and remember God and the spiritual in the midst of one’s earthly travels and distractions.

The Christian, both Catholic and Protestant, can bow his head, using only a slight movement of the body.  That slightest of motion can be a historical protest to the old royal subservient bow, while subversively acknowledging instead a power far greater than any royal.  Combined with the joined palms of the hands, he can come quietly into prayer – a prayer not of request, begging or supplication, but of communion and connection – the unity of the hands acknowledging the unity of God and God’s creations.

The bow, however specifically performed, is intrinsic to most all branches of spiritual expression.  Done mindfully and intentionally, it can be an expression of outreach to one’s God / Nature / Universe.  To all living things.  To one’s self.  It says to the object of our attention that, “I see you.  I acknowledge you.  I respect who and what you are.  And I give thanks to and for you.”

When we bow to honor another person or thing, we simultaneously bow to honor ourselves.  Namaste.  Gassho.  Amen.