I was practicing with some taiji buddies yesterday, and we got to talking about the custom of bowing in martial arts. Students and teachers bow, sparring partners bow, everyone bows when entering or leaving the practice area.
Our discussion expanded to other bowing customs. Some people bow in greeting or farewell, children bow to elders, people bow to pray or when near a sacred place, some bow to royalty or those of higher status, some bow when giving or receiving a gift.
We also explored different styles of bowing – hand or fist to chest, hands to side, open hand covering fist, hands clasped together, hands with palms together raised to forehead or heart.
Why do we bow? To show respect, gratitude, reverence.
I realized after our conversation yesterday that I bow a lot. Shortly after arriving at my cabin for the weekend, I usually go down to the creek to see what going on. I bow to the creek in greeting. Before I head home, I bow to the creek and to the cabin in gratitude for a replenishing retreat. I bow to trees. I sometimes bow when I sit on my cushion to begin or end my time of meditation. I bow when I light a candle. I bow to the people in our contemplation group. I bow to the earth and to the heavens.
I bow to life – with respect for the grandeur and the mystery of existence, with reverence for the sacredness of all creation and the source of all creation, with gratitude for the gift of this life and all its blessings.
Hmm, I had thought to end the post here and went to search for the perfect quote to wrap things up. I was surprised to find that there were just as many if not more quotes about refusing to bow as there were about bowing in the sense I am speaking of in this post. People refuse to bow to tyranny or intolerance, for example. Bowing has a different connotation of submission or acquiescence in those contexts. Interesting that the same movement can carry such contrasting significance. More to ponder. I bow to it all.
In the meantime, I didn’t find the quote I was looking for, but I was charmed by this one.
Keep me away from the wisdom which does not cry, the philosophy which does not laugh, and the greatness which does not bow before children. ~Khalil Gibran