Forfeit your sense of awe, let your conceit diminish your ability to revere, and the world becomes a market place for you. The loss of awe is the avoidance of insight. A return to reverence is the first prerequisite for a revival of wisdom, for the discovery of the world as an allusion to God. – Abraham Joshua Heschel, Who Is Man?
As my dear friend, E, and I made our way into the Innisfree Gardens, we turned onto the trail by the pond. The path led under an arching wisteria. The vines hung just low enough that we had to bow our heads.
You may have had this experience – that a simple physical act calls forth a deeper response. It struck me, just after we passed through to the other side of the vines, how rarely do we bow, to or for, anything.
Bowing can be an act of reverence. It is a physical manifestation of an inward attitude – that of respect. And, as some definitions hold, it is a respect that is tinged with awe.
Bowing is common in some cultures and contexts. For those who practice yoga, the gesture, with a spoken “Namaste”, may be a familiar one. In an article from the Yoga Journal, by Aadil Palkhivala (http://www.yogajournal.com/basics/822), two quotes stand out for me.
In the opening sentence, the author explains that the gesture “…represents the belief that there is a Divine spark within each of us.”
Later in this article, he writes, “…Bowing the head and closing the eyes helps the mind surrender to the Divine in the heart.”
As E and I ambled along, we spoke about reverence – it’s meaning and presence (and, more frequently, absence) in daily life. We spoke about nature as a thin place; of having a transcendent experience, facilitated by reverent presence, in a garden such as this.
I recalled my 14-year-old self, sitting in the Vermont woods, and realizing, “this is God.” It was not something I concluded after a long examination of evidence. It just arrived.
I know, now, that the woods, beautiful as they are, are not “God”. I do not worship the trees. However, I do see the natural world as godly – meaning, imbued with the “divine spark” of which Aadil Palkhivala writes.
Thanks to the string theory of physics, there may be a scientific way to express this concept – that there are common vibrating elements, or “strings”, that all things share. If this is true, then how wise the yogis are to bow. They are acknowledging what science is now stating, though perhaps in different terms. We all share a common essence.
Wisdom is not gained by knowing what is right. Wisdom is gained by practicing what is right, and noticing what happens when that practice succeeds and when it fails.” – Barbara Brown Taylor, An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith
The practice of bowing. How might it be to bow, physically, or at least in our minds or hearts…
…To a loved one?
…To a tree or to the sky?
To bow, outwardly or inwardly, as a way to say:
“We share the same essence. I revere, and surrender to, the life force which is greater than I”.
Practicing reverence, by bowing or other means, might bring the world into balance. Perhaps it would ease our demands that people, circumstances, and nature bow to us.