These notes are for those already engaged in the practice.
The act of bowing, now almost entirely foreign and alien to us in the West, apart from at the end of a theatrical or musical performance, is still widely practised in the Far East, particularly in India and Japan. Whether a full bow or merely the vestigial nod of the head, the bow is how we bodily show: ‘Yes’, ‘Thank you’, ‘Hello’ in acknowledging others and show respect for the other person. It is how we show: ‘I am sorry’, how we show humility and humble ourselves.
It takes a lot of practice to learn to bow sincerely, to genuinely and sincerely open the heart emotionally and to lay our ‘self’ down. We might be able to utter the word ‘Yes’ or say ‘Sorry’ or ‘Thank you’ without really putting ourselves sincerely into it, but it is difficult to bow without being sincere.
No wonder Westerners so dislike it. Or do we? Experience shows that, at least in the context of the practice we are all willing to bow. Not a single person doing the practice has objected to bowing when emotion flares up inside them.
We start by opening to emotion when it flares up inside us. That is shown with the eyes, hands and chest open. Keeping the eyes open and the back straight, make a full bow from the waist so the upper body is horizontal. Do not rush it. Then come up straight with the eyes, hands and chest still open.
We are bowing in the presence of the underlying-emotion in us. It is an antidote to the habitual closing everything tight: the eyes, jaws, fists and body. Now open, the attention is on the inside of the body in the area of the midriff. Now, with enough practice, it is possible to find the underlying-emotion and to work with it – which actually means to bear and endure it.
This is only to be done in private, never in front of other people, although there is a way. If we are sitting we can reach down to scratch our ankle and if standing we can reach down and scratch our knee. This is all anyone else would see. They would probably not notice us doing it. But we would be opening ourselves to the emotion in us and bowing to it as we silently say ‘Yes.’
If we misinterpret the meaning and purpose of bowing – usually refusing to do it and so having no actual experience – we might think it means bowing to the another person or to something that has gone wrong, and so to demean ourselves or subordinate ourselves and so lose our integrity, our dignity and our standing in the social pecking order of egos. We might feel it as a matter of pride and so make out it is a matter of principle.
Bowing has unexpected effects in us which we can only discover for ourselves. It takes time and repeated practice to learn to bow sincerely, to freely open ourselves to the emotion within and at the same time let go of our attachments.
Sincere bowing comes from the heart. That is, it is done willingly without a thought or intention of gaining or losing anything. By bowing we open ourselves and let go of our resistances and our insistence on having our way: ‘I must have’ and ‘I can’t bear’.
When life is very difficult or unbearable we can make full prostrations.
Now only in private, bow as above but with the hands together palm to palm. Do this revernetialy and ceremoniously, without any rush, and always with the eyes open. Kneel and bow again, eyes open and hands together. Lay your self down flat on the floor with the arms stretched out past the head and with the palms facing up. Pause, and when ready get up to kneel again, bow, stand up and bow again. Do the whole prostration nine times.
When going through a particularly rough patch prostrate your self each morning and at any other time of the day or night.