Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Bowing to the Flowers

On my walk with Sam, our goofball Golden Doodle, I felt weightless. Earlier, I had practiced a particularly open-hearted metta (loving kindness) practice, and armed with new insights about the abode of sympathetic joy, the world seemed new, fresh, clean, and sweet.

It is not always like this with metta practice, however. Sometimes, the heart is frozen, or encased behind brick masonry, or a band of pain grips my chest. Guy Armstrong once said that this is because, in the work the heart does, it very naturally opens and closes; opens and closes. It is this way with metta practice, as well. But on this particular morning, my heart felt free and limitless as I stepped out with Sam to reconnoiter the neighborhood.

It's late spring, and of course that means that everything that has strength to blossom is bursting forth with color and fragrance. I found myself stopping almost as much as Sam does to admire a hedge of jasmine, or to gaze upward at the clouds through the lavender dapples of a jacaranda tree. Then there are the roses. Each one a new sensory experience of seeing and smelling. 

As I went from flower to flower, I found that many times I was forced to bow down to get close to the buds. It reminded me of a story Jack Kornfield has told about his early days in the monasteries of Southeast Asia. When he first arrived at the monastery led by his main teacher, Ajahn Chah, he was told that he had to bow to any monk who was senior to him, meaning anyone who had been ordained before he was. That meant he had to bow to the teenager whose family had sent him to live there because they couldn't feed all their kids. Or he had to bow to the old retired farmer who didn't give a hoot about the Dharma, but just sat around all day eating beetle nut. 

Jack said he was really frustrated about this for a while. Then he decided to give the practice a chance and see what would happen if he followed these instructions to the letter. Soon, he really got into the whole bowing thing. He found himself, not just bowing to his elders, but to any monk or person he saw. He bowed to the trees, to his sleeping mat, to his begging bowl, to the water bucket. Soon, he says, "If it moved, I bowed to it."

What he found by practicing in this way, he was welcoming each person or thing he bowed to, inviting them into his life. In his book, After the Ecstasy the Laundry, he said it this way:
We can bow to both beauty and suffering, to our entanglements and confusion, to our fears and to the injustices of the world. Honoring the truth in this way is the path to freedom. To bow to what is rather than to some ideal is not necessarily easy, but however difficult, it is one of the most useful and honorable practices. 

To bow to the fact of our life's sorrows and betrayals is to accept them; and from this deep gesture we discover that all life is workable. A s we learn to bow, we discover that the heart holds more freedom and compassion than we could imagine.

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