During the meditation and writing retreat at Upaya Zen Center, we spent much of the day in silence. We could speak at dinner if we chose to, but breakfast and lunch were always in silence. During this time, we acknowledged others and the spaces we inhabited with a deep bow, palms touching as if in prayer.
There is something very respectful about this type of bow. It’s not done in deference to someone superior or someone in power. Instead, it’s a way of pausing and honouring a person, place, or thing; a way of acknowledging and showing appreciation. Yet, even the bow can sometimes come across as rote.
One must bow with their whole being – heart, mind, and body.
Respect for all beings is a core principle in Zen. It’s an expression of what Albert Schweitzer called “reverence for life.” But it goes beyond that: we even bow to our cushion. We are grateful for, respect, and help maintain the inanimate world as well. Since everything in the universe is connected, everything is necessary for our own small individual existence. We show gratitude and respect for our cushion, the ground that supports us, the walls that protect us, the air we breathe, the water we drink, the earth, moon, and stars. ~ Why do Buddhists Bow?
Since arriving home, I’ve noticed that I miss the bow. In this podcast, True Prosperity: Nothing but the Bow, Genzen Kennell, one of the Zen priests at Upaya, says that once you start bowing, you can’t stop. He quotes Zen master Katagiri Roshi, who said, “Bowing is like a rock in your heart. You cannot remove it.”
Bowing is a form of humility, one of the nine contemplative habits.
In this post, The Value of Humility, I shared that the word humility comes from the Latin, “humus,” meaning ground. With humility, we place ourselves on common ground with everything, no less and no better.
We can bring this mindset of humility to our photography. In this way, the click of the shutter becomes a bow towards what’s right in front of us; towards life. It’s a form of reverence. A photograph becomes a connection borne from respectful relationship.
During the retreat, Natalie Goldberg advised us to be open, to receive and respond to the world in each moment. Every encounter is a chance to transform and be transformed. Every photograph that we receive in this way changes us.
Being open to receiving the world with humility expands our range of subject matter exponentially. Everything becomes worthy before the camera lens. Photographer Art Wolfe says it beautifully.
As an artist, I shoot without prejudice. And, it just opens up the world. I never run out of ideas.
Next time you click the shutter, think of it as a bow towards life.
Watch: Art Wolfe’s talk at Google