Reflection on Bowing from Author Barry Lopez

Reflection on Bowing from Author Barry Lopez

A reflection on practice by Other Teachers & Folks We Value

In Buddhism, people do a lot of bowing at various times. Students often ask, “Why do we bow? What or who are we bowing to?” In this moving excerpt from his classic book “Arctic Dreams,” author and naturalist, Barry Lopez writes about bowing in a very essential way directly from his own experience.

Glaucous gulls fly over. In the shore lead are phalaropes, with their twig like legs. In the distance I can see flocks of oldsquaw against the sky, and a few cormorants. A patch of shadow that could be several thousand crested auklets too far away to know. Out there are whales I have seen … six or eight gray whales as I walked this evening. And the ice, pale as the dove colored sky. The wind raises the surface of the water. Wake of a seal in the shore lead, gone now. I bowed. I bowed to what knows no deliberating legislature or parliament, no religion, no competing theories of economics, an expression of allegiance with the mystery of life.

I looked out over the Bering Sea and brought my hands folded to the breast of my parka and bowed from the waist deeply toward the north, that great strait filled with life, the ice and the water. I held the bow to the pale sulphur sky at the northern rim of the earth. I held the bow until my back ached, and my mind was emptied of its categories and designs, its plans and speculations. I bowed before the simple evidence of the moment in my life in a tangible place on the earth that was beautiful.

When I stood I thought I glimpsed my own desire. The landscape and the animals were like something found at the end of a dream. The edges of the real landscape became one with the edges of something I had dreamed. But what I had dreamed was only a pattern, some beautiful pattern of light. The continuous work of the imagination, I thought, to bring what is actual together with what is dreamed is an expression of human evolution. The conscious desire is to achieve a state, even momentarily, that like light is unbounded, nurturing, suffused with wisdom and creation, a state in which one has absorbed that very darkness which before was the perpetual sign of defeat.

Whatever world that is, it lies far ahead. But its outline, its adumbration (intimation, ed.), is clear in the landscape, and upon this, one can actually hope we will find our way.

I bowed again, deeply, toward the north, and turned south to retrace my steps over the dark cobbles to the home where I was staying. I was full of appreciation for all that I had seen.

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