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Bows of gratitude in a time of social distancing

In my lifetime, gratitude for our community, medical personnel, and essential workers has never been greater. There is a growing paradox of need and safety as we struggle to nurture our connections while establishing boundaries that will lessen our risk of infection and keep our families safe. There is much to protect and preserve, but the world is waking up to the reality of just how much the cooperation of others is essential for our human collective wellbeing.

Donations of food and essential supplies, yard signs, and cute stuffed bears in front windows are some cheerful signs of neighborly gratitude and love, but for those confined to their homes especially, the hand-holding and hugs have all been cut off, a human need that has not been abated. For obvious reasons, the sheer space between people has left us strained to find appropriate displays of affection, leaving us challenged at times to find the correct sentiment.

When I began my yoga practice 22 years ago, I had learned to bow in “namaste,” an acknowledgement of Spirit reflected in the Divine and in every sentient being. Bowing, I learned, was a humble display of gratitude for the time I spent in practice, toward the teacher who showed me a healthier, more peaceful way to live, toward myself, and to the other students in class. Bowing in namaste is my acknowledgement that the light within you is the same as the light within me and all others, which fosters a sense of unity and peace between us.

Bowing became an even more common practice while attending a Japanese Buddhist temple where it was customary to bow when greeting, paying money, receiving compliments, during chanting, and meditation. As an individual who is inclined to hug and touch my nearest and dearest, over time I had learned a new way to express gratitude, respect, love, and affection. Bowing works in both professional and personal settings when handshaking or hugging are not appropriate, and it has the power to deliver a message of high regard to the recipient.

Although bowing may appear old-fashioned, or as a corny display of subservience or formality, but it is actually a culturally adopted gesture, much like handshakes, hugs, or knuckle-bumps depending on the circumstances. As much as I love hugs, I won’t be hugging fellow humans anytime soon, so bowing will have to step in to express my wholehearted sentiment. I am happy to say that lately bowing and smiling are, more often than not, genuinely and delightfully returned to me, even by strangers passing by on my walks around the neighborhood! I can see your light within, and with practice, I hope you will also connect with that light knowing that you and I, all of us together, are One.

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