In the pre-dawn light of early morning, I stood at my post, observing as the doshi bowed, bowing just as he always does and as he has done more than a thousand times before.
Suddenly, I was struck by a sensation of ease and opening within myself as I experienced a sense of profound clarity. I could see completely, and simply how the bow was merely itself, without significance or import; I saw how each movement was unremarkable, not representative of anything. Yet, in the moment, the act was singular, unique, central and entire; it was everything. Then, in an instant, each motion and gesture passed and was gone, becoming nothing. The gesture, the movement, the attention and the intention no longer existed.
The passing of the moment was without any sense of loss or nostalgia as its passage produced a ceaseless series of endings, constantly replacing one another.
I decided a few months earlier that I would like to train to be a doan at the meditation center where I often sit and learn and take retreat. A doan is most readily compared to a cantor, the person who guides the proceedings, letting others know when activities are beginning or ending, leading chants, and allowing participants to be free from decisions and consideration of time and progression of activities. In the case of what I became responsible for, it includes the use of several instruments, chanting, timing of activities, and standing and walking in particular ways, in a particular order.
I felt the need to do this, even though it meant showing up at 5:30 in the morning, because I had recently realized that I experience much of the world kinesthetically. I felt that having my meditation practice involve something that involved moving my body in a prescribed way would be of value to my practice. In addition, my previous spiritual tradition involved a lot of ritual, and it was something with which I felt comfortable and at home. Instinct told me it was the right thing to do, and I was heavily supported in my intentions.
I knew that, in some way, this would to be an opportunity for me to gain insight. As is true of all opportunities for being struck by a lightning bolt of lucidity, I could not anticipate what I would learn.
When I began this practice, I asked my teacher what I should be thinking when I bowed. His answer was that it is merely another opportunity to be mindful, and I have kept that in mind. Then I became a doan, and the duties are prescribed, complex and wordless. First you light these candles, then you stand here, then you stand there, then you ring this bell, then you ring a different bell, then you ring yet another. Chanting, more bells, more chanting, more instruments, it was inevitable that I would be nervous. By attempting to be mindful of each thing, not worrying about the next, I was more able to let go of the worry that created the “stage fright” I found myself on the verge of. But the effort of paying close attention to what I was doing and readying myself for the next thing did not allow me to be mindful of the environment that I found myself in and was creating by these activities.
It was my third time acting as doan, when I was just beginning to be comfortable enough with the order of things, that I found myself with an opportunity for me to be quiet and present without doing. It was then that I was able to experience the aforementioned scene; one that awakened me to what my teacher was telling me about bowing.
I understood in that moment, the opportunity there is to bring meaning into each thing I did each day. I also saw that each thing has no more meaning than a momentary movement, word or gesture. It merely is.
Each gesture is a ritual, full and complete; each ritual merely a gesture. Every thing has only and exactly as much importance as we give it. Let us restrain ourselves from giving it more than is warranted or less than it deserves.