Monday, February 27, 2012

Only Reverence Will Make the Center Hold

Remember that you are human
How could I forget? you ask
Very easily, especially if you have money, or you are powerful  
or so successful that you push every thought of failure
away from your mind-every thought of human error,
every thought of madness, every thought of death.

You will err
You will do crazy things, no matter how hard you cling
to the notion that your mind is sound.

Between now and death you will have many opportunities to
crash down from whatever height you have reached, and
you will fall harder if you forget that the human path is
strewn with many stumbling blocks.

No human being can
be the best in any contest,
for very long.
Human life is too uncertain to be judged
on the basis of any one part of it.

No one can safely claim to
be living a totally successful life, for
the future holds all manner of surprises.

These words from Paul Woodruff and his wonderful book, Reverence, Renewing a Forgotten Virtue. It is not money, or fame or family or even religion that will make the center hold. It is only bare reverence...the notion that standing in awe of things greater than ourselves is a lasting touchstone for other virtues like respect, trust and a shared humanity. Reverence is a feeling or attitude of profound respect for the divine sacred in every-body and every-thing we encounter in our lives. Imagine worshipping the god in everyone you meet; not just the symbolic god-on-the-cross in church every Sunday, but imagine conjuring up a loving attitude toward every person you meet on the street. Every difficult relative. Every person, different in any way, from yourself.

Heaven forbid if we worshipped eachother. Then do you think we would be killing others in the name of a superior religion or ethnicity? Or building up walls of division, not just in the world at large, but in our communities and families?

"We may be divided from one another by our beliefs, but never by reverence. If you desire peace in the world do not pray that everyone share your beliefs. Pray instead that all may be reverent."

I am trying to learn and understand this notion of reverence. Like everything else, it makes sense intellectually, but how do I put it into practice? A small thing, a very small thing I learned at Upaya Zen Center is the simple act of bowing. When you bow, you lower your head below your heart for a moment, giving up intellectual posturing or thinking, and plainly offer your heart.

Before you sit down at your computer, put your hand to your heart and bow.
Before you step in that nice warm shower. Bow.
Before you leave for work in the morning, turn to your house and bow.
I am learning to do this in my mind. Especially in difficult situations. Bow before I act.
Bowing in my mind when I'm angry and upset...showing respect and reverence for those awful feelings and inviting them in rather than acting on them.

We will err.
We are human.
Only bare reverence for ALL that we encounter, will make the center hold.


  1. I bow daily! This post is certainly true. I mentally bow before sleep, but I'm thinking this should happen off and on throughout my entire day! Love it.

  2. I put up a sign at my workspace that says, First. Bow.
    That's all. There's something about it that makes me pause and I feel grateful. So simple!

  3. Bare reverence. Bowing to you, Monica and to this computer, and to this room... I wrote a blog this morning in response to your comment yesterday and hoped it wouldn't play hide n seek and you'd miss it:

    Thank you for the inspiration. Bowing again.

  4. Nice! Thank you for the reminder and inspiration.

  5. Life surely is a work in progress!

  6. Thank you for this lovely post.

  7. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. My pleasure, Betty. I sure do enjoy your beautiful photos!