Bowing to the World

bowing tulips

Dear Readers,

First, Holly and I want to thank you for being our first wave of correspondents! Welcome to The Pen and the Bell. We look forward to getting to know you through your writing practice.

Today’s letter comes courtesy of our cover artist, Jim Ballard. Jim is a multi-talented man: he paints, writes poetry, sculpts, practices the flower art of Ikebana, and loves birding. He wrote to us after receiving his copy of The Pen and the Bell:

“The other day I was feeling depressed, not wanting to do anything, even turned down an opportunity to go birding with my wife and a neighboring couple who are avid birders. They cheerily drove off and I stayed behind, feeling a bit sorry for myself but really not wanting to be near anyone. I thought of your suggestion to “bow” to whatever is happening at the moment.

I walked into my backyard and, feeling a bit foolish, bowed to what was around me, my blossoming cherry trees, the just-planted- with- snap peas raised beds, the hanging bird feeder a few feet in front of me. I felt miserable, but I bowed to these things. I then just stood there and waited. Not really for anything to happen, but just waited.

Blossoms started floating from the cherry trees and fell at my feet. A chickadee sang its name shrilly because I was too close to her feeder, so I backed off a bit. I heard something, a commotion in my neighbor’s yard, just beyond the raised beds. I watched as a Cooper’s hawk flew from a branch and headed my way, moving so fast my thinking couldn’t keep up with its speed. It flew directly in front of me, so close (if I’d had the presence of mind) I could have touched its wings as it flew by! He landed in a pear tree about fifteen feet away. He perched on a limb and tilted his head back and forth, looking in my direction. He then flew away and landed in an apple tree in another neighbor’s yard and finally sailed off outside of my view.

I had been feeling sorry for myself a couple of minutes earlier — missed a great birding trip, would be traveling to a new, unexplored place — but I took the time to bow to what WAS there: the backyard, the cherry trees, the feeder, even to my depressed state of mind. That in itself would have been enough, but the moment exploded with a newness that startled me. Watching the hawk fly towards me and by me, moved me out of my cheerlessness and into awe.”

What a beautiful letter! And an excellent reminder that we can always bow to what IS, no matter what is happening within or around us. Such an expression can be transformative.

So, just for today, what can you bow to? Look around: what’s right in front of you? And can you possibly bow to what is difficult within you?

Write for just 15 minutes about bowing: when have you bowed before? Was it a positive or negative experience? How does it feel to bow in the present? Think about all the different connotations of bowing: bowing after a performance, bowing in subservience, bowing in thankfulness.

As always, please feel free to share your writing in the comments section. Or if you’re shy about doing that, just share with us your thoughts about the practice.

May your day be filled with many opportunities for gratitude.

Best wishes,


9 thoughts on “Bowing to the World

  1. Dear Brenda and Holly,

    The image of the bowing tulips tickled me! It fits so well with the topsy turvy spring here in the Midwest and with some of my recent writing. The tulips bloomed with unconfined beauty a month or more before the annual tulip festivals in various parts of Iowa. The festivals moved forward with fun, activities, and no tulips, bowing to the unusual flowerless circumstances.
    On a more personal note, our peonies pushed through their buds not long after May 1st , way before their typical Memorial Day glory. This timing threw me, a hold-over from my Kansas childhood and helping my mom gather peony bouquets for foil-wrapped tin-can vases to decorate the graves at the cemeteries. Though I have no graves to decorate in Iowa, peonies blooming early mixed up the tempo of spring for me. And made me delve more into the possibilities of what out of sync peony popping might have to do with what unfolds for me. Now five years retired and fully recovered from recent surgery — stories I won’t tell now because the bell will soon ring to end this writing time.
    Bowing resonated with me because doing so signals respect and hospitality. And hospitality describes my view of coping with the “what is” of life, not always what we expect or want. By that I mean rather than shut the door on the uninvited guests, welcome them, embrace them, offer them a chair. Find out what gifts they bring. And bowing expands this a bit with an angle of respect for the insights and lessons these unexpected guests teach us.
    As a ballroom dancer for almost twenty years, a bow or curtsy might show gratitude for audience applause or a gracious gesture toward one’s partner. In living life, whether partnering with joy or with sorrow, we combine patterns of both to fully inhabit the dance. And having danced to the end, we bow with gratitude for the depth of meaning the dance created in our lives. An interpretation not danced before. A perspective not known without the music of “what is” to accompany the dance.
    Today I bow to budding ideas…thanks so much!

    Ronda Armstrong

  2. Thank you so much Ronda! Your image of bowing to the unexpected guests reminds me of Rumi’s “The Guesthouse.” Do you know the poem? Also, so beautiful to imagine dancing with joy or sorrow…..

    • Brenda,
      I do not know Rumi’s poem specifically, although I did find on a quick search a short quote that may be from the one your refer to. I’ll search further. Thanks for the nudge in that direction! I’d like to read it.


      • The Guest House

        This being human is a guest house.
        Every morning a new arrival.

        A joy, a depression, a meanness,
        some momentary awareness comes
        as an unexpected visitor.

        Welcome and entertain them all!
        Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
        who violently sweep your house
        empty of its furniture,
        still, treat each guest honorably.
        He may be clearing you out
        for some new delight.

        The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
        meet them at the door laughing,
        and invite them in.

        Be grateful for whoever comes,
        because each has been sent
        as a guide from beyond.

        ~ Rumi ~
        (The Essential Rumi, versions by Coleman Barks)

        • Brenda,
          Thanks for posting the poem! It enriches so much my thoughts about bowing and offering hospitality toward unexpected guests. Gives me more to ponder.

  3. Your invitation to write about bowing tickled my heart.I accept.
    I experienced serial bowing during a recent three day and two night vision quest in Taos, New Mexico. A huge grizzly bear and her cub emerged from the forest and stationed themselves five feet from where I was praying. I bowed to their beauty and also my fear.
    Every single Davy Crockett movie that I ever saw as a young girl sped into my memory as I adopted Fess Parker’s practice of staring into the eyes of a bear. It worked. The bear stared back and did not eat me!
    The second day of my vision quest, mother bear and cub returned. Again we eyed one another and I bowed to the possibility of my death. Our gaze deepened and I bowed to
    the bear’s essence as I experienced a deep love and trust. I have experienced being in an “I-Thou” relationship with other humans-but never a huge bear.
    The last day of my vigil, my bear friends returned and I bowed as I cried and said “Goodbye for now.” Bowing was an honoring of the bear an myself as an ally of Mommy Bear.