July 28, 2012

Invoking the Warrior’s Bow at elephant journal.

“In bowing to each other, we honor the inherent bravery, gentleness and wakeful intelligence that each of us can experience personally.” ~ Naropa University Student Handbook


My first day teaching at Naropa University was “Transgender Day,” but no one told me. It was also the day I discovered the “Warrior’s Bow,” which my students offered me at the start of class.

My training as a graduate student at a predominantly left-brain institution prepared me for neither.

As an academic, I rose up among the good old boys where an argument was a “roll-up-your-sleeves” thumb-wrestle between the great and not-so-great minds held in windless conference rooms. Mud was slung. You got dirty, but you went out for drinks afterward and laughed about it.

And I certainly never bowed to my doctoral advisor—though we did hug ferociously at my commencement. The thought of offering a respectful acknowledgment of my intellectual opponent before we got into it never occurred to me in all my years wed to secular education.

At Naropa, however, it was all mixed up. Girls were boys and boys were girls. And they were insisting that I “bow” to them before I began my instruction and after I made my final point at the end of class.

One girl-boy with a cucumber in her pants (who ironically must have felt how awkward that first day was for me) tore a page out of her student’s manual before exiting the classroom.

“This might help you,” she offered. “It’s called the ‘Warrior’s Bow’ and we always do it here before and after class.”

The “Warrior’s Bow,” I read, “is a way of acknowledging and honoring the qualities of warriorship that each of us has the capacity to express and to share with others.”

“So true,” I thought to myself. The feeling to respond is aggressive. A fighting fire rises up inside. You just want to slay someone’s ideas with the sword of your more brilliant thought. Or worse—you want to tear their eyeballs out for being so incredibly stupid and naive.

And then I read more:

“The emphasis is on bravery, not on warfare, because the warrior understands that aggression is actually the result of cowardice.”

It takes a lot of bravery to express an opinion, to publish your views for all eyes to see. And it takes a similar bravery to refrain from tearing that person down because what they wrote seems to you so incredibly stupid and wrong.

It seems to me that here at elephant journal, we could use the same kind of bravery when we write and respond to others.

Instead, what’s taking place in the comment section of late is like an episode on The Jerry Springer Show—an ugly and defeatist display of cowardice—which squelches the purpose of evolutionary and mindful discussions that many of us look to elephant to engage in.

It takes more courage to bow first to the writer who you think is an absolute idiot-stupid-jerk, than to lambaste them with hateful, aggressive and outright unproductive rebuttals for being so.

It was hard for me to bow to my students who I felt for the most part were narcissistic, self-absorbed and spoiled brats. But somehow it made me a more powerful teacher. It made me see them as more than just narcissistic, self-absorbed and spoiled brats.

It’s like the ritual of bowing down in Hindu temples. As you bow to the deity, the priest places a silver crown on your head. You become regal and royal the more you surrender your ego.

And it’s like the real meaning of Namaste (and not the flowery stuff embroidered on wall-hangings).

Na-ma is “no mind.” No instinctual and reactive mind, that is. Namaste means: “I bow down to you.” I let go of my need to be right, to be self-protective, and to be isolated in my limited worldview.

I’m willing to see only you—te. I’m willing to be informed by your presence. I’m willing to bow down to you.

I think if we as readers and writers here at elephant adopted the “Warrior’s Bow” before we offer our dissenting opinions, we’d really encourage a different kind of communication—one that’s productive, compassionate and evolutionary.

And so I bow to you, my gentle and not-so-gentle readers in the spirit of respectful contemplative dialogue. Namaste.


Editor: Kate Bartolotta

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