Sacred Gesture

One of the things I like best about eating in a restaurant is the time I spend watching people. Occupying a space in which there are very few humans with whom I am acquainted grants me the opportunity to watch interactions as a disinterested party. Not that I have no interest, it is just that I am not personally involved in their lives—no emotional investment. So I am able to notice things without referring to a history.

This morning, as I finish my breakfast and settle into some observation, I am struck by the number of hand gestures employed in various interactions. The fluidity of verbal conversation with hand movements amuses me. It is a dance of word and gesture so intrinsically intertwined that it seems one cannot happen without the other. No wonder they say seventy percent of our communication is non-verbal.

In an era where many choose to communicate via text message, I wonder how much we are losing in real connection. There is a sacredness in personal face to face interaction. Much of what we intend is offered through body language—a simple hand movement, glint in the eye, or quizzical expression. None of this comes through a text—lifeless words on a screen. Emojis are a sad substitute for presence.

In our spiritual tradition, mudras or hand gestures are used as a way to interact with the unseen dimension of pure presence. I am sure they arose in our awareness through the simple act of human discourse. Over time someone noticed the sacred quality of nonverbal communication. In some spiritual traditions these movements became connection with the transcendent realm where no words apply. Of course, we do this without thinking most of the time. No one teaches us how o speak with our hands.

Although I have learned many formal mudras from the Vajrayana Buddhist perspective, I prefer the natural movements arising through my teaching and other interactions. It is a kind of yoga in which all the postures occur spontaneously through human intercourse. Yes, verbal communication and otherwise. In this moment, I am actually gesturing via the keyboard—making love to an unseen reader. Which came first, the gesture or the word?

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