The light within me bows to the light within you. That is what I am expressing every time I place my hands together, palms and fingers touching, pointed up, in front of my heart. This is the namaskara mudra – gesture of adoration. I envision the Vietnamese Goddess of Mercy and Buddhist Bodhisattva Quan Am whenever I perform this mudra. Quan Am expresses the namaskara mudra depicted with a thousand arms and a thousand eyes and seated on a lotus flower. She who hears the cries of the world says with her hands she is in adoration of the divine light in all. In Buddhist iconography, a mudra is a very formal hand gesture, a statement without words. It is a spiritual gesture; it is a symbol of the scared. A Buddha or Bodhisattva stands, sits, or lies sideways and his or her hands perform a specific mudra, symbolic of his or her attributes. A mudra evokes ideas such as protection, knowledge, compassion. For Buddhists, a person in prayer or mediation may choose to convey a specific mudra to evoke a particular idea and call power to that idea.
I know myself and I know I live my life seeing meaning and metaphor in the ordinary events around me. I am travelling my own path to find the sacred. Knowing mudra, I see and feel mudra around me. Mostly, I sense mudras being performed by the females closest to me, as they go through their daily lives. Each of the women (including a woman-to-be) I love most, my daughter, my mother, and my sister, uses her hands to express herself. Each of their styles brings to my mind a specific Buddhist mudra. Each of their mudras represents who they are at this point in their lives.
My daughter’s hands grasp. She constantly clutches an object she treasures in one fist and only lets it go to trade it for another precious item – an upgrade in her mind. It could be anything, a plastic ball, a breadstick, a bit of string. The ultimate prize is mama’s smart phone. I chase after her to retrieve it, she toddles away from me, I take it from her clutches, and she wails and slams her body on the floor, her heart broken and her face wet with tears. At 20 months old, she operates on intuition and impulse and the world is still a strange but exciting place. She is figuring out her own mind and emotions, at every moment she discovers boundaries, learns new relationships, and makes new connections. It is comforting for her to hold something in this extreme world of unreasonable adults who do not let her do everything she wants to do. She needs to hold onto something, always. The mudra for my daughter is the vajra mudra – gesture of knowledge. One hand makes a fist, with the index finger extended upwards, while the other fingers enclose the thumb, palm out. The other hand forms a fist, palm inward, and envelopes the extended index finger of the first hand. My daughter’s hands learn. My daughter learns.
My mother’s hands work. Her hands keep busy; they are never idle. As a newly landed immigrant in Canada, she operated a sewing machine for over 20 years until she required surgery in both wrists due to repetitive strain injury. As a widow, she cooked food from her homeland for two stubborn daughters, serving up comfort as well as nourishment. Lying in bed at night, she rubbed her hands together worrying whether these daughters would turn out to be good girls. Now as a grandmother retiree, she swims and enjoys the feel of her hands pushing against the cool water. It is an indulgence she allows herself. Yet her hands do not forget their years of hardship with their cracked palms and sore fingers. She has done everything for others, giving of herself; she is defined by the people she takes care of with her hands. Now she makes clothes for my daughter. She cooks rice noodle soup to nourish my daughter. She shows my daughter how to cross her arms and bow her head as a sign of respect to elders. Now at night, my mother’s hands rub together as she worries whether my daughter will become a proper little girl. The mudra for my mother is the varada mudra – gesture of charity or gift bestowing. The arm extends all the way down with the palm facing outward and pointing down, all fingers extend. My mother’s hands provide. My mother provides.
My sister’s hands move. She draws small circles in the air when she is excited and wrings her hands when perplexed. When she speaks, her hands are the hands of an orchestra conductor. My sister keeps moving. She works late hours. She volunteers for two charities. She drives our mother grocery shopping. She helps my cousin with his homework. She and I go together to an exercise class. Her life is full, overfilled. She has no time to stop, to reflect, to think. Her life changed more than mine did when our dad passed away. She was 14 and I was only 7. My good fortune of having fuzzy childhood memories of that dark time after his passing was her bad luck of having vivid recollections and the realization that everything would now be different. Burdened by new responsibilities, she left childhood behind so quickly so that she could take care of things on behalf of our mother who didn’t know English well. My sister moves away from the past, shielding herself. The mudra for my sister is the karana mudra – gesture of banishing and warding off evil. The palm faces out and up, the middle two fingers point down to touch the thumb while the index and pinkie fingers extend up. My sister’s hands protect. My sister protects.
My hands rest. Open palms to the sky. If I need my hands to type on the laptop, they type; if I need them to wash dishes, they wash. When required, they fulfill their duties, but no more than that. When I am not in need of them, they rest. My hands rest on my lap palms facing up, when I sit. They do not move. I do not move. I have worked for the same organization for 10 years. I have been with the same man for 12 years. I have lived in the same city almost all my years. I am open and wanting for something to come, wanting for something to fall into my hands. I wait for more. The mudra for me is the dhyana mudra – gesture for mediation. Both hands rest on the lap facing each other, one on top of the other, the fingers fully stretch, palms upwards, and the thumbs meet to form a triangle between thumbs and the overlapping palms. My hands wait. I wait.
The four of us create a diamond. My mother is at the top point, my sister and I are the two sides, and my daughter is the bottom point. The diamond shape reminds me of a Buddhist mandala. In Buddhist symbolism and iconography, a mandala is a spiritual shape. It is a sacred symbol. Inside a mandala, there is a sacred space, a place of balance. I and the women I love live inside this sacred space.
Linda Trinh lives in Winnipeg, Canada with her husband and two children. She writes non-fiction and fiction. She has studied the craft of writing through writing programs and courses working with talented authors at Athabasca University, Humber College, and the University of Victoria. Through her writing, she explores personal spirituality and the search for the sacred in one’s life. She is currently working on her first book, a work of narrative non-fiction, entitled Seeking Spirit. She invites you to discover more about her at her blog lindatrinhblog.wordpress.com and on Twitter @LindaYTrinh.