Jimmie Dale Gilmore has been singing for over thirty years in a style that blends Eastern ideas with acoustic folk and country music. Rolling Stone has named him Best Country Artist for the past three years and last year his album Spinning Around the Sun was nominated for a Grammy Award. In the mid-seventies, he received the sacred Tibetan Buddhist Black Hat initiation from H.H. the Sixteenth Karmapa. Gilmore’s songs include “My Mind’s Got a Mind of Its Own” and “Just a Wave.” He shared his thoughts about bowing when Tricycle phoned him in July.

The first time I saw formal bowing I was shocked. I just had completely mixed feelings. Something in me loved it—I was taken by the sincerity and the intensity of it. On the other hand, I’d never seen that happen before, outside of a movie or a photograph, so I was shocked; I was enthralled. It was still quite a long time before I felt comfortable kneeling down to my teacher, or even to his image. But after a while something happened—it was just a release of some little teeny part of ego. I’ve kind of analyzed it, psychoanalyzed the whole thing. I think it was a milestone. I had to overcome a lot of cultural conditioning even though I had studied some anthropology and psychology and there was a part of me that was already open-minded in the recognition of different cultures and different ideas. It was a little bit like trying oysters for the first time, and I still don’t like oysters.

There’s something in bowing—it’s an almost archetypal expression between people. I try my best to actually use my bowing practice as a trigger to remind me to be conscious and to be consciously bowing to the divinity in everything. I was extremely shy in my early days as a performer, embarrassed by applause, even though the music itself was something I always felt comfortable with. I had a lot of stage presence while I was performing, but in between songs I sometimes felt like I wasn’t worthy to be there—it was just a quirk of my own personality. Gradually, though, one of the things that occurred to me in my practice was coming to a realization that the respect that you have for all beings should extend to yourself. Through practice, cultivating it, of thinking this way all the time, I developed the habit of using a lot of little things, little triggers, for remembering to maintain that frame of mind.

When there’s a sense of mutual respect between the audience and a performer it heightens everything. There’s something so civilized and genteel about people greeting each other and acknowledging each other with respect. Two people greeting each other and saying “Hello, I honor you, thank you for being here”—that kind of thing is mirrored in the audience and the performer. Instead of coming on stage and apologizing for being there, (well, not literally!) I began to think “I’m here and I’m glad.” If you take a bow with that kind of attitude behind it, I think the audience knows.

There’s definitely something about it—there’s a great pleasure in a bow.