Earlier this week the comedian and actor Garry Shandling past away. Best known for his “Larry Sanders Show” (HBO) and there is a scene where he is talking to his side-kick Hank and asking him about his phrase “Hey now” and what it means. He asks him if he would stop saying it because it makes people uncomfortable and Hank is hurt because to him it is his genuine way of greeting and starting the show.
I say this because the other day I was teaching yoga at a studio and a young woman was leaving class and pulled me aside. She couldn’t stop praising how great she felt; really enjoyed the class. The only thing was, as she explained to me, she is a Christian and is offended by the use of Namaste. “Would you promise not to use that word again in your class?” I smiled, paused and tried to understand where she was coming from. I did explain the word and it’s meaning and intension. I also tried explaining that it wasn’t a religious term; that all humans have ways of greeting or saying good-bye. I also explained that she certainly didn’t have to use the word or she could choose other phrase like “Peace be with you”.
Additionally in the same week I was subbing a yoga class at a corporate space that has a security check-in. The guards are so nice, warm and friendly, and I can tell that my friend Michael, who has been teaching there a long time, has made a big impact on them, even though they may never practice asana. They are so friendly and ask me if I know where he is; as they know about his travels. I go through the security bag check and they bow and say “Namaste”. I smile and ask if they know the meaning. They agree that they don’t but it is so sweet that they offer the greeting anyway.
All these stories happened in the past week and had me thinking about them together. Often as a teacher I close with Namaste, Jai Bhagwan and “The light in me see’s the light in you”. I thought many knew the meanings but even my husband asked me what Namaste meant. Therefore we may use words without understanding and I thought maybe I’m not doing a good job of educating others with the words or phrases.
So without assuming, let me explain the meaning (coming from research and various sources). First off, Jai Bhagwan a Hindi word roughly translated to “The Spirit of me honors the spirit in you”. (Yes there are other translations of course but you get the idea). Namaste, which is the Sanskrit language is roughly translated to the same meaning. (Often with translations there aren’t exact English matches and therefore a word, in Sanskrit especially, can start to take on various meanings). Today though you may be greeted by someone who bows to you and says ‘Namaste’. Depending on the timing, they are greeting you with a general acknowledgement and either a welcome or good-bye. So no matter which translation you believe in, it is still a greeting meant to be kind and welcoming. Sure, just like yoga, it started in the East but has gone past that to being a word used all around the world.
There are many ways in the world to communicate this as well; Salaam, Shalom, Mahalo, Danke, Arigato, Gracias, Merci, Ciao, Howdy, Yo or Hey Now! My point is that the welcome message or communication, no matter the language, isn’t about religion. Yet I can’t help and think on the heals of Easter that we are still missing the messages of those we claim to be following; Jesus, Buddha, Allah etc.
Right now I’m reading the book by Malala Yousafzai. If you don’t know her story you have probably heard her messages. She is a young girl who was shot by the Taliban and continues to stand up for girls and their right to education. Even today there are parts of the world that ban a persons right to walk in the street, listen to music, cut their hair or drive a car.
Now I’m not saying that what I’ve experienced is even close to the extreme of what Malala went through, but my point is that it always starts in such small ways. It is happening within the political areas right now as we talk about banning refugees, putting up walls and deporting people. ‘Be afraid of someone different’ and the Politicians and/or Press knows to play on this fear to get votes, views, revenue and attention. You may think I’m exaggerating but earlier this week a woman was in a DC Public Library and was asked by a security guard to remove her head wrap because it offended him.
Malala is known for saying that through education we can end terrorism. However that word “terrorism” may feel so distant and far away from us in the US – yet in reality it can be right here in your own backyard. It is anyplace where in our heart we are scared of anything that we don’t understand and want to stomp or push it away.
I know so many who understand my point but I feel if we keep quiet we aren’t speaking out against the injustices happening. History has taught us that at some point we had a choice and yet out of fear many stay silent, hide and give in that bit with hope it goes away. It often doesn’t go away and grows. Soon you forget just how it started. It starts with the fear of something and yet if you stopped, studied and learned more about them or the situation you would see the similarities instead of the differences. Just like our phrases to greet each other or say goodnight.
“Despite everything, I believe that people are really good at heart.” – Anne Frank