You will hear us talk about the power of words many times on these pages. They are a tool. They can be a weapon. They are misused all the time, even by apparently well-educated and informed individuals. Words have meanings, and those meanings can be very specific. We need to use them wisely, with forethought and consideration for their essence. If we do not, they cease to be valuable in this thing we call communication. If the recipient of a word is simply guessing at its definition, it is virtually impossible to make an exchange of ideas and information. Both sides have the need to understand the other, in a specific and consistent manner, for communication to be successful. Two individuals, speaking different languages, both intelligent and educated, will be frustrated and unable to interact and convey their thoughts without common ground. There is no time to define each and every word to create clarity of thought. And without a common tongue, it will be difficult indeed, if not downright impossible.
Many words have been co-opted over the years, much to the detriment of the human experience. The climate of political correctness that hangs heavy over our society is making it more difficult, on a daily basis, to communicate with one another. The negative atmosphere that has evolved over the last few decades is stopping whatever progress may have been possible between people who disagree, to overcome differences and help one another to improve themselves, their families and their lives. This is a sad state of affairs. Freedom of Speech is in danger. Freedom in general is at stake. But that is a subject for another day. Today I was interested in talking about a single word. A word I have heard many times. A word that I kind of dismissed and overlooked. A word I had little interest in. A word I believed had little value or substance. Boy was I wrong. The word is Namasté, and, as with all things, it is a part of a little story. My story. The day I encountered Namasté.
I think we need to go into some background to make sense of this little side trip along the path of life. My path seems to be nothing but side trips, and I guess that is the whole reason for the journey. One step at a time. A side trip. A thought. Another sidetrip. An idea. A new piece of information to throw into my bag of knowledge. Maybe a little revelation. Maybe a lot. Growth. And that’s the ticket. There should always be a little growth.
There is never a day that goes by that something new does not intrude into your life and obstructs your path. At times it is a good thing, and you welcome it into your experience as a positive one. A pleasant smell, a warm breeze, a butterfly. You embrace the feeling and it makes you smile. At other times reality gives you a slap in the face. A news story about politics or crime or abuse, and it makes you sad, or angry, or even furious. And the smile disappears. The Yin and Yang of life. We have to find a way to deal with them both. Create balance in a life of flux and chaos.
But then, there are the times of choice. Sometimes life presents opportunity and we choose to take the initiative and go after new information and experience. It doesn’t matter what it is. You decide it is important to take a closer look, and you decide to expend effort to learn more. You research. You learn. You decide. There is a hunger to understand and explore. It may be something large, and then again, it may be relatively small. You want to learn to paint, or cook. You want to volunteer at a soup kitchen or work for a political candidate or party. You may find that it’s not for you, or you are not for it, and move on to the next opportunity, tomorrow or next week. Sometimes, it may simply be a word. It may change your world, and be the focus of your reality and your path for the rest of your lives. And in this case, I believe it was. And you get to decide. Heady stuff, that, taking control of your life.
But more often than not, the opportunities are much smaller, and sometimes even overlooked as insignificant, but nonetheless impact your journey in ways that can be unpredictable and occasionally profound. For someone who has a passion for philosophy, and a great respect for words, one of these small encounters came up beside me as I made my way along the path. Earth shattering? I didn’t think so at the time, but we never know. It takes time to digest things. You have a conversation with life. The specific can span minutes or years. You contemplate the possibilities, also a timeless process, and eventually, after a passage of time, you achieve a comprehension of sorts, and you are changed forever. Whether you have discarded a concept or embraced a new one does not matter. You have changed. You are different than you were yesterday. And then, it is time to take another step.
I mentioned that people often co-opt words. They then lose their meaning, their value. I guess it is inevitable, but I do not like it when a word gets changed. This distorts and misrepresents meaning, and inevitably obstructs understanding and conversation. And I am a big fan of conversation. Back in the 60’s words like cool and groovy and peace were adopted by a culture and they diluted the value of the words to the point that they are a joke today and people refrain from using them. In politics, a word like liberal has been perverted. Now they are progressives. Illegals is a politically incorrect term. People of color cannot even be called black, much less the word that cannot be named, the ‘ N ‘ word. It is absurd, but you cannot use the word blackboard without people commenting on such a ‘ racist ‘ statement. Indians. Midgets. It doesn’t even matter if the word is not derogatory in context. If one person is uncomfortable, then we all must discard it and use a correct term. The true beginning of censorship, and tyranny. OMG, you cannot even discuss the timing on your engine being ‘ retarded ‘ without looks of derision. What is happening to this country? Our skins have become paper thin. We live in a sensitive land of nothing but victims. It does not bode well for the future. But I digress. Don’t I always?
And, we are back to Namasté. That was what this was supposed to be all about, wasn’t it?
Namasté is an old Sanskrit greeting primarily used by the Hindus, but often used by Buddhists, Muslims, Sikhs and many other religions. It may date back as far as 1500 BCE, which gives it a substantial historical significance. For most people it is in such common usage, it has been relegated into what we would consider a simple hello or goodbye, as we use here in the United States. In Hinduism, it has a strong spiritual significance, and many here at home have adopted it in yoga classes, and of course Hollywood is always open to anything that they don’t understand and will make them feel good with themselves, or superior to anyone else.
There are two closely related sides to the coin that is Namasté. The first is the word Namasté itself. To break down the word, ‘ Nama ‘ means bow , the ‘ as ‘ means I, and ‘ te ‘ means you. Therefore, Namasté literally means bow / me / you or, ‘ I bow to you ‘. This is the common usage, usually without any gesture, but the gesture is accepted as understood, and is normally not necessary.
Conversely, the gesture, Namasté, is independent of the word. They are both closely related, of course, but it seems important to clarify the difference. The greeting usually accompanies the folding of the hands but in India the word is rarely spoken since it is understood that the gesture itself signifies Namasté, and therefore the word is unnecessary.
The gesture Namasté represents the belief that there is a divine spark within each of us that is located in the heart chakra. The gesture is an acknowledgement of the soul in one by the soul in another. The placement of the hands in front of the heart chakra, located just above the heart, is significant. It is a deep form of respect, even more so if the gesture starts in front of the third eye chakra, also known as the brow chakra, located on the forehead, and between the eyes, and descends to the heart chakra. It is also used by many as a form of meditation.
In any case, I am by no means an expert on any of this. Not even particularly knowledgeable, but in my explorations into religions and spirituality over the years, it has come up time and again, so it is something familiar to me. But never holding any specific significance. I have never been into any of the bells and whistles, and especially rituals, in most religions. Coming from a catholic religion that has many rituals, I have always been uncomfortable participating when there is no real feeling or emotion within me. So too, with the chakras and uncountable other aspects of numerous religions. I mean no disrespect. Any religion that brings you peace and helps you along your path to a respect for others is something that will never be a negative. But what can you do if you don’t feel it in your soul?
And then, for whatever reason, one day, on the trail of something totally unrelated, I encountered the word on a pin with the saying ‘ Namasté – My soul honors your soul ‘. I cannot describe my response. I stumbled on my path. I could not explain, even to myself, what just happened. I talk about the power of words all the time. They are important. They have meaning. They can lift you up and they can bring you down. I was just lifted. In the blink of an eye, a word, a fairly unique and yet ordinary word, became a word of power for me. I think my soul giggled. She does that all the time. She loves to surprise me. In that instant, the word became profound to me. I realize that ‘ my soul bows to your soul ‘, for you, may be the same as ‘ my soul honors your soul ‘. But for me, it was the difference between night and day. And now I am in the position that I am afraid to use the word. It is not a salutation for me. I have no inclination to display my chakras. I certainly do not want to start doing yoga, although some people would like to see me do it. And I absolutely do not want to be associated with the shallow people, saying Namasté to everyone they meet. Last year it was ‘ awesome ‘, and next year, who knows? For me, a word of power. I don’t even want to use it, for fear of diminishing its value and power. I am treasuring it and saving it. Because it means so much to me. Because now I honor the word, and what it represents. I respect the meaning. The soul is a matter that grows in significance with each passing day of my life. With each additional step along the path. And now I have a word of power that can display the reverence I hold for the soul. Did I say it was not earth shattering? Maybe I should revisit that. Because it has. And yet nothing else has changed. My path still leads me I know not where. And my soul continues to giggle. She just won’t shut up.
We make our own reality. We decide what we value. We decide how to interpret our experiences. We are in control. And I like it. I am probably doing exactly what I criticized when I said that people change the meanings of words, but not really. The word has taken on a new significance, for me alone. But sometimes, you find yourself with little choice. You should always be looking to find meaning in life. And guess what? Wherever you may find that meaning, if it brings value, you will benefit from it, and it will make you a better person because of it, and that will never be a bad thing. I strive to be that better person. Life is so much richer, and fuller, when it has meaning and value. When it has purpose. I am ready for that next step.
Would you please stop giggling!