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“We are here to awaken from our illusion of separateness.” ~ Thich Nhat Hanh
Whenever I teach a new crop of students for the first time, I explain the philosophy behind the exchange of Namasté at the end of class.
Most of my students are amazed—they’d heard the phrase over and over, but had no idea what it meant. This, in turn, always leaves me amazed—I mean, isn’t the concept of Namasté the central tenant of the yoga practice?
Namasté, for those who need a bit of a refresher (and forgive me, since I’ll define this in my own terms) is the idea that there is a spark of life, a spark of a soul (or spirit or prana, chi, energy, infinity, whatever) that exists within every being; no matter what our apparent differences, we share this spark, this divine light.
And, man, that’s a beautiful thing.
I kind of like to think of it like smoking (stay with me here). I loved being a smoker. Why? Well, you kind of always had this built-in community—I could walk into a new environment and, if there were others who went out to light up, I knew I’d have something in common, automatically, with a group of strangers (the same thing goes for tattoos—just more visible signs of a common interest).
But Namasté is like that all the time.
So, in this sense, we’re all smokers, right? We all have a mutual (though perhaps not visible) commonality that draws us together, makes us a tribe, a community.
It’s heartening, you know, when I remember to remember the whole common divinity thing. But how easy it is to forget. As soon as we meet someone on the other side of the political spectrum, for example, or someone you just instantly seem to dislike for no apparent reason, forget it; the common spark is gone.
Some of the greatest guidance I’ve ever read on this subject came from Deepak Chopra.
He proposed the following experiment: for one whole day, make eye contact with everyone you encounter. Silently acknowledge them with Namasté and see what happens. The first time I tried this I witnessed such a lightness, such a buoyancy, that I decided this was the answer to the eternal quest for world peace.
And then I decided to go further.
I had one particular person with whom I just, well, did not get along. At all. It was hard enough for me to make eye contact with him, much less acknowledge his (alleged) divinity. But I sucked it up—I looked him in the eye and Namasté-ed him for all I was worth.
Did it work?
Oh, yes. It did. Suddenly, I saw what a jerk I was being and that was pretty humbling. Yeah, I disagreed with this guy on every possible level; I couldn’t even stand being in what I thought of as his black hole of an energy field, but I could see his spark. I could empathize with his attitude and once you can see where someone is coming from, they cease to be your enemy and become human.
They become just like you and you develop compassion.
It’s hard to hate through that compassionate candy coating. Believe me, I tried. Despite how nice it was to acknowledge him as someone other than a big jerk-face, I still wanted to hate him. But I couldn’t.
This is the magic of Namasté. This is why we end each class with the phrase—to send us out, off of our mats and into the world where we can actually make a difference by acknowledging each other’s light, each other’s spark.
If we could truly greet each other, really greet each other by seeing each other, then this illusion of separateness would simply disappear.
Finally, finally, we could just get on with what is truly the most important work of our lives, inner and outer peace.
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Ed: Bryonie Wise