Some lessons in life are simple and immediate. India taught me that recognizing another person’s presence is integral to experiencing one’s own humanity. The Namaste—fingertips pressed together, hands at heart, a dip of the head, and looking into that other person’s eyes communicates volumes. You don’t even have to day the word, it is implied in the gesture.
It is an expected form of greeting, a ritual pause when entering a temple, a shop, hotel reception desk, or place of business, such as a weaver’s cottage or a place where indigo dyes are made by hand. I enter your space, I say hello. We begin to consider each other.
But where I felt I the Namaste most was in the street, among passers by, touts, and people just hanging out in doorways, chai shops, among market stalls. Without fail, every time I namaste’d someone the response was instinctual, immediate. Their hands were moving, their heads bowing before their brains knew what they were doing. And always the smile, a gentle “ah, you know what this means” nod of appreciation. Something relaxes between us, even if we are shy with each other.
The god in me greets the god in you. Quite a statement.
In Varanasi, we met a young man who agreed to be our guide for a walk up the street, no easy task in narrow passageways thousands of years old, dark, grimy places without signs, filled with thousands of pilgrims who had come to bathe in the Ganges and honor Lord Shiva on the last day of a month-long festival, the Maha Shivarastri. Pandemonium with cows. And goats. The occasional monkey. We offered him payment and he demurred, putting his hands together and bowing low before us.
“What does that mean?” I asked him. He laughed up at me, his dark eyes bright, still bowing.
“I am asking for your blessing, Auntie.”
Auntie is a term of affectionate respect for an older woman. I placed my hands on his head and thanked him silently for being such a lovely young man. Kind of a Namaste squared. My heart felt warm. And lighter.
These encounters remain vivid. Namaste awakens a humility and gratitude, an acceptance of the human condition. We see each other and greet each other from our souls. Not a bad way to move through the world.