In yoga circles, the word namaste is used as a greeting, an acknowledgement, and a farewell. Expressed while bowing slightly and joining the palms together at the heart with the fingers pointing toward heaven, namaste is a Sanskrit word that means “I bow to you,” or, depending on who you ask, “I bow to the Divine in you.”
We don’t bow much in America, to the Divine or otherwise. Maybe we should.
It’s easy to get caught up in our own plans and needs, and forget that other beings have souls too. When I am focused on something, like getting to a destination or finding the brown rice on the supermarket shelf, I sometimes develop a strange tunnel vision that discounts the other people who are, like me, focused on getting to a destination or selecting a grain. If I’m in a hurry, which is almost always, I drive my CR-V (or my shopping cart) like I’m the only one on the road. Recently I realized that it’s my ego doing the driving. Everyone has a right to be here, even the guy puttering along in the left lane.
My husband and I were on the highway traveling to visit my parents in Louisiana when this truth came home to me. We were at a rest stop and I was in a hurry to find the ladies’ room. I walked briskly past several people on my way, not making eye contact with any of them. Upon finding the restroom, I noticed a middle-aged man dressed in a custodian’s uniform standing near the door. He was wearing a ball cap and eyeglasses with thick lenses, and he looked up at me and inclined his head when I walked by. I ignored him altogether and entered the restroom.
Almost immediately, I began to wonder why I did that. This was a fellow human being extending a polite gesture and I didn’t give him a second glance. It was like he didn’t exist. I reflected on how many other times I’ve done this: probably hundreds. Naturally, there are times when it’s safer not to make eye contact with strangers, but this really wasn’t one of those times. It was a bright summer afternoon and people were everywhere.
When I emerged from the ladies’ room, the custodian was still nearby, so I nodded and smiled at him and went on my way. I’m sure it wasn’t the high point of his day, but it made me feel better.
But it was not to last. Soon after, I was at the ophthalmologist’s office for a minor surgical procedure. I was standing outside the ladies’ room (is this a pattern?) waiting for my turn for what became an increasingly long time. I was okay with waiting at first, but after a while I started to get impatient. I could hear movement behind the door, but minutes passed without the person making an exit. Shifting my weight from one foot to another, the little self in my head started complaining. What on earth was she doing in there? How long does it take to use the bathroom? Things like that.
Finally, to my great relief, the door opened. Slowly. Then an elderly gentleman started backing out of the room, guiding the wheelchair occupied by his frail, white-haired wife.
Feeling ashamed, I smiled at the couple and moved so the man could navigate the wheelchair past me. Ducking into the bathroom, I uttered a quick prayer of gratitude to God that I am healthy and ambulatory. It was no big deal for me to wait a few minutes. I had time.
Sometimes it’s hard to recognize just how much work I still have to do on myself. My meditation teacher encouraged us to challenge ourselves by setting spiritual goals and including consequences when we don’t meet them.
For example, one of my goals is to drive courteously and observe the speed limit, and if I fail – if I drive too fast or call other drivers unflattering names – my punishment fits the crime: I am not allowed to pass anyone else for the rest of the day, no matter how snail-like their driving. It’s been an educational experience for me.
You know, I’m starting to like the right lane.