Monday, September 19, 2016

The Namaste Dilemma

This has been on my mind for over a year, now.

See, I used to end my blog posts here with 'Namaste,' a term I really liked from my time doing yoga. When a yoga class would end, the teacher - no matter who it was - would usually put their palms together over their heart, and say, "Namaste," and those of us in the class would mirror that, hands in front of our hearts, and say, "Namaste" in response.

As it was explained to me, "Namaste" means the light in me recognizes and acknowledges the light in you.

I loved that meaning, and that ritual, and the expression became my way of saying good-bye. I used it everywhere. Freely. Because I do believe that it would be a better world if we all knew we had light inside us, and acknowledged that everyone else had light inside them, too.

But then, it came up (on twitter, actually) that using 'Namaste' as a cultural outsider, I was actually appropriating a sacred term. That I was offending people to whom that expression was a sacred part of their culture.

I questioned: wait, if I'm doing it with respect, with the understanding that what their culture offers in that expression is of value for everyone, is it still appropriation, or is it adoption? Isn't it a sign of my respect in our global world?

No, I was told empathically by two different people, there was no wiggle room. If you're not of the culture (and I'm not) using their term no matter my intent is appropriation, and offensive. And I should stop.

So I stopped. That day.

And yet, it bothered me. Was I so blinded by my white american privilege that I just couldn't get their point of view?

I tried to fold into my processing the context of the larger conversation they were having that I sort of stumbled into - they were voicing their discontent with the commercialization of 'Namaste,' to the point where sweatpants and other work-out gear were being sold with the word emblazoned across the wearer's butt.

That was definitely offensive, and I could see that.

But was there no room for how I had been using the term?

I guess I have to bring up the lighthouse, now.

Anne Lamott, in her brilliant "Bird By Bird," talks about how lighthouses don't run all over an island looking for boats to save. They just stand there, shining.

I love that metaphor, and think a lot about how that's what I'm trying to do. Be a light. With this blog. With my books. With everything I do. Not convince people I'm right if we disagree. But just, be my light. Be authentic, and trust in that. Some people will see my light, and that's great. Others will go in a different direction, and that's okay, too. I can't control them. All I can do is shine my light.

So that circles me back to how I might be able to get that sense of light back into my vocabulary, in a fashion that is respectful. And I think I've found a way. And for the first time, I'll try it in closing this essay. Thanks for reading, and know

The light in me recognizes and acknowledges the light in you,


proseandkahn said...

Hi Lee, I caught this post earlier today but had not time to respond immediately. Which was good because I thought about it from time to time throughout the day. I practice yoga daily in a studio that ends each class with 'Namaste." I think it's a beautiful sentiment. I mentioned your blog post to my Monday teacher and she expressed surprise though she did state that she becomes a bit self-conscious of her Ganesha tattoo when she meets a Hindu. It's an interesting dilemma. On the one hand, it's not very yogic to make such a claim, on the other, it's yogic to be sensitive to such. I get the objection to tee shirts and such. An acquaintance of mine wore a tee shirt that said, "Be present" to a yoga class. The instructor commented on the shirt. 'I was going to say, that's a cool shirt, except that commenting and noticing made me not present. A conundrum.


Lee Wind, M.Ed. said...

Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this, Brenda. I think it's good to have the conversation, and I'm glad to have arrived at what feels respectful and still authentic for who I am and what I believe. And I get the challenge of loving the "Be Present" t-shirt and the irony of sort of wanting one myself. Well, maybe sitting IN this dilemma space and being thoughtful about it IS being present, and is letting ourselves shine with our light...
And of course, you know how I have to sign off,

-the light in me recognizes and acknowledges the light in you,

CS Perryess said...

I bow to the thoughtfulness of this post. Thanks. Our world needs more thoughtfulness.