I have a necklace with a pendant that reads Namaste. It took me a fair amount of searching to find just what I wanted, and now that I’ve got it I wear that bit of jewelry all the time. It’s a subtle charm and most people don’t notice it—sometimes I don’t notice it—but now and again someone will catch sight of the glint and ask me what the word means.
It took me a few times to get it right. Right for me, that is. Academically, I know what the word “means”—its definition, etymology, and common usage. But until I had to explain it to coworkers and the odd grocery clerk, I hadn’t harnessed just what struck me hard enough to plunk down dough on the tiny silver decoration and dig it out of my yoga bag most mornings before heading out the door to work.
It usually goes like this: somebody leans in toward me, squinting at my neck. (A bustier woman might get the wrong idea about naughtiness afoot, but my nearly negative chest cushion makes that a nonissue.) Nah-mast? they ask.
Nah-mah-STAY, I correct them.
What’s it mean?
The first couple times that I responded to the question my answer included the part about it being a closing salutation in yoga classes. But I’ve come to leave that bit out. ‘Cause, as it turns out, it’s not actually the yoga connection that prompts me to wear the charm
After honing my response, now I reply simply, In the West we take it to mean that the divine in me honors the divine in you.
Now and again that answer’s met with a scrunched-up look that says, Huh? So what?
I go on, It’s a sort of reminder you could say, reminding me that even on my worst days I’ve got a little light in me—even if I can’t quite tell that it’s there. And that light, no matter how small or dim on any given day, has the doggedness to locate and partner up with the light in others, elevating us both.
About then I start to get a little nod of understanding.
But one gentleman followed up, Then maybe you shoulda’ put it on a bracelet so you could see it yourself and not confuse everyone around you.
Valid point, I suppose.
But then there’s less of a chance that people would ask me about the word and I wouldn’t have the frequent opportunity to talk about honoring the divine in others.
So namaste, good sir.