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Namaste: Raising People Up From Disposability to Essentiality

We say Namaste at the end of every yoga class - but what does it really mean? Yoga has never been just about a physical workout for me. It runs much deeper than that, and in fact, my beginning experiences with yoga were through yogic philosophy and meditation. Saying "Namaste" at the end of a class means nothing if you don't carry the meaning behind it with you - off the mat and into your life. Namaste is a greeting that acknowledges that we each carry the spark of Divinity inside of us - and in this way we are all connected to the Divine Source. The word "Namaste" literally means "Namaste = Namaha + te. Namaha means bowing, surrender, respect, gratitude, obeisance, salutations, adoration, greetings. “te” means to you, to the one who is right in front of the one offering the greetings." (from yogasadhnacom). It acknowledges that we are each expressions of Divine Consciousness. It acknowledges our shared connection on this earth of being human, and is usually accompanied by a gesture of bringing the hands together and bowing (you can read more about this at

The hardest thing I have ever had to learn on my journey - and I'm still in the process of trying to practice this every day - is to love those who hate me. Who hate everything I stand for and believe in and who fight against it on a daily basis. I don't like ugliness. I don't like watching people bully and intimidate others. I don't like childish name-calling, xenophobia, ethnocentrism or racism. So, when I witness such behavior it is very hard for me to not react emotionally. But reacting does nothing to change the situation or the problem. We are human, and it is our nature to react emotionally, but with practice we can transform that reaction into action. Our first human reaction is important, because it is connected with our own personal values and ethics. We can identify something as wrong or hurtful behavior. If we can then step back from what we are experiencing emotionally, we might recognize that for another human to act with such anger and hate they, too, must be hurting.

In a recent interview with Krista Tippett on NPR's On Being, Civil Rights activist and public theologian, Ruby Sales asked, "Where does it hurt?" A question that has gotten lost in our modern day divided world, where we are quick to take sides without listening to the other and finding our common identity. In this interview, Ruby asks, "How do we in the 21st Century Capitalist Technocracy where only a few lives matter - raise people up from Disposability to Essentiality? She calls for a new public theology or theologies to address the needs of young black people and young white people. A theology that addresses the human condition and redefines community." She speaks of a "Spiritual crisis in white America" as "white" slowly loses its grip on being the majority - how do we adapt? Ruby says, the "vitriolic rage that has come out of the right and left - We are witnessing something we need to pay real attention to." I could not agree more. In order for healing to take place, we must acknowledge the Divinity of each of our souls. I love this notion - Raising people up from Disposability to Essentiality. Teaching our children that NO ONE is disposable and EVERYONE is essential instead of building walls to keep each other out. Instead of dehumanizing people who look different from us, come from different backgrounds or worship the Divine in a different way. Ruby goes on to explore, "How to make real and reasonable the insistance on (finding good in other human beings) instead of demonizing each other." For, when we demonize each other, " does not locate the good in people. it gives up on people. We see it on the extreme rightwing and leftwing."

How do we instill this notion of "essentiality" in people today - in our younger generation, while addressing the needs of a global community? We live in a very diverse world. According to Ruby, "To talk about what it means to be human is to talk with a universal tongue. We live in a world where we have different histories, but a world where we experience grief and love in the same ways." I believe, in order to heal ourselves and our communities "where it hurts", we must address our own history in this country, right the injustices and find a way to move together towards a future where all human beings have the freedom of education and opportunity. We must become more inclusive - not less inclusive. For, this is democracy. For me, social justice is part of yoga. It is woven into the fabric of Yoga philosophy. You can live inside of your own bubble in the world, concerned with only yourself and your own well-being and consider yourself a good and decent person. But if you walk down the street and watch a man kick a dog or abuse a child and you don't say anything, you don't DO anything, you are bearing witness to a crime against humanity - against our own Divinity, and allowing it to happen. If you are in a public place and you watch people say hateful things to other people, and you don't STAND UP and say something, you are also guilty. How can we bear witness to the crimes against our neighbors and not STAND UP and lend a hand to those who are drowning? For they, too, are Divinity expressed in being human.

I recently visited a temporary exhibit on the Mall in DC created by the organization Doctors Without Borders - An organization that embodies the notion that EVERYONE is ESSENTIAL. A group of doctors and nurses who assist the most vulnerable people all over the world - refugees, displaced people in war torn countries and areas of ethnic conflict. When you enter this exhibit, you become a refugee. You give up everything you have in order to save your own life and your family, knowing that the risk you take is also dangerous and you may never make it to the freedom you seek. The exhibit brings to light the extreme trauma that these people face - "these people" meaning "our brothers and sisters" face as they simply try to survive. It helps us to find the commonality in all of us and realize that being forced from the only home you know is something that could actually happen to ANY of us. Especially when our country is divided and we treat each other with such incredible disrespect. How often we forget (or how many of us don't even know?) the words at the base of the Statue of Liberty, "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!" We can all let each other know that we are, in fact, "essential" by greeting our neighbors with love, by recognizing their Divinity, by lifting the lamp to light their way, and by asking "Where does it hurt?" and "How can i help?" Namaste. You can listen to the full podcast of On Being here: Ruby Sales is incredibly inspiring, and it's well worth a listen.

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