When Covid hit the world, one of the earliest and most immediate changes was how people greeted each other. It was not a conclusive change, but more of an exploratory change at that time. The most common business greeting of a handshake was questioned because of fear of the spread of infections. Let alone the less formal and warmer greeting of a hug. Humans had paused the handshakes but were still exploring an alternate. I guess it was awkward, more so in the western world, to meet someone and say those niceties of “Hello” or “Nice to meet you” without any touch.
Some alternates that were tried out were touching the heels or ankles or feet. Fist bumps from colleges also found their way into professional and corporate settings, perhaps with the assumption that the back of the hand is likely to touch our eyes or face or food. The one that stayed on was touching elbows. I hit my elbow with my colleagues. Joe Biden did the same with Kamala Harrison. It wasn’t a hit on day one. Sometimes I would miss the target and elbows would slide or graze past each other or just go into the air tangentially. But we all got a hang of it.
It wasn’t contactless nevertheless. Albeit, that point of contact was least likely to be used for anything else. So, Covid safe. But did it have any meaning? Humans arrived at a handshake after several millennia of their existence. An elbow greeting seemed very unnatural and made up to me. Well, who said changes come easy!
Let’s explore another contact-less greeting, that is way older than even a handshake and definitely way more meaningful than an ankle or an elbow exchange.
For the uninitiated, the physical aspect is really straightforward — fold your hands, bring the folded hands close to the center of your chest, bow a bit with humility, take a deep mindful breath and say the word Namaste.
But it is much deeper than that. The thing that you are greeting and whose existence you are acknowledging is not just the physical human body that your eyes are seeing or other senses are observing. You are using your physical body to allow your inner consciousness to acknowledge the existence of and connection to the inner consciousness of another living being.
Little too dense? Let me unpack.
As per the Hindu wisdom and I like to believe in that, this entire world is made of one big giant ball of energy. It goes by other poetic names too — consciousness or divinity. Every piece of matter in the universe contains a piece of that same energy. Externally, we may look different. Something is a little green plant. Another thing is an animal with black and yellow lines on its skin. Another thing is a human walking with two legs. Another thing is that human with brown skin. Another one is a human with Mongolian features. All these external features of appearance might distinguish us for the purpose of identity, but inside all of us is really the same consciousness.
And really — the same. Prime Minister Modi or erstwhile President Trump or your barista in the cafe down the street or you or myself — we all have the same consciousness. We take birth, get a piece of that, and die return to that big ball. Nothing new is getting created and nothing is lost. Somewhat similar to high school physics — Energy can neither be created nor be destroyed.
Imagine a lake of pristine water. A cattle comes gulps some water to quench her thirst. And then you come and drink some water from that lake. The three of you — the lake, the cattle, and you — would look different, but you got the same water in you.
Where does Namaste come into the picture? Well, when we are doing a genuine Namaste, we ought to, for a moment, however shortlived that moment is, sincerely acknowledge that we are related and that we are the same, and really get past the differences that our minds and thoughts create every day. That applies to even the people that our minds and thinking brains tell us to despise. We create the feeling of otherness every day unknowingly. Some coworker said something hurtful, and that person becomes an other. Some neighbor or friend has political beliefs different from ours and they become other. Just imagine the amount of disdain we have for some political leaders.
But Namaste encourages us to get past that and focus on the connection and ignore the differences for a moment. Even if politically conservative fella meets a liberal political leader, when they are doing Namaste, then in their hearts, they are offering reverence for the divine energies of each other. In that beautiful profound moment, the exchange really is not between a Frankie Smith and a President Obama, it is an exchange between two little forms of consciousness.
Namaste is a Sanskrit word that literally is made of Namah + Te, translating into “I bow to you”. The divine energy in me is bowing to the divine energy in you. In that moment, identities and identifiers of thoughts, beliefs, appearances, race, class, and every other label or category that humans have invented — disappear.
So what say, do you want to try this covid safe, contactless and very deeply profound and meaningful greeting? It offers you a brief moment for being present and breaking away from the stress before the moment and the ones that might come afterward. It allows you to reset the relationship with another person if that was going downhill a second ago. It can really bring the world closer by reinforcing the connections over differences.