I was at my sports club recently and as I passed a woman on my way to the locker room I smiled at her. Her facial expression remained emotionless and she averted her eyes as she moved past me. This is not the first time this has happened at the club and in the past such interactions have prompted me to look for rationalizations for the hurt I feel with each rejection and slight. Initially I came up with the notion that the club seems to draw from an upper middle class demographic who seem to be both superior and snooty.
But this default reasoning began to harden into a depressing expectation that this would always be my experience at the club. Even worse, this attitude slowly bled out into a wider belief that California is so overpopulated everybody feels they need to fight for space - emotional, psychic as well as physical - and that everyone has to compete to get what they need to be ok, leading them to be aggressive and exclusionary. Then this ungracious attitude gradually deteriorated into a sad and ugly prejudice that Americans are nowhere near as friendly or as approachable as all the fun, easygoing and relaxed Australians I miss back home.
America is my home of choice. I love America and I love so many things about Americans that are both unique and wonderful. I don’t want to lock my perception into a mean and diminished view of the people around me. I want to feel love and camaraderie with them. We are, after all, fighting the same demons and we are all seeking peace, harmony and oneness. We are all fellow travelers on the existential road “home.”
It reminded me of an incident that occurred about 10 years ago when I was still in deep grief after Ian’s death. I was riding my bike down a busy inner-city street when a woman opened her car door in front of me and nearly sent me flying. When I reproached her for her carelessness she just looked straight through me - no apology, no remorse. The first thought that came to me was: “maybe she has just had someone die.” I now knew the deadening effect such trauma has on normal emotions and so I immediately, and effortlessly, forgave her and mentally sent her love.
Clearly as I have regained my normal emotional strength and optimism I have allowed my heart to harden again. So as I pondered this sad state of affairs it occurred to me that at my yoga studio, where I feel a deep and abiding connection with, and affection for, my fellow yogis, we begin and conclude every yoga class with “Namaste,” which in Hindi, means “The spirit in me bows to the spirit in you.”
So I decided to take this practice off the mat and I have started to approach everyone I meet with a mental greeting of “Namaste.” It is a powerful and effective strategy that helps me skip over the chasm of separation created by all my, and their, fears, worries, and anxieties, allowing me to lift my initial perceptions firstly of myself, and then of others, as frightened and fragile humans, to recognize and acknowledge the beautiful, powerful, and pure souls that we all are.
The peace and love this instantaneously instills in me has been a stark reminder that it is not difficult to tap into the divine love that is our essence, and that every thought that takes us into a feeling of universal love, heals and restores us, both heart and soul.