Namaste: Pointing to the Sacred
When I was a yoga teacher in training and learned the definition of the Sanskrit word, Namaste, it affected me to my core. When some concept, statement, or belief rings genuine and true to me, I feel it as a heaviness or contraction in the general vicinity of my heart which radiates down to my solar plexus. I say that feeling is bittersweet because I can't find the right word to describe it. Bittersweet indicates both a tinge of sadness and sweetness; though for me, the sadness is really an ache while the sweetness is more like euphoria. My touchstone, my epistomology -- how I think I know what is real-- is achy euphoria!
Namaste, the word we say to each other at the end of yoga classes and as the closing for letters and emails to those who know its meaning, is one of the most bittersweet words in my lexicon. Can you tell that I love words? I love their origins, their meanings, the shades of differences in the meanings of some synonyms. I like to use words precisely and can best do that through writing, though I am not an eloquent speaker.
I did an overnight silent retreat at the Oldenburg Franciscan Center in Indiana this week. Attached to the Center is the convent where 100 nuns live. It is the place the go to retire and even has a unit for the infirm sisters. I arrived on Friday and spent time when I arrived with Sr. Olga, a psychologist, Jungian Analyst and retired professor, who now runs this beautiful, joyful Franciscan Center in Oldenburg. Our conversation ran the gamut from Jung and psychotherapy, to finding the Divine in all things and in all people, to my need to refresh and get grounded, to the interspiritual movement.
I have long been an admirer of Bede Griffiths, a Benedictine priest who was born in England and who lived in India in his later years. (By the way, all of his books are a part of my library. My book addiction is fodder for another newsletter!) While in India, Griffiths established a monastic ashram faithful to the monastic tradition, while adapting its form to Indian culture. Through it all, he remained thoroughly rooted in the Catholic Church, but had come to an understanding that all religions, indeed all creation, spoke to him of Christ. He wrote on the connections he saw in Christianity and Hinduism. His works, The Marriage of East and West is his synthesis of these two beautiful frameworks for the understanding of the Divine.
According to Fr. Richard Rohr, OFM, author, spiritual writer, and Franciscan friar:
[Griffiths's] study confirmed his faith that Christ represented the fulfillment of the religious quest. But just as the church had discerned the mystery of Christ hidden in the religious history of Israel, so it was possible and necessary to discover the face of Christ hidden within all the religions of the world...this was Griffiths's life project and his passion.
Settling into silence, I walked the grounds of the convent and retreat center, feeling the warm sun on my skin, inhaling the scent of pine needles. A short distance beyond the pines was a small cemetery with rows of uniform unadorned white crosses, the graves of these sisters' ancestors.
I was transfixed by this place and the sacredness of the earth beneath my feet. There was a sense of acceptance, integration, wholeness. It is hard to explain, and it was hard to leave. Honestly, I don't know how long I stood there, but when I felt ready, returned to my cell to read. Sr. Olga called it my "cave." She was very close in her description of it.
Expecting plenty of time to read, I had thrown a new book into my overnight bag and was eager to start it. A new author of whom I had never heard was found through too much time wasted searching the rabbit holes of Amazon. There was something about her biography and the description of the book that resonated with something in me. As I read, I realized that she, Mirabai Starr, was quoted by Richard Rohr in the readings Sr. Olga had given me that morning. What a coincidence. Is serendipity a thing? I take it seriously.
Starr discussed a number of losses in her life including the tragic death of her 14-year old daughter. She was so relatable for me as I understood her grief for the loss of a child. But then she wrote the most beautiful paragraph I've read in a long while:
But with this kind of messaging that pathologizes death and loss, of course many of us are going to mistake the fire of grief or longing for what we cannot have or can no longer have--for problems to be resolved--rather than as evidence of our holy membership in the human condition and an invitation to spiritual transformation. By "transformation" I do not mean transcendence. I mean the opposite of rising above the realities of the world. Rather, it's about becoming so fully present that the line between sacred and ordinary is obliterated and the face of the Beloved shines from every face--humans, bees, juniper trees.
Although this was only the first half of my overnight retreat which culminated in Sr. Olga's workshop, Jung's Types & Wholeness, I took away from my time at Oldenburg the true meaning of Namaste:
I honor the place in you in which the entire Universe dwells. I honor the place in you which is of Love, of Integrity, of Wisdom, and of Peace. When you are in that place in you, and I am in that place in me, we are One.