This past April, I officiated the wedding of my brother-in-law and his partner of a decade in the historic Castro Theater in San Francisco. After the ceremony, a man approached me, telling me how moved he was that I had incorporated the Hindu concept of Namaste into my discussion of marriage. He was Hindu and shared how little is really known about his religion here in the U.S.
Namaste (pronounced na•ma• stā) is a concept I wish I had better understood earlier in my life and career. Had I practiced this deliberate mindfulness of Namaste, I believe my opportunities would have been far more bountiful, my interactions might have been less contentious, and perhaps I could have forgiven transgressions in the workplace (or in friendships or family relationships) for exactly what they were – interactions of the ego(s).
Namaste in translation is a greeting, a reverent acknowledgment by the divine within, of the light or divine within another. This is not just a Hindu concept; in Christianity it is an acknowledgment of the Christ light or Holy Spirit within each of us; and in Native traditions, there is recognition of the interconnectedness of each of us to another and to the Earth and the Divine (and we mistakenly call this “NEW Age?”). Nasmaste asks of each of us to recognize that we are all divine energy or spirit wrapped in layers upon layers of human ego focused on often anything other than the divine. It suggests that we need to remember in every human interaction that it is not necessarily the essence of the person at work, but rather, their egos at play.
Understanding the profound nature of this concept of Namaste offers a number of practical applications in the workplace. After all, we are often very ego-driven in our professional pursuits. And you don’t need to subscribe to some spiritual framework to understand how it works or to apply it in your own daily interactions. If I could dial back the clock, for example, I would recognize that being excluded by a boss from particular projects or meetings had very little to do with me, but had a great deal more to do with her need to prove herself of value to the organization. I had no idea that she was insecure in her position, seeking a stamp of approval from the head of the division. After these scenarios had repeated over and over, our working collaborations fell apart, and I departed from that position with what I regret was perhaps too much emotion and drama on my end. I am grateful for the key learnings (though secretly wish I had a do-over!). I have reflected also on those times early in my career when I might have inadvertently stepped on a few people to do achieve the same ladder-climbing outcomes for myself.
Subscribing to the notion of Namaste in the workplace means we should “lighten up” in the face of people whose ego needs might be to advance in their careers without regard to the impacts on others around us. It is a far healthier and productive approach. For example, I recently wanted to collaborate with a colleague on a project and invited him to do so, sharing the details and how the idea had surfaced. Several weeks later, that person told me he had been put on the task by administration (but there was no extended invite to me to participate). My idea had been co-opted. The old me would have been dwelling on this exclusion for a long time. “Were my skills considered less valuable?” “Did they not like me?” “Was my position being minimized?” These are the extreme thoughts that momentarily entered my ego-centered thinking – thoughts that would have once occupied my brain like a recurring tape over and over. The old me would have been de-railed. Instead, I considered the scenario for any learning I might garner, then dismissed the negative thoughts and gave them no power over me, offering congratulations and support to him instead. His lead in that project was obviously helping him meet his professional and personal needs in some way; it had nothing to do with me. And now, months later, more challenging and gratifying opportunities have been presented to me and I have been both open to both see them and tackle them with fervor rather than be bogged down in negativity and self-doubt.
Namaste in the workplace allows us to forgive people for their inability to really see what they are doing. It beckons us to be attentive to the multiple ego-needs of everyone around us, and gives us tools to navigate through it in a way that keeps us focused on our real purpose for that day and the people with whom we are meant to serve or co-influence in some way. And embracing this concept from time to time may lead to even better opportunities, more growth, and certainly more harmonious relationships in the end.