When I was an English teacher working in Thailand, every lesson started with the traditional Añjali Mudrā greeting of reverence. The class would pitch their hands in front of their faces as if in prayer and sing out, “Sa-wat-dee kha” and “Sa-wat-dee-khrap.” A benediction of great regard.
The term used for teacher in Thai is ‘Ajahn’ which is honorific, like the Japanese term, ‘sensei’ denoting esteem for one who has mastered something worthwhile. There were some mornings, severely hung-over from a night of Thai Mekong whiskey drinking, that the only thing to revere about me was the fact that I had managed to get up at all.
However unworthy I was of the greeting at that time, I did love this way of respecting the divinity in others in this simple greeting ceremony. How beautiful it must be to be raised in a culture where you are taught from birth to honour the spark of god-like energy that exists in all your fellow humans. Whilst I am pretty sure this becomes a mundane habit, akin to hand shaking, there must remain a sense of awe that the people around you carry within them a light that is worthy of recognition. When you greet with your ‘Namaste’ you are actually saying, “I bow to the divine in you.”
I am attending a course on narrative coaching and the most recent session I completed was about listening to what is ‘in resonance’ and what is ‘discordant’ in the story people tell you during a coaching session (or any interaction for that matter). The idea is that a person can narrate a story about a situation and may say one thing, like, “I am so happy at work,” and yet their physiology, tone of voice and whole demeanour counteracts the meaning they are trying to convey in their story – there is discordance.
Often we find ourselves trying to talk ourselves into believing what we say or saying things because we know that’s what we ought to be feeling, thinking and experiencing. In truth we are not always experiencing what we say we are. We are masterful at pretending to ourselves and so it’s a rich gift when a friend or coach can safely call out that our walk and talk are out of kilter.
Being in accord with life and our life purpose is the dance we are all working out. Knowing what the next step is and what beat to move to, is the mystery of life. How do we know that we are being harmonious and consistent with the inward thing we are? Does our divine interior-spark let us know when we are off course or diminishing its glow?
Using another ‘teaching story’, I remember helping out some second language English students who were battling with poetry and did not see themselves as effective at ‘analyzing poems’. They had matched their wits against Emily Dickinson’s poem ‘A narrow fellow in the grass’. It’s a clever poem, filled with sibilant sounds and they became delighted with themselves when they quickly worked out the ‘narrow fellow’ was indeed a snake.
But then we dug a bit deeper and they recognised that perhaps the snake represented something universal, like fear or discordance from nature. I remember them looking at me and smiling these enormous grins as if they were the discoverers of the great riches of King Solomon. They’d unlocked a mystery and they had conquered a limiting belief.
Poetry was not in fact ‘beyond them.” They had just been applying the wrong techniques in reading poems. More importantly, they now understood poems tell us beautiful messages about life and living that captures something that is almost beyond words. They had indeed found a mental ‘Ark of the Covenant’ containing commandments for reading poetry.
I like to think we are never completely out of accord with our lives; we sometimes just apply outdated or clumsy moves and techniques in relation to how we are interpreting or living our lives. Without sounding too much like a Forrest Gump I would like to say this: “Life is like a poem and you cannot interpret it like a piece of prose.”
You need to translate the messages life sends to you as if they are symbols and metaphors and explore their meaning against an internal truth. When we start to align our interior lives and all those internal divine standards and godly qualities with how we are living our external lives – that’s when you are in harmony.
People who show up as the inward thing they are make their lives an inspiring message to us all. And I suspect that’s what we are all endeavouring to do with the moves and techniques we know and were given to us.
Maybe we should all practice the Añjali Mudrā greeting – whether we say it out loud or use our inside voices. It might make all the difference to our world if we could be humble around the gods that walk amongst us.
Song of the Builders
On a summer morning
I sat down
on a hillside
to think about God –
a worthy pastime.
Near me, I saw
a single cricket;
it was moving the grains of the hillside
this way and that way.
How great was its energy,
how humble its effort.
Let us hope
it will always be like this,
each of us going on
in our inexplicable ways
building the universe.