Since arriving in Kerala, I have been greeted many ways. I have exchanged many smiles and hellos, and I have been veiled with jasmine garland and pressed with traditional dika. However, the greeting I find most profound lies in a single word: Namaskaram.
Two people, worlds apart, meet with this word. Each of their hands draws together in a prayerful pose in the nest of their individual chests. With a bow of their heads, they utter, “Namaskaram.” At first, it seemed like a simple interaction, yet when I asked the native people for the meaning, I learned that it has a much deeper connotation.
A signal of respect. A promise of hospitality. A notion of putting aside one’s ego. All of these meanings are understood with Namaskaram. I witness and experience them with nearly every interaction among the people here at Cardamom County, but the latter meaning, putting aside one’s ego, has struck a powerful chord in me.
By definition, ego is a person’s sense of self-esteem or self-importance, and my exposure to its abundance is increasing my immunity to it. So when I hear a word that translates to ego’s removal, it triggers many moments deep in introspection.
I have grown up with the perspective of ego being something dangerous and negative, but on the realm of nearly everything we as a society do. I do not relish the company of someone too egotistical and seemingly pompous. However, I feel that an ego-free society could also be free of sports, which flourish on the aim to win, or science, which always seems to be moving towards further knowledge; keynotes of life like family, career development, and medical advances could also be nonexistent without some level of ego.
I have also been told that experiencing “one-ness” with God, gods, or other people occurs when we sacrifice our egos. In summary, I’ve been primed to think that having ego is bad, removing ego is good, and ego is present anytime either removed from the self or driving the self. I wonder: Is there a middle ground?
I believe Namaskaram is such. If done with some of its literal meaning, the exchange puts aside ego for a moment and opens us up to experiencing our once “egotistical” actions with reformed intentions. We can still accomplish the progressiveness of life, but instead of ego we bestow a respect for society to grow with us without selfish motivation or competition.
This is all my measly opinion, and I’m certain I will continue to ponder this topic and my thoughts may change, but as this journey continues, I close by stating, “Namaskaram.”