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How often do you recognize the light in others?


Today is May 25 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “how often do you recognize the light in others?” "Everybody counts or nobody counts" is the personal credo of the fictitious character of Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) detective Harry Bosch created by author Michael Connelly. After his return from Vietnam and an honorable discharge from the Army, Bosch joined the LAPD and rose to the rank of Detective III, a position which entails both investigative and supervisory duties, and is the LAPD equivalent of Detective Sergeant. Bosch picked up the philosophy in the early-1980s from one of his first partners, detective Ray Vaughn, who told Bosch, “Every investigation counted." When asked to explain his personal mission in April of 1994, Bosch told psychologist Carmen Hinojos: "Everybody counts, or nobody counts. That's it. It means I bust my ass to make a case whether it's a prostitute or the mayor's wife. That's my rule." Today’s reflection involves two words often misunderstood but valuable to anyone who using the strategy of recognizing the light in others to navigate the chaos: Namaste and Unbuntu.


Namaste stems from the ancient Indian language of Sanskrit that was used to write the ancient collections of hymns, literature, philosophy, and texts known as the Vedas, which much of the modern yoga practice originates. For a word with such ancient heritage, namaste came to English recently. Many Americans first encountered the word namaste when reading about the newly independent India during the mid-20th century. It had been transliterated as na-mas-tay, namasthe, and namaste until the latter became standard in the mid-20th century. Its initial use for a broad American readership, unsurprisingly, was associated with stories about the newly independent India and its leader. As reported in TIME Magazine August 16, 1948 “In response Nehru closed his palms in front of his chest. This traditional Hindu namasthe (greeting) is as much a part of his public manner as was the V sign for Churchill.” Like with so many Sanskrit words, namaste is a phrase having multiple meanings, interpretations, and explanations. Namaste is formed from namaḥ, meaning “bow, obeisance, adoration,” and the enclitic pronoun te, meaning “to you.” The noun namaḥ, in turn, is a derivative of the verb namati, which means “(she or he) bends, bows.” Thus, a one frequent meaning of namaste is “bowing to you” or “I bow to you,” and is used as a greeting. Moreover, namaste is commonly translated as “the light in me bows to the same light within you.” Often, you will hear this in a yoga class. Namaste is typically used at the end of class to seal the practice. Some teachers will also open their class with it. Still another explanation is namaste refers to the divine teacher within ourselves. This is often referred to as the “Guru” within or “the teacher in me honors the teacher in you.” This Sanskrit word has the root Gu means “darkness,” while ru means “light.” Hence, we are bowing to and embracing the light and the darkness that exists within us all. In addition to Namaste, today’s reflection also involves another word with a complicated past, Unbuntu.


The philosophy of ubuntu is derived from a Nguni word, meaning “humanity,” or “the quality of being human.” Ubuntu has its roots in humanist African philosophy, where the idea of community is one of the building blocks of society. Ubuntu is that nebulous concept of common humanity, oneness: humanity, you, and me both. For some who navigate the chaos, ubuntu has been a powerful tool to use as they translated their dreams into reality. This African proverb reveals a world view that we owe our selfhood to others, that we are first and foremost social beings, that, if you will, no man/woman is an island, or as the African would have it, “One finger cannot pick up a grain.” Ubuntu is, at the same time, a deeply personal philosophy that calls on us to mirror our humanity for each other. Since the transition to democracy in South Africa with the Nelson Mandela presidency in 1994, the term has become more widely known outside of Southern Africa.


At Nelson Mandela's memorial in December 2013, United States President Barack Obama spoke about Ubuntu, saying: “There is a word in South Africa – Ubuntu – a word that captures Mandela’s greatest gift: his recognition that we are all bound together in ways that are invisible to the eye; that there is a oneness to humanity; that we achieve ourselves by sharing ourselves with others, and caring for those around us. We can never know how much of this sense was innate in him, or how much was shaped in a dark and solitary cell. But we remember the gestures, large and small – introducing his jailers as honored guests at his inauguration; taking a pitch in a Springbok uniform; turning his family’s heartbreak into a call to confront HIV/AIDS – that revealed the depth of his empathy and his understanding. He not only embodied Ubuntu, he taught millions to find that truth within themselves.”

  • How often you recognize the light in others?

  • Do you believe ‘everyone counts or no one counts?’

  • Have you had anyone help you see the light in yourself?

  • How often do you stop to remind yourself that ‘we are all bound together in ways that are invisible to the eye?’

  • What is preventing you from seeing the light in others or viewing the connectedness among humans?

  • How do you think recognizing the light in others can help you translate one dream after another into reality?