What is your name?
What is your name… Your claim to fame or notoriety?
The things we are called, that make us lame
Have such variety…
— From an untitled poem by the author
Your name is a statement about who you are. It is a semantic basket filled with the seeded expectations based on how you are perceived, and who you are expected to be. In many instances it is a summary of the hopes and dreams that are held sacred on your behalf by your ancestors. For these reasons appropriate thought and research is put into choosing names for our newborns. Despite this it is still true that many of us are not aware of the significance of being called by a certain chosen word. Some of us love, and seek to live into the aspirations implicit in the word to which we answer. Some of us hate our names for a number of reasons, and express a desire to change them. And then there are those who actually reject their given names and set out to rename themselves. Those who do so usually have in mind very specific historical, philosophical, and esthetic reasons. Of course there are those who have no clue that their names are actually words that mean something specific.
Some years ago I was asked to officiate at the naming ceremony for a child who was terminally ill. Although her parents were well aware of the short time their beloved would be with them; they wanted to celebrate her life in a way that would underline their appreciation of her being with us even for a relatively short while. They wanted to celebrate the very deep love they felt for this their child. We gathered together with the immediate family and other relatives and friends and neighbors. As a part of what was a very meaningful ceremony, there was the consumption of small samples of various symbolic items. These items included honey and bitter kola nuts, which symbolize the duality of life’s sweet and sour experiences; salt, to symbolize happiness; water, because it has no enemy; and olive oil, seen as something to smooth out life’s expected rough spots. She was given a name that was the female equivalent of her father’s. It was a very moving experience for all those gathered, especially in light of her prognosis.
The power of words to express meaning and purpose is summarized in the symbolic value of a name. Names talk about where we come from; whether that may be an acutely symbolic circumstance or a generally known geographic location. A boy is named Scott, because he was descended from Scottish parents, or is from a lineage of wanderers. Names talk about the impact we have on our parents; and so a child is named John because “he brought joy to his mother”. A female child may be named June to symbolize the promises of youthfulness… like marriage and childbearing. A mother named her child Vivian, which means “full of life”, despite her being born with a series of complex medical issues. We named our firstborn son Andre, because we had every hope that he would be a great example of the ideals of manhood. Our youngest son bears the name “Trei Griffin”… he is the third Griffin in the immediate family line… Great-Great grandfather, grandfather, and now him. The mythical creature, the Gryphon (Griffin): a combination of an eagle and a lion, symbolizes strength, courage and intelligence. Some names hold in them the aspirations of a people: A son was called Yeshua, because he was expected to be a liberator of his people. In our popular culture we have our “Joker”, and we have our “Superman”, and “Superwoman”. There is Spider-Man, and there is the Incredible Hulk. These names express the inherent qualities of the characters who bear them.
Life is often characterized as a journey. It is a journey that incorporates the good and the bad, the bitter and the sweet, rough patches and smooth paths, high places and depressions that are at times difficult to rise from. The many challenges that will inevitably come our way demand of us a resolve to keep moving forward. In the absence of this resolve we shrink and shrivel and fade into oblivion. The interplay of wisdom and folly is a dynamic that will be a constant in many of the steps that we take on this journey. The unique challenge that we will face is that of determining who we are, and who we must become in the face of the challenges that come our way. Ultimately we will face two critically important questions, each of which must be answered realistically if we are to successfully navigate our way through the journey to our destiny.
The first question we must face is… Who do others say that we are? As babies we are given names. As we have noted, these names express the subjective experiences and aspirations of those who parent us. These names become our legal labels. We sign them as a way of identifying ourselves to the world in which we live. They become our “mark” on the many documents that provide proof of our many transactions in this world. To get our attention others call out to us, and we answer in recognition of our given names. As we go through life we may acquire other names, words used informally to describe us beyond our given names. We call these “nicknames”. Our struggles to navigate our way through the many difficult circumstances we face in life at times result in us acquiring nom de guerres. Some that are not always flattering. Yes. Some nicknames honor us… Some of them ridicule us. These added names talk about the impressions we make in the face of various circumstances. They tell us whether we strike others as heroes or villains, as Jokers or Scarfaces, as strong or weak, as truth-tellers or liars, as leaders or followers.
In life we sometimes come to be known by the fortunes and misfortunes that come our way. For better or worse some people will label us according to the various experiences that we fall into or that befall us. To be fortunate is one thing… we all desire to be known by the “good things” that happen to us, or that we happen upon. Not so with respect to the “bad things”. The naming that is a function of the stigmatization that results from terrible experiences we have had is a rather onerous burden to be saddled with. Unfortunately the tendency to limit our perspective of other people’s lives to our interpretation of the “bad things” that have been a part of their experience becomes a rather convenient practice. This is a rather easy thing to do especially for those who would like to direct attention away from the skeletons in their own cupboards. Whether we like it or not, there will be those who insist that we are nothing more than what they conveniently think we are. It is in the face of this tendency that we must ask the second question: Who do you say that you are?
Beyond the names that we are given at birth, and beyond the nicknames that get heaped upon us by those who seek to define us by certain of our experiences and tendencies; we have a sacred responsibility to name ourselves. We do a disservice to our own selves, and we negate our personal integrity by living according to the transient wisdoms and follies of a circumstantial existence. There should come a time in our journey through this life when we stop and spend the energy necessary to address this most fundamental query… Who am I? Am I at ease with the name I have been given; with its many, sometimes subservient applications? Do I need to take a meaningful pause to identify and emphasize the me that I want to be?
With all due respect to the experiences and aspirations of my ancestors and my “well wishers”, it ultimately is my responsibility to name myself. It is my existential duty to reflect on all the experiences that have been a part of my life, with a view to determining who I must be on this my journey. In so doing I have the right to put the names I have been given in perspective, and to cultivate a me that will serve the demands of my chosen course through this life. Ultimately I cannot bequeath the responsibility to truly name myself to anyone but me. That, I believe, is what makes any talk about personal responsibility meaningful. To ask someone to take responsibility for your definition of their life is a rather tenuous proposal. It is a burden that we must ultimately desist from heaping upon anyone with the expectation that they must then unquestioningly live out our design for their life.
A NAME, A DESTINY… The journey to your authentic self
— If you do not know who you are… you will end up as someone else. If you do not know where you are going… you will end up someplace else. —
The statements above express the ultimate dilemma of a lost soul. To choose to limit ourselves to the name or names that we have been given is to give up the power that we have to be everything we can be. It is to deny ourselves the promise of realizing our fullest potential. We are constantly experiencing opportunities to change, to grow. In the truest sense of the word, life is a journey of discovery. The mantra of the soul in discovery mode… the soul that would claim his or her power to be, is courage. Contrary to the belief that many have come to assume to be true, there is nothing inevitable about our destinies. We have heard many people put forward the false notion that our journey and destination in this life is set. Some people believe that one’s fate is predetermined, and that there is nothing one can do about it. To live meaningfully we must divest ourselves of the untruth of such a way of thinking. As a way of effecting the release from such ideas, one must courageously apply oneself to the discipline necessary to do so.
Mantras are understood to be powerful words/ideas that we repeat verbally and in our actions. To adapt to the mantra of courage is to walk step by fateful step into a future full of possibility. It is to moment by moment; event by event, deny the hold that fear would have on us. Through the repetition of a mantra the meanings and manifestations of the ideas we want to commit to are imprinted in our subconscious. In time they become the template for the change that we desire in ourselves. Through the daily practice of our mantric exercise we are able to create a new template by which we connect with our most deeply held intentions. This eventuates because we are actually inducing a deep connection with the Creative Spirit …the source of everything in the universe. The more adept we become at connecting with this deeper consciousness of life, the more we are able to silence the ideas that are contrary to our most deeply held ideals.
A template of courage silences fear. The mantric exercise by which we replace thoughts of self-defeat with thoughts of self-fulfillment; strengthens our minds, bodies, and wills to accomplish the higher ideals of the Creative Spirit. This practice trains us to quiet the noisy internal dialogue within with all its under developing cross-talk about who we are expected to be, and who we can be in the worrisome… sometimes ego-degrading opinion of others. We determine our destinies first and foremost by speaking and subsequently acting them into being. And so, to begin with, I tell myself that I am who I think and say I am. Subsequently, I will act in accordance with that logos …the creative thought/word. That word is always becoming flesh in my life…in my world. My ideals take shape and find expression in my daily experience. My thoughts become flesh and live all around me. I become who I say I am.
On our journey through this life there will be many voices calling out to us. Among these will be the many adversarial voices. These include, but are not limited to, the voice of experience; trying to tell us that we can only be who we have been as a result of fortune or misfortune. There is the voice of inexperience; trying to tell us that we don’t know enough to aspire to the greatness we feel tugging at the heels of our consciousness. There will be the voice of guilt and shame; always trying to tell us that we are not, and will never be good enough because of the errors of our past ways. There will be the voice of authority; seeking to limit us to the mould that serves the duties to which we are assigned.
We will, as a function of our senses, hear these voices; but we must not listen to them in ways that limit our lives to their beckoning. Instead let us find time and space to pay attention to the voices that speak in an affirmative way about our unlimitable potential, and our most noble aspirations. Let us listen attentively to the voice telling us that we are never limited to our past with its many scares. Let us give ear to that voice which names us in accordance with a destiny bubbling over with the abundance of our most noble ideas. Hold on to those ideas with the power of your every breath.
Ultimately it is not the names that we are called that will determine our destinies. Those will come across with a sometimes deafening loudness. As a bulwark against the adversarial beckonings on our journey, always be mindful of the reality that your most sacred responsibility in this journey called Life is to chart your own course. The power to do so is a built in feature of the act of naming yourself. The names we are called are critical to our knowledge of what is expected of us. We take due notes of those. Above all however, know that the power that comes from naming yourself is crucial to your living into a destiny that is truly fulfilling.
R. A. G.
Roy Alexander Graham
President/CEO, FIGTREE ENTERPRISES, INC.
Copyright 2014 Figtree Enterprises, Inc.