In the West, we're eager, even anxious, to choose names for babies before they're born. In other parts of the world, the naming process unfolds differently. The Yoruba people of southwest Nigeria wait for a child to arrive before considering a name. There's a need to meet the new being, to keep company with the child, before sensing the name the child carries. After the first three days of life, the infant is brought into a community circle, where the child's feet are held to the earth. The elders then receive the name the new life has revealed, fully expecting that in time this being will fulfill and transcend his or her received name.
This speaks to a way of knowing others. We're too quick to name or label people we meet without taking the time to experience the spirit they carry. And we seldom allow for those we know and love to transcend the name we've given them. Then, when they outgrow the silhouette we've put around them, we're surprised, and even see their change as betrayal.
The covenant of love is to expect that those we care for will grow and change and blossom. The covenant of commitment is to celebrate the soul transcending its given name and love what that soul reveals over time. Through the work of love, we can keep the spiritual commitment to support each other in finding our true name.
A Question to Walk With: In the spirit of how Native Americans name themselves, by phrases glimpsed from the natural world, what you might name your true self? What phrase or two would you start with?
Last month, Atria published my new book, The One Life We're Given: Finding the Wisdom that Waits in Your Heart. To make the most of being here, we're required to learn when to try and when to let go. This is our initiation into grace. The gift and practice of being human centers on the effort to restore what matters and, when in trouble, to make good use of our heart. No one quite knows how to do this, but learn it we must. There is no other way. By fully living the one life we're given, we're led to the wisdom that waits in our heart. The above piece is an excerpt from the book.
For more poetry for the soul, click here.
For more by Mark Nepo, click here.