Thursday, January 8, 2009

Naming things

There is an old tribal tradition, probably found all over the world, that if you know the secret name of someone (or thing) you have power over them (it).

In the Christian tradition there is strong agreement in the power of calling upon Jesus by name. This flows from not only the Jewish Torah,(and Old Testament):

Psa 55:16 As for me, I will call upon God; and the LORD shall save me.

Joe 2:32 And it shall come to pass, [that] whosoever shall call on the name of the LORD shall be delivered: for in mount Zion and in Jerusalem shall be deliverance, as the LORD hath said, and in the remnant whom the LORD shall call.

but also from almost all ritual, where Rabbis, priests, medicine men, midwives, shamans, wise women, healers and spiritual leaders literally call out their proscribed prayers and, we assume, add power to their words.

The first step in knowing what is to be done, whether in the internal landscape of changing ourselves, changing the world, or helping others, is to identify and then name what it is we are dealing with.

I'm unabashedly hooked on House the medical drama on USA that centers around a brilliant diagnostician, who is curmudgeonly to the point of rarely examining patients (he relies on underling doctors to do exams). My fascination has to do with the way they portray his character, the excellent writing and the way his team interacts with House. He's bright enough to understand social norms very well, but chooses to ignore them as irrelevant. Very few people, colleagues or patients, catch his curiosity, but diseases, now those are fascinating. He can't sustain real relationships, partly because of his extreme focus on his work, himself and saving lives, but he's also aware of his emotional dysfunction. And in the end, he isn't "better" at "human relations" because he doesn't care to be. He's not more "self-aware" because that truly doesn't matter to him.

I'm drawn to the show because his character so reminds me of other people I meet. In some ways he's "stuck" but in another way he isn't at all (being perfectly "happy" with his lot). He's manipulative and self-centered, and so are most of us, at least at some level. Even those of us who work our entire lives to become kind, honest and enlightened, well, who is to say if we succeed?

It's so subjective!

As is naming things.

I once had a beautiful dog, Tasha, who did amazing tricks, which we would demonstrate ("Would you rather be a Florida Gator, or a dead dog?" was a great trick. Yes, she closed her eyes when playing dead.) Then I would comment that she was well trained, but didn't recognize her name, and rather worked off of my tone of voice. I demonstrated this by calling her "Peanut Butter" in an excited tone, and she'd do whatever I asked! It was a flawed experiment, but still, good enough for living room entertainment.

People often mis-identify and mis-label their challenges as well. It often does matter, unlike Tasha's response to my call, if we know what we are dealing with. If you call it heart burn, but it ends up being cancer, (happened to my grandad) then you can die from the mistake.

If you have a bad time with relationships, and care about having better connections, then you have to figure out what you've done wrong in the past, and be willing to do the work of digging into your part in it.

People who aren't happy with their lives often don't seem to have what they need to even identify what is wrong. I call these blind spots. We all have them. The question is more about what we do with them, if we do anything at all. And that takes courage.

A couple of days ago a dear friend described an emotional scene with her beloved, and how angry and upset she got over something that was minor on the surface. To her it was huge. But she's wise enough (having done some seriously hard work on her inner clockwork) to figure out that it was a fear of abandonment - and that that fear had everything to do with her feelings, her thinking, her reactions, her physical sensations, and could have seriously damaged her relationship if she hadn't gotten started getting a handle on it.

In the end it isn't whether people think they are honest that matters, it's being truly and completely honest - with at least yourself. If you have someone close to you who gives you good feedback (and it should be kind - always) then you can find those blind spots, and do something about them. Whether you use a friend, a partner, a shrink, whatever it takes, doesn't matter.

I find my feelings and physical sensations also help me find where I am stuck - or dodging the truth. If I feel alarm at someone's exuberance, it could be that I need to protect myself more strongly. If I feel tight in my shoulders and don't breathe normally, something is up, and it's worth it to stop and see what is getting to me.

If I do this, and keep noticing where I am stuck, then I can start to work at the knots, slowly, compassionately.

So that is the other fascinating thing about the House character. Is he stuck, and if so, can he get unstuck? Does he have the courage to be honest, or will he keep pretending that his life is great as is? If he gets honest, will he have the strength to face his faults and fears?

For me, this changes from day to day. But at least some of the time I'm willing to tackle issues that come up - especially if they are repeating. This doesn't solve everything, but solving problems is a lot easier if we name them first. It starts to pin them down (but beware - sometimes they fight back!)



gwyneth said...

i heard in erigon that if you know someones real name like really real name that you have power over them! i mean erigon doesnt even know hes real name!

vj said...

Smile - that's Eragon, the dragon books, right? Very cool. I forgot that he didn't know his own real name. Does he discover it?