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What’s In a Name

Recently a friend asked about spiritual names. Many Yoga teachers have a spiritual name that they use, often it’s something given to them by their senior teacher (guru).

Years ago, when I began the first 200 hours of my Yoga teacher training journey, the topic of asking our main teacher, Baba Hari Dass, for a spiritual name came up. I decided that I wasn’t going to ask for one. It just felt… well, kind of silly.

One day, near the end of my 500-hour training, something shifted and I changed my mind. The idea of receiving a name from my senior teacher had become something that mattered to me. Perhaps it was the years and various experiences that had passed since those first days of training. Perhaps it was connecting with the passage of time. Whatever the reason, my heart softened and I decided that if the opportunity to ask for a spiritual name presented itself, that I would ask.

To be honest, I wasn’t exactly sure if he would give me a name or not. Just because a person suddenly want’s something doesn’t mean they are going to get it, right? Besides, his health had been declining in recent years, he was beginning to withdraw from public teaching, and he just wasn’t giving out names as often as he used to. One day, while on a break from training, I saw Babaji sitting in the main community room. So I picked up a piece of scratch paper, wrote out my request, sat by Babaji’s side, handed my paper to him, and I waited. (Babaji is a silent sadhu. He writes to communicate. If you ever want to explore the notion of patience, try going a few hours without talking.) Anyways, I asked, and waited.

He looked at my paper, looked at me, then looked away. Then he looked at me again….. then looked away. He took his hand, smoothed out the paper, then put his hand down and looked away. As time passed, I started to chat with the people seated near me. We talked about life, and about cats, and we laughed because it’s all so ridiculous.  Sitting there chatting with strangers, my heart felt free and light and good. It’s not about getting something and it’s not about labels. It’s about being open and embracing the sweetness of everyday moments like this (and cats).

Babaji looked at me again, paused, then picked up his pen, wrote something down on the paper and handed it to me. I thanked him.

Outside of the community room, I looked at what he wrote. The name he gave me was Gyaneshwari. It means “divine wisdom of the goddess”.

The name surprised me. I don’t think of myself as being very wise. Perhaps the name represents my hidden potential…. like a lotus seed hiding in the mud.



2 Responses so far.

  1. David says:

    I’ve always been secretly proud of my name, David, which derives from Hebrew (dwd) meaning “beloved.” I was told as a child it meant “beloved of God”, though neither my mother nor father were religious. I felt special and it was like a little signet of power that only I knew I had.

    Now that I’m older, that all feels a bit pretentious. But, words do have power. Thank you for reminding me of my secret name.