What's In A Name?
My Real Name
Last year, on my birthday, I sent out a poem to celebrate the occasion. You might have received it. This year I am sending out some thoughts, a kind of meditation I have been having. I welcome you to share my little inspiration. If you don't have time, you can easily enough ignore it.
Thoughts are free. They are easy to share, sometimes absurd, sometimes meaningful, occasionally precious. They cross boundaries effortlessly. This train of thought began the other day when a yoga student asked me a question. In all earnestness, she wanted to know my real name.
Looking back, the answer was simple enough. Back in 1973, I had wanted a name that would resonate with my new life as a yogi. I had just moved into Toronto's Guru Ram Das Ashram the previous fall. When Yogi Bhajan came to visit in February, he gave me that name. Yogiji wrote it on a little slip of paper. I still have that paper. It says, “Gur Fatha Singh”. The Ashram head and I were the second and third members of our community to receive a name from our teacher.
Yogi Bhajan must have had a revelation later on, because after three months I received a letter from his executive secretary. Shakti Parwha Kaur wrote to say anyone given a name beginning with “Gur” should use the spelling “Guru” because “Gur means technical know-how, and Guru means one who imparts the technical know-how”. There were a whole bunch of us that year. Many were couples. Guru Charn Singh and Guru Charn Kaur. Guru Tej Singh and Guru Tej Kaur. Guru Shabad Singh and Guru Shabad Kaur.
Before that, there were lots of “Sat” names. Sat Darshan Singh. Sat Jivan Singh and Sat Jivan Kaur. Sat Simran Kaur. There were a few “Babas” too. Then there were the “Siri” names and after a couple of years, a lot of the names were beginning with “Hari”. And there was a “Dev” phase after that. Of course, there were lots of exceptions too, too many to mention, but those were observable tendencies over the first few years. (See SatNamMeans.com.)
At Guru Ram Das Ashram in Toronto, whenever Yogi Bhajan gave someone a name, and over the years it happened many times, we would always take a few days to informally celebrate the event, then soon everyone would be using it. Before long, I was quite used to being “Guru Fatha Singh”. Back in my hippie incarnation, I had been known as “Veg” as I was one of just two vegetarians in our commune. I liked my new name. When I married the next year, I shared the name with my new wife.
Three years later, I applied to have our new identity legalized. In my heart I knew there could be no going back. Then there were all the pieces of identification to change over. The government employment card, the health card, the bank book, credit cards. All in the new name. Then I helped most everyone else in our community to legally change theirs'.
This is the only name I have used for thirty-six years. So when someone asks my real name, it makes me wonder. I wonder about the intent behind the question. I wonder at the meaning of names.
I am not altogether naive. I know some people take in a “spiritual name” as they would a tarot reading. Others wear their name next to their skin on their chest like a talisman to ward away evil influences. Some consider a spiritual name like a secret handshake, thinking it confers initiation into a closed and secretive society. And some people just save their name and use it on “spiritual occasions”.
I am also aware that a person's family may never truly accept their newfound destiny and the name that accompanies it. My parents, bless their hearts, still call me by the name they chose for me. But they usually bypass the issue by just calling me “Son” and that works fine with everybody.
There may be others who have a difficult time with a new name. But if it is legalized, the name is yours and your former name is just that. Those who truly respect you eventually come around and acknowledge you. That is another advantage of a destiny name. You learn who your friends are.
I am grateful to acknowledge the wonderful coherence I have seen in the destiny names given by Nirinjan Kaur. Although I haven't an inkling of what formula Yogiji passed on for the selection of those names, she has demonstrated an uncanny knack for expressing the essence of a person in their name. It is truly wonderful.
Yogi Bhajan would make the distinction between a person's fate and their destiny. According to him, fate is what you are predestined to receive from your past actions, or karmas. Destiny is the future you create through your conscious efforts in this present lifetime. Using a destiny name is a technique to advance on the path of realization. Every time anyone calls you by that name, it is a reminder to you of the divine purpose of your living.
Taking or asking for a destiny name is no small thing. It is best done with a good deal of deliberation and never under social pressure. On graduating from a spiritual quest or entering a religious order or assuming a spiritual office, it is sometimes customary to take a up a new name befitting of one's new identity. Unlike a rose that would smell as sweet by any other name, our consciousness is deeply impressionable and affected by any name we acknowledge as our own.
Guru Nanak gave primacy to the Name when he instructed his disciples to meditate on the True Name, the True Identity. In a personal sense, it means we need to live our essential truth; we need to embody our spiritual values to the extent that we are known and recognized by them. When our truth becomes us and we become it, then we have realized the Name.
There are issues with having a name with an unusual spelling, a spelling that needs constant re-spelling, a name from another culture and another story-line. It is hardly convenient. But isn't there a president with an unusual name out there? Why didn't he just change his name to something easy to remember, something simple like “Barry O'Brien” or “Bob Smith”? That would have been less trouble for everybody, don't you think? But no, U.S. President Barack Hussein Obama, as we now know, is a man of character and he kept his difficult name.
Sometimes the world tests our determination, and it is then up to us to stand for the values we hold dear, to hold to our integrity, no matter the cost. This path will earn us endless trial and suffering. It will also earn for us respect in this world, and unfailing faith and self-confidence.
My name is Guru Fatha Singh Khalsa. It represents my values, my destiny, and everything I hold dear. In this unreal world of shifting values, it is a true name. And by the grace of God, it is who I am. (February 8, 2009) --
On to New York…
From the festival, Yogi Bhajan went on to New York City. Already, there were a couple of "Sat Nam" outposts in the state. Lynn Anderson was teaching near Woodstock. On Staten Island, lived Steve and Susie Burns, newly married by Yogi Bhajan at Summer Solstice.
During his visit, Yogi Bhajan met a young man named Alan Oken who he came to know had a gift for astrology. The Master took a liking to the unassuming fellow and said to him, "Come to Colorado with me and you will leave an astrologer. Do not charge any money. Take everyone who comes and read them for twenty minutes."
Yogi Bhajan was inviting Alan to a week-long "holy man jam" he was organizing in Boulder, Colorado. Outdoors at the quadrangle of the University of Colorado, some three thousand seekers converged in July to listen to the wisdom of the East. Yogi Bhajan and Swami Satchidananda joined together again, along with Steven Gaskin of San Francisco, a Buddhist named Bill Quan-roshi, Yogiji's student Tom Law, and another teacher. For seven days, they spoke on every topic imaginable… enlightenment, karma yoga, death, life and the wonder of being born.
As for Alan, he followed the Master's counsel and taught astrology every morning to a crowd that grew through the day from three hundred to three thousand people. From noon to 5 pm each day, he read horoscopes. Yogi Bhajan had set up a special tent for him and through the week grateful people filled it with offerings of breads, bowls, beads, crystals and other gifts. In the evening, Alan would go out into the crowd, give away his gifts, and make many friends.
By the end of the week, Alan Oken had taught thousands of students and done two hundred readings. He was an astrologer now.
The "Official" Turban
While on his tour, Yogi Bhajan received a desperate call from a student. He had been stopped by the police for some minor traffic infraction.
Seeing his long hair, the police had automatically locked him in the local jail. The usual routine was that any inmate with hair over his ears would have his head forcibly trimmed. This, Yogi Bhajan's student did not want. He protested that he was a Sikh and that Sikhs never cut their hair. But the judge was not convinced. He had never heard of a Sikh.
On receiving the call, Yogi Bhajan had a letter typed up certifying his student was indeed a Sikh and that Sikhs could not be deprived of their long, unshorn hair. He had the letter notarized and himself arrived at the court house. Yogi Bhajan also brought a long towel and instructed his student to wrap it around his head like a turban.
What could the judge say in the face of compelling evidence? He was forced to agree with Yogi Bhajan's affidavit and, after paying a small fine, the student was free to go with his crown of hair intact.
Woman is the Grace of God
Back home in Los Angeles, Yogi Bhajan started to pick on a new subject in his talks – the essential grace of womankind. "When the born of a woman acts with respect to a woman, there will be peace on Earth," he said.
Those were heady days for America's women. The 70s' women's liberation movement was just taking form. Women were finding strength in sisterhood, and dignity in their struggle for rights equivalent to those enjoyed by men.
Yogi Bhajan's perspective differed from the typical feminist view. He saw women as inherently graceful and delicate, and as the moral fiber of a nation. While some feminists celebrated the high-paying jobs of women in bars and brothels and their inherent right to those jobs, Yogi Bhajan deplored the moral climate that permitted someone's mother, daughter or sister to be so demeaned and objectified. Just two blocks from his home on Phyllis Avenue, billboards advertised the strip clubs and bars of Sunset Strip. It revolted his conscience as a decent man born of a graceful and morally impressive mother.
So it was that on September 22, 1970, Yogi Bhajan began a movement for the uplift of America's largest exploited underclass, its women. With candles in hand, his graceful students numbering only a couple of dozen, but impressive in the courage of their convictions, filed in procession past the nude bars and porn showcases of San Francisco's red light district. Together, they chanted, "We are the Grace of God!"
Yogi Bhajan called this new development the "Grace of God Movement for the Women of America," soon the "Grace of God Movement for the Women of the World." To his students he said, "When a man falls, an individual falls. But when a woman falls, an entire generation is lost. You are the grace of the individual. You are the grace of the town. You are the grace of the nation. You are the grace of the world! (See FirstTeachersAreWomen.com.)
"The world starts with you, and it ends with you. Therefore, you should never be cheap. When you cannot handle what you are, you become cheap. The crown of grace, divinity and dignity should be on your head, and it should not create a headache for you. (See For Women Only.)
"Therefore, you have to be trained. You have to train your emotions. You have to train yourself. And you have to go one way. There is one way to One God for woman: selfless, dignified and graceful behavior. Dignity and divinity are your birthright.
"The only solution a woman has is in her own depth. The only tragedy a woman has is in her own shallowness. I fully understand how terrible the past was. I fully understand how I can blame my past. I fully understand that I can mess and enmesh myself in the past. But, after all, I have a chance and a very short chance, to be my own future also. Similarly, each woman should remember that she has her own future, and that future can only be achieved if she becomes her own future."
Yogi Bhajan believed emphatically in the ability of an individual to sculpt and reform their habits and personality by methodically changing their self-concept and the habitual patterns of their mind. To this end, he gave his students the Grace of God meditation.
The Grace of God Meditation
Lie on your back, fully relaxing your face and body. Inhale deeply, hold the breath in and silently repeat ten times, "I am Grace of God." Exhale all the breath out. Hold the breath out and silently repeat ten times, "I am Grace of God." Continue breathing and repeating the mantra in this manner for a total of five inhalations and five exhalations.
After the cycle is completed, relax your breath, and with eyes still closed, come sitting up into easy pose. Bring your right index finger curled under your thumb, the other three fingers straight, palm up, wrist resting on the knee, elbow straight. The left hand is held up by the left shoulder as if taking an oath. The breath should be relaxed.
Tense one finger of the left hand at a time, keeping the other fingers straight, but relaxed. Repeat aloud, "I am Grace of God," five times. Continue this sequence with all the fingers and thumb of that hand, meditating on the inherent energy in each –
The little finger: representing Mercury, power of communication; The ring finger: Sun-Venus, physical health, grace and beauty; The middle finger: Saturn, patience, transforming emotion to devotion, responsibility; The index finger: Jupiter, wisdom and expansion; The thumb: positive ego.
When both parts of the meditation are completed, lower the left hand and relax for a few minutes. Download Grace of God Meditation.
New Thinking On Mental Health
Everyone is torn. We all want first rate comforts, exceptional recognition, wealth and health and happiness out of the ordinary. Of these things, it seems we can never get enough. Yet there is also a gnawing urge inside each of us not to stand out too much, not to attract too much attention, to fit in, to be “normal.” So we are deeply and fundamentally conflicted.
To be absolutely frank and honest, in the course of human affairs, normal does not exist. Normal is a mirage, a superstition, a crazy idea. Nobody is normal and no one who achieves any great success in life wants to pass themself off as just reasonably boring and normal. Mediocrity, or being “average,” and being successful just don't go together.
In reality, we are all unique - and it scares the hell out of us. No two of us are alike and we are also fundamentally alone with our minds. We have different shapes and genes and thoughts and feelings and dispositions. And there is no way of averaging these all out to come up with some kind of norm. Even if there were, how could we conform to it?
Mind, “normative behaviour” is an essential precept of the psychiatric industry, an industry that is itself founded upon a few serious delusions and lacks a model for highly individuated behaviors.
Rather, the psychiatric industry is based on the premise that people should go about their lives and work in a generally predictable kind of way, not break any laws or challenge any authorities, not raise their voices, and speak when they are spoken to. Many psychiatric drugs merely dull the minds of the eccentric in order to make them conform to the dull rote of daily existence, but this is not happiness and this is not what anyone was born for.
The psychiatric industry is also founded on the incredible idea that mental health is the domain of an elite coterie of specialists, priests of the mind who should hold the rest of us in their thrall. In reality, the real world outside of our burgeoning psychiatric wards, mental health is everyone's business, everybody who has a mind. Everyone needs to learn to contend with their mind, their emotions, their ups and downs.
Yes, for some of us our life's journey may be coloured with more intensity, our habit of self-reflection and self-regulation may be less, much less even, but really everybody is situated somewhere on a continuum. The categories of “sane” and “insane” are not fixed and unchangeable. On a good day, a person once labelled as “neurotic” may be more lucid than a widely respected doctor of the mind who is cranky and having bad day.
There is an art, and it is a fine art, of mental hygiene. What is hygiene? It is everybody's art, all the preventative things we can do, the daily maintenance we can practice, so as not to need a doctor's intervention. In ancient Greek culture, people considered Hygiene and Panacea to be sisters. Where Hygiene was lacking, Panacea would do her best to restore a person's health. And the Greeks believed in no “panaceas” - not as we use the word today.
Mental hygiene requires self-awareness and a discipline of the body and mind together, as mind and body are essentially inseparable. Mental hygiene is based on all the best practices we have learned to keep ourselves happy and vibrant and alive. It includes yoga, t'ai chi, walks in nature, all kinds of exercise, spending time with friends and family, favourite hobbies, great music, good food, healthy environments, meditation, and for some it includes going to their place of worship to pray.When our mental hygiene is good, our minds are sharp, our imaginations fruitful, and our trust in others well-founded, neither too much nor too little. We sleep well. We wake up refreshed. Our minds are not clogged with worries based in the past or future.
A happy mind is a fear-free mind. It does not fear the future. It embraces the sum of possibilities and hopes for the best.
A happy mind shuns mediocrity because it knows it can do better. It never thinks “I want to be normal” because for it that would be the kiss of death.
A happy mind celebrates life and inspires others to happiness. It is based on self-knowledge, self-trust and self-esteem. It hardens and softens its focus at will. It is balanced, neither driven by destructive ambition nor obsessed by the pain of the past.
A person with a happy mind works hard, but is also content with what they have. They see the good in their enemies and the bad in their friends, and have a smile and a kind word for everyone. A person who practices mental hygiene is happy with themself and happy with the world – and in these stressful times that makes them an extraordinary person indeed. -- S.S. Guru Fatha Singh Khalsa
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