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The Purpose of Naming (the Saturday post) January 3, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Faith, Healing Stories, Hope, Mantra, Meditation, Music, New Year, Philosophy, Religion, Wisdom, Yoga.
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[Happy 2021 to Everyone!]

[This is the post for Saturday, January 2nd. You can request an audio recording of Saturday’s practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

In the spirit of generosity (“dana”), the Zoom classes, recordings, and blog posts are freely given and freely received. If you are able to support these teachings, please do so as your heart moves you. (NOTE: You can donate even if you are “attending” a practice that is not designated as a “Common Ground Meditation Center” practice, or you can purchase class(es). Donations are tax deductible; class purchases are not necessarily deductible.]


“Deny thy father and refuse thy name;
Or, if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love,
And I’ll no longer be a Capulet….


‘Tis but thy name that is my enemy;
Thou art thyself, though not a Montague.
What’s Montague? It is nor hand, nor foot,
Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part
Belonging to a man. O, be some other name!
What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;”


– Juliet (on the balcony) in Act II, scene I of Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare

Here we are, a New Year and a new beginning – but we still have a big mess leftover from before. The world has been here before. In fact, Johannes Mercurius found himself here in 533 AD. He was a native of Rome, who became a priest at the Basilica of Saint Clement (Basilica di San Clemente al Laterano) on Caelian Hill, one of the seven hills of Rome. The basilica has an interesting history – not the least of which is that contains memorials and references to “Johannes surnamed Mercurius” and “Presbyter Mercurius.” I might dive into that rabbit hole one day, but I mention all this today, because Johannes made quite a name for himself in the church.

Quite literally, he made a name for himself: Today in 533, he was elected pope and decided to change his name to Pope John II. Nowadays, someone changing their name when they are elevated to the Papacy is the ruler rather than the exception. However, Pope John II was the first pontiff to take a new name to mark the beginning of his Papacy and he did it for two reasons. First, he was named after the Roman (and therefore “pagan”) god Mercury; which made his birth name highly inappropriate. Second, he wanted to send a message to the Church and the world about his intention and expectations as Pope.

Pope John II started his Papacy during a time when everything and anything within the Church was for sale. “Simony,” named for a Simon who is associated with sorcery in The Acts of the Apostles, is the practice of purchasing or selling religious appointments, offices, and positions. According to The Catholic Catholic Encyclopedia: Infamy-Lapparent (as published in 1910), the Church’s highest office was unfilled for two months and, during that time, people were very openly, and “shameless[ly] trafficking in sacred things…. Even sacred vessels were exposed for sale.” Given that the position was ultimately filled by a man bearing a Roman god’s name, who had given the Church quite a few “gifts,” one can’t help but wonder how Pope John II came into his position. Either way, simony was outlawed by the Church and the teenage king, Athalaric, right around the time the new pontiff was elevated.

“And when Simon saw that through laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Ghost was given, he offered them money, Saying, Give me also this power, that on whomsoever I lay hands, he may receive the Holy Ghost. But Peter said to him, “Your money perish with you, because you thought that the gift of God could be purchased with money! Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter: for thy heart is not right in the sight of God. Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray God, if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee.”


The Acts of the Apostles (8:18 – 8:22, KJV)

The 533 decree outlawing simony is interesting in that this rule banning bribery required that whenever there was a disputed election, the Church had to pay the poor three thousand pieces of silver. King Althalaric gave Pope John II the responsibility of overseeing the collection and distribution of such penalties. At the same time, the new pontiff had to deal with an adulterous bishop and also decide whether or not to reinstate bishops in Africa who had started teaching and practicing a form of Christianity that rejected the theology of the Holy Trinity. Clearly, he had a lot on his plate and he wanted – nay, needed – a name that sent a very definitive statement about his intentions moving forward. He needed a name that held some esteem, especially as it related to the bishops in Africa. Ultimately, he choose to name himself after Pope John I, who had been beatified and venerated as a martyr after establishing a precedent in relation to Christians who denied the divinity of Jesus in Constantinople during the Byzantine Empire.

Pope John II did not have a chance to make a ruling on the issue of bishops in Africa, as the controversy was brought to him shortly before his death on May 8, 535. But the practice of changing one’s name had been established. It didn’t take right away. In fact, it would be 450 years after Pope John II changed his name before another pontiff (this time, birth name Pietro Canepanova – a very good Catholic name, as he was named after the first Pope) would change his name: also to John. This Pope John (XIV) would immediately be followed by a “John” who actually kept his birth name, Pope John XV (born Giovanni di Gallina Aba), who would be followed by a series of pontiffs who would change their names. Thus far, Pope John is the most popular papal name, with 23 (excluding the ones known as John Paul).

“In Bengali the word for pet name is daknam, meaning, literally, the name by which one is called , by friends, family, and other intimates, at home and in other private, unguarded moments. Pet names are a persistent remnant of childhood, a reminder that life is not always so serious, so formal, so complicated. They are a reminder, too, that one is not all things to all people.”


– quoted from The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri

There is something to be said for naming things, and people – even, maybe especially, ourselves. January 2nd is a day when I usually ask people to consider what name they would use to indicate how they would like to move through the new year. The name would be something positive and active – something from the heart – that can serve as a message to others and a reminder to one’s self: something to bring the awareness back to your purpose, mission, or guiding principle. Something to keep you focused.

Yoga, Buddhism, and even modern Psychology all have practices centered around the naming of things. The naming, or sometimes labeling, of an object (even a non-tangible object) is a way of bringing awareness to awareness and also to one’s understanding (or lack of understanding) about the nature of things. This practice can be a vital aspect of practicing non-attachment. It can also help someone stay focused, in particular by continuously turning the awareness back to a single point and/or away from that which may be distracting.

You can try this by doing “that 90-second thing” with the intention of focusing on your breath and anytime your mind drifts away bring it back by thinking, “Inhale. Exhale,” along with the breath. Alternately, you can think there word, “Thinking,” or some combination thereof. There more you do this the less you may need to do this in order to stay focused, but never forget that there is merit/benefit to doing this type of practice every time you sit (if that’s what the mind-body needs).

“‘Every act of perception,’ [Dr. Gerald] Edelman writes, ‘is to some degree an act of creation, and every act of memory is to some degree an act of imagination.’”


“Many composers, indeed, do not compose initially or entirely at an instrument but in their minds. There is no more extraordinary example of this than Beethoven, who continued to compose (and whose compositions rose to greater and greater heights) years after he had become totally deaf. It is possible that his musical imagery was even intensified by deafness…. There is an analogous phenomenon in those who lose their sight; some people who become blind may have, paradoxically, heightened visually imagery.”


– quoted from Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain by Dr. Oliver Sacks

Pratyāhāra, the fifth limb of the 8-limbed Yoga Philosophy, is often defined as sense withdrawal. People may think of it as suppressing the senses or ignoring sensation, but in fact the practice is more about acknowledging all that is and choosing on what to focus the mind. Additionally, the yoga tradition understands the experience of sensation as being an engagement of the sense organs and also the mind. So there is internal and external action, which makes the practice two-fold and as much, if not more, about turning inward as about turning away from something outward.

In the commentary for this week’s sūtra, Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD, explains that, “Following the grammatical rules of Sanskrit, it is translated from back to front: hāra means “to pull, to withdraw, to bring, to carry”; ā means “from every direction in every respect”; and prati means “toward.” Thus pratyāhāra means “pulling the mind from every direction and in every respect to a focal point.” The Yoga Sūtras of Patanjali not only defines and lays out a path towards the practice; it also offers instruction on some beneficial focal points.

One point that consistently stands out as beneficial is the practice of drawing all awareness to the breath and the experience of breathing. (YS 1.34) Remember, however, that before one can really focus all awareness on the breath and the experience of breathing one’s mind-body has to stable and comfortable, steady and at ease, balanced between effort and relaxation. (YS 2.47) Even then, one has to be aware of all the parts of the breath and the different experiences of breathing in order to transcend the experiences of the various parts. (YS 2.49 – 2.51) Even then, one has to be willing to put in the time and effort… especially the time, because there is a bit of math related to the practice.

Yoga Sūtra 2.54: svaişayāsamprayoge cittasyasvarūpānukāra ivendriyāņām pratyāhārah


– “Withdrawing from every direction toward a focal point, the sense organs and actions cease engaging with the [corresponding] sense objects and become like the true nature of the mind.


“A minimum of 48 seconds is required for the bonding between prana and mind to fully mature. Thus pranayama is not defined by how long we hold the breath but rather by how long we hold our mind on the subtle movement of prana in the pranic field.


When mental concentration is 12 times longer than the period of concentration defining pranayama, it is pratyahara…. Dharana, concentration, is 12 times longer than pratyahara. Our capacity to concentrate increases with practice, allowing dharana to mature into dhyana and Samadhi.”


– commentary on Yoga Sūtra 2.54 from The Practice of the Yoga Sūtra: Sadhana Pada by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD


Saturday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “10202020 Pratyahara”]


“[T. K. V.] Desikachar realized that his father felt that every action should be an act of devotion, that every asana should lead toward inner calm. Similarly, [Sri. T.] Krishnamacharya’s emphasis on the breath was meant to convey spiritual implications along with psychological benefits. According to Desikachar, Krishnamacharya described the cycle of breath as an act of surrender: ‘Inhale, and God approaches you.  Hold the inhalation, and God remains with you.  Exhale, and you approach God.  Hold the exhalation, and surrender to God.’”


– quoted from the May/June 2001 Yoga Journal article entitled “Krishnamacharya’s Legacy” by Fernando Pagés Ruiz





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