CIL Reflection: What’s in a Name?


What’s In A Name?

Judith Sarah Schmidt, PhD

I would like to begin by sharing with you a rather amusing incident I was recently a part of.  In my writing group, Joanne brings her parrot whose name is Lily.  Lily likes to sit on her Joanne’s shoulder.  Beside me sits Bella, my beloved standard poodle.  One day, as we sit in our circle, readying to share our writings, Lily looks intently at Bella and in a loud and clear voice asks: “What’s your name?”  Bella responds by wagging her tail. Lily does not seem to understand and asks a second time, in a more insistent voice” What’s your name?” Again, Bella wags her tail, this time a bit longer, as if intent upon being heard. Lily demands a third time: “What’s your name!” only to have Bella again respond with a hefty wag of her tail, at which point, Lily turns her head away and says with an impatient “I give up” voice, “Whatever!”  Bella stops wagging her tail and I see or imagine a subtle lowering both her head and tail.  We humans all laughed uproariously at this outrageous exchange between parrot Lily and poodle Bella.  And then we went on to share our readings and critiques.


That exchange between Lily and Bella continued to stay with me.  Sometimes I recall it with immense humor, a smile brims on my face.  At other times, those recollected moments touch down somewhere deep within me and I find myself repeating a refrain: ‘ What’s in a name?’ I would like to share some of my reveries that have arisen over the past months since that exchange.  They come with a sense of surprise, as ‘free associations’ from within, forming a loose weaving of meanings.


In the best of times, infant and mother gaze long into one another’s faces, lingering with wide-open being, like lovers resting in one another.  We see the soft fronts of their bodies breathing in unison, one breath. In this being-with-as-one at the same time that they are two, each is touched by the gold of her own true self and by the shared essence held in the sanctuary of the face and being of the other.


Out of the breathing being of each, a sound arises, out of their smiles, their widening eyes, out of mutual deep joyful beholding a sound arises. Out of the baby the musical sounds of cooing.  From the mother, the sounding of the baby’s name, over and over again, like a blessing, a song, a prayer, awe for this being of the other. These are our first namings, filling our body senses, sounds that open our first portals to the felt sense of the holy, the sacred, the safe, the unity of life. Our first namings in which name and discovery and being are one.


When Lily asked Bella, “What is your name?” is it possible that Bella heard that resonance of Lily’s calling to Bella’s being? Is it possible that Bella’s wagging her tail resonated back to Lily’s call but poor Lily was not able to hear in her way of speaking?


I think of Buber’s ‘call and response’, how we are called in our depths and respond from out of our depths, one to the other.  If the music of resonance stops with a ‘whatever’, the response, the going out to meet the call, stops short in mid- stream, the head bows as if to hide in the suddenness of shame. Like Bella’s head and tail did.  Perhaps when the call is not met, our shame causes us to dismiss the other. Perhaps Lily covered shame with the fig-leaf of her ‘Whatever”.


When the call to our essence stops, the light of our existence in the aliveness of the other wanes, our sense of holy place in the face of the other dims.  If the other’s face does not bring us back, we may vanish for a very long time until we once again hear the sacred sounding of our name.  We may wait forever to hear that sound, to recognize that refuge, to begin again from the true sweetness of self -blessing deep down in ourselves.


The calling forth of our names, from the beginning to the end of life, is an essential blessing upon all beings. It is the first blessin that roots in us our sense of cherishment of our own existence and roots in us as well our sense of wonderment for all being.


It is told by the researchers that the mothers of rat pups lick the perineum of their new born pups. The mother rats are licking their little ones into being, naming with their licking. Without that licking, without that calling forth their existence, the little rat pups fail to thrive and do not survive.



You are walking along the street.  You stop at the corner to wait for the red light to change.  You look into the baby carriage beside you and see the infant, its face lit with wonder, eyes wide, mouth open, legs and body and arms all moving with a rhythm of aliveness. You realize, that baby is looking at you, for the first time seeing this newness, the newness of you.  You bend over, you respond, your face too lights up. You are called out by one another, surprised by wonder, you go forth to meet one another.


In CIL we learn the importance of knowing about mirror neurons, the love hormone oxytocin, right brain to right brain resonance, secure attachment and so much more that deepens our understanding of our precious and critical beginnings. But now, here, I desire to speak with the freshness of my own language of ‘what’s in a name’, as we each come to our own way to name our unique experience.  For me, that core awakened with another in our beginning contains a sense of wonderment, of going out to meet what is before us; going quietly forth in deep meditative seeing, or in ecstatic response, running ahead of ourselves to meet and be met by what has been named ‘radical amazement’.


Radical amazement ripples out into the world of childhood and soon becomes woven with the thrill of the coming of language, of naming the things of the world.


I see a toddler in the park, spotting a puppy on its owner’s lap. I see the little one’s face light up in all of an instant.  Called by the puppy, she hurriedly inches off her mother’s lap, calling ‘doggie, doggie’!  Moved by her passion, she runs to it, over and over again calling ‘doggie! doggie!’


She falls, her mother helps her up, helps her to go one being called forth, to meet what she is learning to name, weaving together naming and creating what she sees with cherishment for the being that the name embodies. Mother helps her little one to get up over and over again after falling, to keep going,calling out the name of what calls her.  What calls her, the puppy, is not a ‘thing’, not an ‘it’. “Doggie, Doggie” its living essence, its Thou, is calling to be met, discovered, known. To learn the names of things is for the child an act of intimacy filled with spontaneous immediacy.



And then, in the worst of times, there are those who were treated as a thing, an ‘it’, not a ‘thou’, not a mystery of being to be discovered and blessed with deep seeing. We know the reasons: mother is depressed, there is abuse, poverty, war. Trauma of strain and trauma of shock, all a too- muchness obscuring the capacity for cherishing new life.


We learn and share about all of this in depth at CIL. All of this we know in our selves to small and larger degrees: the wound of not being licked or named with blessing, of being brought into existence. As therapists, as healers, we sit with someone who has stopped waiting, stopped hoping and still hopes in a hidden place; who has stopped waiting and who still waits for blessing of existence to come, somehow from somewhere.  Here is the heart of the art of therapy, feeling into despair, beginning again in the heart of darkness, where deadness has hardened around the core of life like a crust. Beginning, maybe for the first time, the deep seeing of essence, the waiting for deadened feelings to awaken, to be named, to see with astonishment the living tear upon the stone face, to treasure it as a sign of new life, not to wipe away the thou of it, to hear with the heart its glistening, waiting to be named.  So much depends upon that innocent tear.


Learning like a child to feel and to name, to create or recreate the world, to affirm and reaffirm life, the life held in naming.  What’s in a name? Life is in the name, each living being, each living thing.  By naming the things of our world, we exist and we create in relationship with all that is.  We commit to cherishing the being of all we encounter. We commit to dialogue, to meeting, to being met, to asking, “What’s your name?”



In 2008, I went with friends to Poland to visit our old villages, the shtetls of our ancestors. I wish to end my reveries with a tale of ‘naming’ that happened in Cracow. It was April.  It was Passover. It was a glorious day.  The trees were beginning to show their pink and white blossoms, opening their sweet scents. People strolled in the square.  Others sat at cafes, lingering at the tables, talking or bending over their morning newspapers, lingering over the white espresso cups.


We pass an old building.  The limestone casts a warm glow in the morning sun, like freshly baked loaves of bread.  I see a rabbi standing outside the building, he is tall and has a long beard.  His arm reaches out, beckoning us to come inside: “Come, come in please, come in and join us for a little lunch.  It is Passover”. My friends and I give one another quick glances, shake our heads yes and enter a dimly lit room, as if too much light is forbidden in this place.


I see two rows of long tables.  I am beginning to feel dizzy.  At each table sits about a dozen men and women.  They do not move.  They are as still as stone. I see the numbers printed on their arms.  They are dressed simply, neatly, clean.  How did they dress themselves?  How did they shower?  How did they get themselves out of bed to the toilet?  They look at me but I cannot feel them seeing me.  They do not seem to exist.  Nor can I find my existence in their blank stares.  All naming and all life seem to have ceased, gone into exile.


I am overwhelmed with a wave of terror.  I know that I cannot sit at the table with them for I fear that I may stay with them forever and never leave.  So deep is the vortex of stone, of exiled being.  I take some of the matzah with me as I leave, the unleavened bread of affliction, eaten every year to recall the bitter taste of the long ago journey in the desert.  This bitter taste will be my daily meditation during this Passover. I take the first bite.  This much I can do.  I cannot sit at the table with them as yet.  But I can taste the harshness, the bitterness of their exile from life, and my own.   This much I can begin to name. Bitterness. Exile. Stone. Death. Impossible.


On my last day in Cracow, I am walking on the sunlit streets and become aware of someone walking slightly behind me.  No one else can see her.  I know her because I have taken in the bread of her tribe.  She looks down, her gait stiff and unsteady.  She is cloaked in a black shawl.  I say to her, “It is good to have you with me.  Come, I will show you Life.  You do not have to change at all.  Just let me show you”.  As we walk, as I move my legs in tandem with hers, a rhythm forms between her steps and mine.  I guide her off the cement street, leaving where the others stroll.  Dry winter leaves crackle underfoot.  The crisp sounds delight me and I smile. She sees me smile, looks at me.  She is seeing, looking out from the cold caves of her eyes.  “These are leaves crackling under our feet.  Left over winter, returning to the earth”. I am reciting the language of life.  “Here, look at the soft grass sprouting green.  How beautiful.  See, everywhere green wants to grow.”


Is she thinking: no, there are some places green must not grow, places like the dark room where the people with numbers on their arms sit?  I wonder: are there places, are there people, are there parts of people, parts of us in which green must not be allowed to grow, lest green bury over the dark testimony of the witnesses to the horrors than happen in this world?


If this is so, how much more must there be witness to the green of life, that it too may not be buried.  I name things, hoping to bring back to her some of the world she has lost.  When I look at her, there is the faintest movement of the color rose across her face.  I think of the silence at the center of the rose, deep in its heart, from where its sacred scent flows.  Like the rose, she and I sit in silence.   It is enough of naming for today. Life must start up again with shy tenderness, slowly awakening sweet blessing from deep within.


In the silence of my heart, I make a promise to myself, to her, to all of life. I will name the things of this fragile and precious life.  In a world where people can be reduced from a Thou to an it, unworthy of living, from a name to a number, to a bland uniform, to a beheading, to stone silence, may we each be forever called out to all the names of unique being.


Like those Japanese bowls whose cracks are filled with gold, may we cherish the broken places in ourselves and in one another and fill them with the gold of our hearts, with the gold of singing aloud, of whispering, one another’s names.  May it be so, in our beginnings and in our endings. May we call out like Lily called to Bella, the way that little one called out ‘doggie’.  Broken as we are, may we never stop calling out.


Today my writing group is returning, with Lily and Bella. I will make a simple frittata, crack the eggs, pour the milk, chop the veggies, place it all in the waiting dish.  So much depends on the gold and green baking in the oven.


In this, my eighty first year, I will walk beside the part of myself life has turned to stone.  I will place the blessing upon her arm and upon her heart.  I will take her out to meet the simple wonders of this world.  With cherishment I will go out. Will you go forth with me?  With you and you and you. Let’s go forth together, naming and creating and blessing.  Like little children let’s go forth making the world with cherishment, with wonder.


If you wish to find out more about CIL, please join us on Sunday, September 20, 2015 from 2:00pm – 5:00pm for an introductory workshop. The cost is $50 which will go toward your tuition if you join the new CIL three year program. Please find more by going to our

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