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Naming Things Limits Things

See beyond the labels

Close up of two full-blooming Pierre de Ronsard pink roses
Pierre de Ronsard roses at Evergreen. But as Juliet said to Romeo, "A rose by any other name would smell as sweet."

Chances are you have a name. And chances are you have a name for all the people and objects in the world.

Naming is labelling. And labelling things limits them.

A name can cover the wonderful fact of something’s or someone’s existence, but at the same time it can cloud or completely hide the deeper meaning of what is named. We end up experiencing the world of form through a veil of our own labels.

We have a habit of naming things, then thinking this means we know it: morning; fig tree; Mt Fuji; sea eagle; thunder; great-aunt Gertrude.

Let’s take the simple label morning.

Each brand-new, glorious day, the sun’s rays race to my eyeballs at the speed of light after having warmed the whole land of Australia to the east of me before pouring through my window to wake me up. The swallows nesting in the eaves chit-chit-chit incessantly while feeding their young, kookaburras clear their throats for song, frogs lower their moaning in the reeds, the ash tree shakes its newly-leaved branches against the house in response to the westerly wind coming over the cliffs with its tangy salt spray. And I label this moment morning, sit up in bed with a yawn, throw my legs over the side to search for my slippers, and miss all this amazing loveliness because of my automatic labelling.

It’s the same with people. Their names create smear patterns on their faces, like the TV news blocking out the face of a possible criminal.

Christmas holidays are coming up. It’s a time of seeing relatives who have names we know them by. And when we say their name in conversation, or in greeting, the name often puts limits on them in our minds, because of all the baggage we’ve mentally added to that name over the years. Some fictitious examples:

Brother Sam (smiles too much)

Cousin Bill (boring)

Sister Sue (no dress sense)

Grandma Louisa (losing the plot)

We don’t see them because of the labelling words we’ve attached to their name which are now dancing before our eyes. We greet people through a veil of our own labelling. And we can’t tune in to their deeper selves – because we don’t believe they have a deeper self, even though everyone does.

And the other examples I mentioned earlier – fig tree, Mt Fuji, sea eagle, thunder. We can never know these things through mere mental labels.

How, then, can we know them?

Only with our hearts – not with the muscle that faithfully pumps our blood, but with the feeling centre of our being.

A quote from The Little Prince, by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry:

And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.

Hearts don’t label. Hearts sense and feel.

Hearts are humble and open and expansive and slow and quiet and still.

I’ll probably never see Mt Fuji. But next time I visit the fig trees on our property, or look up at a white sea eagle riding the wind, or hear thunder roll across darkened skies, or greet great-aunt Gertrude (another fictitious character), I’ll drop the labels and sense its selfness, its is-ness, and be blown away like thistledown in the breeze by the wonder of it.

With love, Marlane

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