The Power of Naming

First, let me just say last night’s Black Star concert was unbelievable.  Tuesday night’s Watch the Throne concert was incredible for its brilliant production, both lyrically and visually.  But Black Star kept it simple–just Mos, Talib, and J. Rocc.  Instead of flash, they brought about 1000 watts of soul, heart, and beats.   It was full of SPIRIT, and the crowd was moved.   Good music opens your heart!


Alright, so to the point of today’s post.  I was en route to the concert last night with my friend (in the most amazing cargo van ever…just picture a van about 3 stories high, which 6 rows of seats.  Apologies to the environment, but it is a killer ride.)  My friend is hilarious, so I was trying to come up with some stories to tell him and keep the laughter going.   I decided to tell him about how my friend Matty and I have this really funny character we created…who is from Lowell…and has this funny accent…and who drunkenly berates inanimate objects and calls them “Skippy”….and….umm…..

About half-way through the story it becomes totally clear to me that this ship is sinking fast.   If I try and  finish this story, it is definitely going to require a:  “Guess you had to be there” disqualifier.   We would then both uncomfortably ignore the fact that the story was super lame, and then try and switch the conversation to something that actually made sense.   I hate those moments, although they happen to the best of us.

I decided to go Neo on it.  Instead of trying to force it, I was going to call it out for what it was.  “Ummm…I just realized in the middle of this story that it is actually not going to be funny at all and I have no idea why I even began telling it to you.”  And my friend breathed a sigh of relief and told me “Yeah, I was actually getting the sense it was going to be one of those horrible, ‘Guess you had to be there,’ stories.”  And then we had a whole conversation about how you have those moments in stories when you can tell they are not going to work out, and how you handle that, which was hilarious and oh-so-true.   (For those who find themselves in this situation, another fun tactic is to just randomly finish the story with: “And then I found $200 dollars on the sidewalk.”  Who doesn’t love stories about free money?  Or maybe you could go the Kanye route: “And then, I told her to run a bubble bath, and float in that motherfucker like a hovercraft….”  I mean, who says shit like that and doesn’t laugh?)

Well, it turns out that how we handle these small moments of uncomfortableness (or large ones) are an important part of spiritual practice.  The bottom line is that most people do not like to feel uncomfortable.   Make sense.  So what happens is that we tend to ignore anything that makes us feel ickey– or run away from it, or beat ourselves up about it in an effort to get rid of it, or blame another person for making us feel bad.  We do anything but just FEEL the bad stuff.   While logical, this actually has some pretty powerful consequences.  One of the consequences is that we are subtly teaching ourselves that these bad feelings have power over us.   And the truth is that, they don’t.  They are just feelings.  They come and go.  They are not the truth about ourselves.  They are smaller than us.   We can feel them AND remain connected to our hearts and to our center.

So it is important to stay present during these uncomfortable moments.  To stay present with them means that instead of trying to “fix” them or ignore them or push them away, you just notice them.  you investigate them.  You feel how they manifest in your body.  When you allow hidden fears to fully emerge in your conscious mind and physical body, you are taking them out of the dark into the light.  Once in the light, we have power over them.   Step by step, you are building your spiritual strength.  Shambhala Buddhism refers to this general idea of battling self-ignorance and self-delusion as the way of the “spiritual (or sacred) warrior.”

A big example of this practice, and my favorite, comes from an older Buddhist gentleman suffering from Parkinson’s.  The gentleman went to go give a lecture on Buddhism at this local center.  He sat down at the front of the room.  He opened his mouth.  And then he realized he had absolutely no idea what to say.  Total fear and embarrassment filled him.  Even a bit of terror.  So what does he do?   He does not gloss over the situation, and pretend like nothing is wrong.  He does not walk off in shame, or take a break to go cry in the bathroom.   He sits there with dignity and compassion.   And he begins to name exactly what is happening… “I have no idea why I am here.  I feel fear… embarrassment… confusion….”  He was totally vulnerable.  He was unbelievably brave.   His openness and humanity brought people in the audience to tears.  And as he sat there, he gradually remembered why he was there and was able to continue with the rest of his lecture.  Many people in the audience later said it was one of the most powerful teaching they had ever received.

So,  staying present to uncomfortable feelings through naming is a powerful practice.  It can shift an otherwise difficult situation, and allow you to stay connected to your own power even as you experience self-doubt.  Next time you feel something uncomfortable, try becoming aware of it.  What does it feel like?  Where is it coming from?  And then instead of denying it, see if you can acknowledge it.  Depending on the situation, you can just acknowledge it to yourself and give a little shout out to the feeling (OK, fear, I see you!).  Send it love.  Feel how, in the light, it is suddenly not as scary as your first thought.  Or you can even name it out loud and reveal yourself to the other person.  As both my story and the story with the old Buddhist shows (although to very different degrees), it can be a relief and a blessing when someone is willing to be vulnerable and real.  And even allow for some shared laughter or tears.

If you have a story with naming (when you used it, a time when you wished you had used it, when someone else used it), share it below!

With love,


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2 thoughts on “The Power of Naming

  1. Jon Krop says:

    That story about the lecturer with Parkinson’s is incredible. Wish I could have been there to experience it.

    • threedeelife says:

      RIGHT!?! That story made me cry. One of my goals in life is to try and live as much as I can from that raw, real, human place. What a total inspiration. And how brilliant. He took a situation where most people would see only fear and conflict, and found a way to redirect that potent energy into a shared experience of beauty and healing.

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