Michael Mendizza

Writer, Filmmaker

What’s In A Name?


Language Development/Imagination, Parenting

Because the unnatural “routine” hospital birth of our first son was so devastating, the home birth of my second son ten years later was a tipping point. My real education began when I graduated from college and discovered I really did not know much about anything. Then came the insight that information isn’t intelligence. Thought and intellect are not wisdom. The monster in Shelly’s novel was the mad scientist Dr. Frankenstein, not the tragic creature he created. Compulsory schooling is mostly conditioning and conformity training not real learning which the safe, bonded, unfrightened body and brain does naturally, with complete attention and passionately lifelong. I discovered that patriotism is both a false identity and an act of violence. Health is the absence of dis-ease, something the pharmaceutical cartels can’t patent or profit from. I began to grasp what a miracle it is to be gifted this human experience, the Mt Everest of evolution’s billions of years of trial and error. The false hopes and false fears that sustain society, culture and my personal identity were dissolving. Whoops! If not ‘that,’ then what?

I stand on twenty years of Legos as Carly Elizabeth ushers in another decade of scrambling for the next piece, like a dog digging for her buried bone. In so many ways I am the same as I was thirty years ago but different. I marveled, was struck with wonder and loved each of my children equally. Carly is no different. Perhaps I see a little deeper today, a bit further, and appreciate more. Each age has its unique needs and that focus often masks the larger view. Today quiet presence expands outward becoming what is perceived. The Carly Show occupies much of this expanding attention. She is completely unique and yet she embodies all of humanity and what came before, ever changing.

Experiences stack like Legos, row upon row of a great starship, each serving as the foundation for the next unfolding, expanding. Carly has entered the great Shakespearian phase, ‘what’s in a name?’ Each experience-memory is abstracted, each developmental row, everything and each experience can be named. As Joseph Chilton Pearce often said; ‘What’s that, mama?’

I remember my second son John-Michael, now in his early 30’s, signing before verbal naming, as Carly is doing now. What I didn’t know then and could not appreciate as I do today was the light-years in evolutionary leapfrogging this ‘naming’ represents. Naming enters Carly’s beautiful body-mind as vibration, wobbling sound. Her mighty exploding brain converts that occulting vibration into a sound-word-image with its implicit meaning. Of course this has been going her entire life but today, as never before, she is not only receiving and translating, Carly Elizabeth is participating. She is joining the game as a player, placing her bets and expecting appropriate action. That sound vibration comes in through the ancient sensory motor pinball machine, rings it way up through the advanced social-emotional limbic-centers and bounces into the newest emerging neo-mammalian cortex where symbols and imagined images roam. Then, in a flash, a nanosecond blink, back the other way it comes transformed, mimicking the correct sound for the meaning she is feeling, round and round, again and again, faster with more complex experiences to share. All of this in a name.

At dinner with a few guests I tried to explain the enormous metamorphosis this unfolding brings. Joseph Chilton Perce described how listening to stories demands complete attention as the child’s brain translates vibrations into mental images. This new and very demanding processing implies a contraction of attention that draws consciousness inward as we enter and are enchanted by the images we are creating. What begins with naming and story evolves into semantic language, what we call thought and thinking. The more we are consumed by semantic thought the less attentive and sensitive we are to what is not playing on the enchanted screen, which is the ‘real’ world, the entire universe and all its possibilities. Exploding intellect covers over our relationship with what is real, leaving much of our human potential underground and undeveloped. Meditation teachers call our enchanted chatter ‘monkey mind’ and for good reason. Physicist David Bohm noted that we really don’t understand what thought and thinking is or how it works. This often results in a chronic, dramatic and tragic misuse of memory. This semantic Shakespearian gift, naming, is perhaps our greatest developmental achievement and flaw. But the enchantment is so – enchanting. We get lost before we develop the capacity to discriminate. How do we know what is enough until we have had too much – but then it is often too late. Hummm?

Deeper and behind the realm of names there is a force that is causal, creation. Dominion over names cracks open this causal force that morphs and manifests by coherent, unconflicted attention and intention. Mastery over names gathers this attention but this mastery is just the threshold, kindergarten, if not we would all be sorcerers and what a mess that would be. Carly Elizabeth is just beginning her apprenticeship with words and by implication with this deeper causal force. Indeed, it is done unto us as we believe even if what we believe is false and damaging.

Before naming begins with gusto the child’s brain-mind is open, expansive, receiving both sensory and nonlocal impressions. Generating and maintaining the inner narrative-theater that naming and story represent demands great attention. Naming and story pulls expansive openness back. Innocent inner silence is converted and intensely focused on an emerging virtual enchantment we call thinking. With less and less attention given to what is not thought the living light of what is ‘real’ grows dim, dull. Attention, and with it one’s emerging identity, is split between mystic union with everything and a realm shaped and dominated by words. It will take many years of enchantment before Carly might discover what has taken place. Most never know what hit them.

Discovering that everything has a name is like playing with fire. One can construct amazing realities and cause wildfires, wars and racism in the process. ‘Don’t believe everything you think,’ the bumper sticker reads. ‘Know thy self’ was carved in the ancient Greek temples. The behavior modification and domestication of childhood most identify as parenting fails to touch this deeper and far more important challenge. To help Carly Elizabeth not misuse thought and memory, and therefore be sane, clear, intelligent and appropriate I must ‘be that change’ now and tomorrow too. How will Carly know herself if I don’t know what and who I am? This means seeing far beyond the false hopes and false fears my social identity maintains.

The journey of this deeper self-knowing begins when naming ends, or is at least suspended. When the dulling word-judgment glasses are set aside suddenly the real world grows brighter. One’s attention and implicit identity begins to expand naturally without force or effort. One sees more, experiences more, relates with more care and appreciation. Then, like a well crafted tool, when naming is needed it is there to express this expansive state of affection and responsibility.

Just yesterday we drove to Los Angeles International Airport, mushed our way through security, boarded an eleven hour nonstop flight to Munich, traversed that airport and lifted up, up, up again for a short hop to Prague. I pressed my nose to the round porthole next to Carly as the ground disappeared. Thoughts of Leonardo da Vinci and the Greek myth of Icarus floated in the clouds. All in all it was a twenty-plus hour journey to Grandma’s. Time dissolved with my immersed attention in the Carly Show and her engagement with this dramatic new experience. Novelty and ever-newness was her entertainment. Not once did we cowardly offer a tablet or dumb-phone as a counterfeit for what is real. She gladly pushed the trolley through the pressing crowd, made the stern security and customs guards smile, turned every head and lightened every heart that walked by. Playful innocence beat media vulgarity every time. Carly is almost two and doesn’t do screen time except to play music and laugh at pictures of herself pushing luggage through airport security.

Symbols, metaphors and the semantic realms represent the threshold of creation. Not understood and misused, which is humanity’s norm, the same capacity is our Achilles’ heel. Not knowing thy self, who and what we really are, mistaking the enchanted for ‘real’ is perhaps our original sin, original meaning core, primary, fundamental mistake. The fall of man and woman as well as its potential next leap forward and upward rests in understanding ‘what’s in a name.’

Michael Mendizza