In Search of my True Name

I was born in June of 1948, a baby-boomer.

I was the first girl born in my family and extended family for more than eighteen years. Because I was expected to be a boy, I was named after my cousin Bobby Friedlander, who was killed in World War II. But I was a girl. As a result, they added an “e” on to the end of my name. B-O-B-B-Y-E.

I lucked out with my middle name. There is a law among the Ashkenazi Jews: “Do not name your children after someone who is still living.” My mother took the first initial of my Uncle Jack’s mother, Zelda, may she rest in peace. Mom used the ” Z” and came up with the name Zorina. (Vera Zorina was a famous ballet dancer.)

I was called Bobbye, but I knew that wasn’t my true name.

When my brothers each went through their Bar Mitzvah ritual at the age of thirteen, I became aware that they had Hebrew names.

What was mine? My parents said they didn’t remember. I was adamant that someone in the family would know. After reminding them to call Aunt Florie, or Aunt Ida, or Uncle Pick, they told me that my name was Kleine Shtunkheit. Okay, I thought, not too catchy, but it is my Hebrew name. I announced to the world… this is my name! Ta Daa!

I proudly carried my name until I found out that Kleine Shtunkheit was Yiddish, not Hebrew, and it meant “little stinker.”  Ha ha.  Everyone thought was very funny. Not. I was serious about wanting a name.  A special name. A name that would fit me.

I moved to California during my favorite decade, the sixties. I introduced myself to the world as Zorina. Since I had already been calling myself that secretly for years it was great to know it could be my name for others. I learned things related to my exotic name: belly dancing, tarot card reading at the Renaissance Faire, busking on street corners, and being a special person. I loved my name Zorina. Yet I felt that there was another name waiting for me. My true name. Maybe a secret name.

This special name would resonate within every cell in my body and open a path the true purpose of my incarnation. This name would be a superpower, cape, and magic feather all in one. Everyone who heard it spoken would recognize me. Doors would be opened. I would be understood. It may have been magical thinking , but that is what I hoped for.

I began to learn to drum in the late eighties with Nigerian musician, Baba Olatunji. I was smitten with all things African and connected to Baba.

And, I thought it important to understand my own Jewish roots before adopting another culture. I began studying Hebrew and prepared for my Bat Mitzvah initiation. A year passed. I read from the Torah. I received my real Hebrew name, Tzipporah, Moses’ wife. I was delighted. I had roots. I began to study Hebrew and Judaism more intensely. I even considered studying for the rabbinate.

Two years later I found myself yearning again. This practice was not satisfying the craving that I felt for spirituality, ritual, and community. I found myself arguing with the form of liturgical prayer and wanted to rewrite the entire Sabbath service. I noticed that I didn’t like the limitations of the Old Testament in the modern era.  I was against some of the politics of Israel. I didn’t want to be one of the Chosen People.  Not a good idea for me to continue toward rabbinical study.

My  continuing passion for drumming inspired my curiosity in African rituals and ceremony. I wanted to show respect to the drum culture I was absorbing.  I wanted learn and understand  the meaning of the rhythmic patterns, chants and dances of the orishas— the deities (or energies) belonging to the Yoruba religion called Ifa. (Ifa was part of Baba’s lineage, as well as other teachers I had studied with.)

I went to a babalawo, an Ifa priest, for divination and for advice about learning Yoruba chants and rituals.  He threw the opele or sacred palm nuts to read my life lesson. He told me that I should  become initiated into Ifa.

I thought about it.  White girl, Jewish, already weird in my neighborhood.

But there were two things that attracted me.

One was the idea of having protection.

In the male dominated world of drumming, I was a target. It would be great to feel as though something spiritual would have my back. The second reason was this: as an Ifa initiate I would receive a spiritual name. Maybe this is the one.

Before I turned fifty, I was initiated into Ifa.  I received my elekes–spiritual beads. I wore only white clothing for a year. And I was given my spiritual name–Ifatola, follower of Ifa. I was interested in learning the chants and dances of the orishas, but for some reason the information wasn’t transmitted. I didn’t know if it was because I was white. I continued to attend ceremonies and rituals, and asked to learn, but nothing happened. Over time, the path of Ifa dried up for me.

 

The last story regarding my seeking a name occurred in my relationship with my drum teacher Baba. Baba Olatunji was an important mentor and spiritual inspiration. I knew that he had given names to some of his troupe members. I saw him name children. And so I asked him for a name.

In the Yoruba tradition that Baba comes from, a child is given many names. Some are pre-ordained names. Some of the names are from the family lineage.  Others speak about events that coincide with a child’s birth. A person can have up to ten or more names.

And there I was again, hoping that somehow a name from Baba would free me from the karma and suffering of my life.

He was concerned. Would I use this name publicly? No, I said. It would be private.

I think I was just wanting something from him that would empower me on this path.

I waited for more than six years for Baba to give me a name.  Once a year I would bring up the subject and then let go of it. It was a dance.

I spoke to Baba’s cousin Akiwowo and asked him, ”Had Baba forgotten that asked for a name?”  “No,” he said. “He is thinking about it, Give him time.”

One evening, I knocked on Akiwowo’s door. He answered something back in Yoruba. I thought he asked if I was at the door. I answered yes. But oddly enough, I said yes to my name.

Without my knowing it, Akiwowo and Baba had thinking about choosing one of two different names for me. That night, when I came to the door, Akiwowo spoke one of the names. When I answered “yes,” he believed that this was the right one for me.

My name suits me. It is an accurate representation of the power of my personality in both light and shadow. My name means “the spirit of the forest that lets things breathe.” Pretty damn cool.  And no, I am not telling you what it is. It is my secret name, whispered in the night. It is north star, a tuning fork. Because the Yoruba language is tonal, I had to learn how to sing my name. It took time. I had to find the notes on the scale and put the syllables of the name to the tones.

I know now that I will from time to time crave something ineffable– a name, a mala or sacred beads, or an event that connects me to me– and a sense of my purpose. It may take time to find this special information that quiets my craving, inspires me, reignites my passion. And when this moment happens I will remember again, as I hope you do for yourself, the magic of being.

And remember your true name.

 

The Power of Enthusiasm

Twenty six years ago I reconnected with my African drum teacher, mentor, and spiritual guide, Baba Olatunji. The first time I met him was when I was nine. His exciting music had shaped my early years. By the time the stars lined up so I could learn from him I was in my early forties.

My first class was 90 percent ego annihilation: I was horrible at drumming and dancing. (It is not easy to be a rhythmic retard.) The remaining 10 percent fueled my intent to learn to drum and dance~despite my shallow learning curve.

My excitement pushed me out of my safety zone.  Enthralled by my new-found love, I began to organize drumming events. I wanted others to experience this joy. Arthur Hull, drum circle master, calls it “rhythmic evangelism”.

At first, I sent out invitations to small events..drum circles and solstice gatherings. I advertised by mail or posting flyers, phone or word of mouth…(Reminder:this was before internet or cell phones!)

I did the legwork myself, hanging flyers, calling friends… I explored ways to get people to attend things that I loved.  I imagined we all wanted to connect– a village of like-minded people.

Later, I began to organize workshops and concerts for Baba. I knew that everyone I knew should meet this man, be in his presence.

I didn’t have a “look”, a graphic design, or a brand. I didn’t know how to create a good flyer, let alone distribute it.  I invited people to these events the only way I knew how…pure excitement and joy.  This was going to be the greatest party ever … why would you want to miss that? And guess what?   People showed up.

If you build it they will come. I did and they did.

In my desire to share what I love, I discovered a true gift: unbridled enthusiasm!

When possessed with enthusiasm there is no ego/persona, just excitement and joy. I am not the “Zorina” who needs strokes or to be admired and loved. I am the one who has a bead on something that can change your life… if you let it… and now I would add, if it is the right fit for you.

This power and force which comes to me, through me, is fearless and irrepressible. I become a bigger entity than the sensitive, self-conscious person that I am at other times.

Enthusiasm has shaped my life. When I love something, there are no obstacles or resistance, no difficulty in achieving my goals. What I don’t know how to do something, I fake it until I make it happen. I have arranged for radio interviews, newspaper and magazine articles, cable television shows for my teachers (and for myself), and all because I believe and feel deeply that the things I am excited about will touch others.

 

When I am not in my enthusiasm I am a lot more cautious.

In 1996 I met an Austrian musician, Reinhard Flatischler. Reinhard had founded a body of rhythm work called TaKeTiNa. I took my first workshop and loved it. I did not have to” know “‘ anything, but felt rhythm directly in my body–stepping, clapping and singing.  I could relax and cruise in the groove. I was hooked. My enthusiasm spoke to me and in a short time Reinhard and I agreed to work together to bring the TaKeTiNa Rhythm Teacher Training to the US .

I  ended up organizing three 3-year intensive teacher trainings over twelve years.  Huge commitments of time and energy and money went into creating each training. Because these were long-term projects, there were times  I was doubting there would be a successful outcome.

Somehow, things worked out. The participants came for the training, and despite some trainees leaving, everything managed to work.

My enthusiasm to have this teaching style infect the US was bigger than all the doubts and fears that visited me during the twelve years.

 

In my own professional life, the door opened for me to teach drumming long before I was highly skilled. I was happy to be the one to have a torch to pass on — Baba’s lessons, other teachers’ lessons. I stayed within simple boundaries… I taught what I knew solidly.

Last winter, I celebrated my twentieth year of teaching drum and rhythm. Each class inspires me, urges me to include everyone, opens up different ways of breaking down the information — no matter what an individual’s skill level. Enthusiasm bypasses obstacles of age, gender, and nationality– which might appear as limitations to learning to drum later in life.

Once year we–my students and I–celebrate our love of drumming with a performance. This gathering is part ritual, part celebration, and part advertisement for the power and art of drumming. Lots of students take part–including some of my “graduated” students.

The rehearsal, the day before the event, is messy and chaotic. It doesn’t look or sound like much of a performance. Some folks forget their drum parts. Half the group look like deer in headlights. People ask the same questions because they never hear the answers. No one can tell how it will turn out, but most are doubtful that it will come together.

The next day, when we arrive, everyone is excited.  The drummers dress up in flashy shirts and pants. They look colorful and festive. Our audience starts to arrive. The performers are nervously warming up–banging away, excited to get going.

We begin. Smiles and joy are visible on the musicians’ faces, and the energy is contagious. The audience gets up to dance. The performance flies by. We are no longer in linear time.We are enthusiastic. We are joy. The music is the vehicle for all of us to celebrate dancing, singing, clapping or just being there.

We are part of a transformative moment that changes the landscape of everyone who participates. And all because we show up. And play together. Create together.

 

When we finish, there is an alive vibrancy.   The resonance of movement and sound are still in the room. Slowly, we pack up our instruments, dissolving the recital gathering. Something else lingers. What is this feeling in the air?

We started out as individuals. Through our process together, we became a group. We added  a participating audience, sound and movement, song and dance. We then transformed into a village, celebrating our human life together. This good feeling remaining reminds us that we created something creative, immediate and wonderful. We did it together through joy, excitement, intention, and the superpower–enthusiasm.