This has been a long time coming.
For many months… years, now, I’ve felt deep within me a desire to shed aspects of myself that no longer serve. Here I am. Doing just that.
I received the name Sushila 15 years ago. I was living in an ashram, and my teacher at the time, named me the day I took refuge vows in Buddhism. It was a powerful, telling moment. On one hand I was thrilled… I was young, impressionable, and wounded. I wanted nothing more than to fit into something I viewed as profoundly holy, and to escape a series of events that caused me deep suffering. I felt chosen, accepted, brought into. Yet the moment she spoke the name, something in me bucked against it; I didn’t like the way it felt in my mouth, or the mouths of others. The meaning weighed heavily on me. “She who is all the greatest virtues.” Other women received names that meant “Dawn”, or “Truth”. Idea(l)s that were inspiring. Mine felt unobtainable, oppressive, trapping. I could never live up to it, and in due time I was reminded of that regularly. On better days I saw it as a beacon, a goal, something to strive for. Most days at the ashram however, it felt like a shackle.
My experience with that particular teacher and school spanned nearly four years, and was bittersweet, at best. Much of it I was physically cold, and hungry, and exhausted. Emotionally I was drained; vacillating between numb and raging and inconsolable. There were times of laughter and simple pleasures and deep gratitude. Tests of will and determination and discipline. I learned I was stronger (in every sense of the word) than I’d ever before imagined. I also learned that I was easy to manipulate, because I placed my desire to please others, and be of service to others, over my own well being. Strings that were easily pulled by those with self-serving agendas. When I was forced out, it was on less than ideal terms. Full of accusations, and gaslighting, and ostracism.
During those four years I studied and learned meditation. Pranayama. Mantra. Puja. Mudra. Ayurveda. Panchakarma. Tantra and Dzogchen. I learned how to build fires and composting toilets, arrange elaborate altars, and host foreign lamas with grace and decorum. I learned how to iron saris, and wrap and pleat them becomingly. How to prostrate, drum, and a thousand other things. I learned how to push through exhaustion on too few calories, and how to turn obstacles into opportunities. I saw every task as if it were a ticking bomb to race against, and I succeeded far more than I failed. With little to no acknowledgement.
I learned how to manipulate (men7. How to mask neurotic behavior in spiritual jargon to make it appear enlightened. I learned how to bypass. How to shift blame. I learned how to lack. I learned to second guess my intuition and my wisdom. I learned to devalue my skills and gifts. I learned that I needed an intermediary to connect with the Divine. I learned Doubt, intimately.
When I was kicked out, I clung to the name Sushila because I wanted to believe in my goodness, in my virtue, even in the face of so much self loathing. I had lost myself in the Santa Cruz Mountains, and all that remained was a shell that carried a name I’d grown accustomed to. There is comfort in familiarity, even when it poisons you.
Family died. I married. My father died. I divorced. I studied. I prayed. I fell in love. I ran away. More family died. I danced. I became pregnant. I listened. I birthed. I started to remember, when I looked in my son’s eyes. I was nudged. Sometimes pushed. I was chased. Sometimes caught. I slipped, fell, and regained my footing. I learned. I taught. I failed. I lost. I learned more. I vowed to be unlike past teachers. I prayed. I listened. I disappointed. Myself, and others. I remembered more. And so on and so forth. Such is life. We all have our own versions of this dance.
And now: Here I am. Another solar return. And finally, after all these years, I am ready to return. To my roots. To heal wounds so intrinsically wrapped up in my birth name, that my very throat constricts when I try to get the syllables to sound. I am tired of running. Tired of pretending that masks are anything other than fear-projections masquerading as evolution. My name is not a shield, or bandage. It is a raw, happenstance gift from parents who meant well. Full of vulnerability and ferocity. My name means “God is my judge”. It is a fitting means to come full circle: for as I shed the pretentious opinions others hold of me, what I should be, and my “greatest virtues”, I am reminded that I am accountable only to the Divine. I answer to Her. Solely. Both Shadow and Light, and I am unapologetic.
From here forward I’ll be using my birth name, Danielle Renée, as I slowly untangle myself from Sushila, both personally and professionally. Thank you for walking this journey alongside me.
Yours in mystery,
P.S. Now to convince Facebook I do, in fact, know what my name is. Fingers crossed.