My first mistake was to read the book Messages in Water—that book about the Japanese researcher who tested hundreds of water samples that had specific words spoken over them or written on labels taped to them, along with music to serenade them; and who then froze each sample. The research findings spoke to my inner Louis Pasteur. Each sample of frozen water produced dramatic crystal formations: magnificent, glistening snowflake configurations when words like “Love,” “Kindness,” “Forgive me” and “Dalai Lama” were applied and music such as Beethoven or Bach was played, while ghastly, fourth-stage-melanoma-looking mutations formed when the water samples had labels like “I hate you,” “You’re stupid,” or “Hitler” and when heavy-metal music was played. Compelling. Enough to beg the question, “What is in a name?”
Do the names we call ourselves have a unique vibrational or crystallizing effect in our bodies, the way the position of the moon and stars hold sway over tides and hormones or well-timed investment strategies, I wondered? I gave the questions what I felt was a good deal of rational thought, arguing that unwittingly sporting a name for the sentimental reasons that our parents may have had, or the married name we adopted due to cultural norms, pride or spousal good-doobieness, might be constellating crystals that looked like Swiss cheese, for all we knew. If a likeness of the Virgin Mary can form on a flour tortilla, for goodness’ sake, who’s to say my birth name wasn’t forming a likeness of Medusa? Enough said. I determined to ask my spiritual teacher his opinion on the subject and if changing one’s name wasn’t advisable?
At the time I had seven years of study and practice in a spiritual school under my belt…the kind of school with a guru, and an ashram. One fine spring morning in 2002, after meditation practice and a nourishing breakfast of oatmeal and green tea with my friendly ashram residents, I steeled my resolve about this name issue and approached the big guy at his desk.
This was my second mistake.
I sauntered up to where he sat perfectly tranquil, ensconced in a book.
“Excuse me, Lee?”
“Yes?” He looked up, making direct eye contact—which, for better or worse, always gave me that naked-dream feeling.
“Given the recent and compelling research on water, how it crystallizes into brilliant or malignant forms when frozen, and the human body being ninety percent water and all,” I said, “perhaps there is more to a name to be considered. What do you think of the importance of a name, and, more importantly, about my name and changing it?”
“Sure. Give me a couple weeks and I’ll come up with something for you,” he said.
“O-k-ay?” I stammered.
“Why not?” he said, with eerie cheer.
“Well, uh. No hurry. Take your time. I mean, I was curious about your thoughts,” I said, suddenly having major second and third thoughts of my own. At that, he summarily stood, folded his book, dropped it to his desk in a deadfall from two feet, and smiled a Cheshire Cat grin, graciously excused himself, then evaporated upstairs like Batman to his cave.
That appeared to be that.
The following morning, I emerged from the meditation hall hush, moving purposeful as a monk as I took off my meditation shawl and collected my shoes. He (the big guy) slipped through the foyer door behind me and woke me from my transcendence with his distinct voice of gravel and gravitas, “Hey Kristen—here you go,” shoving a slip of paper no bigger than a Zig Zag wrapper folded to the size of a postage stamp into my hands. “Here’s your new name!” Startled, my eyeballs bulging like a chameleon’s, I blinked and wondered to myself, What happened to the two weeks part?
“There’s one stipulation,” he said. “If you choose to change it, you have to change it legally.”
Dumbfounded at the speed with which he had found something appropriate for me, I looked up from the beguiling paper resting in my now clammy palm. “Wa-wow. That, was . . . fast! Thanks,” I said.
Staring back at me, with an upward jerk of his jaw, he indicated the paper. “Well, what are you waiting for? Open it!” I unfolded the note as he stood looking on and found written in his familiar handwriting (in miniature) the following words: “Name for Kristen: Tarini Bauliya.” As I read the name in silence to myself I had a moment of flabbergast, then came to and forced my brain to signal my lips to purse and my vocal cords to vibrate, at which point I distinctly remember having what I now know to be a hot flash. The realization of what I had done dawned on me in that instant between flabbergast and paralyzed vocal cords. I had gone and invited my guru to change my name from my perfectly respectable and pronounceable name, Kristen Weaver, to a name with more vowels than is grammatically legal. As sound at last issued from my throat, I found my tongue had fallen asleep. I lisped, “Tar-eee-knee Bow-oo-lee-ya?,” then questioned, “Am I pronouncing it right?” He nodded silently and grinned broadly, as if to say, “Sounds good enough to me.”
“You’ve given me a new first and last name. Wow! I wasn’t expecting that.”
My mind was a lab rat in a cage strung out on meth, spinning frenetically to frame the picture of myself as “Tarini Bauliya” or view that unsightly mess of vowels on my business card. Then it hit me: I’m not a lab rat or meth head, though at that moment I wished I had a better explanation for the lapse in consciousness that had provoked me to give over such an indelible decision to my guru. I guess I was imagining something more elegant, like Grace Kelly—or, if exotic, one of those single-name names like Pink or Bono. I could have easily explained such a decision to the non-renunciate people I know, “I’ve always loved the name Grace, so what the heck,” or argued that it was a branding strategy. I needed to call an emergency meeting with myself and fire the part of me that thought this was a good idea! The name was not at all what I had imagined, though clearly I hadn’t worked out all the details. I am reasonably certain, however, that had I, I would have chosen something that did not require a crash course in phonetics to decipher.
In desperation to make sense of his indiscriminate use of vowels, I asked, “Does it have a meaning?” to which Lee quipped, “That’s for you to figure out. I’m not going to do the work for you.”
WTF?!@#! was my thought while I watched my spiritual teacher wheel around, his two-foot-long dreadlocks swaying cavalierly behind him as he moved to his desk. Nebbishy as Woody Allen, wringing my hands in existential angst before he got away, I shot back a pathetic volley of hopefulness over his disappearing shoulder, “Is there a nickname I can use?”
“No,” he boomed emphatically and without so much as a backward glance. The finality of the moment was that of a positive pregnancy test.
Mute, I held the holy sacrament of paper in my outstretched palm as my sangha mate, Kathy, who had been witness to the whole exchange, broke the tragic silence.
“May I have a look?” Her voice was a mix of reverence and shell-shock; with a nod she gestured toward the discreet slip of paper. As I shot her a wordless blessing, she plucked the note from my open palm and read the inscription to herself. “Lotsa vowels,” she said, in her Boston- Italian accent. We both stood stupefied for what seemed like forever. What could be said? We both knew what I had done. And, as those smart asses “they” say, What is done is done.
As soon as I could form a thought, I framed my guru in my mind pulling down the Scrabble game, plunging his hand into the letter bag, rummaging around and thinking to himself, “This oughta be fun,” as he pulled out a fistful of letters and tossed them on the kitchen table. “Okay, whadda we got here? Oh crap, lots of I’s. Well, it won’t be the first time a student of mine had a lot of I’s to manage—I’ll make something out of this. Let’s see, NIRIAT? Nah, that’s no good. AIRTIN? Shit, I can’t do that to her! Ah, I see—TAR, as in Tara. Oh, I think I’ve got something. Here we go, TARINI. Good, that’ll suit her just fine. Okay, now for a last name. What can I make of the rest of this mess? AUIYABL? Vowel central again. IYALAUB, UBALIYA, hmm? Oh, wait a minute here, whadda ya know, there’s BAUL right in the middle of this pile of vowels. You just can’t make this shit up. That’s it, BAULIYA. TARINI BAULIYA. Done.”
Things are never as they seem.
*Excerpted from by book, Saved From Enlightenment, the memoir of an unlikely devotee, chapter titled; What Is In a Name?