My new neighbor is Filipino. He’s an older man, dark and thin, around 70. We exchanged “good mornings” in near syncopation. When I told him I was half Filipino, he seemed surprised. Then he asked if I’d ever visited the country, and I said I hadn’t. “You’re missing one half of your life,” he said. “You need to go to the Phillipines and swim in the ocean.” Then he asked me my name.
So this was an auspicious time to find that lineage is carried through sound, and more specifically through name. And here I began to contemplate mantra. The word mantra comes from “manas” meaning “mind” and “traverse.” It can also be how we traverse from one generation to the next, through sounds planted hundreds of years before, uttered by those to whom we are connected with, probably more deeply by those who have repeated the same sounds.
As Shakespear said, what’s in a name? My name is Jenny Hannah (of a patrilineal surname). That carries some sense of meaning. I could take an English interpretation and say Hannah is a palindrome, backwards or forwards, the same. A sound mirror—that’s one romantic spin, aside from the etymological meaning, which has varied roots. Coming from biblical narrative, Hannah is the mother of Samuel, and its meaning is “having favour” or “grace.” In Japanese, “flower” or “nose.” In Albanian, “moon.” All that interpretive language is less interesting to me though, as homonyms carry the poetry much more playfully. Nonetheless, names traverse generations, echoing and offering, proclaiming and teaching. Pulsing sound through years of utterance. Each word that we say delivers sound, the disembodied sense perception that shapes cells and elicits thoughts and feelings through raw vibration. Sound lives in the multi-dimensional space that travels through time. The communicative, traversing sculptor who shapes this moment.
What we say matters. Though it isn’t matter in the physics sense, we can’t deny the scientific studies of flagons of rice being changed through vibration, piles of sand forming intricate patterns from absorbing rhythm, tone, and progression. And we all know how different music can shift our mood. No one would waltz to Young MC or tango to Woody Guthrie. Our bodies wouldn’t express such things naturally. Our cells know what it is to align. And when sentences rhyme, or carry syllabic harmony or rhythm, we notice it.
We can ask ourselves daily what it is we’re passing down through our veins and our cells, just by saying (hearing, and even thinking) the same words over and over again. What patterns or actions are we forming? How are we shaping our world with our speech, even our inner dialogue? The words that no one hears, but which still echo loud enough to pulse through our bodies and shift our nervous system, the beat of our heart and continue to formulate our world, influence how we communicate, how we’re received, and how WE create.
Though both of my parents have died, in some way, their offering of name is a binding thread accorded to me, with all the re-actions and cultural ties carried by this name. I’ve gone a little crazy at times from the intensities I’ve experienced as a result of this bond, and have even touched on some Ophelia-esque moments (though the lake I dwell in is much more murky!).
I can safely say that I express a lot under my breath and when I speak, my method of communicating often feels like yak yak yak—especially with my neighbors! I guess I shall consider twice, or better yet, three times when speaking, as expressions and actions are being shaped constantly through how we communicate. My neighbor, Victorio, reminds me to dive in that ocean, and in fact….I think I’ll start surfing.