Why I Changed My Name To Zen

Hi!  I’m Zen.

It was 2013 and I was meditating while overlooking the ocean at Esalen. (A beautiful place located on the Big Sur coast of California.)

I knew that I was going to be beginning my Appalachian Trail thru hike that April and had heard that people take on alternative trail names.  

Usually they are given by other hikers on the trail.  It’s kind of a right of passage.

As I was meditating, I was wondering what my trail name would be. I heard a voice, my own voice, echo through my mind very clearly.  “Zen” was all it said.

It was a little shocking to hear a voice in my head that sounded like me, but didn’t come from my mind. I sat and waited to see if it would say anything else! 

It felt really right to me, but I didn’t know why, and I decided in that moment that I would make that my trail name.

So, when I started on trail, I introduced myself as Zen.  It was awkward at first, like trying on a new pair of clothes that haven’t broken in yet.

To everyone on the trail, it was the only way they knew me or talked about me, and I found a freedom in that.

I had decided to hike the AT as a way of rebooting my life, to find clarity about what I wanted to do next in life.

As I allowed the process of self-integration and rediscovery on trail, having a new name allowed me to explore this new me without the baggage or limitations of how I used to see myself, or how other people used to see me.

I was a blank slate.

I felt alive and free on the trail, most in touch with my true self, and that was the person that everyone on trail met and knew.

When I came off trail and reintegrated into normal life, I experienced a sense of peace that I still carried with me from the trail, but also a subtle, and deep sadness. 

I was Ken Wilhelm again.

There is nothing wrong with the name, or who I had known myself to be.  Ken was a pretty awesome guy!

But when I say I am Ken Wilhelm, it falls flat.  My mind says that it is my name, but it feels like someone else’s.

When I say I am Zen, it echoes through my body like the ringing of a bell through time and space.  

When I say I’m Zen, I feel different, as if something within me reorients and aligns, and I feel somehow more myself.

It centers and grounds me, and connects me to my deep inner wisdom and sense of eternal self.

It is like coming home to myself and everything I love about what it means to be me.

And now, as I move into another phase of exploration, and expression as a life coach, I remember that I don’t have to be on trail to be me, to be alive and free, to be Zen.

So, when I find myself confused, lacking focus or motivation, or lost in self doubt, I remind myself that “I’m Zen” as a touchstone; a way to connect to myself again.

With that connection comes a sense of clarity and my own inner strength, passion, and purpose.

It reminds me that I already am the person I want to be, and gives me the confidence to show up as that person in life.

What about you?

Is there an aspect or identity you have chosen or accepted that you use as a touchstone?  

Maybe it’s a job title you are proud of, or a role you play in life such as a father, teacher, or leader?

Does it represent the best you see in yourself and inspire and encourage you to show up as that person?

And when you do, you know it’s the real you, and you are proud of who you are.