My apartment building is a microcosm of contemporary American culture. The mood is taut. Recently the thin thread connecting us snapped. A disgruntled resident became violent and police and aid units responded. The attacker was taken to jail. The police found guns in his apartment.
At first I was quite shaken by the incident, even if I did not witness it. That violent energy had invaded my home. I wanted to run away, but where could I go? I had no illusion that a nonviolent utopia existed anywhere in this sleepy suburb. So I had to extend the protection I do for myself to all the residents in this building. I walked the halls while silently praying the protection. I continue praying it from within my own apartment.
This morning as a miasma of violent energy gathers on the borders of Ukraine, I surround it with this protection. May it be a help for you as well.
I call on the Light Bearers
All holy spirit-filled souls and angels.
Surround me with your light. Cast it around me, above, below, before, behind me.
Light within and through me. Light showing me my wounds, cauterizing and healing them.
I will forever remember Thich Nhat Hanh for the challenge he offers me in this stark and powerful poem. If we can get to the point of recognizing how evil intention lives in ourselves, perhaps we can get to the point of forgiveness and reconciliation with the perpetrators of evil deeds. Thank you, Thãy.
Call Me by My True Names by Thich Nhat Hanh
From: Peace is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life by Thich Nhat Hanh
In Plum Village, where I live in France, we receive many letters from the refugee camps in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, and the Philippines, hundreds each week. It is very painful to read them, but we have to do it, we have to be in contact. We try our best to help, but the suffering is enormous, and sometimes we are discouraged. It is said that half the boat people die in the ocean. Only half arrive at the shores in Southeast Asia, and even then they may not be safe.
There are many young girls, boat people, who are raped by sea pirates. Even though the United Nations and many countries try to help the government of Thailand prevent that kind of piracy, sea pirates continue to inflict much suffering on the refugees. One day we received a letter telling us about a young girl on a small boat who was raped by a Thai pirate. She was only twelve, and she jumped into the ocean and drowned herself.
When you first learn of something like that, you get angry at the pirate. You naturally take the side of the girl. As you look more deeply you will see it differently. If you take the side of the little girl, then it is easy. You only have to take a gun and shoot the pirate. But we cannot do that. In my meditation I saw that if I had been born in the village of the pirate and raised in the same conditions as he was, there is a great likelihood that I would become a pirate. I saw that many babies are born along the Gulf of Siam, hundreds every day, and if we educators, social workers, politicians, and others do not do something about the situation, in twenty-five years a number of them will become sea pirates. That is certain. If you or I were born today in those fishing villages, we may become sea pirates in twenty-five years. If you take a gun and shoot the pirate, all of us are to some extent responsible for this state of affairs.
After a long meditation, I wrote this poem. In it, there are three people: the twelve-year-old girl, the pirate, and me. Can we look at each other and recognize ourselves in each other? The tide of the poem is “Please Call Me by My True Names,” because I have so many names. When I hear one of the of these names, I have to say, “Yes.”
Call Me by My True Names
Do not say that I’ll depart tomorrow because even today I still arrive.
Look deeply: I arrive in every second to be a bud on a spring branch, to be a tiny bird, with wings still fragile, learning to sing in my new nest, to be a caterpillar in the heart of a flower, to be a jewel hiding itself in a stone.
I still arrive, in order to laugh and to cry, in order to fear and to hope. The rhythm of my heart is the birth and death of all that are alive.
I am the mayfly metamorphosing on the surface of the river, and I am the bird which, when spring comes, arrives in time to eat the mayfly.
I am the frog swimming happily in the clear pond, and I am also the grass-snake who, approaching in silence, feeds itself on the frog.
I am the child in Uganda, all skin and bones, my legs as thin as bamboo sticks, and I am the arms merchant, selling deadly weapons to Uganda.
I am the twelve-year-old girl, refugee on a small boat, who throws herself into the ocean after being raped by a sea pirate, and I am the pirate, my heart not yet capable of seeing and loving.
I am a member of the politburo, with plenty of power in my hands, and I am the man who has to pay his “debt of blood” to, my people, dying slowly in a forced labor camp.
My joy is like spring, so warm it makes flowers bloom in all walks of life. My pain if like a river of tears, so full it fills the four oceans.
Please call me by my true names, so I can hear all my cries and laughs at once, so I can see that my joy and pain are one.
Please call me by my true names, so I can wake up, and so the door of my heart can be left open, the door of compassion.