Please call me by my true names




A contemplation for ANZAC Day.

This day commemorates the loss of lives of thousands of soldiers from Australia and New Zealand, who were dropped off in the Turkish sea in the wrong place and, left prone to enemy forces, were slaughtered.

How to contemplate

Traditionally, we sit quietly for a few moments before beginning a contemplation, to allow the mind to settle.

Then we begin reading.

From time to time, we pause and reflect on what we have read and how it relates to our lives.

Some questions for contemplation are suggested below.

Contemplations are designed to challenge our fixed ways of seeing things. Sometimes they touch our soft spots or provoke our emotions. This is quite normal. It is suggested you take care of yourself during this process. If you find yourself feeling triggered, please drop the contemplation and do what you need in order to be kind to yourself.


Please Call Me by My True Names by Thich Nhat Hanh

Do not say that I’ll depart tomorrow—
even today I am still arriving.

Look deeply: every second I am arriving
to be a bud on a Spring branch,
to be a tiny bird, with still-fragile wings,
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,
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 water of a pond,
and I am the grass-snake
that silently 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 all over the Earth.
My pain is like a river of tears,
so vast it fills the four oceans.

Please call me by my true names,
so I can hear all my cries and laughter 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.


Questions for reflection:

You might like to let the words of the poem sink into you first, and see what thoughts and questions naturally arise.

When using questions for reflection, it is suggested you pause every now and again, drop the reflecting, and rest the mind.

—What is meant by still arriving? Which parts of you are still arriving?

—How can we be both the mayfly and the bird eating the mayfly?

—”We all have the capacity to hurt and be hurt.” When is this true for you?

—Can you remember a time you felt angry? In what ways were you suffering, in that moment? How can anger cause suffering to the one feeling the anger?

—Can you remember a time someone annoyed you? How did it feel? Could you feel compassion for the annoying one, their ignorance and suffering?

—If we live in safety, satisfaction and feeling connected to others, we are statistically less likely to cause harm. In what ways does our lack of safety, satisfaction and connection guide our thoughts and actions?

—Imagine living in a place which is unsafe, and constantly under attack. Imagine the people around you are at risk daily from losing their lives. Would it be compassionate to fight?Would it be compassionate not to fight?

—In Hacksaw Ridge, a Christian soldier refuses to carry arms. He is willing to serve in the army as a medic, non-violently. He is imprisoned by the army for this. Eventually he is sent to war, unarmed, and saves the lives of many, many wounded soldiers, on both sides. Can you remember a time you stood up for your principles like this?

—Imagine carrying a weapon and pledging to serve and protect, like the police. Could you shoot a person who was about to murder hundreds more? What would make this an act of compassion?

—Some people grow up in extreme poverty, without feeling safe. As citizens, neighbours, social workers, teachers, police officers, what is our duty to help people in this situation, so that many more ‘pirates’ do not emerge in society?

—How do we help those who are threatened, dissatisfied, disconnected?

—Can we help another without truly understanding?

—If we can accept and work with our own anger, how might this help us accept and work with the anger of others?

—Where is the dividing line between ‘us’ and ‘them’?

—In what ways do we contribute to the wellbeing of others? In what ways have others contributed to our wellbeing?

These themes can evoke strong compassion in us. Can you feel a sense of compassion now? How does it feel, in your body? What thoughts and feelings do you notice? You might like to take a moment to soothe your feelings, or offer yourself some kindness.

What compassionate wish do you have for yourself, your feelings and actions?

What compassionate wish do you have for others, their feelings and actions?

Traditionally, we close a contemplation practice by dropping any reflections and sitting quietly, resting the mind for a few minutes.

What arose for you?

Further reading: Monk and Nobel Peace Prize winner Thich Nhat Hanh’s explanation of how he came to write this poem, in response to hundreds of letters.

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