The day after America's Presidential election, I went to California for the wedding of my dear friends. I hadn't slept much the night before, and while Americans were awakening to the news of a Trump Presidency, I awakened to the excitement of my child yelling, "Mommy, is today the day we fly?!?" As I packed the last of our things, I received messages from friends and clients sharing their reactions and concerns. Waves of fear came and went with each message and I did my best to ground the energy.
Now it's three weeks later and I wonder, how are you doing? I saw many people these last few weeks feeling various levels of fear, regret, anger, and exhaustion. Fear was by far the overwhelming thread, and I get it. I used to be afraid of everything. When I first went away to college, I remember going on retreat to a spiritual center in Sinsinawa, Wisconsin. Despite its apparent safety, I was so afraid of the quiet and dark I forced myself to walk the halls at night to try and overcome my fear without success. Whenever I attempted meditation back then, I was flooded with images of being stabbed or killed in some terrible fashion. I experienced the world as a pretty terrifying place.
Therapy didn't help much either. While I gained tools to help me cope with my fear, the constant dread never went away. I was afraid of myself and my numerous flaws being discovered; I was scared of the collective "you" and the power you might wield against me; simply put, I was frightened of everything known and unknown. None of the techniques made a dent, until I had my first guided shamanic experience. She was a Native American woman with a wild spark in her eye, it was a darkly lit room, she handed me a cup of tea, which I drank. The next few hours are a blur of visions, but I remember her compassionate eyes afterwards as she whispered, "Oh sweetie, sweetie, sweetie...so much fear."
The days and weeks that followed, left me experiencing for the first time, my truest self: me in the absence of fear. It was a temporary bliss, as my undesirable companion did eventually return, however, I had a new context I hadn't had before. My work went from learning to cope with fear, to finding how to bring myself back to fearlessness over and over again. I worked with a variety of shamanic teachers until I found the Toltec work.
During my Toltec apprenticeship I learned how to connect myself to earth and sky, a process we refer to as "grounding." My mind didn't understand why that made a difference, but it did. Grounded, I was no longer a singular "me," but a "we" who had the support of the whole universe to find the core beliefs holding fear in place. As I uncovered and confronted layer after layer, there were many times when I relied on my Toltec community to see me better than I could see myself. Fear was a blind spot that kept me out of connection and miserable. With all that light shining on me, the fear transformed.
In graduate school I learned what fear's true purpose is: mobilization. When we encounter a stranger while walking alone at night, fear gets us moving towards safety. When someone spews hateful speech at us, fear pumps cortisol into our limbs so we can flee or fight. When a domestic partner raises their fist to strike again, fear sends us into freeze, the life-saving action of non-action. Fear is a powerful tool with a solid purpose, but it is not the most sophisticated one in the box. Our responses to immediate threats are rightfully reactive and rooted in the survival parts of our brain, but many of the fears we face today require our executive level functioning - our thinking, empathy and wisdom. So what can we do when fear comes?
Empowering Action, Grounding, Repeat
Fear is designed to get your attention, so let it. When scary thoughts arise, stop and ask yourself, "Is there an immediate action I can take right now that would help me feel better?" And by right now, I mean immediately. Do I need to reach out for support from my community? Do I need to call my legislators? Walk outside and breath in fresh air? Organize a meeting? Make some art? Truly looking if there is something I can do in this now moment shifts me from feeling victimized by my stressful thoughts into active power. It's not enough to think of the action, we must do it.
Once the action is taken or if one cannot be identified and fear is still present, then it is time to do a grounding practice. This could be as simple as noticing the way the ground, seat or car holds your feet and body, providing you with unconditional support. We are actually always grounded, but bringing it into conscious awareness gets us into relationship with that support. This makes us present, where we can notice the truth of our safety right now.
A more formal grounding might look like this: Choose a place to sit and imagine your energy pushing down through the base of your body and growing roots into the earth. Find a place to plug in - this might be the earth's core, an underground pool of water, a crystalline structure. Pull earth energy up your roots and into your body as you imagine expanding upwards towards the sun. Let yourself plug into the sun and allow the sun's radiant light to flow into your body. From this place you are connected to unlimited energy and support.
Prolonged fear is a most destabilizing force. Taking empowering actions and grounding yourself will leave you with energy available to give to the communities and causes that inspire you. Be mindful, if not vigilant, of the conversations you engage and the social media and news outlets you take in. Pay attention to how you can strike a balance of being awake and aware without feeding fear.
There are a good number of you who have until now been numb/unaware. For you, this is a most uncomfortable time. Awakening is deliberately difficult and much like birth it has a rhythm of pushing and pausing. Allow the process; know you were built for it. Connect yourself with grounded community; they are your best ally. Now is not the time to isolate. Let yourself get woken up.
Being at a wedding during a time when America is painfully forced to look at its own shadow was a gift. At the reception, friends of the couple stood up and shared the Jewish tradition of never cancelling a wedding, no matter what tragedy might have occurred. I like the commitment in that because to love in these times is a radical act. If we practice these tools together, I think we will find the world is a much safer place than we ever knew it could be. We need each other now more than ever. Action, grounding, repeat.
Rainbow Marifrog, MA, LMFT is a holistic psychotherapist and shamanic practitioner living in Madison, WI.
Trigger warning: If you are a sexual assault survivor, I encourage you to consider reading this with support/a therapist. The ideas expressed here are intended to transform our handling of sexual abuse in our culture for the purposes of ultimately ending it.
Do you believe child sexual abuse can truly end? As the seasons change from Summer to Fall, I remember another Autumn evening sharing with a mentor about the healing work I do with sexually abused children. She listened attentively, then said, "Great, and what if you put an end to child sexual abuse?"
I laughed. She waited for my answer.
"Who me? I can't do that!" I eventually said. "Why not?" she countered. I didn't have an answer; It just seemed impossible. At a rate of 1 in 3 girls and 1 in 4-6 boys sexually assaulted before the age of 18, how could anyone stop it? That inquiry sent me on a journey you can read about in What If They're Not Monsters? (part one). After three years and a deep process of facing my fears, I now believe it is possible, if we commit to it together as it's going to take something transformative from all of us. Here are my non-exhaustive recommendations:
As a society, we have the most work to do on this issue. We must accept that we share families, work places, neighborhoods, schools, churches and more with those who are sex addicts, pedophiles, sexual predators and sex offenders. All of us likely know, love or trust someone who is dealing with these issues. We cannot afford to be shocked every time we learn of another good person who has sexually offended. Our shock is a sign of our denial and our denial cloaks our awareness. Categorizing sex offenders as monsters relieves our individual responsibility: if evil is evil there's nothing I can do to change it. We must come to see sex offenders as people, members of our shared community.
How do we hold these people accountable given that some will never harm anyone, some have harmed but won't harm again, and others will repeat their offense if given the opportunity? From politicians to police officers, our struggle with accountability is evident. We either dismiss it or seek vengeance, shame and shun the offender (and often the victim too). Yet our fierceness is misplaced. From the start, we should make it known: "I will talk to you if something you do makes me/my child uncomfortable." Before someone perpetrates, there is often a grooming process: many little violations that if questioned could prevent a larger offense. We need to normalize these conversations with our lovers, pastors, coaches, babysitters, anyone who spends time with our children.
To be effective, we cannot have a society of paranoid people on a witch hunt. Rather we need communities rooted in their power or inherent animal nature. From true power, we know when to bare our teeth, as many did in response to Brock Turner's unjust sentence for raping an unconscious woman, and we know when to use our higher functioning to forgive and welcome back into society those who have taken full responsibility for their crimes. After all, isn't love more powerful than fear? We lack good demonstrations of true power in our culture, so I am sharing the "Māori Haka wedding video.". The "haka" is a traditional Māori dance that was performed by warriors to demonstrate their strength and power. Today, it is performed in many traditional ceremonies from weddings to sports events. Watch as this community mirrors its ferocity to the bride and groom and concludes in loving connection. Our societies, families, and children will be healthier when we re-learn this.
To therapists and other providers of sexual abuse treatment, thank you for the difficult work you do, foregoing your innocence and risking your mental health to provide our children and families with the healing they need. Vicarious trauma is real; get help when you need it.
We need leaders among you. We need task forces set on expanding the current child abuse reporting laws so that "prevention centers," much like Germany's "Prevention Project Dunkelfeld," can exist: a safe place where pedophiles and others at risk for sexually offending can go to receive treatment. Task forces are also needed to form new programs for first-time or low-risk sex offenders much like Restorative Justice, a practice that brings accountability and transformation as an alternative to the traditional criminal justice system. Its main tenets, as highlighted at RestorativeJustice.org, are:
"(1) Repair: crime causes harm and justice requires repairing that harm; (2) Encounter: the best way to
determine how to do that is to have the parties decide together; and (3) Transformation: this can cause
fundamental changes in people, relationships and communities."
While Restorative Justice has traditionally been applied to less serious crimes, fundamental to ending child sexual abuse is inclusion of a process of transformation. Without it the wound is too great and we are likely to continue the cycle for generations to come. If you are a professional interested in these ideas, please contact me.
To anyone who has caused sexual harm, do your work. The children, women and men you have harmed are forever changed by what you have done. You contribute to their healing by doing whatever it takes to ensure you never harm again. The more you heal, the greater your understanding will be of the harm you caused. Grow your capacity to hold that pain without collapsing into shame. When shame arises, share it with trusted helpers because shame sent underground is the seed for harming again. Learn how to be vigorously honest and find forgiveness for yourself. Amass your recovery team and use them.
If someone is accusing you of sexual harm, please do not follow my uncle's nor Woody Allen's example and justify why the accusations are false. Use this as an opportunity to open a dialogue, to learn more about why your behavior felt unsafe or violating. It doesn't matter if you don't agree. If a person doesn't want to be tickled, stop tickling them. If someone is uncomfortable being alone with you, ensure someone is always there. Move beyond your male privilege and learn how to be an ally.
I know there are many of you who will never cause sexual harm again. We need visible leaders among you, to join forces with groups like "Reform Sex Offender Laws" and to do the hard work of healing and reconciliation. If our brothers and sisters in Rwanda can come together to heal from genocide, we can come together, perpetrators and victims, to heal the cycle of sexual abuse.
For non-offending parents whose child has been sexually abused: believe your child, love them, connect them with helpers who you trust and don't wait; do it now. Research shows parental support and early treatment greatly aid your child's healing. Then, find yourself a therapist, someone who helps reconnect you to the ground, who can hold with you your strong feelings. It's okay to be angry, but staying in anger too long becomes a dangerous, toxic place and you risk losing yourself. If you are not comfortable talking with your children about sex, grow your capacity. Teach your child the proper names and functions of their private parts. Children armed with knowledge of their bodies have a reduced risk of being sexually abused.
If the abuse happened in your family, you do not have to take sides. You can compassionately hold your abusing family member accountable while also being there for the person who experienced the abuse. Holding him/her accountable is a loving act for all involved; your leadership on that is crucial. Be willing to look at the ways you were ineffective in parenting. Parenting is hard and we all are ineffective at times, to admit this does not make you a bad parent. Learn effective parenting techniques as a protective strategy to prevent abuse from happening in your family again.
For my sisters and brothers, my fellow survivors, despite the title of this blog, you have permission (not that you need it) to call the person who harmed you whatever you want for as long as you need. Your violation is real and your anger is justified. No one has a right to violate you. Ever. No matter what.
Feel your feelings. Let them serve as breadcrumbs guiding you back home to your center. Presence your safety. All. The. Time. For as long as it takes. Create art. Find ways to reconnect your senses with beauty and comfort. Engage in activities that restore your curiosity and joy. Your brain can't play and be in trauma at the same time; Give room for both. When you are ready to heal sexually, know there are people and places that are resources for you. You can have a healthy sex life.
Get a good therapist and gather your community. Ask them to hold space for you powerfully. Your very survival is the mark of a warrior; remember who you are. No matter how broken you feel, like the plants and trees, you are wildly powerful. Go towards anything and everything that connects you with that truth. If your caregiver is disbelieving or minimizing of your experience, please don't waste a single moment wondering if they love you. You are lovable regardless of your caregiver's capacity to demonstrate it. Sexual abuse carries a generational wound that often leaves caregivers in denial, lacking protective skills; That is not your fault. If you are interested in joining together powerfully with other survivors in my upcoming shamanic circle, click here.
In truth, the solutions are just as complex as the issue. The point is to get us engaged in a new conversation. Preventative treatment options, expansion of child abuse reporting laws, Restorative Justice programs - these are tangible possibilities. As I write, my daughter has been in her Wonder Woman cape for days. Watching her "fight crime" in our neighborhood, I feel my own childish wish for it to be that simple. It will not be easy to change our cultural narrative surrounding sexual abuse and sex offenders, a topic historically so weighted in darkness, and it can be done. I am starting with both feet rooted in the light and I hope you will stand with me.
Trigger warning: This post contains a personal account related to sexual abuse and pedophilia, If you are sensitive to such material, please consider not reading this or reading it with support.
April was National Sexual Assault Awareness month and I've been reflecting on what I would write about a topic that has taken up so much of my life's energy and focus. This contemplation and my desire to do this well for all involved became so daunting that I missed completing this blog in April. I have never publicly shared this aspect of my story, yet feel inspired to do so at this time. I continue to be deeply encouraged by all the brave sexual assault survivors I have worked with over the last decade.
Over the past few years, the world has watched in shock (and disbelief) as two of our nation's beloved celebrities - Bill Cosby and Woody Allen - have been accused of sexual assault: drugging and raping women (more than 50 allegations to date) and sexually assaulting his daughter, respectively. The Cosby Show was a late childhood favorite and when I discovered Woody Allen as a teenager, I was an instant fan. I've seen Annie Hall so many times I could recite the lines...and I "luuurrrrv" Interior, Manhattan Murder Mystery, and Husbands and Wives to name a few. Watching his movies made me feel cool, subversive, and worldly. But ever since his daughter, Dylan Farrow, had the courage to break her silence, I haven't watched even one. And Bill Cosby's joke about childbirth, which I used to share and laugh about frequently, now brings me pain as I imagine the long line of women he's accused of violating.
But let me go back. Before and during the early years of The Cosby Show and before my Woody Allen discovery, I was a girl being sexually abused by one family member and sexually harassed by many others, including, my uncle, my pastor, our family dentist and countless strangers on the streets of Chicago. I remember the men who twice attempted to lure me into cars with candy at age six as I walked to school, who flashed me when I was walking to a friend's house four blocks away or who felt it their right to comment about my body when I was a teenager. And I remember later, when I told my mother, my good mother, about the abuse, her saying through her sobs the words I would hear again and again, "This couldn't have happened. He's not a monster." Even at the time, I knew both were true: I was sexually abused by a close relative and he was certainly not a monster. In fact, I loved him immensely; he is and was a wonderful person. But why did my mother need to keep saying it: He's not a monster. He's not a monster. He's not a monster.
Fast forward to a year after my daughter was born. I had a dear friend who was kind, gentle and well-loved in the community who came by now and again for dinner, walks in the neighborhood, and the occasional political conversation. As my daughter grew from infant to toddler I started noticing little things: how he didn't move her when they were playing on the floor and she crawled over his genital area, how uncomfortable he became with where to put his gaze when I was breastfeeding, and my increasing discomfort whenever my daughter was near him. I didn't totally trust my perception, so I decided to talk to him about it. We had planned to go for a walk, but instead I asked him to come in. "I have something to say that isn't easy," I said, "and you know I was sexually abused as a child so that might be part of why I feel this way...."
"It's okay, Rainbow," he said, encouraging me, "just tell me." So I did:
"Whenever you're around my child, I feel uncomfortable...scared..like I need to protect her from you. Do you know why I feel this way?" Now having known this gentle soul, I was prepared for a thoughtful conversation about my triggers and how to support me or some defensiveness. I wasn't prepared for what happened. He opened his mouth, and calmly shared of his lifelong attraction to children. He told me that whenever he sees a pedophile being hauled off to jail, some part of him knows it could be him. He explained while he's never abused a child, he has been afraid of "coming close." He seemed relieved to be talking about it and his angst over his condition was so palpable that my shock was cushioned somewhat by my empathy. As I listened to him go on and on, my therapist brain started searching, "I need to refer him somewhere. He needs help." I could not easily think of a referral. After awhile, he got up, thanked me for the conversation and left.
The next day I told my supervisor at the time, a 25-year veteran in helping families affected by sexual abuse, what had happened. She was amazed by our conversation, as rarely do pedophiles talk openly about their condition. We agreed he needed help, yet neither of us knew where exactly to refer him. I wrote him a kind but firm email reflecting back what he said to me, encouraging him to seek help and ultimately ending our friendship. What followed was a hand-written letter denying everything he had said and again I was given the familiar line, "I am not a monster."
At the time of this event, despite my own healing, forgiveness and reconnection with both my abuser and my parents (for not protecting me), I was still pretty polarized in my view of sex offenders and pedophiles. I was working with children and families affected by sexual abuse and saw again and again caregivers and family members struggling with how to believe their loved one was capable of the crimes they were accused of. I, myself, couldn't believe how, in some cases, the perpetrator could have led such a successful life all the while abusing his daughter, his neighbor, or his niece. Case after case, it started to become very obvious the split that so many of us, my mom included, couldn't reconcile: if my loved one is good and sex offenders are bad, then how could my loved one have possibly committed this act? How could this successful business owner, committed husband, well-loved coach or talented artist be responsible for such atrocities? I needed to understand.
I started attending the *open meetings for Sex Addicts Anonymous (SAA) at a local church in Madison. For those unfamiliar with SAA, their website describes them as "a fellowship of men and women who share their experience, strength, and hope with each other so they may overcome their sexual addiction and help others recover from sexual addiction and dependency. [Their] common goals are to become sexually healthy and to help other sex addicts achieve freedom from compulsive sexual behavior."
Walking alone into that room of men was terrifying the first time. I cried the entire hour, and not quiet tears, but deep sobs that I couldn't control. In my mind, I was sitting with the enemy, with men who were unsafe and scary, and indeed, **many of them had harmed people they loved as well as strangers. But they welcomed me, despite my fear and judgment. They patiently paused when my sobs were too loud for them to conduct their meeting. As the hour came to a close, they simply said, "We hope you come back." And I did. Every week for over a year.
What I learned during that time was life-altering. Behind every sex offender is a story, a series of life conditions and mental health issues that led that person to decide to harm someone; and make no mistake, they are 100% responsible for that. And by painting sex offenders and pedophiles as "monsters" we, as a society, contribute to the continuation of the sexual abuse of our children. That's right. We are responsible for the revolving door of children who make their way into treatment centers all across the country. Think for a moment how we treat sex offenders: we shame them, we publicly humiliate them, and we give them no pathway to redemption. We want sex offenders to just magically stop harming people, yet we provide no safe place to openly address their issues before they commit a crime. And afterwards, we cast them out of society, leaving them further isolated and ashamed. Do you know that, in most states, if a pedophile tells a therapist of their inappropriate sexual attraction to children and that person is around children in any capacity, the therapist is mandated by law to report him to the police and Child Protective Services, even if no crime has occurred? This system was designed to protect children, and it serves it's purpose in part, but it also creates fear for the prospective perpetrator to openly share, thereby eliminating a major prevention strategy: being able to tell someone you need help before acting out.
So, really, we put the burden on our children, the most vulnerable among us, to "Say no" and to "Tell someone if this happens to you." But, where is our responsibility as a society to prevent this from happening in the first place? It is magical thinking to believe our children are safe by ignoring sex offenders and then ostracizing them from society once a crime has been committed. It's not working for anyone involved. Call any Child Advocacy Center in the country and ask them if they have enough business. I promise you they do.
You can read my recommendations in What if They're Not Monsters? (part two).
*An "open meeting" in SAA means that the meetings are open to everyone, including those who want to learn more about SAA.
**It is important to note, that most people who attend SAA are not sex offenders. Many are seeking help for non-criminal sexually addictive behaviors like, addiction to pornography and/or masturbation, infidelity, or even distracting sexual thoughts. For more information, please visit: the Madison chapter of SAA or the national SAA website.
A year after 9/11, I was sitting in a rundown building in Berkeley, CA beginning my Toltec shamanic apprenticeship with a group of strangers who would become some of my dearest friends. Our teacher was leading us in a partner exercise: “Look into the eyes of the person in front of you and imagine s/he is an Iraqi child whose family was just killed in the war” she guided, "and imagine opening your heart to them." “Now see your partner as a soldier fighting in the war and imagine opening your heart to them.” The exercise went on until we were guided to imagine opening our hearts to Saddam Hussein and former president, George Bush, as represented by our partner. I was finding the exercise very meaningful until those last two when I felt the door to my heart reactively slam shut. Wasn't it unwise to open my heart to people I perceived had caused so much suffering? What did George Bush and Saddam Hussein have to do with my spiritual growth anyway? The answer, which wouldn’t come until years later, was simple: I am only as free as my heart’s capacity to love.
At the time, I had just moved to Berkeley with my partner, my best friend and her husband and within months of arriving, all three of those relationships were falling apart. I didn't know anyone and I felt really alone. In addition, I had moved to California to go to grad school and days before we left, the university informed me of a mistake: the acceptance letter I received was supposed to have been a rejection letter. What?!? I didn't know it then, but my shamanic apprenticeship had already begun. In fact, the years leading up to this point were filled with relationships and experiences that flew in the face of how I thought things "should be." I had strong values and beliefs about myself and the world and didn't know how to be skillful when I or others fell short of my expectations. Having so much breaking down at once, created an opening for me to see there was something unworkable in my perspective, though it would take years and lots of work for me to see it - it was a blind spot.
Now, what does any of this have to do with Donald Trump? As I write, Mr. Trump is running a highly reactive campaign for President of the United States. Many Republicans and Democrats alike are concerned over his divisive rhetoric and scapegoating of Muslims and Mexican immigrants. At the same time, he's soaring in the primaries and, clearly, many Americans are finding something in his message. So, how do we make sense of this without becoming divisive ourselves? Because the moment we want Donald Trump to go away, we start to sound a lot like his notion to ban Muslims. It has to do with how humans are wired to react to fear. When we're afraid, it's human nature to want to make whatever is threatening us go away. And when it comes to physical safety, this is a good rule of thumb - don't stand around and wait for the bear to eat you; get bigger, make lots of noise and do what you can to make that bear go away! However, when we use this primitive part of our brains to approach our interpersonal relationships or our worldview, it gets very problematic. We become like I was: rigid, intolerant, and ineffectual at building or maintaining relationships with those different from ourselves.
So what can we do? We can start by looking at our own Shadow. Jung described our Shadow as the "dark side of our personality," the unclaimed or denied aspects of ourselves. Whatever I say I am, whatever I claim as me, the opposite lives in my Shadow - both negative and positive. What is it like to imagine the light-filled Shadows of Donald Trump supporters (or suicide bombers for that matter)? What is it like to imagine the racial justice supporter who is blind to their own Shadow full of white privilege? I can say, "I am Donald Trump" because I know within my psyche exists all the horrors (and the beauty) of the world. I am Donald Trump when I am unforgiving of a family member. I am Donald Trump when a flash of anger causes me to wish dead someone who's caused me harm. I am Donald Trump when I judge people who follow this candidate or that without actually sitting down and finding out what they're dealing with, who they love or how they're suffering. We spend a lot of energy as humans trying to keep hidden what lives in our Shadow, when if we could just welcome it to the table for tea, we'd discover not only peace, but more energy and wholeness.
Now, I don't personally know Donald Trump and can't say anything about how he actually conducts his life, but I'm fairly certain that Mr. Trump sees this campaign as nothing more than a business opportunity. He knows Americans are tired and afraid for themselves and their families and he's seizing the opportunity to use that fear for his own personal gain. And of course he would, because that's what we do as humans.
Can you begin to bring to the table the undesired parts of yourself, while also holding your beauty and value as a person? Can one not negate the other? When I see the crowds gathered at Donald Trump rallies, I connect with the Marianne Williamson quote: "It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us." When I feel the heat of embarrassment as another undesired aspect of myself is seen or noticed by another, I offer a quiet, "thank you" as I know I am more whole as a result.
How can we sit skillfully with discomfort and fear in these uncertain times? I invite you to do the following visualization. Start by closing your eyes and feel your spine resting on the surface you’re sitting on - the couch, the bed, a chair - providing you with support. Now let your attention move down to the floor and, again, feel the unconditional support of the floor. Imagine your attention going all the way down to the foundation of the building and then all the way to the earth, allowing yourself to connect with all the layers of support. How is it to imagine that someone made that couch just to hold you up? Someone you will never meet. Now imagine all the people who worked hard to create the building that's housing you just to keep you safe; you, a person who may or may not have shared their same religious or political views. And that the earth, our magnificent earth, is busy growing, regenerating and supporting all of us with little attention or acknowledgment. Doing this as a practice connects us with how generous we are as humans and how truly generous the world is - even with all the darkness.
Thich Naht Hahn, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk and peace activist wrote one of my favorite poems, “Please Call Me By My True Names.” When describing where he was coming from when he wrote this poem, he said, "when someone points their finger at me and says, 'You are...' I know that whatever follows is something I have to say yes to," because within me exists the seeds for all of it.
Please Call Me By My True Names
by Thich Nhat Hanh
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 is 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.
Rainbow A. Marifrog