A few weeks ago, my stepdaughter Claire sent me the link to a deeply moving documentary called “Naked Option; a last resort”. Recently chosen by the Athena Film Festival as one of the 10 Movies that can change the world, the film chronicles the banding together of women in Nigeria’s Niger Delta to fight against the economic, social and environmental devastation resulting from the presence of multi-national oil companies on their homeland. After years of silent suffering and watching the efforts of the village men failing, the women threaten, as a “last resort” to strip themselves naked in public, violating one of most serious cultural taboos.
Watching the film I experienced many feelings, including rage and deep grief over the suffering of these people. “How can this STILL be happening?” I cried. (link to film below)
The next morning, during in my meditation, my mind returned to the scenes in the film. I tried to pull back and witness my reaction to the film. I’ve learned that when something on the “outside” hits me in such a powerful way, I need to use it as an opportunity to ask, “How am I like each of the characters in this drama?” Thich Nhat Hanh, in his famous poem, Please Call Me By My True Names, teaches us how all human experience weaves together into a single tapestry of the whole. All that we may consider beautiful, horrible, positive and negative, is found within oneself, if you are willing to take a look.
Please Call Me By My True Names
Don’t say that I will depart tomorrow-even today I am still arriving.
Look deeply: ever 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 is alive.
I am the mayfly metamorphosing on the surface of the river.
And I am the bird that swoops down to swallow 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-labour 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 my laughter at once,
so I can see that my joy and pain are one.
Please call me by my truse names, so I can wake up,
and so the door of my heart can be left open,
the door of compassion.
So, I ask myself, “How am I like that multinational oil company?”
We may try to only invest in socially responsible businesses, and yet, do I really know how the people are treated in the factory where my running shoes and cell phone are made? And how about the raw materials that go into the creation of my wonderfully fuel efficient little Prius? Is the health of someone’s drinking water being compromised?
With increasing regularity, I see pages of Facebook “complaints” about the state of the world that leave me hungry for personal ideas and self-reflection. How can I/we be more mindful of our OWN actions and responsibility for our world? How can we expect to change if we think Monsanto’s behaviour has no relationship to our own?
The women of Nigeria have been afraid to speak up, afraid of the violence, rejection or abandonment that might result from taking a stand, especially in the face of the masculine. How are they different from women living in a world of privilege? Learning how to speak up has been one of my biggest life challenges. I can say the same for many of the woman I have worked with.
It takes courage and conviction to suspend our judgment of our self and others long enough to find our compassionate nature. As far as I can tell, it’s the only route that can lead to personal and subsequently, global, change.
So thanks, Claire, for helping to remind me to keep asking the difficult questions of myself and encouraging others to do the same.