He smiled as if I’d cracked a great joke and responded in a peculiar mix of Tibetan and Hawaiian accents, “Ok, you Jake. But I think I still call you Mila, bra.”

Call Me… Mila

… or Jake or Jacob or even J — whatever you prefer – but as adding Mila before my name recently inspired a number of bemused queries of “Mila? Really!?” from friends, I should explain the reason and meaning of the change.

But first, let me tell you the story of the time I took in a stray. I promise my tale is essential to explain the change, and that the time spent in this diversion won’t be wasted…

Sometime in the first half of 2003, I met a young woman at the Cambridge Dzogchen Center – Kylie – who’d come to Boston for (if I remember accurately) art school. But she wouldn’t have a place to live for another few months, and so she’d been depending on the kindness of her friends for a place to sleep each night. For one reason or another, her last place fell through.

At the time I worked the overnight shift at the Ritz-Carlton; I left for work around 10 in the evening and returned home sometime between 8 & 9 a.m… so I offered Kylie a deal – she could sleep in my room on the nights that I worked. (I was rather pleased with myself for the idea, now my bed was twice as useful, rather than laying unused for another eight hours while I was out.)

So that’s how it worked for a little over a week until she found a more permanent living solution: She’d come over to my place a little while before I left for work, and then when I returned home in the morning she packed everything she had back in her bag and would go somewhere – probably art school – for the day.

Some mornings, I’d come home and she’d be laying on the bed reading; we’d sit and chat about random things: buddhism, art, life, until my body demanded sleep. And one morning she slept late; I didn’t want to wake her, so I laid down on top of the blankets on the other half of the bed, and we slept back-to-back for while. When I woke, she’d left for the day, but on my nightstand she left a quick pencil sketch of me, asleep.

On the final morning I returned a little early, because I didn’t make my usual stop at my friend and co-worker’s house. On the floor by my bed lay a folder full of poems I’d written, half-spilled as if she’d fallen asleep with them and knocked it on the floor.

I checked my email and sat there in my papasan chair, leafing through my own poems as I waited for her to wake up. But Kylie’s sleep outlasted me; I dozed off in the chair for a while, and woke to the sensation of soft lips kissing my cheek and arms lightly wrapped around my neck.

As I woke, her smile inches away, she spoke:

Thank you for offering so much!

Still in a daze, I thanked her with my eyes scrunched into a wrinkled smile. And she leaned closer, her breath warm and spicy with the early morning, and whispered “Mila.

And with that, she hugged me again, waved goodbye, and walked out of my life. (For the most part, anyway – we played phone tag for a while trying to find a good time to meet for coffee, and she randomly invited me to a wedding in Rhode Island that summer, and that truly was our last adventure together.)

I looked up the word Mila later that day – the moment I woke up. It’s Tibetan and means “Joyful to Hear”; I’ve always believed she gave me the name because she’d found and read my poems… there’s a famous sage, Milarepa (literally Joyful-to-Hear-Cotton-Clad-One!), whose ‘songs’ of enlightenment still play a major role in the Tibetan Buddhist canon.

I felt honored by her gift, but held it closely, her nickname for me, not yet my name for myself.

The following spring, I intended to travel to Toronto to receive the Dalai Lama’s Kalachakra Initiation; for a number of reasons the trip fell through, so I instead put myself on an island in Maine for a silent retreat of several days; and on one of the nights in Maine, while the initiation was going on in Toronto, I dreamed of being among the gathered crowd receiving the blessings, and among other astounding sights and sounds I heard a voice call out again: “Mila.

And sometime during the latter half of my life in Maui I attended the Osel Ling Temple in Paia for sitting and chanting practice. My first time there, one of the temple attendants came up behind me, placed his aged hand on my shoulder, and called me “Mila.

“No,” I corrected, “My name is Jake.”

He smiled as if I’d cracked a great joke and responded in a peculiar mix of Tibetan and Hawaiian accents, “Ok, you Jake. But I think I still call you Mila, bra.”

Each of the latter two times I heard that name, I’d forgotten about Kylie’s nickname for me. So – again – the name fell into the back of my memory until just a few weeks ago.

Suddenly, I woke up one morning with the sound of Mila filling my head. Over and over again, and I finally remembered all three times it had been presented to me. I said it aloud, my eyes barely open, as orange dawn reflected back from Dakota Ridge into my bedroom. Me-la, with my tongue striking my palate to define the two syllables clearly. Me. La.

I smiled in that room, even laughed to no one around but me. They were joyful to hear, those two sounds, on their own… and together. Mila.

I experimented, replacing my middle name (Matthew) with it… but though the rhythm of it worked wonderfully, it didn’t feel just right until I switched things around — Mila Jake Stetser, or just Mila.

And when I did, when I decided to embrace a nickname given to me six years ago by a stray Buddhist 1500 miles away from here, I finally accepted the fact that there are people whose lives I’ve touched in some way, people I’ve met, people I’ve never met, but who’ve come away after reading a poem or an essay feeling in some small way better than before.

After accepting my nickname — Mila — as my own, I found myself enraptured, blissful, laughing with such joy that I was crying, so much gratitude and love pouring forth for every moment of my life – the easy and the difficult, the happy and the sad, the wins and the losses – every moment I’d been gifted, every moment that brought me to this point, that shaped me

And that feeling of gratitude, of joyfulness – as one friend once described it, my ‘unbreakable bubble of fucking happiness’ – still sticks with me almost a week later. I found myself meditating on pouring out my love to all the people I really care about, regardless of whether that love is returned. Such warmth, I could never empty myself – the faster I gave it away, the faster my being filled with more.

So Mila is my joyful name, my name for the part of me that sings and creates and loves every moment of life. It’s me honoring a vital part of me by accepting a name given to me three times in three different places.

When I am most Mila, I am most aware, most alive, most loving and full of passion, and I am closest to that feeling of eternal peace and contentment.

And that’s why. Call me by the name you’re most comfortable with; they all describe me. This is just one that feels right to me now!

Mila (Jacob Stetser)

Mila is a writer, photographer, poet & technologist.

He shares here his thoughts on Buddhism, living compassionately, social media, building community,
& anything else that interests him.

  1. Learn more...

recommended for you

recent activity


  1. blog comments powered by Disqus
  1. comments via Facebook ()
  1. Legacy comments ()
  1. Beautiful story. Thank You for sharing it!