Archives for the month of: March, 2009

I am still holding in my heart and mind a friend’s admitted great fear from last week, and today I saw an article about the suffering of the beleaguered orangutans of Indonesia, who are being slaughtered as their rain forest home is cleared at the rate of six football fields a minute to make way for palm oil plantations, orangutans who if they are not shot are burned, mutilated, or tortured.

I read the words and physically turned my head and said, “I can’t, I can’t, I can’t. . . . I can’t face, can’t take into myself that kind of suffering on the part of the innocents.”

I suffer, you suffer, we all suffer. Sure, we’d rather not admit it, and rightly we take action, good action, to reduce our suffering, but for me at least suffering remains. And though I was not raised Catholic, I had a thought that seemed to me to be “Catholic”: how to use that irreducible suffering instead of simply fearing and feeling it.

I didn’t feel so bereft, in my conceiving that somehow my offered suffering might become a moment’s relief from pain for a tormented creature. Then I thought about the Tibetan tradition of doing elaborate sand paintings to appease the hungry devils that are always crying out in us. According to that tradition, hours, even days of the most detailed, scrupulous work is worth it if a devil spirit knows a moment’s freedom from hunger.

Somehow my friend’s worry, my own pain, and the suffering of the orangutans coalesced around the idea that we can afford allow the pain in. I think I’m feeling my way toward something like the Tibetan practice of Tonglen, in which case one breathes in, for example, someone else’s anger or fear and breathes out blessing. Somehow a kind of holy anodyne is released. It may not be “enough,” but it is good.

Note: The photo “Skylight” appears on my photostream at

This is the first time I’ve ever featured someone else’s picture here but this one is too rich not to take into myself in some real way. And since for me words and pictures are about as real as it easily gets, I’m putting it in my blog.

It’s a rich picture, lots going on: John Wayne, a pristine coiled hose, Ellison Street Interiors, and a sidewalk empty of everything except a disabled “Reserved Parking” sign. I can imagine a gunfighter–this time a disabled gunfighter being scared to death but standing his ground anyway against some unseen villain 40 paces down the street, the hot sun baking down on them both, as they wait for the town clock to hit 12.

For myself, I don’t know so much about being scared to death of what I have to do, the life I live, as I do about being scared to death of not being able to do, not being able to live the life I live on my own. As long as I can keep saddling up anyway, that will keep one set of fears at bay.

And I’m somehow cheered by the image of a parking sign standing guard at the end of the street in the small Western town. Heck, John Wayne is just back-up.

Note: “Courage is being scared to death but saddling up anyway” comes from the photostream of Texas Finn on Please check out his other wonderful photographs.