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 Flickr.com.
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