Above me, the morning sky wakes bright and clear blue. But looking east, the thick mountain cover that’s ordinarily snow or rain-clouds is a different color, hanging ominously north to south. A heavy gray-smudged orange haze blankets the Sierra. Smoke.
The morning news reported that the Rim Fire threatens the city of San Francisco’s drinking water supply with ash. Homes, wildlife, and vast stretches of land, including Yosemite National Park, are in danger. Time lapse film of the Rim Fire, created by the National Park Service, is savagely beautiful when viewed on my computer. But close-up, homeowners and firefighters might not have the same reaction. I didn’t, when I packed my car in Colorado, ready to flee with my dogs and family from oncoming fire.
Seeing smoke hanging in the sky reminds me that my reactions to reports on television news are brief. Sometimes I follow up by donating to relief funds for victims of shootings, hurricanes, flood and other disasters. When the High Meadows fire in Colorado spared us, I spent time volunteering with other families, evacuated children sheltered at the high school while their parents worked with insurance representatives or tried to salvage belongings. I brought water bottles and snacks to firefighters. It helped me feel not quite so powerless in the face of disaster.
Life on this planet of ours includes sad, even shocking events frequently enough that I have come to value proactivity. Regular donations to the Red Cross, for instance. A frequent prayer for all people, everywhere, in any difficulties they may face. Lovingkindness. Chesed. Blessings.
I feel compassion for those who suffer. (Including an occasional “Poor baby” just for me!)
A mindfulness colleague in my meditation group once quoted Shinzen Young: Suffering = Pain x Resistence. (S=P x R). In other words, there will be events that cause us pain. Pain is a natural part of existence. When I was learning to carve nature scenes into the covers of wooden boxes with my exacto knife, I slipped and cut my hand. I had a choice in how to react:
“Owwwwwuh! I am so clumsy! Why can’t I ever learn something new without a disaster? And look at my hand. It will never be beautiful again after that cut. I’ll probably have a big, ugly scar. Oh, it’s going to hurt so badly if lemon gets on this cut…”
You know. On and on. Like that. But I had another choice:
In both cases, the cut hurt. But in the first example, I multiplied my pain. Lately I’m starting to realize there’s enough pain, just being alive, without multiplying it. It makes me appreciate good days and good friends.
Today, as I lift my eyes to the hills, I’m sending special Sierra thoughts and prayers in their direction. And, as usual, in yours.