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Sitting In The Fire

Pema Chödrön On Turning Toward Pain

The first noble truth of the Buddha is that people experience dukka, a feeling of dissatisfaction or suffering, a feeling that something is wrong. . . . only in the West is this dissatisfaction articulated as “Something is wrong with me.”

Essays, Memoirs, & True Stories

No Such Thing As A True Story

In Taoism there’s a famous saying that goes, “The Tao that can be spoken is not the ultimate Tao.” Another way you could say that, although I’ve never seen it translated this way, is “As soon as you begin to believe in something, you can no longer see anything else.” The truth you believe in and cling to makes you unable to hear anything new.

When This Is Over

When this is over, I’m going back to the West Coast. I’m going to find a cheap, humble house near the beach, get an old dog — maybe a retriever of some sort from the pound — and take long, thoughtful walks every morning at sunrise. I will have gray hair, never braided but messy from the wind and the moist ocean air. I will, on occasion, pick up a smooth stone from the sand and lick it just to taste Mother Ocean’s sexy saltiness, without caring what else I might inadvertently taste. And after those walks I’ll go back to my house, which will be small and untidy, full of books, seashells, pine cones, and pictures of people I love. I’ll drink strong coffee and eat marionberry jelly on rye toast with my lover — or I’ll eat alone, depending on how this all turns out.

Willing To Die?

A body lies in the middle of a dirt road near where we live, tennis shoes poking out from under the cardboard and branches laid over it, flies buzzing around. Political demonstrations spin out of control as pro-government gangs swoop in with clubs and guns. Plumes of smoke rise from burning tires at intersections around the city. Roadblocks manned by angry young men pop up at random; they might take your car, or much more.

The Good Life Revisited

For reasons I will never know for certain, my ex-husband and I were among the few people to whom Helen and Scott Nearing, authors of the back-to-the-land bible Living the Good Life, decided to sell part of their Maine farm. It could have been Keith’s skills with an ax that won them over, or his short haircut in those days of beards and ponytails on men (which Helen later admitted to disliking). Or it could have been the potential for a part-time typist/secretary in their remote community. (I was then working at the Providence Journal.) Or it might have been that, at our first meeting in December 1971, Keith and I were respectful and friendly but did not exude the gushing adoration that was common among Nearing pilgrims — and that the Nearings frequently found irritating.


My Sister, The Writer

My sister is a writer. She writes terrible things about me. She thinks she is telling the family secrets, but we all think she’s hysterical. Everything is dark and gloomy in her stories, and there is always some gnawing pain that envelops the narrator. We think she should be on antidepressants. We know other families where it has helped.


Jane and I were in my room having one of our sleepovers, doing the things we always did together, like shining flashlights under our chins in front of a mirror, or holding our eyes open as long as we could without blinking. Tomorrow my mother would take us to Rose’s, our favorite department store. At thirteen, I could think of nothing more fun than going to Rose’s with Jane. My mother keenly understood this, which was one of the reasons I loved her so much, one of the reasons I could not bear the thought of her death.

Readers Write

Hero Worship

My husband, Bill, and I own the local pharmacy, and though we are both pharmacists, my husband is the one who stands behind the counter and talks to everyone. I am usually in back, taking care of more mundane tasks.

Personal Stories By Our Readers ▸
Sy Safransky's Notebook

January 2005

This is The Sun’s thirty-first anniversary issue. But for me there’s only one issue: the one I’m working on right now. Since this is my path, I keep walking the path, and sweeping the path, too. I keep an eye out for dragons. Yes, there are dragons. The dragon of playing it safe. The dragon of taking my good fortune for granted. I remind myself what it was like when I started: no money, no acclaim, just me and the work. And all that mattered was giving myself to the work as passionately as I’d ever given myself to any woman. And the work returned my passion. And nothing has changed.

Musings From Our Founder ▸


Heroes are created by popular demand, sometimes out of the scantiest materials, or none at all.

Gerald W. Johnson

More Quotations ▸
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