Bourgeois suffering

squirrelblkThe wild things are busy at my feeders and in the space I have shoveled clear on my deck, which is otherwise blanketed in the foot of snow that fell over the weekend.

I am glad to see all of them, even the piggish  squirrels with their clever hands rapidly stripping the ears of corn.  And the red-shafted northern flicker, whose piercing cry reminds me to put out the suet.   I’m especially happy to welcome the small birds — chickadees, juncos, finches —  who haven’t much physiological wiggle room in weather like today’s: the mercury flirting with zero,  and natural sources of food cut off by a dense curtain of white. Easy enough for them to freeze, or starve.whoa!


We First-Worlders take so much for granted. We complain about this annoyance and that: our coffee is not strong enough or warm enough; the car won’t start. We haven’t enough money to buy the latest smart phone and the price of cable or dish  TV is again going up.

chimney steam

Meanwhile, the steam curls from the chimney as the furnace kicks on, water flows at the turn of a faucet, and food  is as near as the pantry or refrigerator. We have forgotten — or, perhaps,  never knew — what it feels like to be cold when there is no sanctuary, to be thirsty and have no water, to be hungry when our next meal is in doubt.

Buddhist nun and author Pema Chodron has a term for such complaining, passed along from one of her teachers: bourgeois suffering. We carp over what amounts to inconvenience, a delusion of deprivation. Again and again, we find a way to perceive lack in the midst of abundance.

This loss of perspective seems to infect not just humans, but all creatures who have grown accustomed to the everyday privilege of their lives. This is what my hens sounded like this morning:

cozy coop

Are they hungry? No; they have layer ration and regular treats. Thirsty? No; they have a heated waterer base and plenty to drink. Cold? No; there’s an oil-filled radiator in the coop to take the edge off.

My chickens are … bored. And my cats are a little crabby, too, because, well: They can’t go out.

A few weeks ago, during an unseasonably warm spell, I made an improbable discovery in the garage: a honeybee up against the window, pushing against the glass toward sunshine and fresh air. I snapped a few photos, then transported the bee to freedom.

Under the best of conditions, a typical honeybee lives six months; whether this one made it back to a colony where it could survive the remaining winter is anyone’s guess. But … probably not.



How lucky we are, to have such small worries. And how amazing, each of these little comforts we take for granted. Abundance overflowing, every minute of every day.




  1. Thank you for this post. It’s always good to put things into perspective and be grateful for all the abundance most of us have in the “first world”. I remember that when I came back from India the first time, I was just amazed at having cold AND hot water from the tap, and drinkable too!


    1. You’re welcome. Perspective is a great teacher!


  2. You’re most welcome; your wonderful photographs and quotes often do the same for me.


  3. Thank you for the reminder Cate. Needed that kind of perspective on life today.


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