A photo of Anne Gordon de Barrigón

Anne Gordon de Barrigón

Emberá Puru, Panama


A few years ago, at the height of tour season I got a phone call from this woman saying she was my husband’s girlfriend. Really? I talked to her very calmly. It didn’t even sink in. It was 7:45 in the morning and I had to leave in 15 minutes to go pick up a group of tourists. We talked for a few minutes. The things she said made sense.

And then, a few months later, I just broke. I just couldn’t deal with it. It was just horrifying.

So, I had never visited the Pearl Islands but I had a friend who had a bed and breakfast out there. I booked a trip and a couple days after I arrived, I hired a local fisherman and said ‘Let’s go find dolphins.’ We headed out...didn’t see any, didn’t see any, didn’t see any.... I kept feeling the sadness rise up. And I knew that when you’re sad and upset, that’s not how you find the dolphins.

They’re all about happiness and joy. But I also knew not to fight the emotions, so I just let myself feel it—just let it process.

About five minutes later the boatman says, ‘Whales!’ There were four humpback whales and about 40 spotted dolphins all together. The dolphins came and rode in the bough and played around us for about 15-20 minutes.

That night, I was sitting in my room checking some emails and working on the computer and all of a sudden I realized I was happy. How did that happen? Thank you dolphins, thank you whales. It’s like I had this inner knowing that everything was going to be fine—no matter what happened, I would be just fine if we stayed together, if we didn’t stay together.

Daniel’s Reflection

It became clear to me very quickly that the main lesson of Portraits in Faith was gratitude. I came to see that gratitude is faith! This was made clear to me by the story of Anne Gordon de Barrigón.

Anne’s story is really larger than life. She was a trainer and keeper of wild animals for the film industry on her property near Seattle until the day one of her tigers attacked a volunteer who did not follow the guidelines for its care. While the volunteer survived, it was a spiritual wake-up call for Anne. She sold her animals and land. Then a call came to work as an animal keeper for a film being shot in Panama, a job she could not have taken if she still had her own operation.

There she met and fell in love with an indigenous man who was part of the village in which they were shooting the film. Their marriage was a fairytale-come-true until the day a woman called Anne and said she was her husband’s girlfriend. The story checked out and thus began a journey Anne never knew she would have to take. Anne and her husband were able to save their marriage and are together to this day, but it took hard work on Anne’s part to process the anger and despair.

When Anne realized she was happy after seeing the whales and dolphins, and that she would be happy no matter what happened with her husband, it was for me, the very essence of faith—to be happy and grateful no matter what happens in our lives.

I do not take this to mean that we should be Pollyanna-ish in our affect all the time. I take this to mean that faith is a stance one chooses; to be grateful for all of life, even when the only thing to be grateful for is a feeling of loss and sadness.

One of my favorite writers is the Jesuit monk, Anthony De Mello. From his book, Awareness: The Perils and Opportunities of Reality: “All mystics...no matter what their religion...are unanimous on one thing. That all is well. Even though everything is a mess, all is well.”

It reminds me to ask, “Have I made the choice today to live in a grateful space or a wanting/diminished space?” and, “Am I a fully feeling and experiencing member of the human race and God’s world today?”

Today Anne and her husband split their time between his native village, Embera Puru, and Panama City. They have brought a thriving tourism business to the village for people wanting to experience the jungle and nature as lived by indigenous peoples.  


De Mello, Anthony. 1992. Awareness: The Perils and Opportunities of Reality. Image.

“All mystics...” quote taken from De Mello Spirituality Center’s website, the official site of

Anthony De Mello at www.demellospirituality.com/all-is-well/

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