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Look into your own heart and discover what gives you pain and then refuse under any circumstances whatsoever to inflict that pain onto anybody else.

–Karen Armstrong

Title: Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life

Author: Karen Armstrong

Synopsis: Karen Armstrong, a religious historian and former nun, explores the notion of empathy and compassion that underlies and unifies the Abrahamic faiths as well as most other religious traditions.

Why I read this: A certain yogini inspired me to deepen my understanding of compassion.

What I loved about it: Armstrong’s conviction and intellect shine through every page. The depth and breadth of her scholarship was a nice change from my recent lighter reading.  The language was scholarly, yet accessible, intelligible and beautiful.

What was unexpected: I was surprised by the depth beneath the self-help title and macrostructure. There really are twelve steps, but the history, spirit, and detail Armstrong provides were far more intriguing.

You might like this if you liked: The Lost Art of Compassion: Discovering the Practice of Happiness in the Meeting of Buddhism and Psychology

Fun coincidence:  As I was reading this book, El Diablo was reading God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything
by Christopher Hitchens. The themes and events covered often coincided. It was fun to compare notes and the authors’ vastly different perspectives: enduring optimism vs. chronically quarrelsome.


Nilla Bean, in a rare moment of stillness

 Ти́ше е́дешь — да́льше бу́дешь. 

 (Translation:  The quieter you go, the further you’ll travel.)

–Russian proverb


Be still and know that I am God.

–Psalms 46:10


To cultivate joy it is good to begin by tending the mind’s garden. How do you get rid of those pesky weeds? Meditation works.

For two weeks at the ashram we sat in silent meditation twice a day.  Shy person that I tend to be, I had no problem with the silent part. And I can sit still. I didn’t make a peep, but my mind was anything but quiet…

 How boring. What a waste of time. I had to get out of bed before dawn for this!? That lady is guzzling her water down like a Viking.  Shouldn’t she be meditating? I thought we’d be doing more yoga! What exactly is supposed to be happening here…? What is the point of this! When I get out of here, I oughta — was that a rooster?! Hamburger!

I’m a busy, buzzy person.  I like to be doing things. When I do sit down, I’m reading, thinking, dreaming, planning, remembering, creating, wanting, needing, hoping, composing…well, you get the picture. There’s a lot going in this head.

So what does sitting around doing absolutely nothing accomplish?

Well, nothing!  Which is quite a lot.

You can observe what’s going on in your own mind when the immediate external distractions, competitions for attention, and agendas of others are eliminated.

Consider how much energy is expended on the everyday demands of family, friends, work, and various other obligations.  Be sure to factor in the electronic (e-mail, texts, TV, radios, telephones, computers) distractions….

I discovered that my mental energy was being scattered all over the place in a myriad of unproductive ways.  Furthermore, what was on my own mind was not pretty. I was a grumpy, judgmental, out of control mess – and my ego was NOT happy to see itself. After the first week of regular practice, my mind slowly began to unwind and defragment.  The key word here is began.  It was enough to recognize the value of the practice and to make the time for it in my daily routine.

Note: Time is a funny little non-thing. If looking for time you will never find it.  If you want time, you will make it.  If the path of mastery is defined by where you direct your attention, it’s a good practice to take stock of where your attention is and where is it not.

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