Monday, March 17, 2014

The Third Step ~ Compassion for Yourself

It's time to think about ourselves.  Not as in "I'm the most important, so give me everything I want."  Having compassion for self means the same thing as on a plane, where you're told to put on your own oxygen mask before trying to help others.  We must take care of ourselves *so that* we can spread the compassion to others.  Okay, I'll go read the chapter now and see if my analysis comes anywhere close to what Karen Armstrong says in Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life.  Just so you know, I'm not teaching this book to you, but studying it alongside you.  We're learning compassion together.


1. How has a lack of self-compassion affected your life?  When are you least compassionate toward yourself?  What traits do you most criticize yourself for?

2.  We are all imperfect.  We are all influenced by our reptilian brain that reacts instinctively to real or imagined threats and can cause us to behave badly.  We are all influenced by environmental factors that affect our behavior toward others.  And we all have a "dark side" (pp. 78-79).  How does knowing this help or hinder your ability to cultivate and practice compassion?

3.  Armstrong discusses how suffering is a part of life, yet "in the West we are often encouraged to think positively, brace up, stiffen our upper lip, and look determinedly on the bright side of life" (p. 81).  Think about your experience navigating a difficult or tragic time in your life.  What would have been most helpful to you at that time?  How important was having someone just listen to or be with you?  What is your experience offering help to others in difficult times?  What helps or hinders you from being fully present when those around you face difficulties?

4.  "When people attack us, they are probably experiencing a similar self-driven anxiety and frustration; they too are in pain.  In time, if we persevere, the people we fear or envy become less threatening, because the self that we are so anxious to protect and promote at their expense is a fantasy that is making us petty and smaller than we need to be" (p. 88).  What does it mean to remove yourself from the center of your world?


1. Make a list of your positive qualities, good deeds, talents, and achievements.

2.  Our own suffering often increases our compassion for others.  Acknowledge the difficulties and suffering you've endured and how you used or might use your experience to help others.  For instance, if you've experienced a serious illness or took care of someone who did, consider volunteering to help others navigate a similar circumstance.

3.  Practice the Buddha's meditation on the four immeasurable minds of love, on page 85.
"...while he was working toward enlightenment, the Buddha devised a meditation that made him conscious of the positive emotions of friendship (maitri), compassion (karuna), joy (mudita), and 'even-mindedness' (upeksha) that lay dormant in his mind.  He then directed this 'immeasurable' love to the ends of the earth."
4.  Visit and make a commitment to compassion — perhaps self-compassion.

[Bonnie's NOTE:  I've re-worded this 4th one slightly because the link, which had /join tacked onto the end, didn't work.  I've linked us to the Charter for Compassion page, where you can sign the Charter and read all sorts of interesting stuff.]

Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life ~ by Karen Armstrong, 2010