Monday, April 21, 2014

The Fourth Step ~ Empathy

In packing to move to St. Louis, I've been sorting through all kinds of stuff I need to toss or give away.  Just this morning, on this third Monday when I promised to post new questions each month, I found two sets of audio cassettes about compassion that I had forgotten someone gave me:
  1. Awakening Compassion: Meditation Practice for Difficult Times ~ by Pema Chödrön, 1995
  2. The Only Way: From Cruelty to Compassion Through Inner Transformation ~ by Gerald May, 2002
Too bad I didn't find these last week, before I drove to and from St. Louis.  The trip is about eight hours in each direction.  I was well on my way before I realized I should have brought something to listen to while driving, especially since radio reception is spotty most of the way.  These tapes would have been perfect.


1.  Commenting on the futility of the Buddha's father's attempt to shield him from suffering, Armstrong writes, "As long as we close our minds to the pain that presses in upon us on all sides, we remain imprisoned in delusion, because this artificial existence bears no relation to reality" (p. 91).  What defenses do you use to shield yourself from suffering?  Do these defenses help or hinder your capacity for compassion?

2.  "Art calls us to recognize our pain and aspirations and to open our minds to others.  Art helps us — as it helped the Greeks — to realize that we are not alone; everybody else is suffering" (p. 98).  Discuss a piece of art, a performance, book, or movie that has helped you develop empathy toward others.

3.  Armstrong shares the story of Patty Anglin who "always claimed that the misery she experienced in a harsh boarding school, where she had learning difficulties, prepared her for her life's work" caring for children abandoned by their parents.  Was your choice of an avocation or vocation influenced by difficulties you exp;erienced?  Share your story.


1.  Spend a day "tuning into" how people around you are feeling.

2.  It is often difficult to witness suffering and to engage with someone in distress, especially when we are preoccupied with our own concerns.  Notice, over the next month, when you want to turn away.  Instead, remember how it feels to be hurt, depressed, angry, helpless, and distraught.  Then remember what it was like to have someone be kind and caring toward you.  Offer that person a kind gesture (pp. 101-102).

3.  Follow the instructions on page 102 to add three more stages to the meditation on the "immeasurable minds of love."

Facebook (added 4-24-14)

I shared this story with Donna, Shirley, Mary, and Alison on Facebook.  Let's include our responses here, so we can preserve them.  What do any of you readers think of what this woman did?
Jessica Eaves from Guthrie (Oklahoma - USA) recently had her wallet stolen by a man while she was grocery shopping.  Most people in that situation would immediately get the authorities involved, but she found a way to resolve her problem herself.

"I saw this gentleman down the aisle from me," Jessica tells us.  "He walked behind me, and when I got a couple of aisles over, I realized my wallet was gone."

"I spotted him in a crowded aisle and approached him," she continues.  "I'm a pretty out-there personality, but I was quiet and calm."

"I said to him, 'I think you have something of mine.  I'm gonna give you a choice.  You can either give me my wallet and I'll forgive you right now, and I'll even take you to the front and pay for your groceries."

The alternative?  Jessica reporting him to the police.

"He reached into his hoodie pocket and gave me my wallet," she recalls, adding that the man was extremely grateful for her help and forgiveness.

"He started crying when we walked up to the front," she says.  "He said he was sorry about 20 times by the time we went from the pickle aisle to the front.  He told me he was desperate."

She spent $27 on his groceries, which included milk, bread, bologna, crackers, soup, and cheese.  "The last thing he said was, 'I'll never forget tonight.  I'm broke, I have kids, I'm embarrassed, and I'm sorry.'"

"Some people are critical because I didn't turn him in, but sometimes all you need is a second chance," says Jessica.

She adds, "My brother and I lost my dad to suicide when I was seven, and I remember him telling me years ago that no matter what I become in life, to always, always be kind."

Source: Yahoo News
— with Lisa N Troy SmithWard.
Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life ~ by Karen Armstrong, 2010