When you read “Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life,” you probably think of a twelve step program like Alcoholics Anonymous. That’s not an accident: Karen Armstrong says bluntly, “We are addicted to our egotism. We cannot think how we would manage without our pet hatreds and prejudices that give us such a buzz of righteousness; like addicts, we have come to depend on the instant rush of energy and delight we feel when we display our cleverness by making an unkind remark and the spurt of triumph when we vanquish an annoying colleague.”
I plead guilty to all of that! Even worse, I have OCD, so those sizzling, buzzing hatreds and prejudices can run through my head hour after hour, scoring deep groves through my psyche. Now when hateful, obsessive thoughts start grinding me down, I can murmur “compassion…compassion…” and actually interrupt the demon hamster running on his wheel to nowhere. I am grateful for the relief. Even before I seriously begin the program the concept of compassion calms me.
So! The Twelve Steps are:
1. Learn about compassion
Armstrong suggests, as a symbolic act, visit the Charter for Compassion, read the stories, and sign the the charter. Done! And I have joined the Facebook page.
It is important, she says, to study my own religious tradition teaches about compassion. I began that with my last post, talking about Kuan Yin, Cernunnos, an the Millennial Gaia. In addition, while preparing for our Don’t Shoot program this week, this week I have gone through my copy of The Pagan Book of Living and Dying by Starhawk and M. Macha NightMare, looking for reflections on death by violence and the death of a child. I sent a message to a Pagan prison chaplain on Facebook, asking for appropriate source material. He sent me to one of his favorite authors. I will be adding her blog to my Witchs’ Brew page.
At the end of Twelve Steps, Armstong provides “Suggestions for Further Reading.” I have written down a long list of them and checked out her book The Great Transformation: The Beginning of Our Religious Traditions. This deals with the Axial Age, a 600–or 1200 (depending on who’s counting)–year old period when the traditions of Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Christianity, and Greek Philosophy were all developed. And, as synchronicity would have it, I am currently reading Debt: The First 5,000 Years by anthropologist David Graeber. Right now we are dab smack in the middle of the Axial Age! And while the book deals more with man’s inhumanity to man, I can certainly see how the great religions listed above decided that the world was crying out for compassion.
2. Look at my own world
Armstrong says, “We must look at our community with compassion, estimate its strengths as well as its weaknesses, and assess its potential for change.” Well, there was been a lot of that going on in Peoria this summer as the community has mobilized to stand against gun violence.
Armstrong asks us to first examine our relationships with our own families. Then think about the workplace. How do we live a compassionately in the course of our work? And what about the company that employes us? What would a compassionate company look like? If our profession made a commitment to become more compassionate, what would be the impact locally and globally? And how do we treat colleagues and workers? And finally, what about our country? What have we done in the past and what could we realistically do in the future “to make the world a more just, fair, safe, and peaceful place…and how can a modern politician observe the Golden Rule in his or her domestic and foreign policy?”
Well, that one fairly boggles the mind. We’ll get on with the other steps later.
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