Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life Paperback – 6 Jan 2011
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"A profound and lucid mixture of philosophy, theology and self-help. It's a perfect detox for the soul... Spry, eloquent, pacy.... Armstrong has a knack for grappling with complex ideas in the lightest of ways" (The Times)
"It sees Armstrong combine in this brief volume both her usual high quality historical scholarship and an explicit self-help programme that echoes her rousing lectures... Challenging, persuasive self-help book that seeks to distil the very best of religion" (Independent)
"Straightforward without being simplistic...frequently fascinating" (Metro)
"Flashes of sheer brilliance" (Scotland on Sunday)
"One of the charming things about Armstrong's book is its deliberate descents into bathos. We move from the high thoughts of the old sages to the demands of everyday life...from an exquisitely intelligent exposition of Sophocles's Oedipus Tyrannus to a meditation upon how we might overcome a personal dislike of a colleague or family member" (Financial Times)
After the bestselling The Case for God, Karen Armstrong makes the case for compassion - an urgent appeal to establish empathy and altruism at the centre of our private and public lives.See all Product description
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It is in recognising the pain in our own lives and realising and integrating it that we can then reach out to others. In Step 11: Recognition - Karen shows how a woman called Christina Noble came to recognise her own devastating pain as a child in Ireland when she looked into the eyes of a street child in Vietnam. The recognition flashed across her consciousness that there is no 'us' and 'them' and that all humans suffer and everybody is in pain. Living a compassionate life is acknowledging this pain and working with it understanding that we are all one and have the same needs whatever our circumstances.
The author draws on many faith traditions showing that all of them at the core are pointing to the same way of being and acting in the world. As we become increasingly multicultural we need to find a way of living together that is compassionate.
The exercise on 'Maitri' (loving-kindness) from the Buddhist tradition on pages 34 and 76 is one that anyone from any tradition can usefully take up as a daily practice and one I learnt many years ago in Nepal and it fitted in well with my own tradition. Karen shows how we might fruitfully learn from other traditions and thus learn to empathise with all. This creates a more neutral approach to each other and the interculturual society we live in.
To sum up we need to become 'A person who impartial, fair, calm, gentle, serene, accepting and open-hearted ...' (p.178). The twelve steps invite us all to become this person by reflecting on such topics as 'Empathy'; 'Mindfulness'; 'Action'; 'Concern for Everybody';'How Should We Speak to One Another?'
Karen Armstrong is always a good read and I am never disappointed. Her books are well researched and invite further reading. There is an extensive reading list at the end of the book. There is always plenty to reflect upon.
Containing what seems like common sense to people who have already struggled with the concept of forgiveness and compassion this book will be a good place to start if one is just beginning the journey of enlightened (or compassionate) living.
Although she touches briefly on the need to apply the Golden Rule (to love our neighbour as we love ourselves) in families and neighbourhoods, the focus was more on the universal than the personal. Given Armstrong's background as a strong advocate of interfaith dialogue, this is understandable, but I would have gained more if there'd been deeper discussion on the challenges of living a compassionate life in my ordinary day-to-day existence before I start worrying about healing breaches with people across the oceans. Yes, we live in a global village, but as Armstrong herself points out, compassion has to start at the very centre of our personal lives before it can spread to the outer reaches of the larger world we live in.
Still, any book that emphasises the need for love and compassion in our current world is a worthwhile read. I turned the last page feeling more hopeful for the souls of the human race than I have in a long time
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