Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The Golden Rule in Practice - in El Paso

Sportsmanship Gives Texas High Schooler Shot At Glory
A heart-warming story of the Golden Rule put into practice.


Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Step #3: Compassion for Self - Three-In-One Brain

During our book discussion on February 28th of Step #3 -- compassion for self -- Karen will talk about the "Three-In-One Brain," also called the triune brain. For those of you of a scientific bent, here is a short video explaining the concept:


And here's another one:

Step #3: Compassion for Self - Compassion Fatigue resources

At the third session of the book study of Karen Armstrong's "Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life" that we are facilitating at Oblate School of Theology we will be discussing compassion for self (February 28th.)

As we have been traveling throughout the city one question that always seems to arise is about compassion fatigue. What is it? There are actually two definitions:

(1) Compassion fatigue is defined in the popular media as a feeling of being overwhelmed, helpless and numbed by media stories of tragedy. A New York Times article explains:
 "Fatigue often results “when you’re seeing the same problems repeatedly, when they’re chronic, and when the outcomes are not good,” said Bret A. Moore, a former Army psychologist and co-author of “Wheels Down: Adjusting to Life After Deployment.” “One sign that you’re there is that you start hoping your appointments cancel.”

"The public has a similar reaction to mass joblessness and starving countries alike: the problems sap the imagination in part simply because they are daunting and have not responded well to previous efforts. We have already pumped billions into each, with little visible effect. If only they would cancel their next emergency. " (read the whole article here.)
(2) In the academic literature, compassion fatigue is a synonym for vicarious trauma and is experienced by those in helping/caregiver positions. Kirsti A. Dyer MD, defines it as:
    "A state experienced by those helping people in distress; it is an extreme state of tension and preoccupation with the suffering of those being helped to the degree that it is traumatizing for the helper; a deep physical, emotional and spiritual exhaustion accompanied by acute emotional pain."
Here is a handout, in PDF format, that is used by Haven for Hope. It includes an assessment quiz, definitions, a list of symptoms and recommendations for action. 

Monday, February 25, 2013

Step #2: The Circle of Compassion

In step #2 of the book study of Karen Armstrong's "Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life" we discussed our circle of compassion. This TED talk (18 minutes) by Buddhist monk Robert Thurman gives a seven part meditation to help grow our circle of compassion.

Step #3: Love Yourself

What does loving yourself have to do with compassion? Isn't self-love self-centered and the opposite of compassion for others? The Golden Rule says, "Treat others as you would like to be treated yourself."  When we learn how it feels to treat ourselves with compassion we have a model to use when we interact with others.

Psychologist Heidi Grant Halvorson defines self-compassion:
"Self-compassion is a willingness to look at your own mistakes and shortcomings with kindness and understanding—it's embracing the fact that to err is indeed human. When you are self-compassionate in the face of difficulty, you neither judge yourself harshly, nor feel the need to defensively focus on all your awesome qualities to protect your ego. It's not surprising that self-compassion leads, as many studies show, to higher levels of personal well-being, optimism and happiness, and to less anxiety and depression.

"But what about performance? Self-compassion may feel good, but aren't the people who are harder on themselves, who are driven to always be the best, the ones who are ultimately more likely to succeed?

To answer that, it's important to understand what self-compassion is not. While the spirit of self-compassion is to some degree captured in expressions like "give yourself a break" and "cut yourself some slack," it is decidedly not the same thing as taking yourself off the hook or lowering the bar. You can be self-compassionate while still accepting responsibility for your performance. And you can be self-compassionate while striving for the most challenging goals—the difference lies not in where you want to end up, but in how you think about the ups and downs of your journey. As a matter of fact, if you are self-compassionate, new research suggests you are more likely to actually arrive at your destination."  (read her whole article)

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Step #3: Compassion for yourself - The Mayonnaise Jar and Two Cups of Coffee

Here is an timely story that has been making the rounds:

A professor stood before his philosophy class and had some items in front of him. When the class began, he wordlessly picked up a very large and empty mayonnaise jar and proceeded to fill it with golf balls. He then asked the students if the jar was full. They agreed that it was.
The professor then picked up a box of pebbles and poured them into the jar. He shook the jar lightly. The pebbles rolled into the open areas between the golf balls. He then asked the students again if the jar was full.  They agreed it was.

The professor next picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar. Of course, the sand filled up everything else. He asked once more if the jar was full. The students responded with an unanimous "yes."

The professor then produced two cups of coffee from under the table and poured the entire contents into the jar effectively filling the empty space between the sand. The students laughed.

"Now," said the professor as the laughter subsided, "I want you to recognize that this jar represents your life. The golf balls are the important things--your family, your children, your health, your friends and your favorite passions--and if everything else was lost and only they remained, your life would still be full.

The pebbles are the other things that matter like your job, your house and your car.

The sand is everything else--the small stuff. "If you put the sand into the jar first," he continued, "there is no room for the pebbles or the golf balls. The same goes for life. If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff you will never have room for the things that are important to you.

"Pay attention to the things that are critical to your happiness. Play with your children. Take time to get medical checkups. Take your  spouse out to dinner. Play another 18. There will always be time to clean the house and fix the disposal. Take care of the golf balls first--the things that really matter. Set your priorities. The rest is just sand."

One of the students raised her hand and inquired what the coffee represented. The professor smiled. "I'm glad you asked.

It just goes to show you that no matter how full your life may seem, there's always room for a couple of cups of coffee with a friend."

Step #1: Hillel & Shammai

In step #1, Karen ended the session with a story about Hillel and Shammai.
If you missed it (or want reminding) here is a video from Shalom Sesame

And this is a lovely depiction of the story in words and an image of the story by chassidic artist Shoshannah Brombacher:
One of famous account in the Talmud (Shabbat 31a) tells about a gentile who wanted to convert to Judaism. This happened not infrequently, and this individual stated that he would accept Judaism only if a rabbi would teach him the entire Torah while he, the prospective convert, stood on one foot. First he went to Shammai, who, insulted by this ridiculous request, threw him out of the house. The man did not give up and went to Hillel. This gentle sage accepted the challenge, and said:

    "What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. That is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation of this--go and study it!"

Step #3: Compassion for Self - Rumi

Step #3: Compassion for Self - glass of water

In our weekly book study at Oblate School of Theology of Karen Armstrong's "Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life" we will be discussing Compassion to One's Self" during the third step, on 28 February.

This story resonates with that theme:

A psychologist walked around a room while teaching stress management to an audience. As she raised a glass of water, everyone expected they’d be asked the “half empty or half full” question. Instead, with a smile on her face, she inquired: “How heavy is this glass of water?”

Answers called out ranged from 8 oz. to 20 oz.

She replied, “The absolute weight doesn’t matter. It depends on how long I hold it. If I hold it for a minute, it’s not a problem. If I hold it for an hour, I’ll have an ache in my arm. If I hold it for a day, my arm will feel numb and paralyzed. In each case, the weight of the glass doesn’t change, but the longer I hold it, the heavier it becomes.” She continued, “The stresses and worries in life are like that glass of water. Think about them for a while and nothing happens. Think about them a bit longer and they begin to hurt. And if you think about them all day long, you will feel paralyzed – incapable of doing anything.”

It’s important to remember to let go of your stresses. As early in the evening as you can, put all your burdens down. Don’t carry them through the evening and into the night. Remember to put the glass down!

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Step #2: The Myth of Redemptive Violence VIDEO


As promised, a video of Rosalyn Falcon Collier of the San Antonio peaceCENTER explaining the Myth of Redemptive Violence, Oblate School of Theology, 21 February, 2013.

Step #2: A Cup of Tea

Each session of the peaceCENTER's book study of Karen Armstrong's "Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life" ends with a short story -- a paradox to get the participants thinking in preparation for the next session. This week, Karen told the Zen story of "A Cup of Tea."
A university professor went to visit a famous Zen master. While the master quietly served tea, the professor talked about Zen. The master poured the visitor's cup to the brim, and then kept pouring. The professor watched the overflowing cup until he could no longer restrain himself. "It's overfull! No more will go in!" the professor blurted. "You are like this cup," the master replied, "How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup."

Step #2: The Myth of Redemptive Violence

In session #2 Rosalyn Falcon Collier talked about the myth of redemptive violence. The concept is taken from the work of the late theologian Walter Wink; a good summary of his work is in his book "The Powers that Be," or there's a great recap by Walter on this Web site.  We'll be uploading a video of Rosalyn's presentation later today.

Do you recognize the characters she brought along to help with this session?

A bag filled with compassion

During the book study of Karen Armstrong's "Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life'" now being held at Oblate School of Theology we have a sparkly mesh bag that holds slips of paper where the participants can write down the name of a person or group in their life to whom they feel the need to offer compassion. The difficult people -- you know who YOURS are, right? The slips of paper are black so that the writing is virtually invisible, but the writer knows who is in the bag. Each week, as we learn more about compassion, the bag sits there -- with us -- feeling the compassion. Whose in your bag?

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Step #2: 12 Steps to a Compassionate Life

Karen, Rosalyn & Susan from the peaceCENTER are facilitating a book study of Karen Armstrong's "Twelves Steps to a Compassionate Life." This Thursday -- February 21 -- we will cover step 2:

 Look at Your Own World
Step 2 from Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life
During this step, we should take ourselves mentally to the summit of a high mountain, where we can stand back and see things from a different and dispassionate perspective. As we undertake this exercise, it might be helpful to think in terms of the Confucian concentric circles of compassion, starting with your family, moving out to your friends and community, and finally to the country in which you live. Many of the things we have long taken for granted seem suddenly inadequate. We should not approach our task with the harsh zeal of a reformer; there should be no anger, frustration, or impatience in our survey. We must look at our community with compassion, estimate its strengths as well as its weaknesses, and assess its potential for change. Family is a school of compassion because it is here that we learn to live with other people. What do you really feel about your family? What makes you proud and happy about them? How do you conduct arguments and disagreements? What are your particular strengths in family life? Is there anything more you could do? Is your family a place where your children learn the value of treating all others with respect? Consider the workplace. How is the Golden Rule in the course of your work? What would be the realistic criteria of a compassionate company? If your profession made a serious attempt to become more compassionate, what impact would this have on your immediate environment and the global community? To whom in your profession and your own place of work would you give a Golden Rule prize? Finally, take a dispassionate look at our nation…
Karen Armstrong, Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life, 2011

Every man or woman in the street can become a force for good in the world.
Xun Zi, Confucian philosopher, 312-230 BCE – he believed that humans are good by nature and rejected force as an educational instrument

Step #1: 12 Steps to a Compassionate Life

Karen, Rosalyn & Susan from the peaceCENTER are facilitating a book study of Karen Armstrong's "Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life."  The first session met on Valentine's Day. This is what we covered:

Learn about Compassion.
Step 1 from Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life
Can compassion heal the seemingly intractable problems of our time? Is this virtue even feasible in the technological age? And what does “compassion” actually mean? Our English word is often confused with “pity” and associated with an uncritical, sentimental benevolence: the Oxford English Dictionary, for example, defines “compassionate” as “piteous” or “pitiable.” This perception of compassion is not only widespread but ingrained. Compassion does not mean feeling sorry for people. But “compassion” derives from the Latin patiri and the Greek pathein, meaning “to suffer, undergo, or experience.” So “compassion” means “to endure (something) with another person,” to put ourselves in somebody else’s shoes, to feel her pain as though it were our own, and to enter generously into his point of view. That is why compassion is aptly summed up in the Golden Rule, which asks us to look into our own hearts, discover what gives us pain, and then refuse, under any circumstance whatsoever, to inflict that pain on anybody else.
*Karen Armstrong, Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life, 2011

What is hateful to yourself, do not to your fellow man. That is the whole of the Torah and the remainder is but commentary. Go study it.
Hillel, Jewish sage, 110 BCE-10CE

Psalm 15: who can be trusted with power?

Thanks to Elizabeth Cauthorn of Viva!Books for posting this version of Psalm 15, just in time for President's day. What kind of leaders should be hope for?

Psalm 15
Lord, who can be trusted with power,
and who may act in your place?
Those with a passion for justice,
who speak the truth from their hearts;
who have let go of selfish interests
and grown beyond their own lives;
who see the wretched as their family
and the poor as their flesh and blood.
They alone are impartial
and worthy of the people's trust.
Their compassion lights up the whole earth,
and their kindness endures forever.

(The Psalms, translations by Stephen Mitchell)

Friday, February 15, 2013

Pilgrimage of Compassion: May 19: Compassionate Learning: Education Under Fire

Sunday, May 19   6:30-9 pm, Compassionate Learning: Education Under Fire, at the Baha’i Center, 735 W. Magnolia Ave., 6:30-9pm.  Baha’is and Muslims in Iran have risked their lives helping Baha’i student continue their educations—the government has raided their meeting places, confiscated their equipment, and imprisoned their teachers. The San Antonio Baha’i community has helped. View a short film co-produced by Amnesty International, meet students and teachers and learn about Baha’i teachings about compassion. Enjoy music & food. Free and open to the public.  This is part of the peaceCENTER's Pilgrimage of Compassion.

Watch a clip of the 30-minute video:

Pilgrimage of Compassion: April 2&9 : Compassionate Hospitality

Tuesday,  April 2&9 6:30-8:30 pm, COMPASSIONATE HOSPITALITYa taste of Asian traditions at the SoL Center, University Presbyterian Church, 300 Bushnell. $35 includes supper. Registration required: call 210-732-9927 by March 26. Whether we consider the Hindu tradition of “Namaste,” respecting the divine in the other; compassionate Buddhism with its emphasis on service; the outpouring of Sikh generosity in meals shared with all, or Christian origins from Jesus, a west Asian filled with the hospitality of that continent, much can be learned sitting at round tables, listening and sharing a meal with each other.

About the Instructors: Dr. Lopita Nath of the Hindu tradition is Assistant Professor of History at the University of the Incarnate Word. She is known for both research about refugees and leading service projects to assist them. Dr. Neeta Singh of the Sikh tradition is Associate Professor and the Chair of the Nutrition Program at UIW. She has done work developing nutrition programs in impoverished areas such as Tanzania. Sister Martha Ann Kirk, UIW Professor of Religious Studies, has been enriched by interfaith experiences in India, China, Japan, Vietnam, Cambodia, as well as parts of the Middle East. 

This is part of the peaceCENTER's Pilgrimage of Compassion

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Where in the World is Compassion? - Sr. Martha Ann Kirk

Here is the sixth (and last!) video from the "Where in the World is Compassion" interfaith panel discussion held at Oblate School of Theology on 7 February, co-hosted by the peaceCENTER. Sister Martha Ann Kirk, CCVI is a religion professor at the University of the Incarnate Word and the 2013 San Antonio Peace Laureate.

Bookstudy: Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life

We held the 1st session of the book study on Karen Armstrong's "Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life" at Oblate School of Theology this morning. Thirty people registered! We stood and read the Charter for Compassion aloud together, then after a moment's reflection, were asked to call out elements of compassion that the charter evoked. These were the results. Did we miss any?

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Where in the World is Compassion? - Mark Carmona - 7 February

Here is the Fifth video from the "Where in the World is Compassion" interfaith panel discussion held at Oblate School of Theology on 7 February, co-hosted by the peaceCENTER. Mark Carmona is the CEO of Haven for Hope.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Where in the World is Compassion - Patti Radle

Here is the Fourth video from the "Where in the World is Compassion" interfaith panel discussion held at Oblate School of Theology on 7 February, co-hosted by the peaceCENTER. Patti Radle, former City Council member and co-founder of Inner City Development.

Pilgrimage of Compassion: Saturday, 9 March: Incarnating Compassion

This is the next stop on the San Antonio Pilgrimage of Compassion:

Saturday, March 9, 9 am to 4 pm. INCARNATING COMPASSION: Dance and Drama to turn our hearts of stone into hearts of flesh. When Jesus wanted to teach service, he dramatized the message taking a towel and washing feet. When Mariam wanted to claim and thank God for freedom from slavery, she led dance with tambourine in hand. Young and old are invited to a day of sharing and learning dance and drama. Come prepared to move. Free and open to the public. Marian Hall Ballroom, University of the Incarnate Word. Organized by Sister Martha Ann Kirk of UIW and featuring other prayer dance leaders from across San Antonio. Part of the peaceCENTER's Pilgramage of Compassion. Join us!  You do not have to stay all day -- come for as long as you can.

Where in the World is Compassion - Imam Omar Shakir


Here is the third video from the "Where in the World is Compassion" interfaith panel discussion held at Oblate School of Theology on 7 February, co-hosted by the peaceCENTER. Imam Omar Shakir is with Masjid Bilal Ibn Rabah of San Antonio TX.

Where in the World is Compassion? -- Rabbi Elisa Koppel


Here is the second video for the "Where in the World is Compassion" interfaith panel discussion held at Oblate School of Theology on 7 February, co-hosted by the peaceCENTER. Rabbi Koppel is the Acting Associate Rabbi at Temple Beth-El.

Where in the World is Compassion? - Ann Helmke


About 80 people attended "Where in the World is Compassion," an interfaith panel discussion held at Oblate School of Theology and hosted jointly with the peaceCENTER on February 7.  We shot some video of the panelists: Here is the introduction, by Ann Helmke, Animating Director of the peaceCENTER.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Compassionate City: Foster Homes are Saving Animals

We're collecting examples of ways in which San Antonio is already a compassionate city. There was a good example in an editorial in today's newspaper.

From Today's Express-News: "San Antonio still has a way to go before becoming a no-kill city, but it should be proud of the 83 percent live release rate the city's shelter, Animal Care Services, achieved in January.

"Over the last several months the live-release rate has been steadily increasing. That is welcome news in a city that only eight years ago achieved the dubious distinction of euthanizing more animals per capita than any major city in the country.

"At that time, most of the 50,000 cats and dogs taken in the city's animal care and control department were being euthanized. In fiscal year 2012, 13,560 animals were euthanized and the number has been going down each month.

"Last month, ACS euthanized 383 animals. Another 1,804 cats and dogs were adopted, sent to foster homes or other shelters, returned to owners, trapped, spayed and released, the Express-News reported.

Read more:

Do you have examples of how San Antonio is already making strides toward becoming a compassionate City? Let us know!

Let's Make San Antonio a Compassionate City

To be listed as a compassionate city:
  1. Inspired by the Charter, citizens & leaders convene & organize to make their city a Compassionate City;
   2. The City signs the Charter;
   3. The City publishes its own clear statement of intention & concrete plans to become a city that practices the principles of the Charter.
     The objective of the movement is not to get a proclamation passed by the city government, and it is not to make people feel better about compassion. The goal of the movement is to bring the Golden Rule to life in specific, practical, and measurable ways. We are building a movement for compassion—not attempting to unite city bureaucracies around a slogan. What is decisive is the development of communities of practice, connected through networks at a global level, and leading to emergent change—in short, a grassroots movement for change.

Sign the Charter!

Thanks to Bianca Esquevel for taking this photo of our large copy of the Charter for Compassion at the "Where in the World is Compassion" interfaith panel discussion held at Oblate School of Theology on February 7th. The charter is printed on vinyl and we have plenty of sharpie markers that everyone can sign it. Don't forget to sign the charter online, too, at

12 Step Reading Group starts 14 February!

Starting February 14: 10-noon. Come join a 12 week study group on Living a Compassionate Life. Bring to consciousness and practice new ways of seeing and being that can become a dynamic positive force for change not only in ourselves but also in the world around us. We will be studying Karen Armstrong’s book, Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life. Each morning session will begin with a different contemplative practice and end with a reflection on a paradox. Facilitated by Rosalyn Collier, Karen Ball and Susan Ives of the peaceCENTER. At Oblate School of Theology. $85. To register or for more info, call 210-341-1366X212.

You don't have to come to every session. If you prefer to pay-as-you go, the cost is $10 per session. We'll hang around after the discussion to chat. Feel free to bring a brown bag lunch, or you will be offered the option of purchasing a box lunch at the start of each session. We'll have coffee, hot tea and water on site.  You can purchase a book, should you need one, at Viva Bookstore, 8407 Broadway St  San Antonio, TX 78209 (just inside Loop 410.)  We'll also have books on hand for purchase.