Reviewed by Judith Favor
“Love—even for myself is hard,” wrote Kim in Viewpoint (FJ Mar. 2016) because “loving yourself meant you were arrogant or prideful, and that if you love yourself the way you are now, you’ve given up and won’t be able to improve yourself or grow.”
Friends who share Kim’s challenge will find strength, humor, and guidance in Practicing Compassion by Frank Rogers Jr., professor at Claremont School of Theology; he offers clear, simple guidelines for first loving ourselves, then loving others. His writing is as lively as a mountain stream; he explains complex ideas in vivid language and tells memorable stories. Practicing Compassion isn’t about religion, yet faith and practice infuse every page, a reminder that compassion is a central theme in all world religions.
Rogers, a seasoned spiritual guide, views compassion as a unifier, a readily available force of good, first toward ourselves then toward difficult relationships. Co-director of the Center for Engaged Compassion, he writes, “Compassion . . . revives the pulse of one depleted by heartbreak and suffering . . . sustains the pulse of interior freedom . . . and resuscitates the pulse of the person deadened by brutality, reuniting him or her once more with the human community. Compassion is the heartbeat that restores life.” His PULSE acronym activates caring thoughts and healing acts: paying attention; understanding empathetically; loving with connection; sensing the sacredness; and embodying new life.
The author’s memorable FLAG queries prompt us to take another’s pulse by attending to the deeper suffering beneath words or actions we find upsetting:
Fear: What might be his or her deepest fear?
Longing: What might he or she long for?
Aching: What persistent or aching wounds may he or she be carrying?
Gifts: What gifts may he or she possess, gifts now being frustrated or denied?
Southern California Quarterly’s Silent Retreat Committee chose Practicing Compassion as a guiding text for the nineteenth annual Labor Day retreat. We wonder: could attention to PULSEs and FLAGs during meeting for worship increase kindness among Friends? Quakers don’t always act lovingly; most of us live complex lives with various types of pressure and demands on our time and energy. Using compassion as a practice is powerful. In holding a space for its practice, we can both grow stronger in our compassionate orientation toward ourselves, and offer a compassionate space to everyone around us.
In this reviewer’s experience, Practicing Compassion enriches personal lives, sweetens relationships, and deepens Quaker communities. Give yourself the gift of reading it. Give copies to youth. Start a discussion or practice group in your meeting. This book and its author are enduring gifts to Friends of all ages.