The Beginning or the End?

This is the end. But also a new beginning. In this case, I must go back to the beginning in order to begin again. I hope you’ll come with me…

The Origin Story

Decision 2016 – a changing of the guard, an end of an era. What will become of American exceptionalism?

For now, we eat. Eric and I decided to go out for pizza at one of our new favorite neighborhood restaurants: The Pizza Place on Noriega, a Hip Spot for a Slice. After a long walk along San Francisco’s outstretched Ocean beach the sun began to set below the fog line and we figured we might as well turn in to watch the play by play with the locals, over a slice and (I had) a pint. It was our first year living in the City and we were just getting to know the outer sunset (aka. the avenues, the outerlands, etc). The Place was packed. The bar was already chalked full of people, so we settled at a table nearby in view of the TV screens.

Conversation pulsed around the long wooden counter. All eyes glued to the tube. Instead of sports commentators, news commentators relayed the tally state by state, minute by minute, second by second – the updates rolled in continuously.

I had a sinking feeling all day that day, a lump in my throat that would not go away; I felt like crying. Somehow I knew this was not going to go as predicted.

Hilary was favored to win, but my vote was not counted in her column. How many others were like me? A Bernie Sanders write-in, I was completely disenchanted by the “choice” or lack thereof. Honestly, how could she be the first female candidate for President? Hilary was not my idea of a just and noble woman; she was hardly a feminist. She was (in my view) a symbol of the past, of our failures, and simply a continuation of an out of touch political elite. Bernie was authentic, he genuinely cared. But in all his caring, it wasn’t enough.    

Something happened. The tone in the room suddenly changed. Murmurs grew to shock and surprise, as Florida turned bright red…and then Pennsylvania. {Forgive me. I consider myself pretty apolitical} so I turned to Eric to get a read on the situation.

“What does this mean?”

“She can’t win,” he says.

“Are you serious? What?”

“Yeah, Trump has done it. He won.”

In an instant that sinking pit I’d had in my stomach all day made sense.

There are moments in your life that you never forget, like where you were when 9-11 happened. This was one of those moments for me. I can still taste the pizza and my own sense of dread. We’d just elected the most unlikely of candidates in view of the most divisive political campaign in history. How did we get here? How could we possibly go from Obama to Trump and survive? At least the Cubs had won the World Series earlier that year (but perhaps their victory was an indication that something was off kilter). Why in the world did the Dems choose Hilary anyway? Did he really say “grab her by the pussy?” Is all sense of human decency now completely lost?

And that’s where I began...

In that very moment of soul-crushing agony and confusion, I decided to start this blog. In the face of what I considered (at the time) vile, complete, and utter incivility, I launched a call to kindness. Because, I naively thought… Random Acts of Kindness Kindle Authentic Trust – and maybe if we were more kind to each other, just maybe, we could recognize our shared humanity and move forward.

Looking back I realize, perhaps it was for my own sanity. But it was also to find my voice. And I realize that much of what I wrote then, and over the course of the year that I maintained the blog, still rings true. Especially the following:

From Love in Leadership, January 22, 2017

Many feel a loss of country, voting to make it “great again”. It seems that the love of country, a new fervent nationalism, has risen out of grief. But are we to love the country itself, or the ideals and freedoms for which it stands?

I fear the consequence of seeking American profit and prosperity first, country above all else.  What will be the cost? Can we fulfill our national interests and remain a servant leader seeking liberty and justice for all, in the world?

Now is a time to be vigilant, lest our love be misguided. If we retreat to our proud corners, we will surely become a threat to self and others.

I am not a nationalist, but I remain a faithful patriot, full of hope in our American ideals. I stand ready, in love, to serve my fellow citizens.

We are ALL in this together!


From Essential for Survival, December 19, 2017

More than half of Americans report having no one outside of their immediate family to share personal troubles and concerns. The forces of modern life are alienating to a troubling degree. Low social connection is worse for our health than smoking, obesity, and high blood pressure with the burden of isolation linked to increased risk of depression, disease, suicide, and worse. Often a factor in tragedies of mass proportion, social alienation breeds unpredictable consequence. And yet, we’d rather retreat to our solitary spaces than open up and be vulnerable with one another.

We’ve developed a dangerous aversion to all that is bad and uncomfortable.

Now here we are, more divided and more isolated than I ever imagined.

And my blog turned out to be a total rakkat (racket). Pun intended, I suppose?

What’s worse, I’ve realized: Kindness is NOT enough.

It’s not enough to smile; our smiles may be hidden behind masks. It’s not enough to open a door or give money to a stranger; everything is covered with germs. It’s not enough to leave a care package on your neighbor’s door; they just might turn you over to the police these days. (Seriously, I was almost fined for handing out Valentine’s last year). It’s not enough to embrace our differences in love; hugging is totally off limits and differences are only acknowledged to diminish, pitting us against one another. Justice becomes injustice with each new revolution, and the world keeps turning on itself.

Kindness cannot bring about reconciliation, only Grace can save us now.

& this is where I intend to begin again – with God’s grace.

In the near future, not right now, but hopefully soon, I plan to launch a redux blog. In part, it will be about my own self-care journey and how I’ve learned to love myself more despite my flaws. What writer doesn’t include something of themselves in their work? But mostly, it will be about caring for self and others in a way that acknowledges and calls to attention constantly, to remind us all every single day (we really do need constant reminding) of the incredible state of grace that we are living in right now. My hope is to multiply and extend what I know about this saving grace to others, while there’s still time.

“I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me – the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.” (Acts 20:24)

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)

“…make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt…” (Colossians 4:5-6)

I hope that by writing again I can also learn how to live more fully, presently, and at peace in God’s grace myself.

There’s just something about Grace that we can’t quite grasp as humans, not for long anyway. It is elusive. It’s as if we don’t believe, even though we say we do. We get glimpses, but they are fleeting. I’m convinced that if we could believe definitively and embody Grace completely, we would mount up like eagles and soar. If Grace were to fill every part of our lives like air fills the hollow bones of a bird in flight, we would sing for joy without end and without a care in the world.

Of course, there’s more to it than a simple freedom from worry, but we’ll explore that later. I hope to be able to learn and grow in our understanding of Grace together.

In the end, you can’t just “kill ‘em with kindness” – any such attempt gets a bit too self-righteous! Humility surpasses our sense of “morality” and what we really need is grace to understand our purpose and place in relation to God and to others in our complex, interconnected world. We’ve still gotta look on the bright side of life, that’s right.

I began this with a song and so I’ll end it with a song. In fact, singing may somehow be part of the redux edition. As a child of the 80’s, I’d say it’s (almost) time for me to fly!

Please stay tuned for part two. Skincare, Selfcare, and a State of Grace: Learning to Live Like a Bird in a Crazy Messed Up World.

In the meantime, if you haven’t had a chance, I hope you’ll take the time to peruse this site. There’s still some good stuff tucked away, including my documentation of the Compassion Cultivation Training that I took at Stanford. Take a look around. You might find something worthwhile. Share it if you care about it.

When I have my new site up, I’ll post it here: new site link coming soon

And I will keep up the old rakkat (racket, ha ha) for posterity’s sake.

Please do continue to be kind as you’re able and take good care out there.

Until next time, Kat

p.s. Skincare? Yep! Believe it or not, skincare has been a big part of my selfcare journey. If you’re feeling lost and frustrated with where you’re at right now, I can tell you from experience that adding more selfcare in your life is a great place to start clearing the cobwebs. Looking myself in the eye every night to do my routine made me realize the strength and beauty within. Check out my quick skin quiz to get started: katwalsch.myrandf.com/solution-tool and visit me at R+F Kat on FB or Instagram @rf.kat or reach out to rodanandfieldskat@gmail.com. Blessings!

Kindness First

How do we overcome the persistent feeling of isolation and loneliness in modern life? By first extending a hand, an ear, an olive branch…whatever we can muster…

“For small creatures such as we, the vastness is bearable only through love.”
Carl Sagan

Random acts of kindness kindle authentic trust! (#rakKat)

This week is random acts of kindness week culminating in random acts of kindness day on February 17th, a day first observed in New Zealand in 2004. Many claim the concept originated back in 1982 when writer Anne Herbert scribbled the words “practice random kindness and senseless acts of beauty” on a placemat in a Sausalito, CA restaurant, a phrase she coined in opposition to the well-known “random acts of violence and senseless acts of cruelty”.

In 1993 a book called Random Acts of Kindness was published and as a result, media coverage in the U.S. ensued. The Random Acts of Kindness Foundation was founded in 1995 to provide a resource for individuals and groups interested in spreading kindness in their communities. And RAK week was born…

cat and birdKINDNESS STARTS WITH ONE – We all struggle. We all stress. But thankfully, we also all love (aww). And we’ve all had that moment when we feel like maybe what we are doing doesn’t make a difference. But we’ve discovered the loophole to that dilemma! Being good to others. Kindness really does start with one—one person, one act, one place, one city, one county, and one movement with one goal in mind: To make our world a kinder place one act at a time. And, every single one of us can play a part in this mission.

This movement is a counterbalance to the loneliness and isolation in the world. Kindness connects us with one another and creates deeper meaning in our lives. This is what’s missing in our lives, this is what the #rakKat is all about! Let us spread joy and love this week, and every week, and every single where that you GO!

To get you started, here are a few of my favorite kindness action resources:

Kindness Action Communities

Research Centers

Podcasts, Books & Other Experts


The health benefits of kindness are undeniable!


So get out there and run a #rakKat!!!
Happy RAK Week everyone!

Essential for Survival

“If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten we belong to each other.”  – Mother  Theresa

More than half of Americans report having no one outside of their immediate family to share personal troubles and concerns. The forces of modern life are alienating to a troubling degree. Low social connection is worse for our health than smoking, obesity, and high blood pressure with the burden of isolation linked to increased risk of depression, disease, suicide, and worse. Often a factor in tragedies of mass proportion, social alienation breeds unpredictable consequence. And yet, we’d rather retreat to our solitary spaces than open up and be vulnerable with one another.

We’ve developed a dangerous aversion to all that is bad and uncomfortable. We’re taught to brush it under the rug, take it in stride, and suck it up; vulnerability is weakness and no one likes a complainer! We’ve built impenetrable fortresses of “the good life” and learned to hide behind a smile.

In refusing to acknowledge what ails us, we’ve turned our back on life itself and what it means to be human, as messy as it is. Denial of suffering is a rejection of life.

Compassion is the remedy, and essential for our continued survival.

We are wired to connect. Our very biology is designed to facilitate bonds of social connection and cooperation, a survival of the kindest and most collaborative vs a survival of the fittest. Let’s embrace one another, the good, the so-called bad, and everything in befeature-MOSS haiga -position 1tween.

There is a real value in suffering.

“…suffering is a privilege, it moves us toward thinking about essential things and shakes us out of shortsighted complacency” (click the link above to read an incredibly moving NY Times opinion piece on the topic by Pico Iyer).

My weeks in Compassion Cultivation Training at Stanford, have inspired me to be with the sin of our suffering humanity, to accept it in curiosity instead of rushing to fix, heal, or simply turn away in disgust. Or at least try!

“I am larger and better than I thought. I did not think I held so much goodness.” – Walt Whitman

By helping others we help ourselves and we begin to realize there is no such thing as “compassion fatigue.” By connecting with others, and training the mind and the heart to cultivate compassion it can be drawn up as an endless resource.

In just 8-weeks, I’m no expert. But I am encouraged to continue. My intention in taking the course was to slow down, be less self-concerned and more present, be a better spouse – attuned to the true needs rather than the needs as I see them, and to be a source of positivity and support for others. It will take a full life’s journey to reach these aspirations. So for you, and for me, here are a few final tips to keep us growing together in compassion…

  • Work to establish a regular routine and time to meditate or reflect daily.
  • Begin with YOU – start with self-compassion, treat YOU like a friend, remember and savor what you appreciate about yourself.
  • Set your intention for the day in the morning and check-in with yourself at night before bed. Keep a gratitude journal!
  • Spend time learning more about compassion and altruism.
  • Respond to the people and circumstances in your life with an open heart and attitude of compassion.
  • Take note when you witness acts of kindness and compassion. Keep a kindness log!
  • Connect with a friend or community who shares your interest.
  • Remember that every effort is an affirmation in the right direction; let go of expectation and just practice.


Taking It In

And, for me…this is where it all fell apart…it’s taken a while to process and find my voice to share what came next. In Compassion Cultivation Training (CCT) week seven we learned about Tonglen meditation.

What is Tonglen? It is the Tibetan word for giving and taking. Practiced for centuries exclusively in Tibet, it’s been widely known in the West for less than a decade. The idea (simplified) is to reduce suffering in the world, by taking it in (caution! but NOT taking it on) and then transforming it through your own inner well of limitless compassion and love. The transformation is highly visual and takes place in the rhythm of the breath. The suffering of self and others is absorbed slowly with the deliberate in-breath (perhaps imagined and inhaled as a dark cloud), and then, just as light immediately cancels out the darkness, the warmth of your heart (perhaps as a golden beam of light or burst of flowers) relieves the suffering you took in with an equally deliberate out-breath.

tonglen 3
Inhale suffering, exhale love and compassion. Simple, right? Are you picking up on my sarcasm?

Before you can effectively practice Tonglen, you have to be adept at tapping into the well of compassion inside yourself. But where does this limitless well of love and compassion come from?

And that is why I stopped. I wasn’t fully on board with the concept. And I realized that I’m all too often stuck in the empathy trap. The place where you’re taking on, and taking on wholly and completely (Warning! Warning!), then walking straight off the cliff with the very person you’re trying to help. That’s not helpful and may even be harmful to YOU, AND those around you! Sigh…

Do you prioritize others’ feelings over your own? If so, you might be in this mean little trap with me.

“Overly empathic people may even lose the ability to know what they want or need. They may have a diminished ability to make decisions in their own best interest, experience physical and psychological exhaustion from deflecting their own feelings, and may lack internal resources to give their best to key people in their life. What’s more, unending empathy creates vulnerability to gas-lighting, in which another person negates your own reality to assert his or hers…Those who regularly prioritize the feelings of others above their own needs often experience generalized anxiety or low-level depression. They may describe a feeling of emptiness or alienation, or dwell incessantly on situations from the perspective of another.”
– Robin Stern & Diana Divecha, July 7, 2015 Greater Good Magazine

And so, the idea of Tonglen was not appealing. But I’m not alone, many people respond similarly upon introduction to the practice. They ask, how can I possibly take in and transform what already seems so overwhelming?

Then, an epiphany! I began to connect this foreign practice to the roots of my own faith.

I’m a Christian. I don’t profess it openly because I don’t subscribe to interpretations presented by “organized” religion, I don’t go to church, I happen to admire atheists like Sam Harris and Robert Sapolsky, I love science, and quite honestly, I’m ashamed of what most people do in the name of Christ.

But when I began to think of Tonglen as Jesus’ calling to be a light unto the world, I began to imagine myself drawing on the light of His suffering and forgiveness. I felt an opening of my own heart toward the possibility of freedom from the burden of empathy, the burden of feeling too much.

Empathic distress is real, but with faith, there is an endless well of love and compassion that never runs dry, a light capable of transforming the darkness.

In CCT we graduated through studies and practices of loving-kindness and compassion for self, others, strangers, and beyond. I’m reminded of a book I read in an undergraduate religious studies class, Living Buddha, Living Christ by Thich Nhat Hanh, an elegant study of the overlapping teachings of Buddha and Christ. This was the beginning of a personal spiritual journey. In college, I moved from a naive stance of reared Christianity to becoming a rebel skeptic and nearly nihilist, then later on to adopt a sort of a new age version of Christianity, and now, to professing my own authentic faith.

Christ is within. He is the infinite source of light to transform our suffering. The original followers of Christ were called followers of The Way. Unfortunately, the modern church has lost the way and the truth of Christ and Western Buddhist philosophy has risen up to take its place providing comfort in a stress-ridden world. I relate to the Buddhist idea that suffering is the base of our human experience. But taking it a step further, I know that the burden of sin is the source of our suffering separating us from the divine. This separation is the ultimate suffering.

Personally, I bear the guilt of being silent about my faith. As they say, we never really change, we only, perhaps slowly, become more of what we are. Pay attention to the moments of resistance in your life and what they may be telling you. For me, my Christian faith, which includes contemplative practice, is the source of a boundless compassion through Christ.

god of comfort

Widening the Circle

“A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to enhance all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”
— Albert Einstein

The problem is: if we perceive the universe to be an unfriendly place, we tend to also see unfriendly people in it. The media that dominates our culture reinforces the notion that all that is bad. It preys on sensationalism elevating emotions of fear and alarm desensitizing us over time. Our image of a depraved world, accurate or not, causes us to retreat to the small circles that we know and trust.

So how do we find and extend compassion to others, let along strangers, in a world filled with widespread fear, anger, and hate?

Through the lived experience of our own suffering.

In Compassion Cultivation Training at Stanford, we learned first about the suffering that we experience in the cycle of our own self-concern.

Suffering is anything that is other than that which we want it to be and the root of suffering is our resulting psychological distress. We escalate it through habitual mental gymnastics, wishful thinking, woulda, coulda, shoulda thinking, and over analysis. By practicing self-compassion, we can shut down our default mode of blame, self-pity, and judgment.

Then we learned how to treat the self as a friend, expressing support and loving kindness.

Next we moved beyond the self toward a broader concern for others and the concept of common humanity – that “just like me” others wish to be happy and free from suffering.

In this way, our own suffering becomes the gateway to widen the circle of compassion for others. The suffering that we see and experience in the world can be a catalyst to do something meaningful about it.

Compassion is an understanding that suffering is the base of what it is to be human. It provides us an ability to engage with difficult situations as they are and respond with A Fearless Heart.

In a moment of suffering how might we gain the greatest peace? At times a fierceness is needed to combat the impacts of dehumanization. When we forget our common humanity, conflict and violence find space to emerge.

Compassion looks beneath the action to the actual person, acknowledging our humanity without endorsing bad behavior. Compassion does not condone immoral behavior. It is not blanket forgiveness. Nor does it always lead to reconciliation. It is not an unconditional acceptance or approval. It is simply an ability to be with the TRUTH of suffering without turning away.

Compassion brings our shared humanity back into view. Whether realized or not, there is a universal responsibility in our interconnectedness. Whatever happens to one happens to others. By living equally for ourselves and others we can find a more lasting joy and peace.

Finding Our Common Humanity

you are not the only asshole

So, the truth is…you’re not the only asshole. We’re all human! And we have a terrible tendency to make snap judgments. But we can’t help it? It’s ingrained in our instinctive nature toward self-protection.

Whether we realize it or not, we’re always asking: are you friend or foe?

Susan Fiske, renowned social psychologist most known for her work on stereotypes and prejudice, identified two universal dimensions are unconsciously used to evaluate others – warmth and competence. These simple factors lead us to move toward or turn away, sometimes in complete disgust, from others. Those who are deemed incompetent, without the necessary skills or abilities, AND cold or unfriendly (i.e. the homeless, drug addicts, mentally ill, etc) are placed into the dangerous lower left quadrant leading to dehumanization. We turn a blind eye to these people seeing them as “other than” rather than human.

universal origins of empathy

We’re all guilty of passing-by to preserve our limited energy, feeling as if what we do doesn’t really matter. Research on the bystander effect, shows we’re less likely to respond to those we perceive to be different than us.

Engaging in difficult situations is risky and exhausting. If we were to recognize every sorrow of daily life, we’d end up in an emotional tizzy? That’s because empathy activates the same regions in the brain as those associated with pain.

Dr. Giacomo Rizzolatti, Italian neurophysiologist and professor, discovered mirror neurons that fire both when acting and observing an action, proving that witnessing something can be very much the same as experiencing it directly. By empathizing too deeply we run the risk of falling right off the cliff with the very person we’re trying to help in a state of empathic distress (a heightened emotional state felt in response to the suffering of another). Too much empathy is harmful to your health!

Good news: mirror neurons apply not just to empathy, but also to compassion. And there’s a distinctly beneficial difference between them. While empathy is linked to pain centers in the brain, compassion lights up the same areas as love (the Compassionate vs Empathetic Brain).

Compassion is the remedy to empathic distress. It enables us to see others who appear different and embrace suffering even when suffering is all there is and nothing can be done to “fix”, “change”, or “help” the situation.

This week in Compassion Cultivation Training at Stanford we’re learning to cultivate a broader sense of compassion for strangers and for the difficult people in our lives. We’re “re-humanizing” those we dismiss and those who disappoint by acknowledging that “just like me” this person wishes to be happy and free from suffering.

king network.jpg

In a TED talk religious scholar and author, Karen Armstrong, calls for a return to the Golden Rule. Her Charter for Compassion asks that we bring the spirit of vulnerability and humility to our shared experience. Here are a few techniques to help in bringing our interconnectedness and common humanity back into view:

  • Look for opportunities to appreciate and thank someone you may have overlooked.
  • Look for opportunities to reinterpret your reaction to a disappointing situation.
  • Just listen!
  • Go further and employ the practice of radical listening as coined by, Marshall Rosenberg, psychologist, author, teacher and, founder of the Center for Nonviolent Communication.
  • Look for the human in everything by observing all parts of day-to-day routines – from the barista to the coffee beans!
  • Stay curious and open-hearted.
  • Challenging stereotypes and seek to discover commonality.
  • Open up and be willing to be vulnerable yourself!
  • Remember “just like me…” all people wish to be happy and free from suffering.

In all things, give it your best to do unto others…in order that we may find peace.

The Body Knows

Close your eyes, take a few deep breaths, and think of a friend or loved one. Imagine a pleasant time or experience that you shared with this person. Take a minute to sense how it feels to recall this memory. Where does it manifest across your body – in your heart, in a tingling sensation, a glow of warmth?

Scientists are mapping the physical signatures of various human emotions – how love vs anger feels in the body.


What manifests in the senses, often without our conscious awareness, can profoundly influence our actions. Anger is like a hot coal; when you pick it up, you are the first to get burned. We are the most immediate and direct recipients of our emotions, thoughts, and mental states.

Indeed thoughts and emotions give rise to action without intention, forming habitual aspects of our personalities that can become deeply ingrained. I’m reminded of a movie years ago called, What the Bleep Do We Know, perhaps the inspiration for a more recent animated film Inside Out presenting many of the same concepts: that chemical reactions in the body triggered by emotions are intensely powerful.

Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, Dutch psychiatrist and author of The Body Keeps the Score is well-known for his work in the area of post-traumatic stress. He gained acceptance for the diagnosis in the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) by demonstrating how trauma lives in the body and how it must be coaxed out in similarly tangible and physical ways in order for healing to begin.

Gavin de Becker, the author of the Gift of Fear and world expert on security and violence, tells listeners on the Waking Up podcast with Sam Harris, that intuition is your greatest strength in assessing danger. If you attend to your body, you’ll recognize how fear feels and be ready to take action. Go with your gut!

Stanford professor and MacArthur genius awardee, Robert Sapolsky changed the way we think about stress by comparing the health of animals in wild to that of humans in modern day life.

The flood of negative emotions we experience constantly degrade our immune systems and increase the risk of disease. We literally make ourselves sick with worry, anger, and fear.

It’s not all bad: Dacher Keltner, psychologist and founder of the Greater Good Science Center, describes a compassion instinct – how compassion evolved throughout our evolution promoting cooperation and social cohesion.

Compassion stimulates real physiological changes in the autonomic nervous system – a bundle of nerves, glands, and organs in the body – the same bundle that unconsciously regulates heart rate, digestion, and other bodily functions and controls our fight-or-flight response. Compassion releases oxytocin, a reward that motivates us to be even more compassionate. Recent research examined couples’ physiological states and found kindness to be the glue in marital relationships!

In Compassion Cultivation Training Week-2 we’re exploring the palpable sensations of kindness and compassion by noticing when kindness shows up in day-to-day life and how it feels. Also by noticing its opposites – like anger and disgust – and how they feel as well.

This week’s challenge is to cultivate an awareness of sensory experience, without judging. To be present with emotions as they come rejecting the belief that bad is wrong.

Denying the difficult is akin to abandoning life. In some cases, as Gavin de Becker shows, such denial may even increase the risk of threat and harm.

The skill of listening, feeling, sensing and fully recognizing ‘what is’ and ‘what isn’t’ opens a path to be fully present and engaged with all that life brings without being overwhelmed.

We can’t make ourselves BE compassionate, we need only to FEEL that we ARE and then get out of the way.

The Mind at the Heart

Stop! What’s going through your mind right now? Hold that thought. Wait, what was that again? Not surprisingly, our minds wander 47% of our waking hours.

mind wanderingI don’t know about you, but mine is always racing – occupied with a never-ending to-do list, searching for ways to optimize, to do MORE, scanning news headlines, making sure no e-mail is left unread, no social media like or comment is left unnoticed, always on hyper-drive, on high alert to respond to my family, my friends, my work, or the littlest of environmental stimulus to come my way.

It’s impossible to be ON all the time, yet we take pride in responsiveness, cradling our devices before bed and grabbing them at first light to start again.

We know this level of activity and attachment is unhealthy. Study after study shows that time spent in front of a screen leads to increased rates of depression, especially in teens with links to higher suicide rates. It turns out Facebook may make us feel less connected, not more. Multi-tasking actually decreases productivity. Busyness isn’t good for business. A wandering mind is an unhappy mind. And mental distraction leads to rudeness, accidents, and worse. Bottom line: it’s impossible to be kind to ourselves, let alone others with a buzz of constant commotion draining our energy and attention.

How to stop the madness?

Just last week I attended the first in an 8-week series aimed at cultivating compassion through Stanford’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education (C-CARE). The Compassion Cultivation Training (CCT) program, established in part by his Holiness the Dalai Lama, increases compassion through meditation practices found in Tibetan Buddhism. The approach consists of six steps:

  1. Settling the mind and training it to focus
  2. Establishing compassion for a loved one
  3. Establishing compassion for oneself
  4. Establishing the basis for compassion toward others through the concept of our common humanity and interconnectedness
  5. Expanding compassion towards others
  6. Developing an ‘active’ compassion practice which involves meditation

dalai lama quoteCompassion begins with an awareness of suffering – in self and other. We can’t possibly begin to relate and respond to alleviate pain and distress without first understanding it, and ourselves. In this way, the mind is at the heart of our ability to be compassionate. And it can be trained!

So far I’ve bombed the homework for week-1: meditate for 15 minutes per day. My first attempt, I succeeded in avoiding the nagging urge to do ‘things’ for a massive 5 minutes, what felt like an eternity. My second attempt, after counting breaths up to 120, ended with an erratic movement of the kind one makes just before falling asleep. My third, well…

Needless to say, I need more practice! I’m the worst at slowing down. I live to DO and so much of my self-worth and esteem is based on how much I’m able to accomplish. It’s not just me, America is obsessed with winning; and our achievement mindset teaches that success comes at the expense of others. I win; you lose.

Enough already, I’m over it! Real winning is achieved in earning respect by service to others. We win!

I’m excited to see what the next seven weeks have to offer. Will I succeed in my attempts to meditate? Can C-CARE’s CCT approach help me be kinder and gentler to myself, but also, more compassionate, generous, and able to serve as a source of support for others? I certainly hope so!

The benefits of mindfulness and meditation are many – from enhancing attention and increasing performance, to reducing stress and boosting immune function.  The contemplative path also holds enormous potential to bring us back to our heart’s center. A calming of the mind changes the way we understand and relate to the world, allowing compassion to emerge.

The Compassion Contagion

Viruses are made up of core genetic material, DNA or RNA – the very same elements that make us human. They naturally invade host cells, getting inside and using the cells own machinery to replicate. Viruses exist to reproduce!

But what if this replication process applied to kindness? Imagine that an act of kindness witnessed by another could get inside that person, warm a heart, and inspire others to act in kindness as well. What if a compassion contagion grew around the world spreading loving-kindness through individual supportive acts and intentions?


It can, and it does! I just finished a 6-week online course through Stanford Continuing Studies with Kelly McGonigal on the Science of Compassion – covering everything from the definition of compassion itself to what happens when it goes wrong, compassion fatigue. The most inspiring part, to this unabashed optimist, was the part where we learned that doing good really does DO GOOD!

A large and growing body of research demonstrates that giving compassion leads to greater well-being for the giver, receiver, and ALSO for the casual observer! One study found that people who volunteer more frequently are both healthier and happier than those who do not. A number have shown how spending money on others or giving to charity vs. spending on oneself yields improved measures – decreased blood pressure, reduced anxiety, and greater connectedness. Yet another illustrated how witnessing a person perform a good deed elicits helping behavior in the observer.

The course gave a cursory understanding of how compassion manifests – in relationships, in our own bodies, and how to cultivate it and optimize its potential for healing in life.

Before we go any further, a quick definition: COMPASSION literally means to suffer with, it is…

  1. An awareness and recognition of suffering
  2. A feeling of concern for and connection to the one who is suffering
  3. A desire to relieve that suffering
  4. AND a willingness to respond

Compassion changes your perspective! When you activate your own intention to alleviate suffering, you change the way you see the world and your role in it – you now have something to offer! Experts coin this the helper’s high: that we are happier when we are less concerned about our own happiness. Another phenomenon is called moral elevation: an emotional state that individuals experience after seeing or hearing about a virtuous act.

The more we accept and reach out to greet suffering with compassion, the more receptive we’ll become to the compassion that is available in the world around us. In this way, compassion starts with the self, with an individual awareness and acceptance. Dr. Kristin Neff, a pioneer in self-compassion, urges us to give to ourselves the same kindness and support that we give to our closest family and friends. At her Center for Mindful Self-Compassion you can take a test to gauge your level of self-compassion. We are all too often far too unkind to ourselves.

As we forgive and accept our struggles, and offer support to others, support becomes available in a virtuous cycle where compassion provides strength, it can be a source of willpower. And where, as individuals, we can truly be a source of the good in the world that we seek!

Compassion motivates us to connect with others and help. It boosts immunity, releases stress, and reduces prejudice. It supports balance and resilience. In holding compassion, we begin to recognize that pain and suffering are part of the human experience, which allows us to share in a common humanity – a place where like me, all others desire happiness and freedom from suffering.

In A Fearless Heart, Dr. Thupten Jinpa recommends setting a daily compassionate intention, by asking:

  1. What is it that I value deeply
  2. What in the depths of my heart, do I wish for myself, for my loved ones, and for the world?

With this frame of mind, we enter a frenetic world with the intention of spreading joy and love, where positive actions can inspire and infect others to act in compassionate ways. Let’s start a compassion contagion in order  to interrupt anxiety and bring greater connection and collective purpose to life!

Truth is?

The weeks’ calamities began with an innocent white lie out of fear of confrontation. Not wanting to address the situation, I decided to wait and see…only just to see if it would resolve on its own. Days turned into weeks, a minor discomfort into personal agony, digressing further and farther from the desired outcome.

Does this story sound familiar? We’ve all been there!

Truth is…dishonesty is a slippery slope and according to neuroscience the more we lie the easier it gets. Too often, and increasingly, we are willing to set aside the truth to pacify the moment, avoid confrontation, or protect someone’s feelings.

Because what is true anyway?truth4

Modern society has come to celebrate a relative view of it – you have a truth, I have a truth, who’s to argue, who’s to say? The popular motto “live your truth” reinforces this view. But to what end? What happens when your truth comes into conflict with my truth? We are far too easily offended when another’s view doesn’t conform to our own.

Fixated on personal realism, truth then becomes a will to power. If I claim to have the truth and tell others who then believe my truth, I WIN the day. The more a false statement is heard the truer it begins to sound – this is called the illusory truth effect. And cognitively, the brain starts to give up when discerning truth from lies becomes too difficult. As a result, alternative facts become reality.

Truth is you are born and then you die with the space between amounting to struggle. Truth is…life is suffering. To seek truth is to overcome suffering as best we can; pursuing that which is honorable, just, and pure toward the best possible outcome – not just for me, but for you, for others, and for the world.

We must admit there are a vast amount of things that we know nothing about. Our individual grasp of the truth is limited by our fragmented knowledge. On a personal level, we believe something to be true, if it corresponds to what we observe in the world. Yet our observations are based on a narrow band of personal life experiences. There are truths of science and the known universe, but even these truths are constantly being challenged and tested as new information comes to light.

Truth is the light. It is the end of inquiry; the place where knowledge and beliefs converge. It is revealed through the seeking of it and the only way we can ever hope to glimpse the truth is through a willingness to share honestly and openly without offense.

Truth is elusive, but that does not mean we should abandon it. The only way to reclaim it is to adopt the values of honesty and integrity in our daily lives.

The micro-lies we tell ourselves and others, lead us farther from the truth. The worst thing you can do is lie to someone. Sometimes it’s better to be an asshole than to always sugar coat things.

There’s also danger in being too empathetic! Feeling others’ stressors can intensify the stress. And in that moment of shared stress, we are likely to say or do what’s needed to alleviate it, even if it’s dishonest.

Compassion doesn’t always lead to truth.
But truth opens a space for a deeper understanding and compassion to emerge.

Compassionate truth, a kind radical candor (to care personally, and challenge directly) – at work, at home, in our communities – is needed to get beyond the veneer of polite society and protect us from the assault of deceit.

By courageously listening and sharing honestly, in this space, we have the power to expand one another’s perspectives in order to gain a more complete truth of the situation and discover higher truths together.