for Healing, Wholeness & Harmony
Review by Keith Walker
If you know Jo Stepaniak primarily as the author of vegan cookbooks, get ready to change your view of her. From now on, she will be have to be viewed as a serious philosopher. Compassionate Living for Healing, Wholeness & Harmony is serious philosophy, yet it is not heavy reading. Far from it, I found Compassionate Living to be very readable.
The subject matter of Compassionate Living is the philosophy that underlies the practice of veganism: compassion. In particular, it is about how to put compassion into practice in one's daily life, how to engage it, how to live it.
What impressed me about this book was how the author has taken a subject that is traditionally the domain of religious thought and translated it into secular language that is appropriate for people of any or no religion. You need not be a practitioner of any religion to understand and benefit from Compassionate Living, yet those with strong religious backgrounds will find that it enhances their beliefs. And, most significantly, it teaches us how to put those beliefs or values into practice.
The book starts out by examining the nature of compassion. Everyone has it to some degree, and most of us have experienced it from others. Yet somehow, we tend to limit our expression of our own compassion to those closest to us. The joy of giving and receiving compassion tells us that we should broaden our horizon of compassion to include those farther away from us, those unlike us, until we reach the eventual goal of feeling and expressing compassion for all creatures universally.
From there, Compassionate Living gets into the practicality of how to live compassion, beginning with the paradox of egotism. If we do not pay close attention to our motivation, it is easy to act compassionately because it feels good to ourselves to do so. In other words, we are just feeding our own egos. Jo teaches us that the way out of this paradox is to learn to live in the moment, and describes detailed meditations that help one to do so.
The most important part of the book consists of the chapters on engaged compassion, or how to live by the values of universal compassion. Jo divides the various aspects of compassionate living into four "portals": Sensitivity, comprising empathy, acceptance, forgiveness, humility, and selflessness; Ethics, comprising congruity, honesty, gratitude, generosity, and simplicity; Communication, comprising gentleness, thoughtfulness, listening, silence, and humour; and Serenity, comprising patience, composure, wonder, unity, and contentment. This is where the rubber hits the road on living by one's values, as she discusses each of these "gateways" in turn.
Jo's writing style illustrates the qualities she describes in the book. She guides the reader firmly but gently along the road to compassionate living. Compassionate Living for Healing, Wholeness & Harmony is a must-read for anyone who wants to go beyond practicing veganism as a diet to living it as a way of life.
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