for Healing, Wholeness & Harmony
Changing the World, One Compassionate Act At a Time
Review by Beth Geisler
In her most recent book, local author Jo Stepaniak writes: “In [tragic] instances, we are more apt to realign our priorities because trauma is one of the few times they naturally fall into place.”
If you are now grappling with the question of how to live so that you contribute to a more harmonious world, an able teacher has just appeared.
Jo describes a possibility open to all of us in Compassionate Living for Healing, Wholeness & Harmony. In this, the tenth volume she has penned, she points out that compassion comes to us all as our birthright and can be engaged each day through the choices we make. Only engaged compassion, as opposed to passive empathy, can create the change you want to see in the world and relieve suffering — your own and other’s. The key is what you do.
The motto of engaged compassion is “Do the most good and the least harm.” The message is that what you do as an individual does matter if you do it with awareness and the intention to do good.
The genius of this book comes from its aerial view; that is, as a long-time student and practitioner of compassion, Jo is able to map out its components. The reader is given many recognizable landmarks: simple truths we can verify from our own experiences. We trust she is taking us in the right direction.
“Compassion is an affair of the heart. Therefore, only through entreating the heart and our inner wisdom can we instill the changes we wish to see for ourselves and our world.”
– Jo Stepaniak
For example, she points out that if you have any doubt about the importance of compassion, you need only think about a time in your life when you needed it and found it wasn’t there.
Through her always perceptive words, the path she creates for us is navigable, the information accessible. Change is not easy, of course, and that’s the first step in becoming compassionate: beginning with self-directed love (that is, give yourself a break!), so that you may heal yourself and clear the way to extending your compassion to others.
Already feeling compassionate? Think, then, about whether you may wear “cultural blinders.” Do you extend your compassion only to certain others? Jo examines our willingness to offer compassion to ourselves, other people, companion and other animals, and the Earth.
Beautifully, she states: “Universal compassion includes compassion for all living beings, human and nonhuman, near or far, alike or different … All life has meaning and value unto itself and a purpose and destiny independent of ours, even if we don’t understand or appreciate it.”
“All living beings,” she writes, “human and nonhuman, hunger for sustenance, strive to avoid harm, tire with exertion, seek to be comfortable, and passionately attempt to stay alive. We breathe the same air, drink the same water, and live beneath the same vast sky. Each of us feels pain, and each will die. Each will leave its mark on the world in some unique way.”
Her gentle guidance helps you consider what mark you will leave, and understand your motives for the actions (including seemingly compassionate actions) you choose — for selfish rewards, righteousness, or something greater?
She provides an exercise to help you practice compassion, to consciously wear a smile and perceive how others react to you throughout the day.
By showing the way to compassionate living, she also points out how to reduce the stress and seemingly incessant inner turmoil of modern life. This happens primarily in the second half of the book, where she thoroughly examines the gateways to engaged compassion and their portals: Sensitivity (empathy, acceptance, forgiveness, humility, selflessness); Ethics (congruity, honesty, gratitude, generosity, simplicity); Communication (gentleness, thoughtfulness, listening, silence, humor); and Serenity (patience, composure, wonder, unity, contentment). I found the section on reflective listening under the Communication heading especially valuable, but I resonated with all of this insightful information.
In fact, I loved this well-designed, 171-page book and am grateful for the invaluable collection of wisdom found here. I’ve been sampling the many promises and challenges of compassionate life for some time now, and I found myself nodding and feeling excited when Jo’s words validated my experience, as they invariably did, and enhanced my understanding of the path ahead. I am thinking of this book as the most generous gift I can offer during the upcoming giving season.
Indeed, what a wonderful gift this book would be for those we love and for ourselves as well, if we consider Jo’s theory about critical mass. That is, you never know when the scales will tip in favor of compassion. Each person who practices engaged compassion brings us closer to a healthy, whole, harmonious world.
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