Karen Armstrong's Guide to a Compassionate Life

Karen Armstrong's Guide to a Compassionate Life

December 23, 2020
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Karen Armstrong is a celebrated author specialising in religious affairs. As a former professed nun in a Roman Catholic convent, where she claims she suffered physical and psychological abuse, Armstrong sees the bigger picture behind all faiths and treats it with an open mind. I first stumbled across her in late 2016 when I was clearing out the top-shelf of my new university dorm. The previous resident had left some books there, and among them was Karen Armstrong’s Buddha.

Since then I have read more of her work, most recent of which was Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life which is an Alcoholics Anonymous-like twelve-step program for fighting our addiction to egotism. While most people agree that we need more compassion in our lives, the task can seem so daunting that we are often left stumped because we don’t know where to start. It is a deeply moving and thought-provoking book. Karen Armstrong’s writing is both eloquent and accessible, making it easy to understand and apply the principles she presents. The book guides the reader through the 12 steps to cultivate compassion in their lives, and I found it to be a valuable tool for personal growth and self-reflection. The book is not only for spiritual people, it’s for anyone looking to improve their relationships with others and themselves. It has changed my perspective on compassion and how to practice it in my daily life.

In this blog post, I am going to summarize these twelve steps. So, without further ado, let’s begin.

1. Learn About Compassion

Armstrong suggests that we first need to understand what compassion is and where it comes from. This step involves studying the history and practices of compassion in different cultures and religions, as well as examining our own emotions and experiences.

2. Look at Your Own World

In this step, we are encouraged to take a closer look at our own lives and the way we interact with the world around us. This includes examining our relationships, the way we treat others, and the impact of our actions on those around us.

3. Compassion for Yourself

This step focuses on self-compassion, which involves treating ourselves with kindness and understanding, and recognizing that we are all human and make mistakes.

4. Empathy

Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of others. Armstrong suggests that we should try to put ourselves in the shoes of others and try to understand their perspectives.

5. Mindfulness

Mindfulness is the practice of being present in the moment and paying attention to our thoughts and feelings. Armstrong suggests that mindfulness can help us to become more aware of our own emotions and the emotions of those around us, which can lead to greater compassion.

6. Action

Compassion is not just about feeling sorry for others; it requires action. Armstrong suggests that we should look for ways to help others and make a positive difference in their lives.

7. How Little We Know

This step reminds us that we can never truly know what is going on in the minds of others, and that we should be humble and open-minded when interacting with others.

8. How Should We Speak To One Another?

This step encourages us to think about the way we communicate with others and to be mindful of the impact of our words.

9. Concern for Everybody

This step reminds us that compassion should extend to all living beings and not just to those we consider to be “like us.”

10. Knowledge

This step encourages us to continue learning and expanding our understanding of the world and the people in it.

11. Recognition

Recognition is the ability to see the good in others and to acknowledge their contributions. Armstrong suggests that we should try to recognize the good in others and to express our appreciation for it.

12. Love Your Enemies

This final step is perhaps the most challenging, as it involves extending compassion and understanding to those who have hurt us or with whom we disagree. Armstrong suggests that this is the ultimate test of compassion, and that it is only by loving our enemies that we can truly become compassionate individuals.