The compassion salon*

Compassion salon?
Where imagination and … ?
Reality meet.


My post Marketing compassion is a first reflection following Edinburgh’s first Compassion Salon – the heart-child of Marti Balaam, Fellow in Medical Teaching at the University of Edinburgh.

Two things captured my attention: the power of co-created compassionate spaces setting our imaginations free.

A salon may refer to both a meeting space and the people inhabiting a space, e.g., writers or painters. Both feel right when describing the salon’s co-created space, first of all carefully prepared by Marti and Steel Coulson Tap owner Glen Dawkins to welcome and evoke a positive response from us, in turn providing a listening space for Mary Gunn to tell her story about twice facing cancer and being rescued by compassion,** who, together with her interview host Harriet Harris, then drew us into the space of her story.

Mary shared how, on the return of her cancer, she met with Choje Lama Yeshe Losal Rinpoche. His response to Mary’s fear at her cancer’s return at first sight appears uncompassionate, as he told her about his encounter with western desserts and the diabetes that followed: “Body falling apart,” he said, “bad time to identify with body.”

To tame ourselves is the only way
we can change and improve the world.*

(Choje Lama Yeshe Losal Rinpoche)

Mary understood Lama Yeshe was providing her with a different way of looking at her life, one that made it possible to live in the world as it is, to be her true, most honest self, and she reflected “the fear went and the laughter came.” It felt as though they had created a space together for compassion to be present, reminding me of how imagination can be one of the first casualties of fear.

It put me in mind of the poet Wallace Stevens’ reflections on the relationship between the pressure of reality and the power of imagination. Writing not long after the conclusion of the Second World War, Stevens is only too aware of the pressure of reality on societies around the globe and sees the need for this to be met with imagination. Imagination does not hide reality, nor does reality overpower imagination, but in their interaction a new reality is created.^

The salon was inviting me to be open in mind to the other, in heart to the other and in action to the other.

These three basic attitudes of compassion exist in each of us and it is in the individual that we find the first space for compassion and imagination to be held and to be given.

May I invite you to the next salon on the 4th February.

(*”The purpose of this literary salon/speakeasy is to create a community around new and established authors and poets whose work relates to compassion and wellbeing. The intention is that it will be a place for people to connect, inspire and support using books and prose as a means through which to consider the various aspects of human existence in an increasingly fragmented and challenging global community. This is a compassionate initiative to facilitate and strengthen community and belonging. The salon I hope will celebrate, inspire and cultivate creativity, innovation, self-compassion and individual and societal wellness.” (Marti Balaam)
(**See Mary Gunn’s Well.)
(^See Wallace Stevens’ The Necessary Angel.)

Fastfastfastfastfastfastfast s l o w

These days the social system and the social ideals and also the physical environment is changing so fast that there is no opportunity for a constellation, for a crystalisation, to develop.*
(Joseph Campbell)

I’ve mentioned before Joseph Campbell’s thinking about how the speed of modern life is making it difficult to create our myths for today – the main two being a personal and a social myth.

We need some tools.

These are Alex McManus‘ future protocols with some colouring in from me. They help us to slow down because we can’t create our stories and make our contributions in a hurry.

Reflection: to slow down and notice more;
Apprehension to become one to the possible;
Imagination to begin playing with possibility;
Synchronisation to make the possibility personal to us and allow it to change us;
Design to begin making the future tangible, including prototypes;
Creation to bring the future into being.

(*From Joseph Campbell’s The Hero’s Journey.)

Thank goodness we’re not perfect

All work, and all life exist within an imperfect space. […] So – you get to where you can, as best you can, with less than you need. […] Too much choice makes you lazy. Too many options freeze the brain. […] Imperfect is a superpower if you know how to use it.*
(David Wolstencroft)

Perhaps you’re waiting until you have enough of something before you begin. Enough time, enough talent, enough permission, enough resources.

There’ll never be enough for perfect, but you already have enough to begin. Then the magic happens.

Identify your talents and begin.

(*David Wolstencroft, from gapingvoid’s Imperfect is a superpower.)

Welcome to the adventure

The intrinsic self is not a genetically programmed entity that simply unfolds with time. […] It is instead a set of potentials, interests, capabilities that interact with the world, each affecting the other.*
(Edward Deci)

When you grow up and have children of your own do please remember something important: a stodgy parent is no fun at all. What a child wants and desires is a parent who is SPARKY.**
(Roald Dahl)

Yesterday, Christine and I became grandparents with the birth of our grandson Archie. So I particularly noticed the opening two quotes from past journaling this morning.

The first reminds me that we are not a zip file to be opened, we are Human Becomings capable of growing through our interactions with our environments and changing those environments through our preferred superpowers.

The second is Roald Dahl’s wonderful way of saying it (I waited until I was 58 years old before reading Danny the Champion of the World – you don’t have to): live a SPARKY life. I’m trying to be a sparkier parent; now I get the chance to be a sparky grandparent.

I offer a simple blessing for Archie:

May you discover the millions
Of years of memories within you,
Making your new life possible,
Filling you with awe and wonder.

And may you be awake to
Your curiosity, becoming an explorer,
Your passion, becoming a lover,
Your goodness, becoming one who gives.

(*From Edward Deci’s Why We Do What We Do.)
(**From Roald Dahl’s Danny the Champion of the World.)

The hardest work

The self is always under construction.*
(Harriet Lerner)

Define the problem, not the solution.**
(Peter Diamandis and Steve Kotler)

There’s a gap between who you are and who you can be. You often sense this. This is to be human; you cannot undo it:

And the mythological images always pointing toward transcendence and giving you the sense of riding on this mystery.^

We want to fill the gap but often do some more off-the-shelf solution, covering up the problem for a while, but eventually the gap reappears.

Edgar Schein, in considering his work with different organisations, adds detail to why we need to first define the problem:

I had to develop two kinds of empathy. Empathy One is to listen for and be curious about the actual situation or problem that the client is describing. Empathy Two is to listen for and be curious about what is really bothering the speaker as she is explaining the problem or situation.^^

This is also true for the individual. What we think is the issue is not necessarily the prime one:

The protagonist looks for every comfortable way to solve the problem. By the climax, he learns what it’s really going to take to solve the problem.*^

There will always be this gap in your life.

You need to know this, but it is good news. As you get to grips with the problems of being you, then finding the best rather than the handiest solutions, you will find the horizon has also shifted because who you can be is not fixed unless you choose it to be. We are, as Joseph Campbell reminds us, ‘riding on this mystery.’

I was going to write about six protocols for moving towards your future, but that would not be recognising what Schein, Diamandis and Kotler say: problem first.

(*From Harriet Lerner’s The Dance of Connection.)
(**From Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler’s Bold.)
(^From Joseph Campbell’s The Hero’s Journey.)
(^^From Edgar Schein’s Humble Consulting.)
(*^From Brené Brown’s Rising Strong.)

What was it if not the call of unexpected possibility?

[Karlfried Graf Durkheim] said the whole problem of life is to become “transparent to transcendence”: so that you realise that you are yourself a manifestation of this. That you live the myth. That you live the divine life within you. Yourself as a vehicle; not as a final term but as a vehicle of consciousness and life.*
(Joseph Campbell)

The sucker’s trap is when you focus on what you know and others don’t, rather than the reverse.**
(Nassim Taleb)

We might think of qualities such as compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, forgiveness, love and peace as being the destination, but what if they are first of all the means of our seeking, our exploring?

Are they our best means to becoming “transparent?”

Then it is not about us.

Transparency will always allow others to see their “unexpected possibility” through us.

(*From Joseph Campbell’s The Hero’s Journey.)
(**From Nassim Taleb’s The Bed of Procrustes.)

Nurturing gratitude

And then, I had to ask myself what had I ever done to deserve this experience?*
(Russell Schweickart)

Gratitude works. Gratitude scales. Gratitude creates a positive cycle of more gratitude. When in doubt, default to gratitude.**
(Seth Godin)

Gratitude changed the moment. Russell Schweickart was alone outside the spacecraft while a problem inside Apollo 9 was being dealt with. Five minutes, travelling at 17,000 miles an hour must have felt like an eternity. And then the realisation.

Schweickart’s words can properly be owned by all of us on spaceship Earth. We couldn’t do anything to earn this shot at life, but now we’re here. What we discover is that gratitude is transformative:

An abundant society can’t be created with a narrative of scarcity.^

(*Astronaut Russell Schweickart, quoted in Joseph Campell’s The Hero’s Journey.)
(*From Seth Godin’s blog: If every day were thanksgiving.)
(^From Bernadette Jiwa’s The Right Story.)

Wisdom is what wisdom sees

The fool views himself as more unique and others as more generic; the wise views himself as more generic and other more unique.*
(Nassim Taleb)

We have the opportunity to expend the maximum effort on behalf of a worthy goal.**
(Seth Godin)

A life wasted and a life fulfilled can be one and the same thing seen, only seen from different perspectives.

Some thought Henri Nouwen was wasting his life when he became a member of the L’Arche community in Ontario. What he had done, though, was a beautiful thing.

To be able to change how we see is the work of wisdom in us, opening up the way of life and possibility:

Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.^

(*From Nassim Taleb’s The Bed of Procrustes.)
(**From Seth Godin’s blog: The uncomfortable combination of effort and acceptance.)
(^George Bernard Shaw, quoted in Bernadette Jiwa’s The Right Story.)


She didn’t let where she came from stop her from where she was going.*
(Ben Hardy)

But a map is not the territory. The mental map of the world which we have constructed in our imagination is not in a one-to-one correspondence with reality. In other words, the world we see and experience is far smaller than the reality that is out there, especially the world we only see through our intellect. […] We are compelled to create stories about the larger reality that lies beyond our grasp.**
(Alex McManus)

When we see more there is the possibility to live more.

Myths make it possible for us to explore the bigger picture, and then they help us to form our bigger stories.

Myth allows us to join stories from different places and times, to see beyond our niche into something greater. Here are two.

Rebecca Solnit offers a powerful image for those who live in smaller stories when she describes her grandfather and grandmother; although they had travelled to the United States in the 1920s from Russia and had met at a hiking club:

they seem utterly urban, shrunk into their bodies as tenements of flesh, not as instruments of adventure in the open space of the New World^.

We can all find ourselves living stories smaller than those on offer to us. I am reading Joseph Campbell’s The Hero’s Journey and I’m discovering more about the man behind the writing, his exuberance in life that makes him the vivific guide into myth that he is. At the age of seventy seven, on hearing about the work of psychiatrist Karlfried Graf Dürckheim, Campbell travelled to Germany to meet the man:

He said the whole problem of life is to become “transparent to transcendence”: so that you realise that you are yourself a manifestation of this. That you live the myth. That you live the divine life within you. Yourself as a vehicle; not as the final term but as a vehicle of consciousness and life. […] my definition of myth now is: a metaphor transparent to transcendence. To me he is the polestar. […] And the mythological image is always pointing toward transcendence and giving you the sense of riding on this mystery.^^

Here is the finite game and we’re all invited to play.

(*From Ben Hardy’s Willpower Doesn’t Work.)
(**From Alex McManus.)
(^From Rebecca Solnit’s A Field Guide to Getting Lost.)
(^^Fro Jospeh Campbell’s The Hero’s Journey.)