Reflections on Mindfulness

Becoming Compassion-New

Part 2, Step 5 by Sara Neall

Sister Henrita started her mindfulness blog post with the beautiful image of her walking through The Christine Center bookstore and being attracted to the children’s book, I am Peace – A Book of Mindfulness. She writes, “It is what I needed. It enabled me to move with memories of my long journey with acquiring mindfulness.”  In that moment, Sister Henrita remembered that she had everything that she needed.

I love this image for two reasons. First, knowing that the Sisters, Henrita, Johanna, Gabe and Marge, continue their steady work of prayer through this COVID-19 time, for me, has been a great comfort. Second, because Sister Henrita remembered.

Mindfulness, or Sati in the Pali language can also be translated, to remember.

In Step 5, Karen Armstrong states, “The purpose of mindfulness … is to help us detach ourselves from the ego by observing the way our mind works.” p.105

Buddhism refers to the ego as Self. The Self is the location of I, me and mine.  The Self looks to the future and it looks to the past. It clings to its own preservation.

In this time of so much uncertainty, I notice my own fear of what the future holds and my anger at what was done in the past. I notice how I cling to my ideas of what is right and what is wrong. And I notice how easily I can get lost in the narrow view of me and mine.  This clinging to Self strangles compassion.

Compassion arises from a belief that we are enough and that we have enough. It is rooted in the present moment. Compassion requires letting go of Self.

Thich Nhat Hanh, likes to Remind us that, “We already have everything we need.”  It is in this present moment, each time we Remember, that we live and act with compassion.

Mindfulness During Challenging Times

Becoming Compassion-New


After much reading, reflecting and searching on mindfulness as a companion in my life, I was walking through the Christine Center’s bookstore and suddenly was attracted to a Children’s Book by Susan Verde: “I Am Peace – A Book of Mindfulness.”  It is what I needed.  It enabled me to move with memories of my long journey with acquiring mindfulness. Even now each day is a learning.

Each definition I find on mindfulness is basically presenting the same meaning: “Mindfulness means paying attention, in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally” (Jon Kabat-Zinn).  As I reflect on mindfulness in my life, many of my past years seemed overcome with busyness, and mindfulness was definitely neglected.  For many years I know that anxiety, stress and fear were present because of a sizeable work schedule.  However, I embraced it willingly for the needs of my community.  Now I am grateful that my present life situation fosters mindfulness in my daily life.

For me, I believe my faithful relationship with mindfulness took on renewed life in 2007, when everyday Mindfulness awareness and practices from Mahamudra Retreats became essential to my daily life.  The graces that I pray for each day are love, compassion and wisdom for myself and for all beings, that they may be free from suffering and that Peace may come.

You may notice that the picture at the beginning of these words with the background of the coronavirus, is a symbol of mindfulness for our times.  Perhaps it is a call to be mindful of all those suffering from the virus, to remember them in prayer, and hope for their well-being.

Henrita Frost, SSND – May 8, 2020

The Fourth Step: Empathy

Becoming Compassion-New

Reflections on the Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life

Part Two of Step Four, by Sara Neall

As Sister Henrita and I continue our study of the Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life by Karen Armstrong, we arrive at the fourth step, empathy.  Armstrong opens this chapter  by telling about the Buddha’s early life. The story goes, his father, disappointed when told that his son, after seeing great suffering was destined to be a monk, posted guards around the palace to keep all distress at bay.  Of course this was impossible and at the age of 29, after being shocked by the reality of sickness,aging and death, the Buddha left the comfort of his home in order to understand how to bear the sorrows of the world.

Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another, to do this we must turn towards suffering.

Below is a picture of my friend, Thomas Windsor and his father Jesse participating in the honor flight.

Sara-4th Step Photo

Jesse Louis Windsor grew up in Slocomb, Alabama. He went into the United States Army at the young age 16 1/2, with his mother’s reluctant blessing, to escape the hardships of the South. He is a dedicated family man, a hard worker, church deacon and was successful with minimal formal education.

On Monday, April 6, he tested positive for COVID19 while in a rehabilitation center for back surgery.  Jesse is 96 years old.

His son Thomas writes,

We loved, and continue to love this facility [the care home where Jesse Windsor currently lives]- they take good care of him, and he knows the staff. But it was inevitable that the virus would find its way there. The staff, hardworking as they are, must go home every evening, and return each day, typically by public transportation. The doctor(s) service multiple facilities. How could it not enter the premises? We were able to face time a couple times last week- he is out of breath and a bit confused. I try to tell him daily that me and my sister did our best, that cruel timing got the best of the situation, and that we are here for him, and for each other. I could never imagine him going through this without my guidance or presence, yet he is. I try not to dwell on the loneliness and uncertainty he and the others must be encountering. But then I watch my thoughts . . .

In the Buddhist tradition our existence bears three marks; suffering, impermanence and non-self. I understand this to mean, that illness/aging/death is embedded into life, that everything is changing,  and that I am not at the center nor am I alone. These three marks hold the truth and in order to be fully awake and alive we need to see them and be in relationship with them. We can only do this by looking directly and seeing clearly. This takes courage.

As a tool for understanding empathy, Sister Henrita wrote about the art of mandala. Her beautiful mandalas represent our relationships to each other and the world around us. Through the art of creation, or the act of observation mandalas remind us of our connections and our relationships.

Thomas is a dear friend yet I have never had the honor of meeting his father. However, when I look directly and deeply, I know Thomas’ love for his father in the way I know my own love for my father. I know Thomas’ fear in the way I know my own fear.

Suffering is a law of life. It takes courage to look at it directly. However, when we  see it in relationship to its changing nature and its universality it becomes a path of wisdom and compassion.


Becoming Compassion-New

Third Step: Compassion for Yourself

Reflections on the Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life
Part Two of Step Three, by Sara Neall

In a distant zone in my being, I hear whispered the words, love yourself just as you are here and now.” – Sister Henrita Frost

Self-compassion is often the hardest compassion to practice. It can be fraught with self-judgement. As we strive to be more …. more kind, more loving, more giving we can begin to feel like we are not enough.

In Step Three: Compassion for Yourself (p.75) Karen Armstrong writes the story of Albert Friedlander. As a young Jewish boy in Nazi Germany, Albert was bewildered and distressed by the vicious anti-Semitic propaganda. This eight years old boy had the wisdom to know he was not what the propaganda described. He lay awake one night and made a list of all his good qualities. He felt his own inherent gifts of heart and mind.

Lately, I have been practicing, ‘catch yourself being good*.’ It is a practice of noticing. I try to notice when my mind turns towards love, generosity and kindness. Over the past few months, I have noticed that when confronted with external suffering, for example, someone begging at the intersection, the news of a friend’s tragic loss, the frightening unfolding of COVID19, my first thought is always, “how can I help? what can I give?” Fear and doubt come second. It is my secondary thoughts, “that’s not enough, that’s inappropriate, that is too little, too late” that often stop me from acting. These thoughts feel rooted in a fear that I am not enough.

For me, this means that my own self-compassion is a practice of trust. I can trust myself. I trust that, if I make time for stillness and if I live more fully in the present moment, I can lean back into my own goodness. I can trust that in difficult times, like the ones we are facing, I will always act in the direction of goodness. This has a taste of equanimity. (But of course I need continued practice to be sure ….)

Our own goodness, perhaps our Buddha-nature often seems to go against the common scientific and social narrative of our ‘primitive’ brain. We hear so often that we are tribal creatures driven to react out of fear.

So, it was such a delight to listen to Nicholas Christakis’ March 5 episode of On Being:

Nicholas offers us a refreshing perspective on ‘social goodness.’ He offers the idea that love is just as primitive as fear.  And that love is in fact more powerful.

Please listen.

* Catch yourself being good, is my understanding of a practice from Susan Mickel.

Compassion for Yourself

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Reflections on the Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life
Part One of Step Three, by Henrita Frost

When I envision 12 steps to a compassionate life, I visualize an endless stairway that disappears into the universe. I imagine a limitless voyage to infinity. As a former Math teacher, I remember the challenge of solving problems to infinity. Infinity entered my life again in the Charter for Compassion and the awareness of the limitless potential of compassion, a hope for the Global Community.

Charter logo

In a distant zone in my being, I hear whispered the words, love yourself just as you are here and now. So often I have heard those words, realizing their impact isn’t always the same. For sometimes the love experienced is warm and comforting, sometimes distant and uncertain, and sometimes cold and empty.

Each of these experiences have had their time and place in my life. However, as my years and interactions with others grew, the phrase “love yourself just as you are here and now” developed into a wonderful place for me to hang out in. However, there are those experiences where I know I have been without compassion, for the shadow lingers within.

As I write this, my mind turns to the Golden Rule: “Treat others and the planet as you would like to be treated.” I remember an encounter when someone said to me, I can’t live the Golden Rule. The shock of the moment came when I realized I can’t live it either. Suddenly, compassion loomed. I reached for it despite my dark side, for life’s sufferings have strengthened me to believe I am able to be a compassionate companion to myself and others. Sometimes I fall, but in time I am usually able to rise again.

During this step of compassion for yourself, we engage the practice of the Buddha’s meditation on the four immeasurable minds of love which are central to the compassion program. For many years I used the Sacred Practice of Loving Kindness Meditation with groups. When I spoke of this practice, I encouraged the groups to Vibrate Compassion into the Universe. Let’s all vibrate compassion to one another and the Global Community.

Seeing Things from a Different Perspective

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Reflections on the Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life

Part two of Step two, by Sara Neall

“We should take ourselves mentally to the summit of a high mountaintop, where we can see things from a different perspective.” Karen Armstrong p.68

When I look out at my own world it is  easy to see suffering and despair. This ‘seeing’ often serves to deepen my own suffering and my own despair.

It would be easy to interpret Armstrong’s quote from a perspective that perpetuates,

If I can  just get high enough, things would look different.

If I could  work hard enough, things would be easy.

If I were kinder, the world would be a better place.

From my Buddhist perspective however, it is not the summit that is important, rather it is the climb. The Buddha taught an Eightfold path. A path containing 8 factors, that when ‘walked’ eased suffering. At the heart of one factor, wise intention, lies compassion.

My Teacher often asks,

“if a tiny bird were to land, in this moment, in your heart/mind, would it feel safe?”

Would it feel safe?  My climb up the mountain is the cultivation of  safety, moment by moment, for myself and for others.  As the world enters me, through my senses, I ask :

can I be wise?

can I be tender?

can I be still and listen?

When I reach the summit, or rather, when I am called upon to act, I am hopefully a little wiser, a little more tender and a little more willing to listen.

A Balm for All Wounds

Feb 2020 Photo

Recently, I came across the above words by Etty Hillesum.  Etty was a Jewish woman who lived in Nazi-occupied Holland and who later died in Auschwitz.  During her life she practiced a compassion that calls us today.  Her compassion speaks to me in her words: “We should be willing to act as a balm for all wounds.”  

Etty Hillesum’s words took on particular meaning for me as I reflected upon Step Two of the Twelve Steps to a Compassionate life: Look at Your Own World.  We are encouraged to discover what we must do to create a better world and to meet the challenges of our times.  During Step 2, the suggestion is made to take ourselves mentally to the summit of a high mountain, where we can stand back and see things from a different perspective.

As I stand on the mountain three things are important to me: 1. holding a Globe in my hands representing my presence in both my Local Community and a Global Community, 2. holding a balm in my heart for myself and the wounds of our world, and 3. recognizing the presence of the Divine who inspires my heart to be compassionate.

My learnings on the mountain continue to inspire me.  Ever present compassion is our companion as we toil with our strengths and weaknesses, as we work for change in so many areas of our lives, our Nation, and our World.  The one category that continues to nudge at me is Culture.  I lived and traveled internationally for eight years and I remember how long it took me to stop and realize everyone was not like me, but of a different culture.  Others helped me to change.  So let’s help each other to change and act as a balm for the wounds in our Local Community and Global Community.

Artisans of Justice and Peace

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I have been given the wonderful opportunity to share this blog space with Sister Henrita. Over the next 12 months we plan  to use The 12 Steps to a Compassionate Life by Karen Armstrong to explore compassion both internally (toward self) and externally ( toward others). We start January with Step One – Learning About Compassion.

In her first blog post of 2020, Sister Henrita wrote about compassion by quoting Pope Francis, “Day by day, the Holy Spirit prompts in us ways of thinking and speaking that can make us artisans of justice and peace.” Artisans are makers. They create. They solve problems. They work with their hands. Their crafts are rooted in generations of studying and their skill takes time and effort to learn.

I come to compassion through Buddhist study and meditation. Buddhism has two great wings, wisdom and compassion. They co-exist. They cannot exist alone. I have come to understand that compassion is a transformation of my own heart and mind. It happens only in the moments I can fully turn towards kindness. It feels like a whole body act of softening and opening. Compassion is rooted in my highest intention of safety (physical, emotional and spiritual) for myself and for others. For me, it is a creative act. It takes skill and practice, study and diligence. When I feel the two great wings, I can trust that my heart and mind are in service of my highest intention.  I can act without fear of harm.

Karen Armstrong ends this first step by reminding us that the sages, prophets and mystics were, “innovative thinkers, ready to use whatever tools lay to hand in order to reorient the human mind and pull their societies back from the brink.” (p.64)

Compassion is hard and loving work. It is creative. It takes patience. It is joyful and it is heartbreaking. And it is worth it.

Let us all be artisans of justice and peace.

Sara Neall

“Peace A Journey of Hope. . .”

Peace-journey of hope photo

“Peace A Journey of Hope. . .”

Pope Francis

Close to the dawning of the New Year, I completed the Mandala pictured above.  A flock of Doves, each equipped with an olive branch, inviting us, leading us on a Journey of Peace – Peace satiating the World Community.  Are we ready for the journey, for its challenges?

The Year 2020 dawned with joy and excitement.  Yet, it seemed overshadowed with threats of insecurity, uncertainty and rumblings of warlike behavior.  Nevertheless, let’s remember the World Community is our responsibility.  What is our Hope for 2020?  Of course Peace, that Peace may come.  Too optimistic to think it will?  Yes, but let’s be optimistic and live a Journey of Peace.

Although we are not Doves, but human beings with the desire and hope for Peace deep within our hearts, let’s be dove-like and join them.  Let’s make our daily journey one of peacemaking.  Doves are not only symbols of peace, love and compassion, but also messengers.  Our message needs to be loud and clear.  I’ll use the familiar words of the Peace Pole, “May Peace Prevail on Earth.”  Take time to choose the message with which you will frequently support the World Community.

In his message, “Peace A Journey of Hope,” for the 53rd World Day of Peace, Pope Francis, wrote profoundly about Peace.  One of his statements that rests in my heart is, “Day by day, the Holy Spirit prompts in us ways of thinking and speaking that can make us artisans of justice and peace”.  My desire is to be an artisan of justice and peace.  I continue to pray and live that Peace may come, as I journey with you and my Dove Community.  My hope is to be an artisan of justice and peace.  Let’s do it together!

January 16, 2020