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I'm increasingly seeing my religious and my political and my personal views on the welfare state/communality/mutual support as basically the same.

Humans are meant to be helping each other. Everyone for themselves is not good religion, or good politics, or good living in any sense. And in any meaningful sense, it's not good economics. Not if one sees economics as a tool to help make society work, rather than as a god.

Compassion meditation and opposing welfare cuts are all part of the same thing, in that way. All part of realising what Christians would call the Kingdom of God on earth.
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Half-inched from Why Kindness is Good For You, but also from other places, and adapted for my own use.

The full-on version:

  • Find a comfortable meditation position. Sit in a relaxed way, lie supine or walk in the fresh air, somewhere peaceful.

  • Take some deep breaths through your nose. Feel your body relax.

  • Now think of someone you know very well, and love very much. Someone you have little or no difficulty feeling compassionate and loving towards. Might be a partner or friend or family member. Hold them in your thoughts, and say of them, "May [name] be well, may [name] be happy, may [name] be free from suffering".

  • While you do so, really turn your emotional attention towards them, and extend lovingkindness towards them as much as you can.

  • When you are ready, turn your attention towards somebody else to whom you feel easily loving and compassionate, and do the same thing. "May [name] be well, may [name] be happy, may [name] be free from suffering." Again, extend as much lovingkindness towards them as you can.

  • Now your compassion muscles are warmed up a bit, go for one of the difficult ones: yourself. Self-compassion is important, and extending lovingkindness towards yourself is nearly always a feature of compassion or lovingkindness meditation. In fact, often you're advised to start with yourself. I find it much easier, though, if I go to myself second or third rather than first - I'm more in the zone, and it's easier for me to override my exceedingly low self-esteem. So, think of yourself with as much patience and compassion as you can muster, and say or think aloud, "May I be well, may I be happy, may I be free from suffering".

  • Don't worry if that or any other bit of this is difficult to start with. It will improve with practise, though there will always be days when it is harder than other days. Remember that you are allowed to be compassionate and loving towards yourself!

  • And now move on to somebody else, and take in, one at a time, as many people as you feel up to. Family, friends, partners. People you don't know personally but know are in need of compassion.

  • When you feel able to (which may not be the first time you do this), bring in people for whom you have complicated or even generally negative feelings. From friends who are being problematic, through to public figures who are doing things which are outright destructive and horrible. You don't have to be okay with the negative things people have done to you or to others. But you work on feeling compassionate towards them anyway.

  • If you're feeling really into it, you can end with, "May all people be well, may all people be happy, may all people be free from suffering". Or even, "May all living things be well, may all living things be happy, may all living things be free from suffering".

  • At any rate, when you feel ready, take some more breaths, accept (and, if possible, enjoy) whatever you're feeling, and gradually bring yourself back to the every day.

The informal version:

Do bits and pieces of the above at odd moments throughout your week, even lots over the course of a day. On the loo, waiting for a train, running through a bus, getting ready for sleep, waiting for a slow window to load on the internet, anything like that. Turn your compassionate and kind attention towards people who are stressing you, or who need extra love, or who you're aware you haven't thought of much lately and would like to.

And either way...

You may find that doing this will make you want to do more loving and kind actions towards the people you are focussing on in your meditation. This is good! And kind of what it's supposed to do. :-) Even after a week of mostly the informal version, I've definitely been finding that I'm getting more urges to behave in a loving and kind and patient way. Often it even helps me to bypass the anxious/guilty feelings that sometimes stop me from contacting people I'm aware I've been neglecting. Extending lovingkindness towards them helps me to just go, "oh yeah, I can drop them a line now and say hello and hopefully they will like that and it will brighten their day". Rather than angsting at length.
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Dr David Hamilton: Why Kindness is Good For You

This was recommended by a Twitter friend, and I was initially a little sceptical. Hamilton's website, together with his identifying as a "motivational speaker" screamed pseudo-science, self-aggrandisement and general fail.

However, the Twitter friend in question has always struck me as sensible, and the central thesis of Hamilton's book - that being kind and compassionate is actively good for the health - is one that I've more or less believed for a while, and is certainly an idea that I'd like to see gain currency. Also, squirrelled away on his website is the information that his PhD is in organic chemistry, that he used to work for the pharmaceutical industry, has taught chemistry and ecology at degree level, and runs a charity that appears to do genuinely good stuff. All of which give him rather more credibility in my eyes for this sort of thing. Apparently what triggered his current career was noting how powerful the placebo effect really is, and wanting to find ways of deliberately using this, rather than pretending it's something else. Which is something I've been hoping someone would do for a while.

So, I got a second hand copy from AbeBooks, and had a read.

And it's lovely... )

So, yes. 3 1/2 out of 5 for Why Kindness is Good For You. I'm very fond of it myself, and glad indeed that it was recommended to me. But too flawed to get a higher mark, I think.
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I usually use pearl barley because it's easier to get hold of. To work on: being able to make this with organic, local vegetables and herbs, and pot barley rather than pearl. Still, I'm really pleased I've got some of this bubbling away, despite not being too well today. Making more soups and stews, freezing them and having them to heat up rather than microwave meals all the time on bad days = a lifestyle improvement I am very keen to work on gradually. Much better for the environment; not bad for me, too.

My favourite thing about this recipe is that it is *incredibly* easy and requires nothing more than a big thing to cook it in on the hob. :-)

It's also exceedingly tasty though.

Thick vegetable and barley soup

(serves 4. Increase quantities for more people, and/or to store more after making.)

(this is (obviously) vegan. Could be made gluten-free by using a different grain.)


- olive oil (2 tbsp or so)
- 1 large onion, peeled and finely chopped
- 1 large carrot, trimmed and sliced/cubed
- 1 large leek, trimmed, washed and sliced/diced
- 1 litre vegetable stock
- 3 bay leaves
- 5 tbsps pot (or pearl) barley
- ideally, a large handful of chopped fresh parsley


In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil. Add the onion, leeks and carrots and heat gently for 5 minutes.

Add the stock and bay leaves

Bring to the boil; add the barley.

Simmer for about an hour.

(The recipe says "remove the bay leaves" at this point. I think that's crazy-talk and leave them in. ;-))

Serve with parsley sprinkled on top. (I sometimes just add a little dried parsley at this point if I have none fresh.)

Recipe taken and adapted from Super Soups by Michael van Straten.
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Bill McKibben: Deep Economy: Economics as if the World Mattered.

(I believe it may have a different subtitle in the US.)

Am too tired to do a proper or even a mini-review, but I this book delighted and enthused and inspired me. I finished it earlier this evening, despite being barely able to hold it at the time. (It's not that heavy but it is a hardback, and my disabilities are playing up!) Am now passing it on to [personal profile] eithin to read.

As with a lot of things I've been reading and encountering over the last six months especially, the emphasis in this book is on the power of communities, of local, friendly action to start gradually usurping an economic doctrine which advocates efficiency at all costs to people and planet. And above all questioning what economics is *for* and working out ways of making it actually do that.

His arguments are frankly best put by himself rather than summarised, so I do suggest taking the time to read it yourself, if you are able to. As it happens the prose style is a joy: clear, easy, frequently entertaining, often moving or funny, but never losing intellectual rigour or the strong arguments. There are one or two points where I could see flaws in what he was saying, but these were on minor matters. I chose this book deliberately as my first full text exploring the new economics, and I'm glad I did so. It was a fine book to start with, and has given me a lot of motivation to go forth and read and learn more. :-)
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The journeys are mostly metaphorical. :-) My disabilities place a fair amount of restriction on how much I can travel, and in any case part of what I have been learning over the past months and years is that it's what we do *here* that counts.

But they are real, for all of that.

As for kindness, I mean in the sense of tenderness, love, compassion and helpfulness - towards Life, towards the Earth, towards the Universe. But also in the sense of kinship, of being one "kind". Of reaching towards community, losing what Bill McKibben describes as "hyper-individualism" and moving on to something better.

There are some assumptions that lie behind this journal, and some religious beliefs I should probably 'fess up to. :-) )

So, what of this? Well, what follows. :-) There is only a very little, little that I can do. But finding ways of travelling with kindness along the paths I have found, of doing my little but sincere best to improve the effect I have upon the world and the living things I encounter with it - these are important. A lot of it is going to be a learning process. Learning new skills that will help me lower my carbon footprint and eat more ethically, learning (greatly) from the examples of others. Learning, at least a little, to erode both my anxiety disorder and my natural shyness to help me connect more with people in the world around me, to be less afraid, to nurture love and to put it into practise.

Let's see how we go. :-)


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Journeys in Kindness/Journeys in Kind

September 2010

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