The Hard Part: Recognizing Our Good Qualities

Our spiritual study group is slowly making its way through the great theologian, Karen Armstrong’s book, Twelve Steps To The Compassionate Life.

We are on Step Four: Compassion For Yourself. I have scribbled above the chapter title, “the hard part.”

Armstrong writes that in studying the Biblical commandment, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” she had always focused on the first part of that injunction.  I think that is true of most of us. We are happy to show up with the chicken soup for someone else but rarely create it or its equivalent for ourselves when we are in need of comfort or tender loving care.

“The Golden Rule,” Armstrong writes, “requires self knowledge; it asks that we use our own feelings as a guide to our behavior with others.” Treating ourselves harshly, with quick, slicing judgment means that, in all likelihood, we will treat others in the same fashion.

“So,” she goes on to say,” we need to acquire a healthier and more balanced knowledge of our strengths as well as our weaknesses” and then she suggests that we begin by making  a list of our good qualities, talents and achievements.

Sounds good? Maybe. One of our group members had written in her book margin, “a good idea.” But, she confessed, that she hadn’t done it. It was too hard. We all agreed. Writing down our good qualities would be really difficult. Discussion ensued. Should we do it anyway and then go even further and share our lists with each other?

“Oh God!" a member exclaimed. "I can just hear my mother now!” You are boasting! How can you possibly think so well of yourself?

Another: “I’d much rather make a list of my shortcomings. So much easier!

Still another: “How can I write the things that I think are good about me and read it to all of you? What if you think I’m not that good?”

We all made faces.

Constructing a list of one’s good qualities, talents and achievements only sounds easy. Obviously it is not. Especially if you plan to share it with people who know you pretty well.

Couldn’t we just move on to the next part of the exercise: writing down our “egotistically driven fears” that make us act uncharitably and without compassion toward others? The group was tempted.

 But bravery and compliance with the process won out. We decided to take on the hard part. We will open our hearts to ourselves and to each other, creating and sharing our good quality lists.

Will you join us in this endeavor?  Will you shine the light of your awareness onto your critical voice for long enough to soften it sufficiently for the task? Are you willing to make a list of your good qualities, talents and achievements?

I will let you know how our group fares with this and I hope some of you will do the same by sharing your comments on this blog.   

(See below if you need help in commenting.)

But first:

On Saturday I went to a talk given by a 43 year-old Buddhist named Will Duncan. Will, who has been studying Buddhism since he was sixteen, returned in July from a 3-year solitary meditation retreat where he lived in a hut in the desert of Arizona.

He was amazing!  As he imparts wisdom, Will already exudes that wonderful combination of mental discipline and humorous lightheartedness that I have come to associate with the very best Tibetan teachers.

Check out his website for Will's speaking schedule, audio talks and pictures of the Arizona valley where he spent those isolated three years. You don't need to be a Buddhist to benefit from what Will has to say about living mindfully. If you are anywhere near where Will is speaking, I urge you to get there!

Written by Cecily Stranahan, our companion on this journey of reflection and self-discovery. Visit Cecily's Blog at 

That's Crazy!

Oh, come on! Nobody smiles when they are having a root canal. That’s crazy. That’s what the endodontist said when he noticed me smiling through the endless metal and rubber paraphernalia stuck into my wide-open mouth. Of course I was already numbed from my jaw to my right ear, but he was moving along efficiently and skillfully with all those bad-movie tools of his.


“You are crazy,” Dr. C said, with a smile behind his blue surgical mask.


Dr. C is about six feet, six inches tall, is my guess, young and from Utah. You can tell he’s not from the east coast; he has that easy, unforced friendliness of a westerner.


Please do not misunderstand. The night before I was anxious as a cow in the slaughter slot thinking about the procedure. I’ve had one root canal with a different endodontist and that was no picnic at the beach, I can tell you.


This was completely different. Not only was Dr. C really good at his job, but, also, was different. I lay flat back in the chair thinking about my younger brother who continues to fight cancer, thinking about all the truly nasty things that have been done to him in order to save his life.


 I was thinking, too, about my friend whom I would be visiting in the afternoon. His body carries physical pain in his joints as consistently as I carry my pocketbook. Only he can’t put it down. I was praying that I would be able to relieve his suffering even the littlest bit; I was talking to God and talking to my friend in my mind while Dr. C did his probing and drilling and cleansing.


And suddenly, I was overwhelmed with gratitude that this dodgy tooth of mine could be fixed: not moderated, not medicated and managed, but fixed. Compared to what these two men are going through, having a root canal is a joke.


 And so, with my mouth open like a yawning hippopotamus and stuffed with metal props, drills and rubber protectors, I smiled.





Welcome this week to readers from Singapore, Serbia, Thailand, Jordan, Macau and Taiwan. Thank you for reading Life Opening Up. I am wondering how all of you from other countries discover this blog? Through a friend? Through the topic labels?  I would very much like to hear from you. However you discover it, I am so happy that you find time to read it.




 To those of you in Ukraine, we pray for you still, for a stable, independent government. We pray for an end to the killing in Syria and Palestine and Israel and we pray for all the families of those who were senselessly killed in the blasting of Malaysian Airlines MH17.


Written by Cecily Stranahan