“Compassion is 'radical' when it moves beyond 'being nice' or giving to our favorite charity, and becomes the very foundation of all our actions, the signature of our society. As a cultural imperative, compassion lays a path to a future free of some of our society's greatest downfalls. It is the root of sustainable, positive change, and the key to meeting the challenges of violence, fear and suffering.” --from Naropa’s Radical Compassion Symposium, 2014
As an extension of CAConrad’s PACE THE NATION Project, I want to find ways to talk about compassion as a means for change, to practice radical compassion, urge others to practice radical compassion, and seek a means for continuing dialogues.
Here is CA’s positioning: “The Occupy movement revealed two substantial certainties: Unrest is widespread and wants to become visible. Poets are part of this wherever you go.” How can I seek an expression of unrest through non-destructive means, when, like Audre Lorde said, “The master's tools will never dismantle the master's house?"
I am also thinking about Corinne Ball’s (Move On) words: “In this moment of crisis [in Baltimore], we can learn something from Ferguson: the most important voices to listen to right now are local ones. And the most important images and videos will be captured not by out-of-town professionals but by the people of Baltimore themselves.”
I want to borrow from CA’s PACE project, as well as SOMATIC exercises. CA’s approach: “A PACE (Poet Activist Community Extension) Action where we read poems on the street to our fellow citizens, the resulting conversations among the most productive and rewarding experiences where we also give away copies of the poems we read.”
So many people are empathetic and altruistic, but how can we get to compassion—which literally “to suffer with”—to ultimately lead us to act?
Even as many of the world’s religions promote compassion as one of the main keystones for practicing their respective religions, science, also, is studying compassion. According to UC Berkeley: “While cynics may dismiss compassion as touchy-feely or irrational, scientists have started to map the biological basis of compassion, suggesting its deep evolutionary purpose. This research has shown that when we feel compassion, our heart rate slows down, we secrete the ‘bonding hormone’ oxytocin, and regions of the brain linked to empathy, caregiving, and feelings of pleasure light up, which often results in our wanting to approach and care for other people.”
As someone concerned about how far down going downhill can go, I feel helpless and vulnerable. However, one of the best speeches I have ever heard was at a Take Back the Night rally. One of the speakers said, “Vulnerability is a strength. If someone puts walls up, they are detached, alone, and suffer. Vulnerability is what brings us together.”
I am seeking ways to say this, and poetry is my way, my art, and my goal to fully express compassion—alongside the need to change the current global system. It is my way of communicating to you, with hope that we can all continue compassionate ways of acting and communicating, and end what Allison Cobb speaks to, how “patriarchal racist global capitalism is a system built from death, bent on destruction. So it seems like the task before us is to find an entirely new way to be alive.”
Poetry renews language, brings us the deeper figure that makes all associations, and is close attention. I hope you can find your poems—or your own art—to help bring a new way of living.