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PULSE, Sensing the Sacred, and Connecting to the Cosmic Heartbeat of Compassion

Updated: Sep 28, 2023

The cultivation of compassion is really a process of recovery – of retrieving an inherent capacity that has become, either in the moment or over time, buried and obscured.

Dr. Frank Rogers, Jr., Compassion in Practice

The title of this blog probably throws some readers. Try to stick with me. I'm convinced it can seriously impact our journey together to the Good Life. It may be both a tad tedious AND a little woo-woo for some. I want to get more into the components of practicing compassion and then break out into a more mind-boggling perspective.

When compassion for others or for ourselves does not seem to come easily or naturally, my husband John and I use an acronym to help us. The acronym is PULSE. It stands for different parts of the compassion process (spoiler alert. John leans heavily on the "S" part of the acronym). We thank Dr. Frank Rogers, Jr. for developing it ...some of this wording and interpretation are our own:

P – Pay attention. Another word we use is “mindfulness.” Being aware of our own or another’s experience - emotions, thoughts, world view without negative judgment or impulsive reactivity is what it's about. It's no easy thing at first and involves taking some deep breaths.

U – Understanding. Understanding ourselves and others in several ways. First looking with respectful curiosity for the suffering underneath the behavior – the fear, the longing (need), the aching wound, the stifled gift (strengths). This type of understanding is a more cognitive approach to gaining perspective. Also being willing to understand on a more visceral level, empathically,… gently touching the suffering in ourselves and others is part of understanding. And finally being able to "get" down deep in our bones that we share a common humanity.

L – Love. If the love word is confusing (it used to confound and perplex me a lot), perhaps pervasive kindness or tenderness or deep desire for well-being is useful. Sometimes I simply put my hand on my heart and allow it to “warm” for myself, for another, and for all humanity. That hand on the heart seems to activate a nurturing response, a caring feeling. It smothers fear and confusion and grounds me.

S – Sensing the Sacred. And here we get closer to John's truth. It's about recognizing and savoring that...big mysterious Something that heals and holds us. John says if we could just stay connected to the Sacred, we wouldn’t need much else. We'd be re-connected to our inherent capacity to care and love ourselves and each other. World Peace. Global happiness. Unity. Cooperation. The lion will lay down with the lamb kind of stuff (which happens to be his greatest longing). That's what I was thinking about this morning. It's what prompted this blog.

What DO we humans do to "get connected"? A google search took me to a website on gratitude.

Here are a few responses to “What connects me to a sense of the sacred?”:

Nature, children, babies, animals, the silence when I meditate...

...being still in a chapel; a walk in nature, especially in the forests...

Seeing the ancient tombs and cathedral ruins in Ireland connected me.

Mother Nature…Glorious Redwood Trees…sitting in church…seeing & hearing the birds…seeing the moon & stars….music…poetry…laughter & tears….

Grief connects me to the sense of sacred...

...I love listening to a hymn called “Holy Ground.

...A quiet empty Church…a time for contemplation

Lighting a candle and sitting looking at it

Listening to music

Most of those fit for me as well! Sensing the Sacred may be more within my grasp than I realized. More of catching and marinating in those moments I'm already experiencing is the work. That insight feels good to me.

E – Embody new life. The idea is that when we practice compassion, we yearn for flourishing and well-being for ourselves and others. We notice where new life is being birthed.

PULSE. The process, even any part of this compassion practice (paying attention, understanding, loving, sensing the sacred, embodying new life), can help us take wise action to alleviate suffering and promote flourishing in both ourselves and others.

Frank Rogers in his book, Compassion in Practice, also connects the acronym PULSE with a cosmic heartbeat. When John and I first tried to understand what Frank was trying to communicate, we were at a loss. We were expecting more of a how-to, step-by-step explanation.

Instead, Frank shares stories, meditations, and poetic prose. He says that music moves through the world…"flows from the very heartbeat of God"…inviting each person…to move in harmony with its restorative rhythms. We are within the beat, it is within us. It beats in the depths of our soul. It sustains us. And takes our mad and our madness away.

Frank knows of what he speaks. He recently wrote a new book. Cradled in the Arms of Compassion: A Spiritual Journey from Trauma to Recovery. It will be out in hardcover on October 17. As early reviewers have said, it's an amazing, brutally honest disclosure of childhood trauma. He wrote it to help others - especially his sister who succumbed to madness from the trauma.

Frank became a spiritual director and professor of theology (and spiritual formation at Claremont Theological School, the official theology school of the United Methodists) after being tormented, wracked by depression, and on the brink of suicide. The new autobiography details his survival and discovery of the restorative process now called... the Compassion Practice. P.U.L.S.E.

How might we experiment with PULSE, or even some of its components, and journey together to the Good Life?

(Thank you, I would love to hear your own stories…particularly around sensing the sacred. With love, June)

Also thank you, Anne-Marie, for your response to the previous blog on marital hatred and forgiveness (and for the thoughts you shared from your priest). Helpful. The idea is that forgiveness is distinct from reconciliation. Forgiveness is an act we do within ourselves. Reconciliation is an action involving another. Forgiveness is not reconciliation, and sometimes reconciliation doesn’t come.


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