Sustainable Compassion in Poetry

Here we share with you three poems that evoke the experience and purpose of Sustainable Compassion Training’s three modes of care: receiving care, deep self-care, and extending care. Enjoy!

-Collection and Commentary by ELIZABETH AESCHLIMANN





Receiving Care

I know the way you can get


I know the way you can get
When you have not had a drink of Love:

Your face hardens,
Your sweet muscles cramp.
Children become concerned
About a strange look that appears in your eyes
Which even begins to worry your own mirror
And nose.

Squirrels and birds sense your sadness
And call an important conference in a tall tree.
They decide which secret code to chant
To help your mind and soul.

Even angels fear that brand of madness
That arrays itself against the world
And throws sharp stones and spears into
The innocent
And into one's self.

O I know the way you can get
If you have not been drinking Love:

You might rip apart
Every sentence your friends and teachers say,
Looking for hidden clauses.

You might weigh every word on a scale
Like a dead fish.

You might pull out a ruler to measure
From every angle in your darkness
The beautiful dimensions of a heart you once

I know the way you can get
If you have not had a drink from Love's

That is why all the Great Ones speak of
The vital need
To keep remembering God,
So you will come to know and see Him
As being so Playful
And Wanting,
Just Wanting to help.

That is why Hafiz says:
Bring your cup near me.
For all I care about
Is quenching your thirst for freedom!

All a Sane man can ever care about
Is giving Love!

Once again, Hafiz says it all. That love-thirst is bodily, stingy, madness arraying itself against the world. But children, squirrels and birds, the Universe itself, notice—and care. Receiving Care is a drink of love that is always available.



Deep Self-Care

Theory: Synesthesia

Khadijah Queen

Published Fall 2014 in CURA: A Literary Magazine of Art and Action 

First, I was twenty-five with no sleep    (                        )

&          my body said    feel this                        And I didn't

want to            (                          )  then           It turned into a constant &                   (           )

burned to be felt                  I couldn't harden

away from it                 couldn't ease                 (                       )

or sleep or not-feel        my way away    because it was myself &

what my child could see     (                  )        & what             I was watching


What I love about Theory: Synesthesia is how Queen captures what we so often can’t put into words—the thoughts and feelings and knowings that break into our lives whether we like it or not.

Is (                  ) blank because we don’t want to look, or because it is somehow unseeable?

 Deep Self-Care brings us slowly into letting be the (                  ) we have failed to harden, ease, sleep and not-feel away from. It is compassionate presence to (                  )

Extending Care

A Small Needful Fact

Ross Gay 

Is that Eric Garner worked

for some time for the Parks and Rec.

Horticultural Department, which means,

perhaps, that with his very large hands,

perhaps, in all likelihood,

he put gently into the earth

some plants which, most likely,

some of them, in all likelihood,

continue to grow, continue

to do what such plants do, like house

and feed small and necessary creatures,

like being pleasant to touch and smell,

like converting sunlight

into food, like making it easier

for us to breathe. 

As we sink more deeply into our capacity to extend care and compassion, breaking down the barriers of our limiting impressions, I am inspired by this poem’s insistence that we look beyond the headlines. Here is a man easing a plant into the ground with his hands.

There is tragic irony that Eric Garner is helping us to breathe when his own breath was taken from him.

And there is the very “needful” fact that he was more than the man who said “I can’t breathe” as an NYPD officer held him in a fatal chokehold. He was a man who lived forty-four years of life, a life whose gifts extend to us even now.

If Daniel Pantaleo had been able to see this, Eric Garner would still be breathing.  


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