Peace Corps Writers
Review
The Rhythm of Compassion
     
Caring for Self, Connecting with Society
by Gail Straub (Ivory Coast 1971–73)
Journey Editions $19.95
234 pages
2000
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  Circle of Compassion
     Meditations for Caring
     — For the Self and for the World

by Gail Straub (Ivory Coast 1971–73)
Journey Editions $14.95
164 pages
2001

 
 
  Reviewed by Susan Hundt Bergan (Ethiopia 1966–68)
 
  THE RHYTHM OF COMPASSION TAKES ON a big task for a small book. It purports to guide the reader on a journey of self-discovery that will lead to acceptance and healing of the self; a commitment to serving the larger world; and, through spiritual discipline, the grace to find and maintain a balance among the self, the world and God. The author does a surprisingly good job of this daunting undertaking.
     Gail Straub has led a committed and adventuresome life as a teacher and an activist. After returning from her Peace Corps assignment in Africa, she and her husband, David Gershon, founded Empowerment Training Programs and have taught widely in the U.S., Europe, Russia, China, and East Asia. Eventually she began to offer a program for people who wanted to incorporate spiritual development into their commitment to social and environmental justice. The Rhythm of Compassion grew out of that work with activists who were fighting burnout and struggling to strike a reasonable balance between their personal and public lives. The book incorporates and reflects Ms. Straub’s quest to achieve that balance in her own life.
     The organization of The Rhythm of Compassion is based on the presumption that a person’s search for meaning and wisdom must start with self-knowledge. Accordingly, the book is organized into three parts: caring for the self; caring for the world; uniting the inner and the outer worlds in the embrace of the Divine; and having reached that state, maintaining a dynamic balance. Ms. Straub acknowledges from the start that “we live in a broken world” and that it is only by accepting the brokenness in ourselves and the world, by accepting suffering as individual, universal, and necessary, that we can progress on the journey to wholeness and peace.
     Ms. Straub directs the reader to start the first leg of the journey towards self-knowledge and self-acceptance by searching for what she calls the “central image” of his or her life. This concept comes from the “Pathwork Lectures” of Eva Pierrakos, a series that Straub says constitutes her “central spiritual text.” The reader is directed to identify this central image in his or her life, using techniques recommended; to decipher the significance of this memory or image in one’s life; and then accept and take responsibility for it. These steps must be accomplished if one is to grow in maturity and self-knowledge.
     The curious aspect of the “central image” is that it is always a negative one and thus a source of painful memories and destructive influences in one’s life. This entire construct suggests another variation on the victim mentality that is currently prevalent in American society. Why must the “central image” always be a painful one? Couldn’t one’s central image just as easily be a positive one and a wellspring of energy and inspiration? Perhaps the approach Straub presents is simply a renaming or reinterpretation of what in Christianity is called the doctrine of original sin, namely, that there is a fundamental wound or brokenness in each of us and in all of creation. In Christian theology, creation is healed and saved by the death and resurrection of Jesus, who died for our sins. Each person then has the choice to cooperate in the plan of salvation and enjoy its fruits of peace and joy or reject God’s grace.
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