Sunday, July 15, 2012

Practicing Compassion: Kale Spoon Bread

Apropos of my recent Things I'm Afraid to Tell You post, yesterday the NY Times had an intriguing article on the science of compassion.  It turns out that feeling compassion for one individual actually makes us more likely to feel compassion for other people, even people we don't particularly like or people who have wronged us somehow.  Moreover, drawing even a simple association between ourselves and someone else (such as walking in step together) can increase the amount of compassion we feel for that individual.

DeSteno, a professor of psychology at Northeastern University and the author of the article, suggests that the "meditation, prayer, or moral education" practiced by the world's religions, may therefore not, in fact, be the only way to cultivate compassion; rather, a simple "recategorization" of people, to see how they are similar, may help us to feel more empathy.

I had a few reactions to this.  The first was "well, of course."  Of course the more we identify with someone, the more compassion we feel towards them.  The ALI blogging community is a perfect example of how this works.  Despite the fact that we are a diaspora, that we have a wide variety of experiences that we bring to our blogs, we tend to express empathy when another member of our community is going through an especially difficult period.

But the first finding was the one that I found more thought-provoking.  The Dalai Lama teaches that the experience of compassion at the level of the individual increases our capacity for compassion and has ripple effects that create greater harmony in the world.  That always sounded sort of loosey-goosey to me before, sort of like the ripple effect of the butterfly flapping its wings, but now it makes more sense: that practicing compassion, getting better and better at it, makes us more likely to act compassionately towards other people, even when it is more difficult to do so.  And in fact, I think it's happened to me, as I've become more involved in the ALI blogging community over the past three years.  It's not that I wasn't a compassionate person before.  But the more I read, the more I reach out, the better I am at reaching out, and the more, perhaps, that outreach finds its way beyond my own comments.

Have you found blogging and commenting changing the way you interact with other people?

Cornmeal and Kale Spoon Bread
This recipe makes something more like custard than bread, but it would be great with the onions, corn, and peppers that are now in season here.  Spoon me.
Adapted from the original at epicurious 

1 pound kale, thick ribs and stems cut away
1 T, olive oil
1 bunch sliced green onions (white and green parts)
1 c. white corn (frozen or fresh)
1/2 c. chopped red peppers (roasted)
1 garlic clove, minced
2 c. water
1 1/2 c. yellow cornmeal
2 1/2 c. reduced-fat (2%) milk
1 t. salt
Cooking spray
4 large eggs

1/2 c. shredded cheddar cheese

Cook kale in large pot of boiling salted water until tender, about 10 minutes. Drain; cool. Squeeze dry. Finely chop kale.

Heat oil in large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add onions, corn, red peppers, and garlic; stir 3 minutes. Mix in 1 1/2 cups kale. Remove from heat.

Preheat oven to 350F at this point. Spray 13x9x2-inch baking dish with nonstick spray (I use a small piece of wax paper to evenly spread the non-stick spray over the bottom and sides of my baking dish).

Whisk 2 cups water and cornmeal in bowl to blend. Bring milk and salt to simmer in heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Gradually whisk in cornmeal mixture. Stir until mixture boils and thickens, about 5 minutes. Be very careful; as the mixture thickens, it will start to “pop” and the batter will splatter a bit. Cool slightly.

Whisk eggs in large bowl to blend; gradually whisk in warm cornmeal mixture. Stir in kale mixture, cheese, and hot pepper sauce. Transfer to prepared dish; smooth top. Bake until set and golden, about 35 minutes. Test with a toothpick in the middle of the dish. Serve warm.
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  1. Love this! Yes, that has been true for me. Living through secondary infertility and loss, blogging and being a part of the ALI community has all made me a better and more compassionate person all around, not just towards those who have dealt with ALI. I really embrace the idea of practicing compassion, because I don't think it is always easy, especially when it comes to he people in my life whom I find it difficult to love and interact with. My mom recently read and told me about a book specifically about cultivating compassion/living a more compassionate life. I will have to ask her what the title is. Thank you for sharing this.

  2. I absolutely believe that my participation in this community has increased my ability for empathy. I am much more understanding of others' suffering and my own personal limitations. I also have learned that I can never know what other's experience and I rarely make assumptions anymore. Of course studying Buddhism and practicing mindfulness, loving kindess and acceptance have also helped in these endeavors. It's probably not a coincidence that they my participation in this community coincided with my seeking out meaning in Buddhism.

    And interesting topic indeed.

  3. I really enjoyed this post and I do believe that practicing compassion has a ripple on effect. I'm still pretty new to blogging but I'm starting to make connections with people who feel like real friends - even though I've never met them face to face. I love the way blogging can open up a world to you that never existed before. Meeting people (even if it's virtually) from such varied experiences and walks of life but that have at least one thing in common with you, does makes it easier to empathize and put yourself in someone else's shoes.

  4. Yes, I absolutely believe that being part of the ALI community has affected how I interact with people. Bloggers have made me aware of insensitive things I might be saying IRL, for example. Or reading about someone's struggle with PCOS gives me insight into something I know nothing about.

    And this might sound totally lame, but reading through comments that support a struggling blogger help me figure out what to say, how to help. I admire the women here.

  5. I can't speak for blogging as part of a group, because I don't have experience with it. Well, not formally. I have a kind of an informal blog circle, though, and since I read everything that a handful of people write, I do end up reading about things that I wouldn't have been exposed to otherwise. And yes, absolutely, reading and responding to these posts has made me more compassionate. There are posts I read a year ago that I still think about nearly every day!

  6. Love this post and totally agree with this.
    "But the more I read, the more I reach out, the better I am at reaching out, and the more, perhaps, that outreach finds its way beyond my own comments."

    Being a part of the community has made me a better, more compassionate person.

  7. Being involved in this community and seeing what everyone has gone through has made me more mindful of the possible effects of anything I say and do.


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