Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Tana Pesso's First Invite Love In

Those of you who believe in and signed the Charter for Compassion, as I did, may wonder and perhaps even struggle with how to live out the words of that document. Tana Pesso's First Invite Love In: 40 Time-Tested Tools for Creating a More Compassionate Life (Wisdom Publications, 2010) may be the answer, perhaps the first book to demonstrate step by step how it is possible "to be more kind, to cause less harm, and to create less suffering," to set "ripples of goodness in motion that can transform your mind into a sea of tranquility and happiness."

Pesso, a Rockport, Massachusetts, resident with a master's degree in public policy from Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, has written a practical how-to manual under the guidance of Penor Rinpoche, a renowned practitioner of Tibetan Buddhism who, unfortunately, died before the book was published. I think he would be proud of Pesso's accomplishment. Pesso has given us a highly individualized approach to changing our "habits of mind". She's very clear about intent, practical about the difficulties of becoming proficient at technique; she offers informed examples and insights, and, keeping in mind the manual's purpose, gives just enough explanation of concepts. Hers is not in any way an academic approach. Pesso is mindful of what's needed to build confidence, to keep at something, and boosts the user all along the way.

Using First Invite Love In requires time, no little patience and discipline, regular practice, and, most of all, as Pesso writes, desire to be open to possibility "in expanding your heart and mind for greater peace and compassion." What the guide offers in return for all that effort is a way to live harmoniously, at peace with yourself and also those around you. 

The author suggests strongly that you follow in order of presentation the series of steps that introduce, explain, and build on each set of practices and exercises, which include a wonderful array of guided meditations and visualizations. Pesso begins with the most basic building block you need to create a firm foundation for living your own compassionate life — and concludes with activities to open your mind completely to embrace "all living things in your compassion and loving-kindness." During the "joyful journey" along this pathway, she gives you tools to learn how to sustain compassion, bear compassionate witness to suffering, show compassion for strangers, increase generosity and eliminate feelings of possessiveness, greed, and self-centeredness, and overcome jealousy and envy to rejoice in others' happiness. 

Pesso divides the guide into sequential exercises broken down into numbers of manageable steps. Each of the book's 40 exercises uses the same first foundational segment ("First Invite Love In"), intended to help you "mentally dwell in a space of love"; it is never skipped, because it is critical to providing the spiritual and emotional resources needed to "open your heart" without leaving you physically exhausted. Each also employs the same final segment ("Seal with a Vow and Rejoice"), intended to aid retention and build on insights gained. The techniques are explained in an easily understood way, and the intended results of each exercise are articulated clearly.

Between the first and final segments is a specific compassion practice. Together, all of the core practices, when mastered, provide the means to achieving and demonstrating a compassionate life. Use of a number of metaphors — sunshine, snowfall, song — facilitates visualizations of and meditations on a particular practice. For example, the Song Metaphor is used to help increase feelings of loving-kindness toward others. To illustrate:

Imagine that you can sing a song that is so exquisite that it brings indescribable happiness to everyone who hears it. Imagine that when someone hears this song they, too, start singing in the same way. First sing the song to everyone you care deeply about, then to people you don't like, then to a stadium full of strangers, then to a vast expanse of people as far as the eye can see. Remember to imagine hearing everyone singing the song after you first sing it to them.
~ "Widening the Heart to Embrace the World with Loving-Kindness" (p. 95)*

You achieve progress at your pace and move on only when you feel you have achieved the results you want. There is no timeline to follow, no expectations to work against other than those you impose yourself, any step may be repeated as many times as may be necessary or desired, and "short form" guidance is offered to make remembering and following each practice easier.

There is a lot of text to read and absorb. I've found it best to read each chapter in full at least once before beginning any of the exercises, and then each step in each segment, one at a time. As Pesso suggests,  going slowly and with concentration and intent ensures comprehension and reduces the need to interrupt routine to refer back to text.

An aside: I do think that it would be helpful to have an audio version of the guide, especially when attempting some of the visualizations. (This is a personal preference, and in no way detracts from the book's format. I simply like hearing words guiding me for a first time through a visualization.) Perhaps subsequent editions might also include a CD, to enable use of the guide by people who have difficulty reading.

The Foreword to First Invite Love In is provided by The Dalai Lama. Included as an Appendix is a very useful full set of "short forms": all of the compassion practices delineated in the body of the guide but abbreviated and collected in one place.

Pesso is building a Website, recording meditations for an iPhone app, and planning a speaking tour. As of this writing, she will be discussing and signing her book at Manchester By The Book, in Manchester, Massachusetts, April 10, 7:30 p.m. - 9:00 p.m.; a wine and cheese reception will follow. On May 26, Pesso will be speaking at the Rockport Library at 7:00 p.m.

Pesso's book is sold through Amazon (it is linked in the first paragraph of this review) and through Wisdom Publications. Wisdom is a nonprofit publisher based in Somerville, Massachusetts.

To follow Tana Pesso on Twitter, go here.
* Excerpt © 2010 Tana Pesso. 


Lou Belcher said...

Thanks for the review of this book and the issue. I hadn't heard of the book. It sounds as if she's covered the topic beautifully.

Deborah Barlow said...

I have read this book and was very moved by it as well. And even though I am familiar with it, your review reminded me all over again of how deeply sourced Pesso's material felt to me.

This is not a breezy easy book and yet it isn't oppressively heavy either. Your words capture its intensity and power but also its likability. As always, you approach your material with such an even handed professionalism and heartfelt depth.

Tess said...

Hmmm, I had vowed not to buy any more books for a while, but you tempt me...

Beth said...

Thank you so much for sharing this with us - I shall seek out this book - I love the message and the gift it is giving us!

Laura said...

Oh, Maureen, this sounds wonderful. It sounds like something I could incorporate into my practice too. I'm always looking for new tools to teach my patients "transform their minds".

I think mine could use a little tweaking too.

Thank you!

Billy Coffey said...

Thanks for bringing this to my attention, Maureen. I'm going to have to get this book.

Deiren Masterson said...

Hi Maureen,

I just found your blog through a post on a the Art + Spirit LinkedIn group that we're both members of. The book sounds very interesting. I was interested to hear of the Zen Budhism mentorship influence for the book - some of the life lessons you spoke of felt like one's I experience through my friendship with a man who has severe cerebral palsy but whose peaceful life of acceptance and living joyfully in the now are innately Zen like, and 'transformed' my perspective dramatically. Thanks and nice to meet you...

Rangdrol said...

Hi Maureen, I love your blog, especially writing by a writer and a poet! I was equally surprised to see my friend Tana Pesso's book, and a photo of her, in your mention.

Tana has been a friend and fellow practitioner for many years and in fact it was at her home that I met the man who eventually became my root guru.

Tana is both a Tibetan Buddhist practitioner and a great student herself. I noted that one blogger had responded that she was always looking for techniques which might help her "patients".

I'm sure that for some patients, this might be very good, but I wanted to mention that as a practitioner of Tibetan Buddhism, we are encouraged to practice ourselves, and it is because of Tana's great devotion and practices that she has been able to share this book.

Practitioners of Buddhism who embrace the teachings learn many techniques which eventually become second-nature, including practicing loving kindness, learning how to love others, including strangers, and those we in fact do not love.

These teachings are not just for "patients", let us make this perfectly clear; there are very few people who are able to love all their fellow human beings. In fact quite the opposite is true, we all need these teachings, and Tana Pesso makes them available to all of us.