No One Stands Outside the Circle of Compassion

by Founder Killian Noe

Susie lived in darkness. A few minutes after her birth—due to a mistake made by a medical professional in the delivery room—she lost her sight. She also lived in the darkness of loneliness and isolation that comes with addiction—until she met Rose.

Rose accompanied Susie to Recovery Café for 14 years, navigating four different buses each visit. Rose was there with Susie in her Recovery Circle, in the yoga program, and in most of the other classes offered in our School for Recovery. Since Susie could not see the yoga positions being demonstrated in class, Rose created four-inch figurines out of wire so Susie could feel the different positions with her fingers. At Recovery Café, Susie experienced the light of love that emanates from others and saw it ignite the love that came from inside herself.

Once I shared my observation with Rose, “You have saved Susie’s life.”

Rose responded, “No, Susie saved my life; it’s what we do for others that saves us.”

Last Thursday, Susie suffered cardiac arrest. Rose went with her to the emergency room—and just as she had walked alongside Susie in life, she was there at Susie’s side in death.

I think a lot about what is required of us as Recovery Café Network members as we walk alongside others through the darkness of these times.

How do we help nurture a healing, national movement of Recovery Cafés in this emotionally charged, politically divided age? I’d like to offer two suggestions.

First, when talking about a charged issue, we can find a way to acknowledge that some feel as passionately about that issue from a different perspective. Just recognizing a differing view—rather than assuming everyone sees things as we do—is a way of “meeting people/Cafés where they are.”

I am not suggesting silence in the face of suffering, injustice, or hateful ideology. We must raise our voices for the dignity of all. We cannot accept racism or any other form of dehumanization of other members of our human family.

To deny the oneness of the human family is perilous: perilous for those suffering exclusion and perilous for those denying our oneness. We do, however, need to acknowledge, listen to, and seek to understand differing political views as part of our call to be communities of compassion in which no one is left out.

Can we share our own truth without contempt for those who hold a different position? This is extremely challenging. But if we want to stand for the dignity of every human being, we must find ways to connect with the humanity of those with whom we adamantly disagree.

Father Greg Boyle, Founder of Homeboy Industries, put it this way: “We want to be able to say, ‘This person doesn’t belong to us.’ We want to be able to say, ‘This person is other and outside.’ Yet we’re all being invited, at every moment, to imagine the circle of compassion. Then imagine that no one’s standing outside that circle.”

Ashley Green, Director of the Recovery Café Network, recently engaged an applicant to the Recovery Café Network in an authentic conversation on the Network’s policy of non-discrimination. The applicant was impressive in so many ways, but their founding organization was not able to fully embrace our commitment to not leave anyone outside the circle, more specifically our commitment to non-discrimination of staff members who are gay. After deep listening, respectful conversation, and authentic exchange, the Network “blessed and released” this applicant. They did not become part of the Network because they could not commit to our non-discrimination policy. However, they withdrew their application having felt heard and wishing us well.

All Cafés in the Network embrace certain profoundly important commitments, like our six Core Commitments. Even though we gather around those common commitments, differing views still exist, of course, on a number of political positions. Acknowledging, deep listening, and seeking to understand will help unite our Network and could help save our democracy. Again, I am not calling us to unite with hateful, marginalizing ideologies. I am calling us to transforming relationships with those we would rather leave outside our circle of compassion.

Second, after acknowledging the differing views among us (on our staffs, among Members, and among Cafés in the Network) and, when appropriate, creating space for hearing those differing views, we can always seek to return to what unites us: our common mission to create healing, transformative communities for those suffering trauma and the results of trauma like homelessness, exclusion, addiction, and other mental health challenges. Our call is to create healing communities which heal lives and ultimately heal our painfully divided nation and world.

Nelson Mandela was once asked if he was still angry at his captors after he was released from prison. He answered yes, he was still angry for a time, but he realized that if he stayed angry he would still be a prisoner—and he wanted to be free.

We cannot waste energy hating or “othering” when there are so many—ourselves included—longing to be free.

Thank you to the Medford (Oregon) Recovery Café for the photo of one of their Recovery Circles.