Topic Archives: compassionate love

“Giving of the self for the good of the other” is the description of Compassionate Love I have used in research and writing. This kind of other- centered love was at the heart of a science research program I initiated along with others. It has resulted in many research projects and publications in this area. The Wikipedia entry on Compassionate Love has reference to my work in this area. “The Flow of Love” is a theme in my recently completed book, Spiritual Connection in Daily Life, and it is a crucial element of ordinary spiritual experience.

the spiritual practice of drawing portraits

drawing by lynn

When I draw or paint someone, I find myself exploring the heart of the person, and becoming sympathetic to their fears, their desires, their concerns.  We can never fully understand what another person is feeling or their circumstances or history, but we can stretch into that in our portraits.  We are limited by our skills. But we can still move in love toward the person, and see the fundamental value of another human being, when we draw them. For me, this is a spiritual practice.

art and love

Drawing of the artist Felix Scheinberger by Lynn

“There is nothing more truly artistic than to love people.”

-Vincent Van Gogh in a letter to his brother.

St Kevin and the Blackbird


This poem is one of my favorite descriptions of compassionate love. I did this drawing in response to it. This poem continues to speak to me today, to those moments when I find myself in situations where I think I just do not have anything more in me to give. Where do you get the strength to love when you seem to have nothing left in the tank?





“St Kevin and the Blackbird”, by Seamus Heaney,

from The Spirit Level (Faber and Faber, 1996) (c) Seamus Heaney 1996
And then there was
St Kevin and the blackbird.
The saint is kneeling,
arms stretched out,
inside his cell, but the cell is narrow, soOne turned-up palm is out the window, stiff As a crossbeam, when a blackbird lands and Lays in it and settles down to nest.

Kevin feels the warm eggs, the small breast, the tucked neat head and claws and, finding himself linked
Into the network of eternal life,

Is moved to pity: now he must hold his hand
Like a branch out in the sun and rain for weeks Until the young are hatched and fledged and flown.


And since the whole thing’s imagined anyhow, Imagine being Kevin. Which is he? Self-forgetful or in agony all the time

From the neck on out down through his hurting forearms? Are his fingers sleeping? Does he still feel his knees?
Or has the shut-eyed blank of underearth

Crept up through him? Is there distance in his head? Alone and mirrored clear in Love’s deep river,
‘To labour and not to seek reward,’ he prays,

A prayer his body makes entirely
For he has forgotten self, forgotten bird
And on the riverbank forgotten the river’s name.

moon language

“With That Moon Language” by Hafiz, a 14th-century poet from Iran

drawing by lynn

Admit something:
Everyone you see, you say to them, “Love me.”
Of course you do not do this out loud, otherwise someone would call the cops.
Still, though, think about this: this great pull in us to connect.
Why not become the one who lives with a moon in each eye,
that is always saying,
with that sweet moon language,
what every other eye in this world is dying to hear?


drawing by lynn

Drawing can help us uncover distress in someone, and touch them tenderly. 


Can drawing fuel my love?

I had the wonderful opportunity to be in the LA area this past academic year on a research fellowship. During the many meetings and conferences, when I was not speaking myself, I tried to capture something of the essence of people by drawing them—a perfect drawing was not the goal.  Drawing people has continued to enable me to better engage with the topics.

Even more importantly for me, drawing people has continued to be a spiritual practice, stretching beyond the surface of the person and embracing them.  Can drawing people stretch our love towards them? For me, the answer is yes.



I have been part of a group of scholars these past few months, discussing suffering from the perspectives of literature, philosophy, theology and psychology. During our weekly conversations I have found that drawing people in the group, as always, helps me to focus. Although ideas are so often the center of academic discussions, it is the human beings that speak to me. Each person has a depth of being, a fullness of life, that I want to capture somehow. Doing this brings me to appreciate them more.

Why beauty?

art by lynn

But are these beautiful because we think them so, or because they are beautiful in the mind of nature or the mind of God, beautiful by intention inborn in a world beloved?


Beauty is the crisis of our knowing, the signature of love indwelling in all created things, called from nothing by love, recognized and answered by love in the human heart, not reducible by any analysis to any fact.


–Wendell Berry, A Small Porch, Counterpoint Press, 2016

parting the curtain

My continuing passion is to part a curtain, that invisible veil of indifference that falls between us and that blinds us to each other’s presence, each other’s wonder, each other’s human plight.

-Eudora Welty, author

good conversation

“16 questions” by lynn

What makes for a good interview? I think Dr. Rachael Kohn has it nailed. I had the privilege of being interviewed by her on the Australian public radio ABC show The Spirit of Things, which aired on March 26. She is an exemplar of how we can help good conversations to happen in our daily lives. We can ask questions that bring out the other person, and sometimes stretch them in an accepting context. We can take time to listen to the answers, rather than thinking about what we are going to say next. We can find out about the other person, and engage with them, not use them as a vehicle to press our point of view. When in the course of research, I  interviewed people about the practices that were important for compassionate love, ‘really listening to the other person,’ was one of those practices.

Rachael engages in conversation with a perfectly lovely voice, and that helps this too. She sets the person at ease through her respectful and honest attitude. She gently asks probing and sometimes hard questions, which enable interpersonal connection and understanding to happen. Of course, a conversation that is designed to be broadcast, and happens between continents, can never be like one over coffee or at home, and because it was an interview I didn’t get to ask her questions, but nevertheless, this same kind of asking and listening can happen in our own living rooms or when we are in a variety of social situations.

The show, which includes a poem and quotes from the Spiritual Connection in Daily Life book, is now up on the ABC website, where it can be played or downloaded  Her balanced approach provides a model for us all for how to make a space for truly good conversation.

Capturing the essence

I love drawing faces. It feel so good when I actually feel like I have touched the essence of the person and it also actually kind of looks like them. There is something about the way we see a person that can help us to capture the essence. Ubi amor ibi oculus, where there is love, there is sight.

drawing of eric by lynn

drawing of eric by lynn


“To draw a tree, to pay such close attention to every aspect of a tree, is an act of reverence not only toward the tree, but also to our human connection to it. It gives us almost visionary moments of connectedness.” Alan Lee

sketch of dove by lynn

sketch of dove by lynn

For me, spiritual connection with God (or the divine or holy as expressed in other words), is part of why making art gives me such joy. I keep doing art for a variety of reasons, but one of them is definitely, for me personally, this spiritual connection that I see more clearly in the process – to the world, to God, and to the holy immanent in the world itself.

My friend loves looking at disintegrating buildings, and in paying close attention to those, something resonates deep within him. It is not just the obviously beautiful that can bring this sense of connection to us, but often things that do not look so great on the surface. When we look at other people with reverence and respect a sense of spiritual connection can be especially present. All of us are a mixed bag of the obviously lovely, and things that do not look that great. How miraculous that we can have reverence for one another nevertheless.


means to a means

Well Water

Well Water, by Randall Jarrell, Vintage Contemporary Poetry, pg 65-66, Discovered in the notebooks of Gertrude Beversluis)

Immanuel Kant, not my favorite philosopher, was adamant that we should treat people as “ends in themselves”, not only as means to an end.  Some people try to manipulate us, flatter us, and basically see us as means to their ends, ways to get what they want to happen. This is demeaning for us, even if we don’t consciously realize what’s going on.

We even do this to ourselves in our daily lives. And this is what this poem reminds me of. I so often slip into putting myself on the “squirrel-wheel”, pushing the wheel, getting only rusty water.  When I treat myself as only a means to an end I demean myself.  Instead I want to see daily life like the author does at the end of the poem, and gulp from the clear fresh water of the dailiness of life as I do tasks, relaxing with pleasure into the flow of life.

seeing better

Ubi amor ibi oculus

A new dimension of seeing is opened up by love alone. And this means contemplation is visual perception prompted by loving acceptance.

–Josef Pieper, Three Talks in a Sculptor’s Studio

art by lynn

art by lynn

valentine days

photo of my daughter by lynn 2015

photo by lynn 2015

I received an email from a counselor/researcher in Kenya last week. He was researching what makes for flourishing marriages. And it reminded me of a study in the Science of Compassionate Love book that reported predictors of good marriages many years on. When people began their relationships with both a global adoration of the other, and an accurate picture of their flaws, they had a better chance of the relationship still being strong and good years later. Being loved by someone who knows our flaws, our weaknesses, and still thinks we are wonderful, ‘the bee’s knees,’  is so great. I think it has a divine source, a source that is ‘more than’. Some of us do not experience this kind of love in romantic relationships, but taste it in other human relationships and/or our relationship with God. To receive this kind of love requires vulnerability on our part.

In my Perspectives: Art, Science, and Spirituality class, one assignment is to select a piece of art — film, poetry, visual art, fiction — that represents compassionate love. One young man brought this one in. When he read it to the class, this poem gave most of us a taste of a kind of love that is truly nourishing. It transcends the romantic, helping us to inhabit eternal love.

Gate C22 by Ellen Bass



Animated film: ‘Mother’

from "Mother" animation

from “Mother”

I have been a fan of animated films all my life. This recent student film is a gem. It articulates themes of the flow of love, compassionate love, in ways that words so often fail to do. It is not too sweet, and is nested in the complexity of life.

Here is a link to it on vimeo.

our bodies, ourselves

Mr. Duffy lived a short distance from his body.” —James Joyce, Dubliners

We so often forget our bodies, ignore them, and even treat them badly. Bodies are literally wonderful, even when they are not behaving in ways that we like. Even in sickness, or when causing us grief. One of the reasons I love the Christmas season so much, is its reminder to me that the spiritual and physical aspects of our lives are linked. The Christmas story of the divine entering into the messiness of the human condition reminds me that the divine is also involved in my messy condition. The story does not describe some pristine scene, with everyone in their best clothes, pretending that challenging feelings are not there. It is a story where a pregnant woman arrives in a strange place, there is no room in the inn, and she ends up in a stable with dirt and animals and has her baby there. Having a baby is very physical – not clean and tidy. And the first visitors are the local shepherds, probably with some sheep. The whole scene connects with physical bodies and situations and messy emotions. There was lots of worry and pain and puzzlement, as well as joy and amazement.

During the Christmas season I sing with my body, eat good things with my body, hug and am hugged with my body, worship with my body. I suffer when things are not going so well – with people or physically. I find myself suffering on behalf of others less fortunate than I am. I feel the pain of this in my body. And the Christmas story keeps bringing me back to the reality of the divine in my physical being. Reminding me that if I leave my body out of the equation, I am not truly living life.

You will be entering this holiday season in your body—there is not much chance of doing without it! Can you think of how your whole being engages with the various aspects of the holiday season? In relationships, with food, with consuming, in giving, with music. Pay attention to signals that your body sends: of grief, distress, need – but also of joy, affection and delight. Don’t let your body just go on autopilot, but welcome it into the mix. Enter into the complexity of the holiday season with your whole being and see where that takes you.

drawing by Rembrandt

drawing by Rembrandt



from Scaffolding: Selected Poems, by Jane Cooper, Tilbury House, 1993

Our relationships with others challenge our sense of ourselves, and our perception of the spaces we live in. How do we listen? How do we make space for each other? How do we envision the places we live in together?

art and love

…To see in contemplation, is not limited only to the tangible surface of reality; it certainly perceives more than mere appearances. Art flowing from contemplation does not so much attempt to copy reality as rather to capture the archetypes of all that is. Such art does not want to depict what everybody already sees but to make visible what not everybody sees….

To this end we have to consider a certain aspect of the term “contemplation”…. The ancient expression of the mystics applies here: ubi amor, ibi oculus — the eyes see better when guided by love; a new dimension of ‘seeing’ is opened up by love alone! And this means contemplation is visual perception prompted by loving acceptance…affectionate affirmation.”

-Josef Pieper, Only the Lover Sings: Art and Contemplation, Ignatius Press 1990. pg 74

painting by lynn

painting by lynn

love remains

What thou lovest well remains, the rest is dross”

wrote the modernist poet Ezra Pound in Canto 81.

drawing by lynn

                                                                                 drawing by lynn

Limited descriptions in the media and by others about the way the world is structured frustrate me. Pinning dead butterflies to a wall, scientists and those describing science so often remove the vibrancy from concepts and the rich tapestry of life. Science is very useful – informing our understanding of the world in practical ways that can make life so much better. I spent years doing cancer research and public health work, and the result, even of my work, was that some lives were saved, through earlier detection. But to frame everything up in scientific terms, to give reductionism and determinism the high ground, is a mistake. Science can inform our understanding of love – illuminating some of the situations and circumstances that might promote love – and in other ways such as helping us understand some of the psychological and biological impediments. But in the end, there is something about self-giving love centered on the good of another, that is just amazing, and cannot be reduced to equations, and mechanical and chemical flux. A transcendent element of a full life.



Not the one who takes up his bed and walks
But the ones who have known him all along
And carry him in –

Their shoulders numb, the ache and stoop deeplocked
in their backs, the stretcher handles
slippery with sweat. And no let-up

Until he’s strapped on tight, made tiltable
and raised to the tiled roof, then lowered for healing.
Be mindful of them as they stand and wait

for the burn of the paid-out ropes to cool,
their slight lightheadedness and incredulity
to pass, those ones who had known him all along.

By Seamus Heaney from Human Chain (Faber and Faber, London 2010)


art by lynn

art by lynn

representing reality

art by lynn

art by lynn

I have been reading a great book by the artist Ben Shahn, written in the 50’s entitled The Shape of Content. I find myself these days wondering why I do art, and what I am trying to do with it.  What is its purpose? Shahn was a wonderful graphic artist and his words inspire me.  When I was helping to find cover art for a book on the science of compassionate love, I offered this piece. The visual image on the cover was important. To pin compassionate love to the board like a butterfly was impossible. Visual art can stretch our thinking. It was a necessary complement to the scientific and analytic content of the book. I think somehow art can make a difference – that is one of the reasons I still do it.

good friends

Good friends have been such a blessing in my life. The notion of friendship mines the deep content of mutuality that stretches beyond tit-for-tat and natural affections, and duties. I have been reading a book by Aelred of Rievaulx, a Cistercian monk of 12th century Britain. He puts this so well:

“…[F]riendship among the just is born of a similarity in life, morals, and pursuits, that is, it is a mutual conformity in matters human and divine united with benevolence and charity.”

And later he goes on in more detail: “…[F]riendship bears fruit in this life and the next. It manifests all the virtues by its own charms; it assails vices by its own virtue; it tempers adversity and moderates prosperity.”  And he describes how important it is to have someone “to rejoice with him in adversity…to unburden his mind if any annoyance crosses his path, or with whom to share some unusually sublime or illuminating inspiration.”

He continues: “What happiness, what security, what joy, to have someone to whom you dare to speak on terms of equality as to another self; one to whom you need to have no fear to confess your failings; one to whom you can unblushingly make known what progress you have made in the spiritual life; one to whom you can entrust all the secrets of your heart and before whom you can place all your plans! What therefore is more pleasant than so to unite to oneself the spirit of another and the two to form one, that no boasting is thereafter to be feared, no suspicion to be dreaded, no correction of one by the other to cause pain, no praise on the part of the one to bring a charge of adulation from the other.  ‘A friend,’ says the Wise Man, ‘is the medicine of life.’ For medicine is not more powerful or more efficacious for our wounds in all our temporal needs than the possession of a friend who meets every misfortune joyfully…. who carries his own injuries even more lightly than that of his friend….’[F]riends,’ says Tullius, ‘though absent are present, though poor are rich, though weak are strong, and – what seems stranger still- though dead are alive.’

from Spiritual Friendship, by Aelred of Rievaulx (translated by Mary Eugenia Laker) Cistercian Publications, Kalamazoo, MI 1974, pp. 61,73-75.

Art that changes

How do we view visual art, and what happens to us when we view certain works in a contemplative way? Sometimes art with religious themes can transport even those who do not agree with the faith tradition of the artist. Pelagia Horgan wrote about the art of Fra Angelico and others.  She refers to a photograph in the article, a photo of the inside of a monastic cell in Florence. Fra Angelico did frescos on the walls of this monastery, and the photo is of the inside of one of the monastic cells, of its walls, its window, and the fresco. Horgan in her article grapples with the apparent incongruity of being touched by religious art when she does not hold a set of cognitive beliefs that are the same as the beliefs of that particular religion. She writes:

Samaritaan by VanGogh

Samaritaan by Vincent Van Gogh

“It struck me that this is what faith is – not a set of propositions you hold to be true, or a set of rules you follow, but an atmosphere you live in, that changes your experience of the world, your sense of what and how things are.”

This is an enriching view, it seems to me. Not that beliefs have no value, but I spend a lot of time in the borderlands of those who assert set beliefs and those who disagree with them.  Certain art can step beyond those boundaries if we let it, changing our experience of the world, our sense of what and how things are…


compassionate love

drawing by lynn

drawing by lynn

St Kevin and the Blackbird, by Seamus Heaney is part of Chapter 6, “The Flow of Love”, in my Spiritual Connection in Daily Life book.  I wrote:

 I think about love for my daughters and how it feels. I wonder about how it influences their obvious care for others. Where did it come from? What keeps it going?

An Irish legend about St. Kevin forms the basis of a poem by Seamus Heaney. The poem describes St. Kevin kneeling in his monastic cell, praying with arms outstretched, one out the window through the bars of the cell. A bird settles in his outstretched hand and makes a nest there. Because of his compassionate love, Kevin just stays in that position until the eggs hatch. It must have been very hard, and he would have become very tired and wanted to stop. Not even reflecting on the logistics, where did he find the energy to continue holding the nest while the eggs hatched? Heaney in his poem touches on the eternal and rooted wellspring of love in the midst of difficulties, and how care for the bird allows that wellspring to flow through Kevin.

Are you holding any birds that have begun to nest? Do you ever find yourself stuck in the midst of commitment and care, in distress yet still desiring to love? Do you find yourself overextended in some way or another? And then what do you do? How do you sustain this love and care? How does that feel? ….”

This drawing of mine was inspired by the wonderful poem. Here is a link to Heaney reading it with his soft Northern Irish accent.


What is a spiritual experience after all?  Sometimes we can have a sense of what it ought to be and that can get in the way. I find that the poem, Veni Creator, by Czeslaw Milosz, a Lithuanian-Polish poet, from the book, Collected Poems, 1931-1987, speaks to me.


drawing by lynn

drawing by lynn

Wedding by Alice Oswald

From time to time our love is like a sail
and when the sail begins to alternate
from tack to tack, it’s like a swallowtail
and when the swallow flies it’s like a coat;
and if the coat is yours, it has a tear
like a wide mouth and when the mouth begins
to draw the wind, it’s like a trumpeter
and when the trumpet blows, it blows like millions . . .
and this, my love, when millions come and go
beyond the need of us, is like a trick;
and when the trick begins, it’s like a toe
tip-toeing on a rope, which is like luck;
and when the luck begins, it’s like a wedding,
which is like love, which is like everything.

This poem, Wedding, by Alice Oswald, is from The Thing in the Gap-stone Style (Oxford University Press)



art by lynn

I had the privilege last week of presenting/facilitating a day-long workshop for professional caregivers on the Daily Spiritual Experience Scale and the ideas in the Spiritual Connection book in Michigan. It provided a space for them to reflect and share, and nourish their own lives.  These many men and women are working in areas such as hospice, addiction services, ministry, counseling, nursing, prisons, hospital administration, hospital chaplaincy, and long-term care. I came away so appreciative of these individuals, and thinking how glad I am that they do this much needed work. The value of what they do far exceeds the remuneration they receive. I thought of the poem, Higdon Cove, from the book Gourd Song by Coleman Barks, about a man who helps the author get his car out of a ditch with his tractor, and quietly refuses any praise or payment, especially the final few lines…

There is a huge holly tree next to where I glided to a stop,

A solid thigh-trunk white-splotched

And stretching deep under the ditchwater.

Beauty, but not such as this man is,

beyond any tree.”

If any of the many who were there happen to read this blog. Thank you for what you do, but even more, for who you are.

resting places

drawing by lynn

drawing by lynn

We find rest in those we love,

and we provide a resting place in ourselves

for those who love us.

-Bernard of Clairvaux

messy yet glorious love

This sculpture is by Jay DeFeo, a beat artist from the 50’s/60’s/70’s, and I am sharing here a photo of it. The original of this work is approximately 11 by 5 feet, three-dimensionally rendered in oil paint with wood fragments and mica. The piece weights nearly 2,000 pounds and took over 8 years to complete, building layer upon layer, and is in the Whitney Museum in NYCity. museum

When it came time to pick a cover for a book I co-edited for Oxford University Press, I wanted something that would capture the ineffable and spectacular nature of altruistic love – giving of self for the good of the other – in close relationships and with strangers (and even in relationship with ourselves as “the other” that we want to flourish). My editor asked me to find something good. It was in the days before easily accessible art resources on the web, so I went down to the local art institute library and spent a happy afternoon going through art books and thinking about love.  Images were either only about particular kinds of love, or too sentimental, or had other problems. I wanted something that captured the transcendent nature of this other-centered love in many situations.  I finally discovered this piece of art and we ended up using it on the cover. The abstract touched the particular for me in a more universal way, and it has seemed to do so for many others.

This piece for me expresses much about compassionate love, love that facilitates flourishing, as it happens in the midst of our messy lives. Transcendent beauty shining over and through rough chunks and bits and pieces. If you look at this piece, and allow it to speak to you directly, what does it speak to you, what does it stir in you?  Is there any resonance with the way love is expressed in the midst of your life? My students have had to write a page of reflection of their emotional response to this piece of art, and many found it a useful exercise. You may be surprised what emerges if you just let yourself experience the piece and respond emotionally.

Mercy and Music

cello drawing by lynn

cello drawing by lynn

Mercy is a word that unfolds endlessly for me. Mercy touches me in ways that I cannot fully explain. I think some of it is the quality of acceptance in the midst of flaws and problems and mistakes and harms and hurts and difficulties. This mercy is there for all of us.  I recently encountered this piece entitled “Mercy” by Max Richter, composed at the request of the violinist Hilary Hahn.  Music can often speak in ways that words cannot. Tastes in music vary so much, but when students in my classes shared pieces with each other that touched them spiritually, I was impressed by how much communication could happen even if tastes were different. This music brings a restful peace to me, heightening my awareness of the presence of intense and all-embracing mercy.


jean vanierJean Vanier inspires me. He started the L’Arche communities. They bring people who are marginalized and restless from lack of community and care, together with those who learn to care for them. They especially create small caring communities for those who have developmental disabilities.

I met Jean Vanier over 30 years ago while living in Belfast, Northern Ireland.  A small room of about 20 people had gathered to hear him speak and talk with him. Meeting him made a strong impression on me, and I followed up by reading anything by him I could get my hands on. He was from an important political family in Canada, had served in the Navy in WWII, and then pursued a PhD in philosophy.  It was after this that he came to establish the L’Arche communities. As he spoke of the gift that those who had mental developmental disabilities were to him in his life, it helped me to see that what I had most valued in myself up to that time, my intellectual abilities, were not the most important thing in my life. The communities he started were based on mutual respect – those with developmental disabilities have things to share with us, things they can teach us, things they can give us. His life demonstrated how he really valued all people. We all have different gifts, and discovering those is an opportunity for each of us.

In addition to his writings on disability and community, he has also described human freedom in ways that I have found worth pondering.  In his book, Being Human, he wrote:  “Aristotle talks of our passions as being like a horse which has a life of its own.  We are riders who have to take into account the life of the horse in order to guide it where we want it to go.  We are not called to suppress our passions or compulsions, nor to confront them head on, nor to be governed by them, but to orient them in the direction we want to go….We set out on the road to freedom when we no longer let our compulsions or passions govern us.  We are freed when we begin to put justice, heartfelt relationships, and the service of others and of truth over and above our own needs for love and success or our fears of failure….”

Moving towards resting places


drawing by lynn

“A body tends by its weight towards the place proper to it – weight does not necessarily tend towards the lowest place but towards its proper place. Fire tends upwards, stone downwards. By their weight they are moved and seek their proper place…. Things out of their place are in motion: they come to their place and are at rest. My love is my weight: wherever I go, my love is what brings me there.”

– St Augustine


The Smile of the Soul

patience_ lynn underwood 2010In the Yes theme chapter (8) in the Spiritual Connection book, one of the things I reflect on is how we need to receptively allow life to unfold. In many ways, I think of myself as a patient person, but when I carefully look at my attitudes, I see impatience with myself in abundance. I did this piece of calligraphy a while back, a saying by Philippe Obrecht – “Patience is the soul’s smile…”  We can say yes to life as it is, ourselves as we are, as we wait in preparation for what is to come in its own time.  I am getting a strong message of patience right now – loud and clear.  I hope I can listen.

Compassionate Love: I, thou, and we

drawing by lynn

drawing by lynn

“The encounter between two people which leads to mutual recognition and the serious exchanges of friendship or love abolishes between them the third person which is the normal form of regard for another, and each becomes for the other a second person, a thou, and thenceforth they are together in the first person, a we. Each is present to the other and promises to be with the other always.  The intimate being of each is present to the other, and fidelity is the active cultivation and enjoyment of that presence always. Absence and even death does not destroy this presence, but is rather the proof of its veritability. For when one dies whose presence I have enjoyed in friendship or in love, either he becomes less than an object or else his presence (not a mere image or memory) remains as active within me as before. It depends on my willingness to continue to be truly present to him.”

Blackham, H. J. (1983). Six Existentialist Thinkers (Reprint.). Routledge. Chapter on Gabriel Marcel. P 76. Artwork Lynn Underwood

invited speaker united methodist association national conference

Presented “Spiritual Connection: A Resource for Professional Caregiving” as an invited plenary speaker at the 73rd National Conference of the United Methodist Association in Orlando, FL on March 5, 2013.

“philosophy talks” interview

I discussed  “Unconditional Love,” on “Philosophy Talks” Radio Program, Stanford University, December 9, 2012. Available as a podcast on itunes or at

enhancing communication and understanding in health care

Enhancing Communication and Understanding in Health Care, October 20, 2012, American Society for Bioethics and Humanities, Lynn Underwood, Washington D.C.
Spiritual and religious issues and values often influence how people cope with disease, make decisions, and behave in ways that affect their health. These may be particularly salient for them in chronic disease, mental health, addiction, times of medical crisis, and at end-of-life. It is often challenging to communicate with patients about religious and spiritual values and issues of importance without running headlong into beliefs that may polarize conversation and empathic understanding, and limit the caregiver’s capacity to attend to patient needs and desires.


The Daily Spiritual Experiences Scale (DSES) is a 16-item psychometrically validated scale that measures the frequency of ordinary experiences such as awe, compassionate love, mercy, divine closeness, sense of spiritual support, gratitude, and deep inner peace in daily life ( The DSES was constructed based on extensive qualitative research in multiple cultures. It has been used in over 100 published studies, included in the General Social Survey and longitudinal health studies, and translated into over 20 languages. It is linked to outcomes such as less addictive behaviors, better mood, decreased hospital stays, positive health behaviors, and diminished burnout. It has been used extensively in medicine, psychiatry, psychology and social work research. It functions well for people from various major religious backgrounds as well as for those who call themselves spiritual but not religious, and atheists. It does not reduce the spiritual to vague positive features, rather it allows for the kinds of experiences that encompass religious and spiritual depth. It is not only a potential mediating variable but also a measure of a significant component of quality of life for many.
This presentation will discuss ways in which the scale can be used in secular health-care settings to enhance the caregiver’s capacity to communicate with the patient and to help those who are ill to mobilize their own spiritual and religious resources to better cope with illness. Another use of the scale is as a self-exploration tool for caregivers themselves using a structured method to enhance self-understanding and their ability to communicate with others different from themselves. Scores have predicted less burnout in a large hospital system in Hong Kong, as well as in a study of those working in palliative care. This presentation will describe how this psychometrically validated set of 16 questions can be used.

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compassionate love publications by lynn underwood

The Science of Compassionate Love: Research, Theory, and Applications. Fehr. B. Sprecher, S, Underwood, LG, eds. Oxford England, Malden Mass: Wiley-Blackwell. 2009.

Altruism and Altruistic Love: Science, Philosophy, and Religion in Dialogue Post, SG, Underwood, LG, Schloss, JP, Hurlbut, WB, eds., Oxford University Press, 2002.


“Interviews with Trappist Monks as a Contribution to Research Methodology in the Investigation of Compassionate Love.” Underwood LG Journal for the Theory of Social Behavior, 35:3 (September, 2005), 285-302.

“Altruistic Love – Compassionate Love”. Underwood, L. In Harry T. Reis & Susan Sprecher (Eds.), Encyclopedia of Human Relationships. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. (2009)

“Chapter 1: Compassionate love: A framework for research” Underwood, Lynn G. in Fehr, Sprecher and Underwood The Science of Compassionate Love: Theory Research and Applications, Blackwell. Wiley- Blackwell. Malden Massachusetts, Oxford, England 2009.

“Giving of Self for the Good of the Other: Science Research on Compassionate Love and Spirituality” Underwood, Lynn G. in The Love that Does Justice, Edwards, Michael and Post Stephen (eds), Cleveland, Ohio 2008, p 133-138.

“Compassionate Love,” in Post, Stephen G. ed. 2004. Encyclopedia of Bioethics, 3rd edition. New York: Macmillan Reference USA, 483-488.

“The Human Experience of Compassionate Love: Conceptual Mapping and Data from Selected Studies”, in Post, SG, Underwood, LG, Schloss, JP, Hurlbut, WB, eds. Altruism and Altruistic Love: Science, Philosophy, and Religion in Dialogue, 2002. New York City: Oxford University Press. 72-88.

“Concluding Summary and Future Research Needs on Altruism and Altruistic Love,” with Post, SG in ibid. 3-12, 379-386.