By LeesaMaree Bleicher
“In the depth of winter; I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible
Wearing a stark white cloak against an every shade of blue sky, winter bares the burden of revealing sensitivity to the world. With little to no adornment, winter paints sensitivity with soft wispy clouds, serenades feelings with a whispering wind, and nudges smiles with kisses of sunlight. Winter challenges us to see the beauty in the grey and brown tones that color the earth and sky, to see the sun in a storm and to hear a melody in the rainfall. The subtle shift in seasons stirs something within us, calling us to be aware of the change in nature’s palate to feel and align with the season’s temperament.
Practicing compassion requires us to do this same little swing inward and outward; this dance of the senses supports us in refining our sensitivity.
As human beings we have the ability to feel compassion, but we don’t always act in a compassionate way. If we seek to be sensitive and deepen sensitivity slowly, the senses will expand, seep into, and saturate the heart into softness. So when you feel the tug of compassion, your heart is already yielding. Your natural reaction will be to want to ease the suffering of that which you see. Instead of reasons why not to, you will act with the confidence of the universe supporting you, and in that moment, you will do what you can to help another being.
If we have a goal of practicing compassion in any meaningful way, we must make an effort to increase our sensitivity. How do we do that? By opening our eyes wide and looking out in the world and seeing and feeling. It could be the velvet softness of a kitten’s fur, the fragrance of morning mist, the solemn face of a neighbor. It’s feeling the kitten’s fur, inhaling the scent of morning and smiling to acknowledge your neighbor.
Acts of compassion are expressed in the smallest kindnesses of everyday life. Throughout each moment of each day we should be mindful to be sensitive to the suffering, the beauty and the idea that we are all connected to each other, this earth, and the universe.
One way that I teach youth to increase sensitivity and practice compassion is to ask them to go out in the world and perform random acts of kindness, to look for ways to ease other beings suffering. I usually begin with the following true story that involves stopping to rescue an animal. The story goes like this:
Everyday Compassion In Action
We are driving into town on a sienna summer’s afternoon. I am mesmerized by the color of the rain; it’s like drizzling glitter falling from opalescent clouds. I am gushing and going on about the glittering rain when I notice, under an overpass laying in a filth-strewn gutter is a bird inches away from the wheels of a car. He is too still, but I can see that his eyes are open.
“Stop!” I shriek. “There is a bird lying in the gutter! His wing is broken! We have to stop and get him out of there!”
My boyfriend refuses to stop driving past the injured bird. I am panicking now and we begin to argue. I am frantic. I demand he stop.
Despite his sideways glances of irritation, I keep insisting he stop. Reluctantly, he turns, and we end up in a hotel parking lot. I hurl myself up and out of my seat, slamming the door, and grabbing his work safety vest. As I stomp away, I mutter, not so quietly to myself, that God sees everything, and how could he be so cruel? Couldn’t he see how the poor thing is frightened? How he is suffering?
No. He does not see that. He is telling me about the disease these birds carry and how it is probably going to die anyway and how everyone will be looking at us thinking we are crazy, about how this is Oregon and people hunt here and they don’t care about a filthy pigeon. This only infuriates me more and makes me more determined to save this little bird. As I march across the street, I feel a pull to relieve this little bird’s suffering. I know I have a responsibility to do what I can.
At this point my boyfriend tries to redeem himself by assuring me that his wing will heal.
“It will?” I say in a childlike tone.
He sees me, puzzled, as the expression on my face says, “What I can do?”
If I was in the San Francisco Bay Area I could take him to the bird sanctuary. Here I quickly realize the only thing I can do is pick him up gently and place him somewhere out of immediate danger. As I scoop him up and coo softly, covering him with the safety vest. He slowly stops flapping his wings and settles into my hands. I walk into the grassy area littered with pigeon poop, trash, and bits of bread and birdseed and look for a place to set him down to rest. Settling on a smooth grassy area, I carefully place him next to some breadcrumbs and say a prayer.
On the table in front of 9 young men ages 12-17, there is a box of crayons, two dozen colored pencils, and a variety of art supplies: ink pens, pipe cleaners, colored crepe paper, thin ribbons, and plain white paper.
“We are going to make paper flowers,” I tell them in a sunshiny filled voice that has them rolling their eyes. They’re not only going to make flowers, but they’re also going to write little notes that say “Happy, kind, loving things” and tie them with the ribbon.
They begin to sigh dramatically as if they already know what I am going to ask them to do next.
“You’re not going to make us give these to people are you?” one boy asks.
“Yes that is exactly what I am going to ask you to do!”
Before the protests get too loud, I sit down at the table and begin to make a flower myself. Pushing the craft supplies towards each one and telling them how happy their girlfriends, mothers, sisters, cousins, grandparents would be to receive one. I tell them some people go days years, even longer, without a kind word. And were they to have “one of you, with your beautiful smiles come up to them and say, ‘This is for you. Have a beautiful day.’ Well, that would bring so much joy to their hearts.”
The boys make their flowers and ask me “What do I write?”
I tell them to write what is in their hearts.
About an hour later I look up and see these young men, laughing, joking and making flowers. They’re intently staring at their blank pieces of paper and taking the time to think about what they will say.
One boy says how there is an old man who sits on his porch alone all day and that he is going to give him one. I begin to smile.
“Maybe I’ll ask him about the war. My mom says he was in the war.”
And I feel a small tear form as I watch his heart soften into sensitivity. This boy, who six weeks ago would not speak, show up on time, or do as I ask, is finally softening. Today, he is making a paper flower.