Practicing Compassion in our Everyday Lives

A few Saturdays ago we went to the Frist Center for the Visual Arts to see the completed Buddhist sand mandala before it is deconstructed in May. It also happened to be a free day for museum admission and something called Slow Art Day, where you were supposed to take your time to enjoy the displays. We were bumped and jostled about as we stood listening to the story of the mandala a woman asking a million disruptive questions, ranging from where the monks stayed while they were in Nashville to what kind of permit was needed to throw colored sand into the Cumberland River.

The theme of the mandala is “compassion”. Compassion is the response to the suffering of others that motivates a desire to help them.

As we stood suffering through the endless questions, the people not wanting to wait their turn for a better view, and the guy that actually asked Angie to move, I starting thinking about compassion. The word most often comes to mind when we think of people affected by disasters, starving children in foreign countries, homeless vets living on the streets, and so on, but compassion is actually a lot smaller than that.

Take a look around you right now. Chances are the person next to you is not hungry, homeless, or in physical pain at this very moment but what about the suffering you can’t see? What is that person’s home life like? What burdens are they carrying with them today? For that matter, what burden are you carrying today? Even the happiest people in the world have worries and concerns. Just because we can’t see them, doesn’t mean they don’t exist or deserve any less of our compassion.

To me, compassion is kindness and kindness is something we can practice every day in every single situation with every person we encounter. And it’s not something that needs to be noted.

So often we see posts on social media about random acts of kindness. People point out their own “thoughtful” behavior – buying a cup of coffee for a stranger, returning a wallet dropped on the street, carrying groceries for a neighbor, or taking time to talk to someone on the bus. All of these things are great and in my opinion, this type of thoughtful behavior should be commonplace, not random. We should all make a conscious effort to practice compassion.

Standing there at the mandala, I decided to put these words into action and show kindness to the strangers around me because…

Just like me, these people were at the museum to enjoy the exhibit.

Just like me, they had questions.

Just like me, they wanted to see and learn.

Just like me, they were pursuing happiness. 

And just like me, they need love, understanding, and the freedom to enjoy life on their own terms. 

Despite our differences, we all have a lot in common as human beings. To treat our fellow man with apathy or disrespect is to treat ourselves the same.

 

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