A New View of Compassion: A universal idea gets specific

This week, my church hosted a community non-profit called The Compassion Project. Their mission is to lead arts-based educational projects that cultivate compassion for others.

The workshop began with a meditation on compassion. 
... I closed my eyes 
... I breathed in through my nose 
... I exhaled through my mouth 
... my body melted into my chair
... my mind cleared.

The leader asked a series of questions, pausing between each one so we could listen to our silent answers. 

"What is compassion? 

What color is it? 

If it could speak, what would it whisper in your ear?"

As we opened our eyes, we were invited to sketch our visions. I knew coming into this session that we'd be painting a wooden tile, and I felt called to include something about disability, so I weaved my meditation ideas around this topic.

I took my time developing my drawing then went to get some painting supplies. I began with a yellow background so I could layer in a sunset. 

This symbolized warmth.

I moved my brush to the bottom of the tile and formed an open hand that would hold the main object of the design.

This symbolized support.

I rinsed my brush and mixed portions of blue and red paint to make a dark purple, the color I had thought of during meditation. I used it to draw the international sign for handicapped access. I placed it in the palm of the hand.

This symbolized disability.

To complete the concept, I superimposed a heart over the wheel of the wheelchair then added vines and flowers growing over everything.

This symbolized love and beauty.

As I worked, I glanced at the other tiles in progress, and other participants looked at mine. 

I started to compare and wondered if I'd missed the mark on the project.

The other paintings were more common or abstract. A rabbit in the grass. A woman and her dog on a bench. Bubbles of color that included letters to spell Love All. 

For an instant I envied their creations and wanted to hide mine. I pictured the art installation as it would be displayed on a wall in the church. I imagined people viewing the tiles and wondering how my very specific and obvious image related to compassion. I feared their judgement of being self-centered and not relevant.

Then in the next instant, with those same people in mind, I changed the story.

I had an opportunity to offer a new perspective on compassion, to open the door to someone who wasn't disabled to understand what it might be like. To empathize. To extend compassion.

I also remembered that one in four people have a disability that impacts a major part of their life. So maybe my tile was more universal than I thought.

The final part of the project was to write an Artist's Statement about my tile. I chose my words carefully to ensure my message was clear.

   "Compassion is finding 
    beauty, love, and support 
    for all people, no matter 
    their physical limits or 

I sat back and viewed my tile with new eyes. More loving eyes. Compassionate eyes. And I smiled.

What does compassion look like to you?

How do others' views help you understand compassion?

Some Doorways from this week:

  • I had an opportunity to hear a 94-year-old man tell his story about aging and his view on life. It was moving and inspiring!
  • I celebrated my birthday with a family dinner last weekend, and when I walked in the door, I was greeted with hugs and birthday wishes from my nephews. Then I had homemade pizza and chocolate cake with strawberries. I was grateful for such sweet treats!
  • I also went out to dinner unexpectedly on my birthday with my husband and his friends from high school. The night was filled with joyous laughter and a free dessert. It was beautiful!


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