Twenty years ago while stopped in traffic in Portland, Oregon’s downtown district, I looked to my left and watched an elderly homeless man stumble from the hold he had on his shopping cart of belongings: He fell to the ground.
In an instant, a man jumped from his truck and assisted the old one to his feet…to the steadying influence of his shopping cart. I wept at such compassion. Traffic began moving. I went on. Did the one coming to the old man’s aid know compassion and love?
The same year, while standing at a triage station in the Emergency Department of a university hospital, I observed something profoundly beautiful. Opposite me, across the station, a woman police officer was walking toward an exit, through the crowded waiting room. In but a moment, from behind her, a man took a running dive, springing from the back of a chair: He flew toward her. (I knew something the man did not: his target possessed a Second Degree Black Belt in the martial art of Teakwondo.)
Not only did this man’s actions arise suddenly, they were nearly silent. While the man was airborne, within a couple of feet of the officer’s shoulders, she, with the elegance of a dancer, albeit it with lightening speed, spiraled to her left and grabbed the man in midair. The police woman’s presence and motion were fierce.
In milliseconds, while directing the man to the floor, the woman changed her state of being to a controlling one engendered with a profoundly palpable presence of compassionate motion. Somehow this woman’s compassion cushioned the man’s body as it struck the floor. It did so more gently than thought possible. With hastened elegance, she constrained the man’s hands and arms, yet her gentle presence of compassion persisted. This was perceptible for all present to experience. Does this woman know compassion and love?
While walking vacant city center streets early one wintery morning, I came upon a homeless man sleeping under a light blanket in the middle of the snow covered sidewalk. I asked myself: “How do I do this? How do I be right with these circumstances?” Gathering up my US Navy issued wool watch cap, pea coat and wool uniforms from their place of storage, I gave them to an encampment of homeless under a bridge near my apartment. A wholly insufficient act. Do I know what compassion and love are?
Recently, a Greek Cypriot friend told me of her last visit to the States: While in Los Angeles, she happened on two plain cloths police officers who, using their batons, had a teenager or young man on the ground, and were beating him. Immediately without hesitation, she shouted “That’s my son! That’s my son!” She charged and tackled the two officers interrupting their actions.
She was arrested, placed in a holding cell overnight and arraigned the following morning. The judge asked her to explain herself. She stated: “I am a mother! Mothers do not allow children to be hurt!” My friend’s visa was terminated and she was enjoined from entering the States for ten years. Do you suppose my friend knows what compassion and love are?
I contend those of us listing compassion and love as two qualities of our character are deceiving ourselves. We know who we are. We are the ones espousing the new age dribble of political correctness whether in our attire, the cars we drive, our dietary preference, the language patterns we utter, the popular places we buy from, the restaurants we enjoy and the coffee venders we patronize. We work hard at keeping our looking good looking good.
The feelings accompanying the momentary tears we allow to fall during the infrequent and brief moments that we open our hearts are NOT expressions of compassion! What we are feeling instead is the grief arising from absences of our own self-compassion and self-love. In these moments we are experiencing mourning. We are mourning our failure to love ourselves. We are grieving that we are living out another’s idea of who we are. We are mourning the reality that we have squandered our promise.
You want a life? You want to change your experience and expression? You want to love yourself? You want to be self-compassionate? Let go of the falsities you cling to. Let go of your self deceptions. Let go of your stories. Begin doing what is important to you. Begin being the decent being you are. The movements in the Arab world, the movements in Britain, in Wisconsin, on Wall Street are not political acts! They are instead the wise motion of claiming the life that is your own. A claiming of human decency. The movement into the integrity of the human heart! Love and compassion are movements of intent, attention and your genuine right action.
Rise up within yourself. Say enough to falsity! Say enough to your pretense of impotence. Act in ways to bring your promise to the fore! This my friend is our charge! This my friend is the time!
Modeling another will further your movement into your personal empowerment! Personal power, self-love and self-compassion ensue from being moved into the integrity of expressing your promise. Candidates to model: Hafiz, Rumi, Mother Teresa, Mohandas K. Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., Bobby Kennedy, Joseph Campbell, William Stafford, and Nelson Mandela.
Want more contemporary people? Consider: Katrina vanden Heuvel, Michael Moore, Noam Chomsky, Tomas Transtromer, Tom Robbins, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Leyah Gbowee, Tawakkul Karman, J. K. Rowling, Elizabeth Gilbert, Caroline Kennedy, Lezley Hazelton, Christopher Alexander, Mary Oliver.
How about these people? Mozart; Haydn; Beethoven; Louis Armstrong; Beatles; John Denver; Leonard Cohen; Woody Guthrie; Tom Waits; Bob Dylan; John Lenin; Simon and Garfunkel.
The world awaits the expression of your gifted greatness. It is this expression that will further change everything!
Please leave comments reminding me of others for us to model!