Compassion is a Verb

Summer in Tofino
Summer in Tofino

I have no idea what’s awaiting me, or what will happen when this all ends. For the moment I know this: there are sick people and they need curing.” ~ Albert Camus, The Plague

Yesterday I travelled to another community agency (Collingwood Neighbourhood House) to teach First Aid and emergency prevention to a group of parents of 0-6 children…as always in these adventures of mine, I feel incredibly blessed: blessed for the opportunity of being called, of being there, of meeting so many diverse people, some of which come for the food and the support because there are no jobs and not enough money at home to eat three full meals every-day.

It was rainy and foggy day, somewhat “grey” but I was immensely happy. When I finished, I came back all the way to South Surrey for an end-of-year potluck with my fellow gardeners from the humble Food for Thought Community Garden I have the pleasure to “coordinate” (what a word!)…again, I felt blessed by being surrounded by all these amazing beings who have lived so much and have so many stories behind…including my sweet ex-colleague and dear friend from China, her husband and little girl and my incredible friend who recently came back from Europe, has been a guardian angel for our garden and who’s planning to take a three-week Permaculture course in Cuba next year (did I have anything to do with him making that decision? Mmm).

I can’t help but being grateful for all what life has given to me: for all the different “lives” I have already lived…the ups and downs, the falls and the lifts, the bumps and the hand that helped, the roadblocks and the wonderful bridges, the tears and the many hugs and smiles and words and touches…

True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring. ” ~ Martin Luther King Jr.

I’ve been struggling a bit with leaving one of the programs I have been volunteering with for five years: this was an amazing program where I met great people and had the opportunity to be trained and become a trainer and team leader myself; but I had to make a decision: as anything in life, there is a time for different things, and there is a time to say goodbye…more when we see that our strengths and gifts may be better utilized somewhere else, and that was the case with this. I’ve been trained to be alert, to carry a phone 24/7, to be resourceful and resilient and to be calm when others are not, I am myself a resource: my brain is full of valuable information…but there are other places where I am most needed. I was also feeling stuck: I never stay; I am a fire starter, so always feel the urge to fire up other projects…

Paraphrasing Mr Luther King Jr, I want to do much more than giving a coin; I never thought giving a coin was enough or even OK: I want to sit right there with that human being, I want to talk and engage, I want to share the misery and the needs and see life from a different corner. I want to say “I’m here” then others feel lonely, scared and lost…and more than anything else, I want to be part of the crew that builds the new structures and takes down the old, corrupt ones so nobody has to beg for a coin ever again…

Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a harder battle.” They say old Plato said…
Looking for strength and inspiration I turned to Thich Nhat Hanh (Thay) writings and found what I was looking for: it is called “Engaged Buddhism”; similar to Joanna Macy’s “Active Hope” and “Work that Reconnects” and “Ecological Buddhism” it means not just calmly observing and meditating, or even dreaming and passively hoping, but being engaged and active in our compassion and comprehension of others and the world:

[Compassion means “to love together with” and comes from Latin…it also means “suffer-with” or “feeling-with”…while comprehension (or understanding) also coming from Latin means: comprehendere “to take together, to unite; include; seize”.]

Thay talks about how “compassion” and “comprehension” are the only paths to peace. They are also the only paths to true love: not the surge we feel for one single individual (usually fueled by hormones and the fact that we have been keeping our feelings trapped for too long), but the warm and lasting love we feel for life and its marvelous beings, the love we feel for true friends and meaningful connections…

Compassion is a verb.” Says Thay (Thích Nhất Hạnh)

While journeying through buses and trains to my workshop destination and back, I read about hugging meditation, engaged Buddhism and how seeking for peace within us is the only way to build peace out there (“Peace is every step”, says Thay)…then I stumbled with Thay’s poem at the end of his touching story: “Call me by my true names”:

Please call me by my true names, so I can hear all my cries and laughs at once, so I can see that my joy and pain are one.

Please call me by my true names, so I can wake up, and so the door of my heart can be left open, the door of compassion.

I have been thinking (and feeling) a lot about all the extraordinary beings I have met in the last three years: people whose purpose in life seems to be “to love”. People who have made me cry with “hugging meditation” (the first time I felt it, it was a revelation: I have never been hugged before!); people who truly reads my emails and assignments and provides a caring, thorough feedback and response; people who takes the time to read my posts and gives a little smile or leaves a short comment; people who, after leaving them I feel full, inspired, energized and…in love with!

Lovers don’t finally meet somewhere. They’re in each other all along.” ~ Rumi

All these amazing people may not know what the term “Engaged Buddhism” means, they may not even been aware of Permaculture’s ethic: “Care for People”… but they are nonetheless, practicing both…and for that, I love them all: they have profoundly touched me and I, I have been honoured (because of them) by having a glimpse of the “inter-being”…the essence of it all…

To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Thank you all.

sunset in Seattle beaches

4 Comments on “Compassion is a Verb

  1. Such an inspiring post Silvia. I enjoyed a bit of the Johanna Macy links and I bookmarked it for further study. And serendipitously,, I have this past week been savouring a re-read of Peace is Every Step. Also, my wife and I are beginning to takes more steps on our homestead towards permaculture… All sound a chord within…. Keep up your good work. Peace and best regards – Bruce


  2. A beautiful post about compassion, breathing love into your work, and gratitude for the blessings of seeing others’ strengths and allowing yourself to be loved for who you really are.


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