Compassion, when one starts to look for it, whether in the gestural curves of a stele of Vishnu or in the graceful teaching mudras of a Bodhisaatva, exists in many places in and around the Dallas Arts District. Compassion is, when one starts to look for it, everywhere.
One of the first places that inspired the Study of Compassion is one block away at the Cathedral Shrine of the Virgin of Guadalupe. Just off to the right of the main entrance, next to a life-size statue of the Virgin, is a small vestibule for the placing of prayer candles. At night, it glows: hundreds of candles placed lovingly on the shelves are a manifestation of hope and devotion, compassion and love. Placing these candles is not only a practice of a religious faith, it is an action to express care and concern for another’s suffering. Compassion lives, twenty-four hours a day, at our treasured downtown cathedral.
This experience, of being consumed by the candles in both sense and sight, propelled me to ask: Where do we find compassion in our daily lives and practices? And how can we find more of it? Very occasionally, a visitor might leave a small offering of a coin or two on the pedestal in front of the Ganesha or linger with the Buddha as part of their own practice, but how can we teach the complex lessons of compassion every day at the Crow Collection of Asian Art? Why does the need for compassion seem more urgent with every passing headline?
Where do we start? I wrote first to Karen Armstrong, author of Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life and founder of The Charter for Compassion. Since our visit by phone, the museum has signed the Charter and joined a coalition of more than thirty cities in North Texas committed to compassion and education. Ms. Armstrong’s third chapter: Self-compassion was the signpost I was looking for, and the one I needed the most. Before we can illuminate compassion in Asian Art and teach others, we have to look to where compassion lives in us. And in me. Where does compassion live in the words that I speak, and the actions I make in conversations with others? Am I authentically practicing loving-kindness when I criticize others or speak with pretense? No. Compassion lives in the moment I pause, take a deep breath, and send love in the place of what was there. This reaction, the negative one, is the mindfulness bell to change the moment to a new action: something kind and understanding. And then, when that happens, yes, I am compassion. We all are.