I was pulling “stuff” out of the car when I heard, “Feliz Ano Joanna”. I stopped, smiled when I recognized him and shared the customary embrace. He held me a little too long and smelled of stale beer. We parted, me gratefully and him reluctantly, and I resumed struggling to take things in. He turned to ask if I could give him my sweatshirt. His had been stolen. I sighed, suddenly exhausted. Couldn’t I even get in the door? Before I literally took the shirt off my back to end the interaction, I explained that it was a gift from my sister. He waited in silence, the ultimate weapon. “I don’t have another,” I said. He stood there, glassy eyes, bare arms, goose bumps, silent. Finally, I inhaled and said, “no”, reminding myself that if he were warm, I would be cold.
Wow. I wanted to have compassion for the guy. His life couldn’t be easy. Then, grateful for my sister, the sweatshirt donor, I smiled. My energy lifted since although I sympathized with the guy, I had taken care of myself. My world felt kinder, even if I didn’t give my sweatshirt. I told myself, “you can’t go around giving things away” but a voice deep inside asked, “Can’t you?”
The truth is you can. But carefully.
I was not about to give my shirt to have it lost again, leaving us both cold. Buddhists define that as “idiot compassion”. It serves no one. However, true compassion is a concept basic to life. Without it humans are nothing short of predators. When we realize that we do in fact have more than enough, most of us can share compassionately and make a difference.
My latest example is our Community Yoga Practice Wednesday evenings at Tribal, my yoga studio. Establishing this community practice, I so often wanted to forget it, preferring to give spare change to the people living behind me who still cook over a fire. Collaborating was getting on my nerves. Clients didn’t understand or want to give. La Esquina, the recipient of my good will, was never around to take the money or to give us credit for the good we were doing. My monthly members were complaining and worse, not showing up. Our collaboration to compassionately give to a local food program was falling on its face.
But then I said no: that magic word. I decided if teachers wouldn’t donate their time, I would. If people didn’t come or if they didn’t donate, I still donated my salary. If people didn’t understand, I patiently explained our idea: to help local kids who didn’t have enough to eat through an organized food program. If they looked at me weird, I smiled and left them to wonder about kids with not enough to eat just as I did when a little boy asked me for food after our kids’ yoga class nearly 8 months ago.
So, on January 5th, Tribal Tulum donated 12 bags of food to La Esquina’s food pantry, the results of our community yoga classes. Compassion at work. Twelve families feel a little better, know that someone cares and have more energy to share with someone else. So next time someone asks you for the shirt off your back, you might say no. But you might get a great idea of how to give it differently and with compassion.