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Winter: An Approach to Compassion

It’s winter, and for a few months now the branches have lain bare. Some mammals are hibernating, and other species have migrated south for warmer weather. But humans stick around, turn on the heater, cover up, and wait impatiently for spring. It seems as though winter is something to be endured—but it’s not. Winter reminds us that life is not just fast-paced doing. Life is also about periods of stillness when we find compassion and responsibility to attune to our challenges. As we’ll see, there is wisdom and power behind this season.

Have you heard the saying that execution is everything? This makes sense in our society that overrates doing. Why is that? Perhaps it’s our need to accomplish and be seen, or wanting to achieve the never-ending results. Doing is certainly important, but it’s not everything. Culturally, we believe that there’s no time to sit still, just to do. And any activity that doesn’t have immediate results is often branded as unproductive. Sitting still, enjoying a meal, and relating with others is secondary. But relating to our work matters because if we connect to who we work with, understand what we work for, and appreciate who the work is for, we are more likely to create work that is worthwhile. To relate to our work and to engage efficiently in solving problems, we must be compassionate and responsible.

In wintertime, deciduous trees stand exposed without their leaves. Compassion is about connecting with ourselves and others by understanding (standing under) a different perspective, circumstance, and context. We can choose to be compassionate and exposed if we care enough to listen, to show our availability, and be of service. To be compassionate with others, we must first be compassionate to ourselves: more patient, accepting, and encouraging. When we approach life with a habitual attitude of rush-do-and-accomplish, we are bound to get burned. It’s not sustainable. Have you noticed the trend to be constantly entertained, busy, and distracted? It gives us a false sense of progress. If we’re always busy, how can we find the time to relate to ourselves, to the work, and to others? 

Generally, I see problems surface because of either a lack of compassion or responsibility (be it personal or organizational). When there’s no compassion someone feels angry, misunderstood, or left out. When there’s no personal responsibility, there is no engagement, and nothing gets done. It’s ultimately a combination of the two that leads to a holistic approach to dealing with our challenges. To exercise compassion try to:

  • Listen intently to understand.
  • Ask questions: have feelings been expressed and circumstances understood?
  • Be aware: am I (and others) being responsible?

Winter can be cold and paralyzing. But with a mindset of compassion and a refreshed sense of purpose, we take action. Personal responsibility is about relating to a problem or goal, and taking a stand. It means we act to change even if circumstances are not ideal. It’s charged with clarity and intent. Compassion is the fuel, and responsibility is our commitment to engage. We prepare, do the work, learn, and we cycle back. Consider reading the Three Degrees of Effort.

Winter is a reminder about the importance of laying bare. Winter attunes us to reflect, to listen more attentively, and to clarify what we (and others) care about. Trees have halted their growth process and gone dormant for the season. They reflect self-care and stillness while in their adventure reaching to the sky. The cold invites us to explore a different landscape. A wintry-mix of compassion and responsibility can definitely empower us to a more lasting and caring change.

Juan F. Diaz

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Comments

Alex
Reply

You are such a beautiful person! Thank you for writing this piece. I actually like my winter better already.

I think it is interesting that we may have the two fundamentals, compassion and responsibility (for the self). I will have to think about that.

Juan F. Diaz
Reply

Hi Alex,
Thank you for the compliment! Winter is definitely a challenging season to me, but I’ve come to appreciate it more and more. It’s a good reminder to practice compassion and responsibility. I’m glad you’re liking your winter better already! Thanks for the comment!

Jorge Acevedo
Reply

Really liked this article, especially the clarification of understanding = standing under.

Juan F. Diaz
Reply

Jorge: Glad you liked it! Standing under is an act of courage and of maturity. Isn’t it?

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