Bringing Creativity and Compassion to Life

by Maddie Gritzan, Open Circle student and volunteer group facilitator

I started going to Open Circle because I had a desire for more reflective time in my day. I felt like I was enjoying university, but it was going by too fast and I wasn’t taking moments to breathe and discuss my experiences. In my second year I took the Personal Discovery Course. This was a four week “course” (there was no grading) that allowed people to explore their values, their life mission, and discuss these as they unfold in their lives. I think university can be a kind of scary time for individuals, where we are “supposed” to figure out who we are or where we are going afterward, but this pressure leaves a lot of us just feeling disoriented.

Following this, I started getting involved with Open Circle in other capacities: through weekly reflection circles on spirituality, simple living, and creativity. Going to Creativity Circle became an important part of my week. I started to re-evaluate my notion that creativity was limited to specific art mediums. The ways we meditate, the ways we reflect, and the ways we interact with others are equally artistic. Creativity is a valuable part of my mental health, my personal growth, and my connection to others. Open Circle helped me develop the idea of ‘living creatively.’ Creativity doesn’t just turn on and off depending on the activity at hand. It can permeate everything I do — how I work, how I interact with loved ones, how I make choices in my life, and how I serve.

Maddie (second left) at Creativity Circle, who says: “creativity is a valuable part of my mental health, my personal growth, and my connection to others”

Soon I began volunteering with and facilitating volunteer groups at an after school program and a breakfast program. These volunteer experiences have helped me expand my ideas about the art of being compassionate to others. While compassion can be very heavy and it can require a lot of time and effort, it can also be very simple: a smile at a stranger, simply acknowledging that they are there and deserve warmth and attention. I have realized through my volunteer experience that it is very possible to slip into being selectively compassionate; that individuals could turn this compassion “on” while at a volunteer program working with children, pat themselves on the back for doing something good in the community and then leave. This switch could be seen as soon as the trip back to campus - while walking past someone asking for money downtown.

Every volunteer session with our Student Open Circles’ volunteer groups includes a reflection activity at the end, where we discuss and challenge ideas like this. We reflect on how we fit into the community at large, what good we are doing, how to creatively meet needs but also the limitations that exist in our work. We discuss how we can extend our volunteer experience into the rest of our lives: that being compassionate and giving to others can go beyond the two hour block of scheduled volunteering in our week.

Student Open Circles, through volunteering and reflection, has helped me learn to be compassionate without judgment. I think it can be easier to be compassionate to some people, but I feel challenged and called to be compassionate to people when it’s not easy. By thinking of others and how to help them, I have learned more about myself, my values, and how I want to contribute to my future communities. I’m graduating now and I don’t feel that disorienting feeling about the future — I think it’s been my service to others and my reflection on my experiences that has really helped me with this.