This is a group exercise that taught me how to start showing compassion to strangers with just a simple smile and kind eyes. Reading through this exercise, it might sound silly to you, but it was a life-changing experience for me when I first practiced it with new schoolteachers at an art retreat. This group exercise is a perfect ice-breaker for prayer meetings, activism gatherings, family reunions, or any other group of compassion-minded people. The more participants, the merrier.

First, divide the group in half. Tell the participants that half of them will walk around the room or space clockwise, and the other half will walk around the room counter-clockwise. For the first five minutes of the exercise, each participant should try to make eye contact with as many people heading the opposite direction as possible. When each person makes eye contact, he or she should try to hold the eye contact as they pass and give a warm smile to the other person. Set a timer and start the exercise. There should be lots of giggles and smiles going on. Especially with a large group of strangers, it feels sort of fun and frantic to try to catch the eyes of so many unfamiliar people.

When the timer goes off, tell the group that they will walk around the room in the same way, but this time nobody should make eye contact with anyone. Set the timer for five minutes again and start the second part of the exercise. Participants will find that this phrase of the exercise is familiar. Avoiding eye contact is what many people do every day, especially if they live busy lives in heavily populated area. When I practiced this exercise, there was a sad part of my heart that found avoiding eye-contact eerily comfortable. There's a part of me that yearns for communities that recognize the humanity in all members. A first step toward creating that community may simply be to look into the eyes of those whose paths you cross.

Alexandra Chauran in Compassion is the Key to Everything