By Anna Underwood
Last weekend, Chanda and I were fortunate enough to attend a three-day, intensive Cognitively-Based Compassion Training (CBCT) course taught by Dr. Lobsang Tenzin Negi in Atlanta, GA. While I am still on a complete “compassion high” and in my mind can smell the burning incense and see clearly the faces of people I met from all over the world, I know that the skills I learned will carry with me for the rest of my life. As my husband said within hours of my return, “I love your spirit right now. Let’s do whatever we can to keep this going.”
Full disclosure: We had no idea what to expect with this training and weren’t sure we would get a whole lot out of it – but, we are always up for an adventure and a new experience. So when Mark and Manoj (the godfathers of Mindful in Memphis) said, “Hey, there’s this training in Atlanta next weekend that we think you guys should check out,” we were in, albeit a bit skeptically. After all, we are seasoned meditators who have been through Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) in Memphis, have done silent retreats and have traveled cross-country to attend mindfulness events. I mean, we teach this stuff! What more is there to learn? The answer is engaged compassion.
Compassion is to notice the struggles and suffering of others and to wish for that suffering to be eased, lessened. In order to do this, we have to connect to and actually see others. And to do that, we have to stop thinking of them as others. Not me and you, but us. Not yours and mine, but ours. Such a simple concept, but not a simple practice, especially in this age of extreme “othering.” Yet that’s exactly what we have to do, practice. And that is what we did for three full days with about sixty-five new friends at the Drepung Loseling Monastery in Atlanta – learn and practice.
What I have come to understand, I think, is that mindfulness primes the pump. First we have to quiet the mind and learn to be ok with ourselves and the world at this time in this moment. Acceptance. Now we are ready to take it a step further, to not only recognize the struggles and limitations inside of us and others but to also desire those struggles to be lessened. Then, we do something about it. Action. Engaged compassion for ourselves and others.
As a species, we are biologically hardwired to extend kindness and compassion to our “in-group” of family, friends and loved ones – our community. What we need to recognize now is that our world is one big in-group – one community, and we all need kindness and compassion to survive. So we have to start offering engaged compassion to everyone, especially ourselves. And we can do it, we just have to practice.
Cognitively-Based Compassion Training (CBCT) and its companion initiatives are being further developed at Emory University with input from numerous amazing hearts and minds, including His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Their reach is growing by leaps and bounds all over the world and with specific populations, including those in healthcare and the public school system. You can visit this site to learn more about these initiatives and upcoming CBCT courses. There are also tons of great books out there on how to become more compassionate and how to develop a regular compassion meditation practice.
If you want to start becoming more compassionate from this moment forward, we suggest this:
1. Make an effort to really see people and notice their struggles or suffering. You can start by looking people in the eye, calling them by name, asking thoughtful questions and mindfully listening to their responses.
2. Then find human commonality. How are you more alike than different? Develop endearing feelings by realizing we are all part of the same family, the same in-crowd.
3. Next ask yourself, “What can I do?” Even if you are limited in directly helping one person or group, find a way to help someone else. We are all part of a worldwide network of reciprocity that is connected and interdependent beyond our understanding. Trust that the help you give to one will be felt by many, including you.
Soon you will find that the warming glow spreads, the Firefly Effect. One light becomes many, and the brightest and warmest glow that results from practicing engaged compassion will be the glow inside of you. And you are likely to say to yourself, “I love your spirit right now. Let’s do whatever we can to keep this going.”