Compassion Cultivation Training series: Trying a little kindness
January 23, 2017
Editor's note: This is the first part of an eight-part series chronicling reporter Pam Boyd's journey through Compassion Cultivation Training. Look for additional columns in the Tuesday High Life health section and online at http://www.vaildaily.com.
From the vitriol that characterized the presidential election to daily news reports detailing truly abominable behavior around the globe, it's easy to see that the world could use a bit more compassion.
So in the vein of solutions beginning at home, I am joining a group of locals for a Compassion Cultivation Training led by local attorney Mary Lou Keller.
Keller is one of small group of certified instructors for Compassion Cultivation Training — a program developed by Stanford University's Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education. The Dali Lama has been involved in the Stanford program's work, noting its objectives align with his own.
"When you have Stanford and the Dali Lama involved, it speaks well for the program," Keller said.
Keller was drawn to CCT from her own need. In her work with children and families, Keller wanted to find a training program that she could share with clients that could help them after her work with them was completed. While searching for this long-term option, she found Compassion Cultivation Training.
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Just as science has identified brain patterns for people who are bipolar or depressed, compassionate individuals display unique brain patterns. But compassion isn't just an inherent condition — that's the focus of CCT. Through guided meditation and conscious practice, CCT believes compassion is a state of being that can be learned.
"Science is showing that a compassionate attitude can greatly reduce distress people experience in difficult home or work situations and be a profound personal resource in times of struggle, anxiety, depression or grief," Keller said.
The trick is to cultivate compassion — to teach ourselves to observe the world through that filter. That's what Compassion Cultivation Training offers.
"CCT is an eight-week course combining the latest neuroscience and clinical psychology with small group exercises and contemplative practice," Keller said. "It's designed for anyone who wishes to cultivate compassion, personally and/or professionally, for themselves and for others."
Keller stresses no previous meditation experience is necessary. That's a good thing for me, because I have never really committed myself to a meditative practice. Session 1 was like Meditation 101 — focused breathing techniques with some practical advice in the mix. When various distractions popped into my head during the guided sessions, Keller said to acknowledge those thoughts compassionately and let them go. Instead of feeling like I was doing everything wrong, I learned that distraction is a natural part of meditation. The trick is to let go of those thoughts instead of battling them.
The CCT model consists of eight sessions that build upon one another. We will move from compassion for a loved one to compassion for a difficult person in our lives. We will learn compassion for ourselves and ultimately learn to actively practice kindness in our daily lives. That's something I want to cultivate in my working and personal life.
As a newspaper reporter, every single day I ask people to trust me. Trust me to faithfully write down what they say and to treat them fairly with what I write. I don't take that responsibility lightly, and the older I get, the more I realize how privileged I am when someone chooses to share their story with me.
These people deserve compassion from me. I want to learn how to be better at offering it.