Archives for August 2019

Teaching the Mindful Self-Compassion Program: A Guide for Professionals

“Wise and heartfelt, visionary and thorough, this guide is a rich and practical treasure. The work of Germer and Neff is an invaluable gift for our times.”

– Jack Kornfield, author of A Path with Heart

Six years in the making, a comprehensive textbook describing the MSC program is now available!

It’s a big book (over 400 pages!) and was written by Chris and Kristin for MSC teachers and for anyone else who would like to integrate self-compassion into their professional activities. The book may be rightly described as a community project insofar as it summarizes all the wisdom that Chris and Kristin have been able to glean from MSC teachers and practitioners around the world since the program began in 2010.

Book Contents

Under one cover, the textbook contains an up-to-date review of the theory and research on self-compassion, a description of the unique pedagogy of MSC (especially the 6 domains of teaching competence), and a complete description of each session in the MSC program. Detailed vignettes illustrate not only how to teach the course’s didactic and experiential content, but also how to engage with participants (sample inquiries follow every practice), manage group processes, and overcome common obstacles. The final section of the book describes how to integrate self-compassion into psychotherapy.

This book was written, in part, so that MSC teachers could point to a single book to provide solid evidence for the value of self-compassion training. To paraphrase the American president Theodore Roosevelt (1900): “Speak softly and carry a big book: you will go far.”

Sharing MSC with the World

Some MSC teachers may worry that we are “giving away the store” with this textbook (and also with the workbook). That is a natural concern, but our operating principle, as Wibo Koole (MSC teacher and business consultant) advises us, is “content creates demand.” In other words, once people know the value of self-compassion, they will want to learn more from skilled teachers. There is an enormous need for self-compassion in the world that will always outstrip our capacity to meet those needs.

As evidence of the great interest in self-compassion, the workbook already has 100,000 copies in print since it was released in August 2019, and it has been translated into 8 different languages. Our hope is that the MSC textbook will be like the “green book” of Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy and inspire professionals around the world to think more about self-compassion and integrate it into many new areas of life.

Protecting the Quality of Teaching MSC

We are very aware that the workbook and the textbook will increase the possibility that untrained professionals will try to go out and teach MSC without proper training. We write very clearly in the textbook that formalMSC teacher training is required if anyone wants to teach the MSC program itself. The Center for MSC holds the trademark for “MSC” and can enforce this rule.

To reduce that possibility of “bandit” MSC teachers, we wrote the textbook in such a way that it is awkward to teach from the book itself. The MSC Teacher Guide (which is only available to MSC teachers) is still the easiest and more effective tool for teaching MSC in the classroom and the TG is updated annually (whereas the textbook will only be updated in 5-7 years). Furthermore, trained MSC teachers have access to supplementary teaching materials and the support of the community of MSC teachers.

In the textbook, we encourage all professional readers to enroll in an MSC program if they want to teach self-compassion to others. As a result, we expect a surge of interest in MSC training. The readers of the textbook are advised to go to the Teacher Directory on the website of the Center for MSC to find a listing of trained teachers.

Listing in the MSC Teacher Directory

If you are not listed in the MSC Teacher Directory yet, please do so now before the new book is released!

The Teacher Directory is currently the only place where prospective students can check if someone who is teaching MSC is formally trained or not. Please add yourself to the MSC Teacher Directory even if you are not currently teaching a MSC class (but would still like to be identified as a Trained MSC Teacher). It is easy to join the Directory, and Kim Levan is available if you need assistance kim@centerformsc.org.

Currently (and happily!), more than half of all MSC teachers live outside the USA. Our goal is for each language to eventually have their own MSC community website and teacher directory, but until that happens, the Center for MSC will be the main resource for inquiries about MSC. Global interest in MSC will surely increase in the coming years because the forthcoming textbook is already under contract for translation into 4-5 different languages.

Authoritative Text

From now own, Teaching the Mindful Self-Compassion Program will be the authoritative reference book on MSC and it will be distributed to all trainees at MSC Teacher Trainings. We hope that every MSC teacher will be inspired to get their own copy of the textbook to learn about the latest research on self-compassion, to discover how MSC is being taught nowadays (the training is getting better and better!), also to review the most recent updates to the curriculum. Pre-order your copy below.

Table of Contents

PART I
Self-Compassion:
Theory, Research and Training

  1. An Introduction to Mindful Self-Compassion
  2. What is Self-Compassion?
  3. The Science of Self-Compassion
  4. Teaching Self-Compassion

PART II
On Teaching
Mindful Self-Compassion

  1. Understanding the Curriculum
  2. Teaching Topics and Guiding Practices
  3. Being a Compassionate Teacher
  4. Facilitating Group Process
  5. Engaging in Inquiry

PART III
Session-by-Session

  1. Session 1 – Discovering Mindful Self-Compassion
  2. Session 2 – Practicing Mindfulness
  3. Session 3 – Practicing Loving-Kindness
  4. Session 4 – Discovering Your Compassionate Voice
  5. Session 5 – Living Deeply
  6. Retreat
  7. Session 6 – Meeting Difficult Emotions
  8. Session 7 – Exploring Challenging Relationships
  9. Session 8 – Embracing Your Life

PART IV
Integrating Self-Compassion into Psychotherapy

  1. MSC and Psychotherapy
  2. Special Issues in Therapy

Appendices

  1. Ethical Guidelines
  2. Companion Reading
  3. Resources

References

Index

Endorsements

“This outstanding, inspiring book comprehensively draws together the impressive body of work on the MSC program. The book is deeply personal–the authors share their motivations and process as they embarked on this work–and also offers a big vision for the potential of the practice of self-compassion across cultures, ages, and contexts. The authors ground the writing in a clear overview of the current research evidence. At the heart of the book is crystal-clear guidance on the content and process of MSC. It is an invaluable guide and companion for MSC teachers as well as other professionals who are integrating self-compassion practices in their work.”

–Rebecca Crane, PhD
Director, Centre for Mindfulness Research and Practice, Bangor University, United Kingdom

“Our world is crying out for compassion. But compassionate action presupposes self-compassion–an attitude we urgently need to learn, an attitude that can indeed be taught. In this pioneering work, Germer and Neff describe how to teach self-compassion step by step. Professionals who want to introduce self-compassion to their clients to enhance their psychological resilience and emotional well-being will find this book a rich resource.”

–Brother David Steindl-Rast
Cofounder, www.gratefulness.org

“Over the past decade, Germer and Neff have spearheaded a revolution that has spread rapidly around the globe. MSC teaches us to extend compassion to ourselves–instead of simply mindfully witnessing–which can create parallel ripples in how we treat one another. This book describes the tools and techniques that Germer and Neff have developed to teach MSC. I urge you to learn about this approach and join Germer and Neff in helping people change how they relate to themselves.”

–Richard C. Schwartz, PhD
Department of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School/Cambridge Health Alliance

“The innovative approach to self-compassion training pioneered by Neff and Germer is internationally recognized for helping people learn to be kinder to themselves. MSC has set countless people free from the tyranny of hostile self-criticism; consequently, there has been a growing need to understand how to teach the program. Based on years of experience and research, this clearly written, step-by-step book outlines the central features and focus of MSC. It is full of insightful and practical guidance, and will be a source of wisdom for all interested in how to help people bring more compassion to themselves and others.”

–Paul Gilbert, PhD, FBPsS, OBE
Centre for Compassion Research and Training, University of Derby, United Kingdom

“Years of refinement have gone into making MSC the preeminent self-compassion training program, and now its creators have given us a great gift–a text that helps the professional develop an MSC program from the ground up. The book brings us up to speed on the theory and science of self-compassion, guides us through the nuances of teaching it, and presents a detailed session-by-session outline. This well-written resource is essential reading for any helping professional interested in teaching self-compassion.”

–Russell L. Kolts, PhD Department of Psychology, Eastern Washington University

An Interview with Chris Germer and Kristin Neff on Their New Book: Teaching the Mindful Self-Compassion Program

—✦—

Giving oneself compassion is a challenging process for just about everyone. That’s why the Mindful Self-Compassion (MSC) program was created by Drs. Chris Germer and Kristin Neff in 2010 and, since then, has been carefully refined with the help of hundreds of teachers around the world. But how do we teach teachers of self-compassion? What do professionals need to know in order to bring self-compassion into their professional activities and the workplace? What do teachers of the MSC program need to remember in order to offer MSC in the best possible way? A brand-new resource book from the developers of MSC brilliantly addresses these questions.

Drs. Germer and Neff have spent the past several years writing a comprehensive volume on self-compassion for professionals — therapists, healthcare workers, mindfulness and compassion teachers, coaches, educators, business people, academics, researchers — anyone who wants to bring more compassion into the world, starting with themselves. The authors joined me for an interview to discuss the book and their hopes for the future of self-compassion training.

Now Available:


CONTENTS:
I. Self-Compassion: Theory, Research, and Training
II. On Teaching Mindful Self-Compassion
III. MSC Session by Session
IV. Integrating Self-Compassion into Psychotherapy
Plus: Ethical Guidelines, Companion Reading, Resources

▸ View Full Table of Contents and Sample Chapter

Writing this book, Chris says, was mostly a process of “harvesting the wisdom gleaned from MSC teacher trainers, teachers, and MSC participants around the world.” In particular, since 2014 when the MSC Teacher Training program was started, the authors found themselves in a “crash course” on how to teach teachers in the best possible way. Kristin and Chris especially credit Michelle Becker and Steve Hickman at the Center for Mindfulness at the University of California, San Diego, for taking a leap of faith and initiating the teacher training pathway.

Lessons learned gave rise to a model for effective teacher training

Kristin and Chris discovered early on that professionals who wish to teach self-compassion in any form should, first and foremost, have their own practice of self-compassion. They need to experience, in their bones, the inner freedom that self-compassion can bring to our lives. Furthermore, teaching has power when it arises from authentic, lived experience.

The hope is that professionals who read the book will take the MSC training course for their own benefit before bringing it into their work environment, be that research, healthcare, education, or pastoring.

After practicing self-compassion, if a person wants to teach the MSC program itself, they need to take a formal MSC Teacher Training. This is because how self-compassion is taught is as important as what is taught. The model for teaching self-compassion in the MSC program is based on the domains of competence outlined by the Welsh mindfulness teacher, Rebecca Crane (e.g., understanding the curriculum, relating compassionately to others, facilitating group process, engaging in inquiry), which were further adapted by Chris and Kristin and their colleagues for self-compassion training. “The book was written for professionals in general, but also as a resource for people who are trained MSC teachers,” says Chris.

The first part of the book is a comprehensive review of the theory and research on self-compassion. It is written with remarkable clarity by Kristin who has been immersed in this material since 2003 when she first operationally defined the term “self-compassion” and created the Self-Compassion Scale that is used in most research. After that, Part II unpacks the domains of competence needed to teach MSC, and self-compassion in general. Part III is a detailed, step-by-step description of the entire MSC program along with sample classroom conversations designed to help professionals anticipate and overcome common obstacles.

While they were writing this book, Chris and Kristin occasionally worried that they were “giving away the MSC store,” but their wish to disseminate self-compassion training widely in the safest and most effective manner is the reason for so much helpful detail found in this book. They wanted to err on the side of providing too much information rather than too little, giving professionals an understanding of self-compassion training at a granular level and affording professionals the chance to pick and choose what they need. This book will also serve as an important resource for trained MSC teachers, currently numbering over 2000 around the globe, for years to come.

The authors have collected some golden nuggets of teaching wisdom that they generously share throughout the book. One of their favorites comes from family therapist and teacher trainer, Michelle Becker, who suggests to teachers, “Find your own voice, not your own curriculum,” alluding to the meticulous work that has gone into refining the content and delivery of the course materials. Psychologist Steve Hickman, the Executive Director of the Center for Mindful Self-Compassion, offers the sage counsel to “take a half-step back” when teaching, so as to allow participants the chance to have their own experience and to combat the striving that new teachers often exhibit in their excitement to share the material. 

A vigorous emphasis on teaching safely

“Over the years,” explains Chris, “we have learned that there are many different levels of effectiveness, and what we tried to put in this book is what we have discovered to be the most effective way.”

One of the clearest lessons learned over the years was the need to maintain emotional safety in the classroom. Both Kristin and Chris recall that they originally had no idea how emotionally activating self-compassion could be for many people. Therefore, maintaining a safe space in the classroom (and also a brave space) is a theme that is woven throughout this book. For example, the concept of “backdraft” is described – the experience of distress that may arise when we open ourselves to love and compassion. Chris explains that self-compassion drops us into the relational matrix of our lives, especially those times when we may have loved someone so much and they could not love us back. The healing power of self-compassion is experienced when we meet old wounds in a new way—unconditionally, with mindfulness and compassion. 

If a person is not properly trained to teach self-compassion, there is a risk of its being ineffective and, worse, harmful. It is important for professionals to understand how self-compassion works in order to safely and effectively integrate it into various professional contexts.

“For many of us,” Kristin says, “the way we have learned to feel safe is by criticizing ourselves, abandoning ourselves, or by pushing ourselves to exhaustion. This means that fear can arise when people consider motivating themselves with kindness. Part of self-compassion training is holding the student’s hand, so to speak, until the student finds another way to feel safe.”

Integrating psychotherapy and self-compassion

Part IV of this book provides a framework for bringing self-compassion into psychotherapy. There are three levels: (1) how therapists relate to themselves, (2) how therapists relate to their clients, and (3) how clients relate to themselves. In their enthusiasm for teaching self-compassion, some therapists want to go straight to level 3—teaching practices to their clients—but their clients are unwilling to practice or they don’t know how to practice effectively. Therefore, as an inner discipline, the authors recommend that clinicians find a way to teach mindfulness and self-compassion in therapy without ever mentioning the words “mindfulness” or “self-compassion”. Part IV may be the most interesting part of the book for psychotherapists who want to bring self-compassion into their work. It also includes sections on working compassionately with wounded parts of ourselves, self-compassion as a process of re-parenting ourselves, how to safely address trauma with self-compassion, and self-compassion as an antidote to shame in psychotherapy. Many of the ideas in Part IV were developed in collaboration with Christine Brähler in Germany.

Diversity, identity, and privilege in teaching MSC

As MSC training has been taken to different communities, it has become increasingly evident that diversity, equity, and inclusion need to be addressed in a significant way. “There is a need to understand the intricacies of identity and privilege and to recognize that people experience significant pain through the narratives of the dominant culture,” Chris notes. “Teachers have to be aware of the cultural context and how our participants may have been impacted by cultural oppression of all sorts, such as bias, discrimination or even physical harm. To do that, teachers need to adopt an attitude of cultural humility.” Kristin adds, “It can be very helpful for self-compassion teachers to explore how their own identities have been shaped by culture and to let this inquiry open the door to curiosity about the experience of others. We also need diverse teachers to reach diverse communities. Our goal is to empower MSC teachers everywhere to bring self-compassion training to their communities in a natural, authentic manner.” 

The next stage: MSC adaptations 

The program described in this book is designed for the general population, but work is underway to adapt it for specific populations such as couples, for the workplace, for healthcare, for various clinical disorders, utilizing programs of varying length and intensity. Although the Center for Mindful Self-Compassion (CMSC) only approves MSC programs adapted by Certified MSC Teachers, the highest level of teacher qualification, professionals are welcome—strongly encouraged!—to find ways to integrate the material found in this book into their ongoing professional activities. This book was primarily written for this purpose. 

“To be clear,” concludes Chris, “this is a professional book. It’s for teaching self-compassion. “Anyone who wants to learn self-compassion for themselves—and that is indeed the first step—is encouraged to take a MSC course or to pick up the Mindful Self-Compassion Workbook which was released a year earlier. But for those who want to teach self-compassion to others, this book is the most comprehensive and authoritative text to date. “Kristin and I are very proud of it, and we hope it will be of benefit to many people around the world.“

Katherine Dittmann, MS, RD is a certified Mindful Self-Compassion teacher and nutrition therapist in San Francisco. She is the founder of TheCompassionateBodyCenter.com, an online resource for people in recovery from food and body image issues using self-compassion, and embodiment. Visit her website to learn more, or enjoy her collection of MSC meditations, Embodied Mindful Self-Compassion, Vol 1.

Medicine for Difficult Times

“Violence strips naked the body of a society, the better to place the stethoscope and hear the life beneath the skin.”

Leslie Manigat, former president of Haiti

—✦—

There has been tremendous change in America and the world over the last several decades: economically, demographically, technologically and politically. Change heightens uncertainty and allows latent vulnerabilities to rise. We are all vulnerable as human beings. This is part of our common humanity. But we don’t always know what to do with our vulnerability, uncertainty and insecurity. Our survival brains hijack our better angels. We freeze: we might become numb, shut down and withdraw. We flee: we might narrow our concerns, and avoid, push away, and wall off what we feel we can’t deal with emotionally, cognitively and relationally. Or we fight.

Despair is anger and hostility turned inwards. Anger and hostility are sorrow and frustration turned outwards.

For some – the small fringe group of White Nationalists around the globe, for example – existential fears have become fears of annihilation. Underneath their rage and fear are unmet needs: for safety and belonging at best, perhaps, but also, pathologically, a need for power and dominance. Instead of recognizing common humanity in their own vulnerability, and seeing people of different ethnicities as essentially similar to them, they have chosen a dark path of tribalism, separateness, isolation, and toxic, sociopathic “power.”

I imagine these individuals have had a deeply frustrated relational world to begin with. If they were more connected and related to real people in the real world, they might be able to generate self-compassion and compassion for others.

Instead, they have become further removed from relatedness by cultivating hateful, narcissistic and nihilistic ideologies in dark corners of the internet, where they “gamify” the idea of killing others. Tragically, this small fringe is now amplified by seemingly uncaring political leaders and philosophers who stoke their fears. They represent the most toxic ideas that civilizations have carried for millennia. That might makes right, and that it’s better to be feared than loved. That society evolves through reward and punishment, rather than nurturance and caregiving. That love, kindness and compassion are soft and weak emotions, unable to deal with the hard realities of life.

What life do we hear now beneath the skin of our society, and what medicines can we offer for what ails us?

Facing isolation and despair with mindfulness, yin and yang compassion, and relationship

As Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.”

Society, through abuse of power and lack of compassion for its citizens, has left many feeling downtrodden and in despair. Those who may have felt powerful in the past are now faced with the challenge of change.

There is a vast network of trauma under the surface of society. This network of trauma is perpetuated by the avoidance, reactivity and blame that keeps us apart and is retraumatizing.

Sadly, all too many of us are not skilled in the remedies for constructively coping with change, trauma and difficult emotions.

Mindfulness, compassion, and connection are those remedies.

Mindful Self-Compassion workshops teach that there are gentle and fierce components of compassion, the yin and yang of compassion for self and other. With mindful self-compassion, we can learn to understand and not judge our emotions. Social Psychologist Dacher Keltner writes, in his essential book Born to be Good: The Science of a Meaningful Life, “emotions are signs of our commitment to others; emotions are encoded into our bodies and brains; emotions are our moral gut, the source of our most important moral intuitions.” We can see how anger is an attempt to protect ourselves and those we love, and also an attempt to defend our deeply held principles. MSC helps us deepen awareness beyond reactivity to the active responses of fierce compassion, and also helps us avoid burnout and hostility. We can learn to nurture ourselves and others with gentle compassion, even as we work together on the issues facing us. In doing so, we can cultivate jen, the subtle Confucian feeling of kindness, reverence and humanity that transpires between people, and improve what Keltner calls the jen ratio, and with it, our personal and societal well-being.

Fierce compassion takes an active stance towards suffering and injustice. It might lie in supporting policies to minimize mass shootings, homicide and suicide in society, and supporting leaders and organizations who have sensible plans. This is also the path of relatedness and civic engagement. There is widespread support for sensible gun regulation. For example, 80% of both Democrats and Republicans support universal background checks. And while Congress has, for political reasons, limited scientific investigation into gun issues, there is significant research correlating lower suicide and homicide rates with stricter gun regulations, and other research supporting common-sense public health measures. (See my long-form essay for details on these and what I call the “gun identity” in America, as well as historian Roxane Dunbar Ortiz’s excellent book Loaded: A Disarming History of the Second Amendment.)

Fierce compassion might also lie in cultivating verbal, emotional and cognitive responses in the face of the coarse dialogue and injustice we often encounter in our communities.

Gaining wisdom through reading, reflection and relatedness is vital in combating ideologically based opinion wars that neglect or dismiss the human cost of those ideologies.

Gentle self-compassion begins with being able to name the emotions one feels in difficult situations, such as the hard emotions of anger, rage or hatred, or underneath them, the soft feelings of anxiety, inadequacy, or fear. These often relate to relational experiences such as being devalued, dismissed, subjugated or oppressed. The Soften-Soothe-Allow practice (available on Christopher Germer’s website) is enormously helpful at cultivating the space of mindfulness around a difficult emotion, and also warmth to help us find ease in the midst of distress.

After naming and soothing our difficult emotions, we can go deeper, and look for the unmet need that is pressing our buttons. Is it to be seen or heard? Is it to be validated? Be more safe, secure or connected? Or is it our deepest need, as social beings: to be loved and cared about?

Once we understand our inner lives, we can turn towards ourselves with self-compassion, instead of self-criticism, shame, judgment, and hate. We can turn towards others with compassion and kindness, instead of defensiveness, frustration, blame and scapegoating.

Being related, mindful and compassionate is not an easy path, especially at first. Frequently, as we touch our wounds, they erupt in pain. But when we increase our caring capacity, we find ourselves in tune with our best selves, and indeed, in tune with the patience, acceptance, and life-giving sustenance of Mother Earth herself.

These are deeply disturbing times, especially for Americans.

There has been more than one mass shooting per day in the United States so far in 2019. But almost 40,000 people in the U.S. died from gun violence in 2017, 1,000 more than 2016. While the murder rate has fallen overall, the percentage of homicides by gun has increased. 60% of gun deaths in 2017 were victims of suicide. Suicide has increased 30% since 1999, and an increasingly larger percentage of suicides are committed by guns; in 2017, almost half. 70% of suicide victims are white men, and the highest rate of suicide occurs in middle aged white men. Men commit suicide at over 3.5 times the rate of women, because more of them attempt suicide with lethal means, such as guns.

American society is suffering deeply. Many more people are feeling desperate and wounded. The life expectancy of middle aged white Americans without a college degree has fallen, even as life expectancy of whites in other developed countries has risen. Economists Anne Case and Angus Deaton called these “deaths of despair: suicide, overdoses from alcohol and drugs, and alcohol-related liver disease.” America has become increasingly individualistic and narcissistic over the last 50 years. Individualism has a proud history in America, but a dark downside when out of balance with relatedness. Civic engagement has fallen overall (though this trend may be shifting). We have smaller discussion networks than in past decades. Some researchers say loneliness is an epidemic, and loneliness and social isolation have clear health impacts.

You may also be interested in:

  1. Svoboda E. (August 7, 2019) How to Renew Your Compassion in the Face of Suffering. Greater Good Science Center.
  2. Chandra R. (August 4, 2019) The El Paso Massacre: Nihilism, Narcissism and White Nationalism. The Pacific Heart Blog, Psychology Today.
  3. Chandra R. (July 30, 2019) Narcissism, Needs for Certainty and Closure, and Relatedness. The Pacific Heart Blog, Psychology Today.

About Ravi Chandra, M.D., D.F.A.P.A.

Ravi Chandra is a psychiatrist and author in San Francisco, and a Mindful Self-Compassion teacher. Find out more about his work at www.ravichandramd.com, where you can sign up for an occasional newsletter.

My first Experience as a Person of Color in MSC — “Is it Really Me?”

I can remember my very first MSC training experience from several years ago like it was yesterday. There was definitely a surge of internal experiences that I observed as I launched into this new journey of both questioning and enlightenment. I can clearly recall scanning all the participants who had gathered and were nestled together awaiting the start of the program. There was a broad spectrum of about 100 strangers who generally did not seem to reflect my own sense of a “cultural and racial self.” Yet, in the past I had experienced a plethora of social-educational scenes such as this all throughout my life. Therefore, why was I thinking this environment would be any different? Why was I still silently scanning for some other type of internal cultural-racial connection with my perceived sense of tribe after all of these years? What was I really searching for and questioning in this particular environment that seemed so familiar and repetitive, but yet so foreign?

As a woman of color I remember searching the landscape of this room to hopefully catch a glimpse of at least a few others who might visually mirror “my cultural self.” I wondered how in the world would this enormous group of people be able to connect and build trust. How will I be able to connect and build trust as well?

Initially, I did not feel as though I belonged with this group of people. How could self-compassion help me navigate my experiences of racism, sexism, discrimination, lifelong micro-aggressions, and social injustices?

All the MSC teachers seemed to be visually expressing the exact same reflection of the majority of the participants. I realized that I should be totally accustomed to this type of social reality, but seeking out diverse strangers who looked like me in various contexts has been my social reality. I have lived in a social world in which the majority of people in my day-to-day professional and educational spaces have been members of the dominant culture. Some of my underrepresented cultural identities are totally invisible to the social world and others are very visible and carry a socially constructed “single story” about who I am. Consequently, being a member of various underrepresented cultural groups has sustained an ongoing flavor of bittersweetness. There are times when these realities fuel certain identity conflicts and other times in which they tend to cultivate strength.

As I began to find my spot during the MSC training, I finally noticed two participants who appeared to be people of color. From the sheer sight of these two strangers, I began to experience a slight sense of silent connection to the space. Perhaps this was not just a “white thing” that was created by white people, for white people and delivered in a way that would focus exclusively on the white, upper-middle class, straight, cisgendered, able-bodied, colorblind experience of being in the world. There was a glimmer of some human technicolor in the space. Maybe there would be a possibility that this “compassion” experience might openly embrace all the dimensions of human suffering, including cultural experiences.

One MSC teacher privately inquired about my experience of the training. This teacher’s curiosity was meaningful to me because it expressed recognition that my perceptions mattered. Simple acknowledgements such as this can be useful ways of advancing a sense of cultural inclusivity, belonging and trust.

For many diverse people their multiple cultural identities are very powerful parts of their worldview and sense of self. Acknowledging the fact that there are multiple cultural identities in the space not only adds more richness and depth to the cultivation of mindfulness and self-compassion, but it can also foster validation of diversity, inclusivity and belonging within MSC teaching.

Currently, as a MSC trained teacher, I always acknowledge and honor participants’ visible and invisible intersections of diverse identities and my own diverse identities of marginalization and privilege. All participants want to feel a sense of connection, belonging and trust. Yet, there are certain underrepresented participants who need to understand that their cultural identities are recognized and included aspects of suffering and self-compassion. Ultimately, I feel it is imperative to create a space that holds and supports the full reality of our human suffering which includes both our cultural differences and commonalities.

Sydney will be joining MSC Co-Founder Chris Germer to co-lead a Mindful Self-Compassion 5-Day Intensive program at the Esalen Institute on the Central California Coast on December 8-13, 2019. Register today to reserve your spot.

Resources for Further Exploration of Diversity and Inclusion

▸ Deep Diversity: Overcoming the Us Versus Them
Book by Shakil Choudhury

▸ “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack,” by Peggy McIntosh – Essay first appeared in Peace and Freedom Magazine

▸ White Fragility
Book by Robin DiAngelo

▸ I Am Not Your Negro
Film co-written and directed by Raoul Peck

Sydney Spears, PhD, LCSW, LSCSW, TCTSY-F, MSC Trained Teacher is a licensed clinical social worker, adaptive yoga facilitator, mindfulness instructor and professor who resides in the Kansas City area. In the past she has worked as a presenter, psychotherapist, community mental health social worker, elementary teacher, and academic administrator. Her areas of interest, teaching and research have included trauma-sensitive responsive care, somatic approaches to trauma, mind-body therapeutic movement, mindfulness-based practices, diversity, equity and inclusion, and grief and loss. She has taught academic courses in cultural diversity, social justice and clinical social work practice for 15 years. You may contact Sydney at DeepInsight4RealTransformation@gmail.com 

Upcoming Courses: MSC (8 weeks): September 29th, 2019-November in Kansas City and MSC 5-Day Intensive program at the Esalen Institute with Chris Germer on December 8-13, 2019

Stellar Additions to the CMSC Board of Directors

The Center for Mindful Self-Compassion is pleased to announce the expansion of our Board of Directors to include two new valued members. Rainer Beltzner, a Certified MSC Teacher from Canada has joined the board, especially to focus upon the financial side of the operation. At the same time, Randolph Oudemans from Singapore has joined to broaden our global reach and to bring his extensive corporate and organizational background to bear on developing our organization into a robust and far-reaching enterprise. We are excited to have both Rainer and Randolph contributing to the stewardship of CMSC. Please take a moment to read their brief biographies below and join us in welcoming them “on board the Board.”

At the same time, we are sad to bid farewell to CMSC Board Member Joy Huang from China. Joy’s contributions have been immense and we will miss her, as she shifts her attention to her role as a key leader for Hailan Family Well-Being, CMSC’s partner and friend in China. HFWB has been an amazing proponent of MSC across the country and Joy is one of the reasons they have enjoyed such success there. Her wisdom, experience and good humor will be missed by all of us on the Board, and we look forward to continuing to work with her in the years ahead.

The current makeup of the CMSC Board is: Kristin Neff, Chris Germer, Marta Alonso Maynar, Randolph Oudemans and Rainer Beltzner. CMSC’s Executive Director Steve Hickman is an ex-officio member of the board as well.

Randolph Oudemans

A wise man once said, “What is most important, is to find out what is most important.”

For Randolph, a father of three, the most important thing is to be mindfully and lovingly connected to ourselves and others.  He has observed that, while deep and abiding happiness is everyone’s clear desire, most of us have no idea how to achieve it. As a result, they waste enormous amounts of time and energy pursuing things which do not satisfy. This is a gap that many strongly desire to bridge, and Randolph is passionate about helping them to do just that.

Throughout his professional life as a teacher, youth director, community leader, trainer and mentor, he has had gained extensive experience in the challenges faced by families, youth and institutions.  He has also played a vital role in fostering civic engagement and social responsibility in schools and corporations (CSR), empowering them to have sustained positive impact.  These efforts to foster civic engagement and social responsibility in schools and corporations were widely covered in the Indonesian media.

In 2003, Randolph founded a socio-humanitarian organization (www.careinaction.asia) dedicated to raising the quality of care in Indonesian orphanages. Over the course of the last 15 years, their programs have helped thousands of children claim their rights and fulfill their most basic needs – food, shelter, education, compassion and love. They have also trained and empowered hundreds of parents and caregivers, providing them with the skills and tools to better care for the children.

Parallel to his humanitarian work, Randolph has held numerous leadership positions in large corporations, as well as in start-up companies, in several countries around the world including (France, Singapore, Indonesia, Australia, the United States of America). With strategic perspective and clear focus, he has always placed an emphasis on team development, training and social responsibility.

In 2018, Randolph founded Now.Here., an organization committed to helping people to be happy, flourish and contribute to a better world. Through Now.Here, he helps people develop their innate capacities for compassion and happiness, and empowers them to improve their performance in work and life by training them in targeted mindfulness-based programs. Now.Here. allows him to combine his business experience with socio-humanitarian efforts to help people live fuller, more meaningful lives.

Randolph is a trained teacher of MSC, as well as having completed training in the Making Friends With Yourself teen MSC program.

For more information, kindly visit: www.rightnow-here.com

We encourage you to get to know Randolph by checking out this interview between Randolph and Dr. Steve Hickman, CMSC’s Executive Director.


Rainer Beltzner

rainer belznerRainer Beltzner FCPA FCA FCMC ICD.D is a Certified Professional Accountant and Certified Management Consultant. After over 40 years of experience in the business community, Rainer came to the MSC journey in 2012 as a result of personal challenges and has been focused on spreading the MSC benefits to others ever since.

As a Certified Mindful Self Compassion Teacher and Certified Mindfulness Teacher, Rainer has been actively teaching the MSC program since 2014. Rainer is on the faculty of the Centre for Mindfulness Studies in Toronto where he co-teaches the 8-week as well as 5-day intensive MSC programs with his spouse Eileen, a registered social worker, therapist as well as Certified MSC Teacher. He is keenly interested in promoting the benefits of the MSC program for men and has been collaborating with a special interest group within the Center for MSC to deliver and promote this.

Rainer put it best when he said “I am honored and delighted to join the Board of CMSC as Treasurer. My adventure with Mindful Self-Compassion has been truly life changing, sharing the experience of teaching MSC with my spouse, and so rewarding to see the impact on our MSC participants. It has also been a real privilege to connect with and befriend so many in the MSC teacher community around the world. As a business executive with formal financial management background and as an experienced, enthusiastic MSC teacher, I hope to use my knowledge to help the CMSC organization achieve further growth, with stability and sustainability.”

As a Certified Corporate Director and past roles as chairman, president and CEO, he has in-depth first-hand insight into the roles and functions of executive teams and boards of profit and not-for-profit organizations. Rainer develops and delivers courses on governance and communication to business executives across Canada.

Rainer is a proud father of two, active grandfather of four-year-old Samuel and companion to Alphie and Rosebud, the Beltzners’ two West Highland Terriers.  In his spare time, Rainer is an avid car enthusiast, race driving instructor, competitive racer and automotive journalist.

For more information about Rainer and his MSC work, go to www.selfcompassionsolutions.com

Do You Remember?

Self-compassion doesn’t come to life in the land of concepts. It breathes in the unchartered and uncomfortable expanse of living, especially during difficult moments of life. My practice is to remember—pause, breathe, love. No matter how many times I learn it, it always feels like the first time. 

—✦—

I pause before I make the call. I’m determined to give mom all my attention. The last time I called I tried to make dinner while we talked—the dinner was a flop and I could tell she felt my distracted presence.

“Hi mom.” My voice hits notes that are meant to be bright and breezy.

Mom is 95 years old and lives in a nursing home in Wisconsin.

“Oh hi, David.” She tries to match my lightness but underneath is something heavy.

I take a deep breath. “What did you do today?”

“Just a minute, let me find the calendar.” The nursing home calendar helps her know what day it is but also reminds her what she did.

“Today’s Friday isn’t it? I guess we had happy hour today.”

Every Friday the nursing home has a happy hour for the residents and their families that includes live music, snacks, and Dixie cups of beer, wine or soda. 

“How was it?”

“I guess it was OK.” She takes a deep breath. “It’s been such a long day.” 

It’s her way of saying she’s lonely and sad. Dad died two years ago; they were married 66 years. She doesn’t name his death but it’s the ground she stands on. I’m grateful she tells it like she feels it. That hasn’t always been the case—Dad was a preacher and preacher’s wives are expected to be sunny even when they’re not. Yet, her assessment of the day makes my heart sink. Mom has many reasons to feel depressed but her form of dementia—short-term memory loss, exacerbates her pain. She doesn’t have access to recent positive experiences that might mitigate her distress. She is unable to create a timeline that is balanced with the good and the not so good. 

“The walls are closing in on me. I feel like I can hardly breathe.” She is in the moment, and in this moment her aloneness feels absolutely devastating.

“I’m so sorry mom. You lost so much when dad died.”

“How long has he been gone?” Mom asks like she’s asking for the first time.

“Almost two years.”

“Really, it seems like a lifetime ago.” Mom sounds deflated.

I almost change the channel and talk about the weather but I catch myself and place a hand over my heart and silently say, David, this is so hard ! I remain.

“I have so many memories of dad. Remember how he used to like watching people at happy hour?”

I can feel her smile over the phone. “He‘d never been to a happy hour in his life before moving in here. I think he found it entertaining.” 

I was raised in a teetotaling home. Dad preached abstinence to his church and his family so it was amazing that happy hour became a fascination. 

“Remember when he took a sip of wine by mistake and spat it out?” I ask.

She laughs. “That reminds me of the Tic Tac story. Dad used to fall asleep during prayer meeting so I’d give him Tic Tacs to keep him awake. You know it wasn’t good if the preacher fell asleep. Well, it was summer and a ladybug landed on my lap. I wanted dad to get rid of it so I put it in his hand. His eyes were closed and he thought it was a Tic Tac so he ate it. I laughed so hard that the pew shook.”

We both laugh. The Tic Tac story is part of our family lore that gets remembered and repeated almost every time we are together. 

It’s a fine balance between honoring the pain she is in and helping her build a scaffold of memories that remind her that pain doesn’t define all of her. She is remarkably willing to go where I lead. But I have to be in it with her and leading with my heart. 

—✦—

“Welcome everyone. I’d like to introduce David Fredrickson.” The director of Memory Care Life smiles sweetly at me. “He’s going to be talking to us about mindful self-compassion.”

Memory Care Life is a San Francisco Bay Area non-profit that provides activities and support for people with dementia and their caregivers. I cross my legs and smile but inside my stomach tightens. The people sitting in the circle are in varying stages of dementia; some are having a hard time even staying in their seats. How will I talk about MSC so that everyone understands? Their caregivers appear good-hearted but in varying stages of angst and worry. How I can say anything meaningful to these loved ones who are daily companions to the painful twists and turns of dementia?

My internalized teenage boy with his imposter complex clicks his tongue and shakes his head. Who do you think you are? You can’t do this. But by some grace, I interrupt the gangly pimply critic with a pause and I remember my intention, May I rest in love.

I look around the room at each face. “Thank you for inviting me. I’m so honored. Let’s begin by introducing ourselves.” 

Then I am guided by something larger than my efforts and add, “Could you also share where or from whom you learned love?”

It’s not the icebreaker I had planned but there is no script for this moment. I think people will answer with a couple sentences and we’ll finish in a few minutes. But what follows are intimate testimonials and novellas filled with humor and tenderness. At times there are few words or even silence as language gets stuck in inaccessible parts of the brain or places in the heart where words are too clumsy. But as we bear witness, love is palpable and visible in the wellspring of tears. I am amazed they are so ready to open up their hearts—the same hearts that also carry the weight of this disease. 

Thirty minutes later we finish our introductions. I take a deep inhale. “Thank you. Let’s just sit for a moment in silence and savor this incredible visitation. This is what love feels like.” 

A few moments later I suggest, “Now I’d like you to imagine what it might feel like if you could turn all this love and kindness towards yourself.” I can almost smell the incredulity. 

Me? Really? No.

Yet even the possibility of some self-kindness cause some to exhale and others to lean back in their chairs.

I feel myself sink deeper in the recliner of love, “Welcome to mindful self-compassion—the practice of bringing a loving connected presence to our experience and ourselves, especially during moments of difficulty or pain.”

—✦—

As it turns out, whether with mom or a group of people who are struggling, I don’t have to know what to say or say the right thing. My job is to open my heart, which opens a door. The rest is not up to me. The door is a portal and often, courageous souls walk through. 

This essay was originally published at www.davidafredrickson.com/blog.

Writer, teacher, advocate, and psychotherapist, David Fredrickson has dedicated his professional life to the psychosocial needs of underserved communities including at-risk children, adolescents, and families and those affected by HIV/AIDS. David is a student and trained teacher of Mindful Self-Compassion. He volunteers at the University of California, San Francisco’s, Alliance Health Project facilitating peer support groups addressing the needs of the LGBT community.

David grew up in the Midwest where faith, family, and food were the bedrock of his childhood. A long-time resident of San Francisco, David attends GLIDE Memorial Church and sings with its world-renowned GLIDE Ensemble. 

Additional information about David can be found on his website, www.davidafredrickson.com, including links to his book, Life On All Fours, and his blog, Daily Bites and Blessings.