Archives for January 2020

2021 MSC Regional Teacher Festival Announced

One of CMSC’s primary missions is to build a worldwide cohesive community of MSC teachers that embodies the qualities that we teach. With over 2200 people all over the globe having been trained to teach MSC, this is quite an undertaking. In January 2018 we organized the first international MSC Teacher Festival outside Amsterdam, The Netherlands, which was attended by over 100 MSC teachers from around the globe. This first Teacher Festival was a joyous, heartfelt celebration of our shared purpose and common humanity.

Going forward, CMSC would like to foster more of these gatherings and open up the doors to as many teachers as we can, with particular sensitivity to inclusiveness and a sense of belonging. We have determined that the wisest way forward, with the challenges of a global organization, is to plan and organize a series of Regional MSC Teacher Festivals aimed at building local communities of teachers by making the events as accessible and affordable as possible and not pushing people to have to travel long distances or expend a lot of money to participate. Our first such Regional MSC Teacher Festival is currently planned for July 15-18, 2021 in the Niagara Falls region of North America, on the Canadian-US Border. There will be some space to accommodate MSC teachers from around the globe as well. We hope to also offer such festivals in Asia and in Europe later in 2021 or early in 2022, and tentative plans are already in the works for those.

So if you are a teacher in North, Central or South America, please mark your calendars for July 15-18, 2021 and plan to join Chris, Kristin and your fellow teachers at the Mount Carmel Spiritual Centre, Niagara Falls, Canada, for our next Festival.  There will also be an opportunity to stay at Carmel Centre earlier in the week, July 12-15, 2021, for those wishing take the opportunity to explore the Niagara Falls region more fully. Registration timing and details will be available this summer.

And if you have an interest in helping on the organizing committee to help plan the agenda, please contact Festival Co-Chairs Rainer & Eileen Beltzner at MSCTeacherFestival2021@bell.net to let them know of your interest. (Please note: This North American Regional Teacher Festival is in 2021, 18 months from now, not in 2020!)

An ambitious vision for compassionate children’s television is steadily taking root with “Sophie and Friends”

“What if we taught kids compassion from the get-go? Imagine what their world could become.”

Sophie Kirby, Creator of Sophie and Friends

Since attending my first MSC course in 2016, my heart had become warmer and more open both to myself and every living being. Whether in my relationships, my professional sphere, or the workings of my own mind, I experienced more peace and ease than ever before. In keeping up my own practice and joining the third CDP cohort, I had witnessed the enduring effects of this training on myself and others. I had become convinced of the profound impact they could have on wider society.

Many of you will share this conviction, just like the Dalai Lama, and his longtime English translator Thupten Jinpa, who says in his book A Fearless Heart:

“Compassion, defined it its essence as a sense of concern for others’ well-being, holds the promise of grounding our shared ethics, without recourse to any particular religious or metaphysical creed. The cultivation of compassion, therefore, can also have huge societal and global implications. Imagine what our world would be like if each one of us made compassion the organising principle of our life.”

What if we taught kids compassion from the get-go? I thought. Imagine what their world could become.

 

Planting seeds

Over time, the seed of an idea began to take root within me. I had an idea to create a YouTube channel that had kids’ long term well-being at heart. Through a mix of songs, mindfulness, movement, and creative exercises, it would teach 3- to 7-year-old children Mindful Self-Compassion and emotional literacy skills, and thereby, hopefully, help make the world a kinder, more peaceful place.

That might sound like a rather far-fetched aim. A YouTube channel contributing to social cohesion and social and environmental justice? But I had seen the impact self-compassion had had on my own life.

I’ve just planted a seed in this flower pot. Close your eyes. Picture yourself taking care of the seed every day, giving it water and light. Now imagine… What do you dream it will become? Watch the full episode above to find out my dream

This conviction has become a powerful motivating force for me. And interestingly, so has my MSC practice. Since beginning work on the idea at the end of 2018, I was at times overwhelmed by the challenge I had taken on.

I had an ambitious vision: rigorously researched, thoughtfully constructed and beautifully presented kids’ content. It was to be values-driven and in every facet a living appreciation of life’s small but most important wonders: community, nature, connection. Instead of cutting corners with technology, I would take the long, slow, mindful option at every turn: for instance, painting all the sets by hand. I also needed to find a team of people to join me on my mission.

In early autumn 2019, we uploaded our first Sophie and Friends episode to YouTube; it was the culmination of almost a year’s work. Called ‘Planting Seeds’, it focuses on how nurturing something on a daily basis and giving it the right environment encourages it to blossom and bloom.

 

Navigating the highs and lows of the creation process

Any of you who have ever created something will know the ebb and flow of energy and enthusiasm during the process. After the initial high of inception come a series of low points; ripe territory for the inner critic to rear up.

My own practice, as well as the support of loved ones, enabled me to navigate these difficulties with equanimity. Alongside it was now also a quiet determination, fuelled perhaps by the fierce compassion Kristin Neff has spoken of.

MSC allowed me to find a deep self-acceptance and the confidence to pursue my own vision. I could overcome previous concerns about revealing too much of myself, being too vulnerable. Instead, I understood that in sharing my authentic self, I could contribute so much more to society than if I remained small, silent, and safe.

In this way, I rode out doubts and frustration and months of slow and steady slog work. Researching, writing, playing, iterating. I have so many people to thank for helping me along the way – including a good friend who not only provided the initial creative inspiration by introducing me to Mr Rogers Neighbourhood (‘The world needs this now!’ I exclaimed, upon seeing it), but also helped equip me with the tools I needed for the job. We are all so much stronger together.

Watch Sophie and Friends’ fourth episode, ‘making new friends’.

Opening to the support of other passionate advocates

Then slowly, I started to share my ideas with people, posting on online forums, simply trusting the act of sharing. One day, an energetic, empathetic US expat with a shared passion for children’s well-being responded to one of my posts.

That was only in June 2019, but since then our team has expanded to some 15 members, each passionate backers of our mission.

Amongst them are a primary school teacher and a child therapist who have acted as trusted script consultants, ensuring our content is as beneficial for children’s well-being as possible.

In August last year we ran a successful crowdfunding campaign and were blown away by the support we received. It seems like there is a real desire, indeed a palpable need, for content like ours. Content that prioritises people over profit.

Upon our launch, we celebrated with a party here in Berlin. Children of different ages, backgrounds and beliefs attended, and together we drew around our hands and placed those handprints on a tree. Standing back, we could see how we are all just like leaves on a tree: inextricably connected and mutually reliant, even in our differences.


 

Just like a seed, when the conditions are sufficient, we can grow and develop into the beings we were always meant to be. Think back to that seed you planted. What did you dream it would become?

 

 

Join our movement for a kinder world.

We’ve now completed our first series and are entering the development process for our second!

We view Sophie and Friends as a community undertaking and strive to create the highest quality kids’ wellbeing videos available online. If you would like to be involved, do get in touch via hello@sophieandfriends.org. We welcome all feedback from you and the children in your life, and we would also be very grateful for ideas on how to reach as many children as possible with our videos and sustainably fund our work.

Sophie and Friends on YouTube and Instagram


hello@sophieandfriends.org

Sophie (center) with team members Shakrah (left) and Rose (right).

Healing in Community: Project Huruma

Co-written by Lorraine Hobbs and Autumn Totton

(This is the first in a series of articles on Project Huruma, to appear periodically in coming months.)

Project Huruma has emerged with a vision to support caregivers and survivors of trauma around the world with mindfulness and self-compassion skills, starting with the Mt. Elgon community in Western Kenya. Thanks to the generous support of numerous donors and a committed team willing to volunteer their time, our first training took place there in late October/early November 2019. 

It started after Lilian Muthui, a Kenya-based psychologist and counselor attended a 5-day Mindful Self-Compassion (MSC) intensive in Nairobi. The experience was transformative, and following the deep immersion into self-compassion, she found herself reflecting on the potential of self-compassion training as a healing intervention for the 300+ women and children caught in the crossfire of tribal conflicts, starting with the Mt. Elgon community in Western Kenya.

We spent many weeks leading up to the launching of our phase one program, preparing as a team and anticipating the ways in which the programs would need to be adapted.

The group of women and children we were serving had suffered a series of severely traumatic attacks most recently one in 2018, which for many resulted in the loss of fathers and husbands, sexual violence and brutality.

Because of the instability in their region, these 38 women, 20 teens and 10 children traveled via boda boda (motorcycles) down the mountain and then by bus to a more secure facility over three hours away. The Project Huruma team, after traveling from all around the world, convened there to meet them — eager and anxious to see if the 5-Day trauma-informed Mindful Self-Compassion trainings we had planned would be well received. The women and children arrived in great spirits, descending from their bus with courageous smiles  and a traditional greeting that began a journey of healing for all.

Over the next 5 days, these brave women and children helped us learn what they needed in their recovery. The framework of the intensive was self-compassion, but the teaching was guided by their willingness to share their stories of pain and suffering. For many of these women, their stories had not  been told. Their grief and shame had been concealed since the original conflict in 2007.

While it took some time to build safety and trust, we eventually found our groove. Each team had two teachers trained in an MSC/MSC-T based-curriculum, as well as an interpreter, who skillfully navigated the language barrier. These women and children generously shared native Swahili songs and dances, which were integrated into the training, and together with carefully crafted art and movement activities, these women and children found a path of healing. Day after day they taught us how survivors of complex trauma could benefit from self-compassion. As they opened their hearts to us and to one another, the suffering began to ease. Several of the women reported how pain in their bodies began to shift and, in some cases, disappear altogether. 

An additional and equally distressing concern was the talk of revenge killing among the male adolescents. The Chief and her elders spoke of the need to support these young males on learning to manage the unresolved anger from the extreme violence the women endured. The history of conflict was fueled by the need to avenge their fathers and protect their mothers and sisters. By all accounts, he male adolescents seemed to thrive under the safety of self-compassion during the training. 

On the final day, our team of eleven returned to their village, and with great pride these women shared their homes, fields, crops and their efforts to restore the safety and serenity of a former village life.

They also shared with great agony the  evidence of the assaults on their homes. The journey to the village was strenuous and exhausting for many of us, but bearing witness to the stain left on this community from the traumatic events seemed somehow vital to the psychological healing of these women and children. 

back row – left to right: Natacha Boulton – Canada, Shelagh McFarland – Malaysia, Galia Tyano Ronan – Israel, Natalie Logan – Canada, Laila Narsi – U.S.
front row – left to right: Heather Helvink. – U.S., Lorraine Hobbs – U.S., Yaffa Maritz – U.S., Shani – Israel. 

 

Additional thank you to Laila Narsi for the image at the top of the page.

Coping During Australia’s Bushfire Crisis: MSC Teachers Share Their Stories

By Emma Willoughby, Carmel Herington, Lyndi Smith, and Tina Gibson

Compiled and edited by Mara Elwood


Since November 2019, bushfires have been burning all over Australia. Several of our immediate CMSC community live in Australia, and we are grateful for their courage and willingness to share some of the impact of this ecological tragedy on their lives. This is one event in a series of fires, floods, and other ecological disasters all over the world causing suffering for people in our communities. May we find ways to support all those who have been, and will be, affected by this and other disasters. Perhaps giving rise to some fierce compassion for our beautiful planet, ourselves, and each other.


Making space for grief as a pathway to healing

by Lyndi Smith

Jill Shepherd, the Insight Meditation teacher, has just published a guided Compassion meditation for the Australian bushfire situation on Dharma Seed… found it beautiful… and provocative. And definitely aroused my sadness, compassion and willingness to act.

It’s triggering, the images she’s asking us to visualize ARE triggering. But the bushfire devastation is real. I found it useful for my heart to actually feel into that, to feel a little more pain, and, in doing so, open up and care more.

Camping at Christmas and walking into Nightcap National Park and seeing the charred remains of ancient gum forest was a wake up call. So sad to see green, lush rain forest with lyre birds singing turn into an eery, silent graveyard. My friend and I could only hike in silence. Allowing the sadness to slowly seep in and touch our hearts.

We were inspired to see the green shoots coming from one burnt tree. Although many more old gum trees are now stumps, and won’t be returning to serve the animals and birds with food and shelter. But we felt some hope. Things are growing, there is still life here. But so fragile and so in need of protection.

 Lyndi Smith, New Growth at Nightcap National Park, Dec. 2019

I practice Jill Shepherd’s meditation every morning, so at least for a short while I can be touched, can remember the horror that people and animals face every day, just a few hundred kilometers away.


Finding stability during this “great turning”

by Tina Gibson

Personally I have needed to go slower than my usual slow. I feel like I am actually getting not much done, but this is the pace that is needed. Almost like there is a great turning happening as Joanna Macy says, but not the way I would like it to turn. I feel I really do need more and more time up my sleeve so as not to be caught off guard by something I cannot really put my finger on, to not become unbalanced in these extremes of the spectrum.

There is distress, overwhelm and anxiety; but also, a waking up, standing up for sustainability, and love pouring in from the world.

Here is an adaptation of a practice you may like to try, but go gently:

A practice to open to the limitlessness of compassion

In this practice we will open to the vast and limitless capacity of our loving, compassionate heart. Trusting the capacity of our heart, we then open to the suffering of another being,  bringing that suffering into our hearts and transforming it to send out our loving compassion to the them.

•••

Anchor: First, Get clear on what can be your touchstone for this practice — the anchor that can steady you when needed. Take a little time and care, noticing what is true for us and tending to what is there in a loving way. Attending and befriending whatever struggles you may find. What is your anchor? It may be your breath, sound, supportive touch, or feeling gravity holding you.

Open to the suffering: If and when you feel ready, slowly open to the suffering that the fire has / is bringing. Allowing yourself to be present to whatever comes to mind, staying with just one aspect at a time.

Send what is called for to self and other: Tending to each thing that arises, sending what is called for to self and the other. Moving slowly with this practice and opening and closing as much as is needed. Remembering this practice is about deepening loving connection to self and others in this time of tragedy, not trying to fix anything.

The nature of impermanence is palpable, and I feel like a part of me just wants to forget all this is happening and just be lighthearted again. But when I see people acting lighthearted, a part of me wants to stop them and say, “Don’t you know there is something wrong?” A knowing arises in me that I need an anchor, a way to find balance for my nervous system, in this time where my window of tolerance is limited, this anchor is what keeps me moored, and gives me some stability to hold onto. Without that I become a mess and am unable to be of service to myself or anyone else. Compassion, Equanimity and Gratitude practices are all a tremendous help for dealing with the difficult emotions that come up, and the feeling of helplessness. In addition to the question from MSC, “What do I need?” I am adding, “What is real and true here?” Knowing I can sit with this reality, and make my own intentions of true, real changes I can make in my life that will affect others.

If all else fails, I call a friend, because community is what it takes to survive in a time of crisis.


Taking solace in common humanity

by Emma Willoughby

I have been pondering and to be honest managing some pretty tricky overwhelm at times as my brother was (and is) still in among the immediate response to some of the fires. Thankfully not at the fire front, but effectively a first responder of sorts. I am grateful he is safe, eventhough exhausted. Like Tina I am finding the call for me at the moment is to go slow.

One thing that has really stuck out for me in the midst of all this is common humanity – how willing people have been to be with, offer up money, time, food, and all sorts of support from near or far. And I have been finding loving kindness practice helpful especially alongside soften soothe and allow – sort of being able to soothe and allow by offering loving kindness from a distance.


Letting extremes of emotion be an impetus for deepening practice

by Caramel Herington

I have experienced, and been holding, some of the most extremes of emotions of my life at the same time, and some I’ve never experienced before – holding raging anger at the same time as shame, and so much love for people who are out there fighting the fires and helping the animals.

It’s brought out the best in us as a nation, but also some not so good things are exposed for the whole world to see.

I’ve felt shame to be an Australian at the manner in which some politicians have presented themselves to the world as our supposed political ‘leaders’, at the same time as being so proud of how ‘ordinary’ Australians have helped each other.

I’ve felt horror like never before, at the loss of native animals and their habitat, as well as the native fauna, not to mention the stories of the size and ferocity of the fires.

I’ve felt guilt at being personally safe, at not seeing that it could be this bad (let alone the thought of it getting worse!), at feeling that I’ve not done enough myself to curb my unsustainable habits, at my personal contribution to this disaster.

This has been a new engagement of my personal practice, and it isn’t easy.


We would like to thank these teachers and voices from our community that are living in Australia and experiencing the fires first-hand. From all of us at CMSC we send our compassion and gratitude to all of you, your loved ones, to those you don’t know that are fighting the battle, and love for the innocents that are taken by it. May there be some relief soon, and may we all as a community stay strong together in the face of this and all other crisis situations in this world of ours.

There are numerous ways that you can donate money if you are able. The Victoria Bushfire Appeal and the South Australia Bushfire Apppeal, are two organizations that will get money to those directly in need. For donations to help the animals hurt in the fires Animals Australia will help.

Finally, if you would like to use one of the MSC practices that may be helpful with holding space for this crisis, we invite you to try the MSC meditation, Giving and Receiving Compassion.

Program Adaptation Incubator Extends the Reach of MSC Program

By Susan Swearingen and Steve Hickman

CMSC is passionate about creating an even broader reach of self-compassion and having a greater positive impact on individuals and society. As CMSC co-founder Chris Germer has said, “the future of MSC is in adaptations” and the Program Adaptation Incubator (PAI) project was formed to support that vision of extending the reach and influence of self-compassion practice to more people, populations and settings.

As part of CMSC’s strategic growth plan, the organization has identified five specific populations where we are supporting the development of adaptations; teens, men, classroom teachers, healthcare professionals, and a number of clinical populations. 

In support of these adaptations contemplated by skilled and talented MSC teachers, we have formed the PAI to be an open fertile space for those interested in exploring and pursuing adapted programs. These sessions are for sharing ideas, providing mutual support and encouragement, networking, and brainstorming. 

A key intention of the PAI is to also identify the needs of adapters and to identify the CMSC resources that might help support and further those efforts. Some of the most adept and wise MSC teachers, who have expertise in working with special populations or settings, face tremendous challenges when faced with the somewhat daunting task for developing a new curriculum, empirically testing it, disseminating it and training people to teach it. The PAI aims to help these people overcome the obstacles and develop robust and effective programs that touch hearts, relieve suffering and change lives.

Working collaboratively with program adapters, the CMSC PAI aims to pave the way for the future success of these adaptations through sharing CMSC resources like marketing, research, business planning, dissemination and training. For example, the last session featured a presentation on the newly developed “Self-Compassion for Healthcare Communities (SCHC)” six-week program. Krista Gregory, Natalie Bell and Phoebe Long shared their journey in working with Kristin Neff to develop, test, research and implement the SCHC curriculum. 

Attendees learned some of the pitfalls they encountered, what they learned in the process, the research results, and they also gained some tips on the challenges of adapting a solid program like MSC. Attendees engaged in an open dialogue with questions and insights from other teachers with similar experiences that resulted in helpful feedback for the developers and new connections across the community of MSC teachers.  “I was so very inspired by Krista, Phoebe, and  Natalie, and have just signed up for their training. I found the meeting really supportive in terms of my own research because elements of their research over the last 3.5 years mirrors some of my own experiences and challenges of my own research.” shared Kate Diggory, PhD candidate who has applied MSC to her program iCare-Caring for Carers with Self Compassion.

The PAI space is dedicated to learning within the MSC teaching community to encourage mutual support in the evolution of self-compassion in the world. The PAI welcomes anyone that would like to get insight into how to go about adapting the MSC program, gathering feedback from this diverse and talented group of teachers on your adaptation work, and connecting across the global MSC network. 

You’re welcome to listen to the last meeting recording and if you’d like to be included on future meeting invitations or have any questions, please contact Susan Swearingen, PAI Manager.

Updated 2020 Teacher Guide Now Available!

The new MSC Teacher Guide for 2020 is now available for purchase. We strongly encourage all teachers to purchase this new guide here, as there are a number of important improvements and additions in this version.

In this 2020 update, refinements from the recently published MSC professional textbook were integrated into the TG. Most edits to the TG are improvements in wording, punctuation and formatting, not in content. However, new content was added to make the MSC curriculum more welcoming to people with diverse identities, to incorporate more specific references to yang self-compassion, and to enhance safety.

Additionally:

  • We changed the practice “Soothing Touch” to “Soothing and Supportive Touch” to incorporate the yang (action in the world) element.
  • We also changed the titles of the topic “Strategies for Meeting Difficult Emotions” to “Approaches to Difficult Emotions,” and we changed “Working with Difficult Emotions” and “Working with Shame” to “Being with Difficult Emotions” and “Being with Shame.” These changes were made to reduce the striving aspect of the words “working” and “strategies.”
  • We have a new Policy and Procedures section. 

 
Get the 2020 MSC Teacher Guide

Chapter 7: Being A Compassionate Teacher (Excerpt)

The following is an excerpt from Teaching the Mindful Self-Compassion Program: A Guide for Professionals by Chris Germer and Kristin Neff. Translations of the Professional Guide are forthcoming throughout 2020 and 2021. May this Professional Guide serve you and inform your teaching!

Note that CMSC makes a modest affiliate commission if you purchase the book through a link on this page.

Excerpt

Embracing Diversity 

Our capacity as MSC teachers to respond to others with compassion is limited by our capacity to see our common humanity and our ability to understand the context of people’s lives. There are human differences that we may be able to see (e.g., age, skin color, and body type) and differences that might be less visible (e.g., sexual orientation, gender identity, socioeconomic status, early childhood experience, mental or physical illness, religion, politics, literacy, and intellectual abilities) (see Chapter 10). Members of some marginalized groups, such as people of color, and even people in groups that are not a minority, such as women, experience ongoing, systemic oppression. 

Our differences can be a source of pride, shame, or a host of other emotions, depending largely on cultural factors, such as how much oppression we experience as our identity develops and how much that oppression is internalized. It is also important to remember that some marginalized individuals have been able to develop strength and resilience in the face of cultural oppression and adversity, such as Susan B. Anthony or Nelson Mandela or Martin Luther King, Jr. (Burt, Lei, & Simons, 2017; Singh, Hays, & Watson, 2011; Spence, Wells, Graham, & George, 2016). 

Whatever form oppression takes, the result is cultural identity pain. As MSC teachers, we need to be aware and open to our students’ cultural identity pain and be ready to validate it and respond with compassion. Creating a space in an MSC class that supports inclusion, diversity, and equity may be a new competency for some MSC teachers, especially for teachers who identify with the dominant culture or have social privilege of one kind or another. Suffering is universal, but not all suffering is equal. Although MSC is ultimately an exercise in common humanity, we get there by validating the uniqueness of each person’s experience, especially the experience of pain. Cultural identity pain is a sensitive topic that can evoke feelings of shame, guilt, or anger in just about everyone. Fortunately, self-compassion is a powerful resource for working with such feelings. 

When participants arrive at an MSC class for the first time, they often ask themselves, “What is here for me?” as they look around the room for people like themselves. When none are to be found, students at least need to know that the group norms include genuine respect for individual differences and appreciation of the impact of culture on a person’s life. Most importantly, the MSC classroom should not be a place where the pain caused by oppression on a personal and systemic level is ignored in an effort to see our common humanity. 

MSC teachers are strongly encouraged to develop greater awareness and sensitivity toward the worldviews of those who are culturally diverse. Gaining this type of understanding helps us to view participants’ cultural identities as representations of various dimensions and degrees of the self in relation to social disadvantage and/or social privilege. Therefore, we must always be sensitive to the impact of multiple, interacting cultural identities rather than perceiving participants’ diverse ways of being as purely one-dimensional. In other words, there is always “diversity within diversity.” 

Toward that end, teachers may need to take additional training in cultural self-awareness to recognize their own cultural conditioning, uncover unconscious biases, and more closely examine how they are situated in the culture regarding access to power and privilege. This process supports the cultivation of cultural humility, which means acknowledging our limitations, learning to explore social differences despite our discomfort, and remaining open to the reality that cultural identity pain has a profound impact on one’s sense of self and lived experience. 

MSC teachers from relatively homogeneous cultures may feel that diversity, equity, and inclusion are less applicable to their teaching, but there are marginalized groups that exist within every culture. Expanding our sensitivity to the impact of culture in our lives, especially the impact on those who are subject to daily injury within a particular culture, is an important gateway to living and teaching more compassionately. 

Qualities of Compassion 

When a teacher is being compassionate toward a student, a host of related qualities may arise in the interaction: 

  • Curiosity—genuine interest in what a student is experiencing. 
  • Kindness—a hospitable, non-judging attitude.
  • Warmth—a tender inclination of heart toward the individual. 
  • Respect—appreciating the uniqueness of each individual. 
  • Allowing—not fixing and allowing each person to be whole and complete now. 
  • Humility—assuming that one person doesn’t know what is best for another. 
  • Mutuality—sense of commonality with others in struggles and aspirations. 
  • Confidentiality—willingness to protect the privacy of others. 
  • Receptivity—ability to listen and learn from others. 
  • Flexibility—capacity to be moved in a new direction by the student. 
  • Authenticity—readiness to be open and honest in a helpful way. 
  • Appreciation—recognizing the inherent strengths in each individual. 
  • Attentiveness—ability to focus on the experience of another. 
  • Generosity—willingness to go beyond one’s usual limitations. 
  • Empathy—feeling another’s world as one’s own. 
  • Equanimity—perspective and steadiness in the midst of strong emotions. 
  • Wisdom—understanding complexity and seeing a way through. 
  • Confidence—inner strength that arises from goodwill. 

Teachers who want to increase their capacity for compassion toward others can focus on enhancing any of these compassion-related qualities. For example, intentionally cultivating the quality of “not fixing” might be helpful for psychotherapists who have a habit of trying to fix what’s broken. Or for a self-compassion teacher who tends to be a striving and impatient type (commonly called “Type A”), the qualities of mutuality and receptivity might be worth nourishing. By focusing on one personal quality at a time, MSC teachers can widen the spectrum of their compassionate attributes and skills. 

Teachers need wisdom to temper how they express these qualities of compassion. For example, if a teacher speaks in a warm, motherly tone, one student might enjoy the soothing effect, whereas another may have memories of maternal disapproval or betrayal and feel uneasy. What is medicine for one student could be poison for another. Similarly, one student may need teachers to maintain respectful distance so the student can freely explore his inner world, whereas another might experience the same distance as isolating and lonely. As we grow as MSC teachers, we are likely to recognize our own teaching styles and be able to adjust our favored style to the needs of individual students, or at least to recognize the effect our manner of teaching might have on our students. It also helps to have a co-teacher with a different temperament or teaching style. 

Mindfulness Vs. Compassion

As I try and build my teaching up in the big city of Auckland, I have come across some resistance from people to promote Mindful Self-Compassion. Sometimes this is because I am approaching people who teach more Mindfulness-based programs such as MBSR or Mindfulness Works, and they feel that I would be “stealing” their clients. Other times I have approached yoga teachers, or spaces that host that type of wellbeing programming, and they respond with, “Oh, no thanks, we already have Mindfulness being taught in our own programs.”

Again with the undertone of, you are the competition, why would we want to help you fill your classes?

So I launch into my explanation of how MSC is actually not a Mindfulness program, but a Compassion program, and that I have no intention of “stealing” clients. In fact, I appreciate when my participants have had training in a Mindfulness-based program before they attend MSC. Unfortunately, even that has limited results, as I am still seen as “competition”.

Mindfulness does have a very important role in MSC because if we are not aware enough to notice when we are suffering, we can’t respond with compassion. Mindfulness also helps to anchor us, so that we can engage with the emotionally difficult exercises without becoming unmoored and overwhelmed. Mindfulness is very good for turning inwards and locating our felt experience in our bodies without judging or resisting. Mindfulness creates the space to respond with kindness and warmth, or fierce compassion, whatever we need in this particular instance of struggle.

Mindfulness and self-compassion work closely together. Kristin Neff and Chris Germer say; “We need mindfulness to be self-compassionate, and self-compassion gives us the sense of safety needed to be mindful.” There is a balance needed in cultivating both Mindfulness and Compassion with wisdom and skill. Mindfulness training (such as MBSR, MBCT, etc.) usually holds implicit in it the wisdom of compassionate response, whereas Mindfulness is very explicitly cultivated. Compassion training (MSC, CCT, etc.) hold implicit the Mindfulness needed to notice suffering, and Compassion is explicitly cultivated in response.

Chris Germer says, “When we struggle, we give ourselves compassion not to feel better, but because we feel bad.” This is the ultimate paradox that is difficult to grasp, because we have always been taught that struggle and suffering is bad and we need to make it go away to feel better. The reality is that sometimes there is an easy fix, but most times, trying to fight the difficulties we encounter in our human lives, actually increases the suffering. Even when applying a “quick fix” that struggle often repeats until we have learnt from it what we need. If we are opening mindfully to a struggle and the acceptance of the suffering and compassionate response to be gentle with ourselves, or stand up for ourselves without resisting the struggle is not available to us, because our training has been mostly mindfulness and not compassion, we are missing something.

From the teacher handbook for MSC I put together the following chart that I send out to my participants after the one session that focuses on Mindfulness in the MSC program;

Based on Session 2, Christopher Germer & Kristin Neff (2019).
Mindful Self-Compassion Teacher Guide. San Diego, CA: Center for Mindful Self-Compassion.

 

I remind the participants that both Mindfulness and Compassion work together; Mindfulness to bring awareness to compassionate response in case it starts to become a hidden form of resistance, and Compassion to give a safe space to opening to suffering mindfully.

So I am wondering, can we work together as Mindfulness and Compassion based teachers to offer intentional cultivation of both these practices instead of feeling competition between programs?

Neither type of program seems completely balanced, and bringing them together in partnership would make sense to me. For now I will practice self-compassion when a Mindfulness teacher says, “no thanks” and refuses to pass on my details, and I will continue to open mindfully to new opportunities for growth of MSC programs.

Originally published on the Moa Compassion Blog Special thanks to my son Mattheus for the picture of the two heart stones.