Self-Compassion Around the World

July 12, 2019

Loving, Connected Presence in a Global Classroom

By Aimee Eckhardt

“Each week, I am in awe of how I feel it. The feeling of connection even grows! I see these gatherings as the high points in my week and my practice. I love the MSC community!”

– Cecilia Fernandez-Hall,
MSC Teacher and Circles of Practice Coordinator

While it might be difficult to imagine an online learning experience being as effective as a traditional classroom experience, we’ve found over the years of teaching MSC online that with skilled teachers and an ongoing commitment to loving, connected presence, we can come close. If you have doubt or have had poor experiences with online learning in the past, you’re not alone. We invite you to test for yourself by sampling a free MSC practice session, an introductory session, or taking a class to see how warm, connective, and nourishing the live online environment can feel.

Top 6 reasons to join an online practice group or course:

  1. You’ll receive the same skilled teaching, the same MSC curricular standards, and the same community guidelines as in an in-person class.
    The majority of MSC Teachers in online classes you encounter through CMSC will have obtained the highest level of Teacher Training available. Many teach primarily in online classrooms, so they are skilled in holding warm, connected presence in this unique environment. Online classes also maintain the same rigorous curricular standards as in-person classes, and online classes maintain the same community standards of safety, inclusion, non-fixing, non-judgement, etc.
  2. The commute is short and hassle-free.
    There’s no need to dress up, hire an expensive sitter, or travel into town. This ease of access from home can be especially important for those who don’t have access to in-person MSC classes in their area, who are housebound due to illness or disability, who have caregiving responsibilities, transportation limitations, and who have exceptionally busy lives. Often, people in these situations could most benefit from this practice and have the least access to it, so online options are a great way to overcome these barriers.
  3. Each online class includes a truly multicultural community of participants.
    Because we are not limited by physical location, participants from all parts of the world converge in each class. This adds a valuable multicultural aspect to learning online, and it allows us to feel even more clearly the nourishing quality of common humanity.
  4. There are opportunities for 24×7 connection and deepening between classes
    In many online MSC courses, participants have the benefit of further sharing about their in-class experiences in online discussion forums. This adds depth and connection to the online learning experience, particularly in between class meetings.
  5. Pets get to come to class!
    For many people, pets are a great comfort during online classes. This companionship allows both easefulness and common humanity amongst the group.
  6. Participants can review and reinforce learning via class recordings.
    In MSC, the material we cover is rich and broad. Some of the topics can be emotionally activating, so absorbing it all in one sitting can be tricky. To help with that, most online MSC courses will provide private recordings of each session (for a limited time) so that participants can go back and reinforce their learning. This service is not provided in the live classroom.

Current Online Learning Opportunities:

Live Online MSC (10 weeks, foundational MSC course for all)
MSC Circles of Practice (Ongoing, donation-based practice groups for MSC graduates)
MSC Community for Deepening Practice (8-month program of deepening practice for MSC graduates)

Frequently asked questions
about online learning

➠ I’m very uncomfortable with technology. Is online learning for me?

If you struggle with technology, you will have many opportunities to practice self-compassion in an online class — especially common humanity! It can be tricky to wrap your head around new technology, but rest assured you are not alone, and teachers and fellow students stand ready to support you. And with a bit of practice, you will gain the knowledge to provide support to others!

No one is exempt from the occasional internet disconnection, faulty microphone, or poorly functioning headphones. But there are a few basic technical things you can do in advance to keep your experience as smooth as possible:

  1. Expect the unexpected. Technical glitches happen to every single person in class from time to time.When it happens to you, you can offer yourself a deep breath of compassion and a soft smile, knowing that today is your day. You’re not alone! Simply take the time you need to rejoin the session, restart your computer, etc. Let this be an opportunity to practice compassion in real time. If you need help, your classmates or course facilitator has probably experienced something similar and will be able to offer help.
  2. A strong internet connection is essential. Before joining, do a test run to be sure your internet reaches the place where you’ll be sitting. If your internet is unstable at times, you may wish to buy an Ethernet cord and connect directly to your modem rather than connecting through wifi. Losing connection multiple times in a session can be very personally frustrating and isn’t something we have much control over, so it may be more self-compassionate to forego sessions in which the connection is lousy.
  3. Make the best of the aspects of communication you can control. Since we lose many of the usual non-verbal communication cues in an online class where we can see only faces, it’s important to maximize our ability to see, hear, and speak clearly with each other. As best you can, sit facing a good light, minimize background noise in your area, and have a quality pair of headphones with a microphone. This allows your voice to be heard, it allows you to hear others well, and it also ensures others’ privacy if you happen to have others in the room during the session or class. 
  4. Minimize distractions. Just as you might silence your cellphone before entering a meeting, closing out other activities will help you focus and be present. Oh, and turn off the cellphone too! While in class, close all other windows on your computer so you are not tempted to do anything other than to be present. 
  5. If your course offers a Tech Check or Intro Session prior to the beginning of the course, attend it if possible. This will allow you to familiarize yourself with the tools and the online classroom in real time, preparing you to ease into your class with confidence. It also gives you a chance to get to know your teacher(s) and ask them any questions you may have.

➠ Is it really possible to experience loving, connected presence online?

Our teachers and participants routinely report that despite doubts early on, the deep connection and common humanity that are essential in MSC absolutely can be cultivated online, just as in the in-person classroom. Again, we invite you to try a class, a practice session, or an information session and see whether it supports you.

Ways to cultivate an experience of loving, connected presence — both as a recipient and as a giver:

  • Listen deeply. Let your classmates’ sharing be an anchor for your attention; as your classmates share their experiences, tuning in to your own physical experience of the body to help you stay grounded and present in the Zoom room.
  • Avoid logging in by phone unless absolutely necessary. Small screens do not allow you to see faces of all of your group members, nor can they see you.
  • Name it to tame it. As uncomfortable as it may be at first, sharing your discomfort to the group in general (via the chat window or speaking out loud) may reveal a good deal of warm-hearted, common humanity amongst the group!
  • Make a visual connection. You may wish to use “Speaker View” rather than “Gallery View” so that when someone else is speaking they are more visible to you. Rest assured that responding with non-verbals (nodding, smiling, hands-on-heart) is always welcome when something someone says touches you.
  • Self-critic in charge? Try “Hide Self” view. If seeing your own image on screen makes you feel uncomfortably self-conscious — a very common experience — feel free to turn your video to “hide self” view. Others can see you, but you cannot see yourself.
  • Practice “FOFBOC” on a regular basis. It’s the seated version of the Soles of the Feet practice. Stands for “Feet On Floor, Bum On Chair.” Ground your attention in the points of contact between you and the rest of the world, and have these points of contact as places to return to when your mind wanders. You will be present and mindful more often when you are embodied and grounded.

➠ I’m an introvert. What if I don’t feel comfortable speaking during an online class?

  • As in all MSC offerings, participation is invitational. Online sessions offer a unique opportunity to communicate with the group through the “chat” function, which allows you a small stepping stone into speaking directly. 
  • Should you need a moment of privacy, it is OK to turn your video off. You will still be able to see and hear, but others can’t see you. Please use sparingly, as participation in group classes implies mutuality; as best as we can, we maintain loving, connected presence with each other. Your presence nourishes others, just as others’ presence can nourish you. 

➠ I’ve never done this before. How can I prepare myself to have the best experience?

  • Trust that comfort will come with time. Rest assured that this new way of communicating will probably feel awkward at first, but like any new endeavor, it will become more comfortable with time. For many participants, regular online sessions with committed classmates can be a welcome weekly highlight in the midst of otherwise chaotic lives.
  • Talk with others. If you would like referrals, we’re happy to invite past participants to contact you. Also, the course teacher can give you any details you may need in advance. When in doubt, please ask.
  • Tend mindfully to your physical space: Settle in a private, quiet space. Tend to the people or animals in your care before your meeting so that you can relax and focus on your own experience during the session, which will usually be quite experiential.Intentionally prepare for presence in whatever ways are important to you; give yourself plenty of time before class starts to log on, get situated, and settle into the breath and body as best you can. Come comfortably dressed, and you may wish to bring tea or a glass of water to sip on. Have a journal nearby in case you wish to take a few notes.
  • Approach it with curiosity and hold it lightly. As with all MSC endeavors, we encourage you to make your experience your own, reflecting on what supports you in any given moment. If you can, remembering that there’s nothing to do “right” or no specific way to “be” when learning online. Know that if you’re struggling, there’s probably someone else in the room who’s been there, too. You are not alone.


With appreciation to the following MSC Teachers for contributing their wisdom for this article: Aimee Eckhardt, Mara Elwood, Cecilia Fernandez-Hall, Steve Hickman, Cassondra Graff, Rochelle Jaffe, Ali Lambie, Kathryn Lovewell, Mirjam Luthe, Rose Mina Munjee, Christine Grace McMulkin, and Ruth Williamson. Also, thank you to those current online participants who shared their own perspectives and experiences. May our efforts serve all those who wish to continue their self-compassion practice online and across the globe.

October 9, 2018

Privilege, Power and a Pair of Plastic Earrings: The Inner Capacity of Self-Compassion

By Dr. Steve Hickman
CMSC Executive Director


I rode into the Casabranca Favela (slum) in Rio de Janeiro knowing full well that, in an hour or so, I could ride right back out and slip into the tidy stream of life outside of poverty and danger. I felt a little apprehension at getting my hands dirty like this, but I could humor my hosts and find out how people live here and what the healthcare providers who work here face on a regular basis. I was literally “slumming” for the first time in my privileged life.

And of course, it was messy, stark, meandering and daunting as the living spaces, piled on top of each other, extended as far up the hillside as I could see. But there was a kind of spirit here that I saw in the eyes of the people. The children playing in the street, the women toiling in their living spaces and the hard-working healthcare workers in their bright white uniforms and their playful smiles and cheerful attitudes. My physician colleagues back home in the US struggle to help their privileged (by contrast) patients stay healthy and alive. I could just imagine what it’s like to do the same for people who may not always have fresh water, enough healthy food or even vaccinations for infectious diseases that we get routinely at home.

And then we sat. I joined a tiny weekly mindfulness group led by Berenice, a psychologist who is part of the “collaborative care” team in this small primary care clinic in Casabranca. Three young women and the 10-year-old son of one of those women gathered in a small consultation office, closed their eyes and dropped their awareness onto their breath. After a few minutes, we moved on to the quintessential mindfulness exercise: the raisin. One woman, who had not done the exercise before was dismayed that she was only given a few raisins in the bottom of a cup. “This isn’t enough to eat!” she said laughing. The others nodded knowingly and smiled.fullsizeoutput_2051

We explored the raisins together and then we explored the experience. The group went on to share how they are noticing mindfulness unfolding in their lives (all have been coming for some time to this weekly group with Berenice).

They shared brief stories of noticing their old patterns and being able to shift course and choose options that work better for them.

One woman with the tendency to get angry at her husband reported that she could begin to see the anger arising and take a breath to shift her old pattern of expressing the anger impulsively and hurtfully. She was clearly excited at this new development, and there was a softness to her realization that warmed the very obvious deep inner strength that she possesses naturally. It was a winning combination and unexpected in a place where I expected not to encounter hope, joy or resolve for something better.The little boy said he used to get bullied more but now he is able to not react as much when he is upset and walk away from situations.

His face lit up when he reported quite proudly that, because he is staying out of trouble more, he gets to actually speak at church on Sundays. His beaming face filled me with love and compassion and made me think of my own son at that age and how tender and full of love our hearts can be, even in the lap of poverty and in the shadow of privilege.

And then there was the woman with the plastic earrings. I didn’t catch her name, but her earrings caught my eye. Neon bright green lacy discs about three inches in diameter dangled from each ear. My first thought was that you could probably buy a pair for a dollar at home. My privileged mind wanted to scoff at the gaudy, cheesy, cheap decorations, but it couldn’t. She told a story of a problem with “nerves” (a syndrome in some Latin cultures that roughly equates to anxiety).

She showed numerous scars on the inside of her forearms where she had scratched or cut herself over the years. She didn’t say a lot. She didn’t have to. None of the marks were fresh and there was a kind of solid self-confidence to her that intrigued me.

I kept looking at those earrings and realizing she wore them with pride and a kind of commitment to her own worth as a human being. She had made an effort to make herself attractive, not for the world around her, but for her and who she sees inside. I saw her smile warmly at the little boy telling his story and I could see her love for humanity in that look.

And those earrings looked perfect on her. The radiance, the lack of self-consciousness, the spirit of a Carioca (a resident of Rio) all shone through because she could embrace her true nature as a glorious, lively, perfectly imperfect human being who simply wants to be happy and free from suffering.

Mindfulness is a powerful and transformative practice. I have known that for as long as I have been practicing and teaching it, but even more than that, I could see quite clearly that what emerged from each of these people, including Berenice herself, was a clear and growing inner strength that came from loving themselves just a little bit more, and by extension, standing strong and resilient in the face of conditions that have crushed many others. It is the little triumphs, in the moments of awareness, that foster our sense of friendliness toward who we are that allows us to shake the bonds of shame and self-criticism, commit to doing right by ourselves and our fellow human beings, and put on our own version of those dayglo earrings as an act of kindness and a manifestation of our deep connection to the good of ourselves and humanity as a whole.This is what Kristin Neff and Chris Germer refer to as the “yang” of self-compassion. It is the active, motivating, protecting, providing aspect of self-compassion that says “no!” to injustice and opens us to move through the world with purpose and intention. It allows us care for ourselves as we would for our loved ones, and to proudly don those plastic earrings.
The comforting, soothing and nurturing “yan” side of self-compassion is there too, to support us through our suffering and to soften our touch, but the active side often is overlooked.

This is the unique and ultimate human privilege that every one of us possesses. The capacity to simply include ourselves in the circle of compassion and to see that our struggles, our challenges and our deepest fears about ourselves actually bind us together with every human being on the planet. When we feel bad, flawed, irreparably broken and unlovable, it hurts, but it stems from this deep desire within us to BE loved.

I want to be loved as much as those people in the group and as much as you do, and we all want to be free from suffering. We share the privilege of being able to honor that in ourselves no matter what we own, where we live, or what our history held.

In this short venture into the favela, my privilege, as a white, middle-aged, financially comfortable man actually afforded me the opportunity to see how those with the least privilege can teach us all a lesson about the most important privilege: to be able to give ourselves compassion whenever we suffer, to love who we are as individuals and as human beings, and to proudly wear our own version of those plastic earrings. I am grateful to all my teachers for this realization, especially those four people in that little room.

I am inspired by my new friends here in Rio who provide healthcare to the residents of all the favelas in Rio and they are hungry for self-compassion training to help them weather the overwhelming challenges of their work and how it can benefit their beloved patients. With economic conditions the way they are in Brazil, this is quite a challenge. My dream is to find funding from around the world to underwrite more self-compassion training here and ultimately to bring MSC teacher training to Brazil to support this amazing work. If you know of people or organizations who might fund this work, I would be thrilled to be connected to them. Please simply email me directly at steve@centerformsc and I will happily follow up. Stay tuned. In the meantime, if YOU would like to donate to the non-profit Center for Mindful Self-Compassion, go here to do so.