The week just gone I have spent at the Purelands Retreat centre teaching a Compassion Based Living Course (CBLC) teaching skills retreat (click here). It was a coming together of fifteen teachers of the Mindfulness Based Living Course (MBLC) who had also completed our Mindfulness Level 2 Course: Responding with Compassion and who wanted to learn to teach Compassion.
We started on the Tuesday evening with a reflection on why we wanted to teach Compassion. For me quite a strong response arose with the message ‘Because compassion is the only antidote to the pernicious culture in which we find ourselves’. I was quite surprised by the strength of my response, but it does feel like the culture in which we live is separating us from each other and is not conducive to us flourishing as human beings. We see a widening gap between the haves and the have- nots, between North and South, and an ever accelerating rise in mental health problems. There is constant coverage of war and political fighting on the news, setting us against those from other countries, religions or cultures or against those with other views. I hear stories of many distressed friends, family members and colleagues, struggling to deal with the challenges that modern life is bringing them.
I believe that the only thing that will bring us together is Compassion. A heartfelt understanding that we have more in common than separates us, in that we all suffer and that we all want to be happy. Compassion trains us to step into the shoes of the other, so as to understand their suffering and from there we can develop a possibility of mutual understanding and communication. I think Mindfulness is not enough – there also has to be Compassion.
So the definition of Compassion we use is the sensitivity to the suffering of ourselves and others, with a deep desire to relieve that suffering. And boy was this present in the wonderful group of people training to teach Compassion. This group had the courage to face and come to terms with their own suffering, so as to gain the understanding from which to authentically be present with and help others.
The act of having to face our suffering, can put a lot of people off training in Compassion, but I have to say that training in Compassion also requires us to cultivate a resource of joy, loving kindness and equanimity from which to face the suffering. Much of the training is about cultivating these resources and a real feeling of workability emerges as we gradually come to feel and understand that we have the resources to face the difficulties in our lives and to thrive and flourish as human beings regardless of what we face.
Our membership weekend this year is all about building the resource of joy in our practice and in our daily life. I have found this so very important in my own practice and life and it is quite nice to live life joyfully, being grateful for all the wonderful people and opportunities I have in my life and appreciating the world around me. And why not? If I am happy, then those around me are happy and I am in a much better position to help others. If I get bogged down in the suffering of the world and become distressed I am no use to anyone and I am miserable. Easier said than done. Why not come and explore this with me at our July membership weekend ‘The Joyful Club’ (click here for more details).
By the end of the retreat we had been through the CBLC course together, teaching and giving feedback, exploring rationales and teaching points for the different practices. The final feedback session was wonderful to hear, with many people experiencing significant insights. For me the insight was the importance of loving kindness practice and an intention to make this a focus of my practice for the next few months. Recently I have been experiencing quite a lot of anger and a sense of separation from those around me. I know from previous experience that, for me, loving kindness practice will help me with this. There is a real value in doing the practice for myself and for those towards whom I feel anger, to remind me of my intention to be loving and kind and patient, even when my buttons are pressed. I realise that I won’t always be able to do this and that’s OK to – I am far from perfect – I am happy to be a compassionate mess of a person!
Jane and I are leading a Compassion training (click here for more details) at Samye Ling later this year and I am very much looking forward to it. It always benefits me to go through the theory and practices again – I always learn something more about myself. Some rough edge is always smoothed. It is painful to experience and feel my own anger, but well worth it, if I can use this experience to cultivate more resources of loving kindness.
You can practice the ‘Widening circle of loving kindness practice’ as well as the ‘Limitless Joy practice’ and the equanimity practice of ‘Aspiring Dissolving and Equalising’ on our Compassion Based Living app, available for free from the Google play store and the Apple app store for Android and Apple devices.
Why not join me in these practices and in cultivating loving kindness this next few weeks.
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