This last week I have been delivering the Compassion Based Living Course (CBLC) teaching skills retreat at Samye Ling with my colleague and good friend Choden. He is a great person to be delivering the retreat with as he is an expert in this field, drawing on his extensive experience as a Buddhist practitioner and from his work on compassion from an evolutionary psychology perspective with Prof. Paul Gilbert.
The MA’s compassion training, which is entirely secular, draws on Buddhism, evolutionary psychology and neuroscience and Paul Gilbert and Choden have written an excellent book on their work in this area called Mindful Compassion (click here). Paul is a patron of the MA and is one of our keynote speakers at our conference in June (for more information: click here). Please do come and join us there.
I have benefited greatly from teaching on the CBLC, not least because of the awesome course participants I have had the privilege of sharing the retreat with. They are all committed and courageous practitioners of Compassion, who have been through the transformational process of building the compassionate resources with which to face their difficulties and coming out the other side more joyful and able to cope more skilfully with life’s ups and downs. To hear more about some of their journeys, please watch this Youtube video.
From my practice this week, I have come to see a new aspect of my inner self critic, which is like a petulant and perfectionist child compulsively on the look out for any possibility that I might make a mistake. Then when such a possibility is detected she presses a big red panic button, that causes my threat system to go into overdrive.
So what to do with her? I would like to turn towards her and get to know her and the fear that drives her. I would like to understand her. I know from past experience that this will mean I have to feel her fear, which won’t be pleasant.
So how do I do this? By building my compassionate resources and the sense of safeness within me. I can do this by imagining a place I feel safe and happy – the temple at Samye Ling – and drawing on the kindness, strength and wisdom of my compassionate teachers. This can help me to build my resources of joy and resilience. Drawing on these resources I can then face my fear and come to terms with myself, accepting myself just as I am. It won’t be easy, but this is when the magic of compassionate transformation starts to work. The joy and workability of allowing myself to be a human being, with all the messiness that brings, allowing myself to be fallible is totally liberating.
As Rob Nairn says the human condition is not one of perfection!
In one of the Compassion practices today I had a sense of Rob placing his hand on my shoulder and saying ‘nothing wrong’ – what a relief to hear that from my trusted and much loved teacher.
Evolutionary psychology shows us that this tricky evolved brain that we find ourselves with, which is conditioned by our culture and life experience is ‘not our fault’. The compassion training builds on this so that we are able to become a compassionate mess – compassionately accepting the messiness of our human condition, while simultaneously developing the skills to cultivate kindness, compassion, joy and equanimity. What better way to spend my week?
Choden and I are training 19 teachers on this CBLC retreat – how many people will their teaching touch? It is wonderful to think of the potential to share compassion that is being cultivated here this week!
If you would like to join us on this journey, check out the website (click here) for courses and online talks and videos.
I hope you can all embrace your own compassionate mess and in doing so grow in strength and joyfulness.
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