An alternative to breathing out the bad stuff

By | Compassion

I’m really excited to be offering three Tonglen workshops this fall in Bend. Tonglen is one of my favorite compassion practices. I started practicing it in 2005 and have been teaching it as part of CCT since 2013. 

Tonglen is quite radical and counterintuitive at the beginning, and it feels amazing! Here’s an example of what I mean when I say it’s counterintuitive: I love attending group fitness classes, specifically Barre3, yoga, and CrossFit. At the end of many Barre3 and yoga classes, the teacher will suggest everyone ‘breathe out stress’ or ‘breathe out something you don’t want.’ 

Have you experienced this? While the motivation behind it is understandable, I often imagine everyone is breathing out an icky cloud of smog into the room  It feels like breathing in fresh resources and breathing out garbage. Where does it go? Who has to deal with it now that I’ve breathed out my stress and the things I don’t want?

In Tonglen, we learn to breathe in negativity, stress and pain and transform them into compassion and strength that we send out to others. It sounds dangerous, but with good instruction and training it’s incredibly powerful.

Tonglen is an ancient practice for reducing the tendency to self protect, scramble after comforting experiences and avoid negativity. It reinforces our desire to be a force for good in the world and boosts our courage, power, resilience and resourcefulness.

I hope you’ll join me to learn, relearn and practice Tonglen together this fall!  Click here for dates and registration.

The Two Wheels on the Compassion Bicycle

By | Compassion

When I ventured into academic study of compassion (after practicing compassion meditation for several years), I was confused and frankly disturbed by the term ‘self-compassion.’ 

Practicing compassion for others felt really good to me. It shifted focus away from me and my problems. It clicked things into perspective and helped me tap into deeper meaning. It was energizing and inspiring. I was feeling the benefits and that was plenty; I didn’t see the need to add in a ‘self’ component.

At the time (and still!) conversations with my partner James were incredibly clarifying. Those early conversations continue to inform how I experience and describe compassion practice. His take on the self component of compassion is key:

From the perspective of consciousness (or awareness), the self – the collection of thoughts, memories and ideas about who ‘I’ am – is the primary other. 

With this in mind, consider the definition of compassion — compassion is an awareness of others’ suffering coupled with a willingness to help ease their suffering. Compassion is sometimes offered to the primary other, sometimes to other others. 

Compassion is a bike with two wheels

Here’s another way to think about it. Compassion is like a bike with two wheels – self and other. You need both the self wheel and the other wheel to be well functioning, filled up with air and in alignment in order to move down the road. It’s best not to separate them. 

Emphasizing the self component of compassion we invite the potential for narcissistic self-focus. Emphasizing compassion for others, we invite the potential for co-dependent other-focus and ‘helpism.’ Usually we’re out of balance in our focus on self or on others and this can definitely be rebalanced with practice.

For whom suffering arises (self or other) is not really that important. What’s important is your willingness to help ease it. 

The two wheels of the bike can also be imagined as giving and receiving. Eventually — just as the distinction between ‘my’ suffering and ‘your’ suffering becomes less relevant — the distinction between giving and receiving also becomes less relevant.

Compassion encourages us to ‘give the gift of receiving’ and ‘receive the gift of giving.’

Enjoy the ride! 

The Role of The Teacher in Compassion Education

By | Compassion

One of the responses to the last blog post was from a dear fellow CCT teacher. She asked what I think about the role of the teacher, if compassion can’t be taught. It’s such a great question!

Here’s an analogy:

We can’t teach water how to flow, but we can create a pathway, a channel for it to flow.

Compassion is like water: It flows naturally when unobstructed. 

A good teacher can point out what gets in the way of the current of compassion, revealing her own experience of resistance, barriers and objections. That’s what I aim to do. I introduce a perspective, tools, exercises and practices. I share my experience of creating the conditions for compassion to flow, and what I’ve noticed as a result. 

In compassion education we gather to explore this phenomena called compassion. Teacher is a role I play for discrete periods of time. In the role, I facilitate a conversation where compassion can reveal itself through stories and examples. I remind us of what we already know, what we want to live. At other times, you may remind me.  

The real learning in compassion education is in noticing (without judgement) what gets in the way (negativity, judgement, self centeredness), and training the mind and heart to open pathways for compassion to be more and more our default, go-to response.

When we strip away our stress, busy-ness, self doubt and distraction, compassion is there. When we commit time to really listening to another, or reflecting on what life might be like for them, compassion is there.

We invite compassion in and then we notice what happens when it takes its natural course.

Do you feel less isolated when you’re struggling? Do situations that used to bother you bother you less?

What is Compassion Education?

By | Compassion

Compassion can’t be taught. It can be experienced, enjoyed, offered, noticed, studied, shared, remembered, cultivated and practiced. Compassion can’t be taught because it is what we are. It arises naturally when we’re fully present with another. Compassion is the awareness of another’s suffering coupled with a willingness to do something to relieve the suffering.

Compassion can’t be planned in advance. Attempting to plan out what I would do in x, y, z situation to enact compassion is a form of suffering. It’s a form of suffering because it takes me out of the moment, which is the only place where compassion can happen.

Compassion is a principle we can commit ourselves to, allowing it to have its way with us. It can look like saying no, staying still, not doing. It can look like saying yes, moving toward and helping. Compassion isn’t defined by ‘doing’ at all. It’s better understood as a stance, a motivator and an attitude.

We can reflect on compassion, choose it, make ourselves available to it, get out of the way and allow it to happen. Ideas about what compassion should look like, or how compassionate people do things, are not helpful. Comparing ourselves to others we see as more compassionate than we are doesn’t help.

Compassion education can be thought of as a process of remembering, practicing, living and being in alignment with our true nature, which is compassionate.

Welcome to Bend, Margy!

By | Compassion

Happy June, friends!

I’m excited to welcome my friend, colleague and fellow CCT instructor, Margy Lim, to Bend!

Margy and I will be co-facilitating CCT in the fall and working together to grow the CCT community in Central Oregon. Here’s an introduction to you from Margy:

Durinmy years of working as a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist both in private practice and as a staff clinician at the Stanford University Faculty Staff Help Center, I observed that compassion for self is in short supply. In our competitive culture, many people are hard on themselves and suffer as a result.

When I was introduced to the study of Compassion Cultivation Training (CCT) at Stanford, I learned a valuable set of science-based skills and ideas developed to alleviate suffering and have since taught them to clients and the general public. Self-compassion is, in the deepest sense, self-care and fosters resilience and a feeling of connectedness, often reducing feelings of anxiety and depression.

In teaching CCT, my aim is to teach the skills necessary to cultivate and maintain a sense of kindness toward self and others and to enhance the sense of wellbeing in our homes, communities and places of work in order to prepare us for life’s inevitable challenges.

Recently retired from clinical work at Stanford, my husband and I relocated to Bend to be with our daughter’s family and to welcome their first baby. My interests include the study of new developments in neuroscience, particularly where it supports the teaching of compassion cultivation; the study of classical piano; hiking and maintaining my working knowledge of French.

I certiainly look forward to working with Margy! I hope you can join us for our co-facilitated CCT class this fall at OSU-Cascades on Mondays from 4 to 6pm September 17th through November 5th.  Click here for more info and to register.

Wishing you love, joy and fun!

-Aly

Book Recommendation: A Mind at Home with Itself

By | Book Recommendation

If you know me or have taken Compassion Cultivation Training© with me, you probably know how much I love and benefit from The Work of Byron Katie. I’ve been practicing The Work, which is a meditative inquiry process, for about 10 years and can’t imagine where I’d be without it!

Katie’s latest book, A Mind at Home with Itself, written with her husband, Stephen Mitchell, includes powerful insights into the Diamond Sutra, and Katie’s description of – what else? What it’s like to live in a mind that’s at home with itself! Imagine if you loved and welcomed every thought that popped into your mind – even the judgmental and negative ones?

Katie explains, “I discovered that when I believed my thoughts, I suffered, but that when I didn’t believe them, I didn’t suffer, and that this is true for every human being. Freedom is as simple as that. I found that suffering is optional.”

To give you a taste of how The Work works, here are a couple of videos of Katie walking through it with people: 1) I made the wrong decision, 2) Why isn’t he vulnerable?

If you’d like to try out this powerful, super practical and compassionate practice, there are plenty of resources available on Katie’s website: thework.com. All Katie’s books are amazing, and A Mind at Home with Itself is one I’ll revisit over and over.

Enjoy!

-Aly

 

Science of Compassion

By | Compassion

Everytime I facilitate a Compassion Cultivation Training© class, I learn more and deepen my practice of compassion. It’s an incredible, ever-renewing and endless resource for me – a source of strength, purpose and calm.

Here are a few of my favorite Science of Compassion resources for you to explore:

  • Video of Emiliana Simon-Thomas describing the brain structures involved in compassion.
  • Randomized controlled trial of CCT and enhancing compassion, 2012 full paper
  • CCT study on mindfulness, affect and emotion regulation published in 2013, full paper.
  • Study on CCT and mind wandering published 2015, full paper.
  • Videos of past conferences, presentations and events at Stanford University’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education (CCARE).
  • Peer reviewed CCARE articles.
  • The Wellspring Institute’s library of key scientific papers on brain science, relationships, well-being, and more.

Happy researching!

-Aly

Enhance your life with compassion

By | Compassion

Compassion is an awareness of others’ suffering coupled with a willingness to take action to relieve the suffering.

Actively practicing compassion can boost your courage to be present and resourceful in the face of life’s challenges.

Compassion can calm your nervous system and strengthen your capacity for meaningful relationships, connections and intimacy with others. It can enhance your well-being and happiness by reducing stress, anxiety, loneliness and empathy fatigue.

Compassion can also connect you with your values and purpose to increase your clarity and focus.

Compassion is perhaps the most powerful and effective tool you can use to care for yourself and others. As His Holiness the Dalai Lama famously said, “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.”

And yes, compassion can be cultivated and enhanced! There are specific exercises you can do to build your compassion muscle. Like a great workout, it feels amazing.

New York Times article "The Morality of Meditation"

By | Compassion

“Gaining competitive advantage on exams and increasing creativity in business weren’t of the utmost concern to Buddha and other early meditation teachers. As Buddha himself said, “I teach one thing and one only: that is, suffering and the end of suffering.” For Buddha, as for many modern spiritual leaders, the goal of meditation was as simple as that. The heightened control of the mind that meditation offers was supposed to help its practitioners see the world in a new and more compassionate way, allowing them to break free from the categorizations (us/them, self/other) that commonly divide people from one another.

But does meditation work as promised? Is its originally intended effect — the reduction of suffering — empirically demonstrable?”

Read here!

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