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What does it mean to teach and learn compassion?

By Compassion, Lifelong learning, Spirituality

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 I can commit myself to, allowing it to have its way with me. 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. I can reflect on compassion, choose it, make myself 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 myself to others I see as “more compassionate” doesn’t help.

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

Cover of the newly published book The Power of Compassion, my colleagues and I wrote Chapter Seven

The Power of Compassion – Chapter 7 on Compassion Cultivation Training

By Compassion, Lifelong learning

So fun to get a sneak peak today at our chapter on Compassion Cultivation Training just published in The Power of Compassion! My colleagues and I wrote Chapter 7 as a review of the CCT program research and implications for health care providers. It was an honor to be published in this book. And isn’t the cover stunning!?

About the book:

“…compassion is indeed based out of a position of power; a personal resource and strength to sustain people in complex and difficult times in their lives but also a concept which is meaningful at an organisational level and to society at large. Compassion has a growing scientific basis, notably within psychology and neuroscience but its application is increasingly evident across a range of health and social care systems.

This book brings together the wisdom of compassionate science through the exposition of work by international experts on the development of evidence in the field of compassion research and training.”

Click here to read Chapter 7 of The Power of Compassion: Compassion Cultivation Training (CCT) Program Description, Research, and Potential Benefit for Health Care and Palliative Care Professionals. Sansó (Ed.) 2019

And here’s an excerpt from the section on Qualitative Research on the Effects of CCT:

“First person reports on the impact of the CCT program. In Waibel’s 2015 qualitative study of CCT, in describing the overall impact of compassion cultivation, participants in interviews noted increased feelings of connection with others, and described compassion as the ability to stay present —physically, emotionally, and mentally — when others are suffering (See Table 2).

One study participant expressed this saying, “In general I’m more often totally present with sombody.” Another participant described compassion as the courage to acknowledge and stay present with suffering:

Part of compassion is being willing to lean in to suffering, so that through the practice you actually cultivate courage. It’s your ability to stay with suffering, and your capacity to be able to do that expands.

Others described the impact of CCT in their lives with comments such as, “I’m not taking all this stuff as seriously as I used to and not getting all stressed out like I used to,” “I’m way less reactive,” “I’m a more calm person,” “there’s less internal distress,” and “gratitude has gone up on the scale tremendously — I feel it more when I do feel it. And I more frequently feel it because of the class.” Another participant explained, “It’s not like it’s a complete 180 for me, but it’s such a contrast to how I grew up and the learned instinct of self-protection.”

The offering of compassion to oneself is especially important for building “immunity” against burnout in fields where caregivers and healthcare providers are continuously confronted with suffering (Burack, Irby, Carline, Root, & Larsen, 1999). One participant, a healthcare provider at an organization where CCT is offered routinely, explained she and her coworkers who have taken CCT are “able to perceive each other as calmer and we’re really able to much more effectively problem solve. We’re also more effective in coming to solutions.”

The perceived benefits of CCT described by Waibel (2015) include examples of interactions with classmates, family members, friends, and strangers that can act as a mirror to let the individual know whether or not the compassionate response is happening. Participants described learning that is open, ambiguous, incomplete, changing, and lived in interactions. Learning is also expressed in comments about shifting from thinking to being, or from thinking to inquiry. In this view, knowledge is not a thing to be attained, but a flexibility: the ability to shift perspectives and points of view in moments of reactivity or difficulty. Findings reveal that in CCT, knowledge emerges in thought and action and is grounded in bodily experience and relationship.”

Area 97 Article

By Compassion

The Bend Bulletin Area 97 Magazine featured a few local residents for a piece called ‘A Day in the Life.’ It was a honor to be included!

The main piece was written by Lauren Davis Baker and the following piece was co-written by me and Jen Houston:

My 97 Cents: We are all caretakers of our community

From the time I arrived in Bend three years ago, I have experienced this city as a kind, generous community that manifests those core values into action, whether through philanthropy, volunteerism, or in everyday interactions. I lead a volunteer-based nonprofit that receives that generosity from facilitators and members willing to commit their time and energy to learning from and supporting each other. Collaboration and caring are foundational to Bend’s culture.

I also notice that as we grow as a city, so does the anxiety that we might lose these qualities. We worry that Bend could to turn into a lonely, stressed-out environment that lacks personal connection and compassion. The conversation is very alive right now. Local initiatives like the Bend Joy Project and Be A Local in Bend posters are reminders to think about how we can actively nurture kindness and generosity here.

This is what I love about the urgency of this question (and our willingness to explore the answers): they are the best indication that we will not lose the things we most love about Bend.

We are all caretakers of our community culture, and compassion is a muscle we can build and strengthen together. When we’re faced with challenging interactions, when we’re dealing with difficult situations, we can lean in and see them as opportunities to practice kindness. It isn’t enough to say “be nice” to others. We have to embody it ourselves.

In my work as a Compassion Cultivation Training (CCT) facilitator, I work with groups to cultivate awareness, openness and curiosity about the world around them as well as their internal thoughts and beliefs. Learning mindfulness and presence to understand the habits of our minds is a gift for growth. These practices can alleviate our worries and fears so we can become powerful forces for good — in our relationships, our families, our workplaces, and in our community.

As I tell my students, the circle of compassion begins with ourselves. It is also the hardest place to start. In our CCT curriculum, we have to begin by cultivating compassion for loved ones, because getting to self-compassion first is just too difficult. We know how to give to our family, our friends, to non-profits, but we just bypass us. There is a stigma that it is selfish or that it is somehow a passive, complacent approach to building the life and community we want. 

Bend is an intentional community where people who grew up here have chosen to stay and people from other places have chosen to move here for its natural beauty, life-work balance, and small town qualities. There is so much to do and so many ways to be involved that enrich our lives. From the outside, it can look like we exist in a perfect town where everyone is always happy and always kind. 

It truly is a wonderful city. I believe it can be even better when we learn how to be kinder to ourselves and recognize that our imperfections and flaws are part of what brings us together. Embracing them makes us a stronger community, and a more compassionate one.

Book Recommendation: A Mind at Home with Itself

By Book Recommendation, Lifelong learning, Spirituality

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. I can’t imagine where I’d be without it!

Byron 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 Byron 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: All of Katie’s books are amazing. A Mind at Home with Itself is one I’ll revisit over and over.



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.

The scientific study of compassion is relatively new, and exists at the intersection of neuroscience, positive psychology, contemplative science. Here are a few resources for you to explore:

Happy researching!


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