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Awareness that demands action: Washington DC protest for Black Lives Matter June 2020

Racism and awareness that demands action

By Compassion, Lifelong learning

“Compassion is not helpless pity, but an awareness and determination that demands action.” – His Holiness the Dalai Lama

In the wake of the horrific killing of George Floyd, many of us here in the US, and people around the world, have been freshly opened into awareness, mourning and outrage. Awakened to or renewed in fierce determination for social justice and true change.

If you are beginning your learning, there are incredible resources for education on racism in the US, how to interrupt implicit bias and white supremacy, and how to dismantle unjust systems and policies. Here’s a glimpse of what I’ve been reading, listening to, watching or revisiting on these topics — resources I recommend:




Compassion is an awareness of an other’s suffering coupled with a willingness to take action to relieve it. It’s “an awareness and determination that demands action” (HHDL).

And critical to this moment in history: “One either allows racial inequities to persevere, as a racist, or confronts racial inequities, as an antiracist. There is no in-between safe space of “not racist.” The claim of “not racist” neutrality is a mask for racism.” – Ibram X. Kendi, How to be an Antiracist

What are you aware of today that you weren’t aware of a few weeks ago? A few years ago? What is this new awareness inspiring in you? How is the national and global conversation about race motivating you?

I saw this IG post being shared around other day with a message I wanted to pass along:

some are posting on social media
some are protesting in the streets
some are donating silently
some are educating themselves
some are having tough conversations with friends and family

a revolution has many lanes — be kind to yourself and to others who are traveling in the same direction

just keep your foot on the gas

May we all experience clarity, kindness and endurance in our efforts to confront and end the devastating legacy of racism in the US and beyond.


Common humanity is a recognition that we share a desire for peace, represented by a calm river

All that we share

By Compassion, Lifelong learning⠀

Common humanity is a powerful element of compassion that involves recognizing the fundamental desire to be free of suffering that all humans share. One of the great things about working with a bunch of compassion educators is getting to check out and share inspiring resources for our Compassion Cultivation Training classes. One of my mentor/colleagues shared this video from TV2 Denmark with her class today as a way to depict common humanity. A few seconds into watching, the tears started.
It’s amazing how a short little video can deliver such a huge compassion boost! ⠀⠀
And experiencing compassion can be simple like that…⠀⠀
What happens when we take a second to really look at the other humans around us – in the store, in a yoga class – with kind curiosity? What’s under the surface?⠀⠀
We share so much.⠀


Image of a stream to show the flow of compassion

The role of the teacher in compassion training

By Compassion, Lifelong learning

One of the responses to the last blog post was from a dear fellow compassion 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. The role of the 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?

trees in snow and fog to inspire peace and calm

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.”

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.



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