Do you feel overwhelmed, stressed, anxious, fatigued, depressed, or burnt-out? Do you feel like things have fallen apart or you lack the motivation to find inspiration in your every day life? Do you feel extraordinarily busy, but unsatisfied and not really purpose driven? Do you feel like you are holding it together, but are exhausted and maybe even resentful in doing whatever you are so busy doing? Are you stretching yourself to the limits for everyone else, but forgetting yourself?
Compassion Training can help you. It did for me and six years ago I would have emphatically answered “YES!” to all of those questions.
Six years ago, my mother passed away, and my life fell apart. I was in the throes of childrearing and my husband was traveling Mon. - Fri. I was exhausted, overwhelmed, and busy doing things I really didn’t want to be doing. I was sitting on pre-school boards voting if we should have the air ducts cleaned, and collecting ticket money for auctions. I was running 5Ks to save the lemurs. I was carting my kids to baseball, which in Cobb County is an extraordinary sacrifice even at age 5. All the while, I was spending my “real time” as a full time care-giver for my mother. Crashing in chemo labs, in total fatigue and burn-out, even though I wasn’t the one with ill-health. When that cycle ended with my mother passing, I WAS DONE! I had done an abhorrent job of taking care of myself, so when my role changed, and I was no longer caring for my mother, I just collapsed. Who was I? What was my purpose? I had to completely redefine myself, and I didn’t even know where to begin.
I felt deserted on my spiritual path…there were no footprints behind me. Probably because my shadow I was casting and shlepping behind was a great tsunami. The ground underneath my feet had literally felt like it had been blown apart. My emotional well-being was in flux and in damaging territory and the people closest to me did not know how to reach me. Mostly because I shut them out. You see, as a trained psychotherapist, we are usually the last, and really terrible at asking for help. And when somebody offers help, you think righteous things, like “how can they help me, they are not trained, they don’t possibly have a clue what I need.”
But, more accurately, I didn't even know what I needed. This inability to verbalize my needs, roadblocked my marriage. It was like all Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse showed up at the same time (Gottman reference). It was like I had shoved myself down a hole and then simultaneously put everyone else I loved in separate holes, where we could not reach or communicate with each other. It was like seeing lips moving, but not hearing the words, because you were behind thick glass reinforced with steel supports. A complete silo of ineffectiveness.
I know that life is unfair intellectually, but when you embody a great injustice, like a pre-mature death with someone you love, and talked with multiple times a day, it is like the Great Divide is placed internally severing your heart from your mind. Nothing makes sense. Your heart closes up for fear of more pain, and your mind is swimming in the deep end with jeans and an Abercrombie Big Shirt on. It is like you are on one rim of the Grand Canyon, and everyone you know and love and care about is standing across from you, but on the other side of the divide. You can’t hear anyone, but only your own voice being echoed back like a boomerang smacking you in the face, because clearly, you didn’t see it coming.
Well, as this story might seem choked in desolation, it actually has a happy ending.
Life is suffering, and at some moment, perhaps even now, you might feel like things are falling apart.
Compassion Training for me was my lifeline. And, as I grabbed on, I encourage you to do so as well.
There are many other effective trainings, programs and therapies that can help, by all means is Compassion Training the only one? No. My motto is: whatever boat you choose to take to the other shore, is fine by me, and is a good boat, so just get in it. But, for me Compassion Training was the Coast Guard. It helped me regain a sense of resiliency, strength and courage so I could get back to thriving. It is a self-guided tour, not therapy, and meaningful because all the insights gained come from an internal space. When one discovers “aha” moments on their own accord, it is much more impactful. When we get quiet with ourselves, we can hear the ones we love again, without sticking our heels in stubbornly bolstered by the familiar talk track of “you just don’t understand.” We see vividly, that people are there to help, and the ones that see you fully, have been there by your side all along. It was like an invisible thread, became in view and big as life.
Compassion Training is a good map that connects you to this invisible thread, so you can begin healing your self from the inside out.
After going through the program several times, I decided to jump on board and take the training to become a Certified Teacher of CBCT®. This is also part of my path, to help others with what helped me. To keep passing along the “invisible thread” to others so we eventually are all interconnected, seeing and hearing each other from our full selves.
It is hard to explain exactly what Compassion Training is, perhaps because it helped me in such various ways. The breadth of it is quite impossible to decipher. It shows you what you specifically need, so in that way, it is difficult to pin down to all the human qualities that one might feel suffering from. But in teaching it, I have seen it help countless people, with whatever maladies might be ailing them. The program has legs that extend to wherever you need to walk….it will escort you, even to the dark caves, or down the holes, like a non-judgmental friend taking you by the arm and saying, “it’ll be okay. I’m with you. We have a map. And a flashlight.”
Some people come to learn it because they also are in a helping profession like psychotherapy or healthcare. They want to learn specific techniques to carry back to the their toolboxes to hand to their patients. But, even if you are not in a profession on the frontlines, you can imagine these jobs breed burn-out, compassion fatigue and empathic distress. So inevitably, even though these caregivers come with good intentions to help others, what they end up walking away with is a rejuvenated sense of self. A renewed and regained purpose to help others, but with a better intention of not eradicating their own self needs in the process. They are now better equipped with skills to protect themselves from compassion fatigue. They can now help their clients by modeling what they discovered within themselves, not by what they were hoping to teach them through a transaction of here is a tool I grabbed, you can now hold it for a little while. They are showing them, from their own experience that compassion can be like an endless reservoir of well-being. We can give and help others, without burn-out, because we have learned to replenish our resources and train in resiliency. We can model effectively to our patients, our families, our spouses that we know how to take care of ourselves, stand up for ourselves, put our backbones and soul-skins back on, set proper boundaries, not get walked on or used as a door mat, all while having a soft, open, and compassionate heart. This is strength training. This is resiliency.
Many people ask me what I do, and after I tell them that I am a psycho-therapist and teach compassion meditation, the conversation trails awkwardly off to crickets. I get it! Saying I teach “Compassion” is a weird thing. Why would we need training in that? Doctors and therapists should already be compassionate. One would hope anyway. Or maybe we say to ourselves, “I already feel that I am compassionate….it’s those ‘others’ that need it.” I often hear statements like, “My daughter really needs to take your class.” Or, “My parents really need that.” Looking at ourselves is much harder, or it can be anyway. But, when we gain insight and clarity within ourselves it is like the whole system runs more efficiently. We put good oil in and our motorcycle maintenance is now in ship shape zen mode. Sort of….compassion, although it sounds gentler and softer, it is really warrior training. It teaches one how to strengthen your backbone, all while training in a soft, wild, open heart. One cannot exist without the other. It was once said that, “compassion training without a backbone is too flimsy, and without an open heart is too rigid.”
Compassion literally means, “to suffer with or together.” Among emotion researchers, it is uniquely defined as a feeling that arises when you witness another’s suffering, and then feel compelled with a deep wish or desire to alleviate that suffering. The crucial piece in this whole, complex development, is we cannot exclude ourselves in this unfolding process. This includes your willingness to alleviate your own suffering. If you keep giving to others, or rescuing others, without holding on to your self, you are setting your self up to fail. It will most definitely end in what is now an epidemic of exhaustion, burn-out, fatigue, shut-down, divisiveness, agitation, and sometimes complete collapse. We are all on this road, until we decide we don’t want to be on it anymore. It’s okay, because there is a different road called Middle Way.
If you want to change the way things are, you have to be willing to do something different. —me
(probably uncouth to quote yourself, but in this case I feel it is warranted):)
The way I like to teach Compassion Training is in an 8-week series that meets once a week for 2 hours. There are guided meditations, reflections and additional readings to do between classes, which aim to help deepen your experience and embody the practices. This is where the work really counts. Like anything else, the more you practice something, the more ingrained it becomes. It becomes automatic when you practice. Oh, I need to care for myself here. I need to say, NO! Or, maybe I need to set a boundary. Or, maybe I need to lean in, or jump in, or run into that fire. Or, refraining here is right action, I don’t need to add my words or actions because I am not a trained fireman.
What is required next, operates out of a quality of compassion, that doesn’t dismiss your needs and you can see clearly your training and how you are really prepared to help. This gives you an innate sense of worth. I have something I can offer here. I have something useful I can contribute. This just feels good, and purpose driven and provides meaning, when we feel like we have something to contribute that is helpful and doing-good. But we also know, with great wisdom, when refraining is maybe more important. The discernment of where and how to help becomes very clear. Why would we jump in to save someone drowning in the deep end if we don’t know how to swim? Can you teach ballet, if you don’t know yourself? How can you teach your kids how to be self-confident, resilient, have a backbone to not get tossed about this unfair world, not fear loneliness, or boredom, if we are not trained our selves? Compassion is our training facility and can benefit all of us.
CBCT® was designed by Dr. Negi at Emory University as a response to a campus suicide. Dr. Negi works collaboratively with, and is taught directly by the Dalai Lama. As a researcher himself, Dr. Negi was asked to secularize the meditation practices entrenched in a deep wisdom of the Lojong lineage and bring them back to Emory’s campus. It helped tremendously. It is now being taught to medical residents, nurses, chaplains, and others on the frontlines where compassionate care is needed. It is now being researched internationally, and has helped countless individuals who suffered from issues like anxiety, stress, depression, shame, overwhelm, addiction, parenting, burnout, exhaustion or fatigue.
Since Compassion Training seems like a sometimes weird thing to call it, we can refer to it as Resiliency Training. Because, essentially that is what it does. It, for me, extended a rope, so I could climb out of that hole. it taught me how to sit still, and get quiet within, so I could hear and see the people that were there to help me. As a therapist I felt I already knew how to give compassionate care, what I had to learn was how to receive compassion, love, support and care from others. It taught me how to listen more, talk less, be open more, closed off and afraid less, act simply and purposefully, less busily and preoccupied. The Great Divide between my heart and mind is now an integrated whole, functioning out of a caring, and compassionate place of wellbeing. There is once again ground beneath my feet, but if it dissolves, which it most likely will, I have better training and know how to grab ahold of that invisible thread. I have cut the fat out of my life, and feel I live with purpose and meaning. And, although there is more work to be done, and the territory is uncharted, I have in my hand a good map, so I am excited about, even my rough terrain that lies ahead.
If you want to change the way things are, you have to be willing to do something different.
If you are interested in taking Compassion Training my next class will be:
Starting April 12th and ending May 31st
Meeting on Fridays from 10:00am to 12:00pm
At Atanta Center for Wellness
6100 Lake Forrest Drive Suite 450
Sandy Springs, GA 30328
**20 CEUs for MHPs issued from Emory University (equivalent Continued Education Credits apply to other licensure)
Committing to this 8-week course is a step forward to “being the change you wish to see in the world.”—Gandhi
I am here(ear) to help. Please reach out if you have any questions.