– written by Barbara Hussong
I first encountered Mindfulness-based Compassionate Living (MBCL) at an introductory workshop given by Erik van den Brink and Frits Koster at the CMRP conference in July 2015. We were guided in various exercises and given background information to be able to make sense of what happens when we get stressed and how differently we respond when calm.
It may sound like this is exactly what is supposed to happen in a MBSR/MBCT course – which I had been teaching for the previous eight years – but I was struck by the different depth at which I responded. It was a true coming home to my whole being: body, mind and heart, with the emphasis on the felt sense of an open heart.
I wanted to experience more of this, so got the textbook and worked through it. MBCL is normally taught as an eight-week course or in a retreat setting for people who have participated in a MBSR/MBCT course and have kept up with mindfulness practice. As there were no eight-week courses in the UK yet, I signed up for the Foundation Course, which is equivalent and provides the experience of the whole course in three intensive days. This set me up for a good start. Immersing myself in the various practices gave me a good grounding in the approach and the background for cultivating more compassion for myself and for others. I was surprised to notice, when paying attention, how often I came across my inner critic in daily life and how often my motivation for doing certain things – or not – was coming from a subtle fear-driven place. I also noticed various forms of striving and recognised how I put myself under pressure. From my experience in the course with the others I knew that I was not the only one with this often harsh behaviour towards myself.
This motivated me even more to use the formal and informal practices to cultivate more compassion for myself which led quite naturally to expanding compassion to friends, family and to those I was in contact with. I didn’t want to keep these experiences for myself, but felt the strong wish to be able to share this kinder, gentler approach with others – especially the many students I had instructed in MBSR/MBCT.
MBCL goes beyond MBSR/MBCT because it looks more closely at the reasons for our behaviour linked to our evolution as human beings, and gives opportunities to explore our own personal habits so that we can take responsibility with wisdom and compassion. This means we are more likely to dive deeply into self-reflection and self-exploration which at times will touch on our vulnerabilities – the personal and the impersonal vulnerabilities that we all share. The process of compassionately attending to the changeability of life also opens the door to all the possibilities, including, appreciating and celebrating joy in life – our own and that of others – and finally holding the whole range of emotions and events in our life with equanimity.
As I was immersing myself in the practices and the course material and undertaking the teacher training, my attitude started to shift from mindful observation and acceptance to ‘feeling empathically with’ on a deeper, experiential level which also influenced my way of teaching MBSR/CT. Having made the Kindness meditation (Metta or Loving-Kindness) a regular component of daily formal practice and also using it ‘on the spot’, I developed an attitude of greater openness and curiosity in holding participants’ responses, and of being more open to whatever the outcome might be and so being able to hold the process in the classes from a deeper sense of connectedness.
This attitude also flows into my relationships, knowing that there is another, kinder way to hold pain and realising that we have the capacity and inner wisdom to deal with it in a more compassionate way; developing a kinder inner voice and allowing this to support any responses needed. In teaching MBCL now myself, I am deeply touched by the commitment and courage of the participants, and by witnessing big changes in their way of dealing compassionately with challenges in their lives.
Mindfulness-Based Compassionate Living, A new training programme to deepen mindfulness with heartfulness, Erik van den Brink and Frits Koster, Routledge, 2015