Students from the 2017 teacher certification retreat
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Overview of CBCT®

Compassion is the urge to do something about the suffering of others. Just like learning to speak a language or make music, compassion is a skill, a basic capacity of the human heart that can be developed and expanded. Compassion that is responsive and wise can become an enduring habit that benefits both giver and receiver and contributes to a kinder and more just world.

“Compassion” can carry different meanings in different contexts, so here we would like to pause to clarify what it means for CBCT® (Cognitively-Based Compassion Training). Compassion is the warm-hearted concern that unfolds when we witness the suffering of others and feel motivated to relieve it. Though witnessing others’ suffering can also lead to responses like distress or overwhelm or even pity, compassion is unique. It is positive, proactive, and energizing. 

Compassion refers to the heartfelt wish for others to be free from dissatisfaction and distress. “Love” also refers to a heartfelt wish for others, specifically, the wish to see them flourish and be happy. To use a metaphor from the Indo-Tibetan Buddhist tradition, compassion and love are two sides of the same coin. Genuine compassion and love can arise only when we relate to others with warm or tender feelings. This makes sense: As soon as you include someone within your sphere of tender or affectionate feelings, their wellbeing matters to you. You want them to be happy. You don’t want them to suffer. Compassion and love simply emerge.

CBCT® offers a comprehensive method for training compassion that draws on the ancient lojong tradition of Indo-Tibetan Buddhism and is supported by current scientific research in fields such as evolutionary biology, psychology, and neuroscience. While CBCT has its roots in Tibetan Buddhism, it was developed as a secular program, one that introduces practices that can help any individual strengthen their inner skills of the heart and mind. Compassion does not belong to any one religion or tradition. It is a capacity of the human heart and one that we can strengthen through deliberate practice. 

In CBCT®, we cultivate compassion through meditation, which comes from the words bhavana in Sanskrit or gom in Tibetan, and literally translate as to cultivate or to familiarize. Meditation, thus, is about training the mind to cultivate qualities such as compassion and to familiarize ourselves with – to have intimate knowledge of – the various skills and perspectives that generate and sustain such qualities.

At this moment, you may be turning to compassion training to contribute to your own well-being, or because you want to create more trusting and harmonious relationships with friends or family. You may want to enhance your ability to focus in order to make better decisions. Perhaps you wish for a healthier culture at your place of work. You may engage in compassion training to find a path toward a more equitable and just world. What these goals have in common is one thing: flourishing. Flourishing is why any one of us will train in compassion, whether we seek it alone or together, or seek to extend it to individuals or groups. In this way, compassion training contributes to a healthier and more ethical world. 

“CBCT has given me a chance to reevaluate the purpose and current trajectory of my life. It has pointed my nose in a direction allowing me to become who I might hope to be – or at least give it my best shot!”   
-- CBCT Practitioner, 2022

 

An overview of CBCT® presented by its founder, Executive Director Lobsang Tenzin Negi, PhD, and Timothy Harrison, Associate Director for CBCT® The presentation was part of the Omega Institute’s “Compassion in Connection” symposium in November 2018 and covers CBCT®'s history, theoretical basis, research programs, and an introductory practice.

 

CBCT® Research Outcomes

Growing research in the field of compassion science links compassion training to greater resilience and wellbeing. For example, studies have suggested that compassion training not only lowers stress hormones and strengthens immune response, but also decreases rumination, activates pleasure circuits in the brain, increases self-reported happiness, creates more optimistic and supportive communication styles, and serves as an antidote to burnout.

CBCT® is one of the most researched compassion training programs, with the following outcomes:

Significant decrease in:

  • stress biomarkers and inflammatory response
  • depression
  • loneliness
  • PTSD symptoms

Significant increase in:

  • compassion and related neural activity
  • empathy and related neural activity
  • self-compassion
  • hopefulness

For published research on the above outcomes, visit this link.

 

Eight Modules of CBCT®

CBCT® is presented in eight modules. Each module strengthens a particular skill or insight that can be understood as the conditions for compassion. As we strengthen these inner capacities, we allow compassion to deepen and expand naturally. The modules of CBCT move in a sequence, as each module helps set the stage for the following modules. That being said, they are all deeply interconnected and influence each other in many ways beyond the linear presentation. This section gives a brief introduction to each module and begins to uncover why it is structured the way it is. 

Module 1: Connecting to a Moment of Nurturance

In order to elicit feelings of safety and to strengthen appreciation of the role compassion plays in our lives, the practitioner calls to mind a moment of nurturance, be it an actual moment or a person or place that has provided a sense of security, safety, and care. The practitioner then spends time immersed in the sense of comfort and protection that accompanies the memory, reflecting on the benefits of that moment in their life. 

Module 2: Developing Stable and Clear Attention

This module trains attentional stability in order to improve mental stability and clarity and strengthen resilience. Typically, this is done by placing and retaining focus on an object, i.e., paying attention to the unfolding sensations of the breath, and noticing when the mind wanders and gently bringing it back to the point of focus. This is where we most deliberately train the emotion regulation skill of attention deployment. 

Module 3: Enhancing Self-Awareness

 In this module, we train the skills of self-awareness and non-judgmental awareness to develop a flexible responsiveness to our inner experiences, insight into habitual mental patterns, and greater resilience. The goal is to pay attention to our unfolding mental experiences without pushing away this mental activity or becoming overly involved in it. This is what is referred to as the emotion regulation strategy of self-distancing. 

Module 4: Cultivating Self-Compassion Part 1: Accepting Our Vulnerabilities 

In this module, we begin the work of analytical meditation to strengthen self-compassion. This is the introduction to the third emotion regulation strategy used in the remaining modules, cognitive reappraisal. Cultivating self-compassion in this module is done by broadening our perspectives to make visible and accept the human condition. These perspectives can then be deepened over time to reinforce a more understanding and kinder response to ourselves in the face of our setbacks.

Module 5: Cultivating Self-Compassion Part 2: Finding Meaning in Our Vulnerabilities 

In this module, we continue to use the analytical reappraisal process of strengthening self-compassion. Building on the last module, we broaden our perspectives to focus on ways we can find meaning in our vulnerabilities and to focus on what we can do rather than worry about what we can’t. Over time, these perspectives and insights reinforce a more resilient and empowering response to our setbacks.

Module 6: Expanding Our Circle of Concern 

In this module, we turn our attention outward. We begin to examine how we relate to others and take steps toward expanding our circle of concern through the analytical process. By broadening our perspectives to make visible our common humanity and identifying with others at that level, we can foster a greater and more expanded connection with individuals who may have previously fallen outside of our “in group.”

Module 7: Deepening Gratitude and Tenderness

This module begins by recognizing that everything that helps one person to thrive and flourish is dependent upon countless others, and this understanding inspires appreciation for those responsible. By attuning to humanity’s interconnected ecosystem, a sense of gratitude toward others is engendered. One can learn to move away from the narrow view of independence and isolation that maintains a self-centered mindset. Through reflection on the daily and long-term gifts of the broader society, as well as the drawbacks of self-focused attitudes and actions, deep tenderness is cultivated for others.

Module 8: Harnessing the Power of Compassion

In this module, we think of those whom we have expanded our sense of connection to and tenderness for in the previous modules. We hold them with warmheartedness and attune to their struggles. As we do this, compassion naturally unfolds. We then work to pair this compassionate urge to help with discernment, leading to effective action and positive change.

Compassion training is traditionally compared to growing a beautiful flower garden. In the end, we get to harvest the flowers of the beautiful garden we’ve been preparing. But a garden will grow only when the right conditions are present. This is also true for compassion: Just wishing for compassion won’t allow it to arise any more than wishing for flowers will lead to a beautiful garden. Each module of CBCT is like the weeding, watering, and tending of a garden – essential conditions for making compassion what it is. 

The metaphor describing cultivating compassion as you would a garden can also be depicted with the below diagram, developed for research purposes.

cbct-Diagram.png

Resources for Course Participants ( password protected)

Get Involved/Contact

The CBCT® program includes a growing number of certified instructors and is regularly expanding its programming and research areas. We welcome offers of support and ideas for new applications or populations who may benefit from learning the core CBCT® concepts and skills. Please contact Zipporah Slaughter for all inquiries, zipporah.slaughter@emory.edu / 404.727.8166.