The Compassion Adventure

CCT Teacher graduates

In times such as these, when xenophobia, (fear of the stranger who doesn’t look exactly like me), is rampant, when little children are caged to punish their parents for seeking asylum from war, when women and gay people and people of color can be openly discriminated against or abused, and even allies are turned into enemies, we desperately need ways to come together as a global community.

We need compassion warriors, like these in the photo, who work to create unity by opening their hearts to those who do not look or sound the same as us. Right now our world needs people who are willing to train in the cultivation of compassion and share that fundamental human value on every continent. We need intentional compassion cultivation in businesses, churches, hospitals, and educational institutions across the globe. We need to teach children nonviolent communication and conflict resolution, so the seeds of making others their enemy are never planted in the first place.

The photo is of the most recent graduates of the Compassion Institute’s teacher training program, compassion warriors who came together from every continent. We spent a year learning to teach a transformative Compassion Cultivation Training (CCT) program, originally created at Stanford University by Dr. Thupten Jinpa and the founding faculty. Now we have been sent out to share compassion cultivation as the highest ideal of all the world religions.

We hope to spread the work wherever there are people who are willing and ready to begin this adventure together. But the work will not be easy, as the seeds of distrusting every neighbor are being sown every single day in the public forum.

By definition, an adventure involves “an unusual and exciting, typically hazardous, experience or activity; the exploration of unknown territory; an undertaking usually involving danger and unknown risks with uncertain outcome, requiring boldness and daring.” In this current cultural climate, I would say the mission of actively cultivating compassion in our hearts, minds, and actions will be quite the adventure.

There will be hazards, danger, and unknown risks as we call for a powerful inner transformation toward greater compassion. This is especially true in a time when leaders are so cynical that they have to make fun of people like former president Bush as he spoke of the need for “a thousand points of light.” Is cynicism so high that we have to make fun of a president for creating a giant non-profit in support of volunteerism?

Yes, when there are world leaders who believe everyone is either a “Viking or a victim,” (a phrase for that mentality coined by Dr. Brene Brown in her book Daring Greatly), then efforts to actively cultivate compassion will be belittled and ridiculed by some. Compassion will be seen as weak, a trait for victims. When boosting “the bottom line” becomes the supreme human value for some, the supreme call to love God and neighbor as ourselves will be turned into a ridiculous pastime for losers.

And even beyond the risks of being ridiculed and belittled, cultivating compassion is hard! No wonder Compassion Cultivation Training and courses like it are needed to help us undertake this work in communities, with the support of others. This compassion adventure is NOT for weaklings or victims. But why is it so hard?

For one thing, humans have a Critical Voice in our heads which makes up stories about us. It criticizes us, finds fault with us, and stops many an amazing adventure before we even get started. We also have a Fearful Voice in there. It imagines problems at every turn and raises anxieties about our capability to endure the adventure. And both these voices have been limiting us from living up to our potential for years.

There are also cultural voices which get inside our own heads and disrupt our progress and growth. A really common one that comes up in the CCT classes is the belief that we are being “selfish” if we offer compassion or loving-kindness to ourselves. And without that self-love, a central part of the “love your neighbor AS yourself,” we cannot sustain transformative compassion for others.

In times such as these, there is a radical reaction to the question asked of Jesus: “Who is my neighbor?” Many people seem to despise every neighbor, especially anyone who doesn’t look or sound exactly the same. Jesus’ answer was told as a story, later referred to as the “Good Samaritan” story. In that story, Jesus portrayed a minority man taking extremely good care of an injured man who would have normally despised him. In his usual way, Jesus raised the bar to say your neighbor is the one who usually despises you, and you should love him/her as yourself.

So who is my neighbor? Who is your neighbor? On the challenging compassion adventure, the hardest person to show compassion for will be the one who usually despises me. In our terribly polarized culture, finding haters is not hard. But answering the call to love the haters, now that will take great power, and will require active cultivation of compassion on a daily basis.

Hating the haters is so easy. These days almost every voice you see in the media can evoke hatred from one “side” or the other. Cultivating compassion for every neighbor, including those who despise me, will be exceptionally challenging, “an undertaking involving danger and unknown risks, with uncertain outcome, requiring boldness and daring.” But that Compassion Adventure is the one I am on. And God knows we need each other’s help if we are to undertake this journey in times like these.

That is the real reason I am now teaching compassion cultivation as a fundamental part of my own life mission. I need other compassion warriors around me. I need them to teach me what I do not know and to remind me of what I forget. I need them to inspire me to keep at this when I feel I am drowning in a culture of hate. I need to belong to a community of Good Samaritans, who are not so cynical that they have to make fun of volunteerism. I want to be surrounded by people who have transcended the survivalist mentality of “Viking or victim.” I want to help create a world where we actually live compassion and love as our highest ideal, and I need friends to stand with me.

As the photo attests, I do have friends on every continent who are part of the Compassion Adventure. Some of us just spoke of the joys and perils of our adventure in a video conference this week. Once again we felt the interconnection with compassion warriors across America and from many other countries.

Maybe you too have grown tired of drowning in the hatred and have longed for a way to turn things around. Maybe you have wondered if there is a way to find others who will create a compassionate community with you, who are also seeking to love every neighbor as ourselves. Well I can tell you one way to find such a community: join a Compassion Cultivation Training class near you.

We will launch our next 8-week CCT class for the general public in New Orleans in early September, (after launching the training for prisoners reentering society in August). Our friend Lara Naughton, a senior CCT teacher, will offer a weekend workshop here this fall. There are also CCT teachers on every continent, and some of us are willing to travel to share the training wherever people are seeking this help.

Are you like me, needing help to answer the compassion challenge in times like these? If so, send me an email at William.thiele56@gmail.com and I would be glad to help you find a CCT group near you, or create one with you and interested friends. The Compassion Adventure means answering the cry of our world, in times like these.

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About soulcare4u

I am the author of Monks in the World: Seeking God in a Frantic World, published by Wipf & Stock and available through Amazon.com; and of a blog on Wordpress.com, "A Contemplative Path." I serve as the founding spiritual director of The School for Contemplative Living (www.thescl.net), adjunct faculty of Loyola University, and as a pastoral counselor and spiritual director in private practice.
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One Response to The Compassion Adventure

  1. addicteddoc says:

    Needed words my friend.

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