A Fearless Heart

Heart stoneA book I am currently reading and greatly enjoying is “A Fearless Heart” by Thubten Jinpa. Thupten Jinpa has been the principal English translator to the Dalai Lama for nearly thirty years. He is an adjunct Professor at the Faculty of Religious Studies at McGill University, Montreal, and chairman of the Mind and Life Institute, which is dedicated to promoting collaboration between the sciences and contemplative knowledge, especially Buddhism.

The book shows us how and why compassion is the key to greater well- being and how  we all can train our capacity for compassion so that we can become more resilient to the inevitable challenges that life presents us with. The book is full of thoughtful reflection and practical exercises that are based on the Compassion Cultivation Training (CCT) that he has helped to create at Stanford University School of Medicine. It is a book infused with gentle wisdom and penetrating insight. Drawing on Buddhist and western psychology, it describes very clearly why compassion is so essential to our well-being, and how it can be accessed and touched and experienced right in the heart and reality of everyday life, rather than viewed as an ideal or concept or aspiration that is somehow beyond our reach. It describes simple practices that can be developed as a way of building compassion for ourselves and others in profound but simple ways.

Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder of the 8 week  Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction progamme that I teach termly in central Newcastle upon Tyne, describes it as “the bravest, clearest, and most engaging book I know on why we need to cultivate compassion”. In his introduction, Thubten Jinpa writes: “Even at the height of our autonomy as adults, the presence of another’s affection powerfully defines our happiness or misery. This is human nature – we’re vulnerable and it’s a good thing. A fearless heart embraces this fundamental truth of our human condition. We can develop the courage to see and be more compassionately in the world, live our lives with our hearts wide open to the pain – and joy – of being human on this planet. As utterly social and moral creatures, we each yearn to be recognized and valued. We long to matter, especially in the lives of those whom we love. We like to believe that our existence serves  a purpose. We are “meaning-seeking” creatures. It’s through connecting with other people, actually making a difference to others, and bringing joy in to their lives that we make our own lives matter, that we bring worth and purpose to our lives. This is the power of compasion.”