My first Mindfulness-Based Compassionate Living course is well underway in central Newcastle upon Tyne and we are now currently looking forward to our day of practice which follows week 7 of the course, which will be held in the rural, tranquil setting of Newton and Bywell Community Hall, near Stocksfield.
MBCL was developed by two experienced mindfulness trainers, psychiatrist/psychotherapist Erik van den Brink and meditation teacher/ health care professional Frits Koster who pioneered mindfulness-based work in the Dutch mental health services. I completed training over the course of 3 years with Erik van den Brink in 2017, and I am delighted to be offering this deeply life-enriching course in the north-east.
The aim of MBCL is to deepen the mindfulness-based path to alleviate suffering and enhance physical, psychological and social well-being by offering a secular advanced training in compassion practice towards oneself and others. The programme integrates wisdom from the contemplative traditions with modern scientific insights drawn from neuroscience, evolutionary psychology, positive psychology and therapeutic models such as mindfulness-based approaches, Compassion Focused Therapy and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. The practices offered build on the skills developed in mindfulness practice and the course is suitable for anyone who wishes to deepen their personal practice with the heart qualities of compassion. The course is designed as a group training for participants who have previously followed an MBSR, MBCT, Breathworks or equivalent programme and anyone who wishes to deepen their mindfulness practice with heart and the focus of compassion.
Compassion is defined as the capacity to be sensitive to the suffering of ourselves and others and the willingness to relieve and prevent it (Paul Gilbert, 2104). Compassion has a transpersonal quality, as it involves commitment to alleviate suffering, whoever is the potential sufferer. Therefore, when we speak of compassion, we include ‘self-compassion’ . What we do for ourselves we do for others, and what we do for others, we do for ourselves. Many recognise their tendency to overlook themselves while trying to be compassionate and the course helps to find greater ease in dealing with life’s inevitable pain and ‘dis-ease’, as well as developing a kinder and warmer attitude of receiving and giving of care, to self and others.
The emphasis on the course is on experiential work and building up the practice of compassion, and participants are encouraged to spend 45 mins to an hour daily on the formal and informal exercises in daily life. A range of suggestions for home practice are given following each session, rather than specific homework. This enables participants to tune in to their deeper needs and to work at a suitable pace . Key practices include; soothing breathing rhythm; kindness meditation; compassionate imagery; dealing compassionately with resistance, desire, and inner difficulties; compassionate breathing; walking and moving and bringing kindness to the body; compassionate letter writing; practising sympathetic joy, gratitude, forgiveness and equanimity; cultivating a compassionate mind and inner helper and learning to work with the ‘inner critic’; taking in what nourishes us and contributes to happiness.
The course is greatly enhanced by the key teaching themes of the MBCL curriculum, including the evolutionary perspective of the multi-layered brain; acknowledging pain and suffering as part of life; gaining insight in to the three basic emotion regulation (threat, drive and soothing) systems and how to recognise them in ourselves and cultivate a healthy balance in daily life; deepening understanding of stress reactions like fight, flight and freeze, tend and befriend, and their psychological equivalents; understanding how influences from outside such as an ‘inner critic’ and maladaptive inner patterns can easily cause imbalances; seeing how to build an “inner helper” and compassionate mind. The course also looks at the process of over-identifying and de-identifying; our social connectedness and cultivating a sense of common humanity; our capacity for absorbing positive experiences and perspectives that contribute to happiness; and developing the Four Friends for Life (a secular naming for the Four Boundless States or Brahmaviharas): loving kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy and equanimity.
The combination of practice and theory in the course work beautifully together. The process enables a language and understanding of compassion to grow up experientially, as an infusion of understanding and skills, rebuilding new perspectives in the inner landscape of the mind and heart and helping to engage more compassionately with life itself. The course sessions are held weekly to fortnightly to allow space to explore and integrate the practices fully and regular calendar exercises are offered to help with practising mindful compassion in daily life. A traditional metaphor of compassion that suits the learning of the course well is that from the mud of suffering, a new lotus is given space to bloom, each with its own individual patterns of experience and developing potential. The compassionate mind that is within each one of us is given space and courage to connect with its own capacities and qualities, and find renewed expression and care.
“Out of the soil of friendliness, grows the beautiful bloom of compassion, watered by the tears of joy, under the cool shade of equanimity”.
I will be offering the MBCL course again in the coming months. If you are interested in attending this course, please register interest via the MBCL page on my website or drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org