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CCT for Social Advocates

Dent Gitchel | January 26, 2018

Arkansas-based Certified CCT Teacher Dent Gitchel received a Compassion Corps grant to offer CCT to social advocates. Below, he reflects on his experience teaching to this community.

The CCT curriculum was presented as part of the Compassion Institute’s Compassion Corps initiative in Little Rock, Arkansas to a fabulous group of participants involved in social advocacy positions. Many types of jobs were represented, but a common thread was that all were involved in attempting to directly and explicitly address and alleviate suffering. As such, this was the perfect group to delve into CCT with.


Dent and his CCT class of social advocates.
It needs little explanation to make the case that we live in a time in which suffering is front and center. We are bombarded with it everywhere. Compassion is very much a heartfelt and courageous response to suffering, and it is for this reason that I proposed this class to the Compassion Institute. As evidenced by the title of Thupten Jinpa’s book A Fearless Heart, and as paradoxical as it may sound, to face suffering head on from a place of compassion actually increases resiliency and courage. In addition, compassion allows us to better relate to and understand our own suffering by seeing it and experiencing it as a common human experience.


By definition, this amazing group of advocates was already operating in the world from a strong sense of compassion. To willingly commit one’s life to supporting those who suffer injustices and/or to fight unjust social structures takes a great amount of compassion. Indeed, an assumption of CCT is that we all have a natural capacity for compassion, but this group was operating with this capacity already flourishing. We simply cultivated what was already there.


From my own experiences, compassion is sometimes a tough sell. Not so with this group. Contemplative practices are often sought for relaxation or for escaping the normal hum drum of life. Compassion practices, though, ask us to willingly delve into our own suffering and the suffering of those around us, even those who are outside our immediate comfort zone. With this group, we jumped right in.


For eight weeks we explored the heart practices of CCT and learned and grew together. I was amazed at every turn by the courage, commitment and vulnerability that emerged in the space that we shared. I personally learned a lot from each person in the class and from the class as a whole. There is no blueprint for how to effectively encounter suffering and each week I was blown away by the ways that compassion manifested in the lives of class participants. In a post-class survey, 90% of respondents indicated that they strongly recommended the course, and 90% also responded that they did the practices regularly.


Overall, this was truly an inspiring experience. We live in very divisive times, and it quite easy to lose touch with our common humanity. It is “us versus them” mentality everywhere. For eight weeks, this group of social advocates broke through these walls and viewed the world through the lens of common humanity. We shared our experiences, meditated together, and nurtured this courageous and compassionate heart that we all have. We spread waves of lovingkindness to ourselves, our community and to everyone in the world.


At times, compassion cultivation can be challenging. I like to speak of the entire compassion cultivation process as being “counterintuitive” at every step of the way. For example, the process of willingly opening up to suffering can rub up directly against habitual tendencies. As can the process of broadening and extending compassion outside comfort areas to difficult persons and even to persons who are enemies or commit great atrocities.


These latter challenges can particularly difficulty for those engaged in advocacy positions, who often work for or directly with vulnerable persons and communities. As this challenge was addressed in class, we spoke of strategies of “softening the edges” a bit, and not putting too much pressure to immediately have the ability to have compassion for all persons. That said, there were reports of being able to see and experience common humanity for the first time for difficult others, and feeling relief and satisfaction because of lessening resentments. And for me personally, it was very meaningful and transformative to hold these tough questions in the container of the CCT structure.


Overall, this CCT for social advocates course was powerful and transformative. It is my belief that opening our hearts incrementally, but steadily, can have lasting impact on the world. This class very much reinforced that belief. I leave this class more inspired than ever in the basic goodness of the human heart and at our collective capacity to face current and future challenges with courage and compassion.


A special thanks is extended to the Compassion Institute for sponsoring this class, and for Christ Episcopal Church of Little Rock, Arkansas for providing the space.