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Compassion Cultivation Training (CCT) at ChooseWell Communities, Louisville, KY
Juliana is a new CCT graduate. She’s also a proud mom of Project Thrive, an initiative of ChooseWell Communities which empowers moms of small kids to create a home where adults and little ones can be healthy, strong, and substance free. After CCT finished in March 2019, Juliana completed her nine-month residential addictions treatment program. She’s taking steps now to regain custody of her baby and toddler.
And there she was, on a mid-May morning in Louisville, standing before Thupten Jinpa, principal author of CCT. With humble strength Juliana offered him a Kenyan stone heart, carved with one word: “Thrive”. She said to Jinpa la, “May you be free from suffering. May you have peace and joy. May you thrive and be your best self.” Then she offered Leah Weiss, CCT founding faculty member, a carved stone heart and similar inspired words.
Rina, another Project Thrive ChooseWell mom, offered each of the esteemed guests her handmade dreamcatcher. She explained that the paper tag tied at the top of the dreamcatcher offered them space to write out their dream or their life intention.
A Meeting with Thupten Jinpa and Leah Weiss
During the priceless opportunity to meet with Jinpa and Leah, Juliana, Rina, and their group mates shared their heartfelt reflections about what the benefits of CCT had been for them while they were still in intensive in-patient treatment, and early recovery. They talked about how CCT is a helpful tool for healing past trauma, wrestling with self-incrimination and pain, all aimed toward a happier life for themselves and their families.
The gathering between this unique CCT group, and Jinpa and Leah during their visit for Cultivating Compassion Louisville was fueled by my desire to offer sincere thanks to Compassion Institute for a Compassion Corps grant.
I have spent my life working among members of my local community who are marginalized – people ignored, dismissed, or abused because of ethnic differences, refugee status, economic challenges, religious diversity, or mental instability. After becoming a certified CCT instructor in November 2018, I wanted to offer CCT’s transformative practices to people whose lives might look like “throw-aways” to some people – and in the process, I was gifted with an opportunity to share the beautiful hearts and journeys of all the women in the group.
ChooseWell Moms and Supporters
The CCT class of ChooseWell moms and supporters, ethnically and economically diverse, met in the basement of a low-income housing complex in the Portland area of Louisville, Kentucky.
Ten moms who were in the heart of the painful recovery process and separation from their very young children, plus six “community partners” – some of whom belong to the recovery community themselves – met weekly through the winter of 2019. Often it was very cold, because the noisy heating system wasn’t very effective in such a wide-open space. Tables, chairs, toys, books, a still-lit Christmas tree, and supplies for newly settled families around them, the group met to grapple with suffering, old and raw pains, unbearable memories, guilt and sorrow, and how to expand loving-kindness and compassion toward themselves and others.
With great intention, we created a group that included both women in active recovery and women who supported them in one way or another in their treatment. Compassion recognizes the preciousness of each human being, empowering each person to make the world more compassionate. One of the most touching interactions of our eight weeks together was when the women in recovery spontaneously wrapped one of their overwhelmed caseworkers with compassionate words and arms.
Opening hearts that have been boarded up for protection from further suffering can have unexpected results: sometimes a release of pent up tears, other times raucous laughter, aching thought patterns revealed, or an overwhelming need to flee the room. Our CCT group, a ‘community of care’ container, provided a safe space for tentative steps.
Heartfelt Reflections on CCT
Halfway through the eight weeks one member observed: “I keep seeing yesterday’s class as a fountain or wellspring, even a geyser…positive energy flow is pushing past the dark energy… softening and opening hearts just enough to let this beauty in. [We] are influencing each other’s growth, practicing with each other, holding each other accountable, and modeling behaviors they [we] want to have reciprocated.”
For me, it was challenging to facilitate a group in which nearly everyone had experienced substantial trauma as children and as adults – at the hands of preachers, relatives, strangers, and partners. I invited sharing and focused listening and held space for those who couldn’t speak or whose hearts were too full. As I have found in other CCT groups, surprisingly deep sharing occurred in the dyads.
CCT was the first experience of meditation for many among this ChooseWell group. Although sitting still was difficult for some, and PTSD forced others to constantly monitor doors, or to keep their eyes open, everyone kept returning to the practice. Many participants did not have physical space, equipment, or time to listen to the guided meditations between sessions – due to an over busy recovery program schedule – but all found benefit within the weekly input, and in-class practices.
CCT Reaching Hearts
“Tell me, you all! What skills did CCT teach you?”, I asked my group.
Sabrina said: “To be aware of how I feel at the present moment and how to redirect that feeling into peace, acceptance and it being exactly what it is at that moment.” Others added, “To be patient with myself,” and “To be more forgiving of myself.” “To love yourself is to love the world; all the good, bad, indifferent. The ten thousand sorrows, the ten thousand joys,” Jenny commented.
And here are more CCT benefits as seen through the eyes of this ChooseWell group:
“It gave me a different outlook on compassion for myself, and taking on anyone else’s things.”
“Being able to have an infinite amount of compassion.”
“Learning to breathe.”
“The practice taught me to take time with myself. It taught me so much compassion.”
“Very soothing, especially benefits from relieving stress and anxiety.”
“Sending out positive vibes to all people.”
“Compassion is the key to a peaceful life.”
“It helps you to get to know yourself, to be understanding and aware.”
“Hearing stories and experiences of others.”
“It has made me be more intentional in stopping and offering compassion – especially to self.”
“When I get angry with someone, I try to send them, ‘May you be happy, free from suffering.’”
CCT is an incredible gift that is both heart-breaking and heart-transforming. Every person and every group can benefit from deepened practices of loving-kindness and compassion for the world, and for oneself. In the words of Juliana: “I hope to take what I’m learning because I think it can really help me be the best person I can be.” May it be so for each of us.
Thank you, Compassion Corps and Compassion Institute!
Anne Walter, Certified CCT Instructor
Director, Drepung Gomang Center for Engaging Compassion
Who is ChooseWell Communities?
Inspired by Louisville’s Compassionate City initiative, and the 2013 visit to Louisville by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, ChooseWell Communities, Inc. (CWC) has emerged as a catalyst for compassionate, community-driven healing. CWC’s active project – Project Thrive – holds the vision of a Compassionate City where every family with a child under the age of three thrives in a home free from the suffering caused by parental substance misuse. Through CWC’s groundbreaking, housing-first pilot launched in July 2016, families affected by the disease of addiction are united with compassionate social innovators to co-create sustainable, community-driven solutions to realize this vision.
CWC founders launched the Project Thrive housing-first pilot (“Pilot”) following a 3-year Compassion project which embedded healthy lifestyle programming in a residential program for pregnant mothers recovering from substance use disorder. This experience exposed CWC to the intense need for more compassionate, innovative and family-centered responses to the unique challenges faced by families who are working to reconstruct their lives while raising a child under the age of 3.
ChooseWell’s Facebook page on May 17, 2019
ChooseWell Communities was graced with a visit from Thupten Jinpa and Leah Weiss – authors of Stanford’s Compassion Cultivation Training. Members of CWC’s Project Thrive and community partners completed the 8-week CCT program, facilitated by Anne Walter, Director of Drepung Gomang Center for Engaging Compassion. Our Founding Mothers offered insights on the impact CCT has had on their recovery and parenting journeys and input on ways the practice might benefit other groups within our Compassionate City. Our guests were presented with gifts of Thrive rocks and homemade dream catchers. Our time together concluded with a CCT practice facilitated by Dr. Weiss. So much gratitude!