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From Student to Teacher: How Compassion Cultivation Training© Can Transform Your Life and Career

Brandel France de Bravo | February 17, 2023

From Student to Teacher: How Compassion Cultivation Training© Can Transform Your Life and Career



I’ll confess: I was “meditation ready” when I took the 8-week Compassion Cultivation Training© (CCT™) course for the first time (yes, I took it more than once and encourage my students to do the same—that’s how rich the curriculum is!)


By “meditation ready,” I mean, I had begun to “shop around”—to look into meditation techniques, and the science supporting meditation’s benefits. I’m not exactly a scientist but I am a “health nerd.”

In addition to being a writer and poet, I hold a Master’s in Public Health and worked for many years conducting research to design, implement, and evaluate health behavior change programs. My search for a contemplative practice began with secular programs; I don’t practice a religion and I was interested in something with an evidence base.


In my hometown of Washington, D.C., I checked out Transcendental Meditation (TM). I was impressed with the science behind it but was dissuaded by the cost. Then, in 2016,  I participated in a year-long fellowship at Stanford University’s Distinguished Careers Institute, which allowed me to take almost any class offered on campus!

Among the many classes I enrolled in was Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), an 8-week course developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn with well-documented results.  I was able to meditate using the recordings but somehow the method didn’t speak to me, in spite of the good it has provided to many. I couldn’t put my finger on why. Maybe it was because I don’t have chronic pain or incapacitating levels of stress?


Discovering Compassion Cultivation Training©


Beautiful and Serene Mountain Scenery


Then, at a Stanford course called “The Science of Decision-Making,” I met Leah Weiss, Ph.D.. A lecturer at Stanford’s Business School and life-long meditator (listen here to her wonderful interview with Dan Harris on Ten Percent Happier), Leah told me about Compassion Cultivation Training or CCT™. She said, “I think this might be what you’re looking for.” It turned out not only did she teach CCT™, but she had collaborated with Thupten Jinpa, PhD. (Compassion Institute’s President) and other researchers, psychologists, and contemplative scientists to help develop the curriculum.  


First, I took CCT™ with Robert Cusick who had been a monk for many years in Burma, and who worked with people in hospice, grieving parents, and others facing seemingly insurmountable suffering. I was in awe of him but, most importantly, I felt my heart stretching and opening in a new way.

Mother Theresa famously said: “May God break my heart so completely that the whole world falls in.” Far from breaking my heart, CCT™ was helping me put my life into proper perspective and expand the scope of my caring and sense of interconnectedness.


Like any skeptic (and to be a researcher you must first “doubt”!), I chalked up CCT™’s impact to Robert and his capacity to embody compassion. I’ll never forget the time I left our CCT™ class in the Medical School at 9:00pm to discover it was pouring rain, only to find Robert running after me with his open umbrella to walk me to my car.


While still at Stanford, I decided to test my hypothesis and take CCT™ a second time, this time with Erika Rosenberg, Ph.D. An expert in facial expression and also a member of the team that worked with Jinpa to develop CCT™, Erika is a gifted teacher. But what I figured out after my second foray into Compassion Cultivation Training© was that the curriculum itself—the guided meditations, the facilitated discussions, the small group exercises, and suggested practices for awakening compassion in daily life—is the gift, one that keeps on giving long after the course is over. 

The Decision to Become a CCT Teacher


Meditative Rock Stone Zen and Peaceful


We’ve all heard the dictum, “those who can’t do, teach.” And while I was perfectly able to DO the CCT™ meditations as well as the “off-the-cushion” real world practices,  I suspected that teaching CCT™ would not only fill me with a warm glow, like compassion itself, but would help me deepen my own practice. This is what the Dalai Lama refers to as “wise selfishness.”


My other reason for entering CCT™ Teacher Training was to be part of a like-minded group of fellow seeker-sharers dedicated to the science and practice of  compassion. Studies like this one from Brown University show that a sense of community—the people you meditate with—is just as or more important than the type of meditation when it comes to sustaining a practice. I’ve seen that deer-in-the-headlights look of students in their last (of eight) CCT class: How will I keep this practice up without my once-a-week CCT™ buddies?


I took CCT™ twice before applying to the teacher training, and coincidentally, it  took me two tries to be accepted into the Compassion Institute’s CCT™ Teacher Training program. I began my training in 2018, connecting once more with Leah Weiss, the person who first introduced me to CCT™, since she was part of the teacher training faculty. When she ended up supervising my practicum, I felt as though I’d come full circle!  


I found the teacher training as intense, comprehensive, and impactful as the curriculum we were charged with teaching. Did not being accepted on the first try contribute to my imposter syndrome (a now debated concept, to be sure)? Maybe.

I think it’s safe to say that many of us wondered how we would ever be able to guide meditations and “hold the space” the way our beloved teachers had done. This common worry—let’s call it shared humility—was just one of many experiences that helped bind our cohort and make us a lasting and mutually supportive community. 


My heart jumps with joy when I see how many good friends and people I looked up to from my teacher training cohort are now advising the Compassion Institute in some capacity or are among the alumni coaches!


A Sense of Community


Diverse and Exciting Compassion Cultivation Training Seminar


The shared dedication to spreading compassion has cemented relationships beyond my cohort to include CCT™ teachers whose training preceded or came after mine. I’m eternally grateful to Laura Banks from the 2017 cohort, who until recently was based, like me, in the Washington, DC area, for her generous mentoring.

During the pandemic, we jointly led drop-in sessions every week on Zoom for our “graduates,” alumni from our CCT™ classes who were desperate for connection and eager to refuel their compassion during that long and difficult first year. I think it’s safe to say both of us became better teachers as a result—learning to trust ourselves and our students more.

And just as I was mentored, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to mentor teachers-in-training who came after me, allowing them to attend my CCT™ classes and stay afterwards to discuss what went right and what could have gone better.


What I love most about the community of CCT™ teachers: We’re always asking what more can we offer our students? How might we build on this carefully thought-out curriculum? What new studies have we missed that could further our understanding of compassion? In short, what more can we learn?


In that spirit—after I was already a certified teacher—I took CCT™ a third time! This time in Spanish with Maria Paula Jimenez. The course began just as the pandemic was unfolding. Maria Paula demonstrated how effective the course could be on Zoom, a platform that allows people from around the world to participate, share their lived experiences of compassion, and learn from one another.

Who has been my best teacher? Hands down, my students. As Leah Weiss told us, the CCT™ teacher doesn’t teach so much as co-create a safe learning environment with class participants. “This is not jug-to-mug learning,” she said. This means that teachers and students alike pour for, and drink from, one another.

CCT™ Teacher Training showed me how to draw on my own deep well of compassion and help others locate theirs.


Click here to get details and apply for CCT™ Teacher Training.