What is Compassion Cultivation Training?

Compassion Cultivation Training (CCTTM) is a program designed to help you strengthen compassion, empathy, and loving kindness for yourself and others. Participants learn to nurture a calm and compassionate attitude to meet the challenges of everyday life. Developing the qualities of strength, courage, and resilience in the face of suffering can support a wide range of goals – from improving personal and work relationships to making a positive difference in the world.

The key to developing compassion in your life is to make it a daily practice. When striving for happiness, it becomes tremendously important that we cultivate and practice compassion every day. The CCT course can show you how to practice mindfulness and increase self-compassion and self-care, reduce stress, anxiety, and depression, and enhance connection with others.

The combination of traditional contemplative practices, contemporary psychology and scientific research helps you learn to cultivate resilience and meaning while leading a more compassionate life. Through the use of meditation, lectures, readings, communication exercises, and class discussions, you will enhance the self-awareness, kindness, empathy, and courage to support your ability to respond mindfully to your own and others’ suffering.

Classes meet for 2 hours, once per week, for 8-weeks. The class takes a secular, non-denomination, educational approach.

Where did it start?

This unique program was created by neuroscientists, psychologists, and contemplative scholars at Stanford University School of Medicine’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education (CCARE).

CCARE is at the forefront of a growing movement to bring the tools of psychology and neuroscience to the study of empathy, compassion, and altruism.

CCT was the brainchild of Thupten Jinpa, the principal English translator for the Dalai Lama since 1985, in partnership with CCARE. The course combines contemplative practices with contemporary psychology and scientific research on compassion.

To date, the compassion cultivation program has been taught in many different settings in North America, Europe, Australia, Colombia, Mexico, and Botswana. It has been offered to healthcare providers, therapists, social workers, teachers in K-12 education, executives and managers in business and industry, parents, and the general population.

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Compassion is a process that unfolds in response to suffering. It begins with the recognition of suffering, which gives rise to feelings of empathy. This, in turn, motivates action to relieve that suffering.

Humans have a natural capacity for compassion. But, everyday stress, social pressures, and life experiences make it difficult to fully express this capacity. Each of us can nurture the compassionate instinct, like a plant that is carefully cultivated from a seed. This process requires patience, steady care, proper tools, and a supportive environment.

The process of cultivating compassion involves training our minds, developing specific skills in how we relate to others and ourselves, and intentionally choosing compassionate thoughts and actions.

CCT classes meet for 2 hours, once per week, for 8-weeks. Each week, we practice meditation and exercises to develop loving-kindness and compassion toward oneself and others. Discussion of research, as well as small group exercises, enhances mastery of the material.

Training consists of:

  • Mindfulness Exercises
    Guided meditation, visualization, and breathing practices help to develop loving-kindness, empathy, and compassion.
  • Coursework
    Lectures, discussions, meditations, visualizations, and communication exercises with partners and small groups help you channel knowledge into positive change.
  • Home Exercises
    Real world exercises help you practice loving-kindness and compassion to better relate to yourself and others.
  • Reading
    The text for the class is Thupten Jinpa, The Fearless Heart: How the Courage to be Compassionate Can Transform Our Lives (2016), available from Amazon.

What are the benefits?

Compassion Cultivation Training focuses on development of the strength to be present with suffering, the courage to take compassionate action, and the resilience to prevent compassion fatigue.

A fundamental aspect of compassion cultivation is enhancing compassion for the self. Why is self-compassion so hard to do? Why is it OK to have compassion for others, but not for ourselves? We explore the answers to those questions.

We are afraid to have self-compassion. We feel that it’s self-indulgent, passive, and we don’t deserve it. Yet, self-compassion provides the foundation for engaging effectively in the world, providing emotional fuel for challenges and protection against inevitable disappointments and difficulties. From that firm base, we can develop the resilience to engage our lives more fully, even in the face of suffering.

Preliminary research on Compassion Cultivation Training suggests that it increases positive emotions, reduces stress and anxiety, enhances feelings of connection, decreases worry, and leads to a more caring, compassionate attitude toward oneself and others.