In 2006, I thought that I might have a brain tumor.
Why? Because the wrong words kept coming out of my mouth: “captino” instead of “cappuccino”, “maginal” instead of “magical”, “bunkey burvey” instead of “topsy turvy”. I went to a neurologist fearing the worst; after a thorough exam the doctor asked me about my life; what my days consisted of, my family constellation, my schedule, and volunteer work. I was a typical baby boomer, sandwiched between three adolescent kids (including identical twin daughters) and aging parents. He asked me whether I had ever heard of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), I hadn’t. He suggested that mindfulness training was what I needed in order to improve my health.
I registered for MBSR at the UCSD Center for Mindfulness, and after eight weeks of training I knew that there was much more for me to learn. The scientific research studies showing the positive results of mindfulness were compelling, and the neuroscience behind Mindfulness was fascinating. I took ten courses online ranging from brain science to meditation, meditation with compassion, overcoming obstacles to mindfulness, awakening joy, and meditation from several different disciplines just to name a few. I began following Rick Hanson (Buddha’s Brain, Hardwiring Happiness) after he taught The Compassionate Brain for Soundstrue. The Institute for Jewish Spirituality was offering an 18 month course studying yoga, meditation, text study and prayer from the Jewish tradition. The week long retreats were half in silence.
People who know me well couldn’t believe that I would enjoy silence!
But I did enjoy the silence, and I LOVED the ancient study of Mussar, which is making a comeback today thanks to Alan Morrinis and his Institute for the Study of Mussar and his book Everyday Holiness. A week spent at the Nyingma Tibbetan Institute in Berkeley, California helped round out my retreat experience from a different perspective.
In 2011, the UCSD Center for Mindfulness sent a notice to all the MBSR grads that they had a new curriculum to teach called Mindful Self-Compassion, based on the groundbreaking research of Kristin Neff and Christopher Germer. I jumped at the chance to enroll in the course. I had already seen Chris and Kristin on videos, and on segments of classes that I had taken from National Institute for the Clinical Application of Behavioral Medicine (NICABM), SoundsTrue, and The Greater Good Science Center. Mindful Self-Compassion was absolutely transformational.
Taking mindfulness and adding common humanity and loving kindness for yourself is brilliant. It allows you to notice what is arising with out judgment (the mindfulness part) and then the common humanity part lets you know in your body that you are not alone in these feelings which helps prevent feelings of isolation which can lead to depression. Then the miraculous part is that you learn 28 different techniques to hold yourself with love and compassion. When you do that, the difficult feelings have a way of softening and sometimes melting away. The point really isn’t to make the bad feelings go away, it’s to be loving and kind to yourself because you feel bad; but I have to admit, feeling better happens a lot of the time!
Kristin Neff has a long bibliography of research studies, and all of this points to a decrease in anxiety, depression and stress, and an increase in emotional wellbeing, satisfying personal relationships and maintenance of healthy habits which include diet and exercise. These results corroborate making self compassion phrases explicit – saying them, rather than merely having the teacher embody them when interacting with the class. It was two years after my Mindful Self-Compassion class while I was continuing the practice that I came across a course by Tara Brach’s: Loving, Resilient Relationships with Mindfulness that was presented by NICABM and was a beautiful amalgamation of everything I had been learning.
Then in June 2014, Christopher Germer, Kristin Neff, and The UCSD Center for Mindfulness headed by Steve Hickman with Michelle Becker heading the Mindful Self-Compassion division lead the first Mindful Self-Compassion teacher training.
I was grateful to be in the first group of 52 teachers who are taking this transformational teaching out into the world.
I hope you will join me on the adventure!