Compassion Cultivation Training™ (CCT) is an 8 week program designed to develop the qualities of compassion, empathy, and kindness for oneself and for others. CCT integrates traditional contemplative practices with contemporary psychology and scientific research on compassion. The program was developed at Stanford University by a team of contemplative scholars, clinical psychologists, and researchers. It includes instruction, daily meditation, mindfulness, and in-class interaction, to help you strengthen the qualities of compassion, empathy, and mindfulness. To date, CCT has been offered to many people around the world and is continuing to spread across the globe.
Compassion is a process that unfolds in response to suffering. It begins with the recognition of suffering, which gives rise to thoughts and feelings of empathy and concern. This, in turn, motivates action to relieve that suffering.
Humans have a natural capacity for compassion. However, everyday stress, social pressures and life experiences can make it difficult to fully express this capacity. Each of us can choose to nurture and grow 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 own minds, developing specific skills in how we relate to others, and ourselves and intentionally choosing compassionate thoughts and actions. In CCT, the training process includes:
• Daily meditation practices to develop lovingkindness, empathy, and compassion
• A two-hour weekly class that includes lecture, discussion, and in-class partner and small-group listening and communication exercises
• Real-world “homework” assignments to practice compassionate thoughts and actions
Cultivating compassion goes beyond feeling more empathy and concern for others. It develops the strength to be with suffering, the courage to take compassionate action, and the resilience to prevent compassion fatigue. These qualities support a wide range of goals, from improving personal relationships to making a positive difference in the world.
Compassion cultivation can also support one’s own health, happiness, and well-being. Preliminary research suggests that CCT and similar programs can increase self-compassion and self-care, reduce stress, anxiety, and depression, and enhance connection with others.
CCT is designed to support anyone who wants to cultivate compassion for themselves and for others. This includes parents, caregivers, educators, healthcare professionals, therapists, executives, public servants, and people in a wide range of professions and life contexts. No previous meditation experience is required.
Specific course content includes:
Week 1: Introduction to the course and introduction to settling and focusing the mind
The first class includes an introduction to the course content, instructor, and fellow students. In-class discussion and practice will include: connecting with your intention for taking CCT right now, what is compassion, what does it mean to “train” compassion. We will practice cultivating the skill of focusing the mind through breath focus meditation. This step is considered foundational for all other practices in this program.
Week 2: Loving-kindness and compassion for a loved one (step 2)
Learning to recognize how the experiences of love and compassion feel like when they occur for a loved one. The meditation and practical exercises offered in this step aim to help practitioners recognize the physical and physiological signs of the feelings of warmth, tenderness, concern, and compassion towards a loved one.
Week 3: Compassion for oneself (step 3a)
Learning to develop qualities such as greater self-acceptance, tenderness, nonjudgment and caring in self-to-self relations. Connecting with one´s own feelings and needs and relating to them with compassion is the basis for developing a compassionate stance toward others.
Week 4: Loving-kindness for oneself (step 3b)
Learning to develop qualities of warmth, appreciation, joy, and gratitude in self-to-self relationship. While the previous step focused on self-acceptance, this step focuses on developing appreciation for one´s self.
Week 5: Embracing shared common humanity and developing appreciation of others (step 4)
Establishing the basis for compassion toward others through recognizing our shared common humanity, and appreciating the kindness of others and how human beings are deeply interconnected.
Week 6: Cultivating compassion for others (step 5)
On the basis of the previous step, participants begin to cultivate compassion for all beings by moving from focusing on a loved one to focusing on a neutral person, then on a difficult person, and finally on all beings.
Week 7: Active compassion practice (Tong-len) (step 6)
This step involves explicit evocation of the altruistic wish to do something about others’ suffering. In formal sitting practice, this essentially takes the form of a visualization practice where the practitioner imagines taking away the suffering of others and giving them what is beneficial in oneself. This practice is known as Tong-len or “giving and taking”.
Week 8: Closing and integrated daily compassion cultivation practice
In this final class, the essential elements of all six steps are combined into an integrated compassion meditation practice that can continue to be done daily by participants who choose to adopt it.
For more information about CCT, please visit the Stanford Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education (CCARE) website here.