I have long been interested in the transformative power of compassion, and the links between contemplative practices (meditation, yoga) and physiological and psychological resilience.
I was in Kosovo a few years ago, part of a team conducting mental health and psychosocial epidemiology, examining prevalence of depression, anxiety, and PTSD in the doctors and nurses in the public health system. Most had been in the country through the war, and many were haunted by their memories. I taught a short CBCT (Cognitively-Based Compassion Training) course (which will be the topic of another post) and realized two things: the value of the ideas in that post-conflict setting, and the limitations of teaching meditation, without other techniques or information, to individuals who were coping with difficult emotions mostly by suppressing them. I began to think about ways to integrate compassion training with education about stress and trauma, and also with yoga.
I became aware, too, that I no longer wanted to focus my time on research. For seven years I worked at Emory University and at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control on research of various types, but what energizes and inspires me is helping people transform suffering into love and joy. It has been the central journey of my own life, and where I believe I can be of the most help to others.
For the past two years I have embodied my interests by working with the Garrison Institute as program manager for its Contemplative-Based Resilience (CBR) Project, which is an integrated program of mindfulness meditation, psychosocial education, and mindful movement for humanitarian aid and human rights staff. I have been coordinating and facilitating trainings in the United States, Ireland and Rwanda.
With my Emory colleague Tad Pace I established a theoretical basis for this work, as well as a framework for further research in this field, in a white paper entitled The Human Dimensions of Resilience, which you can download here.
The CBCT program holds a special place in my heart, and I am privileged to be part of a team that teaches at Arrendale, the women’s maximum-security prison in Georgia.
In 2012 I decided that it wasn’t enough to be a dilettante yoga student, and began to practice seriously at Ashtanga Yoga Atlanta, and then took Judith Lassater’s Relax and Renew teacher training. I undertook my yoga practice partly because authenticity matters to me: It didn’t feel right to recommend the practice to others if I myself wasn’t practicing regularly. And a Tibetan physician (amchi) had insisted on it, in a consultation after surgery for cancer. “Yoga is wonderful,” he said. “Everyone should practice yoga. But you must practice yoga if you are going to remain healthy.” And so I try. It has become a valuable complement to the meditation practice that I maintain in conjunction with two decades of study and practice in Tibetan Buddhism.
In 2015 I will continue to work with the Garrison Institute’s CBR Project, to speak about the program (upcoming speaking engagements are listed on the home page), to work in the prison, and to write, Tweet and teach at the intersection of compassion and resilience. I’m doing my best to address hard truths, and to do that with both honesty and compassion.
Some specifics: I hold an MPH in global health from Emory’s Rollins School of Public Health. So I approach the field of contemplative science not only as a practitioner and teacher, but also as a researcher.
© 2014 Teresa I. Sivilli. All rights reserved.