by Anita Anandan

Editor’s Note: If you’re inspired by Anita’s story, please check out Compassion-Based Resilience Training (CBRT) / Teacher Training and become a certified CBRT Teacher. Find out more and register — the training begins May 25th!

In December 2021, I had a chance to teach Nalanda Institute’s Compassion-Based Resilience Training (CBRT), in a local prison. CBRT is an 8-week curriculum covering mindfulness, insight, compassion, mentor imagery along with breath and posture practices, complimented by Western scientific validation of these ancient practices.

Out of safety concerns during the pandemic, the prison arranged for me to communicate with the men remotely. The men gathered in a common space, and a video conference was used for the almost 80 men and I to communicate with each other. From time to time announcements reverberated through the space. Some of the men spoke Spanish, which I did not, and did not speak English, the language I used. But unwilling to let that deter them from fully participating, they brought a friend who interpreted between us.

Despite this quite challenging environment, in every class the men quickly settled into their meditation, and afterwards spiritedly shared their weekly practice and reflection.

Less Angry, More Connected

As the program progressed, the men shared their experience of doing the practices and reflecting on the philosophy. In their shares, I saw my own experience of doing the program. The men spoke of feeling better physically. Some men spoke of sleeping better.

The most commonly repeated observation was a reduction in anger. I have found anger to be a common emotion in a correctional setting, perhaps not unreasonably so. In a men’s correctional setting, I have wondered if anger might also function as a bonding experience. One after the other, the men talked about seeing their anger lessen. As they shared, I saw them express surprise and relief that they were able to take a step away from an emotion that had long accompanied and taxed them.

Many spoke of improved relations with their family on the outside. One man poignantly spoke about how he was able to better get along with his ex-girlfriend, and how that immediately had an effect on his relationship with their young son. To see the intergenerational effects of the practices in real time was a sweet moment for me.

Breadth and Depth

One of the reasons I believe the CBRT program was so well received by the men is the breadth of the material. In the short space of 8 weeks, CBRT constructs age-old tools of well-being. CBRT has a flow to it. It glides from one topic to another with a coherent rhythm. Each class builds logically on the previous. The pace keeps participants engaged. The structure is compelling, like hearing a story in installments. I got the impression that the men were sitting at the edge of their chairs, waiting to hear what this week would bring.

And CBRT is uncompromising in its depth. The unit houses a few men who have a long-time Buddhist practice. Each class includes practices and philosophy and Western science that addresses their needs as well. The simultaneously broad and deep material ensures that all the participants benefit and are engaged by it.

Balancing Needs and Integrity

The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world. Many civil rights are taken away from a person when they are incarcerated. Being respectful of people’s religious faiths is critical. Most of the men who are interested in these practices are not Buddhist. They are curious and attracted to the practices, but also simultaneously feel guilt and worry about letting family members down by exploring a religion different from that of their birth. In the prison, guilt and shame already hang thick in the air throwing up obstacles to healing. I have struggled to navigate this delicate place. CBRT solves this ethical dilemma by presenting the practices and  philosophy without elements that may come across as religious, while still maintaining the integrity of the practices. This presentation allowed the men to delve into the material with curiosity and without angst.

I found myself very touched by the CBRT syllabus. It delivers an impactful group of practices that belie the short space of 8 weeks in which the program is taught. I experienced the CBRT program as a powerful spiritual instrument.

A graduate of the Nalanda Institute’s Contemplative Psychotherapy Program and CBRT Teacher Training, Anita Anandan (they, them) has a bachelor’s and master’s degree in Engineering-Computer Science. After numerous advanced trainings in neuroscience, the Dharma, Nonviolent Communication, Yoga and Ayurvedic traditions as well as a focus on the effects of social trauma, Anita is studying somatic abolitionism with Resma Menakam and somatic extimacy with Kesha Fikes. Anita is a member of Awakening Truth’s leadership sangha.