There is a saying that if something is worth doing then it is inevitable that there will some obstacles along the way. Well the writing of this book certainly had its fair share of surprises, so hopefully it follows that the book itself will be of benefit to those who read it. That was certainly my purpose in writing it.
I met Professor Paul Gilbert at a psychology conference in Robin Hood Bay, in the UK, in 2007. He was presenting the Compassion Focused Therapy approach and I had been invited to speak on the Tibetan Buddhist training in compassion. We both were interested to attend each other’s talks as we were the only two people there whose work concentrated on compassion. It was with great pleasure some months later that I received an email from Professor Gilbert describing the Compassionate Mind series and asking me to contribute a book on stress. At that time I was involved in attending a three and a half year programme in meditation and compassion training at the Institute of Wisdom and Compassion near Montpellier in the south of France. This meant being away from home and working extremely hard for almost eight months each year and yet I had no hesitation in accepting to write the book—trusting that somehow the way to accomplish it would become clear as we went along. In this my confidence was well placed. Both Professor Gilbert and the publishers, Constable Robinson were very accommodating of the limits of my schedule and agreed that the serious work of writing could not really begin until the programme ended in 2009.
As an arts graduate and professional schoolteacher, I stopped studying science when I was sixteen. However, since Awareness in Action was founded in 2004 I have been avidly engaged in following research in areas that support my work such as happiness research, neuroscience and the effects of meditation and compassion training on the brain. So taking on to educate myself about the physiology of stress seemed the obvious next step. There is something invigorating in putting yourself through a course of study when it is for an inspiring purpose and I found that it was very enjoyable to prepare for writing in this way.
From the outset I had been touched by Professor Gilbert’s support in contributing a book to the Compassionate Mind series, as he obviously knew that I am not a psychiatrist, or therapist and so do not practice the Compassion Focused Therapy method. His interest in my writing was based on my Buddhist training and experience of introducing meditation and compassion in workplace settings. This was a wonderful challenge—to write up my understanding of the Tibetan Buddhist training in compassion in a way that would appeal to a public audience. My concern was to present the training in an authentic way, without watering anything down but at the same time to engage with modern research to demonstrate the universal appeal of this ancient wisdom tradition. The publishers of course, had a responsibility to ensure that the book fitted in with people’s expectations of a book in this series and sometimes it seemed that both of these goals could not be fulfilled within the confines of one book. However, the publisher’s skill and experience, Professor Gilbert’s openness and my determination created a situation in which a working balance was reached successfully.
The writing began in earnest in late 2009 when I returned to Amsterdam and initially progress was promising until in mid 2010 I became ill and required major surgery. It was beginning to seem that while writing a book on stress I was to be awarded five-star opportunities to walk my talk! It was a sobering experience to test my training in the turmoil and uncertainty of dealing with ill health but it also served to deepen my confidence in what I was attempting to do. Both Constable Robinson and Professor Gilbert gave me all the time and space that I needed to go through treatment and recovery, while in my mind the wish to write this book burned brightly and helped keep my attitude positive. By the end of the year I was able to return to writing but progress was slow because by then I was beginning to develop rheumatoid arthritis and diagnosis and determining the right treatment was a complex process with several false starts. It was not until September 2012 that I was able to submit a final manuscript for a book that was supposed to be written in one year! However, the wait was not over. The publishers upgraded their editing procedure, which created a backlog of scripts and it was another year until publication in September 2013.
It has been both joyful and humbling to see the book in print and to receive feedback on it from people who have read it. People seem to like it and to find it helpful, which was my main goal. I do hope you enjoy it too.