Winter interview feature
Images @dennistirch and Timothy Gordon
Dr. Dennis Tirch is a leading New York based compassion psychologist, wonderful author and President Elect of the ACBS. And, if that wasn’t enough, he’s also a great guitar player! So yes, he is a pretty cool and accomplished guy but it goes much deeper than that. We love the refreshing way he ‘says it how it is’ and asks really important questions of all of us. Even if you don’t have the answer to his questions, it doesn’t really matter because they can help you to start communicating with different inner qualities within yourself that you didn’t even know existed and guide you as you cultivate them. Amazing right?
As part of my clinical practice, I have been blessed to have attended training over the years with Dennis and his lovely wife Laura and surrounded by a wonderfully inspiring and nurturing clinical community called the Association of Behavioural and Contextual Sciences (ACBS). Dennis brings to the table of life a fierce compassion of authenticity and love and dedicates his career to sharing his gifts with the world. We are so thankful for such kind of leaders in our lives. So let’s jump in!
What's the craic and what are you grateful for today?
It’s great to connect with you, and I so appreciate the opportunity to think about these really important concepts together.
Today, I’m grateful for the rare opportunity to practice and study how to awaken our mind, and how to work with suffering from a place of loving awareness. It’s hard to imagine how rare it is to be born under the conditions that allow us to study and practice mindfulness, compassion and wisdom disciplines. It’s a gift.
For those who don't know you, can you give me a bit of background of the key professional moments that have shaped where you are at today?
Working with Bob Leahy at the wonderful American Institute for Cognitive Therapy was a huge gift. The name of the place might sound like an orthodox Cognitive Therapy situation, but it really was like a think tank, where brilliant therapists and researchers all played with new and emerging technologies together. In particular, this gave me a context to apply the dharma to psychotherapy in new ways, and to build on what I had learned. From there, working with Kelly Wilson, Steve Hayes, Paul Gilbert, and Roshi Paul Genki Kahn have all shaped my ways of working in the last years, integrating years of study and practice of Zen, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy and Compassion Focused Therapy. Beyond these, working with the English Guitarist, Robert Fripp, applying the teachings of John Bennett and George Gurdjieff have radically altered my approach to the mind and to life.
Loving one's self is a ongoing process as we journey though life. What has helped you deal with your own internal critic and to learn how to bring a loving, compassionate approach to your individual quirks and differences?
My own shaming and blaming inner voice has been very strong throughout my life. Living with PTSD and ADHD set me up for a lot of shame, just as so many of us experience. I have found that creating the conditions in my life that allow for mindful compassion practice to become a habit, to become absolutely central in my life, has been key. I’ve had to move from a life that was focused on everyday success/failure and challenges, and re-focus on a life that is organized around the awakening of all beings. This means that my practice of compassion needs to be front and center, and a part of the conscious aim of my every day. That allows me to practice deeply, and to relate to everyone I meet with as much of an open, loving heart as I can have in that moment, which is every moment.
Tell us a bit about the role of meditation in your life?
Meditation, as a practice of coming into the reality of being and training the mind in mindfulness, concentration, and compassion, is the central act in my daily life.
I see mediation as an act of love, re-dedicating ourselves to awakening, and to living from love, service and devotion. In time, the meditation cushion is more than a physical space, and is really an approach to every moment, so that our meditation extends into everything we do, especially the way that we relate to one another.
What drives you to be the best version of yourself?
When I pause and reflect that my life is no more valuable and no less valuable than any human life, I am immediately inspired again to work for the alleviation and prevention of human suffering in all ways that I can. When I recognize how interconnected all life is, and that compassion is a natural, arising motivation that follows from remembering our nature as one wave in a vast ocean of inter-being, it is a lot easier to hold my own stuff lightly, and be less hooked by my suffering, fear or anger.
We believe in the value of living a connected and balanced lifestyle and think it is really important, rather than getting caught up in the 'hamster wheel' of society's values to do more and be more. What's your thoughts on that?
I admire and support your vision and values. In order to help ourselves stay off the treadmill of cyclic suffering that you describe, we need to wake up. In order to wake up, we need to be able to move beyond our habitual, fear based and craving based patterns. Training the mind in mindful compassion can help us wake up to who we are.
My husband, Jonathan, would like to know, do you think compassion has a part to play in turning around the current politics of fear?
Compassion, and the empowerment of our moral courage, has everything to do with overturning the domination of fear, in our politics and in ourselves.
Congratulations on the appointment of President-Elect, Association for Contextual Behavioural Sciences. How would you like to be remembered for your time in this role?
I would like to observe two principles. First, leave the place better than you found it. That means that my time in leadership should involve maintaining and cultivating the basic practices and values of our community in responsible ways. Second, I wish to advocate for an “outward facing” ACBS, that builds relationships with other organizations and communities, to bring our concepts and technologies out into the world with more confidence and energy.
We are big fans of your compassion focused quotes. Would you ever consider having a podcast?
I would love to have a podcast, and we are taking steps with some partners to make that happen.
In the mean time, I would love to share a one episode podcast with you that features a very intimate and meaningful discussion that I had with ACT co-founder Steve Hayes some time ago. It is a little long, with a lot of real connection, and I hope that you enjoy it.
Here is the link: