Discover and unlock your Three Companions: courage, compassion and wisdom - by Dr Joan van den Brink

A close friend has lacked confidence most of her life. If she had to speak up in meetings, she would get so anxious that her voice trembled as she spoke. On one occasion she was so fearful that she had a panic attack and had to leave the meeting. Fast forward two years, she is calmer and more poised, able to lead group discussions and actively contribute to dialogue with individuals whom she regarded as superior to her intellectually. This change has come about in large part because she has become a member of a community that epitomises the qualities described in The Three Companions. She has benefited from being in a safe space with others who believe that courage, compassion and wisdom are powerful keys to happier work and a fulfilled life. The community discussions have deepened her insight into how the Three Companions are manifest in everyday situations. She has felt empowered to handle the challenging situations in her life with more confidence and resilience. 

The Three Companions is designed to help its readers discover and tap into their own courage, compassion and wisdom. It features powerful stories of individuals displaying their three companions in various situations including, illness, death, strained relationships, parenting, powerful others, change, etc. These stories show that the Three Companions are inherent in us all. They are not reserved for those rarefied people, such as Desmond Tutu, Malala Yousafzai, Azim Khamisa, Thích Nhất Hạnhwe, Nelson Mandela. We all possess these superpowers, however like Dorothy’s companions in the Wizard of Oz, we often don’t realise this.

I believe that the Three Companions are a powerful cocktail that can enable us to have difficult and meaningful conversations about emotive topics in our personal and work lives. These can make a profound and positive difference to others. I wanted to find a way of helping people to understand that courage, compassion and wisdom, are not just lofty ideals. They are innate, and if we choose, we can manifest them in our interactions with ourselves and others. To do this, I decided to interview people who were interested in having a dialogue with me about the Three Companions. From these conversations, I learnt about the many facets of the Three Companions and the factors that help us employ them in our relationships.

In the book, I take readers on a journey that starts in Part 1 with understanding what we mean by the Three Companions. i.e. How do we relate to these words and define them? Part 2 illustrates the myriad ways in which we display our courage, compassion and wisdom. What do they look like in ‘normal’ situations? I also include here examples of where individuals have not used the three Companions. This gives us a nice contrast and some clues about what factors might help or hinder our ability to employ courage, compassion and wisdom. I think that including these also shows us that human beings are fallible, and that’s ok. We can learn from this. The final part of the book then provides some guidance about how we can develop courage, compassion and wisdom to be more present in our lives.

Whilst there is no one-size-fits-all in how they show up, we can learn from others’ experiences about how to cope more effectively with situations in which we would normally feel uncertain, anxious, or vulnerable. For example, many people are worried and reluctant to return to the office after months of working virtually. They have adapted to video meetings, flexible working hours, being able to balance and integrate private and work activities in a way that better suits them. Going back to the office brings potential challenges of maintaining physical distance whilst also having in-person meetings, commuting on crowded public transport, and so on. Work-life is not as it was before; having courage, compassion and wisdom help us to navigate these new realities.

Numerous individuals that I encounter through my work, want to create more inclusive environments but are afraid of saying or doing the right thing. They face dilemmas such as how to ensure performance standards whilst allowing for individuals who may not cope well with being held to account due to mental health issues. How to balance the needs of a team with accommodating the needs of an individual who may be perceived to be demanding and disruptive. How to create safe spaces for individuals to talk about distressing experiences without being dismissive or getting defensive.

The Three Companions empowers you to reflect on these and other situations in a different way than before so that you can determine a better way of engaging with others in purposeful dialogue that starts the process of greater understanding and effecting change.

I have been on a journey in writing the book. In January 2020 when the idea was born, I had little idea of the profound impact that the interviews would have on me. I feel deeply honoured that my interviewees trusted me enough to, 1. have the initial conversation and 2. tell their stories in a way that honoured them.

The pandemic afforded an opportunity for me to explore how the Three Companions could be manifested in unprecedented times. I set up the Courage, Compassion & Wisdom Online Community (CCW Community) in March 2020 to provide a safe space for participants to explore the emotions they experienced in a time of immense turmoil and uncertainty. I believed, like many people, that the pandemic would be short-lived and the CCW Community would disband after three months. I am delighted to say that the CCW community has gone from strength to strength and is still running. It has enabled us to learn more about the five domains, described in the book, that help us to employ our Three Companions .and thus build our own expression of courage, compassion and wisdom. In the CCW Community, we embody the Three Companions in how we relate to and support each other to have deep and thought-provoking conversations that we don’t have anywhere else. Through these conversations, we have grown significantly in our confidence and resilience to handle many of the challenges that life presents to us. 

If you want to develop your superpowers of courage, compassion and wisdom, I invite you to start with a short exercise that is designed to help you increase your self-compassion, which is one of the five domains that support us in accessing them. It will take you 10 minutes

  1.  Find a partner to work with.
  2.  Each person takes turns to speak for 3 minutes about things that they like about themselves (for example, play sport, eat healthily, good cook, enjoy being in nature)
  3.  Their partner only listens. They can show they are listening through body language but is not allowed to make a sound.
  4.  If the speaker runs out of things to say, the listener stays silent until the 3 minutes have elapsed.
  5.  You then switch roles, so if you were speaking you are now listening.
  6.  Again, run this for the full 3 minutes.
  7.  When both people have spoken, discuss what it was like to speak and what was it like to listen. What did you notice about yourself? What did you notice about the other person? What emotions did you experience?

You can find out how this exercise helps build self-compassion in the book.

If you want to learn more about courage, compassion and wisdom, please join our CCW Community, of like-minded individuals.

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