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Hello Community,

Here we are in 2015 ~ I hope the new year is treating you well so far. Maybe you're feeling a sense of a fresh start as you look at the unlived months ahead. Or, maybe you're feeling a bit overwhelmed or pressured by all that's on your life-improvement to-do list. Or, perhaps you don't believe in new year's resolutions. However you feel, you have probably noticed that there tends to be something in the air in January. While some of us may feel gung-ho about the new habits that we want to establish, something can get lost in that enthusiasm for making changes. Namely, an appreciation for our lives as they are right now. Without that appreciation and acknowledgment, self-improvement can actually be a subtle form of violence and self-abandonment.

This month's self-compassion tool is called "As You Are" and it's about recognizing and appreciating your life as it is right now. With that appreciation, your impulse to practice new habits can come from a sense of inner cooperation, rather than a feeling of having to eliminate the life you have been living so you can create a "better" one.

In line with this, I recently was reminded of a TED talk from a little over a year ago that I have found supportive. It's by Brother David Steindl-Rast, a Benedictine monk whose life's work is focused on gratefulness. His talk is about how gratitude leads to a sense of wholeness and happiness. He also discusses a way to connect with true gratitude in our everyday life; a gratitude that doesn't mean bypassing our suffering, but acknowledging the fullness and scope of our experience. I hope it is helpful to you.

Also, I'm happy to report that for the next week, I'll be at a Mindful Self-Compassion training with Kristin Neff and Christopher Germer, two pioneers in the field. I'm excited to be going, and I look forward to sharing what I learn.

The next Self-Compassion Circle meets on January 26, 7:30-9pm at Cultural Integration Fellowship in San Francisco. It will be the first meeting of 2015! If you'd like to cultivate deeper self-compassion, you are warmly welcome to join us. It's a great opportunity to connect with a community of like-minded others in a safe, inclusive space.

Wishing you all my best for a nourishing year ahead,
Lea
~ January 2015 Newsletter ~
As You Are
 
This is the time of year when many people feel drawn to plans for improving themselves and their lives (and maybe the lives of their loved ones, too!). It makes sense that as a new year begins, we feel a sense of possibility: we just left 2014 behind, and the arc of 2015 is not yet clear. It can seem like we have a chance to set the tone for our lives this year and to make a new start in areas that have felt challenging. And, it's true: we do have the chance to make fresh choices. We always have that opportunity, as long as we recognize it.

This can be a growthful impulse, yet it can also be a violent impulse if we turn on our current or pre-2015 life and see it as lacking or deficient. Sure, there may be habits that we wish we didn't have and ways that we want to commit to relating differently to ourselves, other people, or circumstances in our lives. However, to look back and put ourselves or our lives down does us a disservice. And it can perpetuate the idea that a perfect life is possible: if only we made the right choices, we wouldn't have to suffer; we could somehow be exempt from that aspect of the human experience.

If you have resolutions or intentions for changes you want to make in the new year, it may be helpful to tap into a sense of appreciation for your life as it is right now, too. As you set out on a path of creating new habits, being grounded in who you are can help you stay the course and remind you of the resources and strengths that you will draw on as you make new choices that may feel uncomfortable and/or unfamiliar.

At the same time, it may feel really challenging to even think about appreciating yourself and your life. If that is true for you, start by trying to acknowledge the people and beings in your life who support you in some way. These may be people you know very well, or they may be people you've never met ~ spiritual leaders, artists, musicians, writers, and/or public figures whose lives and work feel supportive to you. In some way, these beings are part of your life right now.

You can acknowledge and appreciate these people by writing your thoughts down, and you might share your appreciation with these folks, if you have a way of contacting them. It can be a vulnerable thing to do, yet it also can be deeply nourishing to all involved.


Or, see if there are things or experiences in your life that you appreciate that are completely unearned. For example, a few years ago, I had the experience of reaching toward an iris bud that was growing in my friend's backyard. Just as I touched the stem, the bud fell open and the flower revealed itself. It's a moment that felt totally unearned, and something I don't think I will ever forget. There was nothing I had done to deserve it; it felt like a true gift.

As for directly appreciating yourself. I realize that it may seem self-indulgent, or even impossible at first, but see if you can experiment it. Try writing down things that you acknowledge and appreciate about yourself and the way that you are navigating your life. This isn't about making things up or reaching for things to say that don't feel genuine. It's about finding ways to non-violently encourage yourself. Even just writing, "I'm willing to try to acknowledge and appreciate myself, even though it feels really uncomfortable and dumb." That would be a deeply honest practice of appreciating yourself as you are, right now.

I find that if we are able to appreciate our lives as they are, it's easier to return to the intentions we have for making changes, without abandoning ourselves.
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Speaking of
Self-Compassion...
"Heaven and earth
are threads
from one loom."
~ Shaker proverb
"Providence has hidden a charm in difficult undertakings which is appreciated only by those who dare to grapple with them." 
~ Anne-Sophie Swetchine
"You're all perfect as you are, and you
could use a little improvement." 
~ Shunryu Suzuki
Invocation
by Jeanne Lohmann

Let us try what it is to be true to gravity,
to grace, to the given, faithful to our own voices,

to lines making the map of our furrowed tongue.
Turned toward the root of a single word, refusing

solemnity and slogans, let us honor what hides
and does not come easy to speech. The pebbles

we hold in our mouths help us to practice song,
and we sing to the sea. May the things of this world

be preserved to us, their beautiful secret
vocabularies. We are dreaming it over and new,

the language of our tribe, music we hear
we can only acknowledge. May the naming powers

be granted. Our words are feathers that fly
on our breath. Let them go in a holy direction.
Lea Seigen Shinraku

I’m Lea Seigen Shinraku, a San Francisco-based therapist, writer and group facilitator, and I believe in the power of self-compassion to change the world, one person at a time. Through my writing, private practice, groups and workshops, I help people live with greater clarity, joy and meaning by guiding them to meet self-limiting beliefs with loving presence, and wake up from the trance of self-judgment. I draw on my professional training, client work, more than a decade of daily meditation practice, and my own experience of awakening and cultivating self-compassion. 

 
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist: MFC51836
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