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Hi Community,

I hope you're well. We just celebrated Independence Day here in the U.S., and today is World Compassion Day (
His Holiness the Dalai Lama's 79th birthday). This struck me as quite synchronistic. Many people have complex feelings about the Fourth of July, so it seems like an especially good time to tap into compassion. As I've written before about Mother's Day and Father's Day, if your feelings about a major holiday are complex and not 100% congruent with the mainstream narrative, it can be difficult to navigate that occasion and feel the sense of belonging that is a fundamental aspect of well-being. If this reflects your experience, see if you can let it register right now that all of your feelings belong: joy, gratitude, frustration, disillusionment, sadness, fear, and whatever else. There is room for all of you and however you feel.

This month's practice brings together the two qualities of Freedom and Compassion. One of the most liberating realizations we can have is that while we may not be able to change the circumstances of our lives, we are always free to choose and experiment with how we respond to them. We can choose to respond with compassion for ourselves and others. As Holocaust survivor Victor Frankl wrote in Man's Search for Meaning: "Everything can be taken from a [person] but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way." This freedom is always available to you. I hope this month's practice ~ FREE to Choose Compassion ~ is supportive.

And here's a head's up: in June I wrote a rather personal, heartfelt post for Psyched magazine called "Self-Compassion in Five Words." It's an inside look at how I first came to understand the revolutionary nature of self-compassion. I felt very moved writing it, and several readers have shared that it moved and inspired them, too. So, 
I invite you to click on the link below and check it out.

Also, I recently created a free ebook called "Love Yourself Now: 10 ways to break the trance of self-judgment." If you've been to my workshops or groups, or if you've been reading my newsletter for the last year or so, a few of the tools will be familiar to you. I'm giving it to new subscribers, so if you were on my mailing list before I began offering the ebook, here's a link so you can download your copy: 
Love Yourself Now. This link will be active through the end of July.

As I mentioned last month, I'll be offering a free mini class at the Peace in the Park festival in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park on August 23. It looks like a great day ~ a free festival with lots of music and opportunities to cultivate peace. Details are still being finalized, and I will make an announcement when I know about timing and more precise location for my class.

The next Self-Compassion Circle meets on July 28, 7:30pm-9pm at Cultural Integration Fellowship in San Francisco. If you're in the area and you'd like to cultivate self-compassion in a community of like-minded others, you are warmly welcome to join us!

Please feel free to share this newsletter with others who may be interested.

~ July 2014 Newsletter ~
FREE to Choose Compassion
When you're in the trance of self-judgment, it can be nearly impossible to remember that you have the freedom to choose how you respond to your circumstances. If you are new to practicing self-compassion, or if an especially triggering event has evoked an intense response from your inner critic, it can feel like you are 100% at its mercy. In such moments, its words can hold a kind of tyrannical power that is painful and seemingly inescapable.

Reclaiming your power from your inner critic usually takes practice, because if you've been relentlessly judging yourself for years, that habit has worn a deep groove. So, it's important to be patient with yourself and recognize that even the act of noticing that you're stuck in self-criticism is compassionate. While it is revolutionary, the process of declaring independence from these habit patterns doesn't usually happen overnight.

Many of the people I work with feel overwhelmed, especially when they first hear about self-compassion, at the prospect of being kind to themselves. When I hear that someone feels this, I normalize the fact that when we are self-critical it can feel nearly impossible to access kindness and compassion. For some people, it doesn't even make sense at first. And then, if you are able to to be kind, there can be what Kristen Neff and Christopher Germer (two pioneers in self-compassion research and practice) have termed "backdraft" ~ a flare-up of self-criticism and discomfort. I find that it's helpful to normalize this, too. We often have an expectation that our growth will be linear and that it will make sense to our rational minds. I have rarely found this to be the case. I have found that curiosity and a willingness to experiment are potent tools in the cultivation of self-compassion.

With that in mind, here is a four-part practice to help you reignite the spark that knows you are FREE to choose compassion:

Face your experience

Remember your deeper truth
Engage with curiosity
Experiment compassionately

1. Face your experience. Name what's happening as factually as you can. You might say, "My inner critic is very loud right now, and the things it says feel familiar and true." 

2. Remember your deeper truth. A part of you knows that the critic does not have the market cornered on truth. Name that. You might say, "Even though the inner critic is very loud and convincing right now, there is a part of me that sees this situation differently."

3. Engage with curiosity. Inquire with yourself about this experience: "I wonder what this is about?"

4. Experiment compassionately. Try a fresh response to this situation. That might mean going for a walk around the block. Or it might mean putting your hand on your heart and taking three long breaths. It might mean creating a declaration of independence from your inner critic and signing it with a flourish. Give yourself permission to try something new.

While I've focused here on the ways that you can remember to be compassionate with yourself when the inner critic takes over, this practice also works when you find yourself locked into a judgment-laced disagreement with someone else ~ maybe a coworker, friend, partner or family member. In any situation, you are FREE to choose compassion.
Upcoming Events
self-compassion circle
Monthly Meditation Group
Next Meeting: July 28
peace in the park
Free Class
August 23
Recent Writing
in Five Words

Call Me by My True Names
by Thich Nhat Hanh

Do not say that I'll depart tomorrow

because even today I still arrive.

Look deeply: I arrive in every second
to be a bud on a spring branch,
to be a tiny bird, with wings still fragile,
learning to sing in my new nest,
to be a caterpillar in the heart of a flower,
to be a jewel hiding itself in a stone.

I still arrive, in order to laugh and to cry,
in order to fear and to hope.
The rhythm of my heart is the birth and
death of all that are alive.

I am the mayfly metamorphosing on the surface of the river,
and I am the bird which, when spring comes, arrives in time
to eat the mayfly.

I am the frog swimming happily in the clear pond,
and I am also the grass-snake who, approaching in silence,
feeds itself on the frog.

I am the child in Uganda, all skin and bones,
my legs as thin as bamboo sticks,
and I am the arms merchant, selling deadly weapons to Uganda.

I am the twelve-year-old girl, refugee on a small boat,
who throws herself into the ocean after being raped by a sea pirate,
and I am the pirate, my heart not yet capable of seeing and loving.

I am a member of the politburo, with plenty of power in my hands,
and I am the man who has to pay his "debt of blood" to my people,
dying slowly in a forced labor camp.

My joy is like spring, so warm it makes flowers bloom in all walks of life.

My pain is like a river of tears, so full it fills the four oceans.

Please call me by my true names, 
so I can hear all my cries and laughs at once,
so I can see that my joy and pain are one.

Please call me by my true names,
so I can wake up,
and so the door of my heart can be left open,
the door of compassion.

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
Copyright © 2014 Lea Seigen Shinraku, MFT, All rights reserved.

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