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Hi Community,

Today was the first day of school for many students across the country, and it seems to have come so soon! As the summer winds down, I hope you continue to enjoy the literal and metaphorical fruits of the season.

Earlier this month, I attended a Mindful Self-Compassion teacher training in Garrison, NY. I had the opportunity to train with Kristin Neff and Chris Germer, and to meet self-compassion teachers from around the world. It was a powerful and moving experience, and I learned so much about practicing and teaching self-compassion. I'm excited to report that I'm finalizing the dates for my first 8-week Mindful Self-Compassion course this fall. As soon as those are confirmed, I will send an announcement.

This month's practice is a core component of the Mindful Self-Compassion course. It's called Affectionate Breathing, and it's a tool you can draw on whenever you are struggling. So often when people think of self-care, they think of things that require them to leave a difficult situation (like taking a walk or a bath, or journaling). However, many times, you may be in the midst of a meeting or a challenging conversation, and there's no where to go. At such times, Affectionate Breathing is available as a practice you can do without anyone else knowing, and without going anywhere. While the way I describe it below is as a more formal meditation, once you have practiced it, you can tap into it at any time, bringing warm attention to your breath, noticing the ways that it supports you and imagining that it is infused with kindness.

In last month's newsletter, I shared the poem "Compassion" by Miller Williams. A few weeks later, I came across this video of Miller reading the poem, and his daughter, musician Lucinda Williams, singing her adaptation of it. It's a moving and poignant performance, especially knowing that (as noted on Lucinda's Facebook page) it was the first time that Miller heard her adaptation, and it was the last time that Lucinda saw him. I hope you find it supportive.

The next Self-Compassion Circle meets a week from today, on Monday, August 31, from 7:30-9pm at Cultural Integration Fellowship in San Francisco. We'll be gathering together to check in, inquiring about the ups and downs of cultivating self-compassion, and sharing a guided meditation. If you would like to practice self-compassion in a welcoming group of like-minded others, you are warmly welcome to join us.

All my best,
~ August 2015 Newsletter ~
Affectionate Breathing

No matter where you are or what you're doing, your breath is always available to you as a source of nourishment and soothing. It can be easy to take it for granted, so this practice can help you remember your breath and to mindfully and compassionately let your attention rest there when you are struggling.

This practice is usually taught as a meditation, so I will describe it here in steps, and then include a link at the bottom for a recording by Kristin Neff, so you can be guided, if you prefer that.

Also, you may have experience with meditation being focused on your breath. This is a very common type of meditation. With affectionate breathing, the difference is that you are bringing a warm, kind attention to your breath, and you are opening more fully to the possibility of being soothed by your breath.

1. Start by finding a comfortable position ~ you want to be seated upright, but not straining to maintain a rigid posture. You might also experiment with lying down, if you feel alert enough that you won't fall asleep.

2. Breathe a few times and try noticing the way that your breath is moving in and out of your body. There's no particular way that it needs to be. You're just noticing how it is moving right now.

3. Experiment with placing a hand over your heart (or in some other soothing gesture). Doing this can help you remember to be kind in the way you notice and relate to your experience.

4. Try to bring your attention more fully to your breath and notice where you feel it most easily ~ it may be in your chest or belly, or at your nostrils. Take some time ~ as long as you need ~ to just focus on the way breathing feels.

5. See if you can allow your breath to be infused with affection and compassion, for yourself and for others. As you breathe in, imagine inhaling affection and kindness, and as you breathe out, try exhaling affection and kindness.

6. If you notice that your mind wanders, gently bring it back to warmly focusing on your breath. The goal isn't to have perfectly composed attention. Wandering is what the mind does. Bringing your attention back in a kind way helps strengthen your mindfulness and compassion.

7. Continue to let your attention warmly rest on your breath. Notice that there is nothing you need to do to deserve your breath; it is given to you moment after moment. See if you can allow your body to breathe you, recognizing that you do not have to make any effort to breathe.

8.  As you continue focusing on the breath, try to feel your whole body breathe, perhaps even noticing that your whole body becomes the breath. Continue in this way for a few minutes, keeping a kind attention on your experience of breathing.

9. As you feel ready, you can let go of your focus on the breath and allow your attention to come more fully into the room. See if you can let your experience be exactly as it is right now; nothing to fix or change. 

Notice how you feel. The first time you try this practice, you may want to journal afterward, in order to digest the experience.

Once you have experimented with Affectionate Breathing, you have a personal sense of what it feels like, and you can practice it in a less formal way whenever you are in a challenging situation.

If you would like to listen to a guided Affectionate Breathing meditation from Kristin Neff, please click here.
Upcoming Events
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Speaking of
"You have to find a mother inside yourself. We all do.
Even if we already have a mother, we still have to find this part of ourselves inside. " 
~ Sue Monk Kidd
"The world changes in direct proportion to the number of people willing to be honest about their lives." 
~ Armistead Maupin
"On this sacred path of Radical Acceptance, rather than striving for perfection, we discover how to love ourselves into wholeness. " 
~ Tara Brach
"Do I contradict myself?

Very well then,
I contradict myself,
I am large,
I contain multitudes." 
~ Walt Whitman
"My wish for you is that you continue. Continue to be who and how you are, to astonish a mean world with acts of kindness. Continue to allow humor to lighten the burden of your tender heart." 
~ Maya Angelou
"Renunciation is not giving up the things
of this world, but accepting that
they go away." 
~ Suzuki Roshi
"There is nothing, believe me, more satisfying, more gratifying than true adulthood. ... Its achievement is a difficult beauty, an intensely hard-won glory, which commercial forces and cultural vapidity should not be permitted to deprive you of." 
~ Toni Morrison
The House of Belonging
by David Whyte

I awoke
this morning
in the gold light
turning this way
and that
thinking for
a moment
it was one
like any other.

the veil had gone
from my
darkened heart
I thought
it must have been the quiet
that filled my room,
it must have been
the first
easy rhythm
with which I breathed
myself to sleep,
it must have been
the prayer I said
speaking to the otherness
of the night.

I thought
this is the good day
you could
meet your love,
this is the gray day
someone close
to you could die.

This is the day
you realize 
how easily the thread
is broken
between this world
and the next
and I found myself
sitting up
in the quiet pathway
of light,
the tawny close
grained cedar
burning round
me like fire
and all the angels
of this housely
heaven ascending
through the first
roof of light
the sun had made.

This is the bright home
in which I live,
this is where
I ask
my friends
to come,
this is where I want
to love all the things
it has taken me so long
to learn to love.

This is the temple
of my adult aloneness
and I belong
to that aloneness
as I belong to my life.

There is no house
like the house of belonging

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, 15 years of meditation practice, and my own experience of awakening and cultivating self-compassion. 

Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist: MFC51836
Copyright © 2015 Lea Seigen Shinraku, MFT, All rights reserved.

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