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Dear Community,

I hope you're well. Here we are at mid-September. The new school year has begun, and even if it's been a while since you were a student, back-to-school season seems to evoke the feeling of a new start for many people. I think that's probably because nearly all of us spent at least 13 years following the school-year rhythm, plus we're also at the very end of summer, on the cusp of fall.

I moved around a fair amount during my early childhood, so sometimes, starting a school year meant stepping into a completely unfamiliar environment and just wanting to blend in. Other times, I was returning to a school and people I knew, which seemed to make me more aware of the differences in myself and others: an unfamiliar classroom or teacher, a classmate who had grown several inches taller. Or in high school, discovering how I felt when I showed up with purple hair, not wanting to blend in.

As adults, many of us don't have an actual school year to keep us in regular contact with the ways we may be growing and changing. Even so, this time of year offers an opportunity for reflection. Maybe you're aware that there are aspects of yourself that no longer fit, and you feel called to step more fully into who you're becoming (or to experiment with that). Perhaps you're getting back in touch with parts of yourself or your life that you've forgotten or felt distant from.

This month's practice is inspired by what I shared with August's Self-Compassion Circle. I call it "Who Was I? Who Am I? Who Will I Be?", and it supports the impulse to get clearer and more honest with yourself about who you are right now, without getting too invested in that identity. In particular, it aims to help you recognize that a great deal of suffering can come from resisting the ways that your identity is actually not fixed; it changes. When you become overly identified with a story about who you are, you can fight strongly to maintain it, even when it no longer matches your deeper truth. And that can lead to a sense of brittleness and rigidity that tends to get in the way of feeling genuinely connected to yourself and others. I hope that this month's practice supports you in finding greater flexibility and freedom in your sense of who you are.

You also may find support in cultivating flexibility in
this article for which I was recently interviewed. In it I talk about how self-compassion can help you relate to limiting beliefs with a greater sense of agency. 

Next Saturday, September 20th, I'll be offering Love Yourself Whole ~ my only Bay Area workshop this year, and I have just one spot available. It will be a gentle, retreat-like day where we'll focus on relating more compassionately to ourselves, particularly to the parts of ourselves that may feel difficult to accept. I will incorporate self-compassion teachings, guided meditation, partner and group work, and collage. This workshop is appropriate for anyone who would like to come into a more compassionate relationship with themselves. For more information, click here. If you have questions, please contact me. You can also visit the Groups & Workshops page of my website to read what past participants have said about their experience in my workshops. If you feel like this is what you're needing right now, please get in touch and claim the last spot!

The next Self-Compassion Circle meets on September 29, 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.

I hope you enjoy this last week of summer. And please share this newsletter with someone you know who needs some self-compassion.

 
All my best,
Lea
~ September 2014 Newsletter ~
Who Was I? Who Am I? Who Will I Be?

In some ways, a fixed sense of self might be necessary in navigating your everyday life of work and relationships. It's also true that a great deal of suffering can come from having an inflexible identity that you think you have to live up to, or one that you feel limited by, or some combination.

For example, when you believe that you have to be smarter, kinder, less judgmental than others, or when you believe you are less intelligent, kind, or compassionate than others, you 
pigeonhole yourself. You create a story about who you are that keeps you separate from other people and from a sense of who you are as part of the web of life that is constantly in flux; growing, changing and adapting. 
 
There's a zen teaching story that seems relevant here. It goes like this: Once upon a time, there was an old farmer who had worked his crops for many years. One day his horse ran away. Upon hearing the news, his neighbors came to visit. “Such bad luck,” they said sympathetically.

“Maybe,” the farmer replied. 

The next morning the horse returned, bringing with it three other wild horses. “How wonderful!” the neighbors said.

“Maybe,” said the old man.

The following day, his son tried to ride one of the untamed horses, was thrown, and broke his leg. The neighbors again came to offer their sympathy on his misfortune.

“Maybe,” the farmer said.

The day after, military officials came to the village to draft young men into the army. Seeing that the son’s leg was broken, they passed him by. The neighbors congratulated the farmer on how well things had turned out.

“Maybe,” said the farmer.

What I get from this story is that it can be really hard to say with certainty what anything actually means. We have access to just a limited view of a much bigger picture. And we don't know what's coming next and how that will impact our understanding.

For the following practice, you may want to write down your reflections on a piece of paper, or type them on your computer or tablet.


Who Was I?
Think back to your life 10 years ago: September 2004. Reflect on the following:

How old were you?
What was a typical day like?
Where were you living?
Who were you close to?
What were your concerns and worries? What were you trying to figure out?
What were you excited or curious about?
Anything else that seems relevant about who you were 10 years ago?

Who Am I?
Now, shift your attention to your life today and consider:

How old are you?
What is a typical day like?
Where do you live?
Who are you close to?
What are your concerns and worries? What are you trying to figure out?

What are you excited or curious about?
Anything else that seems relevant about who you are today?

Who Will I Be?
And, knowing that you don't have a crystal ball, try to imagine your life 10 years from now, September 2024: 

How old will you be?
What will a typical day be like?
Where will you be living?
Who will you be close to?
What are your concerns and worries likely to be? What will you probably be trying to figure out?

What are you likely to be excited or curious about?
Anything else that seems relevant about who you are likely to be 10 years from now?


I often talk about curiosity as being a potent form of kindness. So, having reflected on these three selves, is it possible to tap into a sense of curiosity and “maybe” about yourself? Maybe you knew what bad luck was ten years ago; maybe you didn't. Maybe you can see yourself accurately today; maybe you can’t. Maybe this practice can be an invitation to recognize yourself as part of a continuum of being. Whoever you are becoming, the self you are right now is part of that unfolding. Is there room for you to be surprised by who you are? Is it possible that you aren’t who your stories say you are? Maybe there's wisdom in what seems like foolishness, and foolishness in what seems like wisdom.

If you'd like to take this practice further, here's an experiment: This week, see if you can be like the old farmer and respond to any internal pronouncements about good luck or bad luck by saying, "Maybe."

Upcoming Events
Love Yourself Whole
Love Yourself Whole
Daylong Workshop
San Francisco
September 20
self-compassion circle
Monthly Meditation Group
Next Meeting: Sept. 29
love yourself, no matter what
Love Yourself,
No Matter What
Half-Day Workshop
Austin, TX
October 18
Recent Articles
overcome limiting beliefs
Psych Central Interview:
How to Overcome Limiting Beliefs
flowers
Self-Compassion Just Might Save Your Life

The Summer Day
by Mary Oliver

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean –
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down –
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

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


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