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Hello Community,

Here we are in November. The clocks have been turned back, and we're heading for the the darkest weeks of the year. It's also nearly time for many of us to gather with friends and family, sometimes traveling long distances, to celebrate the holidays. And while it can be an opportunity to reconnect with loved ones in a joyful way, it can also be a stressful season. Even in the midst of festivities, some of us may be challenged by the dynamics that arise when we interact with our families, and this can manifest as frustration, grief, and disappointment. For others, it may be a time of feeling loneliness or grief because family are far away, or loved ones are no longer with us.

This month's practice is meant to help you navigate this sometimes-difficult season. Many people have a tendency to turn on themselves when they're struggling with anxiety and stress. It's like some part of us believes that if we feel overwhelmed, then we must have done something wrong; as if we could avoid these feelings and experience contentment and ease all the time. If only we made the right choices, we wouldn't have to feel this way. What seems more true to me, is that while there are opportunities to make more adaptive choices that can help us feel less stressed, being human also often means having a complex range of feelings ~ sometimes all at once. And the more we try to avoid some and amplify others, the more tense and dissatisfied we feel. I hope you find this month's practice ~ When the Going Gets Tough, Get Kind ~ to be supportive this holiday season.

When I was in Austin last month, I gave a talk at the Zen Center called "It's Not Your Job to Pretend." In the talk, I speak about the ways that we can seek safety in pretending: either pretending to be wiser than we are, or pretending to be more compassionate than we are, and the ways that this strategy can leave us cut off from our sense of integrity and wholeness. I also offer my perspective on the antidote to this type of pretending. If you'd like to listen, please click here or on the link below.

My last workshop of the year will be in New Orleans on Saturday, December 13 at Mid-City Zen Center. If you're in the area, I hope you can attend. And if you have friends in New Orleans who might be interested, please share this newsletter with them.

The next Self-Compassion Circle meets on November 24, 7:30pm-9pm at Cultural Integration Fellowship in San Francisco. It will be the last time we'll meet in 2014, as there is no group in December. 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. 

I wish you a nourishing month.

~ November 2014 Newsletter ~
When the Going Gets Tough, Get Kind
For many folks, the holiday season can be both a time for festivities, a time of increased stress. Have you noticed that when you're feeling anxious and stressed, you're often even harder on yourself than usual? Even though your rational mind might recognize that being human involves ups and downs, your emotional truth can feel very different. There can be a sense of pressure to live up to vague expectations about having it all together and under control.

Maybe you have an unrealistic belief that you should feel good all the time, that you can control what happens to you, and that you wouldn't have to experience the impact of loss or change if only you made the "right" choices. Often, this way of thinking comes from a "young" part of us that believes that "When I feel bad, it's because I am bad or I did something wrong." It can be very difficult to unblend the state of feeling "bad" from the belief that you are "bad" and that you are to blame for feeling the way you do.

Or, you might struggle with a very common belief that if you're not hard on yourself, you'll stay stuck in this challenging state indefinitely. Perhaps you are even aware that the opposite is true. As Carl Rogers, a pioneer in humanistic psychology said, "The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change." The trouble seems to be that even if you are aware of this truth on a cognitive level, it can be very difficult, in the heat of a self-critical moment, to access a capacity for self-acceptance.

So, how can you be kind, when the going gets tough? Below are some practical suggestions.

1. Remember: Your best is going to change from moment to moment. For example, if you are visiting family for the holidays, you may notice that your fuse is shorter, and you are not able to be as patient or compassionate as you thought you were. Nearly all of us are subject to the strong pull of family dynamics when we are with the people we grew up with. Recognize that you are doing your best, and that your best when you are under stress is different from your best when you are feeling more easeful.

2. Get curious. I often say, curiosity is a potent form of kindness. If you notice yourself feeling frustrated with yourself or a family member, first acknowledge your feelings. Then, see if you can contact your innate curiosity. For example, try saying to yourself, "I'm frustrated. This feels so familiar and I'm so tired of getting stuck here. I wonder what this is really about?" You don't have to have an answer; this is more about ventilating the situation and opening up the possibility that there's something you don't yet know about it. Some truth for you to discover.

3. Remind yourself: Just because I feel "bad" doesn't mean I did anything wrong. If you notice that your inner critic has a lot to say about how you are communicating with loved ones over the holidays, remember that you are doing the best you can, and that you are not alone. Spending time with family is challenging for many, many people.

4. At the same time, be willing to acknowledge the impact of your choices. Ask yourself, "To be both kind to myself and accountable for my actions means __________________ ." You can hold this as an open question, and you can also notice what response arises. Being compassionate involves taking responsibility for yourself and being aware of the impact your actions have on others. 

These same practices apply if you are not spending time with family at the holidays. If you feel lonely, let that feeling register. Bring curiosity to your experience. You might say, "I feel so alone right now. I wonder what this is about? I wonder if there's something valuable in this experience for me to understand?" Remind yourself that just because you feel lonely, doesn't mean that there is something wrong with you, or that you did something wrong. Sometimes we just feel lonely; it's part of being human. It's also an opportunity to recognize where you have agency: there are choices you can make to take responsibility for your situation. For example, if you want to feel more connected to others over the holidays, reach out to friends. Or you could explore opportunities to volunteer at a soup kitchen, food bank, toy drive or coat drive. You could also start your own traditions that express how you want to experience the season.

Remember that there is room to experiment with how you respond to your situation, no matter what it is.
Upcoming Events
self-compassion circle
Monthly Meditation Group
Next Meeting: Nov. 24
love yourself, no matter what
Love Yourself,
No Matter What
Half-Day Workshop
New Orleans, LA
December 13
Recent Articles
azc logo
Dharma Talk:
It's Not Your Job
to Pretend
Speaking of
"I would like my life to be a statement of love and compassion ~ and where it isn't, that's where my work lies." 
~ Ram Dass
"Loving-kindness and compassion are the basis for wise, powerful, sometimes gentle, and sometimes fierce actions that can really make a difference ~
in our own lives and those of others." 
~ Sharon Salzberg
Saint Francis and the Sow
by Galway Kinnell (1927-2014)

The bud
stands for all things,
even for those things that don't flower,
for everything flowers, from within, of self-blessing;
though sometimes it is necessary
to reteach a thing its loveliness,
to put a hand on its brow
of the flower
and retell it in words and in touch
it is lovely
until it flowers again from within, of self-blessing;
as Saint Francis
put his hand on the creased forehead
of the sow, and told her in words and in touch
blessings of earth on the sow, and the sow
began remembering all down her thick length,
from the earthen snout all the way
through the fodder and slops to the spiritual curl of the tail,
from the hard spininess spiked out from the spine
down through the great broken heart
to the sheer blue milken dreaminess spurting and shuddering
from the fourteen teats into the fourteen mouths sucking and
blowing beneath them:
the long, perfect loveliness of sow.
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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