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Dear Community,

Summer is drawing to a close and this week many students are headed back to school. Maybe the mention of going back to school seems exciting, or maybe it fills you with dread, or some combination. What comes to mind for me about back-to-school is a sense of possibility, and the opportunity to discover something new.

Given all that is happening in the world, with political developments, extreme weather and wildfires, as well as whatever personal challenges you may be facing right now, a sense of possibility can be a real lifeline or provide ballast. It can help you tap into the resources that you have in your life that you may overlooked.

What would it be like to go "back-to-school" in your life? In your relationship with yourself? One possibility is that you might discover or recognize the ways that you do or can fortify yourself during challenging times. Perhaps when you feel stressed, you go outside for a few minutes to feel the warmth of the August sun (or, here in San Francisco, the August mist), or take a long walk, or cozy up with your pet.

This month's tool ~ Going Back to School (the School of You) ~ is all about bringing curiosity and Beginner's Mind to your experience. Curiosity is a potent form of kindness. This is a phrase I say in nearly every talk, workshop, class or discussion I offer. Curiosity's power lies in its ability to help you break the spell of self-judgment ~ the mesmerizing narrative of your internal "expert" who thinks that there is only one right way to be you. It can also help you identify things that feel good about your experience in this moment, even if your experience isn't exactly what you wish it was. In this back-to-school season, I hope you find this month's tool supportive in cultivating self-compassion and connecting with your inner beginner.

As I mentioned in last month's newsletter, the next 8-week Mindful Self-Compassion course will begin on September 12. Once again, we'll be meeting on Monday evenings from 7-9:30pm, and we will also have a half-day retreat. It will be my fourth round of teaching the course and I'm looking forward to sharing it again. If you would like more information, please click the link above, or get in touch. Also, do share the course information with anyone you think may be interested.

The next Self-Compassion Circle meets Monday, August 29, from 7:30-9pm at Cultural Integration Fellowship in San Francisco. We'll have a check-in, group discussion, meditation, and self-compassion practices. It is a very welcoming circle of folks, with a mix of newcomers and regulars each month. If you would like support in deepening your self-compassion practice, please
 join us.

All my best,
~ August 2016 Newsletter ~

 Going Back to School (The School of You)

Beginner's Mind is a zen teaching that is close to my heart and central to cultivating self-compassion. Shunryu Suzuki, who founded San Francisco Zen Center, coined the term and said, "In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities; in the expert's mind there are few." What does this mean for self-compassion and in your relationship with yourself?

Self-judgment arises when one part of you believes that it is an "expert" in who you are supposed to be. Usually, this means someone who is more ____________  than the person you are in this moment. Maybe that means more happy, more successful, more patient,  more fit, more competent, more intelligent, more strong, more forgiving. Always more. For this internal "expert" (inner critic), who you are right now is never enough.

One of the trickiest things about this internal "expert" is that expertise is widely valued in mainstream culture. We are expected to know things conclusively ~ about ourselves and about the work that we do, for example. And, sure, sometimes we really do need to know things in a definitive way, particularly if we have a job where our decisions directly impact the well-being of others.

However, expertise is not the only thing we need in most situations. In fact, many times, particularly in our relationships with ourselves and others, we need curiosity. Curiosity is what enables you to consider that there may be other ways of understanding yourself or someone else; ways that are different from your initial opinion. This openness makes it more likely that you will respond with compassion, rather than judgment. 

I often talk about curiosity as a potent form of kindness. Most of us live in such a way that we are identified with our internal "expert" and disconnected from our curiosity and our internal beginner. In many ways, cultivating self-compassion means recognizing the value and contribution of all parts of ourselves, not just the "expert".

This month, when things don't go according to plan, try experimenting with curiosity; with becoming a student of your experience. For example, if you feel disappointed with yourself about something and judgment arises, invite in curiosity. Ask yourself, "Is there another way to see this? Is there another way to see myself in this moment?" Perhaps this means considering how you might view and respond to a friend who was in a similar situation. 

See if you can tap into your internal beginner, your internal student. As best you can, open up to the possibility of learning something new about yourself, rather than identifying with the internal "expert" (inner critic) and attempting to gather more evidence for why you aren't enough as you are.

Upcoming Events
self-compassion circle
Monthly Meditation Group
Next Meeting:
Monday, August 29
Mindful Self-Compassion
8-week course
begins September 12
Mondays, 7-9:30pm
Speaking of Self-Compassion...
"Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity." ~ Simone Weil
"We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty."
~ Maya Angelou
"Come quickly ~ as soon as these blossoms open, they fall. This world exists as a sheen of dew on flowers." 
~ Izumi Shikibu
"Hold to the now, the here, through which all future plunges to the past.
~ James Joyce
"I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work.
~ Thomas Alva Edison
"I don't want to get to the end of my life and find that I lived just the length of it I want to have lived the width as well."
~ Diane Ackerman
"There are many tenets of Wholeheartedness, but at its very core is vulnerability and worthiness; facing uncertainty, exposure and emotional risks, and knowing that I am enough."
~ Brene Brown
"Life is a balance between holding on and letting go."
~ Rumi
"Weeds are flowers, too, once you get to know them."
~ Eeyore (A.A. Milne)

The One-Inch Journey
by Wendell Berry


Always in big woods when you leave familiar ground and step off alone into a new place, there will be ~ along with the feeling of curiosity and excitement ~ a little nagging dread. It is the ancient fear of the unknown and it is your first bond with the wilderness you are going into.

You are undertaking the first experience, not of the place, but of yourself in that place. It is an experience of our essential loneliness, for nobody can discover the world for anybody else. It is only after we have discovered it for ourselves that that it becomes a common ground and a common bond, and we cease to be alone.

And the world cannot be discovered by a journey of miles, no matter how long, but only by a spiritual journey, a journey of one inch, very arduous and humbling and joyful, by which we arrive at the ground at our feet, and learn to be at home.

Lea Seigen Shinraku

I’m Lea Seigen Shinraku, a San Francisco-based Marriage and Family therapist, and I see self-compassion as one of the most powerful skills a person can cultivate. In addition to one-on-one client work, I also offer workshops, groups, trainings, consultation and supervision, all focused on self-compassion. In pursuing my interest in self-compassion, I have trained directly with Dr. Kristin Neff and Dr. Chris Germer, pioneers in the field. My work is also informed by ongoing consultation and education, as well as 15 years of regular meditation practice. To learn more about me, I invite you to visit

Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist: MFC51836
Copyright © 2016 Lea Seigen Shinraku, MFT, All rights reserved.

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