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Dear Community,

We're a little more than half-way through 2016, and what a year it's been. At the moment, my mind is on the many unexpected losses, changes and acts of violence ~ locally and globally. It's hard to know how to relate to what's happening without feeling overwhelmed. Self-compassion practices (ones that awaken your sense of mindfulness, interconnectedness and kindness) can be very supportive at these times. The simple act of acknowledging how you feel ~ even if it's "I feel overwhelmed" or "I don't know how to feel" ~ can give some relief. Also, you can tap into a sense of interconnectedness, recognizing that you're not alone ~ many people feel overwhelmed, scared and apprehensive. And you can see if there is some way to respond to yourself and your experience with kindness, and then do so, remembering that compassion is active.

Two Sundays ago I attended a memorial service for Blanche Hartman, the first woman abbot of San Francisco Zen Center. It was a very tender morning as her family and community said goodbye. The moment that most stayed with me from was when her son told us that his mother insisted that he sing a particular song at the service, one that they had sung together as her health declined. The song ~ "This Little Light of Mine" ~ is probably familiar to you. We all sang many verses of that song that morning, and it felt like the right thing to be singing then and now. In case you aren't familiar with it, or if you'd like to hear an inspiring version, here's a link to Odetta performing the song. The audio trails off a bit at the end, but it felt like the right version to share, partly because she begins by reciting a very relevant Marianne Williamson passage. I hope you find it supportive in tapping into the light and self-compassion in you.

This month's tool ~ This Little Light ~ is inspired by the song, and it's also inspired by a quote from Amma that was in last month's newsletter. Amma said, "Don't be discouraged by your incapacity to dispel darkness from the world. Light your little candle and step forward." This practice is an opportunity to pay attention to what you have and how you feel moved to share it ~ some action that both feeds you and feeds others because it matters to you. As Brother David Stendl-Rast said, "The antidote to exhaustion is whole-heartedness." In a way, this month's practice asks, "What can you do wholeheartedly?" I hope you find it supportive.

I've finalized the dates for the next 8-week Mindful Self-Compassion course, and it 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 excited to share 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, July 25, from 7:30-9pm at Cultural Integration Fellowship in San Francisco. This will be our 3rd birthday/anniversary! So, in addition to a check-in, group discussion, meditation, and self-compassion practices, there will also be watermelon and cupcakes. :) 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, and/or your cupcake-enjoying practice, please
 join us.

All my best,
~ July 2016 Newsletter ~

This Little Light

In addition to being inspired by the song of the same name and Amma (as I mentioned above), this month's practice is also inspired by one of the exercises I teach in the Mindful Self-Compassion course. It's an opportunity to get in touch with what is most important to you and find a sense of purpose and meaning in your everyday life, especially when life feels very hard to make sense of.

So, how do you discover what really matters to you? Maybe you already have a hunch. If not, try this exercise:

Find a quiet place where you won't be disturbed. You'll likely want to have a pen and paper. Take three slow, conscious breaths. Imagine yourself many years from now, very near the end of a long life, looking back on your years between now and then. As you reflect, what would have given you deep, authentic satisfaction, joy and meaning? What values did you embody that gave your life this satisfaction, joy and meaning? Take time to sincerely pause and reflect. Write down what you discover ~ these are your core values.

As you consider what you have discovered, you may realize that there are some ways that you are not currently living in accord with your core values or ways that your life feels out of balance with those values. If that's true, see if you can identify the external obstacles that prevent you from living fully in line with your core values. It's normal to experience obstacles like this ~ maybe having limited time and resources, or other obligations.

You may also notice that you have internal obstacles: maybe you're afraid of failure, or you doubt your ability to have an impact or to truly embody your values. These, too, are normal and human.

Now, consider if self-compassion might help you live more in alignment with your core values. Is there a way that it could help you feel safe and confident to take new actions, or risk failure, or to let go of things that aren't serving you? Might self-compassion help you let your light shine? It's a common misconception that we have to be hard on ourselves if we want to make a change. Research and personal experience show that self-compassion is a far more effective motivator than self-criticism.

Also, if you have insurmountable obstacles to living in line with your core values, can you give yourself compassion for that? Most especially, if the insurmountable obstacle is that you are imperfect, as all humans are, can you forgive yourself for that, too?

Now, reflect for a bit and see if there is a small, meaningful way that you can express this value in your everyday life. It's not necessary to make some grand gesture that attempts to solve the world's problems (or to finally fix yourself, for that matter). You can relate to your experience with a sense of integrity, knowing that ~ no matter how small your action seems ~ it matters.

And, if you feel stumped about how to express it, or even knowing what your core values are, here are some simple experiments. Try listening to "This Little Light of Mine" in the morning as you're getting ready for the day, or on your way to work, or listen to it before bed. See how you feel and how you orient to your day when you begin (or end) it this way. You can also experiment with making up your own verses. One of the striking things about "This Little Light of Mine" is the seemingly infinite number of variations that are sung. So, make your own! For example, if you don't know what your "little light" is or how to let it shine, you can try "Even if I don't know what it is, I'm gonna let it shine!" or "Even if I don't know how, I'm gonna let it shine!" It's more than ok to not know; it's enough to be curious and willing.

Upcoming Events
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Next Meeting:
Monday, July 25
Mindful Self-Compassion
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Recent Articles
self-compassion isn't self-indulgent
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Why Self-Compassion
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Speaking of Self-Compassion...
"The better we feel about ourselves, the fewer times we have to knock somebody else down to feel tall." ~ Odetta
"You see, life wants to be real; if you love life you want to live really, not as a mere promise hovering over things." 
~ Carl Jung
"Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world's grief. Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.
~ The Talmud
"So don't be frightened, dear friend, if a sadness confronts you larger than any you have ever known, casting its shadow over all you do. You must think that something is happening within you, and remember that life has not forgotten you; it holds you in its hand and will not let you fall. Why would you want to exclude from your life any uneasiness, any pain, any depression, since you don't know what work they are accomplishing within you?
~ Rainer Maria Rilke
"This is what I learned: that everybody is talented, original and has something important to say. ... Since you are like no other being ever created since the beginning of time, you are incomparable."
~ Brenda Ueland
"We have what we seek, it is there all the time, and if we give it time, it will make itself known to us."
~ Thomas Merton
"Letting there be room for not knowing is the most important thing of all."
~ Pema Chödrön
"To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work." ~ Mary Oliver

by William Stafford


It could happen any time, tornado,
earthquake, Armageddon. It could happen.
Or sunshine, love, salvation.

It could, you know. That’s why we wake
and look out — no guarantees
in this life.

But some bonuses, like morning,
like right now, like noon,
like evening.

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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