MARCH 2017

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Dear Community,

Spring is just about here, and after a rainy Northern California winter, most people I know feel deeply grateful for the sun's return. For a number of reasons, this winter seemed especially harsh and challenging, and it's a welcome change to see blue skies. I hope you are enjoying these first days of spring and finding some way to take in what you enjoy about this time of year. During difficult times, it's especially important to find ways to resource and nourish yourself, and to practice self-compassion.

One of the biggest struggles many people have with self-compassion is that they learn about it and understand the concept, but they don't know how to practice it in everyday life. This month's tool ~ Stop, Drop, and Respond ~ is a simple support that leads you through the steps of self-compassion in a way that relates to something you probably learned how to do as a child. I hope you find it helpful in remembering to relate to yourself with kindness this month. I'm also including a few surprise music links in the description of the practice, to keep things interesting.

Registration is now open for the fall round of the 8-week Mindful Self-Compassion course. The spring course is in its third week, and self-compassion skills feel like the right things to be teaching and practicing at this challenging time. As I often say, the course has been transformative for myself and many of my students, and I believe that these are practical life skills that we all need but are not usually taught unless we seek them out. The course runs from September 11 through November 6. If you'd like to learn more about it, please contact me, or click here.

The next Self-Compassion Circle meets this Sunday, March 19 from 6-7:30pm at 2650 Fulton Street in San Francisco. We'll have time to check in, talk about self-compassion concepts, share some practices, and meditate together. This month we'll be continuing to focus on self-compassion for hard times, while also acknowledging the spring equinox and its balance of light and shadow. If you'd like to practice and learn about self-compassion in a welcoming, like-minded group, please join us. 


"When we know ourselves to be connected to all others, acting compassionately is simply the natural thing to do."
~ Rachel Naomi Remen



Next Meeting:
Sunday, March 19


8-Week Course
Monday evenings
Sep. 11 - Nov. 6
"Let us slow down long enough to truly notice all that is presenting itself to us as a blessing."
~ Kristi Nelson


Do you remember doing fire drills and fire safety training in elementary school? The main lesson I recall is that if your clothes catch on fire, you Stop, Drop, and Roll. When we feel stuck in struggle or self-judgment, it's like a part of us has caught on fire emotionally. Our hearts and minds become hot with suffering, and a sequence of actions just like the one we learned as kids can be very helpful in calming the flames. To practice self-compassion when you are faced with the heat of self-criticism or some other form of suffering: Stop, Drop, and Respond. This practice is also inspired by the teachings of Nonviolent Communication.

As soon as you realize that your thoughts are harsh, or that you are suffering in some way, Stop. Pause. Take three slow, conscious breaths. Note that you are suffering or that whatever is happening is really difficult in some way. You may be familiar with the first line of the Self-Compassion Break: "This is a moment of suffering." Try saying that to yourself when you "Stop."

Being aware that you are struggling, and then stopping to name what's happening is mindfulness in action. By doing this, you interrupt whatever mental habit pattern you may be stuck in, and you become more open to relating to yourself non-habitually, and with kindness.

When you stop, you are no longer fully identified with the inner critic, or with the familiar pattern of struggle. There's room for another part of you to come forward; a part that can practice self-compassion. The first step is noticing that you're suffering, and you can only do that if you stop and let your feelings become conscious.


Once you have stopped and interrupted your habitual way of struggling, there's room for your awareness to drop so that you can deepen your understanding of what's happening, what you feel and what you need. Start to drop in by identifying what you're feeling physically: Is there a tension or ache in a particular area of your body? Perhaps a tightness in your throat or chest, or a hollowness in your stomach. Maybe your arms feel tense or your hands are in tight fists.

See if there is a particular emotion that's connected to your physical tension or discomfort. Or, if you don't feel any particular physical sensation, inquire with yourself about what emotion is present right now. Is it anger? Sadness? Grief? Fear? Frustration? Disconnection? Loneliness? Shame? Get as specific as you can about what you feel. If you need some help with finding the right words to identify what you feel, try the second page of this feelings inventory.

When you suffer, you feel uncomfortable feelings. These specific feelings give you a signal that certain universal needs you have are not being met or satisfied. Some of these needs are: connection, honesty, physical well-being, play, peace, autonomy, meaning (for a fuller list of universal needs, check this needs inventory).

When you drop in to your felt experience, you recognize what you're feeling, and then that points you toward identifying what you need. The primary question of self-compassion is "What do I need right now?" or "What is needed right now?" 


Now that you have stopped, and dropped in to your experience, it's time to respond (with kindness and tenderness). Perhaps the compassionate response is a walk around the block, or a five-minute break, or a cup of tea. Maybe it's time to have a challenging conversation with someone or to set a boundary. Or it may feel right to give yourself soothing touch: a hand on your heart.

One important component of a compassionate response is acknowledging that you are not alone; that other people struggle, too. Any difficulty you might be having is part of the human experience and there are probably other people who are navigating that very thing at that very moment. Reminding yourself of this can take some of the unnecessary sting out of a difficult experience.

It's also true that sometimes we have needs that cannot be met, for whatever reason. At those times, the compassionate response is to acknowledge the unmet need, recognize how hard it is to have a need that cannot be satisfied, and soothe the pain that arises. You can compassionately respond to an unmet need by grieving it in this way.

There are infinite ways to respond with kindness and tenderness. Your main concern is listening closely to what you need, and giving that to yourself, as best you can. Sometimes you will need help, and the compassionate response is to ask for it. Other times, you will need to feel your autonomy, so the compassionate response is to do something independently. There's no perfect way to respond to your needs. It's always an experiment and your best guess, and you can try something different if it doesn't feel quite right.

"Of all the pitfalls in our paths and the tremendous delays and wanderings off the track, I want to say that they are not what they seem to be. ... all that seems like error is not error; and it all has to be done. That which seems like a false step is just the next step."
~ Agnes Martin


Such Singing in the Wild Branches
by Mary Oliver

It was spring
and I finally heard him
among the first leaves––
then I saw him clutching the limb

in an island of shade
with his red-brown feathers
all trim and neat for the new year.
First, I stood still

and thought of nothing.
Then I began to listen.
Then I was filled with gladness––
and that’s when it happened,

when I seemed to float,
to be, myself, a wing or a tree––
and I began to understand
what the bird was saying,

and the sands in the glass
for a pure white moment
while gravity sprinkled upward

like rain, rising,
and in fact
it became difficult to tell just what it was that was singing––
it was the thrush for sure, but it seemed

not a single thrush, but himself, and all his brothers,
and also the trees around them,
as well as the gliding, long-tailed clouds
in the perfect blue sky–––all of them

were singing.
And, of course, so it seemed,
so was I.
Such soft and solemn and perfect music doesn’t last

For more than a few moments.
It’s one of those magical places wise people
like to talk about.
One of the things they say about it, that is true,

is that, once you’ve been there,
you’re there forever.
Listen, everyone has a chance.
Is it spring, is it morning?

Are there trees near you,
and does your own soul need comforting?
Quick, then––open the door and fly on your heavy feet; the song
may already be drifting away.


Lea Seigen Shinraku, a San Francisco-based Marriage and Family therapist, founded the San Francisco Center for Self-Compassion in 2016. Its mission is to contribute to a more compassionate and inclusive world by fostering personal and interpersonal transformation through self-compassion-based therapy and programs for all people. To learn more, please visit

"People say, 'What is the sense of our small effort?' They cannot see that we must lay one brick at a time, take one step at a time."
~ Dorothy Day

Copyright © 2017 Lea Seigen Shinraku, MFT, All rights reserved.

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