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Dear Community,

I hope you are well and discovering ways to find equilibrium during these challenging and uncertain times. It's not easy! I've talked with many people who want to stay informed and up-to-date on what's happening, but also tend to feel overwhelmed by the chaotic and troubling nature of things. I have found self-compassion to be very helpful at this time.

This month's practice is the Self-Compassion Toolkit, Volume 2, a follow-up to November's Self-Compassion Toolkit. It you missed that newsletter, click here to check it out. Volume 2 offers simple ways to help you manage anxiety and resource yourself, so that you have the presence and energy to think clearly and to act responsively, rather than reactively. Each practice incorporates the core elements of self-compassion: mindfulness, common humanity, and kindness. It can be tempting to gorge on news, wanting to know the latest developments, or maybe hoping that you will find out that some relieving event has occurred. However, this is a surefire way to burn out. We need self-compassion so that we can sustain ourselves during challenging times. I use all of these tools myself, and I share them regularly with others; I hope you find them supportive in whatever you are navigating right now.

There are a few spots left in the next round of the 8-week Mindful Self-Compassion course, but it's filling fast. If you've been considering taking (or re-taking) it, I encourage you to contact me soon. I have found the course to be transformative for myself and my students, and I believe that these skills are going to be very useful in the months and years to come. The course runs from February 27 through April 17. If you'd like to learn more about it, please contact me, or click here.

The Self-Compassion Circle meets tonight, Monday, January 30 from 7:30-9pm at 2650 Fulton Street in San Francisco. It will be our first meeting of the year, and we'll talk about how to practice self-compassion during times of overwhelm and difficulty. If you'd like to practice and learn about self-compassion in a welcoming, like-minded group, you are warmly invited to attend. 

Wishing you well,

p.s. If you have received my newsletters before, you will notice that the design has been updated so that it includes the San Francisco Center for Self-Compassion, which I founded last year. I hope you enjoy the new look! 

"Kindness and compassion toward all living things is the mark of a civilized society."
~ Cesar Chavez



Next Meeting:
Monday, January 30


8-Week Course
Monday evenings
Feb. 27-April 17
"Take chances. Make mistakes. That's how you grow. Pain nourishes your courage. You have to fail in order to be brave. You can't be brave if you've only had wonderful things happen to you." 
~ Mary Tyler Moore




Whenever you feel overwhelmed, it's likely that you also feel alone and disconnected from the larger whole that you belong to. Some people think of this larger whole as God, for others it's Buddha nature, Higher Power, Allah, Spirit, Soul, the Universe, Nature, life itself, or something else. However you understand or relate to the larger whole, reminding yourself of it and taking refuge in it can be deeply resourcing and calming.

How you do this is up to you. Perhaps you meditate, reflect, contemplate or pray. Or maybe you take a walk in the woods or the park, or go surfing or golfing. You may also feel more connected when you spend time with friends, family or like-minded others. Perhaps just looking up at the sky reminds you. Experiment and see how you can "plug in" to the larger whole and remember that you are not alone; that a bigger container is holding you and all that's happening.


When the outside world feels chaotic, it's important to have some aspect of your life that's consistent and simple. Developing a daily practice for mind, body and spirit can give you the continuity and structure that help calm your nervous system. This is powerful because it demonstrates and communicates that you have compassionate authority within yourself and that you take your commitments to yourself seriously. No matter what's happening, you can commit to yourself and your practice each day. It's ok if your practice is just five or ten minutes ~ what's most important is that you have consistency; that you do it daily.

The practice itself can be whatever feels right to you. It might be a period of meditation, contemplation, prayer, yoga, or journaling/writing. It might be a walk or a run. Whatever practice you choose, as you begin, take three breaths ~ one for body, one for mind, and one for spirit. Remind yourself that through daily practice, you are bringing your awareness and commitment to these dimensions of yourself and your experience.


In challenging times, the truth can become slippery. When that happens, it's natural to feel anxious and disoriented. When you feel this way, experiment with reconnecting with what is true in that moment. If you're in a place where you feel comfortable closing your eyes, that can be helpful. Take three deep breaths and name one true thing. Just see what comes to mind when you reflect on what is true in this moment. Try to stick with one thing; the truest thing. Whatever you identify, whatever comes to mind is right. Even if it feels minor or silly, it still counts. When you have identified your one true thing in this moment, try slowly repeating it to yourself several times, over and over. It might be something mundane, like: "My hands are cold." Or something joyful like, "I like raspberries." Or something more sobering, like: "I feel very afraid." By doing this, you are honoring the moment as it is, and you are reminding yourself that you always have access to the truth of your direct experience.


At times of overwhelm, it's easy to forget that there are elements of both light and shadow in every situation. Neuroscience has revealed that our brains have a survival-based negativity bias, which means that they are prone to being "velcro for negative experiences and teflon for positive experiences," as Dr. Rick Hanson wrote in his book Buddha's Brain. This means that we need to consciously relate to ourselves in ways that correct for this negativity bias.

What does this look like? Fred Rogers once said, "When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, 'Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.'" In a way, Mr. Rogers' mother was encouraging him to hold the scary thing in one hand and the helpers in the other hand; the shadow and the light.

We can do this, too. It's not a way to block out the scary/negative thing and pretend that it isn't frightening or troubling, rather it is a way to come into right relationship with it; to correct for the negativity bias. I find that actually using your hands to visualize the light and shadow is helpful. If you are feeling afraid or troubled by a challenging situation, try extending both hands in front of you, palms up. You can rest them on your lap, if that's comfortable.

Take a few deep breaths. Look at one hand, and consider whatever is troubling or scary. You might have the sense of feeling the weight of it in some way. Now, look to the other hand, and let that hand hold whatever is not scary or challenging in this moment; whatever feels nourishing or encouraging. This might be something that you observe in your immediate environment, such as sunlight filtering through a treetop. Or, it might be more like what Mr. Rogers' mother spoke about: the helpers, folks who are offering their energy and attention to being of service to others. Notice how you feel as you hold both aspects of this experience at the same time, letting it register that both are true.

"Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity."  
~ Pema Chödrön


won't you celebrate with me
by Lucille Clifton

won't you celebrate with me
what i have shaped into
a kind of life? i had no model.
born in babylon
both nonwhite and woman
what did i see to be except myself?
i made it up
here on this bridge between
starshine and clay,
my one hand holding tight
my other hand; come celebrate
with me that everyday
something has tried to kill me
and has failed.


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 www.sfcenterforselfcompassion.com

"You do not need to know precisely what is happening, or exactly where it is all going. What you need is to recognize the possibilities and challenges offered by the present moment, and to embrace them with courage, faith and hope." ~ Thomas Merton

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

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