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Hi Community,

I hope 2016 has been kind to you so far. There's been a certain amount of collective loss in the last couple of weeks, and it feels like a bittersweet start to the year. Beginnings and endings, all at once.

January also tends to be the season of self-improvement, and I recently wrote a blog post with this in mind. It's about how self-expression is a form of self-compassion. This piece was inspired by David Bowie, and the way that I perceive him ~ up til the end and beyond, really ~ as a being who was steadfastly himself and whose life was a unique expression of his vision. His music and life did not involve a desire for achieving the sort of "normal ideal" that's often bound up in self-improvement plans. I've gotten a good amount of positive feedback on this one, and I hope it's supportive to you.

This month's tool is called Antidotes to Self-Improvement (looks like there's a theme here!). It's tempting to buy in to the idea that you are "broken" and need to be "fixed" in order to be worthy of love and connection. However subtly or blatantly this idea is communicated in mainstream culture, it is simply not true. I'm offering these antidotes to help make it easier for us all to remember. 

Today we honor another person who lived in a radical way and did not conform to societal expectations: Dr. 
Martin Luther King, Jr. While it is true that many things have changed since Dr. King's time, in the last couple of years, the truth about ongoing racial tension in the U.S. has become impossible to deny. While acknowledging this truth may be painful and difficult, it's also a necessary and self-compassionate act. When we look at a difficult truth and move toward accepting it in ourselves (and our culture), we embody self-compassion. From this place of honesty and acceptance, we can begin to engage with real change. This is how I'm choosing to mark this day and honor Dr. King.

As I mentioned in December's newsletter,
 I'm offering the Mindful Self-Compassion course again in February in San Francisco. There will be one class that's open to everyone on Monday nights, February 22-April 11, 7-9:30pm. I'll also offer a class for therapists and healing professionals, which meets on Thursday mornings, 9:30am-noon, February 4-March 24. Registration is officially open, , so if you would like to reserve a place, please get in touch. I'd also appreciate it if you would pass this information on to anyone who might be interested. 19 CEUs are available for both classes.

The next Self-Compassion Circle meets next Monday, January 25, from 7:30-9pm at Cultural Integration Fellowship in San Francisco. We'll share a check-in, group discussion, meditation and self-compassion practices. It is a very welcoming group, with a mix of newcomers and regulars.
If you would like some support in deepening your self-compassion practice, please join us.

All my best,
~ January 2016 Newsletter ~
Antidotes to Self-Improvement
At this time of year, you may be feeling this strange sensation, a kind of pressure to be a new-and-improved version of yourself. It's a January tradition, even if it's subtly expressed, to want a fresh start. And it can feel freeing to recognize the possibilities that seem to newly be waiting for us when a new year begins. 

However, sometimes the impulse for a fresh start is also an abandonment of who we are now, as if last year's self was somehow deficient, and the new year self has the opportunity to finally "fix" all the things that are "broken." As you may already know, this mindset is usually not helpful because it perpetuates the inner critic's perspective; the idea that there's something wrong with you and that you need to fix it in order to be ok or to be loved. 

As an alternative and antidote to any pressure you may feel toward self-improvement, you can experiment with appreciating what is already a part of you and your life right now. There are several ways to do that.

Remember Your Resources
At the beginning of many groups and workshops, I encourage attendees to do remember the beings in their life that are or have been supportive. You can do this any time you need to be reminded of who nourishes you. Just take a moment to consider the people you know personally, such as friends, family, teachers and mentors, who inspire and encourage you. This could be people you know through their work or art, such as activists, artists, writers, musicians, spiritual figures or anyone whose story has helped you feel a sense of belonging. You might think about animals ~ pets or particular animals that you feel an affinity for.

Compassionate Body Scan Meditation
This meditation comes from the Mindful Self-Compassion course, and you can listen to a guided version here. If you'd like to do it on your own, you'll want to find a comfortable position; you may even want to lie down. The main intention here is to bring warm attention and appreciation to each part of your body, beginning at the toes of your left foot.

It's really easy to forget how powerful our bodies are ~ all the steps that our feet have taken, all the words that our mouths have spoken, all the music that our ears have allowed us to hear. Not to mention all the processes of breathing, digestion and circulation that go on 24 hours a day. It's quite amazing when you take a moment to recognize all our bodies do, sometimes without any effort on our part whatsoever.

If any judgments or difficult feelings arise about certain parts of your body, you can experiment with placing your hand there as an expression of your intention to be kind, even if you feel like you don't know how. If an area is too painful to stay with, you can move on to another part, so that the experience can be as easeful as possible.

Sense and Savor Walk
This is another practice from MSC, and it's one of the most universally loved practices I teach. It's part of the half-day retreat, and the instruction is to engage all of your senses and allow yourself to notice all the things that you like. You can do this for five minutes or 15 minutes, or more. It's important to take your time and let yourself fully absorb and really experience each of the things that engages your senses. 

See how fully you can take in each beautiful thing. And what "beautiful" is, is totally up to you. I find that my eye is often drawn to things that are not conventionally beautiful ~ a leaf that an insect has tatted into a kind of lace, for example. 

Also, let yourself really take in and stay with each thing; perhaps feeling its texture and temperature. For this time, there's nothing else you need to do except experience the things that delight your senses and attention. There's nothing to think or strategize about; no way to lose. 

I hope these three practices help you come back to your present-moment experience and remember all that it offers you. It's so easy to forget and to believe that we have to become someone else in order to get what we need.
Upcoming Events
self-compassion circle
Monthly Meditation Group
Next Meeting: Jan. 25
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Mindful Self-Compassion
8-week Course
for Therapists

Thursdays, 9:30am-noon

Feb. 4-March 24 
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Mindful Self-Compassion 8-week Course
Mondays, 7-9:30pm
Feb. 22-April 11
Recent Writing
david bowie in black jumpsuit
Self-Expression vs.
Speaking of Self-Compassion...
"No snowflake ever falls in the wrong place." 
~ Zen proverb
"What we are doing here is so important, we better not take it too seriously." 
~ Suzuki Roshi
"There is a way that nature speaks, that
land speaks. Most of
the time we are simply not patient enough, quiet enough, to pay attention to the story."
~ Linda Hogan
"Compassion is the only key I ever found which fits everyone." 
~ Anais Nin 
"Have no fear of perfection, you'll
never reach it."
~ Salvador Dali
"Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend." 
~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

Lines for Winter
by Mark Strand

Tell yourself
as it gets cold and gray falls from the air
that you will go on
walking, hearing
the same tune no matter where
you find yourself ~
inside the dome of dark
or under the cracking white
of the moon's gaze in a valley of snow.
Tonight as it gets cold
tell yourself
what you know which is nothing
but the tune your bones play
as you keep going. And you will be able
for once to lie down under the small fire
of winter stars.
And if it happens that you cannot

go on or turn back
and you find yourself
where you will be at the end,
tell yourself
in that final flowing of cold through your limbs
that you love what you are.

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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