Sunday, January 20, 2019

Tending Your Spark

by Jen Perry

This month is, of course, February and Valentine’s Day. It got me thinking about love of all kinds and in trying to sift through what I want to say about it. I was inspired by this Chinese proverb: “Keep a green bough in your heart and the singing bird will come” Talking about love is such a ginormous undertaking that quite frankly I am finding myself without words (quite inconvenient!) as I try to write this to you. Instead of pushing too hard against my writer’s block I have decided to tell you a little about my self-compassion group and give you a collection of quotes that I hope will delight and inspire you as well as links to books, exercises, and posts designed to help you keep that green bough in your heart. I find that this is especially pertinent this time of year when the trees are waking up and the sap starts to flow but we can’t see any green yet. Reaching out to the light and warmth of self-compassion can serve us well this time of year.

In my work with clients I call it tending our spark. I suppose if I were to re-write the proverb using my metaphor it would be something like “tend to the spark in your heart and the fire will light.” In the words of Jeff Foster, “Love is not something you beg for ~ it is something that radiates from within you.” Of course we don’t always feel love or loving. We can’t really control how we feel. What we can do is tend to the conditions that help love to arise within us more and more frequently. One of the best ways I know how to do this is through self-care and self-compassion.

            "The toughest thing is to love somebody who has done something mean to you. Especially when that somebody has been yourself." — From Episode 1665 of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood

In my self-compassion group and meeting with individual clients, we work on self-love, self-kindness and self-care. As Fred Rogers said, “When we love a person, we accept him or her exactly as is: the lovely with the unlovely, the strong along with the fearful, the true mixed in with the façade, and of course, the only way we can do it is by accepting ourselves that way.” It can be very, very hard to love ourselves this way so often in group we work slowly, slowly, slowly. Tending our spark and meeting ourselves right where we are. If we try to throw too much wood on a fire we can put out the spark! It is ok for this to be aspirational at first, and for as long as necessary. Sometimes the very best we can do is offer the hurting parts of ourselves and the parts we so often reject: “May I be kind to this part of myself, may I show myself compassion, may I soften to myself and this experience of human life” As one self-compassion group participant observed: “When we apply the warmth of self-compassion to our most raw emotions they soften and begin to become ever so easier to experience and be with ourselves.” One of the most generous aspects of life is that if we make an honest effort at something, no matter how small and slowly we grow into it, learn and see developments and improvements. Self-compassion isn’t an all or nothing thing. It is connection, a relationship with yourself. To quote the beloved Fred Rogers again: ”Love isn’t a state of perfect caring. It is an active noun like 'struggle.' To love someone is to strive to accept that person exactly the way he or she is, right here and now.” Of course, this includes ourselves and all parts of ourselves, even the parts we often want to reject or eliminate altogether.

Self-compassion practices can help maintain the connection and conditions that help love to burn bright in our hearts. This makes it easier to love others around us. These practices can be strengthened and learned. The self-compassion break is a wonderful exercise to use and a good place to start. Learn more about it here. [insert link:] and here. [insert link:]

If you are curious about the Self-Compassion Group please do reach out. I will be starting a new group soon that will meet online via secure video platform. I’d be delighted to talk to you about it.

Jen Perry, MSEd, MA, LPC has been a psychotherapist for 20 years. She specializes in helping highly sensitive people thrive in love, work, and parenting highly sensitive children. Jen is passionate about using mindfulness and compassion-based approaches to ameliorate human suffering. She can be reached at  or 215-292-5056. Learn more at

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