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Giving Your Heart a Place to Open

Kira Elliott Tea time

“No writing is a waste of time – no creative work where the feelings, the imagination, the intelligence must work. With every sentence you write, you have learned something. It has done you good.” ― Brenda Ueland

The birds are beginning to awaken even though it is still dark outside. In a few minutes I am going to settle on my black meditation cushion and listen to the stillness of the morning. Even though it has been a warm winter (thank you El Nino) and small buds are beginning to appear at the tips of branches, winter is still with us. The landscape is varying shades of grey and brown. Everything is flat and dormant. The furnace continues to click on and roar to life every 15 minutes or so. Yet I also hear the softness of a single mourning dove cooing up on the roof that will soon turn into multiple birds of different varieties singing for the joy of more sunlight and warmth. Paying attention to the shifts of the seasons is my morning prayer in some ways. It is how I hope—I start my days slow and pay attention.  

Hope is also cultivated when I show up to the page and my words flow with ease and grace. Expect when they don’t, because sometimes I struggle to show up. Yes, we are on the backside of winter. Yes, we are gaining more sunlight each passing day. But there is still more darkness than light. After months of darkness and limited movement outside, I feel internally like a light switch is stuck in the off position. I struggle to rouse the motivation and enthusiasm to show up for my writing and other creative projects. It takes all my energy to show up for my day job and the basics in my life.

I am hibernating and I struggle with allowing myself the space to know this is okay. I struggle with allowing myself to let go of the inner critic that tells me it is useless to show up and try to write. That tells me it is useless to write. I know from years of experience that showing up to the page and writing will grant me safe passage through this darkness. Writing reduces my suffering, it always does.

If this was happening to a good friend I would say to her, meet yourself where you are at, go gently with kindness and compassion, but show up to the page—write. When you do this you are giving your heart a place to open.

But how do we do this? How do we keep showing up and creating (no matter what that is, writing, living, painting, you name it) when anxiety is constricting our bellies so much we can’t take a deep breath? Or the fear pushes every thought or word out of our minds and we are left with foggy brain? Or the winter doldrums are weighing us down, stealing every ounce of enthusiasm?

It is hard to show up and write when the resistance and fear is so strong. When the pull to hibernate and burrow deep inside is compelling. I can say from experience it does get easier, but you have to show up with compassion and kindness for yourself and your writing or other creative work. You have to be willing to release judgement of what comes out. Instead be willing to say thank you to yourself for the courage to write. Even if all you wrote was a recap of your week or how you felt about an upcoming meeting at work. It all does matter.

If we keep showing up, our heart will show up too. It might take awhile, but it will happen.

When I am in this space I use the prompt, What I really want to say…, to help start the flow of words. You may have been offered this prompt before, as many writers use it as a tool to dig in when stuck or the writing is shallow. If you are struggling too with winter depression or the motivation to even start where you are at, try this prompt. Set a timer for 5, 10 or 20 minutes and just keep repeating, what I really want to say.

Something will shift, something will happen. It might not be brilliant. It might be whiny. It might be boring. I might be awesome. Who knows, it doesn’t really matter, the point is you are starting. You are creating space to write. You are giving a place for your heart to open.

Here is this week’s Inspiration to Open Your Heart.

Meditation 101: A Beginners Guide by Happify- I love the clarity and playfulness of this short video about meditation. This video is good for those new to meditation and those who have been meditating for years. Even though I have practiced formal daily meditation for over 8 years, I still need reminders of the basics. About once a year I generally do a basics 6 week intro to meditation course. This keeps me grounded in the fundamentals.

What Are You Doing With Your Life by Liz Gilbert- This post really resonated with me. It helped me to gain clarity and acceptance about my hobbies, my job, my career and my vocation. I have a habit of trying to make everything I do fit into each one of these categories and well, that makes for a very stressful, cluttered and overstuffed life. If you haven’t read this yet, read it. Also, low and behold Liz Gilbert is coming to the Detroit area! I got my ticket and if you live in the Detroit area I would love to meet you there. Find more information HERE.

In Praise of Slowness by Carl Honore- So if you have been reading my blog for any amount of time you know how much I struggle with slowing down. I have to say after watching this I realize that over the last two years, I have slowed down a lot. I still tend to over fill my life with doing but I am making significant progress.

What Can You Do to Get Through a Crap Week? by Dr. Mike Evans-  I love, love, love this video. Taking care of ourselves doesn’t have to be complicated. It really is basic. I sometimes feel like a broken record when I talk about self-care because I am not doing anything inventive but it is hard to show up for the basics sometimes, it seems like there should be more to do. So get enough sleep, eat wholesome food, move your body and do something you enjoy.

What Cats Are Really Thinking by Talking Animals- In my efforts to cultivate more joy this year, I am endeavoring to watch more cat, baby and other fun videos. I was laughing so much at this. It is good to intentionally cultivate well being.

Finally, I am excited for Pauline Agnew 4 week Pathways to Abstraction painting class this March. I have always wanted to take one of her classes but have always told myself I didn’t have the time or I was taking too many other classes. Anyone else thinking about taking this class? Let me know. It is always better to have a partner or two when taking a class, even an online one. (I am not an affiliate. I love her work and I have heard really good things about her.)

P.S. You might also like Personal Writing is Making My Heart Hum, Inspiration to Open Your Writing, or Compassionate Writing Practice

I invite you to sign up for my mailing list to get monthly Open Hearted letters (plus many extras like secret videos!) + access to my Open Hearted Writing mini ecourse. Sign up HERE!

 

1

Cultivating Enough

Kira Elliott Cultivating Enough

Sufficiency isn’t two steps up from poverty or one step short of abundance. It isn’t a measure of barely enough or more than enough. Sufficiency isn’t an amount at all. It is an experience, a context we generate, a declaration, a knowing that there is enough, and that we are enough.” -Brene Brown

I don’t know about you but I struggle with chronic feelings of not good enough, that no matter how much I do or achieve in life, I still feel not good enough. I feel like I need to do, or it was a fluke that I succeed at something. Which of course leads me to believe that I have to do more and more, perfection is the only goal or else I am not good enough. Or as Brene Brown says, “I am what I accomplish and how well I accomplish it. Please. Perform. Perfect.” This Please. Perform. Perfect. mindset feeds feelings of not good enough.

So how can we let go of the Please. Perform. Perfect habit or mindset. How do we know  enough?

For myself, this happens by many small decisions that help me slow down and savor, and cultivate enough in my life.

Like deciding that 10 to 15 minutes daily yoga practice instead of 1 to 1.5 hours five days week is enough.

Or deciding that my weekend to do lists must fit on an small index card instead of a letter-size piece of paper.

Or deciding blogging once a week instead of 3 times a week is enough.

or deciding that spending more time outside more instead of staying at my computer working is enough.

Or deciding to clean out one draw/cupboard/closet a week instead of cleaning out the whole house in a weekend is enough.

Or deciding to only teach one writing workshop at a time instead of pushing myself to teach 3 or 4 at a time is enough.

Or deciding that 80% effort really is enough, more than enough, for most of my tasks in life.

I think this also happens by awareness of areas in our life where the Please. Perform. Perfect mindset is operating, consciously or unconsciously. When we can see it, we can choose let go of frantic doing to prove our worth and give ourselves permission to do enough.

We also need to see how we already are treating ourselves with compassion and respect, knowing we are enough.

Join me for #cultivatingenough, a free daily photo challenge

Cultivating Enough is about building this awareness, compassion and respect for ourselves. Through daily photo prompts we will explore how we are enough and life is enough.

It is about feeling good enough, knowing we do enough and life is enough. 

Remember this is about enough, so join in as much or as little as you like. There are no rules. There is no perfection, please or perform here. Just an opportunity to connect with other women who also struggle with feelings of not good enough.

As there are no rules participating is easy.  Simply take a photo of your interpretation of that day’s prompt or not, and post it on Instagram with #cultivatingenough. If you’d like to tag me too, I’m @kiraelli.

– Use your phone or a camera

– Join in whenever you like during the month

– Post a picture every day or some days

– Share it on Instagram, or keep it to yourself

Also, you can sign up for daily emails with the photo prompts and additional writing and/or other creative expression questions HERE. I know I find it so much easier to remember the prompt if I get an email, otherwise I am hunting all over the internet looking for the prompt.

2016 Cultivating Enough with Kira ElliottI do hope you will join me and others as we cultivate enough.

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Simple Awareness Breaks Up Anxiety

Kira Elliott Awareness breaks anxiety

Peace is within oneself to be found in the same place as agitation and suffering. It is not found in a forest or on a hilltop, nor is it given by a teacher. Where you experience suffering, you can also find freedom from suffering. Trying to run away from suffering is actually to run toward it.” Ajahn Chah

I woke in the darkness this morning. Laying in bed under quilts and comforters, I listened to rain trickle in the gutters. The gutters I neglected to clean out after the maple dropped it’s final golden leaves in mid-November. I closed my eyes and listened to the rain splattering on back patio, the patio with growing moss and lichen from years of neglect. The patio I meant to power wash last July but never got around to.

I laid there and felt the stillness, that moment when my dreams still lingered on the edge of my perceptions and the fullness of my bladder called for relief. I felt  heavy and soft. Then my mind started scanning for something to hold on it. What day was it? What did I have to get done? What where my responsibilities? What time is it? What did I do yesterday? I felt my muscles tense a bit and as if on cue, I felt a small knot of anxiety start to pulsate in my belly. My constant companion since I can remember—anxiety.

It is strange how my mind, without my prompting, jumps to doing, scanning, planning—thinking. Or maybe it is not so strange, but rather is just the nature of my mind, of all minds. We think.

Listening to the audio recording of Wild Mind: Living the Writers Life by Natalie Goldberg last week on my commute, she said thinking is similar to an involuntary body process, like the beating of our heart, the regeneration of our cells, the production of hormones. We don’t think, heart beat slower, or I need to create new blood cells. (I wish I could tell my body how much hormones to create, I think my life would be better.) No, these process just happen because we are alive. The same is with our mind, it is always thinking. It is said a typical mind thinks over 50,000 to 70,000 thoughts a day. We don’t make this happen, it just happens.

I used to believe I had to stop my thinking, be at war with the natural process of my human condition (I also tried this with my hormones but that is another story). Yet this only caused more anxiety and increased feelings of failure. The very things I was trying to release. It was not until I finally learned how to sit on my black meditation cushion each morning that I stopped, or at least significantly reduced, my futile efforts to stop thinking. I finally gave up on the idea of some future bliss where I stopped thinking and I simply floated in effortless joy and anxiety never gripped my body, rattling and shaking the very core of me.

From years of daily Vipassana meditation practice, I have a visceral understanding of the direct link of my thoughts to my anxiety. I can sit on my cushion in the cold early morning hours and feel my belly constrict when I start to think about the gutters filled with fall leaves or the growing moss on the back patio. I feel a certain disconnection or numbness in my limbs and my breath becomes shallow when my mind wanders off and I am lost in some plan, idea or worse, a projected confrontation or problem.

The more discursive my thinking, I feel higher levels of anxiety.  For me the trick is to become aware of my thinking, not stop it or eradicate it. I do this by noting that I am thinking and return back to focusing on my breath. Some days I find it very difficult to find my way back to my breath. My mind grabs hold of my thoughts and burrows deep into them. My mind wants to circle and circle around them, trying to solve a problem or plan my next steps. The thinking triggers my anxiety, which in turn makes it feel imperative that I stay with with the thinking or else major danger will occur.

Some days it takes thousands of moments of great courage to let go of the grip of thinking and return to my breath. Other days, it feels effortless. These are the days the distractions of my thinking are not as compelling and the detours from my breath are shorter. I have learned to not judge the differences in my days but rather to note the difference—to simply be aware. Not fix, not change, not push or do, just be aware.

I will be honest, I am not sure why simple awareness of my thoughts, feelings and body sensations helps me manage my anxiety levels. I just know it does. It doesn’t remove the anxiety but it does show me that anxiety, like my thinking, is ever changing and never permanent, even though sometimes it does feel that way. This simple awareness breaks up anxiety so it doesn’t have control over my life.

Every time I sit on my meditation cushion with my back erect, my hands resting softly on the top of my thighs and my eyes gently closed, I experience how everything changes and moves. How my power is in my awareness. How there is no fight, just me sitting, breathing, thinking, feeling, and returning to my breath over and over.

Here is this week’s Inspiration to Open Your Heart

Infinity by Anna Clark- Now here is an essay about the new year that I can settle into. A thoughtful and detailed essay about how infinity and boundlessness works in our lives, and I dare say, it is when we can embrace these unknowns that our suffering can diminish. A really good read.

Dark Side of the Lens– {video} by Astray Films- This is a breathtaking video of surfing off the western coast of Ireland. If you have ever been to the Cliffs of Moher, you need to watch this. So amazing.

Brene Brown on Joy and Gratitude {video}- I continue to contemplate joy and the cultivation of it. Sometimes I feel like I am too cynical about the notion of gratitude lists. I think this is because I used to try this as a way of not feeling my pain. I would feel painful feelings and frantically try to list the good of the situation. I think there has to be balance. I need to feel the pain and it is okay to feel the gratitude too.

Starting Where You Are At {video} by Gil Fronsdal- Gil is one of my favorite teachers and I have learned so much over the last 8 years listening to his Dharma talks. In this short video, he discusses how awareness of where we are at, no matter where that is, is where we start. When I am frantic listening to his calm loving wisdom always grounds me and reminds of what is important.

How to Write Descriptively {video} by Nalo Hopkinson- I love this video about descriptive writing. It talks about why details matter so much and how they evoke emotion. While they are speaking directly about fiction, in my mind this is advice is for all writing, as it engages the reader. 

P.S. You might also like Wisdom Map, It Really is My Choice, Classic Suffering

I invite you to sign up for my mailing list to get monthly Open Hearted letters (plus many extras like secret videos!) + access to my Open Hearted Writing mini ecourse. Sign up HERE!
 

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Joy Unhooks the Race for Accomplishment

Kira Elliott Joy

Knowing how you actually want to feel is the most potent form of clarity that you can have.” Danielle LaPorte

Winter has set in. It is finally cold, dreary and gray in Detroit after one of the warmest Decembers on record. A bayberry candle is lit on my desk flicking light onto stacks of notebooks, pens and sticky notes piled around my keyboard. Today is the last day of what I call my winter break. I try to take a full week, or longer, off twice a year to do nothing—sleep, wander, putter, indulge in my curiosities as they arise. These weeks are spaces of unscheduled time where I try to let go of goals, doing, pushing and pursuing. I know from experience that this wandering time will rejuvenate and replenish me for the coming winter months when sunlight is in short supply, freezing weather makes even the most mundane tasks difficult and all I want to do is crawl under the covers and hide.

This nothing time is important, vital to my mental health and do I dare say my physical health. I will be honest, I struggle mightily with this space. Over the last week I still woke each day with a list of things I wanted to accomplish that day. It is hard to let go of planning, doing, accomplishing.

There is nothing wrong with accomplishing but I have a habit of hooking my worth on to it and therefore, I strive to the point of burnout. When accomplishing is hooked to my self-worth, it feels like it is a matter of life or death if I don’t succeed. And that is not a belief, conscious or unconscious, that is based in reality or is healthy for me. I know this and I still get hooked because it feels safe and known.

All of which brings to the New Year and the notions of resolutions and what we want to accomplish this year. (This is where I start to hear the robot from Lost in Space in my head panicking and saying, “Danger Will Robinson, danger” while flapping his arms all over the place). As I have written about before  goals and me don’t mix well. They are the first sip of a poisonous elixir sanctioned by our culture that hooks me into the race to accomplish.

Instead of goals or resolutions, I set my Core Desire Feelings based on Danielle Laporte work. These are a set of intentions of how I want to feel over the next year. As I move throughout the year, I check in to see if what I am doing is helping to cultivate my Core Desire Feelings or not. This practice is safe and nourishing for me. It does not trigger my unhealthy relationship to doing and accomplishing. It doesn’t hook me.

This year my Core Desire Feelings are Creative, Peaceful, Authentic, Enough and Joy.

Also, I selected a word for 2016— Joy. I hate to admit it but I stumble with joy. It is uncomfortable and I don’t trust it. Yet, it is joy that opens my heart and makes it sing ( I am speaking here of a deep abiding joy, not a fleeting, oh I got a new pair of silver earrings kind of joy). When I feel joy, my other Core Desire Feelings seem to float effortlessly into my life. Joy unhooks the race for accomplishment.

So the last 12 days of doing nothing, resting and wandering have filled my heart with joy. Letting go of accomplishing or doing as a measure of my worth is a foundation to cultivating joy. I am sure I will uncover other ways to cultivate joy this year but for now let me rest on this last day of my winter break.

Here is this Week’s Inspiration to Open Your Heart

Another New Year by Natalie Goldberg- This is a beautiful meditative essay about death, living and beauty. I love her writing so much. Of the many lines that went straight to my heart, this one stands out In the past my most reliable elixir had been to continue under all circumstances. But now the biting thought: someday no circumstances will exist.”

The Ultimate New Year’s Resolution by Janice Macleod- I am not one for resolutions but rather intentions and I love the intention to write in your journal every day. I love this fresh, let go of the rules, approach to journal writing. I am a fan of morning pages as I have been writing them for over 20 years and I was a single mother for much of that time, which meant my only alone time was if I woke up before Max, so that was 5 am writing time. That is my time still, I think it is etched in my brain. Remember this writing thing can be easy. We do enough.

Tips for Taking In The Good– a video interview of Rick Hanson- I am a fan of Rick Hanson’s work. He is a gentle teacher and lord knows I need to rewire my brain. The idea of leaning into the good resonates deeply with me.

2016 Reading Challenge by Anne at Modern Mr. Darcy- Here is a doable reading challenge for 2016. 12 books, in 12 different categories, in 12 months. Totally doable—and I am all about doable.

Speaking of reading and books, Science Has Great News for People Who Read Actual Books by Rachel Grate- Read those books people, real actual books you hold in your hands. It is good and healthy for you. As someone who has way too many books (but really can you have too many???), this post makes me feel good.

Speaking of feeling good, Mike the Hamster Eating a Carrot– Watching this is leaning into the good. Holy crap this so damn cute and warms my heart. Every time I watch it, (and I have watched and shared it often) I smile and feel all of my muscles relax. This year, I am going to watch more cat, animal and other joyful videos simply because they make me feel good.

Finally, Early Bird Pricing for Writing to Open Your Heart ends Wednesday January 6th at 12 am PST (leaving it open for all you West coast folks). I would love to write with you and share the magic of Amherst Writers and Artist method with you. You can find more information HERE. We start January 13th. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask here.

I invite you to sign up for my mailing list to get monthly Open Hearted Letters (plus many extras like secret videos!) + access to my Open Hearted Writing mini ecourse. Sign up HERE!  

5

Favorite Blog Posts of 2015

Kira Elliott Connection

We need to bridge our sense of loneliness and disconnection with a sense of community and continuity even if we must manufacture it from our time on the Web and our use of calling cards to connect long distance. We must “log on” somewhere, and if it is only in cyberspace, that is still far better than nowhere at all.” ― Julia Cameron, God is No Laughing Matter

An ice storm is pushing in from the southwest and the wind is picking up, rattling the gutters and downspout on the house. My fingertips are cold as I write, stopping every few minutes to hold a cup of hot green tea. I am off work this week and I am moving slow.

I am gifting myself with unscheduled days. Time to watch a candle flicker. Time to lay under a stack of quilts and read a book for fun and delight. Time to lay on the bed in the dim light of a gray afternoon and pet my cat Lupe, who is curled into herself with her paw covering her face to keep warm. Time to just do nothing.

This time off has also given me space to review what I have written over the last year on my blog. I find it interesting that every year a certain theme arises from my writing. I don’t  plan these road maps to my heart. These themes are what I am processing in my daily life. The first year I blogged I wrote about grief and my relationship to the loss of my son’s father. I grappled with how on earth to keep living when I felt so heavy and dead inside. The second year was about slowing down and the realization that I was addicted to doing and overworking. This year I was surprised to see that my emerging theme is not only a continuation on slowing down but exploring the root of over doing—the multiple ways I don’t feel good enough.

I don’t plan my blog posts. I sit down and start with what is in front of me—the weather, how I feel in my body, what is heavy in my mind or heart. I continually ask myself, what is it I really want to say? Is this truthful? And most importantly, I ask myself, how is this helpful to others?

I always feel a bit startled, or like I stumbled on a new discovery each time a I write a blog post, even though I seem to be writing about the same topic over and over again. I think this is because each time I write I look at the topic or feelings from a different perspective, sometimes only a slight change in perspective but still a change.

I am beyond thankful for others who write or create other work that expresses and explores the interior of their lives. I am able to know I am not alone and celebrate the strength of our hearts. Writing my blog is my way of saying thank you for showing up and here is my gift to you. I often think of my blog posts as corresponding letters to other women on the path to living an open-hearted life. They are like flaming red flares shot high up in the air to let others know they are not alone, and to be honest, to let me know I am not alone.

All I can say is thank god for the internet. I am not sure where I would be without the connections it has afforded me. I am so thankful for the internet and the ability to find my kindreds.

Here are some of my favorite blog posts of 2015

My Essential Wild Self

Grief is Hard Work

Gifts Beyond My Control

Outwitting Not Good Enough

If My Body Could Speak

Hungry Ghosts of Not Good Enough

Play is a Foreign Land 

Here is this week’s Inspiration to Open Your Heart

One of the number one things I hear from readers is they want to write more, they know how nurturing it feels to give themselves that space yet life demands keep invading.

Nourishing the Self By Finding the Time to Write by Sarah Hackley- Here is a gentle post about finding and giving ourselves the time and space to write with compassion and grace.

The Art of Submission, Submitting to the Work by Emily Lackey- I love love love this post. It questions the idea of the being a “real” writer at the “real writers table”. Is my writing only worthwhile if I publish in certain literary magazines? I think not.

Honor Your Reality by Gabriela Pereira- Here is a wonderful Podcast episode of DIY MFA to remind us to let go of the shoulds and false notions of how real writers work. I know for myself, I only get work done when I accept that I can write maybe a half hour a day most days a week. I have a full busy life and that life feeds my writing. The trick for me is letting go of the idea I have show up between 5 am and 8 am every day or else. What is your reality?

An Open Letter to Friends and Family: I Am Surviving by Shawna Ayoub Ainslie- If you struggle with anxiety, or know someone who struggles with anxiety, read this now. This is a good description of what it feels like to live with chronic anxiety. 

Boredom Can Be Beautiful by Sandra Pawula- Once again Sandra beautifully explores how slowing down, doing less is healing and healthy. Do you feel terrorized by boredom? Read this.

Registration for Writing to Open Your Heart is open. If you are looking to start the New Year writing with a wonderful group of women, go check it out. Early Bird pricing is only $200 for the 8 week workshop.

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