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My Essential Wild Self

Kira Elliott Essential Wild Self

 

“The doors to the world of the wild Self are few but precious. If you have a deep scar, that is a door, if you have an old, old story, that is a door. If you love the sky and the water so much you almost cannot bear it, that is a door. If you yearn for a deeper life, a full life, a sane life, that is a door.” ― Clarissa Pinkola Estés

 

My wild self went missing a few years ago. Ok, who am I kidding, my wild self was kicked, pushed and screamed at until it went underground when I was a little girl around 3 or 4 years old. It stayed underground and behind locked doors because the world I grew up in was not safe for my wild self.

Growing up my wildness shined when I was playing alone or with my imaginary friends. I used to spend hours as a child creating magical kingdoms for my barbies out of sticks, leaves and dried grass. I used to sail away to far off lands like Turkey or China on dry patchy grass in the backyard in a boat I made of a cracked blue plastic wading pool I found in the dumpster the night before trash day. I used to wake early and color in the dim morning light picture after picture of gardens, fairies, dinosaurs and plants from other planets that ate hamburgers. My wild self has always lived behind the door of my creativity.

The wildness of my imagination was my solace and connection to something bigger than me. It was my essential self.

However, I quickly learned that this quirky, smart, curious and radiant self was some how not what my mother, my father, my teachers or even the other kids at school liked. Hell, it was more than they didn’t like my wild self, they detested it and did everything they could to stamp it out. These efforts to tame my wild self sowed the seeds of not good enough deeply into my growing cells and my young mind.

Over the years these seeds of feeling not good enough have become so deeply rooted that it is hard to tell where the message is coming from any more. Is it me? My past? My family? My culture? As a 44-year-old woman I recognize that I am my own worst enemy as I have internalized this hatred of my essential wild self.

This I know, it was them hating me but then it became me hating me. Sure people in my life and my culture still try to keep me in line but I do a great job of beating myself up—yelling and kicking my essential wild self into submission.

I do this when I resist the impulse run outside in the early morning and feel the wet dewy grass on my bare feet when I open the blinds to see the golden morning light. Or I tell myself I have to get ready for work, there is no time to read a Mary Oliver poem out loud. Or I tell myself to I don’t have time to pause and take a picture of the cloud floating just so in the sky when walking into the office. Or I don’t sing to myself while walking down the aisles of the grocery store. I know how to be good, right and appropriate in hopes of being good enough.

I have been a good girl. I have suited up and shown up, been brilliant and giving. I graduated college summa cum laude while going to school full-time, raising my special needs son and working almost full-time. I have overworked for bosses who no matter how much I do or how well I do it, will always want more and more. I have put my family first and myself last my entire life. I have pulled myself out of poverty and given my son stability. Despite all of my achievement and doing, my efforts never feel good enough, it seems there is always more and more wanted from me.

So now what? I will be honest, it is not like this is breaking news for me. I know this struggle well.

It is an everyday challenge to muster the courage to show up and create an environment for my essential wild self to shine, even if only a small spark. I know I thrive when there is space for this essential wild self in my life. Starting this blog has helped. Teaching other women how to connect with their hearts through creative writing workshops helps. Writing and drawing my heart stories helps. Letting the man I love see the vulnerable underbelly of my hurts and fears helps. These all help to open that door I locked so long ago.

But I want more space and room in my life for my essential wild self to shine. Hell, I want it to bloom and flourish, grow into a big tangled mass of fresh green growth and burst open that door where I hid it as a child.

I know that my job now as a middle-aged woman is to reclaim my wildness. To allow myself to spread wide and laugh deep. To have space in my life to wander in my studio or write poems that might not make sense to others. It is time to embrace mistakes and oh yes carry a little extra weight around my middle. To allow myself to do something just because I feel an urge and not for some marketable reason.

It is time for me to sing loudly in all areas of my life not just in the shower or while driving down the interstate at 80 miles an hour with the windows down. It is time for me to risk being seen not only to people in my life but more importantly, to myself. I am no longer a small child, ignored and forgotten expect when my mother hated herself so much she needed to yell at someone else.

It is time for me to honor my essential wild self with the same compassion and loving kindness I strive to give to the world. If I really want to be good enough then this is what I need to do.

The hard part is, it is good enough for me but not what I have been taught will make me good enough for others. For me this self-compassion and loving kindness is the hardest thing to do.

I am trying a little every day. So far so good—that door is opening inch by inch.

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

Playing with Buddha by Ira Sukrungruang – Love, love, love this essay. It is a well written and engaging personal essay about growing up with imaginary friends but more so it is about seeking connection to something larger than ourselves. It also is about embracing our essential wild self.

Want to Be Happy At Work? Care Less About It by Kelly O’Laughlin- As I wrote about last week, I am tend to be a 120% giver with almost everything I do. I can feel the anxiety rising just thinking about only giving 80%. I have been told by wise smart women that my 80% is probably others 100%. Plus over giving drains me so I can’t embrace my essential wild self.

Lost and Found Photographs by Michael Joseph- Mr. Joseph’s photographs are haunting and tell a story of travelers in America, many of whom I would argue have not lost their wild selves. I don’t think we need to become travelers to embrace our essential wild self.

Abstract Artist Dianna Wooley- Dianna works in encaustic and and wrote this post as part of Deb Smouse’s Summer Love Notes. Her work reminds me of my own abstract painting and drawing which has been calling me again.

Achieve More By Doing Less by Christine Carter- Here is a simple easy to read way to see the myths we often live by, the truths, and what I like best, the turnarounds to living the myths of doing more.

Detroit’s Foreclosure Meltdown– I couldn’t help but share this series of articles by the Detroit News digging into the foreclosure crisis in Detroit. I found myself spending hours reading it on Saturday morning. It is stunning and this really shows the impact of greed and mismanagement. Honestly, what is happening in the neighborhoods of Detroit is heartbreaking, so many people lost and gone. Seriously, how does it make sense for a house that sold for $82,000 in 2002 in a neighborhood with no vacant homes to now appraise for $5,000 and be one of two homes on the block still occupied, the rest of the homes, vacant and stripped.  Not sure if it is fixable.

Finally, a printable handout about self-care to hang on your fridge, “Everything is Awful and I’m not okay” Questions to ask before giving up. This is a great check list to help when you feel like the world is pushing in on you and you can’t breathe. Good self-care.

May you embrace your essential wild self in small and big ways this week. ~ Kira

 

*the photograph is of me in art school and shows a time in my life when I was showing more of my essential wild self. It was taken by a friend of mine whom I can’t remember her name. Sorry.

2

Hungry Ghosts of Not Good Enough

Kira Elliott Space for Good Enough

“You have been taught that there is something wrong with you and that you are imperfect, but there isn’t and you’re not.” — Cheri Huber

At 4:45 pm last Thursday I laid on my back looking up with through green leaves to a perfect blue sky outside an office building. It was a warm, still day when I laid on top of the wide brick ledge surrounding a courtyard filled with ivy and hostas outside of my therapist’s office. I closed my eyes and listened to the dull hum of rush hour traffic in the distance. I smelled cigarette smoke from the office worker standing on the other side of the courtyard taking her break. I laid with my hands resting on my belly, my breath deep and full. This was peace. My therapist was running late and I found a small moment to pause, to make a little space in my day. I have to admit it is hard to remember to breathe deeply and make space most days.

I can’t remember how long it has been since I had a pause like that in my day. I normally wake and start. Go, go and go, no space, no moments to pause between one thing and the next.

What would my life feel like if I did pause, even if only for 5 minutes? What if I breathed, rested, paused between work and home? What if in the middle of the day I shut my office door or went out to sit in my car at the park the end of the street? No thinking, no production, no phone, no connection.

What if that happened?

What if there was room in my bouncy brain to have ease right now? I keep my brain fed with a regular diet of information, images, ideas. I live in overload. It is addicting. It gives me a comfortable warm feeling that smoking, or drinking diet Pepsi or not eating days on end used to give me. It is a false sense of control and the illusion of being cocooned in what seems like a safe place—only it keeps people out and builds a wall around me. Not to mention how much it harms me.

So what is this drive to keep going and doing everything 120%? Simply it is a habit. I strive without knowing I am striving. It is an addiction to be perfect—good enough. I crave the praise, the “Wow, you do so much.” Or the “Wow, you are so put together.” Expect I am not. The achievements, the doing, the striving, are not me, or at least not who I want to be any more. Those are fueled by fear and anxiety. Fueled by striving to prove I am good enough. I am a slave to the 120%. I have lost my choices. I want those back. I don’t need to live in extremes.

What do I want my life to be about? Space and ease, doing what feeds my soul and heart. I want to be fueled by self-compassion and love. I don’t want to be a slave to achieving everything, constantly being frazzled, juggling too many projects at the same time, running and over doing.

There are so many activities and projects I enjoy doing so I don’t want to give them up but I need to ask myself if I have to do them 120% and be a professional at everything I do. Can I simply have a hobby? Can I do yoga one or two times a week and be good with that? Can I paint or draw one or two times a week and not have to complete it for a show? Can I be okay with cooking a large home cooked meal once a week? Can I be okay with only growing tomatoes and herbs and not a whole garden?

What currently happens is I am filled with this drive to do more and be more. I am never satisfied. I am suffering. I am filled with hungry ghosts of not good enough. And here is where I get stuck, I want to change, let go of the habit of constant motion and extreme effort so I get out the only tool I have or really know how to use, the big ass hammer of extreme 120% effort. I go all in and try to change with 120% effort. I use the very same mindset to change what I want to let go. It is a mess because I fail at changing which then makes me feel bad which leads me to find something I can excel doing so I can feel better. The cycle loops around and around.

The idea of doing something for fun, enjoyment, no purpose or no summit of achievement leaves me feeling guilty edged with a bit of shame. The shame says, see I suck, I am worthless. So really in a way this compulsion to be busy and do everything 120% is fueled by multiple layers of crap, and shame is the foundation. I am always trying to prove I am not worthless, that I matter and am good enough.

These are powerful forces deeply embedded in me. So how on earth do I let them go? How do I stop terrorizing myself with self-improvement? I go back to the simple, yet difficult to implement, answer of self-compassion.

I take small moments to be kind to myself like I did last week when I laid on my back and rested on the brick ledge. I look for small movements I can make to be kind to myself. I sit on my meditation cushion and practice non-judgemental awareness and nonreactivity. I forgive myself for striving, for leaning back into modes of operation that used to serve me well. Ones that helped me survive a chaotic upbringing. I practice self-compassion or formal metta practice.

I remember to hold all of this lightly, to laugh at myself and know that slowing down is not a project but rather a way of living. I pause and breathe when I remember, knowing that is enough.

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

How Journaling Can Change Your Life or Strait-Jacket Your Creativity by Jen Louden- I too used to hold strict rules about journaling. I gave it my 120% effort and hammered myself with guilt and shame if I didn’t write everyday. Today, I do as Jen discusses in her blog post, I wander and discover what is going on with me. I figure out projects, I brainstorm ideas. I do what I want. Jen offers some really great ideas for breaking free of a journal strait-jacket if you are stuck.

The Girl Who Sings In Tune by Nancy Schatz Alton- This is a lovely essay about letting go of how think things need to be and embracing what is. We thrive when we stop trying to be what we are not.

20 Things to Remember When You Think You’re Not Good Enough by Marc Chernoff- I like how a lot of these reminders are phased in a way that is fresh.  A good list when it is hard to see through the shame and anxiety of being caught in feeling not good enough.

What to Do When the Heart Doesn’t Know What It Wants by Jessica Sanborn- Another link about the power of personal writing. Personal writing has saved my life and is the cornerstone of self-compassion and love for me. The map to my heart is always found on the page.

Write What you Know by Matt Nix- This is a great TED talk about finding your creative voice. It is not what you think and I have to say I never want to write for television.

Finally, in case you missed it, my essay, The Innocence of Rocks was published as part of Debra Smouse’s Summer Love Notes.

 

May you find space to practice self-compassion and let of extreme doing. ~Kira

3

Surprising Self-Care Tool

Kira Elliott Lansing MI

“It is more fun to talk with someone who doesn’t use long, difficult words but rather short, easy words like “What about lunch?” — A.A. Milne (Winnie-the-Pooh)

 

I was interviewed by a friend a few weeks ago and she asked what do I tell someone who is absolutely broken. Who doesn’t have any reserves left and practicing normal self-care is not an option, what do I tell them? My first gut answer was, go take a nap. Sleep is the nectar of the gods and too often, simple sweet sleep is discounted or overlooked.

But beyond sleep, what then? My answer surprised me. I share with you a surprising self-care tool in this video.

 

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

Why I Celebrate My Typos by Tara Mohr- Love, love and will love this some more. I need to read this everyday to remind myself to let go of perfectionism and get my work out there. I am currently working on submitting a few of my essays and poems to various places for publication. I have a huge block about being judged, having folks point out my typos and just plain not being good enough. But here’s the deal, I have to put it out there. This is the next step for me. This blog post helps to support my courage and reminds me to play big.

While My Daughter Sleeps by Carol Weis- Such a simple moment shared with the reader and I have to confess to having out of whack anxieties about own son. Being a mother is hard, even when they are grown and living on their own.

The Burn by Anna March- Wow, what a wonderful essay about letting go of everything to figure out how to let the past burn and emerge who you are.

Will I Ever Be Good Enough by Karyl McBride- Feeling not good enough is the root of so many of my troubles, anxieties and maladaptive modes of operation. I stumbled on Karyl’s book Will I Ever Be Good Enough back in 2010 and it gave me practical tools to reclaim my life from the effects of growing up with a mother who is not only narcissistic but also has significant mental health issues. The book changed my life ( and a really good therapist). If you grapple with endemic feelings of not good enough and you have issues with your mother read this blog post, it gives a good overview of maybe where the root came from.

Wrestling with the Always on Social Web and Trying to Relearn the Value of Boredom by Mathew Ingram- So I am working on creating more space in my life through small movements. Just noticing areas where I can do a small movement to create a bit of breathing room. As a result, I have found I have a problem with my phone. I am latched on that thing way more than I need to be. Honestly most of the time I am not even aware of how much I am checking it, looking at it or using it. So down with the phone, like I said in the video, moderation—everything in moderation.

 

May your week be filled good reading, space for some boredom and a little time to watch TV. ~Kira

 

1

I Can Trust My Authentic Self

Kira Elliott Authentic Self

“We have to dare to be ourselves, however frightening or strange that self may prove to be.” ― May Sarton

Everything is damp today. I woke at 8 am, which is late for me, to the sweet smell of summer rain trickling through the gutters I cleaned yesterday. My mind is bouncing all over the place and I feel that all too familiar twisting knot in my stomach of apprehension. My shoulders keep rising up to my ears. I keep clenching the muscles around my hips. I am holding my breath and not aware of it. I stop, breathe and everything relaxes—for a moment. Then a few minutes later I am all clenched tight and holding my breath again.

Today is the last day of my vacation from my day job. A vacation that turned out to be very different than what I had planned but none the less was 10 days of not juggling too many competing priorities and responsibilities. 10 days to sleep in and linger on the page each morning. 10 days to not rush in the mornings to my meditation cushion before I leave the house for 12 to 14 hours each day. 10 days to not grapple with other people’s issues or figure out solutions to problems I don’t know how to fix (and can’t fix because they are bigger than me and not mine to fix to begin with but never the less my day job demands I try). 10 days to not do anything I have to but rather time to put a pause on being responsible. In short, 10 days of flexibility to allow for more space in my heart to connect with my authenticity, even if it is not what I expected.

When my vacation started 10 days ago, I had every day scheduled with plans, projects and expectations, leaving no room for relaxation, wandering, space to do nothing. We planned to go hiking in Pictured Rocks National Shoreline. We planned to go to biking around Mackinac Island and hiking along Lake Michigan. All the while I would take phenomenal photographs and write lyrical poems about the wilds of Michigan. I was going to come home and deep clean my house. I was going to work on my web site, get new copy written for my fall workshops and draft new content for a new class. Also, I was going to work on revisions to some poems. I could go on and on with everything I had planned to accomplish while on vacation.

Needless to say, not all of my unrealistic plans came to fruition.

My partner Jay and I did hike the 11 mile Chapel Loop in Pictured Rocks National Shoreline. Due to rain, fog and sore bodies from the 11 mile hike we skipped out of the great north and went down state to cities with coffee shops, bookstores, music stores. We went for a different kind of vibrancy, a vibrancy of diversity of culture, ethnicity, art and food.

We came home a day earlier than planned and I planted a small manageable container garden, cleaned a bit and did a lot of nothing. We went on bike rides, not epic long bike rides but rather 10 to 12 mile rides in the park instead of 20 to 30 miles along the rails to trails. I spent an afternoon with my son talking about the last days of his father’s life. I spent time writing and thinking about new offerings for workshops and services this fall but I didn’t make any concrete plans. I read books for fun and not learning.

I let go of expectations of being productive and the idea of using my time wisely. I let go what I thought I should be doing. I let myself follow my authentic inner urgings.

When we left the Upper Peninsula early I felt like we were giving up, being lame. Who leaves beautiful remote wilderness with sweeping vistas of untouched beaches and deep woods to go to spend their vacation time walking around city blocks watching people, construction and traffic. And yet once we left, everything became easier. My shoulders relaxed, my belly became soft. Striving ended. I laughed from deep in my belly. I breathed fully and felt at ease. There was no rushing or tension, I could sit for over an half hour and watch a morning dove sitting precariously in a pine tree outside a hotel window in Ann Arbor waiting to see her chicks peep out from under her.

The gift of letting go of plans and granting myself the flexibility to follow my inner urgings showed me that I can trust my authentic self. I felt in my bones that I don’t have to achieve to feel peaceful. As a matter of fact, rarely does achievement or accomplishing a to do list provide me with lasting peace. There is always more to do.

This is new territory for me, allowing myself to not over schedule my days or do what I think of as ideal. To know that my good enough is what is important to me, what my interests and joys are, not what lifestyle magazines, blog posts and other cultural input tells me will make me feel good enough. Being good enough is not accomplishing a ton of stuff or sometimes doing what others are doing.

So why am I struggling with apprehension and anxiety this morning? Because I know once I return to my full time day job tomorrow it will be hard, if next to impossible, to have this much space in my days to embrace letting go of plans and to have flexibility. At this point in my life I am still learning how to not get caught up in proving I am good enough by frantic activity or thinking I need to be doing certain activities to have a peaceful life, like hiking in the remote woods of Michigan.

For now I will do my best to be aware of when I get caught up in these false notions of good enough and change course when I can. I will do my best to follow my inner urgings to what brings me joy and peace, even if they don’t seem to fit the ideal.

 

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

The New Normal- Pieces of Grief by Stephanie Wittels Wachs- This is a powerful, insightful, and if you ask me, accurate post about grief. I felt the ache in my belly as I read it.

Tsokyni Rinpoche on How to Gauge Progress in Your Practice– I have been practicing daily meditation since 2008 as a solo practitioner. I listen to a lot of Dharma talks and read a lot but still I am alone. I found these questions to be helpful in gauging my progress.

The power of story by Susan Conley- I loved this TED talk. It is an amazing story about helping others tell their story and the power of having someone listen and give positive feedback. My writing workshops are based off of the same methods and this gives writers a permission to access their inner lives. I would love to take my work to teens one day as Susan did.

81 Awesome Mental Health Resources for When You Can’t Afford Therapy by Katherine Schreiber- So here’s the deal, taking care of my mental health is the foundation for my peace. I have been in therapy for many years. It has helped me untangle my unconventional upbringing and corresponding self-harming behaviors. I truly believe everyone could benefit from therapy but I also know not everyone can afford it, I couldn’t most of my life. This list has many great apps, self-help groups and other low cost and free resources.

An Open Letter to 40-Something Women From Your Skinny Jeans by Anjali Enjeti-  This is a celebration of our bodies. This reminds me to be kind to myself and walk away from clothes that don’t fit my body.  As my therapist asked the other day, “When you try on clothes that don’t fit your body, do you blame your body or the clothes that may not be cut to fit the shape of your body?” It is hard for me to change my perspective on this one, is it me or the clothes that is wrong? I normally stand in the dressing room and blame me not the skinny jeans I have no business trying on.

 

May find space for your authentic self in the coming week. ~Kira

2

There is No Need to Rush

Kira Elliott Picture Rocks Michigan

 

We are finally taking a vacation. I think this is the first time Jay and I have gone on vacation when we are not visiting friends or family. It is just us with five days to do as we please.

Yesterday we hiked over 11 miles in the Pictured Rocks National Shoreline. We woke this morning to a steady grey rain and sore muscles. As a matter of fact, every muscle in my body hurts, I over did it on the trails yesterday. I am going to take it slow and easy today and give myself space to rest in the moment. Space to relish nothing. Space to read and write as long as I want. Space to drive through miles and miles of dense forest and no traffic.

I want to stay I am comfortable with leaning into the fact I don’t have anywhere to be, something to do or some place to go. Yet, I feel conflict and discomfort with the day spreading ahead of me. I am going to allow myself to feel the discomfort and then let myself unfold. I know it sometimes take time for me to fully unwind and relax. Time to feel comfortable with not doing.

Here are a few photographs from our trip so far. There is a magic and timelessness in the wilds of  Michigan unlike any other place I have found.

Kira Elliott Picture Rocks Michigan

Kira Elliott Picture Rocks Michigan

Kira Elliott Picture Rocks MichiganKira Elliott Picture Rocks Michigan
Kira Elliott Picture Rocks MichiganKira Elliott Picture Rocks MichiganIMG_3489

Here is this week’s Inspiration to Open Your Heart

Be The Happiest Person You Know by Kate Courageous

How to Live When Everything is Up in the Air by Jen Louden

How to be Your Own Mentor by Laura Vanderkam

This IS the Key to Happiness According to Psychotherapist by Eric Baker

10 Analogies that Perfectly Capture Depression by Amy Thurlow

May you find space to stop and allow the stillness of the moment to fill you. ~ Kira

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