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Accept the Goodness

Kira Elliott Carnival

“Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them; that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.” ― Lao Tzu

I am sitting at my desk listening to the music of a damp summer morning. A squirrel is sitting in the maple tree making a squeaky clucking sound over and over. It sounds like he is talking with a cardinal who is singing sweet melodies with the tiny finch and other song birds. Sheets of rain finally poured from the sky overnight dampening the dry earth. Every now and then the droning buzz of a cicada rises and falls. Early morning light cast soft shadows across the wet grass.

Everything feels rich, moist and full—peaceful.

I love mornings like this, space to linger and notice. To feel the warming air wrap around my bare legs, to smell the earth and listen to the sounds of the neighborhood before people wake up. This space also grants me the opportunity to feel and listen to what is happening inside my body, mind and soul.

Today I feel rested and relaxed. My joints feel loose and open. My muscles are not achy from tension and stress. My mind is alert and noticing but not hyper aware. I feel like I can let down my guard and not scan for danger. My breath deep, full and measured. I don’t have to force it. Everything is ok, I don’t feel called to change, fix or do. This is peace for me.

This is also kind of rare for me and my inquisitive brain wants to dive in and figure out what created this state of peace in me. I want to know so I can replicate and never suffer again. My mind starts going over the last few days to see what conditions may have contributed to the development of this moment.

A few things come to mind right away.

The power went out at the office of my day for two days, so I had an unexpected long weekend. Those two extra days of less stressing helps. Or maybe it is because I finally started work on proposal to teach writing workshops locally. Just starting the proposal released tension and fear I didn’t know I was carrying. Procrastination always creates a feeling of constriction in my belly, my shoulders and my breath.

Or maybe it is that after 12 years away from working in ceramics, I took a leap and enrolled for an independent study class at a local art center. The last few Saturday mornings I stand in the a dusty ceramic studio in the basement of a 100 year old building wedging my clay. Ceramics was the center of my creative work for years. I was immersed in using clay to transform me and tell my story. Today after so many years away, I feel a little awkward yet my body and soul remember what it feels like to put my hands in the cold wet clay. I intuitively remember what to do and how to push and mold the clay to tell my story.

Ceramic work and visual art in general is an essential part of me that I have been neglecting for years. Really since D. died over 3 years ago and my son Max moved out. I am gathering these parts of me I left behind as I grieved and transitioned to a new phase of my life. I didn’t know letting go, learning how to slow down and that there is nothing to prove to anyone could take so much energy.

It may be some or all of these things or it may simply be that my hormones are balanced, or I got enough sleep last night, or I had enough alone time. The bottom line is, I am not sure why the peaceful state, and I don’t need to know. For me letting go of the need to know is more important than knowing. This is where I take a risk and just accept the goodness.

So it is late July, life is teeming with possibility and abundance. Today I am going to let myself rest and watch. Rest and allow. No doing or fixing. No knowing. Just accepting.

Here is this week’s Inspiration to Open Your Heart

The Secret Language of Girls on Instagram by Rachel Simmons- A fascinating look at how tween girls use Instagram to compare, connect and get validated. I think of how hard middle school and high school was for me, the ache of constant striving to figure out where I fit in until I finally gave up and followed what I thought was my own path but I can see I only disconnected and put up huge walls to protect myself. I can’t even begin to imagine what it is like to be a young girl today. So much pressure and no where to hide.

Just Don’t Do It by Debbie Cameron- Another feminist article but this time about the debate of policing women’s speech. Very thought provoking and well worth the read.

Transforming Lack Into Abundance- Seeing the So Muchness by Shulamit Ber Levtov- I love this post about Shulamit finding a new definition of abundance and shifting a moment of craving into something bigger and infused with peace. I have to admit when I read headlines about abundance I tend to stiffen up a bit. I don’t want to read about magical thinking and creating more but this is about the seeing and allowing the abundant world we live in.

Attention is Not Our Currency by Sarah J. Bray- Jen Lee shared this on Facebook this week and I had to share. Wow, we don’t do our work to win the popularity contest but rather because we are called to do the work. No matter what amount of attention we get we need to keep showing up to do our work. Another post well worth the read.

As I mentioned I am dabbling (can I really dabble) with some ceramic work again. These artists make my heart swoon and my creative juices flow.

Sexy Ceramics by Justyna Karamuz
Ceramic Drawings by Katharine Morling

I am pleased to announce a couple of ways we can connect in the next month.

I hope you will join me and other women on August 5, 2015 at 7:00 pm EST for an Open Hearted Wisdom Circle. Open Hearted Wisdom Circles are free facilitated groups that foster the opportunity for not only deep sharing but deep, focused listening, which helps us hear the wisdom in our hearts. Learn more here.

Let’s meet in person! If you live in the Southeastern Michigan area I am super excited to announce that I am co-hosting a live in person one day Kindred Connection Workshop with  Jen Lee and Anna Oginsky on August 22, 2015 from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm EST. You can find more information Here.

May you find peace and allow it dwell in your life this week. ~ Kira

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An Undefended Heart

Kira Elliott Undefended Heart

“True dharma practice is a revolutionary activity, and you can’t do it in a comfortable way. You really have to challenge the whole identity of your life. But the strength that’s asked for is not necessarily the strength of eliminating the impurities of body and mind, or fighting against the defilements of greed, hatred, and delusion, the inner corruptions, though this language is very common in Theravadin, Tibetan, and Zen Buddhism. The strength that’s needed is the courage of heart to remain undefended and open, a willingness to touch the ten-thousand joys and the ten-thousand sorrows from our compassion, the deepest place of our being. This is a different kind of fearlessness, which requires as much or more passion and fire.” — Jack Kornfield

It is 5 am. The house is still except for the kettle boiling water for my much anticipated coffee (one of the best parts of the day) and Lupe, my 17 year old cat, meowing incessantly for me to pick her up and pet her. I feel rested this morning after a week of not getting enough sleep. The older I get the more sleep is a priority for me.

I read this quote this morning and it sums up so much for me. While Jack Kornfield is speaking of Buddhist practice, I think this is can apply to any spiritual practice. So often I get caught up in doing things perfectly, which means I am in fight mode.

If I can conquer my hormones and accompanying mood swings, if I can only eat all green leafy veggies, green smoothies, or what ever food has been sanctioned as holy and divine, that will promise peace of body, peace of mind. If I can practice a strenuous yoga practice every day, breathe in a specific way. If can force myself to not desire, be angry, or feel hate, than I will be spiritual. All will be well.

All day, every day, I am constantly fighting with my human nature, my past still dictating my current behaviors. The underlying irrational thought is, spiritual practice is about control.

If only I can control everything about me, I will be perfect—I will be good enough.

When I live this way I not only fight with myself, I fight with the rest of the world, including other people, loved ones or not. I don’t want to fight or be mean.

I need to remember that the real strength is not fighting but the courage to live with an undefended heart. The idea of an undefended heart relaxes me, slows down my breathing. An undefended heart says, stop, there is no fight. All is well. Stay steady. Stay strong. Let the joys and sorrows of the world wash over you.

Spiritual practice is about living with an open, undefended heart.

When I start to feel small and scared I sometimes quietly say to myself over and over, “there is no fight.” I am so used to fighting, it is in my bones. But there is no fight, especially if I am not fighting myself.

Today may I muster the fearlessness to live with an undefended heart.

 

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

Self-Helpless- How to Stop Fixing Yourself by Lynn Newman- Holy cow, when I read this I felt like Lyn was speaking directly to me. While I have not spent a lifetime practicing all of the healing practices she has (and only because I didn’t have the money and was a single mother) my underlying motivation is the same. Chronic feelings of not good enough, not loveable. This line says it all, “I was looking for something outside of me to save me, to rescue me and most importantly, to change me. Rather than just let myself be all that I am the good, the bad and the ugly.”

How a Poem Helped Save a Suicidal Teens Life by Fred Barbash- Poetry heals. When I am feeling disconnected or I feel heaviness of depression beginning to creep in, I read Mary Oliver poems outloud. My mood always shifts, even if just a bit.

8 things I have figured out by 48 by Karen Walrond- First if you don’t follow Karen’s blog you need to. She is an amazing photographer and she shares gentle insights from her daily life. At 44 years old myself each one of these things is on my list too.

Why Beauty Matters– Wow, this gets to the heart of community development. The best line, “beauty is a basic a need”. Amen to that. This video helps me rethink the work I do for my day job. I am helping to revive and shape community

Why Hot and Bothered Leads to a Better Life by Fiona Moore- This is beautiful lyrical post about living at the edges of life to grow but also dealing with our dreaded “to do” list. I love the idea that our ‘to do” lists are not meant to be completed but rather they are like mowing the grass or doing laundry, the work keeps growing you just show up for what you can do. A very thoughtful post.

Finally, I am pleased to announce a couple of ways we can connect in the next month.

I hope you will join me and other women on August 5, 2015 at 7:00 pm EST for an Open Hearted Wisdom Circle. Open Hearted Wisdom Circles are free facilitated groups that foster the opportunity for not only deep sharing but deep, focused listening, which helps us hear the wisdom in our hearts. Learn more here.

 

Let’s meet in person! If you live in the South Easteren Michigan area I am super excited to announce that I am co-hosting a live in person one day Kindred Connection Workshop with Jen Lee and Anna Oginsky on August 22, 2015 from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm EST. You can find more information Here.

 

May you find space to live with an undefended heart this week. ~ Kira

 

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Yesterday Was Hard

Kira Elliott Buddha

“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

The air is heavy today, thick, damp and clinging to the surface of the maple leaves. A smoky scent lingers from my neighbors bon fire last night. The pages of my journal are damp, the ballpoint pen sinks into the page creating deep indentations of my thoughts. I sit, feel my breath and listen to blue jays screech in the distance. My heart is unsettled this week.

Unmoored is the word that keeps rising up and landing on the tip of tongue. Yet I don’t say it out loud, I keep trying to find an anchor, something to settle into, to give me safe harbor. I am a mess, inside and out, like the summer weeds blooming in a full tangled mess in my back garden beds.

Yesterday anxiety exploded in my body, taking my breath away. My hormones blazed bright, causing a fire storm in my body and mind, agitating my heart. Yesterday was what would have been D.’s birthday had lung cancer not invaded and took over his body. The grief descended fast and furious like it did the first year after his death. Yesterday the internet was still out after two days of no internet (not the end of world but a huge disruption). Yesterday was hard. I came home and collapsed in a hot, sweaty, bloody heap on the kitchen floor and sobbed.

I want to not show up here and write about the state of my heart today. And yet my greatest intention in life is to live with an open heart. I can’t do that if I don’t share the messy mixed up days as well as the joyful ones. This I know, my heart will stay closed if I don’t turn towards my suffering so I can gain freedom from the suffering. It will stay closed if I don’t share what is really happening.

Here is this week’s Inspiration to open your heart

I Am Not Better Than You by Shalagh Hogan- I love this post about being authentic and who you are. I love Shalagh’s honesty. I can relate to so much of what she says here. Perfection does not exist in my house or in my life. I am a messy, muddled woman just trying to show up and live with an open heart, which by the way is messy.

Life In General: Hair Wars by Becca Rowan- I loved this post so much. Becca tells the story of self acceptance through the history of what we do to our hair. So perfect. She paints a very vivid picture of wrapping and taping her hair to be something it is not. How much of our lives have done this? The older I get the less to do my hair. I am the laziest person on earth when it comes to hair. I wash it maybe once a week and most of the time I push it past 10 days. I tell myself it is good for it, the oils act as a natural conditioner. I keep it shoulder length so I can wear it in a ponytail or a bun and call it done. Some days I get to work and I realize I forgot to comb it.

How to Talk About Dying by Ellen Goodman- Oh how I wished we had been able to talk about what was really happening when D. was dying. I took his lead and didn’t ask, didn’t push. I think it was denial on both our parts. In so many ways it is this unknowing that has complicated the grief. So many unanswered questions.

Here are a few posts that appeal to my more cynical edgy side.

Dear People Who Live In Fancy Tiny Houses by Lauren Modery- Lauren asks many of the same questions I have often asked myself when I read about people living in tiny houses. When I started dating Jay, he lived in a 180 sq. ft. apartment in Portland, OR. Let me tell you there is no hiding anything in 180 sq. ft. You hear, smell and see everything.

F*@k That Guided Meditation (warning this does contain profane language)- I needed to laugh this week and yes it does remind me to not take everything so seriously. You know you are in trouble when your mediation practice causes stress.

 

May you turn towards your suffering to gain freedom from your suffering. ~ Kira

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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.

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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

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