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Books That Nourish My Heart

Kira Elliott 2014 booksRight now I am sitting at my desk, Riggins, my black mischievous cat, is perched on the back of my chair above my head. I hear my partner Jay going in and out of the front door packing up his car for band practice. He will be gone for hours, I have a rare evening alone stretching out ahead of me.

As I look around my office at the stacks of books, the sleeping cats, the colorful curtains, a cup of hot tea, my black meditation cushion, my iPhone 6, I can not help but think of how utterly grateful I am for my amazing simple life.

Now this is not simple as in a minimalist notion of simple, I have way too many books and maybe cats for that, but simple in, it doesn’t take much to feed my soul. A good book to read, something to write with and maybe a way to take photographs of the world around me. These grant me so much abundance and space to feed my creative passions and my mind. Books in particular are a cornerstone of my life. There are literally stacks of books in every single room in my home.

I wanted to share with you my favorite of 2014. So over the last week I traveled throughout the house to collect my favorites to curate a list to share. As I sat down at my desk tonight I realized my “2014 favorite” pile towered with over 30 titles. I can’t pick just a few, there is no way to have “favorites” they all are my favorite. So instead I will share a few that stood out for me.

Here are some that books that nourish my heart

When Women Were Birds: Fifty-four Variations on Voiceby Terry Tempest Williams

Handling the Truth: On the Writing of Memoirby Beth Kephart

Just Breathe Normally (American Lives)by Peggy Shumaker

Once I Was Cool: Personal Essays by Megan Stielstra

Devotion: A Memoir by Dani Shapiro

All of these books are beautifully written, helped me open my heart to my own life and gave me courage to keep writing and sharing. I recommend them all.

While looking through my books, I realized I have 2 copies of Safekeeping: Some True Stories from a Lifeby Abigail Thomas (I mistakenly bought an extra copy a few months ago). I read this book last year on an early Sunday morning sitting alone at my kitchen table. Abigail uses an unconventional structure to tell story of her ex-husband, their life together and his death from cancer. Her words pierced my heart. Myself still raw from the death of D. I could relate to so much of her story. I cried and cried and could not put the book down. This book broke something open in me and set me a path writing my own story.

I love this book and I want to share it you, so I am going to give away my brand new second copy to one lucky subscriber on my email list. If you have not already signed up now is the time. You can sign up here. I will select a lucky winner of this awesome book on Sunday December 21st at 8 pm EST.

So what are some of your favorite books of 2014?

This post is a response to Kat Mcnally’s Reverb14. Click on over to join in!

Registration for Writing to Open Your Heart is Open! Starts January 31, 2015. Give yourself the gift of writing and connection to others to help open your heart in 2015.

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Inspiration to Open Your Heart

Fence Kira Elliott

 

“I believe in kindness. Also in mischief. Also in singing, especially when singing is not necessarily prescribed.”  ― Mary Oliver

The last week the sky has been a low dense expanse of soft white-gray cloud cover. The trees are stark and bare, the grass brown and dead. Even the early mornings are filled with stillness as the chickadees and finches slumber longer, waiting for the sun to rise.

Darkness now covers over 13 hours of our days and we still have a week left before the Winter Solstice. December holidays lights are the only brightness in an otherwise bleak landscape.

The benefit of low cloud cover means warmer temperatures (for Detroit standards) and I want to ride my bike one last time before deep snows blankets the region. I want to go hike in the woods and feel my blood pumping through my veins. I want to feel the damp cold air in my lungs.

And yet, my foot is still healing from surgery last October. I now can wear my Keens (a wide boxy toe is a good thing) but I lost my gait from the weeks on crutches and then the walking cast, so I limp and shuffle. Plus, my foot still swells and is tender when I am standing too long.

I will have to wait to wander the trails or ride my bike. Perhaps I will go and sit under the pine trees on the edge of my yard. There I can let the scent of pine, damp earth and wood burning from the neighbors stove permeate into my soft body.

At any rate, here is this week’s Inspiration to Open Your Heart. May at least one of these items help you to live with an open heart this week.

It’s Not Too Late to Make a Difference TED talk by Jonathan Sackner-Bernstein- As someone who is entering my mid-40’s, I found this talk inspiring and reassuring. Age is an advantage. I have found my “mold” and I am taking all of my skills, wisdom and experience to make a difference. It does not matter what age you are, watch this now.

51 of the Most Beautiful Sentences in Literature via BuzzFeed- There is so much goodness here.

Dave Engledow and his daughter Alice Bee- These photographs are amazing and super funny.

About Getting Good: The Many Paths of Literary Mastery by Melissa Frederick- A good reminder of how to get good—keep writing and sharing.

A Heart Wide Open by Joel and Michelle Levy- Here is a good reflection on living with an open heart.

Finally, Writing to Open Your Heart registration is open. Writing to Open Your Heart is an online creative writing workshop that starts on January 31, 2015 and runs for 6 weeks. Space is limited to 10 writers, so if you are thinking of joining now is the time.

 

Happy Sunday and may your coming week be filled with moments to breath deeply and pause to hear the birds sing. ~ Kira

 

 

 

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Wise Giving

Wise Giving Kira Elliott

A wise person is motivated to benefit oneself, others, and both self and others.”  —The Buddha

Bright colored lights twinkle in the cold december darkness even though it is only 5:30 pm as I drive home. My bones are tried, my fingertips cold, my shoulders ache. I am starting to feel holiday pressure about when I might be able to get gifts for those on my list. Hell, I haven’t even made my list yet. The days are dwindling quickly and my calendar is brimming with meetings and parties as people are trying to get everything wrapped up before the Christmas break.

I pause as I wrap my hands around a cup of hot tea trying to warm them up. I feel dread with an edge of panic. Is it bad to say I hate the holidays? Is it bad when I think of all of the work to “do” the holidays right—send cards, decorate the house, go shopping, find the perfect gift for my mother (almost impossible), bake cookies, light pine scented candles, meet with friends for coffee before the end of the year, all of which makes me want to want to go to bed and hide under the quilts and comforters?

To be honest I let go of most of these exceptions years ago. I might decorate, we are talking a simple Charlie Brown one stick tree with a single red bulb or maybe some white twinkle lights hung around the living room windows. I will meet with friends, coffee and friends is always good. And yes, I will go shopping and search high and low looking for that perfect gift for my mother (I have never found one yet).

Generosity can be a tricky thing. It is easy to give beyond your means—time, money or effort—out of a sense of obligation or even fear. This obligation or fear can drive me to overspend, twist my stomach into knots, keep me up at night. Hell, I even find myself in a mall sometimes, where I walk around in a daze, my eyes wide open as I stare at throngs of people carrying multiple fancy bags from thousands of stores I never heard of or knew I needed until I went to the mall.

I once heard a Dharma talk that discussed the concept of wise giving. Wait wise giving? It was a revolutionary concept for me. I was stuck in traffic (yes, I listen to Dharma talks while driving in my car) and I stopped my iPod to rewind it back to hear it again. The first idea that gave me pause was the notion that generosity is to benefit both the giver and the receiver. And not like, I give you this book or what ever so you will like me or you then owe me something of equal value in return (that is what I was taught).

As the giver it is normal to feel warmth, goodness and yes, have your heart open when giving; this is a good healthy motivation to be generous. This is what I need to strive for.

Wise giving is not harmful to either the giver or receiver. So if I give beyond my means to the point it harms me, I am not giving wisely. I can’t tell you how my life is littered with failed relationships where I gave and gave to the point of complete depletion of my resources, material and spiritual, in hopes that I might be good enough. I clearly harmed myself in those relationships and I harmed the people I gave too much too also, because I was not giving freely or wisely.

So what can I do to cultivate wise giving?

First I need to let go of the idea I can please my mother or others with the perfect gift for the holidays. I want to give from my heart, not the obligation I grew up with. I need to stay aware of where I am at with my motivations and feelings. Some of my ideas of giving are hardwire and will creep in if I am not watchful. I need to pay attention to see if I am feeling tight or short of breath. Is my stomach in knots? Am I finding myself wandering aimless around a mall? Am I thinking I need to get something great so they will like me more? All of these are warnings. And when they arise I need to hold myself in a space of compassion.

I also know I need to practice loving kindness or Metta, meditation to help me cultivate generosity and open my heart. I know this works but I still resist it. As I sit on my meditation cushion each morning I find it easier to go back to my breath, note my thoughts, then to focus on loving kindness intentions for myself and all beings. Still I try each Metta each morning.

I want to think I am evolved, that I know how to give wisely, free of obligations or fear. But I am not, I am learning. I feel like I am taking baby steps when 14 days before Christmas I still don’t know what to give my mom or others in my life. At least I am aware I want to give wisely and I have a choice today. So that is start.

Writing to Open Your Heart starts January 31, 2015. Writing to Open Your Heart is an online weekly creative writing workshop where you will learn to trust your voice and share your writing with other writers. More information HERE.

Parts of this post is a response to Kat Mcnally’s Reverb14

 

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Inspiration to Open Your Heart

Kira Elliott and Riggins

The sun is shining today and yet is it is still bitter cold. The cold came too early this year as evidenced by my heating bill that came in the mail yesterday. It was over a hundred dollars and we are not even in January yet. Not sure if I am ready for this winter.

This past week was over taken with work. Tis the season for after work open houses and parties with funders, partners and vendors. I am still recovering from the 14 plus hour days last week. I am too old and don’t drink coffee like I used to be able to manage a schedule like that for any amount of time anymore.

That said, I am going to combine todays Inspiration to Open Your Heart with a little Reverb14.

Reverb14 is Kat McNally’s end of year reflection blog challenge. While I am not posting each prompt, I am writing about these in my journal each morning and I am learning a lot. It is not too late to join and link up.

So the prompt, I think yesterday, was to post a selfie. As luck would have it I am also participating in Catherine Just’s In Plain Sight and I have, for better or worse, chosen self-portraits as my subject for the month. Taking a daily self-portrait is proving to be uncomfortable at best. It is making me aware and confront the nasty little voices that criticize my body and appearance. A little habitual voice that is the background sound track to most of my days. Seeing myself in the frame day after day is helping to soften and question that horrible little voice.

And here are links for this weeks Inspiration to Open Your Heart.

Finding Space in the Corners by SarahWinfrey-  On Facebook last week, a young woman with a small child asked how to maintain connection to her creative work and still provide for her young son. Someone posted this blog post. It is hard to find time for our creative work no matter if you still have young children at home, work full-time or have other life obligations. I remind myself it is living a full life that fuels my work when I am pulled away from the work (like last week). Yes, I still need make time for it, and I love the idea of finding space in the corners, but I also need to be out there living and interacting with my life.

Poverty is Not Without Fierce Pride by Linda Tirado- I am on fire about Linda Tirado right now. I heard her speak on On Point and I swear she could take on Ted Cruz. Her book, Hand to Mouth: Living Bootstrap in America was just released. I think it needs to be required reading for anyone working in human services, homeless services or other helping fields. She writes an insider look at living poor. Or anyone who cares about 1/3 of the population of United States. As someone who has lived most of my life grappling with poverty, I could relate to her words. Her voice is strong and she hits the nail on the head. All I can say is read it now. She is the real deal.

How to Make Your Home a Paradise with Spending a Dime- Here are some quick easy ways to transform your home. Ever since my son moved out a few years ago cleaning my home is at the very bottom of my to do list. So yes, many of the ideas in this post require you to sort, clean and get rid of, and for me the time that requires is just as precious, if not more so, than money. That said, I do like the idea of not thinking of it as cleaning but rather transforming.

On Writing Young by Lucas Mann- How much perspective and distance do you need to write a personal essay well? Mr. Mann argues against the age old dictum that older authors have an advantage to writing better personal essays. I remember these ideas coming up at every critique in art school, almost dismissing my work because I really couldn’t know much about hurt, loss and life in my late 20’s.

Anne Lamott on Forgiveness  Need I say more, I have always enjoyed Anne’s writing and her ability to dig around inside and bring up the truth.

May you have a week filled with moments to see your own beauty and stop any nasty little voices. ~Kira

Writing to Open Your Heart starts January 31, 2015. Writing to Open Your Heart is an online weekly creative writing workshop where you will learn to trust your voice and share your writing with other writers. More information HERE.
Parts of this post is a response to Kat Mcnally’s Reverb14
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Release

Release my heartWhat unfinished projects from 2014 am you willing to release now? (Regret not required.)

This is a hard one. One of my unfinished projects this year was to return to my studio to paint and draw again. I want to paint and draw again, yet I walk through my studio each day and see the dust and cat hair collecting on my easel, paint brushes and paints. I admit when I read about others taking painting classes and using oil paints, my heart begins to swoon and yearn for that magic of standing before my easel watching my heart unfold. I love the smell of oil paint and what you can do with encaustic and oil stick. I love to draw a line with deep black charcoal, soft and crumbling, over thick velvety BFK Rives pure cotton rag paper from France.

I have not painted since D died over 2 years ago now. I am not sure why so much time has passed. At first it was the grief and the overwhelming amount of energy, both physically and mentally, it took out of me for months months, stretching out beyond a year. Now other pursuits and creative outlets have filled in those spaces and holes left by the absence of D.

Many things changed in my life when he died, not only painting, but my friends and a whole support community that was once my backbone was released, and I went into another direction. In some ways all those things from my past my life with D were too unbearable and painful, I could not breathe. Now a whole new life has filled in those spaces.

How has it become a habit to walk through my painting studio on the way to my writing space every day, multiple times a day? I admit I tell myself each day, I will paint again. I will pick up my charcoal and litho crayons again. I told myself at the beginning of 2014, this year the distance from the death was long enough. Yet here I sit in the early darkness of December and I have yet to make movement toward this space.

So yes, I release the project of painting again this year. I release the guilt and shame for not using these tools and talents I have. I release the woman I was who was grieving so deep and doing the best she could to keep breathing each day after she lost her partner and father of her son. I hold my hands over my heart, I close my eyes, I stand still and let myself forgive and release.

 

This post is a response to Kat Mcnally’s Reverb14

If you are looking for an online writing workshop, Writing to Open Your Heart starts January 31, 2015. More information HERE.
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