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How do you cultivate sukha in your life?

Kira Elliott Sukha

“It’s so hard to forget pain, but it’s even harder to remember sweetness. We have no scar to show for happiness. We learn so little from peace.” ― Chuck Palahniuk

It is late afternoon and long shadows are slanting across the eastern wall in my little writing studio. I feel like I am in unknown territory. The scent of pine from a candle on my desk fills this little space in which I sputter and struggle to write. I normally write my blog posts first thing on Sunday mornings, when the neighborhood is quiet, Jay is still asleep and the sun lights up the other side of the room. But I am moving slow today, letting myself linger a bit and not rush to end this long holiday weekend.

I woke up late and wrote in my journal for over an hour. I read a couple of chapters in A Difference in the Family by Helen Featherstone (a wonderful book about living with a child with a disability. I have read this book over and over for many years. So insightful and helpful). I lingered on the couch with Jay, reading this week’s Post Secret. We went to the market for our weekly groceries (we normally try to get this done before Sunday but the holiday threw off our schedules). We had a late lunch together. More or less, I gave myself space to not be productive or scheduled. A bit of space to let up on my internal demands and to cultivate some sweetness and ease in my life.

I was reminded of sukha the other day in my Yin yoga class. Yin Yoga targets the connective tissues, such as the ligaments, bones, and even the joints of the body that normally are not exercised very much and each pose or asana is held 3 to 5 minutes. I was in a deep squat to open my hips when the teacher instructed us to drop our heads, place our hands on the floor, then move our hands forward, away from our body. This small movement of placing my hands away from my body caused many of my muscles, many that don’t get used a lot, to stretch deeply. The further out from my body I placed my hands, the deeper I felt the stretch, the more uncomfortable I felt.

Here is the thing about yin yoga, or really any yoga or body movement practice, my mind thinks I have to push myself to the absolute limit in order to be getting it right or advancing enough. I think I need to be uncomfortable for the practice or pose to count. I was moving my hands forward on my purple sticky mat away from my body to reach that place where I was uncomfortable when the teacher reminded us of sukha. Sukha is the Sanskrit or Pali word often translated as happiness, ease, pleasure or bliss.  

“Remember, cultivating sukha, or sweetness is an important part of practice, on and off the mat. Too often we focus on creating suffering or dukkha. When we practice yoga we can create joy in the body and the mind. Find a place where your body feels good. Allow yourself to rest there. Trust in this space of ease you created,” she said.

What do you mean, let up and create a little bit of sweetness?

For me, trusting the space of ease even in the midst of sitting in a difficult pose is hard, even harder off the mat in my daily life. I am of the work hard, push hard, prove I am good enough mindset. I feel panic rise up from my belly when I consider letting go and not pushing or straining. In so many large and small ways, I think that if I let go and don’t push, something bad is going to happen. Could it be okay to stay in a sweet space, even seek it out? I struggle to accept that cultivating sukha is an important part of letting of go suffering.

Yet in the warm darkness of the yoga room, I stopped reaching my hands forward and allowed myself to find a space to rest into the pose where I felt stretching but not discomfort. I stopped straining. I allowed myself to rest in a space that felt like sweet joy.

Now as I sit at my desk looking out at evening light, I see that I filled my day with moments to cultivate sukha. I stopped straining and pushing. I gave myself space for ease and sweetness. I connected with my loved ones. I connected with my heart. This is all good and important work, maybe even more important than finishing this blog post on my own self imposed deadline.

How do you cultivate sukha in your life?

Here is this week’s Inspiration to Open Your Heart

25 Books Guaranteed to Make You a Better Writer

Give Yourself Permission by Allison K Williams

What Famous Writers Know About Walking via Writing and Wellness

The Art of Dayna Talbot

The Art of Stillness by Pico Iyer

P.S.- You also might like  Wise Giving, Blogging is a Form of Generosity, and Basic Gratitude


Space to Feel Good Enough

Kira Elliott First Snow

Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” ~ Viktor E. Frankl

It’s cold despite the fact I turned up the heat and the furnace is working hard to warm my little writing studio. It snowed all day yesterday, over 7 inches total in my neighborhood. This is the first snowfall of the season. I forgot how awe-inspiring and magical snow is when it piles high on the limbs of bare trees and the tops of fences. I forgot how the snow creates silence and stillness. How it creates space to pause.

Last night I went outside and stood in the driveway, cold wrapped around me, snowflakes clung to my hair, my breath was visible in small icy puffs. I allowed the awareness of stillness and silence to fill every cell of my body. There were no crickets singing in the flower beds, no birds high in trees crippling or kids playing street hockey down the road. It was magical—me alone in the cold wet silent snow.

Now it is morning and Lupe, my 17-year-old cat, is curled up in her ruby-red plush cat house/bed thingy. I am sitting wrapped in my thick fleece bath robe with a quilt on my lap. My morning cup of green jasmine tea is getting cold next to my journal. It is Sunday, I can linger and write a blog post, meander around my thoughts, have another cup of tea or coffee when Jay gets up.

I don’t have to rush through my morning routine—writing in my journal, sitting on my meditation cushion, getting out my yoga mat—so I can get to work on time. Sundays mean more space for me.

Over the last 6 months I have slowly been creating more space in my life—internally and externally. I didn’t realize how jam-packed I was with so many projects, obligations, concerns and worries. I didn’t realize how paralyzed I felt because everything single crack and crevice in my life was used and overfilled. I was stuck.

How do you create more space for change in your life when you are already overwhelmed and there is no time or energy left to do something new?

Back in June I started working with a coach (Meg Worden) not to do less but to help me figure out how to do more to grow my writing and my workshops. At least that’s what I thought I needed. But instead of lists of tasks to accomplish major projects or achievements, it was suggested I do less. It was suggested to make space in my life by cleaning out my junk drawer in the kitchen—nothing more than that one junk draw. It was suggested I come home from work and pause before sitting at my desk to work on my blog or writing workshops. It was suggested I lay on the couch and read a book—for fun. It was suggested if I think something is going to take an hour to complete, to give myself 2 or maybe 3 hours to complete it.

I will be honest, I didn’t even know my life was so compacted that I couldn’t move or breath. It is just how everything has always been, me doing too much, me thinking I needed to do more, and me always feeling that no matter what I did, it was never enough. I also knew at every turn I felt dissatisfaction and craving for things to be different in my life. I was doing what I have always done, do more, expend more energy to make change in my life, which didn’t work, only added more crap to my already overstuffed life.

I have such high, impossible to meet, expectations for myself. I tend towards extremes in everything I do. If I don’t do it all at 100%, or even 110%, then it doesn’t count. I feel like I suck and I am not good enough. Cleaning out just one drawer doesn’t count, every cabinet and drawer in the kitchen needs to be cleaned out. Or yoga is another great example, only an hour, or more, of yoga practice counts as me doing yoga, anything less is just me playing around.

It is hard to not do more. I feel like I am slacking, not getting anything done. I feel panic and deeply uncomfortable. Over the last 6 months, have I become aware of how much I use doing to affirm my worth. Cleaning out the junk drawer seemed so inconsequential and certainly not like it was going to help me feel better. Yet, after I cleaned it I felt something I had not in a long time, contentment mingled with good enough.

So I have been making space in my life. I have been cleaning out my cupboards, one at a time. Sorting through my cloths, one drawer at a time. I began a daily yoga practice again, after struggling to reestablish a consistent practice after my two foot surgeries last year, by unrolling my mat and practicing 10 to 15 minutes each morning. How glorious that 10 sun salutations count as a valid practice. I love how stretching my body, opening up my joints, waking up my energy sets the tone for my days and creates space.

All these little, doable, movements, are adding up to change internally. My constant striving is diminishing. My weekend to do lists no longer contain 20 items, but rather 4. I am coming home on weeknights and reading books or articles for fun instead of working to do more with my business. I am saying no to more outside requests for my time and instead using this time to play in my studio or do nothing. I am making space for things that nourish and sustain me, not demand and drain me because I think they will make me feel good enough.

And all of this space and change, helps me feel good enough because I am not constantly dangling achievement out in front of me, unreachable and unattainable. I am learning, while I may have inherited the inclination to not feel good enough from my family and my culture, I am the one who perpetuates the feelings. I feed them. I am responsible. If I want something different in my life I need to do the exact opposite of what I have always done.

So I do a little less each day to create space for what I really want in my life— space to feel good enough.

Here is this week’s Inspiration to Open Your Heart

The Norwegian Secret to Enjoying a Long Winter by Laura Vanderkam- As the days grow shorter I tend to put my head down and tell myself, I can make it through, instead of seeing and enjoying what can only happen in winter. Great article.

You Are Not Lazy by Esme Wang- I learn so much from Esme and I needed to read this post. I am doing enough with what I have to give today. Thanks for reminder Esme.

Protecting Your Instrument by Dani Shapiro- How often I don’t protect myself and give too much of me away. Love this reminder.

Gray-Haired Granny? An 85 year Old Writer Goes Punk Rock Instead via NPR- All I have to say is at 85 years old I can only hope to be as cool and awesome.

Read Like a Writer by Ruthanne Reid- We always hear if you want to write read a lot. This post offers good practices about how to learn from what you are reading.

Finally, How To Do Thanksgiving Differently– A short video about how I am making space to do less this Thanksgiving.

P.S. You also might like Balance of Self-Care, 30 Days of Yoga or An Undefended Heart.


Intoxicating Drug of Success and Achievement

Kira Elliott Success and Achievement

“It is not easy to find happiness in ourselves, and it is not possible to find it elsewhere.”
—Agnes Repplier

After a week of cold, bleak weather and fierce winds that cleared the last of the leaves from the maples, I sit in my little writing studio/office soaking in the clear golden morning light. Perched on top the back of my chair, Riggins, my black cat, is cleaning herself, purring loud. Every once in a while she leans over and licks the top of my head. I giggle a bit and yet feel comfort knowing I am part of her pack.

There is an intimacy of this connection between me and my cat. It is only a brief moment on a Sunday morning, one of many little moments that fill my days, yet can vanished when I start to fret about what I need to get done before a family birthday party for three little girls later this afternoon. Or worse, I don’t even allow the space to feel the connection with Riggins, and I swat her off the back of my chair because I need to concentrate, I need to get this blog post done. I need to achieve what I have written on my long to do list.

I confess, I am a drug addict and my drug of choice right now is success and achievement. I need a hit of success to quell the never-ending feelings of not good enough. The worst part, even though I succeed in many areas of my life, I don’t take credit for what I achieve. I feel like an impostor.

Getting stuff done, or striving for success, has become more important than being present and witnessing my life. I want to ask myself, when did it become hard to stop striving? When did I lose my childlike wonder and the ability to sit and play with the cat for hours, watching her play with a piece of crinkly plastic?

What happened to the little me, who could play for hours, cutting out pieces of blue, green and purple construction paper to make the ocean and hang it on wall above my bed. Or patiently glue thousands of dried beans to a cardboard box to make a fairy cottage for little dolls I made of sticks I found under the pine trees?

What happened to the new mom me, who could sit for hours on a tender spring day, the trees still bare, and play Pooh Sticks with my son, by tossing sticks and twigs off a bridge running to the other side to watch them float down the river?

What happened to the me that used to read books for hours and hours? When I read books for fun. I didn’t read to improve myself or learn something. I read for delight and joy, for the immersion into a story and another world. I remember reading Gone with the Wind in 7th grade. I started reading it after school one day, stayed up all night reading, and skipped school the next day to finish it. I yearn for the luxury of endless hours to lay in my bed and read a book for fun again.

Somewhere along the way into adulthood, I found the intoxicating drug of success and achievement. I finally found something that gave me the feeling of being good enough, even if ever so briefly. The only problem is, like any drug, the high wears off and I have to get another hit. I have to keep striving for my next success, I have to keep proving I am good enough. What I use to prove my worth actually feeds the problem. Like any drug addict, I am stuck in a never-ending cycle.

So what do I do? I know I can’t just stop striving and start frolicking out in the fields as I did as a child. I have tried that and the anxiety was so great that I boomerang right back to striving and achieving.

No, I have to start where all things start, by treating myself with gentleness, compassion, kindness. Pay attention to how I feel when I start mindlessly striving and get hooked by trying to prove I am good enough by what I do. Practice loving kindness, or Metta, meditation.  Create space in my life for time to play and savor the moments of connection, like when Riggins licks the top of my head. Create space for doing nothing, even though it feels uncomfortable. Slow down and allow.

I am working on recovery, but it is hard in a culture where success and achievement are lauded as the holy grail of personal worth. I don’t have all the answers. This issue is not wrapped up in a nice and neat box (that would be perfection and only feeding the problem), but I do know what I want.

I want to learn to describe myself in terms of who I am—a kind, inquisitive and compassion women—instead of a list of what I do or achieve.

I want to know in my heart that success and achievement are not the problem but rather it is me looking for my worth in each achievement.

I want to feel comfortable owning my achievements and not tell myself I can do more, or downplay the hard work I do. I want to not feel like an impostor for my achievements.

I want to redefine success for myself. I want to embrace the idea that success is the willingness to start where I am at, no matter where that is. To witness myself, and this process of living, with curiosity and wonder. I want to know my worth is not dependent on perfection or achievement. I want to know my worth is intrinsic to my being alive. I want to know there is nothing to prove. I am good enough, and always have been.

Here is this week’s Inspiration to Open Your Heart

Tranquility du Jour- Wild Women Wild Voices by Kimberly Wilson- This is a great interview with Judy Reeves, author of Wild Women, Wild Voices and Writers Book of Days. Judy articulates exactly what my writing workshop aim achieve for writers. We do discuss craft a bit, but it is about accessing what the intuition has to say. I love Judy’s books and I highly recommend them. One day I would love to write with her too.

Living Together by Oriah Mountain Dreamer- I posted this on Facebook a few week’s ago and after the tragedy in Paris this past weekend, I thought it is worth sharing again. How can we learn to live together? Oriah captures a beautiful moment and reminds us it is possible.

The Case for Motherhood by Jean Kim- This is a beautifully written essay about an aspect of motherhood rarely discussed in our culture. Motherhood is hard—and exhausting. Jean articulates the pain and isolation of postpartum depression so well. As someone who suffered from severe postpartum depression, I thank her for writing this pointent piece. It has left me thinking about motherhood all week.

Do Holiday Exceptions Cause You Angst? 12 Ways to Help by Karly McBride Ph.D.- I have to admit, ever since D. died over 3 years ago, much of the holiday angst dropped away. It is like the grief power washed the crap out of my life. I know I plan on doing as little as possible this holiday season. We will celebrate together but the notion of the picture perfect holiday? I dropped that and I am not picking it back up. Every year I do less and less, and I like it that way.

21 Things I Wish I’d Know When I Started Writing by Robin Black- Love this insightful list. Clear grounded advice.


P.S- You might also like Hungry Ghosts of Not Good Enough or Success if Feeling Good Enough




November Play

Kira Elliott November Play

“The creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect but by the play instinct.” – Carl Jung

The bare trees outside my window sway in the bright blue sky. A brisk wind is blowing scattering the remaining leaves across the lawn. It is the day after three days of relentless rain, fierce winds and colder temperatures. The transformation of one week is stunning. It is like wind blew away summer and early fall.

Outside, the trees are stark. The golden and red vibrant color palette of fall is now browns and grays. Inside, the furnace clicks on every hour or so. I have found my slippers from the back of closet to keep my feet warm on the ceramic tile floor. I packed my summer pajamas away and now I sleep in soft sweatpants and oversized long sleeve tee shirts. Cups of hot peppermint tea are never far as I sit and write.

It is bundle up time. I also feel that internal need to start new projects as the season unfolds and makes way towards the end of the year. For many this means participating in National Novel Writing Month or NaNoWriMo. NaNoWriMo happens every November where thousands of writers around the world support each other to write 50,000 words in 30 days. It is an amazing experience.

I used to participate in NaNoWriMo and I reached the goal of 50,000 words 3 times. NaNoWriMo stretched me and taught me how to push through my resistance. I learned not to believe my doubts about my ability as a writer. I learned I could show up daily and write. I loved the structure and support of NaNoWriMo. I loved being able to reach my word count daily. I experienced a ton of satisfaction from the achievement. And then it became another thing I had to do. It became yet one more way to prove I was good enough. All the joy was drained out.

So the last three years I have opted to not participate because I am trying to learn how to do less not more (I wrote about this here and here). I am learning how to approach my creative efforts with joy and ease and not the heavy hammer of striving to prove I am good enough. This is hard uncomfortable work.

Honestly, while NaNoWriMo takes a ton of work and pushes me into uncomfortable places, it is easier do it than not to do it. Pushing myself to the edges of my capacity, making myself do more than I need is pretty damn comfortable. I know how to operate from a place of overworking and striving. It is harder for me to not participate in NaNoWriMo and more uncomfortable for me to see what I can’t do, rather than push myself to see what I can.

Learning to play is something that makes me uncomfortable. As I wrote about last week, learning to cultivate more play and rest in my life is super hard, and I know it is important if I want more joy and ease in my life. Playing or doing things for fun—for no purpose (the idea of which always takes my breath away) is something that will stretch me and make me grow like NaNoWriMo did so many years ago.

So instead of pushing myself with NaNoWriMo, I am starting November Play (follow along and participate if you like on Instagram—use #novemberplay). For the month of November I am going to do one small thing each day to cultivate play in my life. One small thing, or sometimes a bigger one if I have the time, I do for fun—for no purpose—but because it is delightful. No pressure, no striving but rather a reminder to play a little each day. I have to admit, this feels daunting to me, this feels like a stretch.

This morning I baked apples with almond flour biscuits. I love to cook and yet I often don’t allow myself to spend time in the kitchen trying out new recipes. I tell myself I don’t have time to mess around in the kitchen, or if I am going to cook it better something super healthy or not make me fat (a whole other issue). The scent of apples baking with cinnamon made house cozy and warm. The almond flour biscuits were so yummy with the hot saucy apples. Most importantly I had fun making them.

Here is this week’s Inspiration to Open Your Heart

From a Dark Place by Monica Mercer – After losing his sight, an artist’s journey to reinvent his life is a lesson in overcoming obstacles. This is a fascinating story about learning to work within limitations.

Embrace the Shake by Phil Hansen- Wow, I loved this TED talk. Not only is Phil’s art beyond amazing but his curiosity and wonder is inspiring.

Begin Again: How Yoga Unlocks the Writer Within by Dani Shapiro- Moving my body is major part of my writing practice. It is how I metabolize what I have written or figure out what I need to write. After writing for a few hours, I often I get up and do 10 sun salutations.

Everything Doesn’t Happen For A Reason by Tim J. Lawrence- I learned how utterly painful and dismissive these words can be after my son was diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy over 20 years ago. Well meaning people would tell me everything happens for a reason or God doesn’t give you more than you handle. All these platitudes did was dismiss my pain, grief and fear. They isolated me and my son. I love the line, “Some things in life cannot be fixed. They can only be carried.” So true, so true.

The Time is Now from Poets and Writers– Here is a helpful resource of weekly writing prompts and other inspiration from Poets and Writers. Super cool.

May your coming week be filled with moments of delight and ease. ~ Kira


Play is a Foreign Land

Kira Elliott How to Play

“The imagination needs moodling,–long, inefficient happy idling, dawdling and puttering. ”― Brenda Ueland

The world is glowing golden today. Bright morning sun lights up the remaining yellow, orange and red leaves on the maples and oak outside my window. The trees are brilliant this year as they prepare to go dormant for the long dark winter. Today is a day that beckons me outside. After two weeks of being sick with a head cold, I want to ride my bike and take in the remaining moments of October. I want to feel the cool air rushing past me as my tires crunch through the thick carpet of leaves on the forest floor.

And I have a long list of things I need to get done. A list that by the time I get to the end, has grown with another 20 items. It is a bottomless list that taunts me with dreams of being good enough, if only I could cross off each item.

This list causes me to feel a heavy dread deep in my belly. It tightens my shoulders, clenches my jaw and grinds my teeth. This list stops my lungs from taking deep full breaths. I know this list so well, it is my normal. It is how I keep myself, and my joy, in check, from running amuck. It is how I try to prove I am good enough. Ironically this list feeds my internal not good enough feelings and never, ever, helps me feel good enough.

I am so used to this list of doing that most of the time I am not even aware of it operating in the background. I wake up and obediently follow it, completing each task in a numbed out stupor. At least that is how I felt by the end of the week last week. I had multiple engagements and meetings every night of the week. I had too many high stake grant presentations for my day job. When I woke on Friday morning, I didn’t feel any enthusiasm or joy for the coming day. I felt numb. The numbness of busy and doing too much.

I want more play and joy in my life. I want to spend my evenings and weekends doing more than recovering from a week of overworking and setting up my life so I do the same the next week.

Yet, play is a foreign land for me. I trying to learn the customs and language. I am trying to learn how to navigate this new terrain of doing something for no other reason than because it’s fun. This is a land where there is no striving, no not good enough,no achieving, but rather the goal is simply fun and joy. It is a land where it is okay to do things for no purpose. Where you can sit and stare out the window watching birds dance around the branches of the trees all day.

I don’t know much about play, but I do know when exhausted from doing too much, playing is out of the question. Nope, I am buckling down and plowing forward. I fall into the get it done mode. My internal task master comes out and hisses, “No none of that frivolous joy, there’s no time or energy for that crap.”

The feeling of time crunch from over scheduling is a play killer too. When my days and weeks are over scheduled, I feel like I am in the trash compactor from Star Wars and all sides of my life are crushing in on me. When that happens I throw play and joy out the window. I grasp hard onto my, I am getting it done mode, I am surviving mode.

Maybe that’s why this land of play is so hard for me inhabit—I am used to surviving. My life has been about surviving up until now. But today in my mid-forties, my life is calm. I am doing more than surviving. I have learned how to let go of unhealthy people who cause havoc and mayhem. There are no fires in my life now. Now I am trying to learn how to live without the constant flow of adrenaline and anxiety. I am trying to learn there is space for play and joy.

So how on earth how do I minimize the achievement quest so deeply embedded in my cells? Can I let go of the, get things done and everything has to have a purpose drive? This is a quest and drive to prove I am good enough. I wonder too, how do I not let play and joy become yet another item on my list of things to do? I don’t want play to simply become another check I can mark off my list saying, yes I did it in attempt to prove I am good enough.

I can finally play for play’s sake only I don’t know how. I feel weird and awkward. How do I do things with no purpose but to have fun? Yes, I have to get used to the idea of purposelessness.

Play is leaning into myself. It is kindness and tenderness—compassion. Play is slowing down and paying attention. I am committed to learning how to live in this new land of play and joy. I am committed to learning how to put down my to do list that tells me I am not good enough. Now all I have to do is keep trying and be willing to be uncomfortable. So I am going to go ride my bike today. I am going to savor the final golden leafs cascading to the damp earth.

This Week’s Inspiration To Open Your Heart

The Best Thing You Can Do For Yourself And All The Women Around You by Elizabeth Gilbert

The Water Takes You As You Are by Rachel W. Cole

Meditation: Be Kind To Yourself by Kristin Neff

Surprised By Play by Becca Rowan

The Sanitized Stories We Tell By Sarah Bessey

Finally, two opportunities to engage with me and my work.

Open Hearted Wisdom Circle

I still have a few spots open in my Open Hearted Wisdom Circle on October 27th at 7:00 pm EST. In this circle we are going to discuss Cultivating Play and Rest, based on Guidepost #7 from The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown. We will explore how we feel about play and rest, barriers in our lives to play and rest, and how we can create more opportunities in our lives for play and rest.  It is my hope you will connect with others and leave inspired to play and rest more in our lives. You find more information and how to sign up for for free HERE.

JL_2015-CRT-Kira-ElliottCreative Radiance Toolkit

Remember the post it notes on the back of my door to help me finish my e-book? Well it’s finished and I am honor to have it as part of a unique curated project that “pops up” next week on October 27th for just 72 hours. It’s called The Creative Radiance Toolkit and it’s a gorgeous collection of e-books, e-courses, music, audio and video experiences, intimate conversations, and writing prompts, all designed to help you create with more ease. With contributors like Danielle LaPorte, Brian Andreas, Flora Bowley, Lissa Rankin, Melody Ross, Susan Piver, Jen Louden, Sarah Selecky, and me (+ 21 more) and a ton of exclusive original content, this isn’t another bundle of stuff you’ll never use. Stay tuned for your personal invite October 27th!

May you find space in your life for more play and joy in the coming week. ~Kira


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