How to Lean Into the Good

How to Lean Into the Good

Kira Elliott- Leaning into the good

“Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.” ― Desmond Tutu

Spring is beginning to open up here in Detroit despite relentless snow each day. I am feeling the pull for something new, to lean into the good, instead of craving for my life to be different. Only I am not sure I know how to lean into the good.

Each morning sitting on my black meditation cushion I now hear song birds and mourning doves cooing softly as the sun begins to rise. This morning I listened to a single crow calling out while I sat at my desk which is littered with half empty tea cups, a teaspoon I took from D’s house the day he died to eat the pint of ice cream (I felt I deserved it after sitting watching him die for four days), pens and highlighters, a stack of thank you letters I need to take to the post office and stacks of books, many of which I have read, many still waiting for my attention.

Finally, there is a single sheet of white paper with a short paragraph I printed in black ink from a blog post I read two weeks ago by Jonathan Fields. Each morning for the last few weeks I have sat with my green tea in the cold darkness and read these words:

If you knew, with 100% certainty, that the thing you were doing today, the people you were with, the partner whom you’re dancing would have to be the thing, the people, the partner you stayed with for the rest of your productive life, but you had the ability to craft the way you experienced each precisely the way you wanted, what would you do differently? How would you create the most purposeful and rewarding reality within those constraints?

The blog post, Before You Blow Up Your Life, Do This has rearranged everything inside of me. It is redirecting my choices and changing how I act and behave each day. I admit to clinging on to the belief that I need blow up my life in order to be living a truly purposeful life. I have felt that I am so how less than or not good enough because I have not blown up my life. I feel like a loser because I still have my day job working at a non-profit building affordable housing and I have not abandoned my responsibilities to those who depend on me.

Ever since D died almost four years ago, I have felt that I am not doing what I need to be doing in my life. That I need to be doing more. I need to pursue my passions. I felt that I gave up my calling to live a life of creative expression for taking care of others and security. His death made acute the reality that life is indeed short and I had better make some changes.

I did make changes, lots of them. I began prioritizing my writing and creative work. I started blogging and connecting with other like minded women around the world. Taking care of myself became nurturing and joyful not just another should or something I had to do to keep my head above water. I woke up a part of myself that I had buried under the pressures of being an adult and taking care of my son (and way too many others). I slowed down. I stopped worrying about cleaning the house. I became softer.

Yet, I felt this wasn’t enough. It wanted to be more. I wanted to earn my living from my passions. I felt I was falling short. I wrote business plans. I incorporated. I poured all of my free time and energy into learning about building a business. I created opportunities to gather women and reflect on good enough. I got certified to lead creative writing workshops and started teaching.

And I am somewhat successful for doing a part-time gig. I tell myself I know I can make this happen if only I can do it full time. I dream of winning the lotto or some other windfall of cash that will allow me to finally pursue my passion job full-time. As a result my day job has become enemy number one.

I am bound up in striving and ignoring when my heart whispers to go to my studio and play with paint. I tell myself I can revise those poems and prose pieces later, after I finish my latest newsletter. Instead of submitting new work I have to set up the launch of my next workshop. Despite my efforts and hustle, I am still not living a life of creative expression I so desperately want.

I cause so much suffering by thinking I need my life to be different, as if what I have right here and now is not enough. This is classic craving.

So here’s the deal, I have a good life, a really good life. It is me that creates so much unrest, and dissatisfaction by constantly craving more or different. I choose to not lean into the good that is present here and now.

I am not going to lie, I am torn about my day job, it is demanding. Some days it feels so much bigger than me and I want to run and hide. I often come home and collapse on couch unable to think. Sometimes I cry because the needs in my community seems so impossible to meet. Yet it is also fulfilling. My efforts literally builds homes for people in need. Trust me it is not as glamorous as it sounds. It is not me hammering the nails and raising a roof but rather writing grants, talking and bargaining with people in suits likes bankers, lawyers and city officials. It is solving problems and mitigating risks.

It is good work, it is meaningful work. I am good at it—and I want, no need, to do other creative work too. I need to express my creative impulses. Just like a good night’s sleep, clean healthy food and time to sit in meditation each day, I need creative expression in my life. Creative expression for no purpose, goal or end game but then to create. And I think I have gotten off track.

I have to also acknowledge the benefits my day job provides me. It gives me stability and security, something if I am honest with myself, I need to keep anxiety and panic at bay. It affords me the resources to do creative work. Not only art supplies, my Macbook, or super fast internet, but also I can afford to go on retreats, and take classes. My day job has taught me how to work with and manage a team of talented people. I have learned how to manage big complex projects. It has taught me how to believe in myself and do things I never I thought I could.

So how would I create the most purposeful and rewarding reality within the constraints of my current life? How can I rise up and not blow up my life?

I don’t know. I want to say some smart witty things but the truth is, I am not sure yet. I do know just by asking the questions, I feel a shift inside. In the simple act of asking I am creating a space for me to pause and look at what I am doing in my life. It is in this space I can let go of the striving and self-judgement, to really see what I have and what I want.

I also know that I need to make more space in my life my own creative expression that is for no other purpose than to play and have fun with my art. Even if that means I have to pull back on my side hustle a bit. I love teaching and gathering women together. I love the work of building a business too and at the age of 45 I now know that I can’t do it all. Life is not only short but time is limited (as well as energy). Unless I win the lotto or some other large windfall of cash enters my life, I need to do work that provides my basic necessities and provides me with stability.

When I stop and really consider blowing up my life, I know I don’t want to. I would have blown it up already. But I still feel the tug that I am missing out, being a wimp or not good enough and if only something were different, than it all would be better.

So as spring opens, I find myself opening too, to a new direction, or rather a realignment, to what I knew so fiercely in my bones after D died. Life is short and I have to make wise choices about how I am living and using my time. I need to have space for creative expression without the pressure to blow up my life to make it great. I need to lean in my good and let go of the false notions that there is always something more and better.

I am doing good, meaningful and important work—both in my day job and with my creative expression. I am rising up and that is good enough.

Here is this week’s Inspiration To Open Your Heart

Never Apologize by Veronica Funk- So as I realign my life, this post reminds me to not apologize for getting off track but rather see how I am always making choices about how I spend my time.

Equanimity by Louise DeSalvo- Ms. DeSalvo is one of the wisest teachers I know and I love this post about how to cultivate equanimity with our writing (or any creative work).

90:10- The Single Most Important Thing You Can Do For Stress by Dr. Mike Evans- I simply love Dr. Evans videos. His kind and matter of fact messages about how to take care of ourselves are wonderful. Here I am reminded how it is my thinking that causes most stress and I can do something about that. I need to remember the 90:10 rule, so true.

The Remembrance of Places and Lives Past by Liana Aghajanian- Liana is the writer in residence at Write a House here in Detroit. She captures one of the things I simply adore about Detroit—how friendly most people are. We talk to strangers here and whenever I visit other cities I feel so strange because that is not the norm. Liana doesn’t sugar coat Detroit but rather shares a pretty balanced view. 

Crochet Food Hats via Visual News- This is for joy. I simply love these so much. I am in awe of the talent.

P.S. You might also like Authentic Abundance, Accept the Goodness and Willing to See the Goodness

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

Compassion is My New Mode of Operation

Compassion is My New Mode of Operation

Kira Elliott Green Cabneit Kitchen

“The thing that is really hard, and really amazing, is giving up on being perfect and beginning the work of becoming yourself.” – Anna Quindlen

Today I am learning how compassion is my new mode of operation. This morning I sat at my writing desk. It was cluttered with half empty mason jars of water and tea, small index cards scribbled with notes for different projects and crumpled tissues. The cats were relentless in their pursuit to sit in the morning sun slanting across the desk. There simply is not enough room for both of them on the desk. Lupe didn’t understand she can’t sit on the keyboard while I am typing, yet I am too much a softy, so I tried to make it work. I repeatedly stopped to pet her gently and tell her to move off the keyboard. All this did was make her move in closer to me. It was a losing battle. One I admit, I gladly welcomed the distraction. The words were not flowing this morning.

My plan was to get at least 6 to 8 hours of writing in today. I have multiple projects that I am working on and all of them have deadlines, which are fast approaching. I needed to stay focused and I was not only losing the battle with the cats but also Facebook and my honey, who came into my office, his coffee in hand wanting to hang out. I gladly turned from my computer and hung out. Even made an extra pot of coffee.

As I wrote last week, I have been struggling to show up to the page. The darkness of winter is wearing my soul thin. I am resisting the urge to berate myself for not getting more done, for hibernating the last month or so. I know from past experience that my writer self does not do well when my irate inner taskmaster starts barking orders and throwing me down the shame gauntlet. My writer self seeks for cover and retreats further away when this happens. The urge to snuggle on the couch with my kitty and binge watch The Fosters becomes almost impossible to resist.

So what do I need to coax my writer self to show up and write? Compassion, my new mode of operation.

Compassion and acceptance for where I am at in this moment. The older I get the more I realize compassion is not only the foundation of my writing practice, but for my whole life. It is how I actually get things done. I thrive in an atmosphere of kindness and compassion. This is bit counter intuitive in our culture which values a “no pain, no gain” attitude. But it is only when I am able to tell my inner taskmaster that, “Hey, it’s okay, I got this. You can go away,” am I am able to start to write.

And I often have to make bargains with my writer self too. Today it was, I will write for three hours this morning and then hang out with my honey (it’s the weekend for goodness sake), then write a few more hours, then go workout (yes, this is a reward for me). I told myself, I will get done what I get done—perfect is the enemy of done.

I did get some of what I had on my little to do list scribble on one of those note cards on my desk. Not all but most. I feel good about that and so I told my writer self I will go spend some quality time in the kitchen to make a special dinner. Shrimp and scallops simmered with garlic, basil and a triple blend of mushrooms served with kale, roasted eggplant and polenta.  Baked apples with almond flour biscuits for dessert.

The most important thing is I am not demanding, I am not focusing on what I should have done or all that needs to be done. I am simply showing up and guess what? The words flowed enough today. I feel connected to something larger than myself. Today it helped that I had deadlines but even when I don’t approaching myself and my writing with compassion always works better than not. Today compassion is my new mode of operation.

Here is this week’s Inspiration to Open Your Heart

Proof of Seriousness by Nancy Peacock -I read this morning and it resonated deeply. Sometimes I feel like I am a failure or not serious enough about my writing because I am don’t attend all kinds of conferences or live a “writer’s life”. I needed the reminder that living a rich full varied life gives us material and insight for when we show up to the page.

Strong Offer Friday- Transform Terror Into Commitment and Entitlement Into Hope by Patti Digh. This talk by Laurie Foley is a must watch for everyone, at least I think so. The part about entitlement hit me hard. I don’t like to think of myself as feeling entitled to anything but I do feel entitled to a long life and that I will always be here for my son. Watch this now if you have not already.

Writing Begins With Forgiveness: Why One of the Most common Pieces of Writing Advice is Wrong by Daniel José Older- The problem with “rules of writing” is that they are generally based on a western work ethic of no pain no gain. They are based on a reality too few of us share. Yes, show up to the page as often as possible but don’t get bogged down in shame if you can show up each day. Here is permission to be human.

Bring Kindness to a Full Stop By Justine- This post reminds me to pause and remember what is truly important. Kindness and how can I be a Daymaker. What if everyday I tried to be a Daymaker? Now this is cultivating joy if I ever heard of it.

What If All I Want Is a Mediocre Life? by Krista O’Reilly-Davi-Digui- I simply fell in love this post. It says it all. Why am is my life as it is not good enough? Why do I strive so much? Do I really want to be a superstar?

P.S. You might also like Endless Amounts of Compassion, Compassion for the Young Woman I Was and Allowing Space to be Sad

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

Giving Your Heart a Place to Open

Giving Your Heart a Place to Open

Kira Elliott Tea time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Favorite Blog Posts of 2015

Favorite Blog Posts of 2015

Kira Elliott Connection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are some of my favorite blog posts of 2015

My Essential Wild Self

Grief is Hard Work

Gifts Beyond My Control

Outwitting Not Good Enough

If My Body Could Speak

Hungry Ghosts of Not Good Enough

Play is a Foreign Land 

Here is this week’s Inspiration to Open Your Heart

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Awesome Books of 2015 (at least a few)

Awesome Books of 2015 (at least a few)

Kira Elliott 2015 Favorite Books

Books are a uniquely portable magic.” ― Stephen King

This is happening now. It is early Sunday morning, quiet and dark. The cats are still sleeping, Lupe curled up at the foot of the bed, Riggins on the couch in the living room. I turn the hallway light on as Jay, still asleep in the bed, lightly snores and I creep back into the bedroom to my side of the bed. There on the floor is a large basket overflowing with books. These are books, magazines, and literary journals I have read over the last few months when I go to bed. I admit there is nothing sweeter or makes me more giddy with joy then getting into bed at the end of the day, or sometimes in the middle of the day, with a good book. Sometimes I am interested in a specific topic and I will collect a stack of books from around the house and then joyfully jump into bed. I am like a small child going to the doughnut shop on a Sunday afternoon.

The dim light from the hallway illuminates just enough to see as I start picking up each book from the basket and placing it on the bed. Soon my side of the bed is covered with books. I feel the recognition of an old friend or a remembered conversation with each one I pick up. I resist the urge to sit on the edge of the bed, open a book and start reading. My plan is to select three or four of my favorite I have read in 2015. I want scoop them all up in my arms and take to my office, but I select 10 and reluctantly tip-toed out of the room and turn off the hallway light.

Reading is more than a way to obtain new information or pass time. Reading for me is a balm for my soul.  Books are my best friends, mentors and wise sages.  I turn to books when I feel lonely, restless, confused or scared. I have a house full of stacks of books spilling onto the floor because the many bookcases I own are already filled with books. Reading the words of others connects me to something outside of myself and helps to bring order to my sometimes chaotic world.

It is an impossible task to pick just one best of 2015 book, I think it is impossible to select a best of anything. Each book is different and each resonates for different reasons and different needs. So below is a list some of the books that stood out or resonated with me in 2015. This is not a complete list, as I am sure I am missing many.

Awesome Books of 2015 (at least a few)

Writing As A Way of Healing: How Telling Our Stories Transforms Our Lives by Louise DeSalvo- So I resisted reading this book for a super long time. I kept telling myself that I didn’t need to read yet another writing book. I needed to write not read about writing, yet I picked it up on recommendation from a friend and holy crap it is not what I thought. First, it is a well researched book with tons of illustrations of how other writers use writing as a way of healing. Ms. DeSalvo’s prose is like being cradled in a hammock on a warm summer day. I learned so much and most importantly, I learn about how to care for myself while writing about difficult topics. My copy is tabbed, dog-eared, and annotated.  A reference book I return to again and again.

The Art of Slow Writing: Reflections on Time, Craft, and Creativity by Louise DeSalvo- So after reading Writing As A Way of Healing, I had to read this book. Again, I was not disappointed. It is the same well researched and gentle prose as her other book. I am learning more about the writing process of others and thinking about my own process as a writer. I am figuring out what I can do to set myself up for sustained writing. One of my biggest takeaways is it is okay to take my time. If I write only a paragraph (as I did yesterday) that is fine, it is good to let things simmer. Also, the idea of keeping a process journal is so helpful. I highly recommend both of her books. I will reread both of these books for many years to come.

It should be mentioned that my reading wish list grew tremendously reading both of Ms. DeSalvo’s books from the many references she provides.

Childhood Disrupted: How Your Biography Becomes Your Biology and How You Can Heal by Donna Jackson Nakazawa- This is another book I resisted buying and reading. I first heard about this on NPR driving home work and I had to go check out the book. This is another well researched book about the link between Adverse Childhood Experiences (as measured by ACE Scores) and adult illness. Many scientific studies are sited and Ms. Nakazawa interviews multiple experts in neuroscience, immunology and other fields.

As someone with a high ACE score (9 out of 10, which stunned me but didn’t really surprise me) I was reluctant to read this book because I didn’t want to read about more bad news or what is wrong with me, or could be wrong with me. Yet, this book also offers concrete practices that can offset high ACE scores, such as expressive writing, mediation and body movement like yoga—all practices that are the foundation of my self-care. A fascinating book well worth the read.

Rising Strong: The Reckoning. The Rumble. The Revolution. by Brene Brown, PhD. LMSW- Oh, I love every book written by Ms. Brown. Her work has literally changed my life by giving me tools to not hide in deep shame. Rising Strong helps me know I am not alone and helps me gather the courage to keep showing up. It gives me permission to own my story, which is not always so easy. It gives me courage to be me, all messy and falling apart, and awesome and joyful. I also have this on audio and Ms. Brown is the narrator, which is so awesome.

The Mother Knot: A Memoir by Kathryn Harrison- I am speechless. This is not only a beautifully written book but it is so powerful. Ms. Harrison provides us with unflinching honesty about motherhood, rage, the difficulty of forgiveness and self-harm. She was able to put into words so many difficult emotions and experiences of my own. I find courage within to continue my writing path reading this beautiful little book.

If You Find Me: A Novel by Emily Murdoch- I don’t read a lot of fiction because when I do I stay up all night and can’t put it down. After reading this I think I need to read more fiction. I was blown away by this heartbreaking story of two young girls kidnapped by their meth head mother to live in the backcountry in Tennessee. This is a story of forgiveness, redemption with beautiful vivid descriptions. It is heartbreaking and I cried a lot.

There are so many more awesome books I read this year, like Chronology of Water by Lidia Yuknavitch, Excavation by Wendy Ortiz, There is Nothing Wrong with You by Cheri Huber, The 10 Letters Project by Jen Lee and Tim Manley or What Comes Next and How to Like It by Abigail Thomas. Too many to list really.

What books are on your Awesome Books of 2015 list?

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

This One Simple Writing Practice Can Powerfully Strengthen Your Yoga Practice by Jackie Johansen

Empathy Is A Moral Issue by Sharon Salzberg

Mindful Listening by Gil Fronsdal

How the Literary Class System is Impoverishing Literature by Lorraine Berry

Writing and Drawing Comics E-Course by Summer Pierre (If you have ever wanted to learn more about creating comics, here is an awesome opportunity)

And finally, registration is open for the the Winter 2016 Writing to Open Your Heart workshop. We start on January 13, 2016. I would love write start 2016 writing together. You find more information HERE and let me know if you have any questions HERE.


P.S. You also might like Books I Am Currently Reading, My Favorite Books, and Books That Nourish My Heart

Success is Feeling Good Enough

2014-07-25 13.12.38

“It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.”
J.K. Rowling

I feel like I am cheating. Cheating on my dreams. The ones that I wake up each morning and drag with me to the kitchen as I stand in the dim light from the hood above the stove and listen to the kettle boil water for tea. Lupe, my thin gray cat, meows loudly and looks up at me waiting for a morning treat.

I stand staring out the window above the sink into the dark morning. I feel the weight of my dreams, not the ones that dissipated when I woke tangled in bed sheets, my body slightly damp from midlife night sweats. No, these are the big dreams, the dreams of creative success. A huge book contract, 1000,000 followers on social media, an appearance on Oprah, raving reviews in the New York Times, speaking gigs. These dreams include world travel, polished homes decorated in glowing light, accented in turquoise, clean lines and absolutely no clutter. These dreams are leading writing retreats in places with palm trees, white sand beaches, pristine blue waters and perfect vegan gluten-free meals. In these dreams, my Instagram feed is filled with stunning photos of wonderfulness—all the time, 24/7. These dreams have nothing to do with reality like me waiting at a grimy service station last Friday because my back brakes were grinding so loud I thought the back tire was going to fly off.

These dreams are huge, compelling beacons—and heavy. I wake each day propelled towards achieving these dreams with their glossy definitions of success. I tell myself, stay the course and all these things will happen. If I work hard enough, put myself out there enough, do enough of the right things (which means figuring out what those things are, which is a full-time job by itself) I will arrive there.

More or less, if I am good enough, then these dreams will manifest in my life.

The problem is, I am not sure these are my dreams? Honestly I don’t see me, in any of these definitions of success. I don’t see myself living a picture perfect glamorous life. A life full of so much adventure you never have time to stop and reflect. I don’t see myself living in a house so light and airy there is nowhere to curl up with a book next to a basket full of laundry that needs to be folded.

I simply don’t exist in any of these ideas of success I see on the internet or in magazines. Does that mean I haven’t done enough inner work to accept fabulousness into my life? Or does it mean I want something else? Something more in alignment with me? Something more authentic?

What about waking up and feeling like who I am and what I do is good enough, right here, right now?  What if I got to choose my definition of success and not blindly accept what my culture tells me is success? What if success was not constant striving, doing more, being more, achieving more? I like considering this, it feels good. It feels like possibility. Like freedom.

Life doesn’t have to be a state of constant craving.

Yesterday morning I sat on the couch with my partner Jay watching our black cat fling a jagged ball of rolled up duct tape high into the air, I wondered out loud why this wasn’t enough. Why I felt I needed more? I admitted I was happy. Our cluttered house with weeds growing in the garden beds, a kitchen table piled high with books and the first ceramic pieces I have made in over 12 years, camera bags open on the loveseat, laundry baskets filled with wrinkled, yet clean clothes.

We have more than our basic needs met. We have a home that not only shelters us from the elements but also affords us space to have a music room, an art studio, a room to practice yoga and my own office to write in solitude. We can afford healthy yummy food. We have transportation that takes us around town. We have a great relationship filled with ease, mutual respect, support and love (Seriously, it is not hard, filled with drama or angst. I feel like the luckiest woman alive).

Hell, I if all I do creatively is what I am doing right now—blogging, putting new essays out there occasionally, dabbling in visual work and leading writing workshops—than that is super successful for me. Because I feel good. I feel satisfied. That is enough.

Don’t get me wrong, I love creating something new and following my curiosities. Yes, I would love to make my living one day from my writing and supporting and assisting others to honor and own their authenticity. Perhaps I will, but honestly I don’t want to manifest any super-duper dream success where I don’t even see myself in the results.

I want to do good work. I want to wake up in the morning excited about an idea and create it for no other reason than because it delights me. I want to write essays about what stirs me, makes me wonder, and stumps me about the human condition. I don’t want to worry if Oprah will like it  or if it is what New York Times will think it’s good enough.

So I am putting down these heavy dreams that are not mine. Success for me is releasing the suffering of always wanting more. Success is feeling good enough.

Here is this week’s Inspiration to Open Your Heart

Ask Polly: Should I Give Up on My Writing– This is the post that got me thinking about what is my definition of success and what is enough for me. I felt frustration rise up from deep in my belly reading this because all I could think was how wonderful, you live in New York and make a living from your writing. Sounds good to me.

The Hidden Reason for Poverty the World Needs to Address– This compelling TED talk by Gary Haugen I think everyone needs to watch. It changes the way I think of poverty and what we can do about it. Still seems so huge and I feel powerless.

How to Reduce Stress By Doing Less and Doing it Slowly by Toni Bernhard- If you have never read Toni’s work, I highly recommend it. She offers wise, practical, and compassionate approaches to living.

This is How Instagram Users Show the Best Side of Their Life by Benjamin Starr- So when I start to compare myself to the outsized perfect lives on Social Media, I need to remember how much staging and cropping goes into each photo. Holy cow, this is stunning and funny.

Advice to Myself by Louise Erdrich- I love this poem beyond words. This is one I will tape on the wall next to my desk and read out loud to remind me of what is important.

May you find and embrace your own definition of success. ~Kira