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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!  

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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!

 

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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.

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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

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Comparing Diminishes My Authenticity

Kira Elliott Comparing

“Don’t always be appraising yourself, wondering if you are better or worse than other writers. “I will not Reason and Compare,” said Blake; “my business is to Create.” Besides, since you are like no other being ever created since the beginning of Time, you are incomparable. ” ― Brenda Ueland

The morning is heavy. The air  thick and damp as blue jays squawk and screech high in the trees. I smell remnants of the neighbors bon fire from a party that went late into the night. Fog hovers low to the ground. Summer is waning. I see the signs as I ride my bike through the woods. Patches of leaves at the far end of branches turning a yellow or orange hue. A single golden oak leaf on the dirt path. Canadian Geese flying in formation high in the sky. Or simply the fact I had to start wearing sweaters and jackets when I left the house each morning last week.

I feel myself shifting too. I took last week off of writing, or really any creating, for the most part. It was not intended. It was as if I needed to recalibrate after a month of intense creative activity. I wrote in my journal but other than that, I was empty and still of words. Even in my meditation practice, my normal bouncing, planning mind was conspicuously quiet and still. I found myself sitting each morning on my black cushion following my breath with relative ease.

Yet lurking in my belly was a nagging anxious feeling. Not my normal anxiety that stomps around and yells loud and clear most days. No this was deep, more primal, almost a low growl. All week I felt uneasy and flat. Like I shut down and was hiding.

On Thursday morning this unease finally came into focus. I caught the edge of this deep low growl in my belly writing in my journal. I heard the fragments of a story I know so well. The weekend before I had co-hosted a Kindred Connection workshop with Jen Lee and Anna Oginsky. It was an intense and awesome day. I met so many brilliant, fiery, creative women making not only beautiful and powerful art but wonderful lives as well. I left inspired and connected. And I left drained and questioning my own validity as a maker.

I hate to admit this but I struggle with comparing my writing and other creative work to others all the time. It is a constant nagging thought. I think it is endemic of my chronic not good enough feelings I acquired growing up. For me, I worry my writing is too messy, not clear, and oh, too many images streaming along not making sense. I worry my visual artwork is just scribbles and crap, that I am deluding myself thinking it is beautiful. I get frustrated that I continually seem to return to images and ideas from my childhood. I tell myself, I must grow up. Make something pretty, simple and clear.

Yet what shows up in my work is somewhat messy, not so mainstream, not so happy most of the time. So I embrace what does show up and I allow it to grow. That is who I am, what is in me. My writing style is not a standard literary style, it is not going to win any great awards, but the point is I love writing, it helps me to clarify. I love the images that pour out of me. Many times these images  and words will stay with me for days. Writing and drawing are almost like dreaming on paper; they me help figure out my insides.

I have found the more I embrace my voice the stronger it becomes and the less I compare. I show up for me first and honestly that feels really good. There are not too many places in my life where I can put me first—on the page or canvas I can. I need to remember that comparing diminishes my authenticity.

It is so easy grab hold of the habit to compare and think we are doing it wrong or have to be different. It is easy to think that who we are or where we came from is not good enough. Letting go of this habit, impulse or whatever you want to call it, is hard. I am not sure the habit ever goes away.

I think we learn how to recognize comparing when it shows up, say hello to it and then tell it not today as we move on with our work. The hard part is we still know it is sitting in the corner of our hearts, just out of sight and we have to muster the courage to forge forward anyways despite the annoying comparison habit still there growling low in our bellies.

 

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

Is There a Time and Place for Authenticity? by Claire De Boer- This is a thoughtful post exploring where, when and how much to share about ourselves. This is something I grapple with tremendously. Transparency is important to me and I struggle with being seen as I really am. The habit of hiding in plain sight still lives in my cells.

Meditation on Gratitude and Joy by Jack Kornfield- Strange but gratitude and joy can be difficult emotions for me to sit with. It is through deliberate cultivation I have learned to grow and allow gratitude and joy to flourish in my life. I love this line from this meditation, “Gratitude is confidence in life itself.”

How Painting Can Transform Communities by Jeroen Koolhaas and Dre Urhahn- This TED talk explores how art empowers and transforms entire neighborhoods.

Make Your Laziness Be Real Rest by Caroline Knox- I love this poem. This is one I would be well served to read everyday as a reminder of how productive rest can be.

Interview with Lidia Yuknavitch on Other People Podcast– Two things about this: 1) Lidia Yuknavitch is beyond an amazing author. Read her now. I had to pull over and take notes while listening to this interview. One of my notes, self-expression is better than self-destruction. Yes, that is why I must show up and write. 2) I know I have said it before but Brad Listi’s Other People podcast is by far one of the best podcasts out there. Engaging and always interesting. Go listen to it.

And finally, Registration for Writing to Open Your Heart is open. Register now and save. We start writing together on September 16, 2015.

Do you have questions about if my writing workshops are right for you? Or any other questions you want to ask?

Join me for Open Office Hours! I am holding open office hours on Wednesday September 2, 2015 from 7:00 pm to 8:30 pm EST to answer your questions via live video chat (same system I use for workshops). Send me a private message HERE and I will send you the link to join me.

 

 May you find the courage to create what arises this week and kick the habit of comparing to the curb. ~ Kira

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