Sleep is Magical- Mindful Practices to Help You Sleep

Kira Elliott Sleep is Magical

“Peace is within oneself to be found in the same place as agitation and suffering. It is not found in a forest or on a hilltop, nor is it given by a teacher. Where you experience suffering, you can also find freedom from suffering. Trying to run away from suffering is actually to run toward it.” Ajahn Chah

Sleep is Magical

It is dark. I wake and awareness trickles into the warm spaces in my mind. The white noise machine on the cluttered bedside table hums. I feel the warm weight of the cat sleeping on my right foot. Sleep is a magical thing and I want more of it. Yet the core of my body is heating up like the flare of hot blue heat when a bunsen burner is first fired up. A single click and we have a roaring sharp tipped blue flame. I roll over and disturb the cat, who settles back leaning on my ankles. A prick of familiar panic forms in my belly as I lay there hoping to fall back to sleep. Hoping my mind will not turn on like my body has and  the heat from the blue flame at my core will not disturbed my mind so I can fall back asleep and dream of things that don’t make sense but then do while they are happening in my sleep.

Yet, I begin to feel it, the tightening. My thoughts are winding tighter and tighter. Looping around and around each other like a thin copper wire coiling around a small lead tube, small constricting no room to breath. So much swirls around my mind in the middle night keeping me awake. President-elect Donald Trump and what will happen, fears for my son, things I forgot to do at work, ideas for writing, thoughts of getting older, worry about the approaching winter, even parking and rush hour traffic. Everything I have no control over or can’t do anything about at 2 am. So how do I find peace from the looping intrusive thoughts that keep my mind and body awake in the middle of the night?

Many experts speak of the basics of good sleep hygiene such as keep regular bedtimes, don’t drink caffeine after 3 pm, keep a cool, dark room used only for sleep. But what if I already do all of those and I still wake up? These experts also say let things go, let thoughts go or don’t fight them.  Yet how? What do you literally do to let things go so you can sleep in the middle of the night?

After years of struggle here is how I find more magical sleep.

  1. Limit Media Input- I soak up media deep into my bones and psyche. Not only do I think about it, I feel it too. I remember during the Kosovo war in the late 90s listening to a news report on NPR and crying hard for all those suffering. It hurt so much and yet there I was thousands of miles away on a freeway in Detroit. I thought I was being too sensitive. I know accept that is just the way I am, so I have to be super careful about what and how much input I take in. Too much news or really anything and it invades my mind to replay in the middle of the night. Limiting my media includes, news (radio, tv and written), social media, movies and tv shows. I must be careful.
  2. Journal Daily- Sitting at my writing desk pen in hand with my first cup of coffee of the day helps to clear the clutter in my brain. I have crates full of journals (over 25 years worth of daily words) and let me tell you for the most part they are boring. I ramble, search and allow myself to let loose on the page. I release the worry and anxiety that accumulates inside. It is a safe space to be 100% me. If I don’t journal regularly all that stuff stays in my mind and starts to invade my dreams. I get cranky and short fused. My brain does not turn off. Repetitive thoughts loop around and around, usually at 2 am.
  3. Meditate Daily- Like writing in my journal sitting on my black mediation cushion while my honey sleeps and the cats play with each other out in the living room while I follow my breath is magic for quieting my mind and sleep. It calms the mind and trains it for space and stillness, it gets me into my body. If I don’t sit and meditate for three days, I notice a marked difference in my moods and reactivity. I will be up at 2 am if I don’t take the half hour to follow my breath and note when I am thinking or I have a pain in my right knee.
  4. Move My Body- I need to get those feel good chemicals flowing through my body. I need to get outside and breathe the fresh air, no matter the season. I need to release the anxiety by getting into my body through movement. Again, if I go too long without movement I notice I am stuck in a loop of anxious repetitive thoughts in the middle of the night.
  5. Honor Segmented Sleep- What is segmented sleep? It when you naturally sleep in two distinct chunks of time and are awake in the middle of the night. So you have first sleep, wake sleep and second sleep. Before the advent of artificial light from the lightbulb, our ancestors slept this way. Now whether I truly experience segmented sleep, I don’t know. I do wake most nights between 2 am and 3 am. Some nights I am able to fall back to sleep with ease, others not so much. Since learning about segmented sleep I no longer fight being awake in the middle of the night. I honor my wake sleep time to develop more mindfulness in my body and mind. If my mind is out of control and my belly is clenched tight with anxiety, I practice self-compassion by treating myself as I would a fussy colicky baby in the middle of the night. I treat myself with gentle kindness by not yelling at myself for being awake, which only creates more tension in my body. I lay in the darkness, go back to my breath and focus on how the softness of the bed is cradling me, how warm and cozy the quilts are, how soft the pillow is under my head. I practice progressive body relaxation. I use my wake sleep time to deepen my mindfulness practice. Since I have started doing this I have notice how much deeper my mindfulness is during the day. How much more I notice the movement of my thoughts. It is interesting how a shift in how I utilize that time in the middle of the night can have such a huge impact on my life. I am calmer and feel more rested. I think I am nicer too.

So none of these approaches are a quick easy fix. They all take time and dedication but I can tell you for me it worth it. Sleep is magical. It is a balm for my soul when I get enough. Plus every single one of these practices provides me with other benefits aside from a better night sleep. They enhance the quality of my life. I might even say they make my life possible. They allow me to function, be kind and present, not just in the middle of the night, but throughout the day too.

May you honor your needs and find rest and deep magical sleep.

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!  

Depression Sucks

Depression Sucks

Depression Sucks

 “When you’re lost in those woods, it sometimes takes you a while to realize that you are lost. For the longest time, you can convince yourself that you’ve just wandered off the path, that you’ll find your way back to the trailhead any moment now. Then night falls again and again, and you still have no idea where you are, and it’s time to admit that you have bewildered yourself so far off the path that you don’t even know from which direction the sun rises anymore.” Elizabeth Gilbert

My first thought this morning was, depression sucks and can I get up out of bed? Or is my brain weighted down by fog and darkness?  

Now a hot cup of coffee sits on my cluttered desk. My desk that no matter how much I try to put away the stacks of books, the random post it notes reminding me of thoughts I scribbled during a conference call, or pens (lots of those, for whatever reason I like to use a different type of pen for different journals and writing activities), is always a mess.

The door behind me is open to the back yard teeming with bird song and squirrels who run, no leap, through the wet grass in search of little morsels to nibble on. The air is thick and dampness from the thunderstorms last night permeates everything. It is warm, hot really. It seems that mild spring temperatures bypassed Detroit this year. Instead we literally went from snow one weekend in May to 85 degrees and sunny the next. And it has stayed in the 80’s for the last few weeks.

To which I say thank goodness. The warmer weather, the longer days, the sunshine has been a balm for my soul and mental health that I needed. The last 5 months have been a long, slogging drudge for me. Heavy depression snuck in around the holidays and settle in for a visit. I know depression well, and for the most part I am able to work through it, or more like with it. I know I don’t have to listen to it’s siren call to lay on the couch all day watching tv to numb out. I know I will be feel better if I stay in a routine— get up and write in my journal, sit on my meditation cushion, work out, go to work. I know I need to try to stay involved as much as I can with life. This is not always easy.

I know writing in my journal, meditating and working out are my most important and power medicine. For the past 20 years these have worked most of the time. I stay functioning. The darkness stays in the background. Expect this time (well okay also after D died, I fell into the dark vat of depression too but that was different, I could attribute it to the extreme grief that swallowed my life whole).

The last 5 months have been difficult. No matter what I did, I couldn’t shake the heaviness. I forced myself to rise each morning and write in my journal and sit on my meditation cushion. I often felt these were the only moments of reprieve, but when I had to leave the cocoon of my little office, the darkness still loomed. The loss of interest in anything creative took away my motivation and joy. It was like all my systems powered down and I only had energy for a few essentials and barley those.

I felt panic as I tried to figure out what to do, or how to feel like something matter, or how to feel vitality about something again. It was all I could do to get work (where I was barely productive and my mind a mushy soggy mess) and home to the couch so I could zone out. As I sat in the darkness each morning writing in my journal, I tried to figure out why I was so uninterested, unmotivated, and what I could do to change things. It took me a while to figure out it was depression. I of course blamed myself. In my mind, I was depressed because I didn’t do something right, or I wasn’t thinking something positive. In my mind, no matter what, I was to blame and I had to figure out how to fix it. Unfortunately, I am inclined to blame myself, as if there is something wrong with me, rather than I simply am dealing brain chemistry that is off and inclines me to feel darkness and hopelessness.

Despite my attempts to blame myself, I know that sometimes we are just powerless over this stuff—there is no one to blame. I just happen to have the perfect conditions for depression to rise up and take hold. I come from a seemingly endless line stretching back generations who grappled with depression. My mother, her mother, her father, my great-grandmother and father and I am sure there are more back there. So there’s that. Also, according research, my chaotic childhood created neural pathways (I have an ACE score of 9) which predisposes me to depression and other fun stuff (hello anxiety and panic).

And finally, hormones. Can I say holy shit? My hormones are powerful little devils if you ask me. I am 45 years old and struggling as my hormones shift and wane towards menopause. For whatever reason I am abnormally sensitive to hormone fluctuations. Every micro movement feels more like a 8.9 earthquake in my moods and body. I have learned how to deal with the monthly fluxes of PMS but now things are different—way different. I feel like I am rag doll being tossed around harder and farther than ever before.

If I look back at other pivotal moments when my hormones were in extreme flux—puberty, pregnancy, and postpartum—I can see that I fell into deep depressions also. Only back then I didn’t have tools, wisdom or compassion I now have to deal with it. After these last 5 months I realize I am going to have to be extra mindful as I traverse the journey towards menopause and give myself extra support.

On top of all everything it was the anniversary of D’s death and I had to put my 18-year-old cat Lupe down (that was super hard) last March.

I am beginning to feel better (I am actually writing a blog post). The weather is finally nice and sunny so I am getting out and riding my bike in the woods. Fresh air and nature always help. I am still writing in my journal, mediating and working out most days. I am seeing my therapist to sort out false irrational beliefs and to untangle how I have my self-worth wrapped tight around my doing and busyness. I am going to acupuncture to balance my hormones and taking new herbs to help with the depression. All of this is helping.

I think more important, I am also painting in my studio again, which is really helping. When D died I stopped painting and drawing. Sure I had a few fits and starts over the last 4 years but nothing that stuck. I would start a painting and be stuck, anxiety and negative self-talk overpowering me. As I have been grappling with heavy darkness the last 5 months, I have also been evaluating how I am spending my time, what is it that I really want to be doing, how I am supporting my creative self.

My therapist challenged me to take the summer off. To not teach, to not have goals, to not have projects but rather rest and do nothing. To follow my inner desires. I ask myself, do I want to read a book? Take a nap? Ride my bike? Than go do what I want.

As uncomfortable as it makes me feel, I doing it. I am not teaching writing workshops this summer. I haven’t blogged in over 2 months. I am evaluating my side hustle. I am reading a lot of books, riding my bike and painting. I am learning how to untangle my creative work from proving I am good enough. I have a lot more to say about this but for now, I am adjusting to this slower pace. To not having everything single thing I do be about being helpful to others (another huge insight for me).

Depression does indeed suck and I am not to blame. I need not feel shame about something that I am utterly powerless over. I am doing what I can and there is a lot of support and love out there to help. One awesome thing about this bout of depression is that it is realigning my life. It is slowing me down and getting me back to what I really enjoy, to what my real zone of genius is, painting and drawing. Things are looking up for me and I am grateful.

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!  

Simple Awareness Breaks Up Anxiety

Simple Awareness Breaks Up Anxiety

Kira Elliott Awareness breaks anxiety

Peace is within oneself to be found in the same place as agitation and suffering. It is not found in a forest or on a hilltop, nor is it given by a teacher. Where you experience suffering, you can also find freedom from suffering. Trying to run away from suffering is actually to run toward it.” Ajahn Chah

I woke in the darkness this morning. Laying in bed under quilts and comforters, I listened to rain trickle in the gutters. The gutters I neglected to clean out after the maple dropped it’s final golden leaves in mid-November. I closed my eyes and listened to the rain splattering on back patio, the patio with growing moss and lichen from years of neglect. The patio I meant to power wash last July but never got around to.

I laid there and felt the stillness, that moment when my dreams still lingered on the edge of my perceptions and the fullness of my bladder called for relief. I felt  heavy and soft. Then my mind started scanning for something to hold on it. What day was it? What did I have to get done? What where my responsibilities? What time is it? What did I do yesterday? I felt my muscles tense a bit and as if on cue, I felt a small knot of anxiety start to pulsate in my belly. My constant companion since I can remember—anxiety.

It is strange how my mind, without my prompting, jumps to doing, scanning, planning—thinking. Or maybe it is not so strange, but rather is just the nature of my mind, of all minds. We think.

Listening to the audio recording of Wild Mind: Living the Writers Life by Natalie Goldberg last week on my commute, she said thinking is similar to an involuntary body process, like the beating of our heart, the regeneration of our cells, the production of hormones. We don’t think, heart beat slower, or I need to create new blood cells. (I wish I could tell my body how much hormones to create, I think my life would be better.) No, these process just happen because we are alive. The same is with our mind, it is always thinking. It is said a typical mind thinks over 50,000 to 70,000 thoughts a day. We don’t make this happen, it just happens.

I used to believe I had to stop my thinking, be at war with the natural process of my human condition (I also tried this with my hormones but that is another story). Yet this only caused more anxiety and increased feelings of failure. The very things I was trying to release. It was not until I finally learned how to sit on my black meditation cushion each morning that I stopped, or at least significantly reduced, my futile efforts to stop thinking. I finally gave up on the idea of some future bliss where I stopped thinking and I simply floated in effortless joy and anxiety never gripped my body, rattling and shaking the very core of me.

From years of daily Vipassana meditation practice, I have a visceral understanding of the direct link of my thoughts to my anxiety. I can sit on my cushion in the cold early morning hours and feel my belly constrict when I start to think about the gutters filled with fall leaves or the growing moss on the back patio. I feel a certain disconnection or numbness in my limbs and my breath becomes shallow when my mind wanders off and I am lost in some plan, idea or worse, a projected confrontation or problem.

The more discursive my thinking, I feel higher levels of anxiety.  For me the trick is to become aware of my thinking, not stop it or eradicate it. I do this by noting that I am thinking and return back to focusing on my breath. Some days I find it very difficult to find my way back to my breath. My mind grabs hold of my thoughts and burrows deep into them. My mind wants to circle and circle around them, trying to solve a problem or plan my next steps. The thinking triggers my anxiety, which in turn makes it feel imperative that I stay with with the thinking or else major danger will occur.

Some days it takes thousands of moments of great courage to let go of the grip of thinking and return to my breath. Other days, it feels effortless. These are the days the distractions of my thinking are not as compelling and the detours from my breath are shorter. I have learned to not judge the differences in my days but rather to note the difference—to simply be aware. Not fix, not change, not push or do, just be aware.

I will be honest, I am not sure why simple awareness of my thoughts, feelings and body sensations helps me manage my anxiety levels. I just know it does. It doesn’t remove the anxiety but it does show me that anxiety, like my thinking, is ever changing and never permanent, even though sometimes it does feel that way. This simple awareness breaks up anxiety so it doesn’t have control over my life.

Every time I sit on my meditation cushion with my back erect, my hands resting softly on the top of my thighs and my eyes gently closed, I experience how everything changes and moves. How my power is in my awareness. How there is no fight, just me sitting, breathing, thinking, feeling, and returning to my breath over and over.

Here is this week’s Inspiration to Open Your Heart

Infinity by Anna Clark- Now here is an essay about the new year that I can settle into. A thoughtful and detailed essay about how infinity and boundlessness works in our lives, and I dare say, it is when we can embrace these unknowns that our suffering can diminish. A really good read.

Dark Side of the Lens– {video} by Astray Films- This is a breathtaking video of surfing off the western coast of Ireland. If you have ever been to the Cliffs of Moher, you need to watch this. So amazing.

Brene Brown on Joy and Gratitude {video}- I continue to contemplate joy and the cultivation of it. Sometimes I feel like I am too cynical about the notion of gratitude lists. I think this is because I used to try this as a way of not feeling my pain. I would feel painful feelings and frantically try to list the good of the situation. I think there has to be balance. I need to feel the pain and it is okay to feel the gratitude too.

Starting Where You Are At {video} by Gil Fronsdal- Gil is one of my favorite teachers and I have learned so much over the last 8 years listening to his Dharma talks. In this short video, he discusses how awareness of where we are at, no matter where that is, is where we start. When I am frantic listening to his calm loving wisdom always grounds me and reminds of what is important.

How to Write Descriptively {video} by Nalo Hopkinson- I love this video about descriptive writing. It talks about why details matter so much and how they evoke emotion. While they are speaking directly about fiction, in my mind this is advice is for all writing, as it engages the reader. 

P.S. You might also like Wisdom Map, It Really is My Choice, Classic Suffering

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!

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

Finally, registration is open for Writing to Open Your Heart. Next session starts January 13, 2016. Let’s start 2016 off writing together.

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.