Why We Need a Haven

 

Why We Need a Haven: dahlia
2014 Haven Montana Retreats 

(Now Booking!  email laura@lauramunsonauthor.com)
February 26- March 2
June 18-22
September 10-14, September 24-28
October 8-12, October 22-26

I will also be leading Haven Retreats in Tubac, AZ, and Boston, MA this fall 2013.

I wanted to name a child Haven. But when I met my children in the flesh, it never quite felt like the right fit. I’ve always been attracted to the word Haven; the concept; the practice. To me the idea of Haven comes from a knowing that scary things happen. Big brothers lurk under canopy beds and grab your feet—make shadow hands on the wall until you wet your bed. Grandmother caretakers who are from “good, strong farm stock” fall when your parents are out of town– and you can’t pick them up—and you see what it is to have paramedics in your kitchen for the first time who tell you that everything’s going to be okay.  But you know it’s not. Your best friend’s angel-of-a sister dies of brain cancer when you are six; the last time you see her, she’s bald and you’re afraid of her and you know you shouldn’t be, but you are, and you feel deep dark shame. It doesn’t take long for the average human to understand early on that happiness can turn to heartbreak fast. Things happen. And that’s why your mother cries in church. And why she hugs you extra hard on your way to the bus. And why your father looks so pained by the fact that you’re too heavy to carry up the stairs any more for bedtime. The bigger you get, the scarier life gets. There’s no amount of money or luck or good works that can change that.

But even so, and maybe especially so, we can still create the feeling (never mind illusion) of safety. Of haven.  It can come in a knowing glance from someone you love. Or a familiar smell that radiates from your kitchen most Sundays. Or the feeling of a cool sheet on a hot summer night. I have always slept with at least a sheet over me, even on the most humid mid-western nights. I don’t feel safe without it. It’s silly, I know. But I like the feeling of this kind of safety in small things.

I’ve settled upon that belief along the way: safety best comes in the smallest things. Less to lose. More to believe in. I think that’s why so many little girls love Anne Frank. She found safety during horror, hiding in a small space, writing. Yes, she was hiding. But she was also creating. She could control at least that. When I think of all the places in which my friends and I used to seek refuge…it was always a closet, an eave, a secret trap door that lead somewhere—a root cellar, a crawl space. Or a tree house. A play house. Always small, simple places that felt like uncharted territory. We’d put a poster on a wall. Bring in a candle (kids, don’t try this at home). Bring in pillows and blankets. Flashlights and books and magazines. And we’d sit there in uncomfortable positions, practicing refuge. And for most of us, not much had happened yet in the way of scary things.  Still we sought haven.

By the time we become adults, things have happened for sure. No one can escape the “scary” things. No one. So what do we do with that? Hide? Probably not. We have bills to pay, and people who need us to stand there in the kitchen playing short-order-cook with a smile on our face. They look to us for that glimpse that says, everythdahlia_2ing’s going to be okay. And we give it our best shot. Sometimes we pull it off. Sometimes we make dessert instead and that does the trick. Or not.

It occurred to me about ten years ago, after a tri-fecta personal-life sucker-punch to the girl-balls, that life was scary—really scary…and there wasn’t a whole lot I could do about it. So I decided to change my relationship with fear. The first thing that went out the window was the notion that there was such a thing as safety in the first place. Ahhhhhh. That was a weight-of-the-world purge that brought with it instant liberation. Because if there was no such thing as safety, then there was no such thing as danger. Tell me more, please, oh wise Yoda.

Rather than waiting for the big brother monster under my bed, I decided instead to claim my life. I didn’t want to be run by fear. I wanted happiness to reign in my self-created kingdom. Joy. Peace. I wanted to understand what Grace was. So I re-trained my mind. When I started to feel that ol’ bastard Fear…I flipped my thoughts into Creation mode. What can I create right now in this moment? What can I be responsible for? What can I claim? It felt a lot like the little girl I once was, bringing pillows into her closet with a flashlight and a good book. I was going to create my own yes, Haven, in my mind. Breath by breath. Heart beat by heart beat.  And it worked.

It’s not that I didn’t look down the dark alleys of life any more. Quite the opposite. It was that I didn’t see them as dark. I saw them as chances to find some sort of haven in the midst of the darkness. And the one place I could control that haven, was in the way I thought. I started working with creating that pillow-bedecked closet in my mind. The more pillows and flashlights and cool sheets and good books…the better. I pictured it.  I took solace in it.  I believed in it.  And sooner than later, I found that I could breathe my way into that feeling of haven whether I was on a really bumpy flight over the mountains, or in a hard conversation with a family member, or in a daunting business meeting. I got good at it. Maybe a little addicted to it, in fact. Because it’s absolutely exhilarating to have the opposite emotional reaction to the things that people say and do to you than what society says is the norm. It’s like watching a storm come in hard and fast over the prairie, and get suddenly blown off another direction. And quite when you least expected it…you’re in rainbow weather. That’s what I want.  Rainbow weather.

dahlia_3

So I didn’t name a child Haven. I took my new way of looking at the world and created retreats for adults who likely are looking for the same sort of way to process the “scary” bits of life. My way has been through writing and reading and so that is what I’ve created in Haven retreats. If I could build a series of tree houses and pillow forts and call it Haven Retreats, I would. Instead, at Haven, we go to the tree houses and pillow forts of our minds, digging deeper into our creative self-expression on the page, in a nurturing group setting…that helps us know that yes, life is full of challenges. But we don’t have to look at them as scary. We can use those challenges. We can breathe into the groundlessness of them. We can take a weekend to practice this together on retreat. And we can bring Haven home to our daily lives wherever we are…in the safety of our minds and the words we choose to create that sacred space.Haven_writretr

4 Comments

Filed under Haven Newsletter, My Posts

4 Responses to Why We Need a Haven

  1. Kathy

    Life follows order. Not that we know or understand it at the time, but it does. There was a reason that you did not or could not name one of your children Haven. It was not time.
    The name Haven was not to be bestowed upon the children that you carried in your womb. It was destined to be saved for those that you would hold in your heart and support along their journey. I am one of those, a proud Haven Retreat graduate.
    I am a Bean Counter by trade. My working hours are filled with numbers and equations, but it was my off hours love affair with words that beckoned me to Montana. Upon my arrival it did not take long for me to realize that my writing was not on par with that of my fellow retreaters. They could whip up an interesting story within ten minutes. It was full of dialog, body and meaning……oh, and topped off with an interesting plot twist. To me my writing was flat, one dimensional.
    When I released the grip that monster under the bed had on my psyche I realized that I had landed in a place of acceptance, guidance and loving support. My Haven Retreat was empowering and life altering.
    I hold my Haven experience so very close to my heart because it is where I found mine.
    If all goes according to plan I will once again be a Haven participant in 2014.

    Love,

    Haven Child #52

  2. Congratulations, Laura, on the expansion of your retreats. Way to DREAM BIG!!!! Clap, clap, clap!

  3. Jan Myhre

    Like Kathy, I also came away from HAVEN changed, energized and eager to get on with the writing life. The words, I found, had always been there just begging to be written down. As a poet I find my word work flourishing thanks to you, Laura, and your gentle persuasion. The check for HAVEN 2014 will be in the mail ASAP.

  4. Alisa, your new studio looks so inipsring and fantastic! I love your artwork! And I truly admire you for doing it while also being mom of such a young child.I look forward to your next posts – all your pictures are truly inipsring!

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