I’d like to thank everyone who participated in our Haven winter blog series, I loved reading about the transformation that happens when we open our hearts to it. I’d also like to announce the winner of the series, who will receive a discount to a future Haven retreat: Sarah Hunter! Thank you so much for your words, Sarah. Click here to read what she had to say about her experience.
I’ll be offering a special Haven retreat at The Ranch at Rock Creek in Philipsburg, MT between April 29 and May 3, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Look into these faces, these eyes, these smiles. These were strangers on a Wednesday, who journeyed to Montana from hundreds…thousands of miles in every direction. This photograph was taken on Saturday night, three days later. This is what can happen when people gather to write in community, held safely by someone who knows what it is to use writing as a practice, a prayer, a mediation, a way of life, and sometimes a way to life. I will keep doing this work until I answer the question I have asked my entire adult life: Do I have to do this alone? Is there anyone out there who cares? Is there anyone out there who can help me?” Haven offers no “easy” way to get published, no bullet points to follow for success, no method to find your voice. Haven offers community, support, inspiration, and a place to take yourself apart a bit and weave yourself back together, new…through heart language. It is the most important work, outside of what I have birthed in my children and my own written stories, that I have ever done. Please, if you hunger for your voice, if you need permission to speak it, if you value the transformational tool that is the written word, consider giving yourself this unstoppable experience.
Here is a piece that was born on the second day of our most recent Haven Retreat.
“Write that down! Write that down! No really, write it down right now,” our brave teacher says, her prone, mermaid-like position on the floor filling me with delight. Her hearty laughter, triggered by one woman’s story of pocketed, dirty underwear, and other “holy, mundane” things, as Laura calls them…is the music that plays in the background of my heaven. Heaven sits in the way my bean bag lounging seat-mate briefly grabs my forearm and looks at me with her excited “OMG, me too!” smile.
If there is a heaven on earth, it is here, in Montana, in a place tucked away between towering mountain peaks, a frozen lake where a beaver I haven’t seen yet makes his home, and the calming Southern drawls of my classmates. “I like simple poems. Poems that cut to the heart,” I hear and I whip my head around to see if Laura is shooting a laser beam of ESP into my temple. Does she know I think my poems are too simple, too dumb for other people to enjoy?
“I love that part where you…” another Haven participant continues in a soft, kind tone that adds to the symphony of other women’s voices in the room. We all nod and smile and nod, everyone in a melodic unison of recognition, leaving the courageous reader with hopefully very little doubt…we get it, we love it, please, rip our hearts out. Make us feel fiercely alive again. Do that thing you are already doing. Give us more!
I am in heaven here. This place. These women. These women gathered together by a gently desperate but increasingly bolder longing to know that what they have to say matters. That their passion is worth pursuing in this particular form of art. To know that they are loved for who they are. I sit deep in this comfy chair, buzzing with recognition. “This is where you belong,” I hear an angel’s voice. It must be an angel, because this must be heaven. Heaven, because I have permission to say it like it is.
When I mine my life for gold, I realize the treasure is in the too raw, too real, too emotional, too ugly moments that make up my life. These women beg, “Show me your ugly!” They demand I tear the bandage off my wounds to air them out. They help me know why I must be me.
Laura’s encouraged us to be to be the perfectly obsessed, Target-shopping, fine messes that we are. Dirty underwear in our pockets, grief strewn across our swords and hospital gowns, we are warriors. Bring it on. Bring on your stories. Make me feel human. Make me feel alive. Make me feel loved, for me. Sprinkle me with the pink and purple glitter of your genuine, cut-to-the-chase, heart-felt, raw, naked, bloody, sobbing, painful to the point you don’t know if you will be able to speak it through the gripping ache in your chest stuff. Yeah. That stuff.
I am in heaven here. The invitation to speak taunts Martha, my fear voice, the one I named after reading a thoughtful book about love and happiness that my fearless mentor wrote. Martha squirms, uncomfortable with the idea of this party. “Nobody wants to hear your stuff.” “You’ll sound like you are bragging.” “You aren’t good enough.” The heaven sits in the way I wake up and shut that s*** down faster today, not willing to pass up this glorious opportunity for expression and acceptance. Not willing to be the wall flower at my own party one more f***ing time.
This heaven forces me to feel my life, to question it. To ask the big-ass questions. To quell the things Martha says. That this is a hobby. That I am nothing. That I am not good enough. Ping, ping, ping, ping. I feel the jabs, the shriveling. At Haven, I remember to live in the big questions instead, alive and awake to this noise that litters my playground. I get back on the swing and pump my legs until I am out of breath, until I feel the wind wash out my heart and clean up the mess my mind left.
This place. These women. This art. This magic…was meant for me. This matters. My stories matter. This heaven is a carrot that has been dangling in front of my face my whole life, waiting for me to sink my teeth into its crunchy, flavorful, nourishing, love-filled flesh. Waiting for me to eat it up and lick my lips and reach in for another bite.
My mother calls and asks me how the retreat is going. I start sobbing, but force myself to cry-talk out the words, “I am in heaven here. These women have softened my pain, acknowledged my heart and made me feel worthy.” This is where I belong.