Haven Winter Blog Series #1: “Finding Your Creativity”

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Every winter I give my blog over to alums of Haven Writing Retreats who have all come to Montana to dig deeply into their creative self-expression, using the powerful and transformational tool that is writing.  Leading Haven Writing Retreats is my way of giving the support I was either too stubborn or too scared (likely the latter) to give myself in all my years of writing.  It is my deepest pleasure and honor to offer this powerful program, which is really a writing retreat and a writing workshop in one, to people who long to learn how to write a memoir, how to write a novel, how to become a writer, how to write a story, how to start a book, or simply how to find their unique voices and stories…and set them free!  The Haven Writing Retreats community is all about continued support, and the annual Haven Winter Blog series is one way that we offer just that.  My blog is their blog, and in it we parse the creative questions that so many of us have.

This year’s theme is one of my favorites so far:  ”How do we give ourselves the permission to be creative in the first place…and what does that look like?”

In the next weeks, while I go into the winter dormancy of Montana and give myself my own permission to write, these Haven alums will be diving into their heart language to share with you how they show up for themselves creatively.  I hope you enjoy their posts.  I will be chiming in with some of my favorite winter recipes along the way so stay tuned, stay warm, making a nice cup of something soothing, and “lend an ear.”  From Haven to you.  yrs. Laura

Now Booking 2016 Haven Writing Retreats in glorious Whitefish, Montana:
February 24-28 (one spot left)
June 8-12
June 22-26
September 7-11
September 21-25
October 5-9
October 19-23

Post #1  by Justine Brooks Froelker 

“In Awakened Color”

The floor to ceiling windows allow the sun to wash away some of the darkness that is often brought into my office. As if the sun has the power to wash away the dark with light and hope. My office, a therapist’s office, despite feeling like sitting in a sunlit filled tree house, is the place some of the hardest work on earth is done. No matter what is brought into that room, my job is to hold the space for love, hope and change; to hold it enough for my clients when they are unable to themselves.

When we speak the dark into a space of safety and love, it loses power over us, especially the present and future us. In that place of light we have the space to heal.

My clients sit across from me in that sun washed room surrounded by warm light speaking words they may have never spoken out loud before. For 45 minutes they sit on my dark brown leather couch facing artwork with words like shame, self-compassion and empathy. They sink into that brown couch at first as someone stuck in the prison that has become themselves and their life, only to eventually soften into their true selves. In a space of new language and hard work they learn, change and create.

“You want me to color?!?! Like with crayons?” said always with the same look of disbelief and the you-have-got-to-be-kidding-me I-am-paying-money-for-this-advice-? look.

With complete seriousness seasoned with the childlike joy that coloring can bring out for many of us I reply, “Yes, I want you to pick up an adult coloring book and color. You can use crayons or colored pencils. My favorite is actually a combination of colored pencils and fine tip markers, whatever you like. 5-10 minutes a day, that’s it, all I’m asking.”

“You color?” spoken at this point with the attitude of an exasperated teenager no matter the age of the client.

“Every damn day.” I speak as an ornery smirk of knowing comes across my face coupled with true ownership of my own recovery.

Before the work of my recovery, when I lived my life like most do, in the doing-what-I-am-supposed-to-do-just-getting-by life, I used to say I was not a creative person. I’d sit across from my clients teaching them how to change their lives as someone who had been shattered by her own.

Who the hell has time to be creative? I’d bitterly say to myself and sometime angrily at others.

Infertility had become a part of my vocabulary and worse, we had lost three babies and I had spiraled into the deep darkness that is grief and loss. I became the shell of who I once was and yet knew I could never be her again.

And so, I began excavating myself out of the hole and practicing what I teach every day to my clients.

Therapy, exercise, move, cope, meditate, pray and be creative!

Brené Brown’s research shows that we are all creative people, that creativity is part of the wholehearted life, and more than that, unused creativity is not benign. And for me, in the darkest of dark, coloring seemed like the easiest place to start. As the person who trips, drops or breaks something at least once a week, I sure as hell was not going start with something as advanced or difficult like painting or sculpting!

And so every morning, every damn morning, I sit at my midcentury dining room table in front of my own floor-to-ceiling windows at home and I color while being saturated in the sunrise light. I color even when I am not feeling like it, even when I am traveling, even when I am not emulating “big magic” creativity.

I color while listening to my morning playlist.

I color to calm anxiety and depression.

I color to be aligned with my values, and therefore honor myself.

I color to spark my creative heart in a childlike joy that makes the world seem not only conquerable but also more alive.

I color to strengthen my voice into the glow of my truth.

Because when my truth radiates my light, my voice shines.

I can speak and write with my whole heart.

To thrive, not only survive.

To truly live and create.

- Justine Brooks Froelker  www.everupward.org

Post #2 by Susan Gregory
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The moment my phone alarm chimes I pull the down comforter over my head and bury my face in the defiant darkness of my pillows. I have waited for the alarm as I have this uncanny ability to wake myself with looming deadlines. A flood of appointments clamor for my attention as daybreak peers through my lace curtains. I resist the temptation to host superfluous thoughts reminding myself that staying balanced is a choice. I savor a few lingering moments wrapped in my blanket, meditating and giving myself permission to start my day in peace. Many expect me to create, or be, something wondrous. Staff, clients, colleagues, and my youngest daughter all depend on me to show up and be enthusiastic, ready and competent. How will they ever be impressed if I am waiting to cultivate my starlike qualities?

I utilize warrior skills to feel creative at work because let’s be real, being an Elder Law attorney does not lend itself to dazzling, creative outlets. I solve other peoples’ problems. I counsel clients and their loved ones about myriad worries. Burned out caregivers rely on me, and at times, I don my power suit and pearls to advocate for confused exploited seniors protecting them from those, sometimes children or grandchildren, hell-bent on stealing their assets and dignity. I apply a lens of aging, illness and incapacity with everything I do, and I hold daily discussions about death and dying. Does that sound creative to you? I think it does.

I spent my morning as a panelist for Tidewell Hospice discussing end-of-life choices. By two  o’clock I sat next to Sandi listening to her grieving the loss of her husband, Lenny. As she sobbed, a chunky ring on a delicate chain around her neck bounced up and down. “Tell me about the ring you’re wearing,” I asked. “This was Lenny’s college ring,” she beamed. “We met sixty-eight years ago at The University of North Carolina.” I smiled and asked, “Did you know I graduated from UNC?” “No, but what a small world?” she replied. “I have a theory about that small world, I believe good people find each other,” I said with a smile.

In a conference room I had painted in coastal blues and eider white that beckons comfort, I guided Sandi regarding her advance directives and Last Will. Through tears, she talked about what little money remained and what she hoped would happen when she dies or becomes ill. What I brought to the table, turned the tables. By just being me, in the present moment with Sandi naturally expressing who I am, my creative self-expression flowed. I was her counselor first, and then counsel reminding her a person’s legacy is not entirely about the money left behind. One’s legacy consists of contributions, both positive and negative, to each other, our community and the world. Modeling how a legacy is fashioned by how we treat others, I listened. I served her with compassion. I eased her worries regardless of material value. I am, after all what I value and how others identify me. I am, your Legacy Lawyer.

Handling matters, especially the emotional situations impacting clients like Sandi takes its toll on me. What inspires my creativity when I am drained and feeling like my brain is a twisted pretzel? Deliberate self-care. My mantra becomes a hymn of self-care.

Listening to music driving home shifts my mental landscape, and, weather permitting, I drive with the top down on my silver convertible. The feel of the wind rushing against my face and legs stirs happiness from within, and with gratitude I let the wind carry my cares away. I like speed. I drive a six-speed manual, and I am not shy about it. Real transformation occurs once I slip into comfortable clothes and leash my dog. We like to traipse together under the live oaks and slash pines leading to a lake. A watering hole really where a multitude of animals congregate. A pair of crimson-capped sandhill cranes or white tail deer usually join us while I meditate on the saffron and blue hues of a Florida sun setting. Observing nature grounds me. Rhythms unfold from within so I carry a journal to jot inspirational notes. Abandoning the material world is freeing, allowing my thoughts to become malleable like moist clay encouraging spontaneous insights for me to mold. Hindsight is 20/20, but peering into my journal feels like divine sight. The feelings and thoughts captured on a nature walk prompt some of my best poetry. When I creatively express myself, whether through a poem or encouraging a client like Sandi, Joy is my natural state. It feels incredible really, and you must realize this is a choice.

- Susan Gregory

Now Booking 2016 Haven Writing Retreat Schedule in glorious Whitefish, Montana:
February 24-28 (one spot left)
June 8-12
June 22-26
September 7-11
September 21-25
October 5-9
October 19-23


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13 Responses to Haven Winter Blog Series #1: “Finding Your Creativity”

  1. Pingback: In Awakened Color | Ever Upward™

  2. Janeen

    I feel the same exhilaration serving hungry people at a foodbank/resource center in Colorado twice a week for 4 yra now. Im 62 yrs old and others my age cant figure out why I would do this!! Its a privilege. I give my clients back the dignity they deserve. Then I return home full. Of joy unspeakable and full of glory. Thank u for this blog today.

    • Hi Janeen, I am so glad you have the opportunity to serve others in a joyful manner, too. I find that when I serve others I am fulfilled. I suspect you feel the same. I’m glad you liked my piece. Thank you for your comment.

  3. Loved, loved, LOVED the two blog posts!! As my February Haven Retreat date rapidly draws nearer, I am more and more frightened by what I’ll find there – what I’ll write there – what my deepest self wants to be but can’t quite muster the courage to do that – there.

    Susan reminds me that “staying balanced is a choice” and in no small part to a “power-suit-and-pearls” attitude where justified; Justine invites me to “color every damn day” into peaceful acceptance.

    Thanks, Laura, for opening your blog to these talented, insightful ladies.
    Today. Exactly today – I needed that.


    • Hi Laurin,

      Without a doubt, you will return from Haven this February a changed woman, but you have nothing to fear. Laura will help you lean into your fear should it arise. Sometimes though fear is a wonderful, beautiful catalyst for change and inspiration, so I say write about your raw emotions and see what transpires. Often what nudges us, a strange twinge or two, leads us down a transformative path. Haven is the perfect place for you to explore that path.

      Susan xx

    • It works, and I think, it works for everyone! Thank so much for your words! Justine

  4. Justine, I love your writing <3 and cannot wait to spend time with you at Haven II later this month. You are a phenomenal woman!

  5. Hello Justine! “I’d sit across from my clients teaching them how to change their lives as someone who had been shattered by her own.” Wow – simply wow! I’m sorry its taken me so long to catch up on the reading of your post – but man was it worth the wait. This sentence just held me – I read through your work, then kept going back to this one line. As someone who had always kept it together for everyone else, Haven shed light on my fragile pieces, so carefully glued into place. Everything looked fine, as long as you didn’t look too closely. Realizing I myself was keeping creativity at bay – and giving myself permission to explore, feel, touch and dive into it, rocked my world. Having my own extraordinaire therapist for a particularly bad time in my life, well, like yourself I”m sure, she was worth her weight in gold. I enjoyed your writing, your voice and your message – that for me is – this is important, this is fun, this is something everyone can do, should do and according to BB programmed to do – so just do it! You’ll be glad you did. Well done!!

    • Patricia,

      Your words and support mean more than you know. As I have had a particularly rough weekend as a therapist…I desperately needed to read your words. Aren’t we all shattered? And we either choose to do the work of picking up these beautifully fractured pieces to make our new masterpiece. Thank you again!!! Justine

  6. Hello Susan, You got me at ‘appointments clamoring for my attention’ and the fact you drive a six speed! Lol! I find it so funny when I meet other women who look at me when I say I prefer manual to an automatic. I feel like I am actually driving and not riding. Sisters in words and speed – gotta love that!

    I very much enjoyed your work – the visuals are so clear, the tenderness you show your clients is so heartwarming and strong. Your strength gets them through what needs to be done. Not always, if at all easy. Ever. You seem to shoot straight from the hip, you can show me a picture without the added fluff, which I respect and enjoy immensely. Please forgive my delay in reading your post, as I said to Justine, the wait was well worth it! Life has a way of attacking and we must answer. Well done!

    • Aww, Patricia, your comments are kind. Thank you. I love visual art. However, brushes, acrylics, and oils, even watercolors, are not my forte. I prefer painting scenes using words! I often read my prose, and poetry, aloud (to myself) to ensure the intonation captures the emotion and attitude I wish to convey. I like that you recognize I shoot from the hip. That makes my writing genuine which pleases me. The intention behind my words, spoken and written, is the gold I seek and strive to share. Thank you for appreciating my writing and sharing your comments.

  7. Ladies, I simply love these stories. Your clients are blessed to have your ears, heart and creativity, as we’ve been blessed by your beautiful and tender words. Thank you!

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