Haven Winter Blog Series #2: “Creativity Leads the Way”

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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

Creative Expression Of Me

A few years ago I participated in a personal growth workshop where we learned and then practiced walking meditation. Twenty of us eager and willing students were given the instruction to walk barefoot around the periphery of the sage green classroom, on the dark brown carpet, with the soft music of singing bowls playing in the background. The goal was to continue moving, but move as slowly as possible, after all “there is nowhere to go, not really” said the instructor. I was intrigued, but thought the practice was silly. At first.

Walking for about thirty minutes, I become aware of the tiny bones and cartilage in my feet and the pressure created by the floor, the angular way my hips dip and my knees hinge, and I hear the familiar messages in my mind as they become mute while I repeat the mantra, “there is nowhere to go, not really.” Moving my body around the room, challenging myself to slow it down more, and more, and more, the miracle of my flowing, sensing, alive body fills my awareness. My senses tingle, time fades into a meaningless thought form.

While my mind clears, I drop any agenda I am carrying, and keep my gaze focused on my feet, the weave of the carpet, sunlight streaming in, the person in front of me, and creaking sounds from the floorboards. My awareness expands, while my heartbeat paces with the flow of my being, and all thoughts become peaceful, digestible, present. I let go of something. I remember something. About me. About being human and alive and one of many. Simultaneously it seems nothing matters, and everything matters.

This experience stays with me, and I conjure it up and employ the lessons of what I now know is ‘non-attachment’ whenever I feel the pressured pace of our modern world crushing my creative and free spirit.

“There is nowhere to go, not really.” These words set me free. They disarm the inner critic, and welcome playfulness with words, experiences, moments that invite connection.

When I sit down to write, I remember that nothing I write will matter absolutely, and anything I write might matter momentarily, to someone, and I may never know who. I say a tiny prayer that my words and thoughts and expressions will ease a burden, offer an insight, chart a path or welcome a connection to freedom. Remembering that my purpose is to be an expression of love in all I do keeps me kind, and thus I choose each word with care. Knowing that our shared experience on this planet is fleeting, and wherever we go and whatever we do is a gift, and maybe even a miracle, welcomes honesty and integrity and a fearlessness to tackle the shadowy details that make being human such a gnarly tangled web.

The creative writing I crank out is most often about parenting. What could be more shadowy and challenging than passing along the legacy of misguided patterns and loneliness and love and awkward efforts to get needs met, than the experience of parenting? Every gesture is filled with conscious and unconscious messages, all mixed together, a stream of expressions that carry the family history, and the heavy load that is our entwined collective human experience.

Hugging my daughter, I hold on, longing to feel her heartbeat and smell her distinctive scent for a bit longer than is usually allowed. She indulges me, and I have what I call “a moment.” I live for these. They are my sustenance.

If I can remember to keep myself awake and aware, these moments are enough. They have entire worlds inside them. If I notice, and let them sink in, they sustain me through all the monotony that is a life of ridiculous comfort and overbooked schedules and numbing consistency, mixed with loss and goodbyes and growing old, and a peppering of poignant beauty that practically makes my heart stop with astonishment.

These are the moments I gather. I’m a collector of moments. They give life to my writing, and depth to my creativity. They remind me that my time here is a fleeting experience of risk that welcomes vulnerability which ushers in connection, which nourishes all of me. I surrender to this messiness, and the words tumble out on the page, a creative expression of me. I’m but a whisper here in this dreamy existence of time. And it’s enough. It’s nothing, and it’s everything.

There is nowhere to go, not really.

- Stacey Tompkins tiastruth.blogspot.com

Post #2

Choosing Creativity takes Courage!

I decided to lift up clumps of velvety green moss growing around the roots of the pine trees providing shade on a steamy afternoon with my sister.  I was making carpet for the playhouse we were building during our breaks while working at our large logged barn for flu-curing tobacco. The bright “Kermit the Frog” color added cheer to our earthy living room made from branches, twigs, tobacco sticks, potato shaped rocks, and old boards that we found scattered around the dusty road and area surrounding the barn. As we worked, I was constantly thinking of ways to add to our elaborate home under the pines.  My mind drifted from the heat and harsh conditions and inspired me to keep going in spite of working long hours as a little girl.

Growing up on a tobacco farm in a place called Clover gave me the perfect setting for my imagination to wander wildly.  Climbing apple trees and pretending to fly planes, digging holes to make swimming pools, putting on plays behind sheets draped over the swing set, crawling underneath the quilting table and grabbing pieces of chalk to draw with, dressing up our cats and strolling them as our babies in the old cane stroller in our attic, collecting clay from the creek to make an assortment of items, playing dress-up with the old clothes found in my Grannie’s trunk, or adding more squares of fuzzy moss to our playhouse could occupy me for countless hours.

As I grew older and recognized that more and more was being demanded of me in helping run the tobacco farm, I began to study harder in school to make certain that I would never work that hard physically again. While getting my grades up and juggling my working schedule, I placed my playfulness on hold until I was enrolled in college.  My flair for creativity shifted to writing college essays. For me, an education meant freedom from farming.  I would be the first person in my family to go to college.  My father had quit school in eighth grade to make certain his family kept their family farm in spite of his dad’s failing health.  His strong work ethics had been instilled in me and lead to my academic success.

While striving to be successful, I began to listen to others’ voices more than myself. This desire to please others would ultimately leave me feeling less than capable to choose a career path where my natural gifts for creativity would flourish. In spite of a strong desire to be a professional singer, I became an elementary school teacher.  Teaching first graders was good for me because I could make up lesson plans and decorate the classroom using my vivid imagination and artistic tendencies.  Seeing children struggle with learning lead me to becoming a school counselor for a few years.

My priorities shifted when faced with colon cancer at forty-one.  Sitting still for 16 chemotherapy treatments gave me the impetus to journal. I realized that choosing to live fully meant being myself. The little girl who found soft velvety green moss emerged with her strong voice and creative ideas once again.  My passion for helping others and vision for inspiration pushed me into faithful actions towards ministry.

Finding my sweet inner creative child was a gift that quickly faded. Just as I was learning to play again, my husband died while playing basketball with our younger son and other boys at school.  The irony of this life-changing event threw me into a depression.  While the pile of grief books began to resemble the self-help section at a bookstore, I wondered if I should write a book sharing stories drawn from this tragedy.

Thirteen years later while flying home from Montana, the woman seated in front of me turned around and said, “You should write a book.”  I was stunned to hear her say the very words that had been rolling around in my head like a hamster on a wheel since losing my husband.  During the long flight, she had heard me sharing stories that can’t be made up with the passenger seated by me.  In introducing herself to me, she handed me her business card.

Upon arriving home, I decided to do a Google search on Laura Munson, the author named on that card.  My heart raced as I wrote her a note inquiring about the Haven Writing Retreats she leads in Whitefish, Montana.  Two months later I boarded a plane heading to Montana seeking the keys to writing that book. Under the tall pines draped in snow, the soft green velvety moss emerged on a sunny afternoon and a little girl found her courage to share her stories.  Listening to one’s heart opens the doors to creativity!

- Susan Butterworth www.heart-heels.com

2016 Haven Writing Retreat Schedule:
February 24-28
June 8-12
June 22-26
September 7-11
September 21-25
October 5-9
October 19-23



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14 Responses to Haven Winter Blog Series #2: “Creativity Leads the Way”

  1. Stacey, I absolutely love singing bowls. In fact, I am going to a singing bowl meditation this Friday evening. Your descriptive writing is soothing and passionate altogether. I liked your piece very much.

  2. Susan, your last line resonates with me: “Listening to one’s heart opens the doors to creativity!” What a lovely reminder you’ve created with you words. Your writing is brave and passionate. Thank you for sharing your powerful story.

  3. Stacey – We all get wrapped up in our own significance that sometimes it’s hard but so important to remember: “I’m but a whisper here in this dreamy existence of time. And it’s enough. It’s nothing, and it’s everything.” My new mantra! Susan – I totally relate to that lost little girl. Made my heart ache reading it. So glad Laura spoke to you. Write on. Let her show you the way.

  4. Josefina Barbero

    Stacey – Deep hugs, that is what my children call those hugs where I linger and they have come to learn that sometimes I need them – they are truly life sustaining in themselves. Thank you – collector of moments – your words are a beautiful reminder of the fleetingly short time we have here that is capable of encompassing so much.

  5. Josefina Barbero

    Susan – your life story – so far – is beautiful. Out of the ashes….we rise.

  6. Stacey, I love synchronicity! I just (this minute) finished an article on aparigraha, a word for non-attatchment in Sanskrit. So much to learn from experiences and new words. Fun!

  7. Stacey,

    I really like that you are a collector of moments. Moments are precious and looking backward, they are the real expressions of everlasting love. Staying present is another way of expressing that thought I guess, but collecting the sweet moment of breathing in the vanilla smell of my sons’ head when they were babies….ahhh….the best moments! Thank you for allowing me to smell the moments and remember them!

    Thanks to all of you who have taken a collection of moments by reading these posts! It almost feels like sitting still at Haven and picking up that lovely pen and putting it into motion one word at a time!

  8. Christine Watkins

    Stacey & Susan,

    These were both so lovely to read. Such incredible writing and storytelling!!!! Both of them were simply a breath of fresh air. Thank you so much for contributing to all that is good in the world. I hope to read more of your work!


  9. Thanks to everyone for reading my post “Choosing Creativity Takes Courage”and for your comments. Meeting Laura while flying has changed my life! The opportunity to share with each of you here is an affirmation to keep on writing.

  10. Dear Stacey, What a lovely, lovely piece. “Simultaneously it seems nothing matters, and everything matters.” Really resonated with me, as did ‘collecting moments’ Isn’t that what all of us really do, moments, memories, the ‘right now’ since that is all we really have anyway? You took me back to silent meditative walking at the Empty Hands Zendo on a labyrinth. I loved watching children walk the seven rings, sometimes in order, most of the times not, but it was the joy they found in the moment that stayed with me. Your writing was a joy to read!

  11. Dear Susan, First – your name makes me smile. I can’t help it, it makes me happy to say it. I can’t wait to see it on the cover of your book. Wow. Memoir doesn’t get any better than this. I believe with all my heart there are no accidents – everything you describe is so honest, so right from your heart – it is wonderful!

    I remember making moss carpets for outdoor doll houses under the gnarled and twisted roots of a willow tree by a creak. Imagination was allowed and encouraged to grow. I ache for anyone who has not experienced nature as a play ground and mud as a medium for toy dinosaurs and souffles! You have lived an enchanted life – a challenging, raw and real life. Thank you so much for sharing a slice of it with us.

  12. Carolyn

    Stacy – I love your images – can see you walking and moving and using that exercise in your writing. So well done.

  13. Carolyn

    Susan – beautiful imagery. I can feel you playing – needing to move on.
    Then returning to your creative self. Nicely done.

  14. These pieces are so honest and beautiful.

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