What is inspiring you? I hope that you can ask, in the dormancy of winter: what would happen if I took a stand for myself?
This is the fifth in a series of guest posts: For the last few winters, I’ve offered up my blog as a place for writers to share. I believe in generosity. I also know how important it is for writers to write. To that end, I’ve spent a few weeks posting the alive and brave words that people who have come to a Haven retreat are willing to share. Read these words. Consider this experience. Play around in curiosity and wonder. I hope that my blog will honor all of us who sit in the intersection of heart and mind and craft that is writing.
That’s what I’m doing. Quietly. For these weeks. Please think about taking this time for your heart language.
While I’m focusing on my own writing…this year, I’ve asked Haven alums to write a short piece describing something they learned or a way they were transformed through Haven. I’ll be sharing two pieces per post over the next couple of weeks. With huge love to your muse– Laura
Donna Bunten and Shannon McDonough.
Haven by Donna Bunten
River stands before me solid, unmoving. My throat constricts as fear rises like a choking fog above a swamp on Halloween night. Not from fear of the horse, a beautiful Arabian chestnut who stands 14.2 hands, a 1,000-pound animal able to stomp me to dust beneath his hooves. No, fear of something much scarier—that River knows I have no will of my own, that I’m a chameleon, unable to be “real” because I don’t know who I am. That I so desperately want him to like me and I’m afraid he’ll reject me because I’m not good enough.
“Donna,” Bobbi’s clear voice penetrates the fog. “What’s happening, what are you feeling?”
“That I don’t really need to make him move around the arena, just for me, just to prove something,” I say out loud, my voice quivering. The inner voice finishes the thought: “You’re not worth it. He doesn’t like you, what were you thinking, coming here?” I want to cry.
Bobbi’s deep blue eyes meet mine, and quietly she says, “Well, someday you might really need to make someone move away from you. You might have to take a stand for yourself. Take a deep breath, center your intention towards River. Now, try again.”
I inhale slowly, trying to breathe in strength and resolve, to shush the cacophony of voices in my head. Then, in the growing stillness, I feel something stir in the core of my being. Something warm, firm, solid. Something dense, yet crystal clear. Something that’s been there all along, even though I’ve forgotten. I sense, rather than hear, the words, “You are enough, just as you are.” I extend my arm and walk calmly towards River, holding his gaze. “You need to move aside,” I tell him silently.
And he does. Just like that. “Horses aren’t comfortable around tentative people,” Bobbi tells me. “Their survival depends on being able to sense danger, and to know their place within the herd. You need to show the horse that you are in charge, that he can trust you to lead. If you don’t know your own place, you just confuse them.”
Her words echo Laura’s from that morning’s writing session. “Get clear with the voice telling your story. The reader wants authority. Hold the torch, show her you know where you’re taking her. Stop camouflaging. Take a stand for yourself.”
Back in my room at Haven, I sit weeping on the edge of my bed, doubled over as sobs bubble up and wash over me like a melting river escaping the icy grip of a very long winter. The heavy energy of holding fear and shame begins to shift, to lighten, to dance.
River reflected back to me both my vulnerability and my strength. Deep within my heart, the veil lifts, and I glimpse my true nature. I see pain, fear, and doubt, but I also see courage and the infinite capacity for love. It was enough for River, and it is enough for me.
I Am One of Them by Shannon McDonough
Why did I come here? I asked myself as soon as I got back to my room that first night of Laura Munson’s Haven Writing Retreat. I don’t fit in. This isn’t what I was expecting at all. I needed to breathe into a paper bag, but it turns out paper bags aren’t as easy to come by as you might think on a remote ranch in the woods of Montana. I felt like I could vomit. I wanted to leave.
The next morning I slogged through the group writing exercises, fighting back tears and the urge to run from the room. You’re doing this wrong played in my head like a skipping record. Again and again…that same tired old song I’d heard all my life. I was so trapped in my own mind the only thing I could write about was that I didn’t know what to write about. Brilliant.
When the morning session was finally over I let out a long, slow breath. But before we broke for lunch, Laura asked who would like to read from their own work that evening. In a moment of what I can only describe as pure insanity, I raised my hand. I had known we would have this opportunity and I thought I was prepared to do it. But that was before I heard all these talented writers and flung myself headlong into a bout of compare and despair. Still, something deep inside me took over and I could only follow its lead.
That night we gathered on couches and chairs and beanbags in the cozy living room of the lodge overlooking the lake. With candles lit and cups of tea we settled in for the evening session. When it was my turn I took a deep breath and read my previously private work to these women who were strangers just a week before. And it was magic. Suddenly, in this safe and sacred space, enveloped in pure acceptance, I became a storyteller.
Later, as I looked around at these extraordinary women willing to bare their souls and share their stories, I understood why I had taken this journey to the woods of Montana. In this quiet place so far removed from the rest of the world, I came to know these beautiful souls who didn’t seem to see just how magnificent they are. That astounded me. Why can’t they see their own light? I wondered. And then I realized…I am one of them.