Tag Archives: how to become a writer

Learning How to Ask (and receive)

If you’ve wondered what is behind the scenes at a Haven Writing Retreat…watch this video:

What Haven is all about.  Click Here to watch video!

Click here to watch the video!

A word on learning how to ask for what you need…

You hear this message in different word arrangements from different wisdom spinners, including your grandmother:  what goes around comes around, succor life and it will succor you, practice right actionbe of service.  I come from Midwestern farm stock and I’ve been grandmothered into this message from the beginning, as stalwart and straight forward as a row of corn.  I watched my mother and father live by it, and I paid attention.  But it wasn’t until my fourth decade that I realized that it was actually driving the essence of who I am.

It happened one day, a very bad day, when my world was being met with rejection on every front—marriage, career, teens…  And I sat in my office staring at a blank screen, thinking, Why do I do this writing thing with such devotion and fervor, and for so many years?  Nobody asked me to do it.  It’s financially counter-intuitive.  And it’s damn hard!  And out of my fingers poured these words:  “I write to shine a light on a dim or otherwise pitch black corner to provide relief for myself and others.”  There it was:  Service.  Service to others.  And service to myself.  Huh.  My career started approximately 24 hours later.

You see, that one line was the defining moment when I held the mirror up to my heart, my intention, my intuition, my passion—everything that drove me…and staked my claim on it all.  This is what I’m made of, and why I can continue my writing life, regardless of promises.  That was my service to self:  getting perfectly clear about what makes me tick.  And so it makes sense that in only five years, I was not just writing out of service from my little office in Montana, but actually sharing what had held my muse with hundreds of people in my neck of the woods.  People from all over the world, coming here, to work with me, and be of service to their muses.  And yes, consequently, to others, in community, and with all laud and honor to the written word.  The ripples of have been the most life-affirming endeavor I’ve known outside of motherhood.  And this branch of my career has stabilized my life and brought with it great richness, and opportunities.  But there were a few missing pieces in my business that required help.  Big help.  Help I had no idea how to ask for.  So I didn’t.

One thing that my grandmother would never have said to me, or modeled, or urged me to sew into my modus operandi, was ask and you shall receive That one was skipped over.  You didn’t ask.  You served.  And you didn’t serve to get anything back.  You served because that was the right thing to do.  Period.  Sure, giving the shirt off your back had its perks.  Someone might do something nice for you, and you’d receive that gracefully and with the appropriate card stock and your best cursive.  But ask?  Uh-uh.

So here’s what happened:  Anyone who has a business these days knows they should have a website, and what’s the most powerful tool on that website?  A really great professional video that nails what your business is all about.  Fawning, swooning, oozing testimonials don’t hurt.  But it’s the moving, speaking, feeling humans that tell the story of what it is that you do…that really seals the deal.  Everyone told me:  “You need a video.  A really good one.  Professional.  With drones and stuff.”  The problem was:  I lead very intimate, private, gatherings of seekers who do my retreats and workshops to leave the world of moving and shaking and being on the hot seat or in the fish bowl, very deliberately behind.  And bringing a videographer into the equation felt incongruent with the safe haven I promise.  In fact, it’s called Haven Writing Retreats.  I try to be only of service to my clients.  To ask nothing of them other than to put their hearts in their hands, check whatever currency they possess outside of their ability to be honest, kind, supportive, and wildly creative…at the door.  I don’t ask them to fill out evaluations at the end.  There’s no gift shop.  No T-shirt.  No mug.  No incentivized marketing scheme.  If anything, I’m chasing them out the door with writing prompts!  But man…it was true…a video would really help me get the word out, both as a service to those whose lives  could be changed by this experience, and to me too, as a business woman.  It’s a lot of work to find the right 100 people a year to come to Montana for this deep, reflective experience, and I knew that a powerful video would be a great tool to build those bridges.  But ethically…I just couldn’t bring myself to do it.

And then something happened that has changed my faith in the world.  I was sitting at the dinner table with my February 2017 Haven group.  It was my advanced Haven II program for alums of the retreat, (for which you don’t have to be a writer to attend), who are now dedicated to finishing books, soon, and with the support of my Haven method and the group.  It was the last night.  We’d dug deep, we were all as tired as we were alive with new breath and new beating hearts.  They were talking so eloquently about their experience, and about the future, a reunion, how they were going to fight for it all, especially each other’s books.  And they were saying things like “How can we help you, Laura?”  

Haven Writing Retreats

Click here for more info and to set up a call to talk about your creative journey…

Even though I fought it, tears broke from my eyes and slid down my cheeks, and I hoped they wouldn’t see it in the candlelight.  But they did.  I confessed.  But I did not ask.  I spoke to my needs.  “I need Haven.  For my own writing.  And I can’t find anything like it anywhere.”  And then these words slipped out:  “And I need a way for people to know just what this program is all about.”

The next day, there came a surprise.  The women had talked.  “We’ve all agreed that you need a professional video.  We’re filming it tomorrow morning instead of you taking us out for breakfast.  We’ll eat before.  We’re giving testimonials.  You’re getting interviewed.  It’s our gift.” 

Everything in me wanted to say noI can’t.  Thank you…but…

“And we also want you to come to our reunion.  Not as the teacher.  But as one of us.  We’ll teach each other using the Haven method.  And you’ll get to receive what you’ve created!” 

I looked into each of their eyes to see if there was any reserve from any of them.  They were all beaming and nodding.  And suddenly I was too. 

Haven Writing RetreatsIn a symphony I could never have orchestrated, one of the attendees made a phone call, and the next morning she showed up with two videographers who’d driven two and a half hours in a snowstorm.  They set up professional lights and cameras on tripods.  All I had to do was straighten a few pillows and put a little make up on.  And the rest of them arrived, smiling and beaming.  I could go on and on about the blessing of that day.  The gratitude circle that one of them suggested—the way each of them honored each other, one by one, sharing words of thanks.  How they each offered testimonials and discussed what makes Haven so special.  I have never been more speechless, more touched, more grateful.

Thanks to these loving women!

Thanks to these loving women!

And here’s the thing:  I didn’t have to ask.  Instead, I watched service whip around the woods of Montana and land in the palms of my grateful hands.  Thank you to everyone who has shared their Haven experience over the years with others, and especially to these incredible angels at my table.  Ripple on! 

Please watch the video at the top of this post, and if you like what you see, please share with anyone you know who is looking for their voice, loves the written word, who has a book project in them, or simply needs to reclaim the heart of who they are…in the woods of Montana.  Sometimes…you do need to ask.  I’m trying to learn how.

Now Booking 2017 Haven Writing Retreats

June 7-11 (a few spots left)
June 21-25 (one spot left)
September 6-10
September 20-24
October 4-8
October 18-22

Film credits to Thomas Kurdy and his Ndigena video production

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Haven Winter Blog Series #9– Announcing Winner!

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So proud of my Haven Writing Retreats Alums and their powerful essays. Permission to be creative, indeed!

CONGRATULATIONS TO ALEXIS PUTNAM!

This is the last of our Haven Winter Blog Series.  I hope you have enjoyed it.  I don’t believe in competition, but I do believe in supporting people for fine work.  This is the post that my Haven team has chosen as the “winner.”  Yet all the Haven alums who have bravely submitted their response to how they give themselves permission to be creative…are “winners.”  Thank you for sharing, thank you for reading, and may the rest of your winter be full of creativity.  From our muse to yours, Laura  

Now Booking 2016 Haven Writing Retreats in glorious Whitefish, Montana:

February 24-28 (full with wait list)
June 8-12
June 22-26
September 7-11
September 21-25
October 5-9
October 19-23

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It is July. I stand in the kitchen, crying.

“You say you want to write, well write something! Why do you need to go on some retreat? Seems like the first step is to just put some words down…” My husband sounds both pissy and confused.

The words are logical, but miss the point, and it ignites a fire in me. Through the window I see the sun blazing away out in the backyard, and I’m surprised by the power of my anger, and the strength of my conviction.

“I do! I try! But I need help…” More tears flow, accompanied by a recounting of my view of the past several years. And why I think I should go on the Haven Writing Retreat in Whitefish, Montana. I need space and support to discover a path forward, and to recover the substance of my writing self – my voice.

I brush crumbs off of the cold, smooth counter with my hand and struggle to explain. To convey that the only thing left of my writing dream at this point is the jewel of knowing. Knowing that I need to write. 3 kids, a near-death experience, and years of sleep-deprivation and stay-at-home mothering have just about eaten me alive. And if all I have to go on is this gift of certainty, it is absolutely imperative that I follow it.

My husband is not actually a jerk. He may not fully understand, but he can see that I’m desperate. The truth is, we can’t afford the retreat, and the timing doesn’t make sense.

But these things – bold stands to nurture our deepest selves – are rarely simple or easy. Every story is complicated. So, though it’s a stretch, we resolve to make it work.

And 3 months later, I’m on a plane to Kalispell to find my voice.

prints***

Haven is not what I expected, but it turns out to be everything I need. The four days and nights blur into one another – a circling, rhythmic process that builds and swells.

Here, I am nourished, challenged, awakened, connected, raw, open, terrified, exhilarated.

I laugh and cry and stretch and learn and sit in stillness and silence to face my loudest fears.

I find a single thread that will become my voice, and follow it as it grows stronger, truer, and more substantial. Soon it will carry all my weight.

I am given a path, and a plan to carve out time and space to write – even in the busyness and noise and engulfing nature of motherhood.

I begin to hope.

***Forward

I’m back to my real life now. And back to making that same choice – to honor, protect, and nurture my writing self – in different ways.

These days it’s not a plane ticket to Montana, it’s grabbing a notebook and earplugs, and throwing myself onto the page – ungracefully, maybe, but with certainty.

It’s 20 minutes in the morning to unload my heart and clear my cloudy brain.

It’s 3 hours on Thursdays when the kids are farmed out in 3 directions – and I’m free.

It’s negotiating on Friday night for when (not if) those 2-3 additional hours of writing time will fit into our weekend.

It’s knowing – and willing myself to feel and believe – that committing to this writing is not taking away from those I love. This commitment gives me life. It gives me hope, and makes me more myself. Which, in turn, makes me a better mother, wife, and friend.

Sometimes, making this choice looks like learning to be okay with compromises.

Perhaps it’s okay to throw all the kids in the backyard for half an hour, forbidden from entering the house?

Perhaps it’s okay to allow a few viewings of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood (or worse), in this formerly TV-free house?

IMG_0544Or to serve less-healthy dinners a few nights a week to save an hour or two of cooking time?

Experimenting with alternative ways to buy time doesn’t always feel great. I’m still learning. Still haggling with myself. Testing the limits in different directions to see which sacrifices and which trade-offs feel acceptable or sustainable.

Tonight I am not writing. But since that part of me has been resurrected, it’s always running in the background, grounding me. So instead of feeling stuck, lost and echoey inside, and unsure of my direction or purpose, I can embrace all of the not-writing parts of my life more deeply.

I can feel my 2 1/2 year old resting limp against my chest without being burdened. I can breathe deep, feel his soft hair on my face, and acknowledge that he’ll never be this small again, without worrying and wondering what I’ll be left with when he’s grown and gone. Because writing is here to stay.

Alexis Putnam

***Help bring a young writer to Haven Writing Retreats and have me Skyped into your Book Group!  Secure this perk by clicking here!  Only available to five Book Groups…

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



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Haven Winter Blog Series #8:

bedroom_windowHelp send a young deserving writer to Haven Writing Retreats and change their lives!  To contribute, learn more, and get special perks, click here

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

I scan the gate area for the perfect spot.  My two year old is hiked up on my right hip. The carry on strap digs into my shoulder and my other two daughters are hanging on their dad, who is also loaded down with suitcases and bags. I point to a spot with a look.

We crowd in with our pile of bags beside a lone traveller, a woman writing in a notebook on her lap.  My husband takes the girls for snacks.  I love to watch people, and now’s my chance and sitting right here is a lady of great interest.

I try to act nonchalant as I peek at this writer.  She has her feet curled under her like a cat in front of the fireplace all cozy and safe.   She is intense and focused and I am fascinated. How does she do it amid the clamour of a busy airport? I fight the urge to lean over and tell her “I, too, am a writer!” and continue pretending to not watch her.

Is it true what I want to say to her?  Am I a writer or am I just pretending?  She doesn’t seem to have any distractions or excuses.  I have plenty of both.

My distractions return with pretzels, juice boxes and gummy bears.  I smile at my girls and steal glances at the writer. She flips to a clean sheet of white. Soon it is transformed into loops and lines of black ink.  I am in awe.  I envy her.  I envy her ability to block out all these interesting folks moving in and out of chairs with laptops, iPhones, Kindles, newspapers folded under arm and rolling tiny wheeled suitcases.

My daughters are at the windows pointing “Mommy, look at that plane!  Is ours going to be that big?!”  I smile and nod, remembering what we are here for.  My writing friend continues scrawling – her streaming ink flow doesn’t even flinch at my daughter’s squeals. I want to be this lady.  I want use spare moments to capture the spinning thoughts and stories inside me. I used to write on a daily basis, before I had a family, when I was twenty one, unjaded, eager to experience, tromping around the world with my backpack and my best friend, not to write the great novel, but simply because it was a part of who I am.  Writing is how I process the world.  It is my attempt to document the incredible moments in my life and my way of finding my true self and speaking to the truths deep in my soul.  I have been writing my stories since I learned how to use a pencil. That is, until I started all the grown up stuff of marriage, a mortgage and bringing a small tribe of girls into the world.  As the airport writer gathers up her things to leave, I make a silent vow: I promise to write.  Write in a journal.  Write that story burning inside that needs to get out. Write for me. I dig into the bottom of my travel purse and pull out a notebook and pen.

I keep a journal of our family adventures now.  I watch people and write scenes and characters inspired by strangers that I observe at the beach, in campgrounds, in airports, at gas stations.  These entries will help develop characters in the fictional story I am slowly writing.  I am a busy mom but I notice things; I find moments to write, waiting outside the dance studio for my daughters, when the little one is napping, or when the kids watch their favorite Disney movie for the millionth time, I sneak away to the kitchen table even if only for ten minutes.  I have learned to use the little bits of time because I don’t have chunks of time to give to myself at this point with a young, on the go family.  That doesn’t mean I have to give up on myself and my dreams.

The writer in the airport helped me realize that waiting until “someday” isn’t serving my creative dreams; it isn’t showing up for me. Not long after that trip I stumbled across an ad for Haven Writing Retreats in Montana with author, Laura Munson.  I knew this was the opportunity to show up for myself.   I attended Haven in September 2014, and it is the best I have given to my creative self.  It has been an enduring gift of connectivity with other Haven Alum, the writing souls who support and embrace each other’s talents and passions. My Haven experience continues to inspire my daily writing life.  Now that notebook at the bottom of my purse has creased pages with scribbled passages….just the way it ought to be.

- Michelle Irwin

Post #2

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heather 1

On Creativity

creativity

the precipice on which my life either unfurls into infinite possibility or coagulates into mediocre anonymity.

For much of my life, I held strong to the pervasive myth that people either are or are not creative, and as luck would have it, I just wasn’t creative. Bummer.

I took art classes every week in grade school. I played piano from 6 yrs. old through college. Put any piece of music or image in front of me, and I could play it or draw it. Ask me to sit down and improvise, and my heart constricted in my throat and I froze—“I can’t, I’m not creative.”

The weird thing is, my favorite part of art class growing up was abstract watercolor painting. I made stained glass and wrote poetry. I don’t remember a specific event or particularly embarrassing moment that shifted my relationship with creativity from pure joy to pure terror of being negatively judged. One minute I was carefree and imaginative; the next, paralyzed and guarded. I stopped painting. I stopped playing piano. I stopped writing. It was safer to be “not creative” than to be vulnerable.

I see this shift happening with my daughter, and it breaks my heart. She’s 9 years old. She’s supposed to be dreaming up fanciful adventures, not losing sleep over school projects because she’s scared her classmates are going to make fun of her. Because she believes she’s not creative.

After I misplaced half my life hiding in the shadows, I set out on a quest to resuscitate my long-defunct creativity. I signed up for Brene Brown’s Gifts of Imperfection art journaling e-course. Just the idea of joining it made me feel like a fraud. I wasn’t an artist or a journaler. I wasn’t creative.

Despite my inner critic, or perhaps in spite of, I took that first tentative step out of the shadows. One of the tools I learned was writing out actual, physical permission slips, giving myself permission to show up authentically in the world. To admit that I’m not perfect, and not let that stop me from doing things that bring me joy. To stop comparing my creativity to others. To make art if I want to, in any form, other people’s opinions be damned.

One day, I wrote out a “someday” bucket list: it included absurdly unrealistic things like “attend a Haven writing retreat” and “perform with Broad Comedy” and “give a TEDx talk”. When I wrote this list, I was terrified to be seen. I hadn’t written anything remotely akin to “creative writing” in over a decade. I couldn’t even read someone else’s poem at an open mic night, much less one of my own.

True to the Universe’s roguish sense of humor, it conspired to make all of these happen in epic ways. The girl who was petrified with stage fright found herself front and center acting, singing and playing guitar. I didn’t know how to play guitar…I learned fast. I was invited to perform a spoken-word poem as the closing talk at TEDxBozeman. And I’m on my way to Haven II in January, working on two books.

I could have said no to what could easily have been a disastrous guitar-playing debacle. I could have made excuses about why I couldn’t afford Haven. Yet I couldn’t have. There was something gnawing at me, luring me to step outside of my comfort zone.

For me, it came down to giving myself permission to be vulnerable. That elusive, “I’ll feel better about myself if I write it down but I know these things are so totally unrealistic and out of reach” someday list literally changed my life.

Now that I know what it’s like to give myself permission to show up authentically, especially when it includes feeling vulnerable and taking risks, I can’t imagine going through life any other way.

Here’s the deal. If nothing changes, nothing changes. I can choose to believe the story I’m telling myself about not being creative. Or I can ignore my inner critic and practice owning my imperfection and be inspired by creativity.

Every day I get to choose how I want to show up, and whether creativity will play a part. Truthfully, some days it doesn’t. Most days, it’s non-negotiable. It doesn’t have to be an extravaganza, and it takes many forms. It comes as poetry or handmade journals. Taking jazz (improv) piano lessons even though it scares the crap out of me. It can be as simple as writing a haiku for my daughter’s lunch.

What matters is that I remember that creativity is magic. Once we no longer see magic in the world, we lose the ability to fully experience life.

I am no longer willing to accept mediocre anonymity. I choose infinite possibility.

Heather Higinbotham

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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Haven Winter Blog Series #7: “Inner Critic vs. Inner Encourager”

Help send a young deserving writer to Haven Writing Retreats and change their lives!  To contribute, learn more, and get special perks, click here

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
Screen Shot 2015-01-09 at 8.57.34 PM

Post #1

I didn’t tell her where we were going – or why. She wouldn’t believe me and would begin once again, her rant that has echoed in my ears for a very long time. I packed my bags when she wasn’t paying attention.  Throwing in a favorite wrap she would be comfortable in and our favorite pjs, slippers and boots, we were ready. I bought a beautiful journal dedicated to this new adventure, kissed my kids and grandkids goodbye and headed to the airport.

She was quiet. I could tell she was frightened.

How did this happen? Here we sat – her still very quiet – in a room full of strangers. Her presence was ominous – my mind replayed her last words over again and again in my mind. “Who do you think you are?”  “Why do you think you can do this?” “You can’t!” “You don’t belong with these people!”

That was the first time I had ever uttered the words, “I think I should write a book.” She went ballistic all over me and scared me so bad, I laid my pen down and walked away.

Her silence frightened me.

I didn’t tell her how frightened I was too.

Her silent, me becoming brave, somewhere deep inside me I found the courage to sign up to read something I had written about my mother’s journey into death. I don’t think this little, still silent voice had the courage to interrupt.

Finishing my story, I dared look up. Ten sets of eyes looked at me and one by one as they spoke, they gave me a gift unlike anything anyone has ever put in a box, wrapped up with a bow on top and handed me.

They gave voice to my muse – instilling her with a confidence and assurance that we should continue processing our life through stories. She quit the negative comments – she was born again with a spirit empowered with belief in us. She awoke connected to my soul and refuses to let me lay my pen down – for long.

When we both get tired, as a team we pick up our pen and continue writing. I like to connect dots, comparing it to laying a trail of breadcrumbs like Hansel and Gretel did. When I feel empty or discouraged, I follow that trail leading me to inspiration and words. Staying connected to people and walking into their stories with them inspire me. Listening to the world around me – by physical interaction and by sitting quietly in the spaces where I can pray, read and listen to life around me – is a critical component of processing for me.

I am continually amazed where in the world we are when the words come. Maybe we are on a plane surrounded by strangers, we might have just had a conversation with a complete stranger and the stories take life on the page.

We might be walking through an airport or a remote village far into the cane fields of northern India or the classrooms of our students in Honduras when the inspiration comes or recently on a mountain side in Israel, at the foot of the Western Wall and on the Sea of Galilee.  It is my prayer I will be the inspiration to others around me like others on this planet have inspired me.

Often, it happens in places where I don’t even speak the language.

Does life have a universal language? Is it of hope? Is it of grievous tragedies? Is it of injustice? In hunger or illness? Or smiles or hugs? And the tears – of many tears shared.

I have learned it is a combination of all of these. Our stories overlap in ways that need no translation – they just need to be told.

There is nothing more humbling than finding yourself in a bear hug as this woman on the other side of the world has thrown her arms around you, crying, smiling and speaking in tongues unknown to these ears. Her beautiful brown hands hold your face as you have connected as you shared your story through a translator.  We are more alike in our hearts than we would ever have known.

Before going in search of the story. Before waking the muse and becoming inseparable friends. Before courage and bravery.

Before the gift others gave me as they told me to keep telling the stories – it is hard for me to imagine a world without my stories now.

So my muse and I go out into the world. We retreat from the world. The best part of all is how we found peace with each other and how we travel this life of this woman called Janet who found her courage and voice in a place far, far from Covington, Louisiana in a placed called Whitefish, Montana.

- Janet Hines www.janethines.com


Post #2  

I show up for my creative self by putting pen to paper, by easing the pain with words. When my waking reality is too difficult to comprehend or hold myself safe within, I give way to the caretaker of my soul; The part of me that holds safe the longing for things past, the doubt of a bright future and the belief that either of those things are my forever story. I have not always known my creative self although if this conversation was with her I am sure she would tell you she has been there all along. The girl that saved herself in a terrible marriage: how many nights spent writing all those hopes and frustrations down when the babies were sleeping. The days spent in a massage parlor….creativity was there then when I lived inside the day dreams that took me away from the physical realities that were occurring, hell creativity was there when I made those men believe that I was having fun. In all of the darkness there was always the light of my own self expression, I walk down the corridor and the hallways with the girl who saved herself from the trauma that was occurring around her by writing down the ideas that she had for the tomorrows that she believed would never come. “Reflections of a tomorrow land” that was one of the titles that got me through sitting in a cell reflecting on how that happens to a little girl from the “right side” of the tracks….pen and paper, they went with me on that journey. I have shown up for my creative self by letting her have those days, through the tears, when she could not get the words and the feelings out fast enough to keep the snot from water marking them beyond recognition on the page. Yet still I kept writing, with each word numbness held at bay, with each thought, blood starting to ease to a dull thud instead of the deafening pounding, with each word created on paper self- love returning, belief that at least the words of this woman deserved to exist and by default if those words deserved life, then so too did this broken human. As I read through the journals of that girl who never planned for a future, who never expected to see the other side of thirty, I realize that she has had a constant companion and without knowing she has fed, watered and cared for that companion by letting her express herself when the girl could not find her voice. This year the girl, now a woman, and that companion went on a journey. Unchartered territory was discovered not in the wilds of Alaska as she had once imagined but in the remote wilderness of a safe space called Haven. I chose to show up in full reflection for my creative self and offer her the life that she had been holding safe for so long. I chose to give us the chance to trust the creativity that saved us to lead us from the darkness to the light. Let the battle royal begin woman and I will show up with pen and paper to defend your honor until the day we die.

- Josefina Barbero

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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Haven Winter Blog Series #5: “Finding Your Creativity”

Help send a young deserving writer to Haven Writing Retreats and change their lives!  To contribute, learn more, and get special perks, click hereIMG_4412

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

 

ella

A Feather Tipped in Glitter

I have been saving a particular picture of white feathers with their tips dipped in silver glitter as inspiration for my holiday decorations. I could envision their creation long before I had them dangling from a simple piece of string. I strung them as garland outside the entrance to my yoga studio. I decorate the studio on a regular basis and keep my eye out for creative ideas to set the scene for a beautiful yoga experience. I like to change the scenery to impart a feeling of care in the space. I want a fresh palate of texture to inspire and invite the idea of possibility and permission for something new or different.  When I opened the yoga studio, two years ago, I was not expecting ownership or teaching to be so influential and instrumental in developing my creative expression.

My relationship with creative expression and teaching yoga has been a steep learning curve.  I consciously create classes and teach them in full fear. The physician in me wants to teach physically sound yoga classes and the creator in me wants to teach classes that are touching and profound. I tell myself to accept that new skills take time. It is not and will not be perfect, ever.

Laura Munson, bestselling author and founder of Haven writing retreats, once shared that there are two kinds of writers.  There are those that plan and those that write by the seat of their pants.  I am the latter.  Apparently, I decorate, write and teach yoga the same way. I find an idea and I go with it.  It is the creative consideration that inspires me.  Whether a blank page or an empty yoga studio, I love having the space for an idea to emerge and come into being.

Unlike decorating and writing, teaching yoga has an element of here and now. Teaching requires flexibility of structure and immediate adaptability.  It requires that I decide, execute and be in relationship with my work in full view in real time. It provides me with immediate feedback. Teaching feels like there is a lot on the line. It matters to me that people connect to themselves in a deeper way. Creating a special effect with glitter and feathers feels like a small order compared to the tall task of creating sanctuary in the minds and bodies of human beings.

By nature of teaching weekly classes I am in a constant creative mode. I have developed a healthier level of comfort with trusting creative ideas.  I can more easily see the way a concept could be presented in an important way. When I am open to letting something grab my attention, I can potentially bring it to life. When an idea sparks my inner creative imagination I begin to formulate and consider where I can take it.  I let myself imagine.

My creativity is often inspired by what is already close to me.  It lies in daily conversations, pictures, activities and single, quiet thoughts.  I was recently studying the yoga word, Svadhyaya. It means self-study or self-inquiry. I caught myself thinking, “What do I stand for?”  What came to me was mountain pose. It is the yoga pose of standing.  I began to consider all of the ways we use the word stand; stand up, stand tall, stand for, stand out, stand back, stand a chance, stand corrected and so on and so forth. All of a sudden, standing had new possibilities. I could imagine my students standing for five minutes with permission to explore their minds and hearts in relationship to these words and concepts as a way of self-inquiry.  I created a class around a word, a concept and a pose. I could imagine students standing against a wall, standing alone, standing back to back with someone else, and lying down as if they were standing horizontally. With a familiar word I created a new format to teach a yoga and creative writing class. I had something to offer and place for it to go.

Perhaps yoga is teaching me to take a stand for my own creative expression. It is teaching me to trust my “fly by the seat of my pants” nature.  I am learning to accept my desire to be creative as an honoring of my souls desire to express and create change. Teaching has given me permission to let go of fear and be led by what inspires and matters to me. It has encouraged me to embrace being seen, here and now, like a feather tipped in glitter.

- Erika Putnam, founder of Yoga 430
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Post #2

Creativity

I must confess, my perception of creativity has changed and grown as I have gained experience, wisdom –ah yes, we can say it – collected years!

Creativity was always something spoken about, taught, shown, and encouraged while I was growing up.  My mother studied sculpture with Waylande Gregory.  His art studio was tucked behind our neighborhood on the Watchung Mountains in New Jersey.  It was a marvelous place to explore and learn that a lump of earth could become a beautiful piece of art.

My mother also sewed our clothes, and stitched beautiful crewel embroidery.  So there was always fabric, thread and yarn to play and make things with.  There was also paper, paints, pencils, anything in arms reach you could think of to use in a diorama for school, or to decorate a doll house.  It surprised and baffled me when I would go to others children’s homes to visit – these items were not there. Or at least not in sight.

Even in college I was painting or drawing, between learning to study to become a teacher.  When I opened The Giving Tree Day Care having items to explore and create things with was first on my list.

Happily both of my daughters draw, enjoy museums and will stop to look at how the light plays on tree leaves.  Creativity is not just something you do with your hands – you first explore and appreciate and question with your eyes.  Then it becomes a part of you, like your own heartbeat.

Now after beholding the beauty of Montana, the faces of Haven, of watching letters:  words explode from my thoughts and park on the page.  
The creativity in my life has changed from paints and brushes, and now grows stronger when writing.  I make a conscious effort to create every day.  Most of the time it is organizing ideas on morning pages.  Some of my blog posts and even a few poems  started while evaluating these ideas and concepts.  After I returned from Haven in September 2012, I created the Touched By Words blog, that I post each month, which allows me to see where the creative process can take me.  Beginning my first novel has given me much more than I ever thought was possible. From providing a gag for my inner critic.  To introducing me to some of the most amazing people.  Authors from all walks of life, in all different genres and all with this amazing warmth and charity to share whatever they have, and whatever they know.  Which allows me to learn more about myself and practice the process to create even more beautiful pieces of written art.  With proper sentence structure, formatting, the mechanics of the art– with words.

In my home, you will see my mother’s sculptures and her beautiful Japanese silk embroidery.  You will also see a writing nook tucked in a dormer, surrounded by paintings, drawings and my children’s art work when they were young.  You will find five desks on three floors that invite you to come sit and explore for your self. Each is different, but contain a few of the same things: scented candles, a variety of colored pens, a plant, art, poetry books, empty pages waiting to be filled.  You will find a yard with a stone dragon sleeping, several Cairn stacked after I returned from Haven, that welcome you to this space near a hammock, close to a bench behind tall azalea bushes or under a canopy.  Where a flat stone serves as an outdoor desk.

Until I began to write this piece, I honestly never took a tally of how many places we have in our home that beckons one to come, sit and create.  Yet I’ve known all my life how important it is to give yourself permission to be free and unafraid to explore and try.  No matter what it is – doodling, painting, coloring with crayons – or for me, right now, to write.  Anything I want, as much as I want, to create something kept private, or to share it with the world.  It is whatever YOU decide to do, but just like taking in oxygen, you have to automatically give yourself the chance to make it happen.  Stop holding your breath and breathe!  I’m worth this and so are you!  Make daily writing a non-guilty pleasure!

So I invite you, urge you, suggest, shout and sing to you! Give yourself permission to find your voice, write, draw, put to music, whatever it is you choose to tell your stories with and allow them to take flight.  You may just surprise yourself and find joy.

Breathe Deep, Think Peace,

- Patricia Young Pattyyoungblog.wordpress.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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Haven Winter Blog Series #4: “Influential People”

Send a young deserving writer to Haven Writing Retreats and change their lives!  To contribute, learn more, and get special perks, click here

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

The Past is the Future and Time Goes On

When I was young, I stumbled onto one of the three channels on the television and discovered a showing of “Modern Times.”  It was Charlie Chaplin’s greatest work (in my opinion then and now).  It was also the only time the legendary “Little Tramp” got the girl.

In a famous scene, he was caught in the machinery and spit out at the end. How did he get through all that gearing machinations of the modern world and still survive with optimism?

Yet, in the end he did it.

“Buck up!  Things can always get better!!”  Sunset and fade to black. I made the closing theme my own;  “Smile, through your tears and smile…”

It showed, through the arts, a thirteen-year-old girl, could learn to smile!

My father wanted me to live his life over and become the accountant he wished had become.

If there is a room in hell for me, it will have spreadsheets and tax returns. It was a battle that governed most of my childhood.

I’ve gone through the same set of gears Chaplain did.  Many have. But through that, I became a creative soul.  I am proud of the fight I waged to maintain my inner peace.

Chaplain had his comedic counterpart.  Eric Stuart Campbell was 6’5′” and weighed ten stone.  They met stomping the vaudeville boards and made quite the cinematic team.  I gobbled up every bit of film footage I could find, though much of it has been lost to time.

Campbell was a gentle giant and a great foil for Chaplain. They were a worldwide famous team.  His life was tragic.  At the peak of his success, his wife died after a dinner in Hollywood from a sudden heart attack in 1917.  On the way to arrange the funeral later the next day, his daughter was hit by a car and seriously injured. Three months later he married a gold digger. Those of us who have been wounded know what it is to be punch drunk and still trying to play normal.

He died in a drunken car wreck in 1917.  There is very little of his film work left due to the limited technology and storage techniques.

I give myself permission from a long lost fellow Celt, Mr. Campbell, to share my voice.  But empowered, no longer tortured by other’s expectations.

“Chaplin’s Goliath” taught me we live on in many different forms. We can matter after we depart. We are a link in the chain. Thus, I show up every day.  It is my soul chow. I want to live on in a creative way.  I want my words and thoughts and stories matter to someone I have yet to meet. Maybe it is someone who will meet me after I am gone. THAT matters to me as a creative soul; one who wants to make something out of nothing that MATTERS. What I create will somehow become a link in the chain.

Maybe someone will read some of my words decades from now.  Maybe my words will not be read. THAT does not matter.  I need to put it out there and release to the possibilities of now and the future.  Come what may.

And that is what inspires me.  It inspires me to share and be vulnerable.  It inspires me to put my “stuff” out there.  That somehow, somewhere, remotely, my link in the chain will matter.  My words and my voice will be read, reviewed, perhaps remembered.  Perhaps they will even be quoted. I leave my print.

THAT is where my heart is nurtured.   It is where my soul explores and gets inspiration.

But, what of Eric of the Campbell, of Donoon, clan Campbell of Scotland?  Long dead and oft forgotten, ashes forgotten and lost until 1978? His ashes were discovered and interred in Forest Lawn in Hollywood.

And that is what Eric Campbell, who died in 1917, gave to me. He remains here yet.   As a writer and a seeker that is a magical gift.

Our words, and actions and antics count.  Our history counts.  Our story counts. It validates us that WE count, in whatever way the world needs.

The gentle giant lives on. My words thoughts will live on. In some way or another they will be passed on as my grandfathers and uncles quotes will be passed on through me.   As Eric Campbell, therefore go I.  He gave me the gift of eternity.

That is what gives me permission and inspiration.  Maybe, even in this virtual world, my words will be read and matter

I will be part of the tapestry.

It is important to be one of the threads.

- Mary Sigmond  iamonmypath.blogspot.com

Post #2 

IMG_0041Unlikely Inspiration

I’ve lived a left brained life, structure, logic, facts and analysis. That is, until six years ago when I purchased the last copy of a hard covered memoir with a horseshoe on the front.

I read it while on the beach.  Grains of sand and drops of sunscreen graced the pages, as did the author’s words upon my soul.  My journey from left to right brain began. I traveled from rigid, linear thinking, toward creativity and imagination.  I began writing and blogging. This new found shift propelled me to believe I should attend a writing retreat.   September of 2012 I traveled to Montana to do so.

In hindsight, what was I doing? I’d never taken a writing class, attended a workshop or been part of a writing group. I’m a financial controller. My life was filled with numbers.  As my love affair with them waned the pull towards written language strengthened.

I was encouraged to create a writing practice, I didn’t.  I wrote when I could, or moved to.  Two years later, wanting to reconnect with that part of me which resided in fallow; I attended another Haven retreat.  It filled me, and left me empty.  I saw what I could be, not what I was.  I was a half stepping it in the writing world.

Sedona, Arizona called to me in May.   I needed time in this unencumbered space where performance is not expected. Each moment is fully lived.  Rainbows emerge without rain, angel clouds suddenly appear and heart shaped rocks are abundant.

The next to last day of the trip while traveling down the rain slicked red rocks I encountered a wayward heart.  She was a member of the trip team. We had just finished a meditation. It was a personal and emotional one for me centered on Motherhood.  As we converged Rebecca asked me a simple question.

“How many children do you have?”

I answered. I have two.  I gave their names and a synopsis of where they are in life.

In return I asked, “How many children do you have?”

Her pace slowed.  She took a breath, time stilled. “I have one, but I had two.”

With those words I knew who she was.  I realized, for many years we traveled in the same circles, but had never met.  Her son had taken his taken his life a year earlier.

My heart seized.  Words escaped me.  After a few steps all I could muster was “I’m sorry.”

Later that night, at a group event we spoke.  She shared she has been encouraged to write her story.  She’s not ready to travel there.  I introduced her to a Facebook friend who’s finishing a memoir about her son Matt. He passed of an addiction related suicide.  Her hand brushed upon mine, “My son’s name was Matt and he passed from an addiction related suicide”.

The next morning the group met to witness the sunrise. While most of us were in awe of the unfolding beauty, Rebecca was hidden behind her wide rimmed sunglasses. Her arms were folded across her stomach.  I thought if she holds on tight enough her emotions won’t spill from her.

I couldn’t let her go. I friended her on Facebook and began writing to her daily.  She responded.  I shared thoughts, feelings and stories in the hope of reengaging this beautiful woman into life.  In the moments she grabbed on, I smiled.

Every day I found something to write to her about. It may be my perception of what I saw.  The challenges I faced, or my family stories.  She’d respond.  One day she shared her fear of traveling to the place where her son took his last breath.  It was a difficult place to write through, but together we did.

A nagging voice chirped inside of me. I asked my friend, “If my daily writings get too much, please tell me.”

She responded “I love what you have to say. It is a gift.  Keep sharing.”

One rare night while together I revisited the topic, I asked,   “Promise you’ll tell me if you tire of my daily musings.”

She inhaled, “Silver, if I ever say that word you know that’s enough.”

“Silver, okay, got it.” I replied

“Yeah, because what you send me is the gold.”

Several years ago I responded to a blog post that asked, would you write if there was only one person who read your words.  I sat with this for a while.  My answer was yes. If my thoughts and words moved one person, that is all that matters.

Who would have known I’d end up creating a writing practice that does just this.  Each night I share with my friend all that is on my heart. She absorbs it.  As writers, isn’t that all we need?

- Kathy O’Neill

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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Haven Winter Blog Series #3: “Perfectionists”

Processed with VSCOcam with 5 preset

Send a young deserving writer to Haven Writing Retreats and change their lives!  To contribute, learn more, and get special perks, click here

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

We All Have a Fanny

I’ve got this woman who lives behind me who constantly shares her negative thoughts and opinions even if I don’t feel like listening.  I call her Fanny because she’s a pain in the ass…  She shows up unannounced all of the time and is never a welcomed guest.  Ever.  Just when I am having a great day and begin to feel very proud of the words I’ve written, the delicious dinner I’ve made, or a gift I’ve created, she rears her ugly “Fannyesque” head and shouts out a criticism.  Do you really think someone will read that?!?!  Are you sure you didn’t add too much garlic?!?!  That kind of looks like a kindergartner made it!!  I don’t know where this evil woman came from but perhaps she is simply the collective voice for every criticism I’ve ever heard in this life.  The collective voice reminding me to play it safe and avoid risks.  The collective voice constantly reminding me that homogony is best in every situation.  I never invite her in, but she’s always behind me because Fanny is the inner critic inside my mind.  I have made many attempts at thwarting her in order to live more freely and creatively, but these attempts have been fairly unsuccessful…until recently.

I was on a flight home from a conference when Fanny was in rare form.  She was berating me for my outfit choices and second guessing every word I had spoken for the four days I was away from home.  It was then that I had an epiphany that I needed to try and make friends with Fanny and greet her kindly when she arrives instead of trying to run from her, or worse yet, engage in her madness and agree with her.

This. Epiphany. Was. Huge.  However, I recognized that it was going to take a lot of work on my part.  I decided I was going to have to do two things in order to create a long lasting shift in my life and stop looking to Fanny for guidance or punishment:  First, I needed to honestly take a look at and acknowledge my own perfectionistic qualities, and second, each and every time I acknowledge them, think of how much I appreciate authentic people in my life and dislike being around perfectionists who are constantly trying to alleviate their own discomfort by proving to me that they are perfect.  How could it be that I admire authentic people so much, but struggle to be authentic myself?  I could make this change, right?

The first creative endeavor I accomplished after this epiphany was to write a blog for work.  Fanny sat in my office with me the entire time, but I chose to invite her.  I listened to her critiques, but continued to write anyway.  And, you know what, when my blog went live on our website, I got really great feedback. Who knew?

Secondly, I hosted Thanksgiving dinner at my house with way too many people for our small dining room and allowed everyone to bring a dish.  I gave up the need to cook and control everything in order for it to be “perfect” and coached myself through the process by remembering a dinner party at a friend’s house that couldn’t have been more enjoyable or delicious…even after her dog took a dump next to the perfectly set table right before we sat down.   That dinner party was so remarkable because her dog completely broke down any perfectionism in the room by being his authentic geriatric self.  After that, we dined on incredible food, drank a bit too much wine, and laughed all night.   This being said, my Thanksgiving feast went off similarly albeit my dog was on his best behavior.

Third, I have dried all of the herbs from my summer herb garden and created small gifts for Christmas presents.  I designed the labels and hand wrote messages on them.  When Fanny chuckled at how immature the labels looked, I laughed with her thinking about how much my dear foodie friends will enjoy using these gifts and how thankful I am that I actually made them this year instead of letting the plants succumb to the winter weather.

Fanny and I may always find ourselves dancing through this interplay of perfectionism and creativity, but I am beginning to see our dance becoming more like a waltz and less like a tango.  With less resistance, we synchronize our steps together gently reminding each other of our individual presence, as well as, taking accountability for each of our parts in this dance of life.  And now, I am beginning to relish in the awareness that I am becoming more like the authentic and creative people I admire in my life and less like a person who is trying to gain the approval of others…in particular, the approval of Fanny.

- Christine Watkins Integral Executive and Leadership Coach  www.AlignLeadership.com

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Post #2

In the Clearing
A wise person once said to me, “Kris, you think that everything you do needs to be brilliant.” My first thought was, “Well, duh. Ahhhh, YeeaaaAH!” But instead, I smiled and waited for her to go on. “If it’s sincere and comes from the heart, it will be meaningful. And THAT’s what will make an impression.” Tru dat, wise person. Though, my perfectionist ego panics daily with the need to shower the world with shiny, dew drops of wit, wisdom and beauty, my soul knows there’s a better way to fuel my fires of creativity.

It’s true, perfectionism, mine in particular at least, is the deathmate of creativity. Both end up going down hard like Romeo and Juliet in a sad, tragic pirouette of fate. The constant drive for the perfect word, perfect approach, perfect shot, perfect moment can lead to perfect paralysis. Burgeoning ideas recede and cower in the dark crevices of my mind, projects float like a lost vessel while I drown in possibilities and decisions and my soaring enthusiasm kamikazes into despair.

Enter self compassion.

At the present moment, I have no less than three notebooks surrounding me. They are there as my gentle companions – my support network – waiting lovingly to capture the twisted trail of schizophrenic thoughts that surface whenever I sit down to create. Instead of forcing myself to banish these extraneous thoughts to a place of exile, or strong-hand myself into disciplined focus, I turn a kind heart to my over-functioning brain. You see, I believe that all of these thoughts are worthy of attention, even the most obscure, self-deprecating, or mundane. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be crying – demanding – to be heard. There’s a potential story, discovery or opportunity for healing or growth in each one: Mom’s stuff on Craigs List –worst daughter – why do I stall – she’s done so much for me…Get to the gym already – healthy body, healthy mind … Are my dogs staring me down right now – Walk them already – they are your reminders that play and exercise are important… My dad has cancer *tear spurts*– my dad has cancer….Remember to bake pumpkin bars-you love baking – it feeds your soul …It was this time, three years ago that you were about to embark upon the worst set of holidays of your life – how little you knew then….

You clearly get the point.  Since I don’t often know where each of these thoughts may go and how much nurturing they need, I give each one enough space among the blank pages of my cherished notebooks to run their course. Turning this ease and compassion inward, just as I would for a scared or confused child, opens up space…helps me breathe…and slowly, the mental clutter begins to dissipate. Grace sets in and I get the chance to get back to nothingness…stillness…my own clearing in the forest. That’s where the magic happens.

Enter S-P-A-C-E.

Clearing the mental, as well as physical space is not only ritualistic for me, it is freeing. In the midst of the chaos of the world, my mind, my life, I am free to thought-bubble, scribble, hopscotch, dabble, dive-in, piece together, smooth out, finesse or even dump whatever I wish. Some would find my process messy, others may relate to a scattered, non-linear journey. Nonetheless, a clear space for me is freedom – the freedom to stretch my wings in the safety of my own sweet, floaty, Bubble-Yum-pink bubble. Though my safe, sweet creative bubble is imagined, the physical space around me is indeed as devoid of distraction as possible. Gone are the to-do lists, bills, things to be put away or straightened. The rest of my house may not be so orderly, but prepping my creative nook for the day is how I give myself permission and encouragement to express whatever is yearning to be let out of the monkey cage. And when my dogs begin barking, there’s a knock at the door, the commercial on Spotify is beyond annoying, and my pink, sparkly bubble begins to deflate, I inhale and exhale through my irritation and remember that I created ALL of this – my life – my world – my problems and I thank my lucky and divine stars. Then, I handle whatever needs to be handled. And when I return to my safe, pink lounge of promise, I do so with perspective. I reflect on everything that I have created and accomplished this far in my life. I see the faces of those who have helped me to get where I am today and slowly, my pink bubble begins to inflate again with gratitude, compassion and space – infinite space – to create more.

- Kris Schleder Hedberg

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

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Send a young deserving writer to Haven Writing Retreats and change their lives!  To contribute, learn more, and get special perks, click here! 

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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