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“Allow Yourself To Be Spelled Differently” A Fable in Two Parts

Processed with VSCO with c1 preset(Borrowed from my journal on an island in Greece, 1986)

Once upon a time, there was a wildly curious but wildly terrified nineteen year old girl.  She realized one day that her curiosity was more wild than her terror, so she decided to throw it away and step full force into her wonder.

She started to make choices that didn’t please anyone but herself.  For once.  She started to do things that people questioned, and even berated her for, because they weren’t what she was “supposed” to do or be.  She was even called “selfish” just for choosing to do what she really wanted to do.  It wasn’t like she was doing anything illegal or cruel.  Just stuff she really wondered about.  And wanted to learn from and fasten to her heart.  And even things that she longed to become.  Oh well.

She decided then and there that she would allow herself to be wildly misunderstood.  Because she started to see that life was going to be heartbreaking and beautiful all at the same time, and if she didn’t make choices that served her, then she’d never make it through in any way that felt true.  And THAT was more scary than anything she’d ever imagined.

So one by one…choice by choice, she went.  Sometimes she found herself very much alone because of it, and yes, misunderstood.  But there were glorious gifts along the way:  in people, places, moments of pure joy.  And every so often, she even felt…special.  Not in the ways she was supposed to be special.  But just…special.  Alone in it.  But she was not sure if she liked that part.

So she started filling up pages and pages of blank books.  She was never without her blank books—sometimes just simple pamphlets she picked up, and sometimes hand-made, leather-bound books.  Always blank though.  Never lined.  She’d had enough of the restrictions and requirements of lines.  She needed her thoughts and her words to be big and loopy and unabashed.

It was the beginning of her freedom.

And yes, it came with a cost.  She knew it would.  But what was the alternative?  A life spent making everyone else happy, staying neatly and precisely and preciously in their parameters?  She knew that pursuit would never work, because it would never be enough for those people.  She would be always dancing.  Always trying to be a greater swan for people who wanted her to be a swan.  She did not want to be a swan.

So she cut her hair and bought a bunch of baggy clothes, and a backpack, and went overseas.  She was only nineteen, so she didn’t have a lot of choices in the take-to-the road department, but she chose Turkey over other people’s Switzerland, and Greece over other people’s France, and a troubled Yugoslavia over other people’s London.  And she did a lot of it…“alone” but always with her journal.  She liked it that way.  Her journal didn’t judge.  It didn’t blame.  It didn’t ask anything of her but to fill up its pages.  And even then, it didn’t really ask.  It just offered the possibility of its page and called her to put pen to it in whatever way she wanted.  Because the truth was…she still cared what people thought of her.  Shhhhh…. It’s her dirty secret.

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(Borrowed from my journal, 2018…inspired by the above)

Once upon a time, there was a wildly terrified and wildly curious fifty-two year old woman.  She had raised two wildly free children and that had been her life’s goal, outside of being a writer and hopefully a published author.  She had achieved her goals.  And now she was alone with her journal all over again.  She didn’t know why she was so scared.  She had a cozy home in the mountains of Montana in a lovely little town full of remarkable souls.  She had time on her hands after a long time with no time on her hands.

Time.

How to spend it so that her fear would quell, and her wonder would find itself again.  In fact, maybe that was what she was so scared of:  how to make her time matter now.  She wanted to matter.  But she didn’t want to matter in the way the world said we should matter:  in currency that was not unlike what she left all those years ago.  The currency of swans.  Beauty.  Grace.  Being the special bird.  For her, it had been by being the different bird.  She was beginning to see that in all of her choices, she had never really stopped wanting to be special.  Special for following the rules.  Special for not following the rules.  Special for making up her own rules.  Special for achieving excellence in her own rules.

What if she wasn’t special?  What would that be like?  What if she was totally unremarkable?  What if she did what she wanted to do, not as a reaction to what she was supposed to do, but rather, simply because she wanted to do it for herself and for no big reason?  What if she didn’t care what people thought of her at all?  For real this time.

So, like her nineteen year old self, she decided to go far away from home.  She had always wanted to go to Morocco.  Something about the color and the spices and the Moorish architecture she’d seen as a child in Spain.  She wanted to sit for a long time in places that didn’t require anything from her…and just be.  Allow herself to be “spelled differently,” as the poet Emma Mellon suggests.  She wanted to go alone with her journal and write on park benches and on ancient steps, under towering archways, and under olive trees’ shade.  She wanted to bum around and not have plans.  Maybe take a nap in a park instead of always doing doing doing.  She wanted to be be be.  In fact, she knew she had to.  It was the cure for her fear.  Her fear of being not this, not that, not this, not that.  But simply and purely:  just her.

In short:  she needed to re-introduce herself to herself and she needed to have all of the usuals removed.  Except for her journal and those blank pages.  They were the best way she knew to look into her eyes and welcome them as the windows to the soul she longed to finally come home to.

So…this February…she is going.  Someone is taking care of her cozy home and she is going to pack a small bag, and get on a plane and wind her way to Morocco for a month.  For a week within that month, she will share writing with seven women who are similar seekers, perhaps also longing to “allow themselves to be spelled differently.”  She’s not exactly sure what she will find there, and that’s the very reason why she is going.  She hopes she will find her wonder again.  And cast fear aside so that the future can give itself to her.  Maybe she’ll now, finally, be truly free.

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Now Booking Haven Writing Retreats Montana  2019!

Come join me in Montana and find your voice! Write your book! Court your muse…all under the big sky.  You do not have to be a writer to come to Haven.  Just a seeker…longing for community, inspiration, support, and YOUR unique form of self-expression using your love of the written word!

March 20-24
May 8-12
June 12-16
June 26-30
Sept 18-22
Sept 25-29

Go here for more info and to set up a call with Laura! 

***Haven Wander:  Morocco is full.

 

 

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10 Year Anniversary of My Season of Unlikely Happiness…

…Sometimes you need a dose of your own medicine…

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One of the blessings of writing my memoir, “This Is Not The Story You Think It Is:  A Season of Unlikely Happiness,” and the essay version of it, “Those Aren’t Fighting Words, Dear,” are the notes you get from people.  I have been lucky enough to hear from a LOT of people, from all over the world, because the New York Times “Modern Love” column is mighty, and so is Amy Einhorn and Penguin/Putnam.  The essay went viral (#2 “Modern Love” essay in the history of the column), and the book was published in nine countries!  I never dreamed any of that would happen when I wrote it.  I was just writing my way through a challenging summer of rejection from my then husband, and I was fiercely committed to non-suffering in a time when most would call me an emotional victim.  I’d suffered enough in my life because of my sensitivity to other people’s actions, and I wanted to look this suffering beast in the eyes and shout Gandalf’s “YOU SHALL NOT PASS!”  I wanted to finally find emotional liberation from my reactions to the things people say and do to me.  I wanted to be even…happy.  Which meant I had to become acutely aware of the way my mind works, how it gets in its way, and how it finds its way out of the dark forest.  During that six month time of my life, I practiced this self-awareness moment by moment.  Sometimes I failed.  Sometimes I was even good at it.  And always, I learned.

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This was new news to many people—that you could find your way out of suffering at a time when your beloved utters these dread words:  “I don’t love you anymore.”  The responses to the book and the essay were a brilliant reflection of what is at the core of humanity and it drove home something that I have always believed:  people everywhere want the same things.  To love.  To be loved. To feel of value. To be happy.  And there are a lot of people out there who are in pain and don’t know what to do with it.  They’ve given themselves to a relationship, and their partners are rejecting them.  They think that their well-being is contingent upon someone else’s treatment of them.  And it’s…just…not.  Happiness is in you.  It doesn’t get bestowed upon you.  Even from the ones who are supposed to love you most. writing

One of the things I loved dearly about the whole experience (and it still goes on nine years after the book’s publication), were the notes I got over and over, so often saying these words:  “Thank you for helping me know I’m not alone.”  Because as memoir writers know…writing your heart out starring you as the main character ain’t for sissies.  And to know that your transparency truly helped someone out there…makes it a little less hard to write past the fear of self-exposure.  It helps give us the courage to be honest, and sometimes brutally so.  If you can think, “I am going to let myself bleed in these pages in hopes that it might be of service to myself and others,” it makes it a lot easier to open that vein.  The key is to do it from a place of service, and not venom.  To be self-responsible the whole way through, with your eye on the service piece.  Even so, there are the haters out there.  The people who enjoy kicking you when you’re down.  It’s easy to have big cojones behind a computer screen.  I always just think:  I’m glad I don’t have to live in that person’s mind, making people wrong all the time instead of trying to find the light in what it is that they have to say.

This person found the light.  And asked a good question.  My birthday was this week, and this fan, whom I’ve never met, sent me a lovely birthday blessing on Facebook.  I looked back at our message feed to remember who he was, and found his note from 2009 when the essay came out in the New York Times, prior to the book.  And then I read my response to it.  Boy, did I need those words.  Sometimes it’s as if we hold our wisdom in words…so that later…when we’ve forgotten or really need a re-fresher, it’s there for us.  This is what reading my own words, sparked by his kindness, did for me, as I bring my son to college in a few days, and come home to my Empty Nest.

IMG_0061Looking back now, I know that the time depicted in my memoir/essay was one of the most powerful times of my life.  A true awakening.  But we go back to sleep sometimes.  Or take little naps.  I’ve been so focused on the dread of Empty Nest, that I have perhaps forgotten the blessings.  May my response to him, then, help all of us.

Here are our notes to one another:

Dear Laura,
I was re-reading your wonderful essay last night, and had a very practical question: at one point you talked about “I’d committed to the ‘End of Suffering.’” I see what you mean by not looking to outward success as a measure of personal happiness, which is very wise.

Were there particular techniques or strategies that you found helpful? In my own life, I find it easy to disengage from material success or career success as a measure of happiness, but I still do find myself often defining my happiness through the success of my marriage, which is struggling at this point.

Not looking for any marriage guru advice here! Just was intrigued about the “End of Suffering” idea, and wondering if you had found something that helped. Thank you for the gift of your time.

Just lovely.  Right?  The kind of letter an author cherishes. 3d-notthestory (1)

My response:

Thanks for reaching out. I’m sorry you’re having a rough time in your marriage. And thank you for your good question. Here is my attempt to answer it– before breakfast—with my tea beside me: When I think of suffering, I think of the years in my life when I didn’t know I was in pain. Most of that had to do with being a writer and not understanding how I could feel so deeply called to daily arrive at this intersection of heart and craft and mind and intuition on the page…and yet not have that trajectory met. I just couldn’t understand how to bear that pain. What was the point?

Well…finally I realized that I was plagued with some pretty faulty thinking. The act of creation simply had to be enough. So I dedicated myself to that. And immediately– the pain was gone. It was so liberating. I didn’t have to be a victim of something. I never wanted to be a victim– it’s not my true nature. I think of myself as a joyful, powerful person. But I saw how I had been playing that victim role as a writer, and as a woman… for quite some time. Basing my happiness on things outside my control. It truly is insanity and a wise woman helped me to see that.

So when my husband had his own crisis of self…I recognized it. I had been in that place. But even still…I had to let go of him getting through it. It was a moment by moment act of surrender. Returning to the present moment. And being creative in it. I could control what I could create and there was a lot of joy there if only I tapped into it. And joy sure beats pain. “What can I create?” is the most powerful question I know.

But here’s the thing: pain has become our normal in so many cases, and most of us, even those of us who are seekers and aware and practice being so…sometimes can’t see where we’re in pain. And we re-choose it over and over out of habit. You may already know all this. I guess I did too, at that time in my life. I just had never gotten the chance to practice it like I did in that season of my marriage. Sure, I had a large dose of pain after my father died…but meeting with dis-affection is different. It wants to creep into you and tell you that you are somehow bad. Wrong. And the worst: unlovable. But that is simply a lie. And one that we often live into and make true.

So I guess I would say to you on this spring Montana morning with the first red-winged blackbird singing in the marsh, that you don’t have to be defined by your marriage or your spouse. You can be free and even joyful in this time. Regardless of how it ends up. It’s such a wonderful way to live, and dare I say, you become rather magnetic when you live like that. And yes, maybe even quick to love.  But that never made anybody a fool, even though our reactionary society will try to tell us this. Not everybody wants to receive our love, but WE can receive our love. In that act of creation. Even this tea that sits steaming next to me on my desk– I created that. And it feels good. So I wish for you creation today. Hope that helps.

Yours,

Laura

10 years later from this season of my life, I send love to us all,

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Laura

Now booking:

2018 Haven Writing Retreat Montana Dates

September 19-23 (full)
September 26-30 (one spot)
October 24-28 (one spot)

 

For information about the February Haven Wander:  Morocco, click here!

 

For more information about Haven Writing Retreats, Montana click here!  Now booking 2019!

To arrange for a phone call with the Haven team, email:  Laura@lauramunson.com

 

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The Art of Giving Up…to Go On.

Processed with VSCO with m5 presetPart One

Ten years ago, I watched my friend go through Empty Nest.  Her solution:  drive a massive ice-breaking truck at the McMurdo Research Center in Antarctica.  She brought some home-made hula hoops too, and a few instruments, because she’d never go anywhere without those personal items.  She faced Empty Nest with something more like…Empty Next– with the same electrifying spirit and adventure with which she’d raised her boy and girl…and now they were off to see the world.  And she was too.

At that time in my life, my boy and girl were still thick in the throes of music lessons and sports events and homework at the kitchen table and weekend slumber parties.  I couldn’t imagine letting them go, much less letting myself go.  Not like that.  I was sad for her, even though I knew she’d come back with tales to tell and more life experience under her frost-bitten belt.  But I felt like she was avoiding the grief…going so far away.  It looked like running away to me.

I mentioned it to another friend and she said, “Are you kidding?  Motherhood is great.  But you’re always a mother, even after they leave.  It’s just different.  Your kids are on to new things, and you should be too!  And you get to have your life back!”

My life back?  I felt like I was just getting the life I’d dreamed about.  Being a mother was the most fulfilling thing I’d ever done.  Sure, I’d travelled all over the place in my teens and twenties with a backpack on my back.  Intrepid, stubborn, solo, and full of wonder.  Writing my way through it all.  But it felt like all of that was preparation for the most hair-raising, plot-twisting, heart-warming, soul-feeding work of my life:  raising children.

And I did it.  I did it well.  For twenty-two years.

And here I am.  In a few weeks, my boy will go to college.  My daughter just graduated from college and moved into an apartment in San Francisco.  She’s got a great job, great friends.  He’s got a great roommate and will be living out his dream playing baseball at an institute of higher learning.  I couldn’t be more proud.  We’ll move him in.  My daughter will go back to the city.  I’ll come back here to my house in Montana.  It’ll all be over.  That part.  And I’m afraid of the grief.  I’m not afraid of my future.  I’m just afraid of who I’ll be without them.  Here.  In my empty nest.  In short, this last month has been excruciating.  And I want so deeply to appreciate these last weeks.

This helps:  (maybe it will help you if you are a parent with a child soon leaving…)

So…just like my friend…I anticipated this pain.  About two years ago, I started imagining the next chapter of my life.  The fear of Empty Nest had me by the throat, even then.  But I took my friend’s lead, and my other friend’s comment, and I decided that I was going to grab this next chapter by the ponytail and yank the weeping woman attached to it back out into the world.  To trust-fall into travel and adventure, only as the woman she is now.  Exactly as she is.

So this winter, I’m hitting the road.  I’m going to live my own version of breaking the ice on Antarctica, only for me…it’s with my journal.  I’ve started a new Haven Writing Program:  Haven Wander.  First stop:  Morocco.

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My primary Haven programs  are still here in Montana, and you can bet that I scheduled four of them back-to-back for this fall with the express intention of healing Empty Nest in my own back yard by doing the nurturing work I most love outside my motherhood– helping people to find their voice through the power of the written word.

But for people who are less writing-focused and more travel-focused…I have a new adventure and it utilizes yes, my experience facilitating meaningful small group experiences in the grandeur of the Rockies…but now in exotic places around the globe!

For my first Haven Wander, I found the perfect place and the perfect people to help me plan this remarkable, priceless, uniquely local Haven program, and it lands us in a small village outside of Marrakesh, Morocco.  With the help of these fabulous and inspiring locals, I have spent the last two years putting together a week of intentional wandering around Morocco, using the Haven Wander Portfolio as our guide.  It will be a feast for the senses and soul, and with a component of giving back through Project SOAR, to empower young women in finding their voices.  I’m going first to get the lay of the land, my journal and me, so that I’m rooted and ready when the women join me for our first Haven Wander._MG_2142_20150412

Personally, I do want to see who that stubborn young dreamer was with that backpack on her back, traipsing around the former Yugoslavia and Turkey, and all over Europe in the mid-’80s.  I know she’s still in me and I do want to see what her confidence and curiosity is all about.  And I also want to meet her with the wisdom she’s gathered along the way as a mother and as a woman and an author.  I want to scoop her up and tell her that she doesn’t have to do it alone.  She can do it in the company of kindreds. Because I’m pretty sure that the nest travels with you, wherever you go.  And you don’t have to live it empty.  You can live it with a small group of women who are just as curious and just as hungry for connection with the world outside their front door as you are.  Who long to have their senses activated in a rich and deep way, and who want to learn and fill their souls with powerful and meaningful experiences.

Arabian dining tentI want to sit her down on benches and on Mosque steps and in public gardens and seaside café tables…and ask her to be still.  To watch.  To listen.  To be.  After all, she never had a cell phone.  Or a screen of any kind in that backpack.  She had a journal.  And curiosity.  And courage.  I want to scoop her up and merge with her, and tell her that she becomes a very good mother of exceptional beings who fledge well.  And that she gets to have a new chapter of her life.  And it’s going to be wonderful.

poolSo Haven Wander:  Morocco is hatching this February.  I’m taking seven women on a one week journey of intentional living and being, using writing as our guide.  As for me, I’m going to take the whole month and write my way through this first blush of Empty Nest.  I’m going to start imagining who this next me is.  Who she’s always been and who she became and who she is becoming and will become.

In this next chapter, I want to wander all over the world.  I want to go to places that scare me a little, that feel exotic, and I’m going to do it with these small, temporary communities of women who need this as badly as I do.  The sky is the limit.  Uruguay.  Ethiopia.  Kathmandu.  Thailand.  But first…Morocco.

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Part Two

Before that, though…first and foremost…when I get back home from college drop off, to this empty nest, (and even this Empty Next)…before the back-to-back fall Haven Writing Retreats and Haven Wander:  Morocco…I know I need a very deliberate and very serious pause between chapters.  A full stop to honor it all. 

So I’m borrowing from the Jewish tradition of sitting shiva. I’ve always been fascinated by the power of this tradition of sitting shiva for a week after someone dies.  Of stopping your world and observing the loss and your grief, and the life that has left.  I’m going to have my personal version of it.  But not in uncomfortable chairs.  I need soft pillows for this.

Processed with VSCO with g3 presetI’ll light a candle and sit on my screened porch in my favorite chair, and reflect in thought and prayer, and write in my journal.  No TV.  No screens at all.  Just observations of my motherhood and who these children of mine have been:

I’ll sit my personal version of shiva for my babies turned little ones turned big, and my mothering of them.  I’ll sit shiva for all the learning to crawl and learning to walk and learning to speak and running barefoot in the grass and swinging on the swing set and making mudpies.

I’ll sit shiva for piano lessons and guitar lessons and school plays and orchestra concerts and soccer games and track meets and football games and baseball baseball baseball.  I’ll sit shiva for all the birthday balloons on the garden archway and all the streamers taped to the corners of the porch and the dining room and down the banister.

I’ll sit shiva for the pony rides in the front yard and the badminton, and the croquet, and bocce, and backgammon and cards and Farkle and Scrabble on the screened porch by candlelight.  For all the bonfires and marshmallows and star-gazing in sleeping bags on the dewy cool grass.  For every ahhhhh to every shooting star.  And every ooooo to every falling one.

And then, I’ll borrow the rest of this Jewish custom.  On the seventh day, I’ll take a walk around my land, all four corners of my twenty acres, and then return to my front porch to symbolize my return to society.  I may even call my rabbi friend to read these customary words from the Old Testament:

No more will your sun set, nor your moon be darkened, for God will be an eternal light for you, and your days of mourning shall end. (Isaiah 60:20)

My kids always say, “Mom.  You walk so confidently without having any idea where you’re going.  You even walk confidently in the wrong direction.”  They’re making fun of me, of course, in their own way.  Millennials.  They’ve never navigated directions without their noses in their GPS screens, robots telling them when and where to turn.  I doubt they really know their right from their left, frankly.

“I know where I’m going,” I tell them.  “Essentially.  I like taking an unexpected turn.  I like asking actual human beings how to get to the train station.  Siri and Uber have done our civilization a grand injustice!  I can’t tell you how much I’ve learned about the world and humans by asking strangers questions.  And heck, if I really need to be so exact and so punctual, I have my phone, or I can research it prior.  There’s this thing called making plans, you know!”

They part laugh, part roll their eyes.  They don’t seem worried about me in the least, for this next chapter.

“The truth is…I’m sick of racing to get everywhere on time,” I tell them.  “I’m sick of being so responsible.  Of having a life where everything has to be so full and stacked and go go go.  I just need to wander again.  I need to have room in my life to stop when I want to stop.  And sit.  And just…be.  And to do it…in a very meaningful way.”

Their faces fade a bit.  Maybe the way mine did when my friend announced her Antarctica adventure.  They think that it’s nice, their mother wanting to travel in this way.  But probably a bit depressing too.  This gung-ho fling-the-windows-open mother I’ve been, pushing us all out the door on to our next adventure.  They think that maybe I’m…giving up…by wanting to wander so slowly.  Wanting to luxuriate in the senses and in connection with people and place.  That maybe I should go break ice for penguins in Antarctica!

But that’s exactly what I need to do.  Give up.  In the best sense of the phrase.

Give myself to this next chapter.

Let go of the last, onward.  Upward.

There will be that week of sitting with it.  Honoring it.  And I’m sure there will be a lot of tears and nostalgia and wanting it all back, those little ones, that young bright mother.  I’m sure I’ll sit in both of their rooms, bawling my eyes out, rocking in a corner covered in their blankets and pillows and maybe a stuffed animal that made the cut that I’ve dug out of their closet.  I’m sure I’ll be a mess.

But here’s the thing:  I can’t get it back.  It’s not possible.  And I don’t want to be miserable.  This last month, I’ve been miserable, watching the last of everything.  The last graduation.  The last family boat ride of the last summer.  The last bonfire with his buddies.  The last home game.  The last the last the last of this long chapter of our lives.

I want to feel my joy again-- the same joy I felt when they were little and we had a whole day in front of us with so much possibility and learning and wonder.  Wandering in the woods for Calypso orchids and morels.  Singing.  They say it goes so fast.  It didn’t for me.  It went long and to my core, and it makes it hard to remember who I was before it all.  I was a joyful young woman, without children, loving life.  I want her back.

tangineNow I’ll be wandering in spice markets for tangines with a world-renowned chef who will show us how to authentically cook with them.  Wandering in the Secret Garden, learning about the history of tea.  Wandering on the beaches of Essaouira and maybe even riding a camel.  Wandering in the Medina and learning about Moroccan history with a local guide who knows just where to take us so that we can follow and let go and pay attention and let this colorful country give itself to us…writing our way through it all and sharing at the end of the day about it.  And maybe we’ll even get a little lost.  And a lot…found.

Next chapter, please.  Empty NEXT, indeed!

For information about the February Haven Wander:  Morocco, click here!

For more information about Haven Writing Retreats, Montana click here!  We have few spots available for the 2018 fall schedule! 

To arrange for a phone call with the Haven team, email:  Laura@lauramunson.com

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Managing Expectations: Or how to drive a U-haul in San Francisco

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Now booking the fall 2018 Haven Writing Retreats! 

From book writers to journal writers and everything in-between, Haven will meet you where you need to be met! Come find your voice in the woods of Montana!

September 19-23 (FULL)

September 26-30 (one spot left)

October 24-28 (two spots left)

Well it’s summer and likely, if you’re anywhere over ten years old– actually even if you’re ten and under…you’re managing expectations.  Your mother’s, your father’s, your sisters’ and brothers’, your boss’, your children’s, partner’s, house guests’…everyone’s expectations.  And it’s also likely that you feel like you’re letting someone, or a lot of people, down.  It’s also likely that you feel that someone is letting you down.

Except for maybe the Culligan Man.  He showed up this morning and I looked out the window hearing that familiar diesel truck moan and sputter, and I smiled and ran to the front door because I knew it was for one thing and one thing only:  to find out if we have enough salt in the softener.  Salt in the softener so that we can have the best of our well water.  And then maybe he’ll check the filter to see if our reverse osmosis thingy is working well, or whatever he does in my basement.

All I know is that he shows up with big bags of salt like he’s Santa, smiling– always smiling, takes off his shoes at the door, knows just where the light switch is for the basement, (I’ve lived in this house 20 years and I’m never sure which of the three switches it is on the panel, but he does!), and marches down my stairs.  He doesn’t balk at the mouse droppings, or comment on the disarray of my son’s Man Cave.  He plows right through it all to the mechanical room that I try to enter as seldom as possible, and does whatever voo-doo he does.  I don’t follow him.  I don’t micro-manage his little tete-a-tete with the bowels of my home.  He has it under control.  He knows we need him, and it’s his job to show up and he does, like Swiss clockwork.  I even feel the house being relieved that someone competent and consistent is in charge of its digestive system.  The house has expectations too.  I try to meet them.  But sometimes…I just fail.  The refrigerator, lawn mower, and front stove burners are all currently broken.  The gutters are spilling over, and there’s a significant ground squirrel problem under my porch, and I missed last month’s electric bill.  I just can’t do it all or be it all.  I have to fail something or someone.

As I explained to my daughter, home for the Fourth of July:  you just can’t be all things to all people, even the ones you love most.  You’re just gonna let people down from time to time.  Even and especially when you’re doing your best.  Something’s got to give.  But there’s no shame in that.  You have to learn to let yourself off the hook.  And to let others off the hook.  And sometimes…all the people you think should be there to help you, won’t be.  And you’ll need to pay people instead.  Or you might be surprised at who shows up when the primary people don’t.  Or can’t.  Or won’t.  No matter how hard we try…people fail each other.  You’re going to fail people.  And I hate to say it, but ultimately…it’s not your problem.  It’s theirs.  Even if it’s your mother.  Or your child.

I can say this to her…but do I really believe it?  Truth is:  I haven’t had that much experience royally failing someone I love.  Recently, I had to.  I had to choose:  Move my mother?  Or move my daughter and son?

Pretty much every primary person in my life is in a major transition right now:  moving, going to college, going from college into the work force, down-sizing from house to apartment, changing jobs.  Everyone needs each other’s help and no one has the capacity to give it fully.  They can barely give it to themselves, teetering in the untethering.

Some of this is help we can pay for.  But a lot of it isn’t.  Like who gets Dad’s World War II army blanket?  And who gets Mimi’s crocheted afghan, lovingly knit with arthritic fingers, even though it’s in every shade of diarrhea?  And who gets the monogrammed wedding tray?  And what to do with the old letters?  And who will meet the roommates and get just the right toiletry case and put the Montana flag on the dorm wall, or christen the apartment with a bottle of prosecco after getting the right kitchen table that exactly fits the nook.  And who will drive the U-haul through the streets of San Francisco?  This isn’t just stuff you can do with a credit card online.  This is stuff that needs a daughter, a sister, a mommy.

I’m all three.  And I just can’t be all three right now.  Not well.  My plate is so full, it’s over-flowing.  I can barely be one person, never mind three.  I have to choose.  I have to say “no.”

Sure, I can take on a portion of the help that’s been asked of me, but not all of it.  Most of all, I hate that I can’t freely offer it, because I know it’s hard for people to ask—even loved ones.  I have to leave it to them to divvy up their needs with other people, paid and volunteered.  No matter how I shake it, no matter how much I know that I have to say “yes” where I must and “no” where I must…still, there’s shame.  Guilt.  Because I know that there are old, engraved, ingrown expectations attached to every request, especially the ones which are non-verbal.  People show up for people they love.  That’s just the way it is.  Especially family.  Especially when they are in big transition.  They get on planes and roll up their sleeves and help pack boxes, and bring tea and food and comfort and love to the one in need.  They don’t say, “no.”

Until this summer, I have never been in a position where I just…can’t…give everyone the support I want to give.  My physical world won’t let me.  No matter how hard I try to juggle my life, it’s just not possible.  I have to say, “no” to most and “yes” to the ones who truly are incapable of doing what they need to do, without me.IMG_3464

That means that I just drove a fifteen-foot U-haul through the streets of San Francisco with both of my kids in the front seat, to move my daughter from college into her apartment.  Yes, I drive a horse trailer, but not on insanely-vertical urban hills!  Where you have to parallel park!  I was afraid to drive a car in San Francisco, never mind a U-haul!  But I pulled it off.  She asked, and it was the best answer I could give.  “Yes.”  That was what I had to offer.  That’s what needed to get done.  My daughter:  the organizing and packing.  My son:  his strong back and football-honed muscles, the heavy lifting.  And in a few weeks, my daughter and I will do it all for him when he moves into his dorm room in college, thankfully midwestern-flat.  As for my mother’s move, thank God for my other family members and the professional movers.  I’ll come later to help settle them in to their new apartment.  I’ll do my best to manage their expectations then.

So far, I’ve been met with grace.  But I still feel awful about it.  Just awful.  Even my mother’s “Don’t worry.  I have help now.  You have enough on your plate with the kids and work.  You can come later,” doesn’t feel all that great.  I should be there.  I should.  Period.  But I do feel a little less guilty.  Thanks, Mom.

Here’s the lesson in it:  when I say, lovingly, responsibly, that I just can’t…people figure it out.

Or someone else steps in.

The world doesn’t rely on your shoulders’ ability to hold it up.  And it doesn’t end if you give it a much-needed shrug.  And…so far, no one dies.  And I’m not the bad guy.

I have to choose the expectation that I can actually manage, have to manage.  And let the others go.

Maybe the world works that way when we claim our truth and let go of our guilt.

So today, thank you, Culligan Man, for managing mine.  You do it so well.  I don’t even know when you leave, I trust you that much.  I just hear that moan and sputter down the driveway, and know that I have good water to drink.  May we all have at least a few expectations that manage themselves as easily as that.

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You Need a BREAK!

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Come wander in your words at a Haven Writing Retreat in 2018! You don’t have to be a writer to come. Just a seeker who dearly longs for your voice.
Now Booking Haven I Retreats 2018! Click here for more info.

February 28-4 (full)
April 18-22 (one spot left)
May 16-20 (one spot left)
September 19-23
September 26-30
October 24-28

You give yourself a break.  Time away.  You get to feel new ozone on your skin and wander streets that might have you fall between the cracks, and you like it that way.  Your life needs more cracks and more possibility and maybe even more danger.  Things are too plum, shored, sealed up tight.  You need to be sloppy.  Irresponsible, even.  You maybe even need to turn a heel in a crack and fall. Mostly, you need to bum around and forget about things.  You need to stop in a café and have a cappuccino just because why not.  You don’t really drink coffee but a cappuccino looks so good.  You don’t really give yourself those little gemstone pauses these days and you need to.  You need to sit at tables in public and watch the world go by.  You need to get away from your routine—all that sitting alone staring at a computer.  You need to get away from your list—that never-ending list.  You need to get away from that voice which stands behind you with a megaphone, blaring at you all the time and even when you sleep, to do it faster, better, best.  And p.s…you’ll never do it as well as you should, or could or were supposed to.  And the worst of it:  This voice is YOU.

At 4 a.m. you actually sit up in bed and shout, “ENOUGH!  STOP!  Go away!”

And that’s what you need:  you need to go away.  Maybe she’ll stay at home and make perfect grilled cheese sandwiches and remember to pay the property taxes on time, and make sure to have a dozen eggs in the fridge no matter what.  And write thank you notes and send Christmas cards before Christmas and remember everyone’s birthdays and get the driveway plowed at just the right time, before the storm, before the thaw, UNLIKE you…when you fail to consult Mother Nature, and the whole world is an ice-skating rink, and no one has control over their cars or footing.  And it’s all your fault, because you didn’t deal when you should have, could have, were supposed to.  In short, you suck.  Either way, you suck.  So you might as well leave.

Enough!  I’m out of here!  You stay here and do it all right.  I’m going to go get a little, or a lot, lost.  There’s an extra set of keys in the little drawer next to the stove.  Oh, and the propane bill is late.  Hope you have heat.  The woodstove is exceptional.  But there’s zero wood on the front porch, and the path to the woodpile isn’t shoveled, so good freaking luck!

And lo, you find yourself in Mexico.  In a little hill town.  Thin, cobble-stoned streets, full of fallen women.  Just like you.  Divorced.  Middle-aged.  Artists.  Sad.  Looking for happy.  But in the mean-time…just looking for…looking.  They are you and if that’s true, you’ve never looked more hopeless in your life.  But at least you’re not at home.  Staring at your computer.  And at the snow.  And at February.

You need to just…sit.  And let the world go blurry.  Lose time.  Have that one cup of coffee be your only goal.  And maybe you won’t even drink it.  It will just sit there getting cold.  You have no commitment to it.  You can leave it untouched and it will hold nothing against you.  Maybe you order wine instead.  At noon.  And decide you want to sit in a church after.  And then on a park bench.  And then take a nap.  There’s a weight on your back that you need to shake.  It feels like a feral dog and it’s about to grab you, jugular, all the time, unless you keep going and going and going…email by email, buttons– so many buttons, screens, phone calls, gas, bills, heat, groceries, school and sports event after event, parent by parent.  Are we all really doing this so well?  Is anyone else about to be slain by February?  If anyone asked, and if anyone answered, the whole thing might erupt and send ash for miles, across states, to the sea.  So no one does.  We slog.  And we say, “How are you?”  And we say, “I’m fine.”  Are we?

I had to leave.  I had to stop.  I had to get off the orbit and float in space.  I took a week.  I wrote for hours every day in my journal.  By day six, the dog was finally off my back.  I heard it growling around a corner, but it was growling at someone else.  Another person.  A running person.  I was sitting in a church with wine breath and it decided I wasn’t worth it.

A week of this– no 4 a.m. haunts for seven days.  And on day six, I was free.  And I was new.  For one day.  I slept until 11:00.  I sat by a pool and read Vanity Fair (my porn).  I thought about nothing but whatever was in those pages, like some kidnapped socialite who wrote a memoir, and I didn’t really even think too much about her because she looked okay in her polka-dot dress…until I fell asleep in the sun, getting my last fix of Vitamin D.

And then I got my notice from the airline that it was time to check in.  And the dog began growling at me.  Not that other person.  Me.  I warded him off all the way through a four hour wait in Mexico City and nine hours of flights.  And I came home.  And it was all still there.  The very opposite of the green green grass of my vacation.  No one shoveled and we had 20 inches.  The mail stacked up because I forgot to have it held.  The mailbox creaked a refusal when I pried it open.  No one set mouse traps and one (or a whole family) have taken up real estate in my pantry closet—seems they really like pancake mix.  My truck was dead on arrival with a low front tire, at that.  And my homeowner’s insurance is a month late.  Oh, the satellite got turned off too.  I must have had what Holly Go-lightly calls The Mean Reds.  And I don’t feel so new anymore.

I’m up at 4 a.m. again.  Sleeping with the dog.

I have a few more months of this, before the birds come back and promise that the world will melt to color again and myself too.  I look out at the still-snow, deer paths labyrinthine from my blanketed garden to my blanketed front door, as if they too are sick of it and want to come in by the fire.  And I know:  I have a choice.  I can welcome this last rash of dormancy.  I can accept and allow this no thing-ness, this negative space of winter.  I can try to take small sips of that getting lost feeling even with my stacked-up responsibilities.  I can even try to take the dog off my back and let him run around in my Montana field and get all his growling and barking out of his system, at least for a few hours.

And if that’s not true, if the cruelty that is February this year, is not shakable in my own neck of the woods…then I have learned nothing in my life.  And I know for certain that’s not true.  I wrote a whole book about happiness being a choice.  Thank you, February, for giving me practice.  Lots and lots of practice.  I don’t know if practice makes perfect, but I do know that the next time someone asks me how I am, I’m going to suggest that we both answer what is really true.  And I give us both permission to say, “Not so great.  Want to go have a cappuccino?  Or maybe a glass of wine?”

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Haven Winter Blog Series: My Haven

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 Come wander in your words at a Haven Writing Retreat in 2018!

You don’t have to be a writer to come. Just a seeker who dearly longs for your voice.
Now Booking Haven I Retreats 2018! Click here for more info.

February 28-4
April 18-22
May 16-20
September 19-23
September 26-30
October 24-28

Every year I give my blog over to my Haven Writing Retreats alums for a week or so, and ask them to write on a theme. This year it’s this question: What is your haven and how do you show up for it?

Here is my answer.

You Are My Haven

Laura Di Franco

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You are my haven,

my safe space to be

me.

 

You’re my shelter

in a storm.

The only one

who sees.

 

You feed

my soul,

wrap your arms

around my heart,

hold the pieces

broken apart.

You

are the glue.

 

You’re the mirror

for my soul

how I know

myself

my essence

my purpose

my worth,

get acquainted

with the light

and the dark.

 

You help me

shine

remind me

there’s no more time

to be afraid.

 

What you say

sits softly

in my core

twirling

a magic wand

creating a song

from the shadows

there.

 

Finding you

like a jewel

just lying there

all sparkly and blue

in the mud

saying, “scoop me up.”

It’s like you

were dropped there

from heaven.

My haven

is you,

the calm

the fire

the peace

you inspire

the strength

I feel

in my bones

how my mind

feels light

and free.

 

Thank you

for giving those treasures

to me.

Thank you for

treading

gently,

holding me

firmly,

keeping me

still,

forcing me

into

the healing.

 

You

are my haven.

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Haven Winter Blog Series: My Haven

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 Come wander in your words at a Haven Writing Retreat in 2018!

You don’t have to be a writer to come. Just a seeker who dearly longs for your voice.
Now Booking Haven I Retreats 2018! Click here for more info.

February 28-4
April 18-22
May 16-20
September 19-23
September 26-30
October 24-28

Every year I give my blog over to my Haven Writing Retreats alums for a week or so, and ask them to write on a theme. This year it’s this question: What is your haven and how do you show up for it?

Here is my answer.

The Chapel

Jennifer Revill

Chapel 1

Amidst the crowded terminals, the sensory assault of the checkpoints, and the rumble of shuttle buses at the curb, there is a place that breeds calm. On this day, I am alone at Our Lady of the Airways chapel at Logan International Airport.  The midday Mass is over, and the dim, brick-walled, low-ceilinged sanctuary is quiet. A decorative wood grid ceiling floats above the rows of pews. (There’s a local joke: it’s appropriate that the pews at the airport chapel have insufficient legroom.) Rows of colored votive candles glow.

When it opened in 1951, this chapel was the first at a US airport, and the first Catholic one. But like many airport chapels throughout the world, it has become nondenominational of necessity. Below one of the Stations of the Cross, there is a neat stack of prayer rugs and a diagram with an arrow pointing towards Mecca.

During my thirty years as a facility manager at this airport, I’ve observed millions of travelers. What they do can be amusing, even endearing, but also aggravating, sometimes downright distressing, and, every so often, illegal. These people want and need many things: a craft-brewed beer, a cinnamon latte, a place to nurse their baby, to charge their phone, or to shed a tear in private. Though they are travelers, they are vulnerable human beings first, who exhibit the complete range of human emotions while under our roof: dread, fury, despondency, anticipation, joy.  Always, they want to feel secure, and to feel certain about what’s going to happen next. It’s my job to help them succeed in this.

I was at Logan on 9/11. That morning, a colleague raced out of his office, shouting, “An aircraft just hit the World Trade Center!” Was this possible? And then he said, “And they’re saying that the plane left from here!” This was downright terrifying. Within an hour, not knowing much more than the rest of a shocked nation, a team of us had gathered at the airport hotel in preparation for…what? This was not an ordinary crash that we were trained to handle. That day, we could only watch the tragedy unfold on television. Holding hands in that hotel conference room, we watched the North Tower collapse, many of us weeping.  The airport chaplain stayed with us all afternoon, tendering comfort and prayers.

Eventually, amidst the uncertainty, we set to work. We received and comforted the families of the crew and passengers on the two airliners that had been lost, who showed up at the airport for lack of any other place to go. Every building, parking garage, tunnel, and rooftop were inspected. We also needed to close and secure every terminal at Logan for the several no-fly days that followed the attacks. Airports are not designed to be locked. This had never been done. It seemed impossible.

But it wasn’t impossible.  How do any of us ever do the many impossible things that we are all called upon to do in a life? Starting from a place of security helps; but if we don’t have that, and we don’t have certainty, we simply stumble forward in faith and hope. As vulnerable human beings, we set to work, doing our best and trusting for grace.

This chapel is my Haven. I come here when I need respite from work stress, or a moment to expand my heart. I think about life, the loss and pain of it and the exultation of it. I say thanks for the people who feel their way through life beside me. This little chapel helps remind me that so much is possible.

My Haven

Natasha Kasprzyk

As a high school English teacher, I’m used to being asked questions.

A lot of questions.

Most of the time, the questions allow for reasonable answers:

What’s a semicolon?

Why does “pneumonia” start with a “p”?

How long does this have to be?

Some questions have answers, but they’re never satisfying:

Why did Candy let Carlson shoot his dog?

How could the jury convict Tom Robinson?

But those are nothing when put up against the mother of all questions:

What does this word mean?

How do we know what a word means? Do we consult the Rosetta Stone? Urban Dictionary? Connotations from 1972, 1986, or 2015? How my nephew names his toys? Is there a “correct” meaning for any word?

Take “haven,” for example. Merriam-Webster’s primary definition is “harbor, port”. So…where a sailboat hangs out when it’s over summer tourism and needs to introvert extra hard?

The secondary definition of “haven” is “a place of safety: refuge.” I don’t get why that’s the second definition. Was it 26 votes shy of taking first after the dictionary gods found themselves deadlocked and handed over the reins to Survey Monkey, letting plebeians make the final call?

The older I get, the more strongly I believe that to truly honor a word, one should pick it apart, turn it inside out, see how it looks next to last year’s favorite sweater, the hurrah of this year’s 4th of July fireworks, a hot mug of tea…and how it fits inside one’s heart.

Or, in my case, how one’s heart creates space – becomes a haven – for another, and for itself.

In March 2011, my heart was beating too fast, working too hard, and becoming too full of what didn’t serve it. If I couldn’t realign its purpose, I didn’t know how much of my original self I’d be able to save.

In one grateful moment, I realized that in order to be me, to be my true self, I needed to take care of someone else.

I’ll never forget the afternoon I brought him home. He just stared at me, his brown eyes boring holes into my soul, wondering if he’d be safe, loved, protected…and, perhaps, what my expectations of him would be.

Don’t put him in bed with you, they said. He’ll never sleep in his own bed, they said.

We’ll be fine, I said.

Seven years later, we’re still fine.

I’ve shaped my life around him. I make sacrifices for him. He can drive me absolutely bonkers for three days straight, but as soon as I have to turn my back and leave him with people who love him, I miss him.

He is my everything.

This is how I show up for him, my haven: I make room in my heart because I love him so much.

He radiates joy when we go to the park, as he runs and spins in circles until he’s out of breath. He brings joy and smiles to friends and strangers because, really, he’s just that cute.

And, at the end of the day, he curls up in my lap, nudges my legs with his head, lets out a deep sigh and a soft smack of his lips as he settles into sleep.

To love him and see a brighter, more interesting world through his eyes — he is my haven, he will forever be the primary definition for that word in my personal dictionary, and I’ll show up for him for as long as he’s here and years after he’s gone.

My baby boy.

My first love.

My first dog.

Sully.

Steamboat Sully

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Haven Winter Blog Series: My Haven

 Come wander in your words at a Haven Writing Retreat in 2018!

You don’t have to be a writer to come. Just a seeker who dearly longs for your voice.
Now Booking Haven I Retreats 2018! Click here for more info.

February 28-4
April 18-22
May 16-20
September 19-23
September 26-30
October 24-28

Every year I give my blog over to my Haven Writing Retreats alums for a week or so, and ask them to write on a theme. This year it’s this question: What is your haven and how do you show up for it?

Here is my answer.

Lost Haven

Anne Arthur

“What’s your Haven?”

Shock waves running through my body, my brain scrambling for an immediate answer. What…where’s my Haven?

Blank. I am running blank, turning my attention to some other topic, avoiding the response to such painful question. Too painful.

Slowly, over days, memories flash through. Each having its own effect on my heart, my body. I still refuse to let them all in. Until, finally, I allow my thoughts to face reality.

Sweet summer days on the steps leading to my childhood home. My favorite place to play with my cuddly cat, while tiny red beetles hurry through, contouring my dirty little feet barring their way. Haven.

Roosted in the tree’s branch fork, munching bell-apples, contemplating my oh so confusing teenage life. Haven.

Years later, I sit on my terrace perched high on a hill in Haiti, feet resting on its balustrade, facing the green, wide plain surrounded by chains of mountains, bordered by the Caribbean Sea. The soothing peace is always instant. At the beauty of this spectacular view, all stress of downtown’s busyness, of slum’s ugliness, of people’s harshness falls off me. Breathing, inhaling the sweet smell of tropical flowers, my heart stills. Haven.

Another terrace, another European life. Snow has fallen, the world is silent. Stars twinkle in the dark night. Wrapped in a cozy blanket, I breathe the crisp air. Refreshing my soul, soothing the heated arguments that are part of my days. Stilling the ache, healing the scars. Haven.

In a whirlwind, I was back in the tropics. Another island, another terrace. Wide space, filled with enormous pots of Bougainvillea, Jasmin, tropical flowers of any kind. Lush, green grass in front of me. An old white wooden bench in a far corner, shaded by pink-blooming orchid trees, their long branches swaying in a light breeze. Far away, the Blue Mountains, majestic, impressive, beautiful. I sit on the comfy cushions of our royal-blue bench, a cup of finest Blue Mountain Coffee beside me. Dreaming, sighing with content. I craved a new life. I found it. Topped off with a light-filled dwelling in a quiet street amidst busy Kingston, with views to soothe away any storm of my life. Haven. Twelve years later, I returned to the room of my teenage years. I moved my old table to the bay window, observing the change of seasons, enjoying the gift of this year-long stay in the village. Spring and summer long gone, this Fall was special and beautiful. The trees that just donned bright autumn colors now wear mounts of snow.

I look up from my laptop. The contrast of sparkling snow and blue sky is stunning. Christmas is coming. An eventful year will soon end. At this table, I am writing the account of these past months, yearning to spend a last Christmas with my mother.

I bought a smaller sized Christmas tree and placed it at the foot of her hospital bed. She enjoys the lights and the tinsel, while her own window displays the snow-covered front yard and village street.

Some withered red roses still hang onto branches of our large bush, each dressed up with a hat of snow. Mami hangs on too, often dozing off, her strength fading.

I return to my own window, at peace. Our time together is a long bitter-sweet goodbye, but a good one. We are both seeking, Heaven and Haven.

Back in Haiti. At last. Forging yet another new life. Unexpected, unsettled, it’s future unknown. Still restless.

Today, I am floating. Shocked to realize that I haven’t found another Haven yet. I am seeking, still.

Ocean

Kathleen Majorsky

Myhaven

Here I sit. Next to my haven, the Pacific Ocean. I’ve only lived here for a minute, but every morning we greet each other like long lost soul mates. Like somehow we’ve been tethered together for many life times yet only now is the perfect time to experience each other’s presence.

I’m home. Home to the natural beauty around me.

Home to myself.

Finally.

Take a breath.

Welcome.

Like soul mates do, we share. Deeply.

Me, I tell her things I don’t share with anyone in human form: my fears, my dreams, my deep soul longings. I trust her completely. We both know she won’t tell.

For her, the stories she shares are less secrets to keep and more sage wisdom she’s swept up along her shores over time. Dispensing it freely, and when I need it the most.

She tells me to roar when the situation demands it. Roar for the pain and suffering in the world. Roar for joy. Roar for myself.

She tells me to dance often. Dance to her rhythm. Dance to my rhythm, my heart beating in time with her waves.

She tells me there will always be high tides and low tides. Her advice to handle them? Flow.

Her vast presence alone tells me to be humble. Every morning, I stand on her shore and wonder how people cannot believe in a higher power when she so gently reminds us of our smallness.

She tells me to persist. No matter how often the shore sends her away, she keeps coming back. Always.

She tells me that there is a time for stillness and listening. Skills that get honed and shaped on her shores, for me, daily.

My spiritual connection to the Pacific Ocean runs deep. I have a lot to learn from her. Our time together is imperative to my well-being, and it is non-negotiable.

The Pacific Ocean.

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Haven Winter Blog Series: My Haven

 Come wander in your words at a Haven Writing Retreat in 2018!

You don’t have to be a writer to come. Just a seeker who dearly longs for your voice.
Now Booking Haven I Retreats 2018! Click here for more info.

February 28-4
April 18-22
May 16-20
September 19-23
September 26-30
October 24-28

Every year I give my blog over to my Haven Writing Retreats alums for a week or so, and ask them to write on a theme. This year it’s this question: What is your haven and how do you show up for it?

Here is my answer.

A Natural Haven

Donna Bunten

tree journaling

I am not in a wilderness, not on a mountain top, not by a rushing river. I sit nestled in the lap of my Grandmother Tree, a kindly old western red cedar, surrounded by nettles and vanilla leaf in a patch of urban forest.  I can easily hear the four-lane highway a half-mile away and the college kids on the soccer field nearby.

Yet Nature is all around me.  The soft breeze dances in the branches of red alders and big-leaf maple trees.  The woods are full of unseen Swainson’s thrushes, their ethereal flute-song the only clue to their presence.  Kinglets and chickadees and warblers twitter endlessly as they flutter in the leafy tree tops.  Everything is vibrant and glowing, urgently re-creating leaves and fruit and feathers.

All I have to do is pay attention.  No binoculars, no field guides, just the sense organs I was born with:  eyes, ears, nose, tongue, skin.  I bring my journal because I like to write about what I’m experiencing, but it’s not necessary.  Enjoying my haven starts with “being,” not “doing,” with awareness, curiosity, and a willingness to be still for a short period.

Being in Nature (at a sit spot, on a spirit walk, or sitting on a patio) supports us.  It’s where we came from.  Our primitive brains evolved out there to collect data about our surroundings for our survival.  But now all the demands and distractions of modern life, especially our computers and smart phones, put a real burden on our brains.  Our brains were designed to sip incoming data through a straw—now we’re trying to drink from a firehose.

Journaling in my natural haven helps me slow down and connect with the joy of being 100% my authentic self.  I do it for the sheer joy of it.  Sitting still, opening my senses, paying attention, I feel my tight mind and body loosen. The act of writing pulls my body further into the experience—my hand is moving.  Writing the words causes me to pay more attention to detail. I move from being lost in worry about tomorrow’s dramas into an immediate sense of aliveness in this place, this moment, with simple observation and plain words.

Tom Brown, Jr. says, “A person without a past has never seen a tree, a mud puddle, or a blade of grass.  A person without a future is free of worries and fears and open to whatever may cross his/her path.”  Beginner’s mind.

What if I could see my life with fresh eyes, like the person seeing a blade of grass for the first time?  What if I allowed for the possibility that things are not what they seem?  Maybe my stories of how I think things are would lose their energy.  What if that energy was now available to me for other purposes?  Who knows what might cross my path?

Parker Palmer advises that if you want to see a wild animal, don’t go crashing and thrashing about in the woods.  Sit down quietly against a tree—listening, watching, and waiting for the animal to reveal itself when it feels safe.

Like a wild animal, my soul feels safe as I lean against the Grandmother Tree.  Free from stories, safe to come forth and experience life with curiosity and wonder.  Beginner’s mind.

Portability

Mary Novaria

Haven Photo 2018

When asked how I like living in Los Angeles, my usual response is that it’s a “like/hate” relationship. I hate that L.A. is so far from our former home and family in the Midwest, and that the traffic can be absolutely soul crushing. I like the plenteous sunshine, palm trees, and the creative energy and community here.

I even love L.A. a little if my day involves walking on my favorite, rugged, rocky beach, or hiking with my husband and dog in the Santa Monica Mountains. Those are among the places that have shown me that the concept of a haven, for me, is about intention. With my body, mind and soul present and open and spontaneous, my haven is portable. It travels with me, available to switch on, inspired by nature and creativity, or by the need to escape and rest.

A few years ago, I had a blissful haven experience in the café at the Tate Modern. It was a Sunday—Father’s Day—and I’d walked miles around London before strolling through the galleries. Despite the bustle around me, when I picture myself that day sitting at a tiny table with a cheese plate, a glass of wine, and my journal, I am utterly and blissfully alone, in retreat with my thoughts and words and a meditation on how my late father had instilled in me his great love of art.

Recently, I drove up the coast for a personal retreat. My hotel was dreary, but near the beach. I made a little altar of sorts in my room—a shell and a rock I’d found on the sand, a piece of amethyst I’d picked up in a wonderful shop along the seaside, a fragrant jasmine blossom, and a copy of Rumi. I sprayed the room with a feng shui spray called Sacred Sanctuary, whose label suggests: “Create your own realm of light and delight.”

For two days I wrote and read, meditated and rested, having turned that lackluster space into my haven. During that time, I was inspired to create a sacred space at home—a refuge from my usual perch on a bar stool at the kitchen counter.

For the two-and-a-half years my husband and I had lived in this house, I’d ignored the cozy deck off our guestroom. It’s a full story above the ground. The height and seeing the earth through the wooden slats of the floor gave me the willies. I had to get past it. It helped to put down a rug. I found two old wicker chairs on Craigslist, lined the railing with hanging candles, and put up a few whimsical pieces of art.

The first day I sat in this new haven of mine, I dubbed it “The Tree House.” I can see the blue sky through the branches, and hear the thrum of a hummingbird and the Scrub Jays and squirrels rustling in the fallen leaves below. In the morning, when the sun is on this side of the house, the dog takes her morning nap. She, too, is haven for me in all of her senior dog sweetness.

Now, I hardly ever think about the height as I sit with my laptop or meditation music and a cup of tea. The visceral aura of this haven is portable. With the right mindset and openness of heart, I can close my eyes and fly away, imagining myself a bird in my own wee tree house, wherever I may be, creating my own realm of light and delight.

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Haven Winter Blog Series: My Haven

Processed with VSCOcam with hb1 presetCome wander in your words at a Haven Writing Retreat in 2018
You don’t have to be a writer to come. Just a seeker who dearly longs for your voice.

Now Booking Haven I Retreats for 2018: Click here for more info!

February 28-4
April 18-22
May 16-20
September 19-23
September 26-30
October 24-28

Every year I give my blog over to my Haven Writing Retreats alums for a week or so, and ask them to write on a theme. This year it’s this question: What is your haven and how do you show up for it? 

Here is my answer.

My Safe Haven

Susan B. Clarke

Susan B. Clarke

For the longest time, I believed my safe haven was literally a place called, The Haven, a personal and professional development center on Gabriola Island in British Columbia.

In 1984, I arrived on Gabriola for a five-day program called Come Alive with my sister Penny.  At the time, I was dealing with stage IV non-Hodgkin lymphoma. I was considered terminal with a projected lifeline of three months.

My sister had heard about Come Alive and wanted to spend some time with me before I died. We hadn’t been close for many years, and a friend of Penny’s suggested Come Alive as a way to bridge the gap.

I didn’t come to The Haven to heal. I came to say goodbye.

However, during those five days, I witnessed a way of relating and being with people I’d never known was possible.

The program leaders encouraged us and the 22 other participants to show up more fully. We were invited to breathe deeply, speak honestly, and listen with a commitment to consider a different reality than our own. Finally, the leaders asked us to be responsible for our choices.

On the last morning, the leaders of Come Alive and founders of The Haven, Doctors Ben Wong and Jock McKeen, invited their friend Father Jack, a Roman Catholic Priest, to lead a healing circle for me.

When Father Jack walked in wearing his robes, the crowd erupted. People were outraged with and resentful of the Catholic church. I was stunned at their vicious reaction.

Father Jack responded, “I hear you and agree with the anger you feel towards me and the church. Let’s talk about it. I will listen.”

People vented their rage and betrayal in a heated conversation lasting 40 minutes. It was not a polite or ‘respectful’ process. It was loud, angry, and intense. At some point, though, there was a palpable shift. I could tell people felt seen and heard.

As someone who wasn’t Catholic, but who had experienced significant trauma at the hands of a church leader, I was blown away by the raw, real dialogue I had just experienced.

People decided to stay to be a part of the healing circle, during which I, as the recipient, felt a visceral shift in my very cells. To this day, I believe witnessing and sharing in that level of vulnerability, honesty, and real dialogue was what turned my life around.

So, I had a good reason to believe that The Haven was my safe haven. I even moved there for 14 years. To be honest, I was fearful of leaving, but I did.  Now, thirty years later, I’m part of the faculty, leading the Come Alive program.

I no longer believe my safe haven is a place. Yes, I love all I learned there. However, my safe haven is now inside of me. It’s my ability to create moments, spaces, and relationships, where I and another can show up real, raw, and honest.

It isn’t easy to get there sometimes.

It can be messy and ugly.

It can be painful and intense.

However, the willingness to go through the mess is for me the only path to ‘safe.’

I have my safe haven with my partner CrisMarie. The work we do at thrive! is helping people bring more of who they are to everything they do. Even our book, The Beauty of Conflict, is written to help people find their safe haven beyond ‘right doing and wrong doing.’

 

Dawn Treading

Andrea Dunn

After four and a half uninterrupted years of pregnancy, infant-nursing, or both simultaneously, I devolved into two boobs and a uterus. I was a 34-year-old diaper changing milk-trough. Tinny jingles from light-up plastic baby toys ran on repeat in my head (in three different languages!) while my rich inner narrative life suffocated, unable to breathe under the heavy cloak of exhaustion.

When my youngest baby was about six months old, she settled into a non-negotiable daily rhythm: she woke up at 5:00 each morning, and spent the next 45 minutes nursing, cooing and cuddling, before heading back to her crib for a long morning nap. My sleep deprived body clawed at the opportunity for more rest, but I swear, my three-year-old son and 20-month-old daughter could smell sleep settling back over me, and instinctively got up to prevent it. They shared some sophisticated method of keeping me knackered. Day after day, I faced my littles sleepy and resentful. My weariness coupled with their dependence forged a version of myself I hardly recognized. I became mentally disorganized, raging, fully enslaved to my overwrought emotions. In short, I was not nice.

In time, I recognized an alternative staring me in the face, presented in the tiny package of my baby’s morning rhythm. It was the negative space all around my beckoning pillow. Instead of clambering for shut-eye, I stayed awake after putting my littlest down for her morning nap. I began my daily practice of filling up on a precious hour of aloneness.

During this time, I could drink at least one entire cup of piping-hot coffee. I could re-engage in a set aside spiritual practice of prayer and scripture reading, and I could breathe and rev up for the day ahead, the day of very small people needing me in the most basic and fundamental of ways. As a result, I faced my day energized, ready for the job of being their world. I took fewer talon swipes at my babies since I was filled enough to actually enjoy them.

Miraculously, I made it through the sleepless years, and so did my babies! Now those kiddos are ten, nine, and seven. They still need me, but not in the same ways. The youngest is still a morning person, but she no longer drives my daily rhythm.

However, I still rise for my precious morning practice, which over the years has birthed many powerful realizations about God, about the world waiting for me beyond my door, and about me. I continue to get up during the 5:00 hour, relying on an alarm that I almost always respect, even if I’ve gone to bed too late the night before. I show up morning after morning, because each quiet daybreak is a deposit into my reservoir, equipping me to be morning light in a dark and tired world, to face the hours ahead with joy and hope. Each morning is an investment in me, one where I take time to breathe, pray, listen, meditate, and load up on my morning fuel: caffeine. This discipline, this time to bring my thoughts before God and listen for his, is my haven, offering me what others might find on a beach or in a favorite garden. The location for my haven has varied over the last seven years, but it always looks about the same: me in my jammies, steaming hot coffee, my dog, my Bible, and a comfortable place to sit. This is my haven, my port, my refuge, my anchorage, my filling station.

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