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How to Find YOU in Empty Nest

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You know when you run a life marathon, and it’s over? And you’re lying in your bed staring at the ceiling wondering how to stop running? That’s where I am. Right now. It started with the moon last night, like a clementine section moving from window pane to window pane. And then with the first bird, calling me out of Mother’s Day and reminding me that they’re doing the nesting now, not me. And perhaps that’s why I signed up for the marathon. To fill up my life so that I wouldn’t have to sit in my empty nest, alone.

My marathon went like this: a month in Morocco, traveling solo after consciously uncoupling with my beloved partner (sigh), leading a Haven Writing Retreat at the end, returning home, beginning the final editing process on my novel with my editor, leading a Haven Writing Retreat in Montana, preparing for Haven II– my advanced workshop for Haven Alums writing books which requires hours and hours of editing, leading Haven II, editing the final copy of my novel (coming out in March 2020—a very old dream), leading one day workshops in the homes of Haven alums in Minneapolis, leading another Haven Writing Retreat in Montana, and coming home to an empty house on Mother’s Day, Skyping with my kids, mother, and sister, and then lying in the sun listening to my Haven Muse Music list on Spotify all afternoon. And I’ll admit it, crying myself to sleep. Until I woke at 4:00 am. Then lay awake until now.

I cried because it is such an honor to be a holder of sacred space for people. I cried because I can hardly believe that this is where my life has landed, doing this work, and I can’t imagine my life without it. I cried because I am alone and miss the daily-ness of life with the people I have loved in this house, and yet I cried in gratitude knowing I am so not alone. I cried because while so much of my life is about creating temporary community now, that feeds people’s souls in ways that blow my mind every time, at the end…they leave. That’s the way it works. Just like the act of daily motherhood. It ends. I cried because I have spent six years with the four women in my novel and they have to leave too. They are real to me and I don’t want to let them go. It’s become the theme of my life: building community, and letting it go. And I need a flipside. I need a community that stays, and one that I’m not in charge of.

But where to begin?  My place in this town has always had to do with my kids and serving their pursuits and the institutions and people who serve them. Where is my place here now? I know so many of us are asking this question, especially as single mothers in empty nest. How do we do this new chapter of our lives? I know this for sure:  We shouldn’t rush it. We need to go slowly. And carefully.

So right now, it’s the Moroccan prayer rugs that bedeck the rooms of my house, the poppies, peonies, lupine, columbine, forget-me-nots, lily of the valley that are re-emerging from my garden soil, the nesting birds in their full-blown springtime purpose. The white-tailed deer in the tall grass at the edge of my lawn each morning when I open my door, that startle but that don’t run. The frogs in the marsh at dusk when I close my door to the first star. The spiders that spin in my windows and drop from my ceilings. The mice I hear in my walls, but lately don’t want to catch.

When I am not holding circles of women on retreat from their lives, full-freefalling into their beautifully unique voices, this slice of Montana is my current community now. And it’s a sacred one, though so so different from how it has been. I have to find out who I am with these empty rooms, and the same piece of lint on the laundry room floor as yesterday. The tea bag in the sink from this morning. The water bottle still on the porch from last week. Things have slowed to an almost standstill in my personal world—from not just my recent marathon, but a twenty-five-year-long marathon…to a full-stop—and I have to learn to be content with that.

That said, I need my own circle of connection. And, Steven Colbert and James Corden, as much as I adore you…you don’t count. Social media does feel like community in some generous and inspiring ways. But I need actual bodies to interact with. Causes to champion. In-between-time talks like I used to have in the parking lot with mothers and fathers after we dropped our kids off to school or after a board meeting. “Hey, want to grab a cup of tea?” “How about a walk?” That doesn’t happen sitting on your front porch listening to frogs.

Mine is a little universe that needs to expand in new ways. So, first step, and yes slowly…in a few days, after two brutal years of life without canine companions, I’m adopting two big dogs. It’s time. The dogs will bring me off the porch and into the woods, but also to the dog park, and the Whitefish Trails, full of people and animals interacting. They’ll bring new energy into the house, and since they’re adopted, it’s likely that they’ll bring with them a very special brand of gratitude, like the other adopted dogs I’ve had over the years. The last thing these dogs have to do is move on. And the one thing they both will want to feel, is safe and happy in their new pack. Like me. New chapters for all three of us.

And then, after that, it’s time to step back into my community. One foot at a time. But it can’t be just because I fear being alone, or need to feel purposeful. It has to be intentional and sustainable. It’s not about my kids any more. It’s about me and my gifts and how I can give back. And here’s the big one: how I receive. Someone asked me recently: “Do you know how to receive without giving?” It was a damn good question. “I’m not sure,” I said. “I haven’t had a lot of practice.” Maybe it’s that I haven’t created ways to practice.

But either way, giving and receiving require stepping outside of my comfort zone and consciously connecting. It means reading the local newspaper and stopping at community bulletin boards in the café and grocery store. It means showing up at fund-raisers and events and having conversations with the local movers and shakers and decision-makers and inspirers, and probably joining a non-profit board…but it means not filling my life to the gills so that I don’t keep anything for myself. Which means it’s important to create sacred space to be just me in my new life, in communion with self. Not running a marathon, but lying on the prayer rugs with two big dogs. And staring at the ceiling. But not sadly. Instead, full in the best way, having given and received and having been led…and maybe leading too.

I have no idea what my new place will be, and who will be in it. But I’m ready for it. To give to it. And to receive from it. Thank you, in advance to whatever and whoever you are. Let’s have a blast! But not a marathon, please.

Now Booking our fall Haven Writing Retreats 2019

You do NOT have to be a writer to come– just a seeker who loves the written word, and longs to find your unique voice.  It’s here…in the stunning wilderness of Montana!  Click for more info. (my favorite time of year.  Still warm during the day.  Fire in the fireplace at night.)

Sept 18-22
Sept 25-29 

***note Both June retreats are full…

 

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The Art of Being Led

 

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I went to Morocco alone for a month to find “that girl” again. I’d grieved my Empty Nest for the six months I gave myself.  A grief “gift,” I called it. I observed the end of this stage of my full-time motherhood in committed vigil.  And I realized that I can live with dinners for one and a very quiet house, (even if it’s been heavy on Mrs. Maisel, Chef’s Table, and Anthony Bourdain re-runs. Okay, and Modern Family too). I’m glad I’m not driving carpool or slinging mayo and peanut-butter at 7:00am or racing to a lesson or a school meeting or a game, too often borrowing from my kids for my work, or vice the verse, and usually coming out feeling “less than” somewhere, no matter how hard I try to be all things for everyone. Except maybe…me.

I haven’t felt that way in six months. There’s been elbow room. My blood pressure is down. I’m taking long baths again. I’m reading poetry again. I’ve grown accustomed to waking and going directly to my writing and reading in that soft trance of dawn before the day steels/steals the muse. I have much more than a room of my own. I’m writing a new book or two. I’m getting a novel published in a year and I have the intuitive space to give it the finishing touches it deserves. My Haven Writing Retreats and Workshops are filling fast. The future feels bright. And Morocco was my deep bow for what I feel was the most important work of my life:  raising two stunning young humans.  I am so proud of them both…  But mothers don’t get diplomas, and Morocco was mine, so it was much more than a trip.  It was a pilgrimage to find out who I am now.

But just before I left for the airport in Minneapolis, on a quick layover to visit my son in college, I dissolved into his arms and wept. It was the last place I wanted to come undone. I wanted to be his kick-ass mama going off to see the world, head high, energetic and ready.

He looked at me somewhere between stunned and horrified and said, “Mom. Out of all the people I know, you are the most capable of pulling this off! Why are you crying???”

I bit my lip and swiped away my tears. “I’m just…a little…scared.  It’s not that I’m afraid of traveling alone. I can’t wait for that. It’s that…I’m afraid I won’t find my joy again. My wonder. My smile. I’m afraid I won’t know what to want without being the mother or the teacher or the caretaker of something besides myself.” I cracked a fake smile. “I’ll be fine. It’s probably just the lack of Vitamin D and the excitement. Stay in touch on our What’s App family group, promise?”

He nodded, but slowly.

What I didn’t tell him was that I was actually afraid of holing up in a hotel room and not having the courage to join in the throng of the world out there beyond my Montana bubble. This aroused righteous refusal from my inner critter, ranging from good to bad to ugly.

Don’t be so dramatic. When have you ever been that person? You’re a throw the window open and leap out into the streets kind of person. You just haven’t done it on your own for a long long time. Like…since you were nineteen, traveling in Europe, Turkey, Greece, the former Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia. You can find her! She’s in you!

And then she’d morph into a posse of people in my life—the loudest and least helpful: Why are you going to Morocco of all places? And why are you going alone? Why don’t you go to Paris like most women your age?

The Paris card ruffles my temerity feathers. “I said it when I was nineteen and I’ll say it now: I love Paris. Who doesn’t? But Paris is easy. I need to go someplace hard. Where my habits and world view and thought patterns get all stirred up and spit out and even forgotten, to make room for new ones that don’t sabotage me. That serve me. I am doing what the poet Emma Mellon suggests. I am going to allow myself to be spelled differently!”

Blank stare. “Well, I think Paris is fabulous.”

You just have to let go, or as I’ve said for many years: allow yourself to be misunderstood. Even though you want to say, At least I’m not going to Syria alone. Or certain parts of suburbia. Wink.

I just smiled in those moments…so seemingly stalwart on the outside, but so puny and scared on the inside. And even worse, the fear wasn’t about the usual things people are afraid of when they travel. I was scared of not being able to spell myself any other way than what I’m used to. Which for the last six months, with the exception of my retreat work which I adore, has been pretty emotionally…well– low. And that is far more terrifying to me than the prospect of a terrorist attack. (And p.s., party-pooper posse: There have been way more terrorist attacks in Paris, than in Morocco!)

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I arrived in Morocco at night. I chose the oldest city, Fes, known for its authenticity and “rawness.” I’d done my homework and knew that the Fes medinas are labyrinthine, thin corridors where you get lost lost lost and have to ask for help, but only from shop keepers and women. Not because it’s dangerous, but because you might be brought to a dead end, and asked for money before you’re guided to your destination. I wasn’t afraid of that. I think what I was scared of most was asking for help at all. Even if I ended up in a dead end and I needed to pay for it. I’m just not good at asking for help.

So I’d arranged to be dropped off in a parking lot and met by the small hotel (riad), as cars don’t drive in the medinas. Donkeys, yes. And bicycles. The driver had kind eyes. I’d soon learn that Moroccans have kind eyes as a rule. A man appeared with a cart, piled my luggage into it, and without a word, walked into the dark medina, winding past cats and closed doors until we arrived at a wooden door with a knocker in the shape of a hamza (hand of God). The owners were out of town.  The manager spoke enough English to tell me so, but that was about it. It helped that he had a terrific smile and a girlish cackle for a laugh. He showed me quickly to my room with huge ceilings and a tile floor covered by one long Berber rug and stately antiques, no heat, and quickly took me up to a small dark room where my place was set in a corner of what looked like a professor’s study. There were books everywhere and a low table with a brass candlestick holding a flickering candle.  He motioned for me to sit on the pillow-covered bench, and I did.  And he left.  No other people in sight.  Dead quiet.  Dead dark.  I reminded myself:  this was the sort of moment that I’d longed for.  To be far away and out of control and having to trust in the central goodness of people.

He came back with a huge tray filled with what I soon learned were Moroccan salads—vegetable dishes full of spices like cumin, ginger, turmeric, sweet paprika, saffron, cardamom, cinnamon. Dishes of olives and a basket of bread. I thought it was dinner and that was just fine by me– it was delicious! But then he came back with a lamb tagine with apricots and almonds and couscous and the most musky heady sauce. I devoured all of it, like I hadn’t eaten a meal in days. And I started to feel a coming alive with this food in this dark room, alone by candlelight.  I slept in sweaters with a hat, since there wasn’t any heat.  I felt a little kick-ass.  A little puny.  But I wasn’t scared.  And I wasn’t sad.  I felt far away from my life and like the happiness pump was being properly primed.

Then it was morning, and I heard what I’d in-part come to Morocco to observe. Adhan: the Call to Prayer, an hour before dawn. I sat in bed, and then folded over into Child’s Pose and listened to this voice, stirring the dark cold and the waking faithful, and I felt it stirring what had felt so dark inside me.

I lay there like that for a long time, and then tucked back under the covers, keeping my mind as empty as possible.  If I was going to find my joy, I needed to keep the regular noise OUT.  As dawn slowly emerged, red, blue, amber, and green shapes cast themselves across my room, moving with the sun. Then there was a loud knock on my door. “Madame! Breakfast is now!”

I’m not really a breakfast person. But I could hear this man standing outside my door, and I quickly put on some clothes and stepped out into what was a gorgeous courtyard, open to the sky, with stained glass windows casting the same colors all over the two stories with intricate green and mustard yellow and black tiled floors and walls, and a fountain in the middle with orange trees and light! Song birds! And a little table set just for me looking over the 1500 year old medina of Fes. Fresh squeezed orange juice, Moroccan tea with a lovely silver teapot and a velvet cozy over its handle. Palm dates. Yoghurt, goat cheese, thick dark honey. Sweet potato jam. Three kinds of bread: flat, crepe, pancake. I smeared the goat cheese on the pancake, and drizzled honey on it and ate it and I felt it again: a shade of happy.

“Come, Madame,” said the smiling man, and he led me down to the courtyard where an elegant, tall man in a traditional hooded djellaba robe and striped scarf waited. My guide. The riad had suggested it in our email correspondence. I’d resisted it. Getting lost was a good thing, yes? “I like to do things on my own.  I’m a good traveler.”  But they had insisted, “Not in the Fes medina.”  So I’d succumbed, but I wasn’t happy about it.

“I am your guide for the day,” he said in a sort of British accent, smiling with his kind eyes and salt and pepper well-groomed beard.

I looked into his eyes.  This was not a typical tour guide.  There would be no selfie-stick.  This man’s eyes had centuries in them.  Immediately, I gave myself to his care, with a relief I didn’t know I needed.

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There began this coming alive that never arrived in one big rush. But in small moments when I would catch myself smiling, and usually following someone who had been designated to help me find my way. I followed this man for two days, eight hours each, all around the bustling sardine-peopled medina and outside its walls too, learning about artisanal arts, still so alive and well in this country– the hammering of copper pots, grandfather to son to son, in a small square, the ancient tannery, still operating as it had from the start, with pigeon droppings as the key ingredient, holding a bundle of mint to my nose. Following his long and stalwart steps to the oldest university in the world, University of Karueein, founded in 859 AD. Showing me the signs of Muslim tolerance in the mosaic designs—an observance of the line of Abraham, from Moses, to Jesus, to Mohammed and the eight gates of Paradise. I caught myself smiling as I skipped forward to keep up with him, weaving around fast-walking women in hijabs and kaftans buying butchered lambs hanging from hooks, and chickens from cages, and spices in pyramids on stands next to a mind-blowing variety of olives and preserved lemons. Dodging bicyclists and donkey dung. And so many many cats. He was the first of a host of guides/teachers/sages who led me through Morocco.  I will never forget him.

IMG_888738e6e069-467d-4547-ad70-620b04d96547And I got used to it– this being led. I’ve never hired a guide in my life. Not for anything. “I can do it alone.” Why? How does doing it alone make you more powerful?  I never could have possibly learned all that I did without these guides, yes about Morocco and culture and humanity, but these guides also brought my smile back.

The man who drove me to and from the Blue City of Chefchauen in the Rif mountains and stopped at groves of olive trees and orchards of oranges because I lifted my camera to the window and he wanted me to stop and soak it in. His country. Where they till the fields with donkeys and horses. “No tractors,” he smiled proudly.

The woman in Marrakech who taught me to cook tagine and pigeon pastilla, and who when I said, “I don’t have anyone to cook for anymore,” excused herself to run to the market and buy me a small red clay tagine to take home. “For one,” she smiled, also a single woman.

And the man who walked me through the thin alleyways of Marrakech by night to eat like a local in spirited hole-in-the-wall places that I would never have had the guts or know-how to navigate, to eat sheep’s head tangia, (I did not eat the eyeball, but the cheek was heavenly), snails, prickly pear, street food that I would never have dared to try, unless Bourdain himself popped it into my mouth. (Turns out he was a fan of these same dark alleys and nighttime haunts).

And the woman who bathed me. Who lay me on a hot marble slab in a hamaam fired by olive branches in an24a62db0-f1c5-4f49-a075-cfa74751034f oven below, covered my skin in a black soap mask, and scrubbed me with a kessa glove…almost everywhere, noting the layers of dead skin that I didn’t know I needed to shed. It hurt. And it healed. I walked out feeling new. “Every week,” she said, smiling, and gave me the cleaned glove to bring home.

And my GOD…the horse guide on the beach whose only English word was gallop, and I did. On a Barb Arabian stallion, at low tide, not a rock anywhere, just hard wet sand for miles.  And he filmed it, galloping alongside me, and gave it to me as a gift.  I’ve watched it probably a hundred times.  I look as free and as happy as I’ve been for a long long time.  And I felt that way too.

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There were so many other people who guided me, taught me, showed me. And I so happily followed. Most of them took my phone out of my hands and said, “Good place for photo,” and took several of them. “Beautiful,” they said. “Look.” Normally I don’t look at photos of myself. They pain me. But they were insistent. “Look!” I looked. With each photo, from each guide, there was a new width and depth to my smile. Lit from within like the hamaam.

I also heard it from people when I had wifi and checked in online along the way. “Your smile! You look so happy! You look so different!”  And yes…some of them were the naysayers!

I hadn’t known I’d let my six months of sadness show. And as I was saying goodbye to Morocco…the fear washed in again.  I was scared again.  What if it comes back when I go home?

Answer:  I’m not going to let it.  That’s all.  I am the gatekeeper, and yes the guide, to my joy.  But…in going home, I’m going to remember to ask for help, find masters and teachers and guides, and open myself to being a joyful follower.

I made these photo collages as a reminder.  Every shot, taken by my guides: (and when I say “guides”…that means all of the kind people who met me lovingly along the way.)Image-1-1

If you are longing to radically rearrange yourself, whether or not you have the ability to go away somewhere bright and new for a month, I highly recommend that you do things way out of your comfort zone. And that you find a kind guide that can show you the way. You don’t have to do it alone.

***I will be writing an extensive piece about my month in Morocco with helpful links and tips for a publication near you, so stay tuned…

One of the best ways I know to be spelled differently, is to come to a Haven Writing Retreat in Montana!

March 20-24 (full)
May 8-12 (full)
June 12-16 (two spots left)
June 26-30 (one spot left)
Sept 18-22 (now booking)
Sept 25-29 (now booking

Go here for more info!  

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Sent from my iPhone by Laura Munson

IMG_7407I haven’t lived in a city since cell phones or emails or the internet infiltrated our civilization.  So as much as I long for my inner-child Chicago city fix, especially in the deep midwinter dormancy of Montana, when I get that fix, I’m always stunned, disoriented, and frankly worried for our world. The romance of the city, the beat and brash and bravado, the sensory glut, the shiny slick, and the glorious edge…all come at me catapult.  I want to feel every bit of it.  So I fight to keep my Montana filter-less-ness.  I want to do a daring dance with empathy, staring it all down…knowing that I will have to turn away sooner than later, blur my eyes, hold my breath past remarkable stench and heart break.  Still, I ask my heart to pound in pace with city vibrato, until I have to ask my better-sense to grab the back of my neck and force it forward. Downward. Observing only my boots and the sidewalk.  You can’t take it all in, in the end, but I like to try for a wide-eyed aperture for as long as I can stand it.

I try to make that filter-less-ness last as long as I can because I want to see who we’ve become.  I want to see that screens and satellite beams criss-crossing invisibly around us haven’t wound us so tight that we won’t be able to find our way out of this world wide web, if need be.  (I sense that there will be a Need Be.)  I want to believe that these buttons we push without a click or a feel to them, are making our lives easier and our propensity to wonder about the person crossing the street, greater. I want to believe that because it is possible to know so much now with those buttons and those screens and satellite strings…that we’re using that knowledge to linger in our longing to know each other.  Yes?  To sit longer at a meal and ask an extra question of our colleague or daughter or friend. To smile on the subway, especially at sad eyes, or to meet them with our own sad eyes. To step out of the sidewalk sea and sit on a bench for no other reason than:  all of this knowledge has turned us into supreme seeking beings and it begs us to stop.  Watch.  Feel.  See.  Know. I want to believe all of that.  But sitting there on a bench, watching the sidewalk sea…I don’t.  I see people walking faster and faster and the beat driving them harder and harder.  So serious and so purpose-driven and so confident about what’s around the bend.

Last week in San Francisco, after leading Haven Writing Workshops, helping people to figure out how to write a book and how to find their voices and figure out what they have to say…I sat there on a bench and I asked myself:  How purposefully and confidently can we really walk when we depend on a small rectangle of light and its buttons and arrows to tell us where to go right and left, and when to walk straight or take a slight turn…or re-calculate. Or push in a few numbers and have a car appear that takes us where we want to go so that we don’t have to look at all.  We seem so cock-sure.  But my Montana-ness knows that it’s such a thin veneer and I wanted to cry out, “Don’t you all know how incapacitated we have all become???  How reliant?  How clueless?  Don’t you realize how fickle our power is if it depends on a cord or a battery or a plug???”  Where oh where is our true power?

Because if and when the beams stop beaming and we are released from the satellite string…nay, rope….will we look up and at each other and say, “Woah. That was a weird dream.  I dreamed I was fine.  Great, even.  But I’m not fine.  Or great.  At all.  And you don’t look much better.  Let’s not even ask each other how we are.  Let’s just be with one another.  That looks like a nice park bench. Come, let’s sit for a while and tell each other our stories. Without looking at that little rectangle of light thingy, whatever it is. Let me see your hand.  It looks tired from holding that flat ‘smart’ thing. Remember when your hand used to hold reins and gallop to the river? Or hold the plow? Or palm the seed by the light of the full moon? Was that better then? Did we look at each other more? Did we not know where we were going but for news from the next town over from a wayward traveler? Or from the way cottonwoods flank river beds across a valley? Or that the shape of a nine-month pregnant belly meant that the world around that woman needed to ready itself for another miracle?  Get the hot water boiling.  Sterilized rags.  Call the midwife?

Is our midwife named Siri now?  (At least mine has a British accent, so I feel “smart” to have a chum like her when I wander around at her discretion, muttering to myself, this is not the zombie apocalypse.  This is not the zombie apocalypse.)

Because that’s the thing:  I have to be careful not to pretend like I am above any of it just because I don’t live in the thick of it.  If Montana has taught me anything, it’s that I know I’m not above anything.  In fact, being so removed from our city civilization for twenty-seven years, often has me in a state of less-than, full-FOMO, feeling like an underconfident and yes, under-competent Rip VanWinkle.  Like when I’m in the city, I’ve been jolted awake from my own deep sleep, the opposite dream, in which I’ve been too long nestled in the cleavage of Mother Nature, going days without speaking to anyone, my only witness, the white-tailed deer.  My cell phone doesn’t even work at my house.  My wifi is fickle and so is my power.  The fireplace is not decorative.  It’s a hearth that would burn if all else failed in the way of technology, and there have been plenty of winter nights when it’s the keeper of my hope too.  And I lie there staring at its flickering coals and feeling its heat, thinking that fire is where it all started.  Fire was the initial step that humans took to what has become our giant step into our current state of things.  How different was that first spark from what happens in Microsoft think-tanks in Palo Alto?

So I wonder:

Have we always been like we are now, just with different gizmos and the same ambition?  So cock-sure in our questions and so hungry for answers? Did we claw our way up the invention ladder to this world of technology that has become our norm, yes even in Montana, (though my best friend still has dial-up and doesn’t have a cell phone at all), and has our technology really made life easier? Has it really connected us? How do we really feel…alone in the dark with our little rectangular screens giving us answers about where to go and what to do and how someone else is feeling and what they are doing?

All week long, walking the city streets, I saw despair, is what I saw.  Emptiness.  A lot of people in comfortable, yet chic, shoes, a yoga mat slung over their shoulder, ears full of headphones, Bluetooth, earbuds, talking into the ozone.  Loudly.  I saw people looking into screens for answers, not into each others’ eyes. The conversations that came easily were with– get this: Uber and Lyft drivers…most of them new to this country and trying to figure it out too.  And thus, also looking at screens for answers—shortest route, traffic, construction.  But still, into the rearview mirror, asking me how my day was going. I didn’t tell them any of this. I told them “Great!” Like everyone else. I guess a filter can only last so long, unless you want your heart to break.

So before it did, with two more days in the city, I promised to linger longer at each table with my little rectangular notebook instead of my phone. Pen to paper I wrote what I could see and recognize about our city civilization that lasts, regardless of how we have, and will continue to, develop as a species. I asked myself:  what’s been here from the beginning and what will be with us always, besides the fact that none of us is getting out of here alive.

It was the stuff you’d think it was.  I wrote:

I believe in people’s central goodness.  Just look at the way that man helped that older woman with the cane get to her seat, and waited with her until she was settled.

I believe in our need for community.  Just look at the way this restaurant has a communal table and that it’s fuller than the bar.

I believe in our fear.  Everyone’s talking about the earthquake last night and recalling 1989.  And no one is cavalier.  “Isn’t there a way for them to know when they’re coming?” I asked.  No.  Not even Siri can tell us that.

I believe in the collective.  Otherwise, why wouldn’t we all do as my literary hero, and perhaps me too:

“The world that used to nurse us
now keeps shouting inane instructions.
That’s why I ran to the woods.”
― Jim Harrison

I believe in our ability to stay.  Hold vigil.  Keep the hearth warm, whatever that means for each of us.  The tenacity of the homeless who brave the nights in doorways with one blanket and maybe some cardboard.

I also believe in our hope.  When it’s time to take a new step in a new direction.  And it might be a surprise step.  I believe in our ability to believe that there’s something around the bend that might change everything, and it might change everything for the better.  Better being a relative term.

And I think all of these core beliefs apply to any sort of living—country, city, suburban.  But it does require us stopping from time to time, moment to moment, and removing the filter to check in on where our civilization is and isn’t.  So find a bench.  A stoop.  Some steps.  And stop.  Take pause.

I’m about to go to Morocco for a month of it.  Alone.  This is my deep bow after all these years of day-to-day hands-on mothering.  It’s also my call to action for what’s ahead—to live into it bravely and whole-heartedly.  And who knows if my cell phone or my GPS will help me navigate the labyrinthine medinas and markets and if I’ll find my way effectively across the desert.  I don’t speak Arabic, or even French.  I’m going to get by on these core beliefs.  I’ll be writing about it along the way.  I think we all need to take a giant step out of our lives and see who we really are, alone in the world, without technology.  Become disoriented and wobbly and look our fear in the eye and each others’ fear too.  I found some good walking shoes.  My daughter gave me a beautiful blank-paged journal for Christmas.  I have a good book.  I have my beliefs and I have my central goodness, which I have to believe is greater than my fear.  Just like love.  Just…like…you.

Bon Voyage.

Love,

Laura

Now Booking Haven Writing Retreats 2019

You do NOT have to be a writer to come– just a seeker who loves the written word, and longs to find your unique voice.  It’s here…in the stunning wilderness of Montana!  Click for more info.

March 20-24 (full with wait list)
May 8-12 (ah, the sweet month of May in Montana…darling buds and all.)
June 12-16 (great time of year for teachers. Time to fill YOUR cup!)
June 26-30 (ditto)
Sept 18-22 (my favorite time of year.  Still warm during the day.  Fire in the fireplace at night.)
Sept 25-29 (ditto)

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***Haven Wander:  Morocco (February 2019) is full

 

 

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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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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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Filed under My Posts

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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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 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.

Happy Hour With Chickens

Katherine Cox Stevenson, RN, PhD

Katherine Cox Stevenson, RN, PhD

Three favorite things: happy hour, writing, and my chickens.

“Cheers, chickens! Thank you for being a key to getting my life back.”

Peony, Lady Violet, Marigold, Boots, Lavender, Periwinkle, and Splash don’t acknowledge my raised glass of red wine, instead focused on mealworms, a daily favorite treat. Scratch, scratch as they dance. Left foot, right foot, left again. Pause. Head down to check out what tasty morsel might be revealed. Peep. Cluck. Peck, peck. Poofy lacy bums up and down.

Comfortably seated near their coop, I sigh in contentment on this mid December lovely late afternoon. My body registers a nice ache from a solid day of gardening, finally getting the garlic in. The chickens helped me, giving new meaning to pleasant company. Their intense curiosity with everything I do often makes me laugh out loud. The air smells fresh with a hint of the newly changed coop straw bedding. Total quiet except chickens and an eagle call.

The chickens and I share a serene refuge on our little homestead on a tiny island. My robin egg blue colored little house sits high on a hilltop overlooking the vast Salish Sea. Before I put pen to paper, I think about how far I have come since my husband Matt died last year. So ill, heading for a wheelchair, having lost myself for over eight years to Matt’s rare and horrid type of dementia. One morning, as I hung onto the bed and dresser trying to walk to the bathroom, my soul said, “Get chickens to heal and live again.”

Chickens!? I always wanted to be a farmer but knew nothing about chickens. I doubted my stamina to take them on, but my soul kept nudging. I talked with women chicken experts, found an online resource, and took the plunge. Got a coop built with all the necessary safety barriers and purchased heritage babies from an off-island farm. As I cared for them, getting to know their unique personalities, I began to emotionally and physically heal. We are good for each other.

Lately, I say, “I love my life.”

A far cry from the years I said to my counsellor, “The best way out of this is to just die.”

Flashback! Waiting for Matt to join me on the front deck. The sliding glass door opens, and he stomps out carrying my suitcase. I watch in horror as he hoists it high, throwing it over the fence, rolling end over end down the driveway. His facial expression one I had never seen before: clenched jaw, eyes flashing, and evil looking. Yelling, “See that, fucking bitch! Do you see that!? That is what I am going to do to you. I want you out of here!”

Then he locked me out of the house. I get a lot of PTSD flashbacks about Matt’s behavior and my fear. Being with the chickens and their gentle togetherness allows me to stay present, take a deep breath, and let the flashbacks pass through.

Back to the chickens. They are preening now, grooming important to keep feathers oiled and clean. Light is fading. Then suddenly like flipping a switch, they are still in a trance like state. After several minutes, Marigold leads the single file procession into the coop and up the ramp into the safe night roosting area.

Darkness is upon us. I finish my wine and journal entry, lock and double check all three coop bolts. I can’t wait to tell the chickens about the puppy soon coming to live with us.

“Good night, darlings. Sleep well. Thank you.”

My Haven

Patricia Young

Patricia Young

Along with countless other writers, readers, list makers and thought provokers, I’ve found solitude in tiny coffee shops.  I’ve written in a booth at the diner, and even while sitting on boulders with mallards at the edge of the Hudson River. I’ve found inspiration driving the winding road of the Eagle’s Nest on my way to a lake in Port Jervis, as well as developing plot twists with my toes in the sand where land meets the Atlantic in Chatham.

Yet, my Haven is my home.

This IS where the story began, although ideas will present themselves unexpectedly anywhere, or a person’s face in the checkout line at the grocery store becomes a character I’ve been searching for.  My creativity as a writer, my permission to be vulnerable, the chapters building one on top of another, happen at home.

Home is not just where I keep my memories, but also my treasures: my mother’s artwork, the voices of my grown children passing by, our three dogs singing the songs of their people, and my husband. Which I’ve learned after more than thirty years of marriage is not always about that loving feeling. It is the ability to live together and support one another as individuals. We are very different people than when we first met. It takes a lifetime to truly understand another person. Warren has given me a shoulder to rest my weary head on, an arm to give me the strength to keep going no matter how many rejection letters arrive, and his ear along with his heart–which has listened to the drafts and rewrites as the story grew, always encouraging, never doubting that this is what I should be doing, even at times when I doubted myself. I recognize this is a gift, and I cherish it.

All of these parts built my Haven. Past the tears and sorrows, the grief and joys, it is not just my castle in the shape of a 1942 Cape Cod, it is much more complicated, and it is very, very simple. My Haven is my place to be completely me without explanation or judgments. From the kitchen following my grandmother’s biscuit recipe, to the hammock between two trees in the backyard to my overstuffed chair facing the fireplace. My Haven is the Japanese maple outside my window, the scent of the lilac bush in spring, the flox outside the laundry room. It is all interwoven to become my sanctuary.

In some respects, I’ve grown stingy. I want and need to keep my private life private. It is important to me, maybe it has something to do with security in this internet world. Perhaps it is due in part to modesty. What would photographing my stuff tell you about me when the dialog is missing? Maybe that’s just too risky. So here I am in my office;  it is where I close the glass-paneled door without shutting life out, where I can type the fastest and watch the light change as the day ages or the night tucks in around me.  Where my NaNoWriMo challenge in 2013 gave birth to my first novel “Northeast of 80” and where each rejection letter is stacked, bringing me another step closer, anticipating success as I continue this journey as a writer. On the path, Laura pointed out in her Montana Haven.

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