Tag Archives: how to write a memoir

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.

marrakech-alley

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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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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Haven Winter Blog Series: My Haven

Processed with VSCOcam with 7 preset

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.

My Haven

Helen HaileSelassie

Helen HaileSelassie

There are plenty of life occasions that entice us to go in search of a place of refuge, of a space that promises calm and safety. My haven is shared amongst many and yet unique only to me. It is within the confines of an age-old building with explicitly carved stone walls encasing stained colorful windows that capture the reflection of light and disperse it into countless angles of rays. It is a church I frequent, a corner of it I have silently claimed as my own, the small encapsulated space within the grander place that has relentlessly and benevolently heard my secrets, witnessed my tears, and shouldered my burdens. It is the place that allows me to revert into my soul and lets me touch the purest surface of my consciousness.

From the moment I open the gigantic wooden doors that require the strength of both my arms, I am welcomed by the strange yet familiar scent of incense. As smell is one of the strongest triggers of memory, I am inevitably transposed into a space that is warm, forgiving, and guiding. The echoes of my footsteps on the linoleum floor awakens me to the reality of my physical surrounding. I look around and see the wooden pews with a bible on each seat lining the length of the church. I make my way past the tired looking pews, no doubt invisibly bearing the mortal burdens of unconsoled souls. I reach the front of the church with the elaborately decorated altar before I pass the innumerable candles lighting away the sins of the worldly existence and begging to be saved for a life that is unknown. With each step I take, getting closer to the quiet corner I always kneel by, I can feel the pressure of the days and months leaving my body, the past and the future losing significance, and only being surrounded by the peace that seems to emanate from the unseen and intangible to penetrate acutely into my mind, heart and soul.

As I kneel on both knees, I am reminded of the countless things I am grateful for. This mere act of being thankful for my blessings instills in me a sense of fulfillment and calm that would normally be elusive in the daily routine of life. As my prayer continues from thankfulness to that of guidance, I feel in touch with a divine being. Some would say this is the power of the creator and others would argue that it is merely reconnecting with the God in us. I choose not to get too entangled with the intricacy that has no perceptible answer of whether there is a divine being in all of us that we can tap into through prayer and meditation. But I know only the feeling of sacredness that exists in the place I find to be my Haven, the source of which is beyond the tangible world and lies in the secrets of the divine. It is the place that has quieted down my anxieties, delivered the answers to my worries, guided me to follow the path that has been set and assured me that if I practice letting go, the answers will always manifest. So time and again, when the natural and ordinary world fails me, I show up at my haven to make peace with the unknown in return for immediate calm and eternal joy.

Haven Winter

Brenda Johnson Kame’enui

Flatbutt drive:Users:brenda:Desktop:IMG_0025.jpg

Tall Douglas fir and cedar trees line the road, boughs bowed to the ground with the burden of snow. A breeze tosses branches and sunshine catches flakes in flight. The glitter against the sky is dazzling.

“My stars!” I say. What? My mother, widely recognized for her pithy expressions, used to say that, but I don’t remember ever saying it myself. In the few years since Mom died, my sister and I have entertained ourselves with imitations of our mother, but we haven’t called on the stars.

You’d be taller if you didn’t have so much turned under at the ankle; you look like something sent for that couldn’t come; a horse apiece; six of one, half dozen of another; don’t wish your life away.

This is a star-studded moment. The sky, icy blue between trees, above trees, and through lacy branches, features a faint star here and there. I’ve braced myself against the cold with mittens and mufflers to spare, and I point my skis down the trail. There’s nothing left but the poetry of this moment in this place. I’m lucky to spend a week in the North Cascade Mountains.

The sun’s warmth releases snow from an upper branch. “Plop.” The silly sound repeats on a sunny stretch of the path ahead. The snow is cold and dry, and the trail is fast–someone skied out ahead of me this morning. The hills are a satisfying challenge, and the rhythm is easy. Lift, glide; lift, glide.

I break new trail as I cross Railroad Creek on the footbridge, moving through fresh snow piled in a narrow wedge between railings. The creek’s riffles reflect the sun, and the water is fast but clear. I can count the rocks on the river bottom. If I stood here long enough, I imagine I would spot fish tucked under speckled rocks at the edge of an eddy.

Across the creek, I climb a tabletop hill. It’s a long, steep cut through fresh snow, but I’m not breathless as I reach the top and pick up speed. The North Cascades loom in dazzling splendor both behind me and up ahead.

At home in Oregon, the Cascade Range forms an orderly line—plink, plink, plink—of volcanic mountains, from the Crater Lake caldera, north past the Three Sisters and Mt. Jefferson to Mt. Hood. I’ve skied below and between these ancient volcanoes, and there I’ve also uttered variations of awe and wonder. On a recent ski to Potato Hill, I proclaimed, over and over again, “I am so happy!” The  constant refrain didn’t annoy my skiing companion, who made the same excited exclamation. When we skied into a clearing with a view of the Three Sisters and Three-Fingered Jack, we both shrieked.

The North Cascades of Washington are different. The “Alps of the West,” these Cascades tower in magnificent clusters. Every step is a photographic moment. I ski a wide arc on the wide tabletop, taking advantage of the 360-degree view. This is the best. I am so happy.

When I leave the flat stretch to ski down through the trees, I must pay attention to navigate the trail. I hear nothing but the glide of my skis and the wind soughing in the trees. I move in and out of their shelter, careful to avoid the tree wells.

I ski from one sanctuary in the woods to the next. There is no place I would rather be. I arrive at another clearing with another imposing view. The mountains have moved even closer. My stars! Don’t wish your life away. 

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Haven Winter Blog Series: My Haven

IMG_0522Come 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 Haven

Noha Al-Kadhi

My Haven

It has been a steady flood of colossal losses.

Within a window of six years, grief depleted me, starting with the tragic loss of my father, followed by that of my grandmother, only to be shortly shadowed with the sudden parting of my Basma, and ending–as it all started–tragically, with my husband passing away in my arms.

In the aftermath of those irreplaceable losses, I found myself in a position of choosing between doing what is right as opposed to what is popular. I chose the former.

And in doing so, I also lost a great deal.

In the wake of these past six years, which seemed the longest of my life, yet shortest…

Years that have been tremendously challenging, yet rewarding…

In the outcome of the immense losses, I have found great gain…

In these years, I have grown and risen from the brinks of despair only to find hope and optimism…

And in this process, I have learned how much I can endure and persevere…

How much I can continue to give, receive, and carry on, even if that meant starting from scratch and rebuilding from square one.

And as I slowly emerge from this prolonged submersion, as I finally begin to catch my breath, as I start to settle in from all the chaos, and gradually quiet the noise surrounding everything that was once a part of me but now ceases to be…

I gradually wean myself off conventional notions and comfort zones and embark on a new path, a new life, trenching foreign ground where true colors bloomed into authentic bonds, and others dissolved into nothingness.

I have come to taste, feel, and touch the motions of recovery, the liberation of detoxification, and the freedom of sacred spaces, along with the comfort of solitude and learning diverse paths towards replenishing one’s energy.

Throughout this journey, I have come to discover my haven.

It is the harbor that I cannot identify as a single place, action, person, or object.

I have always found haven in my sons’ eyes, their smiles, in their happiness and joy.

I have found haven in old friendships and new ones alike, and all of which have never ceased to show up and stand tall.

I have found haven in the abundance of love with which my family continues to fuel my soul.

I am privileged to have found haven in the support from those I never expected, the many beautiful souls and countless faces that have touched my heart and blessed my life, regardless of the element of place where continents stand distances and oceans divide spaces.

Haven in the peacefulness of my powdery blue clad bedroom, perched on my dark blue armchair that sits in the far right corner beside the tall window that faces north.

Haven upon the gold colored padded mat, embroidered in arabesque designs, placed at the perfect angle towards Mecca, on which I kneel covered in my cotton cream wrap, my forehead to the ground whilst the call for sunrise prayer sounds euphoniously in the distant background.

Haven in my father’s memory, my eternal haven, my guardian angel…the soul of my soul and the heart of my heart.

These are all my havens and the refuge from all the mayhem.

However, my real haven lives in me…and it has emerged in the process of self-discovery, as I continue to recognize the fragments of myself that got lost as I traveled through the motions of existing, as I welcome and as I begin to realize who I am indeed.

In trusting my path and allowing it to merely be…knowing I am forever held, unceasingly cradled, and eternally supported.

I have found all these havens, in which I have come to witness how a world of love can guide a person safely back home.

Studio 14

Wendy Yellin Hill

Wendy Hill

The day I sign the lease for my very first painting studio – an enormous, double-storied space with four very large, and very empty, walls — I feel so utterly unqualified that I am sure the landlord sees the word “Fraud!” written in neon letters on my forehead. I mean, sure, I talk a good game: I chatter away at cocktails parties how I worked for the late, great Irving Penn (true), that I trained as a photographer in NYC (also true if training is tantamount to wandering around the East Village with a camera), and that I have “always” painted. But by “always” what I really mean is that I take an occasional painting class when my schedule (read: family) permits. The classes are sporadic — they are often cancelled due to weather — and I lack discipline. As I push paint around, hoping for a good result or a compliment from a succession of increasingly random art teachers, I know that I am going to leave my paintings behind when the semester ends.

I soon realize that I will never become a painter, at least not a good one, by attending 3-hour art classes at the local JCC standing elbow-to-elbow with octogenarians in comfortable shoes. The classes afford me neither the space nor the time to actualize what is in my head. Thus, I want a studio of my own. But, still. What business do I have renting a studio in a building filled with real artists? Who am I kidding? When I sign the lease my palms are sweaty. I try not to flinch when the landlord hands me the key, because at this point in my head-movie she’s laughing hysterically, ripping up my lease and kicking me out the door. In reality, she just smiles and shows me to Studio 14.

The tenant before me has left two couches so I sit down and look around. Those four very large and very empty walls look back. I try not to panic. I remind myself that this is what I want: my own painting studio. I beat down the urge to flee.

And then I notice something: how quiet it is. My panic subsides as I realize that I am the only person in the room. No other painters, no teachers, no husband or kids. Just me. My studio.

I can do whatever I want.

My first paintings are acrylics on 60” x 60” canvases. In art class, I oil painted on small canvases, but in my studio something is unleashed. I buy cases of super-sized canvases and big brushes. I buy tubs of the boldest and brightest paints I can find. I fill a spray bottle with water and start to experiment. My acrylics, heavy-duty, full-bodied and lush, become drippy and wild when sprayed with water. I paint, all day, every day. I paint huge flowers and then color fields. I paint from photos and from imagination. I paint people and then abstracts. I paint using only black. While I would love to tell you that every painting is fabulous and they all sell like hot cakes, neither is true. Yet what happens is even better. I start to learn. I begin to really see. I become immersed in what had previously eluded me: the process, the actual problem solving, of painting.

It has been two years since I opened the door to Studio 14. I now paint in a way I never dreamed possible. And as my skills have improved, so have I.

In my studio, my haven, I am now, unabashedly, a painter.

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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.

My Haven

Heather Higinbotham

Heather Higinbotham

I’ve always had this dream of having a writing studio, an awesome and relaxing place where I could finally “be a writer.” It swirls around my subconscious like a familiar forgotten home: a cozy couch and fairy lights and teapot and library, a cool old writing desk and typewriter. Floor to ceiling picture windows, the snow whispering secrets outside. I’ve been daydreaming about this a lot lately, as I scramble from one life crisis to the next, scattered and stressed and having not picked up my journal in months.

I could make excuses about why I haven’t been writing, about how I don’t have the right writing spot, or the clutter on my desk hinders my mental clarity, or how life has been “soooo busy…” (eye roll). I could tell myself that someday I will be a real writer, once things settle down and I pay off my debt and start saving for my daughter’s college and can afford to spend my time on things that aren’t income generating.

I could, but I’m too tired of always operating from a place of scarcity. This has been my default for most of my life: never enough time, never enough money, never enough…anything.

This shifted for me a few years ago, when I unexpectedly found myself with an extra hour after an early morning run, before I had to get my daughter and me off to school and work. Something stopped me from my auto-pilot status quo, from doing what I should have—laundry, emails, something productive—and I made myself a cup of tea and sat on my back deck watching the sunrise. That was a luxury as a single mom working full time and attending grad school I could never afford myself.

I have started nearly every morning these past few years with my tea and mental white space. No matter the weather, no matter how early I have to wake up to gift myself this time. I don’t meditate, I don’t think about my to-do list. Sometimes I write. Sometimes I just sit. Almost without fail, by turning my brain off, my poems and words are suddenly clear and bursting to be let out into the world.

I now realize that my haven is not a physical place; it is a conscious choice. My haven is the simple act of breathing. Listening. Venting. Giving myself the space to not make my brain or body work, but to be curious and open about whatever my soul needs in this moment.

My haven is scraps of paper stashed in random places, stranded thoughts I don’t want to lose. I steal time at stoplights and stockpile words in every nook and cranny I can find. It is scribbled chicken scratch half written in dreams. My haven is fleeting at times, but always lingering in my periphery.

Most of all, my haven is learning to be gentle with myself. To know that no matter how crazy life gets, all I have to do is stop, and breathe, and remember that the time and space I need is up to me to choose.

Summoning the Owl

Michelle Roberts

Michelle Roberts

“Call on line two!” Phones still ringing.

“There’s a customer in the warehouse!” our manager announces from the doorway.

“I’m sorry. Could you repeat the credit card number? I couldn’t hear you.” Finger in my left ear.

In my twenties, I wouldn’t have believed that one day I’d be daydreaming about cubicles.

But working in an open office with three other salespeople, phones ringing and everyone talking at once, can make even half walls sound like a luxury.

As it is, two of our four walls don’t quite reach the ceiling, so the caveman intercom is our low-tech paging system.  Some days I don’t realize how noisy it is until my coworker turns off his small desk fan. The constant drone is only obvious in its absence.

A recent study found that two hours of silence led to cell recovery in the memory and emotional center of laboratory mice’s brains. There are days that I leave work needing more cell recovery than others.

Fortunately, my haven is just outside my front door. In our neighborhood, fourteen miles of walking trails wind around lakes bordered by century oaks.

I lace up my shoes with my head still buzzing like the desk fan. Blocks away and headed to Central Lake, my shoulders fall and my lower back loosens. My breath brings me back to my body as my mind clears. Instead of knots in my stomach, I feel the strength in the muscles of my hips and legs. The breeze along the lake is cotton on my skin.

Taking pictures of the same trees and bends in the trail, I capture the fading light at sunset as it glows through the Spanish Moss. No two photos are ever the same and it helps to see the beauty in the changing scenery. Reflecting on the fifteen years since we moved in, I can appreciate the differences in me. This is where I write. Each walk makes space for thoughts to come calling and the inspiration to enter. On especially magical days, the words are fully written by the time I reach my door.

By now it’s darker on the far side of the lake. Dusk is the perfect time to spot an owl, so I summon one. Over the years I’ve shared the trails with raccoons, birds, deer, a stray crawfish and a mother fox with the morning hunt still in her teeth. So often others pass without noticing their company, so I give them a special audience when they appear. These animal totems connect me to nature and the present moment, slowing my pace and my pulse.

Watching the trees, I hear him before I see him and, just as I’m passing, a Great Horned owl swoops across the trail to a branch high in the oaks. I stop. With only his silhouette visible against the sky, his head turns then faces me and I wait. Two runners with headphones speed past. My quiet deficit keeps me there. Soaking up the calm of standing still. When it’s time, in silence he flies across the lake and I continue on. In silence.

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