Tag Archives: meditation

Haven 4:00 a.m.

Haven (4)Now Booking Haven Writing Retreats 2018

You do NOT have to be a writer to come– just a seeker who loves the written word, and trusts the power of the wilderness of our Montana Haven to inspire the wilderness of your unique mind!  Come find your voice this February…  For more info, and to contact the Haven team, go here!  The best holiday gift I can imagine…

February 28-4 (a few spaces left)
April 18-22
May 16-20
September 19-23
September 26-30
October 24-28

I wake up most every night at 4:00 a.m., and have as long as I can remember.  It can be scary there, in that raw, nascent, dark of night.  It’s when I feel most alone.  As a child, I would listen for the Milwaukee Railroad in the distance, just to know there was someone else awake at that hour.  And it would lull me back to sleep.

I wake for different reasons:

Usually it’s because I’m dreaming something that I know I need to pay attention to, and somehow my conscious mind pulls me out of my unconscious concoction where the world is as weird as it is profound.  Some strand of reality calls and says, “That’s enough of that.  You wandered enough into the wilderness of your creative unconscious.  Now wake up, and stare into the moonlit room of your real world, and lie there in the soft safe pillows and see what it had to teach you.”  It’s a different kind of seeing, in the dark, when you are still more soul than flesh.  Like being born.

Maybe your heart is racing, and you brought yourself back to reality because you thought you might die, being chased like that.  Maybe you saw something you didn’t want to see, and like the hero on her journey, you needed to come back with the elixir to save something of yourself before day wakes.  Maybe you bound yourself into such an impossible situation that you beckoned yourself back into a less complicated world, but with the clear understanding that your real life is just as impossible in its own way, and it’s time to stop the madness.  In every case, what I have dreamed is so exact that I can’t help but believe in a parallel universe.  I mean, how could I have just imagined this house and every single detail of it, when I’ve never laid eyes on it before?  It doesn’t really matter.  I only know that I have.  And that there’s quite likely something to learn from it.  Sometimes I come out of a dream laughing.  Sometimes, I’m weeping.  I believe that I am working out something in my dreams that I’m not quite able to in my life.

Sometimes I wake at 4:00 a.m. dreamless, because the moon is full and it’s shining in my window and flooding my bed in shadows.  Then I just lie there and trace the silhouettes of the fir trees that tower around my house.  I’ve been told that the lungs are replenishing themselves at 4:00 in the morning, so I take deep breaths, usually like this:  in 1..2..3..4..hold 1..2..3..4..exhale 1..2..3..4…  Sometimes I repeat a line to go with the breathing—something I need.  Often it’s Julian of Norwich’s:   all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.

4:00 a.m. finds me in a trance.  An in-between place.  Untethered.  Where I meet myself outside of the everything else.  I lie there in that trance, pushing back against full consciousness, and try to receive what there is to feel, know, fear, learn.  But without purchase.  This is the time to let it wash over me to the shores of the waking hour, still far away.  I lie there and let my unconscious mind give itself to my conscious one, however scary, strange, symbolic, even if I forget it by morning.  It’s okay to forget.  I know that what I experience in that trance stays with me in a woven way.  Unseen.  But sometimes there is something so powerful there, that I know I have to keep it close.  So I write it down on a notepad I keep next to my bed.  I don’t turn on the light.  I don’t want to wake fully up.  So sometimes I can’t exactly read every word the next day.  But the gist of it is there.

And every so often, in that 4:00 a.m. trance, something hatches that I know is as holy as I know holy to be.  Whether by dream or moonlight or breathing or words, that suspension between dreams and complete waking delivers a pure thought which can’t help but summon an idea.  A pretty good idea.  Whole books have come to me in that trance time.  The design for my writing retreats came to me in that between place.  Often I am delivered a sentence of truth that I know I have to use somehow, if only for my motherhood, or my own navigation of life.

So I’ve been starting my day by writing down what it feels like to wake up on those shores.  Back to reality, whatever that is.  Sometimes it’s one line.  Sometimes it’s a long riff.  It’s not a crafted piece with a beginning, middle, and end.  It doesn’t have a narrative trajectory, or a thoughtful premise or landing place.  It’s a piece of ash flying up from a fire and floating a bit on the heat thermals before it falls and joins the ground.  These trance-thoughts are ungrounded, but maybe more grounded than I know.  After decades of this 4:00 a.m. floating, I have learned not to feel so alone there, not to feel so scared.  Instead, it’s my safe haven for whatever needs to show itself, and why I love the word haven so much.  We all need one, yes in the world, but also in ourselves.  So from my 4:00 a.m. to yours…Haven (4)


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Summer Rules: Stop. Sit. Watch.


I sent my son off to baseball recruitment camp yesterday morning.  In a matter of months, I’ll know where he’s going to be spending the next four years.  In one year I’ll be attending two graduations:  My daughter from college, my son from high school, both of them onto the next giant step of their lives.  And me too.  I suspect I’ll be this woman that I wrote about in 2014, on park benches everywhere.  That’s my goal.  May this inspire you to “let the parade pass you by.” 

When is the last time you sat on a bench in your home town?  It’s summertime here in Whitefish, Montana, so that means there are tourists enjoying the view from our town benches everywhere I look—taking a break from the overwhelm of our nearby Glacier National Park, our stunning lakes and rivers, and miles of pristine wilderness.  I’ve lived in Whitefish for twenty years and with our long, dark Montana winters, summer is my biggest bully, beckoning me to get on my horse, put on my hiking shoes, pack up the camping gear, grab the huckleberry bucket, paddleboard, canoe…and get after it, as we say around here.  And “it” is a high calling with vast reward.  I have been good at “it.”  Not this summer. 

This summer everyone in my family is running in a different direction.  Perhaps you can relate.  My daughter is leaving for her first year in college in a matter of weeks, baby-sitting 24/7 to help pay for her expenses (we should all be $baby-sitters$ these days!)  My high-school bound son has been up to his ears in baseball— his 13 year old All Star team not only winning State, but last weekend, Regionals!  (They went up against teams from all over the Pacific Northwest who had hundreds try out for those coveted spots.  They had twelve.  Small town miracles do happen!)  Personally, when I’m not watching baseball games or filling out college forms, I have been under a deadline for a novel I’ve spent the last few years writing.  (Deadline was yesterday.  Made it—phew!)   In other words, I haven’t stopped to enjoy summer.  Haven’t seen my horse.  Haven’t taken one hike.  Went out on Whitefish Lake once thanks to a friend with a boat who took “pity” on me when she saw my pasty skin.  Got some fresh huckleberries from a friend and her secret huckleberry patch, which I guiltily used in our pancakes the next morning.  It felt like cheating.  Most of all, I haven’t felt part of my community.  And I miss it.  I need to sit in it and just be.WF

So yesterday, when our town threw a parade for our Whitefish All Star champs, I got there early to make sure I captured it all on camera and cheered alongside the fire truck holding those glowing young men.  I was all ready to go, expecting the fire truck to round the bend at exactly 5:00 as scheduled in our town newspaper, but there was no parade to be seen.  I waited, checking my camera to make sure I had remembered the memory card and a charged battery—(I have an uncommon knack for forgetting both in the most photogenic moments), texting my son to find out what was going on.  Whitefish loves its parades.  I got a text back.  Schedule change.  Not til 6:00.  I had an hour.

Normally, I would think, “Ok— what can I check off my list?  What mail needs to be sent?  What errand can I run?  Do I have anything at the dry-cleaners?  But the stores were closed and my car was parked far away…and there was the nicest empty bench on the street corner in the shade.  And I thought—what the heck.  Why don’t you just sit down.  Take a load off.  People watch.  And BE.  See what other people see when they sit on our town benches.  The Burlington Northern railroad running through, the azure skies and popcorn clouds.  The emerald green ski runs on the forest green mountain.  The children skipping alongside their carefree vacation-minded parents.  The older people licking ice cream cones and gazing into shop windows I race past every day, really taking it all in– commenting on the western art.  “Oh, that’s lovely.”  And moving on, slowly, on the shady side of the street. 

Summer can be slow.  The “it” can be something quiet.  Meditative.  Simple, with no proof– not even a photograph.  I decided yesterday, sitting on that bench, that I’m going to become a bench dweller.  I’m going to make a practice of sitting on benches, especially in my home town.  I want to see the wonder of what Whitefish looks like to people who are seeing it for the first time.  I want to say, “Hello” to strangers, and locals too, and give benign smiles that have nothing to do with team sports or college entrance or work or who are the best teachers, or who are you going to vote for, or even what’s in the local paper.  I just want to Be in my town.  Take a load off.  Sit a spell. 

When those fire trucks came around the bend, I grabbed my camera, ready to shoot in rapid fire, to share on Facebook and with the paper and everybody else for that matter.  But instead, I stood up, and waved, smiling to my son and his team, took one picture, jogging alongside them for a few steps to show my support.  But then I stopped and watched, smiling and proud, as the truck made its way down Central Ave.  And I sat back down on the bench.  Being a parade chaser is too exhausting.  Sometimes it’s better to let the parade pass by.  There will be more parades.  Most of life is about all the stuff that lives between our heightened moments.  That’s the “it” I’m going to start getting after.  On little benches everywhere.  I invite you to do the same in our last weeks of summer.


If you would like to take a break this fall and live the writer’s life in the woods of Montana, find community, find your voice, and maybe even find yourself…check out this video and info, and email the Haven Writing Retreat Team asap to set up a phone call!

September 6-10 (FULL)
September 20-24 (a few spaces left)
October 4-8 (FULL)
October 18-22 (a few spaces left)

February 21-25 (now booking)

The rest of the 2018 schedule to be announced…

Follow me on Facebook for more news, community, and inspiration!  


***We reached our goal and our baseball family is leaving for the Babe Ruth U-13 World Series in Virginia today!  Thanks to all of you who helped make it possible!


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Writing is Yogic

yogaI believe that having a committed writing practice not only helps us process life, but also helps us shed old thought patterns so that we can move forward in our lives.  I believe it helps us to be well, get well, and even prevent illness.  I believe that writing is a transformative and therapeutic tool.  Does that mean that it helps us feel better?  Not necessarily.  Sometimes writing through our life experiences and musings can have us feeling worse.  But here’s what happens most of all, and why I do the work that I do in my Haven Writing Retreats and Workshops:  It gets those stories and thought patterns out of us so that we can look at it all and decide what we want to do with it.  Burn it in the fireplace?  Bury it in the garden?  Put it in the compost heap?  Turn it into an essay or a poem or a novel or memoir or short story or letter or email or blog post?  Or let it back into our psyche, like a welcome guest, willingly and deliberately giving it nice thread count, organic down pillows, and a room of its own with a view.  I’ve seen the act of writing change lives over and over again.  Many of the people who come to Haven practice yoga, and compliment that practice with writing.  This Haven alum has taken both of these practices to the center of her life, as both a yoga instructor, and a published author.  I loved her take on the yogic aspects of writing and Haven.  And I hope it will help you bring writing into your life as the powerful practice that it is.  yrs. Laura

We have just a few more spaces left on our 2016 Haven Writing Retreat calendar!

September 7-11 (full with wait list)
September 21-25 (one space left)
October 5-9 (spaces left)
October 19-23 (spaces left)

To schedule a phone call to learn more about the retreat, go to the Contact Us button here.

Why You Should Count Writing as a Daily Practice

by Andes Hruby– originally published in yoganonymous

Laura Munson is the author of the New York Times and international bestselling memoir, This Is Not the Story you Think it is: A Season of Unlikely Happiness. While this book is not about yoga, its principles are yogic, showing a woman using self-reflective Tarka practice to write her way through a marital crisis. Tarka is derived from the Sanskrit word that means to focus on reason, conjecture, logic, and contemplation.

“Daily Tarka is my way of processing life,” Munson says. “Using it during a difficult time brought me into a great place of harmony, self-realization, and surrender. I never dreamed it would become a bestselling book.”

The success of her memoir brought her into the public eye as a sought-after speaker in the wellness circuit, with messages of empowerment, personal responsibility, and emotional freedom, and eventually inspired her to begin Haven Writing Retreats.

“Over and over I heard, ‘I want to use writing as a transformative tool too, but I don’t feel creative. I don’t have a unique voice.’ I knew I could help change that.”

Munson believes that having a regular writing practice is as essential as yoga and meditation in the path to mindfulness. It has worked. Haven is highly ranked among the top writing retreats in the US.

“How can you be in touch with your Om if you don’t know what your voice sounds like?”

Haven was unlike any workshop I have attended. First at Bennington College and later at Columbia, I spent years critiquing work and having my work critiqued: they can be cruel circles of banter.

“All-too-often workshops focus on what’s wrong. At Haven we step outside of good, bad, right, and wrong, and step into what’s possible and powerful about each person’s voice. You don’t have to be a writer to use writing to navigate this heartbreaking and beautiful thing called life. Just a seeker. Having a supportive teacher and positive community is crucial.”

While Munson is not a dedicated yogi, she believes that yoga and writing work together. “Writing helps you gain new self-awareness, while yoga helps get you out of your head and into your body to move the energy through.”

At Haven, Munson starts her workshop with a simple quote: “Writing is my practice, my prayer, my meditation, my way of life, and sometimes my way to life,” and she is clearly on a mission to bring writing into people’s lives whether or not they care about getting published. “I think writing should be up there with diet and exercise in the realm of preventative wellness,” she says with fire in her eyes from the ranch in Montana where she leads her retreats.

Haven is a unique combination of group writing, work-shopping, personal writing time, and afternoon activities: yoga, meditative silent walks, bountiful vegetarian food, and one-on-one sessions with Laura. In the morning class, we write through a series of guided exercises, helping us free-fall into our most emotional material. “The stuff that keeps us up at night.” We fill our books to the brim with scribbles, illegible notes, scenes, and a few tears. In the evening class, each of us has the opportunity to receive constructive feedback for our work.


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Munson is stalwart throughout the day, making sure that we focus on writing. “Trust that the writing will be your guide if you breathe deeply into it.” I tell my Monkey Mind to focus on my breath, to go gently, and I do.

Munson chants: “Focus on the scene, focus on what isn’t said, focus on the details. Build the world so I can feel it and touch it and know it like you do. Don’t tell me about it. Show me.”

I respect Munson for not dipping into therapy the same way I respect this quality in yoga teachers. We’re here to be motivated to create a new, empowered, inspired, and committed writing practice, and Munson delivers. I am arm-in-arm with my muse, feeling the gift of what she has promised: a safe place to create in the wilderness of Montana.

I let go of being a professional writer, a yoga instructor, and all my fitness certifications. Munson has taken the snobbery out of being a writer and reminded me that writing is a tool for mindful living.

While Munson has been widely published and completed extensive media tours both in the US and internationally, she is not fooled by her own success.

“My job is to help you find your unique way of saying what you have to say. Your truth. Your quiet resonation with the universe. Your Om.”

Poses that increase creativity:

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Andes Hruby

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Andes Hruby has spent 30 years as a certified fitness instructor in five disciplines and graduated Columbia University with an MFA in writing. The American Council on Exercise accredits her as a Health Coach, Personal Trainer and Group Exercise Facilitator. To better balance her body Hruby began her training in the Ashtanga community under Beryl Bender Birch, David Swenson, and Nancy Gilgoff. Hruby was previously the NBC Fit Guru of Connecticut, and for over a decade was the owner of Studio Blue: Fitness Made Fun. She currently writes a lifestyle and fitness column forConciergeQ and has been a contributor at: Glamour, Elle, Allure, Cosmopolitan, Marie Claire and numerous on-line zines and blogs. She was featured as one of “20 Female Yogapreneurs to Watch” on YOGANONYMOUS.

You can reach her at:


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Haven Winter Blog Series #2: “Creativity Leads the Way”

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

Every winter I give my blog over to alums of Haven Writing Retreats who have all come to Montana to dig deeply into their creative self-expression, using the powerful and transformational tool that is writing.  Leading Haven Writing Retreats is my way of giving the support I was either too stubborn or too scared (likely the latter) to give myself in all my years of writing.  It is my deepest pleasure and honor to offer this powerful program, which is really a writing retreat and a writing workshop in one, to people who long to learn how to write a memoir, how to write a novel, how to become a writer, how to write a story, how to start a book, or simply how to find their unique voices and stories…and set them free!  The Haven Writing Retreats community is all about continued support, and the annual Haven Winter Blog series is one way that we offer just that.  My blog is their blog, and in it we parse the creative questions that so many of us have.

This year’s theme is one of my favorites so far:  ”How do we give ourselves the permission to be creative in the first place…and what does that look like?”

In the next weeks, while I go into the winter dormancy of Montana and give myself my own permission to write, these Haven alums will be diving into their heart language to share with you how they show up for themselves creatively.  I hope you enjoy their posts.  I will be chiming in with some of my favorite winter recipes along the way so stay tuned, stay warm, making a nice cup of something soothing, and “lend an ear.”  From Haven to you.  yrs. Laura

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

February 24-28 (one spot left)
June 8-12
June 22-26
September 7-11
September 21-25
October 5-9
October 19-23

Post #1

Creative Expression Of Me

A few years ago I participated in a personal growth workshop where we learned and then practiced walking meditation. Twenty of us eager and willing students were given the instruction to walk barefoot around the periphery of the sage green classroom, on the dark brown carpet, with the soft music of singing bowls playing in the background. The goal was to continue moving, but move as slowly as possible, after all “there is nowhere to go, not really” said the instructor. I was intrigued, but thought the practice was silly. At first.

Walking for about thirty minutes, I become aware of the tiny bones and cartilage in my feet and the pressure created by the floor, the angular way my hips dip and my knees hinge, and I hear the familiar messages in my mind as they become mute while I repeat the mantra, “there is nowhere to go, not really.” Moving my body around the room, challenging myself to slow it down more, and more, and more, the miracle of my flowing, sensing, alive body fills my awareness. My senses tingle, time fades into a meaningless thought form.

While my mind clears, I drop any agenda I am carrying, and keep my gaze focused on my feet, the weave of the carpet, sunlight streaming in, the person in front of me, and creaking sounds from the floorboards. My awareness expands, while my heartbeat paces with the flow of my being, and all thoughts become peaceful, digestible, present. I let go of something. I remember something. About me. About being human and alive and one of many. Simultaneously it seems nothing matters, and everything matters.

This experience stays with me, and I conjure it up and employ the lessons of what I now know is ‘non-attachment’ whenever I feel the pressured pace of our modern world crushing my creative and free spirit.

“There is nowhere to go, not really.” These words set me free. They disarm the inner critic, and welcome playfulness with words, experiences, moments that invite connection.

When I sit down to write, I remember that nothing I write will matter absolutely, and anything I write might matter momentarily, to someone, and I may never know who. I say a tiny prayer that my words and thoughts and expressions will ease a burden, offer an insight, chart a path or welcome a connection to freedom. Remembering that my purpose is to be an expression of love in all I do keeps me kind, and thus I choose each word with care. Knowing that our shared experience on this planet is fleeting, and wherever we go and whatever we do is a gift, and maybe even a miracle, welcomes honesty and integrity and a fearlessness to tackle the shadowy details that make being human such a gnarly tangled web.

The creative writing I crank out is most often about parenting. What could be more shadowy and challenging than passing along the legacy of misguided patterns and loneliness and love and awkward efforts to get needs met, than the experience of parenting? Every gesture is filled with conscious and unconscious messages, all mixed together, a stream of expressions that carry the family history, and the heavy load that is our entwined collective human experience.

Hugging my daughter, I hold on, longing to feel her heartbeat and smell her distinctive scent for a bit longer than is usually allowed. She indulges me, and I have what I call “a moment.” I live for these. They are my sustenance.

If I can remember to keep myself awake and aware, these moments are enough. They have entire worlds inside them. If I notice, and let them sink in, they sustain me through all the monotony that is a life of ridiculous comfort and overbooked schedules and numbing consistency, mixed with loss and goodbyes and growing old, and a peppering of poignant beauty that practically makes my heart stop with astonishment.

These are the moments I gather. I’m a collector of moments. They give life to my writing, and depth to my creativity. They remind me that my time here is a fleeting experience of risk that welcomes vulnerability which ushers in connection, which nourishes all of me. I surrender to this messiness, and the words tumble out on the page, a creative expression of me. I’m but a whisper here in this dreamy existence of time. And it’s enough. It’s nothing, and it’s everything.

There is nowhere to go, not really.

- Stacey Tompkins tiastruth.blogspot.com

Post #2

Choosing Creativity takes Courage!

I decided to lift up clumps of velvety green moss growing around the roots of the pine trees providing shade on a steamy afternoon with my sister.  I was making carpet for the playhouse we were building during our breaks while working at our large logged barn for flu-curing tobacco. The bright “Kermit the Frog” color added cheer to our earthy living room made from branches, twigs, tobacco sticks, potato shaped rocks, and old boards that we found scattered around the dusty road and area surrounding the barn. As we worked, I was constantly thinking of ways to add to our elaborate home under the pines.  My mind drifted from the heat and harsh conditions and inspired me to keep going in spite of working long hours as a little girl.

Growing up on a tobacco farm in a place called Clover gave me the perfect setting for my imagination to wander wildly.  Climbing apple trees and pretending to fly planes, digging holes to make swimming pools, putting on plays behind sheets draped over the swing set, crawling underneath the quilting table and grabbing pieces of chalk to draw with, dressing up our cats and strolling them as our babies in the old cane stroller in our attic, collecting clay from the creek to make an assortment of items, playing dress-up with the old clothes found in my Grannie’s trunk, or adding more squares of fuzzy moss to our playhouse could occupy me for countless hours.

As I grew older and recognized that more and more was being demanded of me in helping run the tobacco farm, I began to study harder in school to make certain that I would never work that hard physically again. While getting my grades up and juggling my working schedule, I placed my playfulness on hold until I was enrolled in college.  My flair for creativity shifted to writing college essays. For me, an education meant freedom from farming.  I would be the first person in my family to go to college.  My father had quit school in eighth grade to make certain his family kept their family farm in spite of his dad’s failing health.  His strong work ethics had been instilled in me and lead to my academic success.

While striving to be successful, I began to listen to others’ voices more than myself. This desire to please others would ultimately leave me feeling less than capable to choose a career path where my natural gifts for creativity would flourish. In spite of a strong desire to be a professional singer, I became an elementary school teacher.  Teaching first graders was good for me because I could make up lesson plans and decorate the classroom using my vivid imagination and artistic tendencies.  Seeing children struggle with learning lead me to becoming a school counselor for a few years.

My priorities shifted when faced with colon cancer at forty-one.  Sitting still for 16 chemotherapy treatments gave me the impetus to journal. I realized that choosing to live fully meant being myself. The little girl who found soft velvety green moss emerged with her strong voice and creative ideas once again.  My passion for helping others and vision for inspiration pushed me into faithful actions towards ministry.

Finding my sweet inner creative child was a gift that quickly faded. Just as I was learning to play again, my husband died while playing basketball with our younger son and other boys at school.  The irony of this life-changing event threw me into a depression.  While the pile of grief books began to resemble the self-help section at a bookstore, I wondered if I should write a book sharing stories drawn from this tragedy.

Thirteen years later while flying home from Montana, the woman seated in front of me turned around and said, “You should write a book.”  I was stunned to hear her say the very words that had been rolling around in my head like a hamster on a wheel since losing my husband.  During the long flight, she had heard me sharing stories that can’t be made up with the passenger seated by me.  In introducing herself to me, she handed me her business card.

Upon arriving home, I decided to do a Google search on Laura Munson, the author named on that card.  My heart raced as I wrote her a note inquiring about the Haven Writing Retreats she leads in Whitefish, Montana.  Two months later I boarded a plane heading to Montana seeking the keys to writing that book. Under the tall pines draped in snow, the soft green velvety moss emerged on a sunny afternoon and a little girl found her courage to share her stories.  Listening to one’s heart opens the doors to creativity!

- Susan Butterworth www.heart-heels.com

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



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Free Fall– An Encounter With an Owl Today

IMG_0039I saw this owl today in our meadow. I’ve lived in Montana for 25 years on this meadow. We don’t see owls during the day. We don’t see owls unless we are very lucky and unless we are paying attention.

I needed to pay attention today.

I was butting up against some things that had me blocked and I needed to stop. And learn. I’ve learned that the art of stopping has great balm. No screens. No talking. No finish line.

So I stopped.

And the owl stayed a long time.

I think it killed something in the field and was having dinner. I didn’t need to know much about it. I just needed to stop.

I didn’t realize that until I did. And a calm washed over me that I really needed. And that I really needed to remember.

I went home and wrote a few words. You don’t have to write all of it. A few words can unbreak your heart. Write. Please. It will help.

Here are a few of mine. Simple.

What do we want?
How can we find our wholeness?
Our true purpose?
Our true nature?
Where is our fracture, and where are we in our own way?
How can we create our whole self?

Here’s how. We walk in the woods. Virtual or imagined or both. We go outside our comfort zone. That’s where life begins.

We jump

We freefall

We trust that we will land


We meet with ground, connection, love. Never alone.

I want to meet you there with your words and stories. I have a beautiful retreat for you. I want to help you with that freefall and landing.

Haven Writing Retreats
February 24-28
June 8-12
June 22-25
September 7-11
September 21-25
October 5-9
October 19-23


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If you sit long enough and watch…you’ll see things. Last night I saw the moon climbing trees.
And for just a moment…it got stuck.


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In the video I posted over the weekend, David Foster Wallace talks about how our society doesn’t value the art of being quiet. He says we don’t take an hour to look at a painting; we don’t sit all day with a book. We are uncomfortable with mind challenges in complex music and writing. I agree with him. For some reason, long ago, I smelled this rat and decided to devote a lot of my time to stepping into the discomfort. I sought musicians who were pushing the aesthetic like Stravinsky, Nico and the Velvet Underground, Micheal Nyman…and on the page, Kundera, Calvino, Brautigan. I’d stand in museums and watch installation art-– watched a woman suck her toe for longer than anyone wants to watch another person suck their toe. I loved that Duchamp put a urinal in a museum and called it art. I loved German Expressionism. I liked the grotesque. I sat through the eight hours of Warhol’s Chrysler building movie, Empire–- one continuous shot. I loved Ingmar Berman movies. People called my taste in art and music “weird,” my taste in movies “boring.” I took it as a compliment, denouncing the saccharin pastels of Monet’s water lilies and the living room art people chose to match the upholstery on their couches. I wanted to know what it felt like to step outside the cradle of mainstream society and be in a place of shock, wonder, ugliness, confusion, boredom and thusly, to be wide awake in those places. That’s what I wanted most: to be wide awake.

Along the way, I wrote books and got married and had children and that was extreme enough. I didn’t need to force the issue. Life became full. Self-propelled. And I stopped taking time to look into my awe. Never mind my discomfort. The washboards of life bumped me along and I got used to it. It wasn’t that I was in the cradle, as much as it was that I was going too fast, not pausing enough when wonder struck. I didn’t like that about myself. I wanted that to change.

That’s when I started paying attention to things like breathing, mental pollution, emotional choice, horses, birds. I had these practices ripe and alive in my life for a nice long time.

But in the last few years since the moment I signed a book contract, my life went full throttle. The deliberate act of taking pause seemed like extravagance. Saved for a future rainy day. It felt ornamental. Decadent. Even juvenile. I had a BIG JOB to do. I had planes to catch. I had people to see. I’d leave breathing and birds for later when things calmed down. But that was just a story I was telling myself, because the truth of it is when you kick into high gear like that, there’s a strong possibility that you are afraid of low gear. You’re afraid of that frequency. Who would you be in it? What would the map of your mind look like? Sound like? And dear God, what would you do without any buttons to push? Without your email and messages to check? Without those planes to catch. Uh-oh. You have it bad. How on earth did this happen to you? Two seconds ago, you were happily and hornily watching an eight hour shot of the Chrysler building.

Something had to be done. So, I decided to dare the discomfort again. It looked a lot different than it did in my twenties, however. Here’s what it looked like:

I found a place where my cell phone wouldn’t work, where there was no place to plug in a computer, where there were as few people as possible. I didn’t need it to be gritty or edgy for it to be uncomfortable at this stage of life. In fact, I needed it to be beautiful– as beautiful as yes, Monet’s Giverny. I needed it to play out in the fields of embarrassing riches, in fact. You see, I was so full throttle, that I’d stopped seeing beauty. Worse, I’d stopped stopping for it. It’s one thing to recognize the discomfort in ugliness, but quite another to recognize it in beauty. And to sit quietly with it.

I’ll present this as a question: When was the last time you spent the better part of a day just sitting on a bench? Not in a city, but in a garden? An empty garden? Not talking. Not messing with your cell phone or laptop? Not taking photographs. Not writing in a journal or reading a book or a newspaper. Nothing blaring in your ears. Just sitting there? Watching. Breathing. It’s hard damn work is what it is. Whatever has become of our society that it’s hard damn work? I want to do that work.

Selfish, you say? Glut. No Pilgrim’s Progress there. Must produce. Must succeed. Must conquer. Must push buttons. That’s the cradle of society really needing you to go back to sleep. Get back on the conveyor belt. Sit on a bench in an empty garden all day? That’s for cats in windowsills. Old people in rocking chairs. But…if you think about it…we do sit in one place for long amounts of time. Watching. Just not flowers blowing in the wind. Not dragonflies. Not a robin with a worm. That story is…well, boring. Isn’t it? We’d rather someone had a gun in their hand or a hand on an ass or an ass in a fast car. And I won’t even get into our current obsession with reality TV. I mean…watching people living? Can we not even bear to watch ourselves live? We’d rather be able to turn the channel. It’s so uncomfortable to not be able to turn the channel–- or get up and walk to a different bench and see how the flowers blow there and if there are different bugs and birds. I’m talking about the art of staying.

Well I did it. I sat on a bench in an empty garden for hours. And I’m telling you: it was one of the hardest things I’ve done in years. I went back the next day and took this photo. I am both proud and haunted by it. Only because I know that there is no bench in my garden. And I’m not sure I’m brave enough to put one there.


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One Woman Show

I hear all the time “I want to write a book but I don’t have time.”  Or “I want to write a book but I have small kids.”  Or “I want to write a book but I have to work fulltime.”  Or “I want to write a book but I’m afraid of what my mother will say.”  I don’t have a lot of sympathy for these comments.  If you want to do something that badly, then do it.  Find a way.  I believe in the pure intention behind the phrase “I want.”  I believe more in the act of creating.  And I believe that we are the ones that get between the two and block our own way.

I have a friend who blows me away with her clear intention and ability to create her life and thereby inspire other people to do the same.  She is transformation in motion.  Yoga teacher, life coach, actress, artist, yoga and meditation retreat leader…phenomenal presence.  I am so proud of her and I want to share what she’s up to these days:  a one woman show.  Just in case it was on your “bucket list,” here’s a word from Jennifer Schelter about how this came to be.  Hopefully it will inspire you to move outside of wishing or wanting…and into creating.  And if you’re lucky enough to be in the Philly area, go see it!

Here’s a trailer to the play

To read the full interview about the entire process of how it came to be  Click here:

What Made Me Write and Perform “Love Lessons from Abu Ghraib”?

by Jennifer Schelter

I guess, you could say, I am the Queen of transforming needless suffering in to something beautiful. And “Love Lessons from Abu Ghraib,” is just that, with a big dash of “I needed to heal my own depression.”

The process of alchemizing depression, anger and sadness into calm, forgiveness and love, is required of an artist. And I take that seriously. I am the artist of my own life. Each day I get a blank canvas. Each day I get to create who and what I will experience. I was in pain and depression after listening to one of the most eye opening experiences I’ve witnessed: Listening and meeting former torture victims. I needed to heal my self.

This play is relevant because torture doesn’t stop. You turn on the radio or TV and out it comes– tons and tons of stories and language, spewing atrocities and violence. I don’t watch or listen. I watch and read it when necessary. I’ve got enough going on between my own two ears. The average person has over 60,000 thoughts a day. 75-85% of them are disempowering and negative. I’m interested in mastering and living in the 20-25% life affirming and empowering thought zone – gratitude, laughter, gentleness, balance, vision, seeing opportunities and possibilities. I call it my “Let’s see what beauty I can create and love life” diet.

People all over the world are tortured in numerous ways. You don’t have to be in Abu Ghraib to be tortured. There are a lot of tortured souls, faking happiness, staking their lives on things that don’t sustain them, depressed, anxious, unfulfilled, not listened to, unacknowledged, conditionally loved, alienated, and isolated. If more people were unconditionally loved, supported, valued, nurtured to play, have fun, be passionate, forgive, and excited to participate in learning new ways of seeing them self and their lives, violence would shrivel like a raisin. You can’t praise and judge simultaneously. Unless we look at the subtle ways we beat our own self up, it will never stop.

Given the recent shooting in Tuscan and President Obama’s statement, “…at a time when we are far too eager to lay the blame for all that ails the world at the feet of those who happen to think differently than we do -– it’s important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we’re talking with each other in a way that heals, not in a way that wounds.”

“Love Lessons” is my way of taking a moment to talk to my self and others in a way that heals not wounds. It’s my way of forgiving this imperfect job we all have: Being human. My way of understanding and learning is to dialogue, write and study a subject until I feel transformed. Physical movement or kinesthetic learning is part of my process and part of yoga. I study to master how to transform thought into an embodied experience of feeling “divine and free” and have fun while doing it! I’m grateful for having the opportunity to be an actress, playwright, meditation, yoga teacher and life coach. These combined passions and professions have saved me and given me grace when I most needed it. I don’t know what I would do with out physical movement, creativity and Mother Nature. That combination is literally “My God” and offers me the ability to be able to sit with the darkest and lightest part of humanity and myself. The physical body, heart and mind are an alchemical vessel.

I’ve held a lot of pain over the years and I’ve learned how to transform all of it into something practical, useful and beautiful. And because of that I’m really in love with fun and humor right now. It’s my intention that students feel their own inspiration and freedom as well. I think the dark and light inform one another. But it ain’t an easy road or journey. The contrast makes for awareness of how they compliment one another. The dark grit feeds the light grace and new growth. You don’t get to heaven eating angel food cake.  Although, I’ve tried. Flowers only grow and bloom when first planted in dark soil.

Obama recently said, “And I believe that for all our imperfections, we are full of decency and goodness, and that the forces that divide us are not as strong as those that unite us.” Well, I took that statement apart and substituted “I” and “My.”

So it reads: I believe that for all my imperfections, I am full of decency and goodness, and that the forces that divide me are not as strong as those that unite me.

In Sanskrit Yoga means, “to unite”. I stand for any and all creative practices that unites a person in their own definition of goodness. And I know that how I treat my self and others is entirely up to me.

For more information:  http://www.InterActTheatre.org and www.yogaunites.org

Love Lessons Trailer


Written & Performed by Jennifer Schelter
Directed by Anne Zumbo

WHEN: January 29 – February 13, 2011

Saturdays @ 4 p.m. & Sundays @ 7p.m.
WHERE: The Adrienne, 2030 Sansom Street, Philadelphia
INFO / RESERVATIONS: InterAct Theatre Company Box Office

Phone: 215.568.8079
Online: http://www.InterActTheatre.org

Philadelphia, PAInterAct Theatre Company continues its 23rd season with the special engagement of LOVE LESSONS FROM ABU GHRAIB written and performed by Jennifer Schelter, which begins performances on Saturday, January 29 at 4:00 p.m. Inspired by interviews conducted with Iraqi prisoners of war, LOVE LESSONS offers a unique perspective on spiritual survival and how victims of trauma overcome the pain of their past while learning to move on with their lives.

In 2006, renowned Philadelphia Yoga teacher and performer, Jennifer Schelter was invited by Lierman Trust for Humanitarian Law to accompany humanitarian lawyer Susan Burke on an expedition to Istanbul, Turkey, where she collected testimony from tortured Iraqis who had been imprisoned at Abu Ghraib. Schelter’s role was to offer her expertise in mind-body connection and integral growth practices as a form of healing to the former detainees. Inspired by the improbable bravery and beauty of the stories she witnessed, Schelter used her unique artistic language, expertise in Yoga, and spiritual growth to craft LOVE LESSONS FROM ABU GHRAIB, a one-woman performance piece that chronicles not only her own personal journey but those of several Iraqi prisoners of war. Often using light-hearted humor to heighten its drama, LOVE LESSONS is a unique and touching play that examines the repercussions of torture and the different ways we attempt to heal ourselves.

Originally performed as part of the 2007 Philadelphia Philly Fringe Festival, LOVE LESSONS has earned praise from critics and audiences alike. Joy E. Stocke, executive editor of Wild River Review hailed LOVE LESSONS as, “a rare piece of theater weaving personal experience, research, and deep knowledge of yogic practice… a compelling story [that] is a testament to her gifts as an actress and writer.” Marian Robinson, host of “Philadelphia Evening Magazine,” called the play, “Extraordinary… the script was insightful, thoughtful, entertaining, illuminating, provocative, charming and everything all rolled into one.” Audience members Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter congratulated LOVE LESSONS as, “a very important message… presented in a unique, artistic and impressive way” and Elizabeth Gilbert, author of New York Times best-selling novel Eat, Pray, Love, said, “[Jennifer Schelter has] created a rapturous, captivating and somehow redeeming night of theater out of the darkest, most spiteful and shameful chapter of recent American history… a driving, impassioned, funny, innocent and riveting cry of the heart…”

To read an interview with playwright and performer Jennifer Schelter, visit:  http://www.interacttheatre.org/talkingwithjenniferschelter.htm http://www.interacttheatre.org/talkingwithjenniferschelter.htm.

February 6, 2011: Immediately following the Sunday evening performance of LOVE LESSONS, at approximately 8:15 p.m., Yoga Unites will host a panel discussion featuring experts in the field of creativity, health and wellness. Topics of discussion will include the meaning and importance of being a compassionate witness, how healing happens, the role creativity plays in the healing process, and how to cultivate and nurture creativity in the face of fear or pain. Line-up of guest speakers to be announced. The discussion is free and open to the public.



February 9 and 16, 2011: Stories That Need To Be Told: Share Your Heroes Journey, a series of workshops lead by playwright and actress Jennifer Schelter that explore the power of sharing one’s journey through storytelling, from written to spoken word. Using Schelter’s proven techniques of building humor, calm and confidence, participants will record their inner-most journey while practicing building a safe space, basic breathing and meditation, guided visualization, gentle yoga, and journaling and writing. Workshop one, entitled “Write and Embrace Your Story,” will be held on Wednesday, February 9, 7:00 – 9:00 p.m., and will culminate with participants completing a short, written piece. Workshop two, entitled “Stand and Speak Your Story,” will be held on Wednesday, February 16, 7:00 – 9:00 p.m., and will culminate in participants creating a short monologue that speaks of their heroic journey. The cost to participate is $40.00 per workshop or $60.00 for both workshops together. Reservations can be made through InterAct’s box office at 215.568.8079 or online at www.InterActTheatre.org <http://www.InterActTheatre.org/>  < <http://www.interacttheatre.org/> http://www.interacttheatre.org/> . No yoga, meditation, acting, or writing experience is necessary.

JENNIFER SCHELTER (Playwright and Performer) Called “One of the Most Inspiring People in Philadelphia” by US Airways Magazine, June 2008, “Best Yoga Instructor” by City Vote 2008, “Best Yoga Instructor 2007” by Philly Fit magazine, and “a real Goddess” by the Philadelphia Inquirer, Jennifer Schelter is an expert in mind-body well-being, observational precision and peak performance modalities that get you calm, and your focused best.

Jennifer, founder and executive director of Yoga Schelter the premiere regional yoga studio in the East Falls section of Philadelphia, is a 500-hour Yoga Alliance Certified Experienced Yoga Teacher and Teacher Training facilitator. Besides her daily teaching schedule, her corporate clients include GlaxoSmithKline, Medtronic, Wharton Business School, and University of Pennsylvania.

She is the founder of “The Radiant Retreat”, a transformative retreat to Maya Tulum, Mexico (which she leads and collaborates with writer/performer Ann Randolph). She is the visionary of Yoga Unites®, a non-profit that provides tools for well-being, self-awareness and self-expression for underserved populations such as the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society – Youth Environmental Stewardship, Philadelphia Mural Arts and Arthur Ashe Tennis Center. Her leadership directs over 1,000 enthusiasts annually at “Yoga Unites for Living Beyond Breast Cancer” on the Philadelphia Art Museum steps. The event has become the largest, regionally-beloved annual event of its kind in the country. The production is growing in leaps and bounds and produces expanded revenues each year.

In October 2009 Jennifer, along with Phyllis Bookspan, founder of RYAH Yoga and Health, co-founded An Authentic Journey into Yoga, Health and Happiness: The Creation of A Successful Life, a 200-hour RYAH/Schelter-Yoga Teacher Training. She is also the producer of the audio yoga CD, am Awake, as well as the DVD, The Art of Vinyasa Yoga.

As an actress and playwright, Jennifer performed her one-woman tour-de-force, LOVE LESSONS FROM ABU GHRAIB, to a standing ovation at the Philadelphia Fringe Festival in September 2007, the Philadelphia Arts and Democracy Conference in June 2008, and was produced by Amnesty International at the Capital Hill Arts Center, Washington, DC, Haverford College, and Eastern Amnesty International Conference in October 2009. Additionally, portions of LOVE LESSONS, along with her short story, “The Michelangelo Effect,” were published in the 2006 summer edition of Wild River Review.

A member of Actors’ Equity and the Screen Actors Guild, Jennifer originated the role of Cat in the 2006 World Premiere of THE FAMILY ROOM by Nagle Jackson at Hedgerow Theatre. In 1998 she originated the role of Cordelia in the World Premiere of TAKING LEAVE by Nagle Jackson at the Denver Center Theatre Company, where she jointly accepted the Tony Award for best regional theatre. She has also worked at the renowned Old Globe Theatre in San Diego, as well as other leading regional theatres across the country.

Jennifer has traveled to Europe, the Balkans, Asia, Southeast Asia, South America and the Caribbean photographing the local personalities, and painting watercolors of landscapes, architecture, and animals. In the summer of 1997, she was selected for Art Retreat Week on the Island of Great Spruce Head, Maine, at the home of American Artist Fairfield Porter. She has sold her work to friends and patrons alike for years; those seeking aliveness and authenticity.
After graduating from Germantown Friends School, she attended Philadelphia college of Art and University of Syracuse in Florence, Italy. She graduated both from Connecticut College with a Bachelor of Arts in Art History and Oil Painting and the University of San Diego/Old Globe Theatre Program with a Masters in Theatre.

For more information regarding her inspired yoga, meditation and writing classes, integral growth coaching, and retreats for individuals and corporate clients, visit her award winning website:

ANNE ZUMBO (Director) is pleased to work together once again with Ms. Shelter, directing LOVE LESSONS FROM ABU GHRAIB, now in its 4th incarnation. After working for Melanie Stewart Dance Theatre, Anne studied physical theatre at the renowned Ecole Philipe Gaulier in London, U.K. Upon her return, she began creating socio-political pieces that performed for the Philadelphia Fringe Festivals and collaborated with Myra Bazell to write the script for EXTREME. During that time she also directed for and presented in small theatres around Philadelphia, and the Ritz Theatre in NJ where she began her love of teaching while working with the autistic and deaf students who attended their camp. She now celebrates her 4th year working with students with disabilities at Wissahickon Charter School, the country’s only urban school with an environmental mission.


Founded in 1988, InterAct is a theatre for today’s world, producing new and contemporary plays that explore the social, political, and cultural issues of our time. InterAct’s aim is to educate, as well as entertain, its audiences, by producing world-class, thought-provoking productions, and by using theatre as a tool to foster positive social change. To date, InterAct has presented 70 mainstage productions, including 30 World Premieres, two U.S. premieres, and over 30 regional premieres. The company has received 43 Barrymore Award nominations and 16 awards. InterAct’s mainstage productions have provided work for over 500 local artists. Inaddition to the 4-play mainstage season, InterAct Theatre’s major programming includes InterAction, a program of experiential workshops and residencies in area schools that utilize theatre as a tool to illuminate pressing social problems in the community; the20/20 New Play Commissioning program, an ambitious new initiative that will award twenty new play commissions over six seasons; and New Play Development, working closely with playwrights to develop plays that adhere to the company’s mission.



Filed under A Place For Writers To Share, My Posts

Get Your Inner Chill Today!

Sometimes I don’t know how to turn it off and just BE. Water helps. But you can find it anywhere. My kids call it, appropriately so, getting your “inner chill.” May you all find a piece of that today.


Filed under City Hits, Little Hymns to Montana, My Posts

Diminutive Spires

i am a little church(no great cathedral)
far from the splendor and squalor of hurrying cities
-i do not worry if briefer days grow briefest,
i am not sorry when sun and rain make april

my life is the life of the reaper and the sower;
my prayers are prayers of earth’s own clumsily striving
(finding and losing and laughing and crying)children
whose any sadness or joy is my grief or my gladness

around me surges a miracle of unceasing
birth and glory and death and resurrection:
over my sleeping self float flaming symbols
of hope,and i wake to a perfect patience of mountains

i am a little church(far from the frantic
world with its rapture and anguish)at peace with nature
-i do not worry if longer nights grow longest;
i am not sorry when silence becomes singing

winter by spring,i lift my diminutive spire to
merciful Him Whose only now is forever:
standing erect in the deathless truth of His presence
(welcoming humbly His light and proudly His darkness)– e.e. cummings

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