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.
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?
A Natural Haven
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.
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.