Tag Archives: personal transformation

My Next Happy

772Here’s a good question for you:  What do I have of value that I can offer the world…which would earn me a consistent living?  Here’s an essay that will show you one woman’s answer.

Inspired by The Next Happy, by Tracey Cleantis.  A book (and author) I love…and that will help you deconstruct what it is to be happy and apply it to your life!

As seen on Tracey Cleantis’ Blog:

What if there’s a whole world out there waiting for you to step into, tapping its fingers and toes in anticipation?  What if it’s been beckoning you for a very long time, courting you in your dreams, teasing you in snippets of conversation with surprise strangers who say things like take care or have a great day or how are you and really mean it, when some of the main players in your lives don’t?  What if you are more powerful than you could ever imagine and your ability to be happy is just as vast?  What if the thing that is keeping you away from your happiness and your power is something you can shake off and leave in the dust like a broken flip flop, even though it feels more like a cement boot?  What happened to your dreams?  And why aren’t they coming true?  Why aren’t you happy?

Five years ago, my oldest dream came true.  After devoting decades to the writing life in a small mountain town in Montana, tending my little family, I finally had a book published.  It had a message that a lot of people wanted to hear, which grew out of my apparently-rare reaction to a marital crisis…and suddenly I had a career as a writer and a speaker, touring the country, doing big media, and speaking at large conventions.   I was scared and excited and deeply happy.  I believed in my message:  we can create a life that works no matter what hardships we face, by powerfully choosing our emotional reaction to our lives, truly embracing what it is to stay in the present moment, and taking responsibility for our own happiness.

In order to effectively be its messenger, though, I needed an affirmation to repeat in my mind and keep close to my heart.  I chose this:  I give myself permission to be exactly who I am and have it be easy.  For the most part, it worked.  Intentional words have a way of doing that.  In that season of my life, I was happier and more grounded than I’d ever been.  I was making a difference in the world doing what I loved, my marriage and my family were resuscitated, life was joyful.

A few years later, everything changed.  Sadly, my marriage needed to end, and this time even more was at stake:  my financial stability and that of my children, my family orientation, my career.  It was a mean season of post-divorce with all arrows pointing toward losing my house, public shame, and personal misery.  The rug everyone warned me about was indeed ripped out from under me and I spun in the wind of chaos and fear.  I give myself permission to be exactly who I am and have it be easy felt as far away as the rug which once supported me.  Who was I exactly without my family intact?  What was intact?  Where was my power?  Where was my joy?  My gut told me that more than any time in my entire life, if I was going to find happiness again, I needed to mine the gold inside me.  And my fear was quelled by the fact that I’d been such a “miner” for a long time.  If I hadn’t been, who knows what would have happened.

So I asked myself a powerful question:  What do I have of value that I can offer the world…which would earn me a consistent living?  Being a New York Times best-selling author doesn’t mean you are guaranteed financial stability.  Speaking gigs required me to leave my children and they needed me at home in that time of uncertainty.  It was time to get very very real.  Or lose so much of what I’d created for myself and my children.  What did I possess that people needed, in the same way they seemed to crave my book’s message and my speaking topics?

Hell-bent to find my gold, I deconstructed the questions from my speaking events and interviews.  And I realized that the number one question I was asked had nothing to do with marriage or crisis.  It had to do with Voice.  Story.  Self-acceptance.  I had written my way through a difficult time, and other people wanted to do the same.  There were people all over the globe dying to tell their stories, but they felt stuck and even desperate.

Over and over again I heard:  “Why does my story matter?  How do I find the words to tell it?  Or the time?  Is my voice even interesting or unique?  Who cares anyway…it’s all been told before.”grief

Over and over I said, “Yes, your voice is unique!  And so is your story!  No one has the same voice or the same story—it’s not possible.  And no one can tell it like you.  It matters to the world because it matters to you!”  But the lifeline that came so easily and naturally to me, was terrifying for most people to grasp…even though they wanted to, deeply.  I longed to swoop up all those seekers, bring them to Montana, and teach them what I’d been practicing for years with all my might.  To help them sit at that intuitive intersection of heart and mind and craft that is writing.  To help them know what I know:  The act of writing is a highly transformational and therapeutic tool, regardless if anyone even reads it!wf

In a moment of totally clarity I saw it:  There was a serious hole in our human existence…and I knew a way to fill it.  What if I actually did bring people to Montana, gave them the solace of the mountains, lakes, and rivers, communion with other seekers, and plugged them into a design that would have them find their voice, their stories, and set them free?  What if I led retreats?  Not just for writers, but for anyone who wants to dig deeper into their self-expression through the written word.  There’s not a soul who wouldn’t benefit from that!

And then the inner critic came in.  What cred did I have?  I’d never led a retreat.  I hadn’t really been on many retreats.  Montana was far away for most people.  Why would they bother? But as I’d instructed so many to do, I remembered that the inner critic is just a scared child who needs a nap, and I cleared my head and came to my senses:  I had something that the world needed.  And any life-changing service to humanity is worth something in the realm of financial security.  Maybe retreats could be my way to re-invention, to have time to write again, to be exactly who I was…and yes, have it be easy.847

So I opened up my computer (and my heart), and a design for a five day retreat gushed out of me, as if it had indeed been waiting for me, tapping its fingers and toes.  There was the gold!  I mined all the things that made my writing practice work.  There would be guided writing prompts that interrupted the inner critic and invited people to play like children in the themes and stories of their lives.  There would be one-on-one mentoring with me.  The chance to give and receive feedback on projects, at all levels and genres.  There would be delicious nourishing group meals, and opportunities to get out of your head and into your bodies—long walks, yoga, horses—my three lifelines outside of writing that kept it balanced.  There would be time to write in solitude.  And lasting community long after the retreat in various forums and consulting opportunities.  A workshop, retreat, and community all in one.  Heaven.  So I called it something very close:  Haven.  Haven Writing Retreats.

Before my inner critic could wake up from her nap and tell me how delusional I was, I put it on Facebook:  “Anyone want to come on a writing retreat with me in Montana?”  And in two hours, twenty-four people signed up.

I had no place to hold Haven, no price point, no experience, and no team.  Four months later, I was leading a writing retreat that would soon be ranked in the top three writing retreats in the country.  Four years later, I lead eight retreats a year, have worked with almost four hundred people, and been featured on many radio shows and media venues for this powerful retreat experience that has changed lives over and over again.  It has certainly changed mine.  My life is stable.  My children are thriving.  And in it all, I fell in love with someone who meets me in a way I never knew possible.  I am happy.

It came from asking myself a simple question:  How can I serve the world by being exactly who I am?  By mining what I have to offer?  And offering it in the way only I can?

So…if you are staring down the barrel of a major life shift and the inevitable re-invention that must come from it, why not have your re-invention reflect your deepest truth, and your biggest dreams?  Ask yourself:  What makes me happy?  How do I already show up for it in my life?  How can I share that with the world?  If you do…you just might find your way to a world of happiness…by being exactly who you are.  You might find your Next Happy.

Montana February Haven Retreat, 2015 "I write in a solitude born out of community." -Terry Tempest Williams

Haven Retreats Montana 2015 Schedule
September 9-13 (full)
September 23-27 (only a few spaces left)
October 7-11 (full)
October 21-25 (only a few spaces left)

Now Booking for 2016:

February 24-28

June 1-5

June 15-19

 

 

 

 

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We Must Hunger for Our Voice!

How do we commit to our creativity regularly?  Powerfully?  With a hunger that we sate…over and over again?  How do we find our unique voice and give ourselves permission to let it roar out of us?

Helping you find the answer to these questions is my central mission these days.

If you’re wondering what a Haven Retreat is all about, hear it straight from its proud founder!  Come to Montana and share what over 300 from all over the world have experienced.  You do NOT have to be a writer to come to Haven.  Just a seeker…

2015 Haven Schedule:

June 3-7 (full with wait list)
June 17-21 (full with wait list)
September 9-13 (filling fast)
September 23-27 (filling fast)
October 7-11
October 21-25

Radio show with Kink FM host Sheila Hamilton


LMWritingHaven

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The Inner Critter: Awareness First. The Writing Will Follow.

inner critter

As featured in Huffington Post

I recently had a woman come on my Haven Writing Retreat and say, “I learned more in five days of Haven than in my entire MFA program…and I’m still paying it off six years later!”  I hear this sort of overture all too often, and it concerns me.  I also hear, “I’m still chiseling my way out of my college Creative Writing classes and some of the emotional damage I endured there.”  Same goes for many writing workshops that people take in hopes of learning more about their unique voice and how to cultivate it through craft, feedback, and the help of a strong teacher.  It takes guts, putting yourself out there like that.  And it saddens me that while there are so many incredible teachers and writing programs…so many people come in to an instructional writing environment with their hearts in their hands, shivering a bit in their boots, taking a leap of faith with the belief that they will be held responsibly by the experience and the people in it…only to have their guts gutted.  Not on my watch!

My approach is to help people take that heart-in-the-hand and turn it into heart language…and that is a very delicate process.  At my retreats, feedback is something that comes second.  First, we must learn to have the courage to find our most white hot triggering subjects, to free-fall into them, to surface with words on the page and share them out loud without scrutiny– to simply have them heard, to trust that in-so-doing we are helping others to cultivate their ear, and to finally understand once and for all that our voice is unique.  It’s real.  It matters.  And that massive act doesn’t start with creating something that we splay open for people to feast on or send back to the kitchen.

It all begins with self-awareness.

Sounds lofty?  It isn’t.  I hear over and over people saying, “I’m stuck.”  Or “Why does my writing even matter?”  Or “Who do I think I am?  Nobody asked me to write.  It’s self-indulgent drivel at best.”  Or “I’m not good enough.”  And do you know who is delivering up those words?  The inner critic.  (I like to call it the Inner Critter.)   Most of us are not even aware of that voice that lives inside us, viciously so.

Unfortunately, I have been in a long-term abusive relationship with my Inner Critter for years.  My Inner Critter poses as an Ivy League tweed-clad professor, and I tend to assign immediate power to anyone boasting to have a “smart” bespectacled academic Joyce-ean opinion, especially about writing.  For years, I allowed that snivelly old sod to rule the roost in my writing chair.  Then one day I heard someone say, “You wouldn’t treat your worst enemy the way you treat yourself in your own mind.”  And I realized:  That’s who I’ve become.  That’s what’s in my way. I am my own worst enemy.  I hadn’t even been aware of it until that moment.  It wasn’t that I ever, for one second, stopped writing.  It was that I hadn’t given myself permission to understand that no one on earth can write like I can.  It’s not possible.  Each writer’s voice is as unique as a snowflake.  Or a grain of sand.  Or a finger print.  Or your Grandma’s apple pie.

So I declared war.

For awhile, I tried to exorcise the Inner Critter into the Inner Critter Sh**ter, deeming her the enemy and treating her thusly.  That didn’t work.  Because even though she was a confluence of many people and institutions of my life, I’d created her, invited her to live in my mind, and fed her the fat along with the lean.  Declaring war on her meant that I was in a war with myself.  Not a great place from which to tease the muse.  The muse just stood there chewing gum twirling her keys, waiting for me to get a clue.  Turns out, she has really great keys to really great worlds as long as I know how to take care of what goes on in my mind.  The inherent problem with this was that not only hadn’t I been aware of how I was treating myself in my mind, I also had become used to it.  And habits are hard to break.  In all honesty, the Inner Critter liked living in my mind (why wouldn’t she—such five star accommodations?) and frankly, she was a better fighter than I was.

Haven Patron Saint-- SIster in Words

Haven Patron Saint– Guarding the Muse from the Inner Critter

So I took another tack:  I decided that the Inner Critter was really just a scared little girl that lives inside me with a large megaphone to my heart.  And if my daughter came in to my room in the middle of the night raging over a bad dream I wouldn’t kick her out.  I’d hug her, love her, calm her until she went back to sleep.  I tried it, and it worked!  I learned to daily lullaby my Inner Critter into a long nap so that my muse and I could unlock the world of possibility I so longed to explore.  To enter, and to play!  We knew how to do this when we were children.  We just lose our way a little (or a lot) as we go.

I believe that we need to begin here if we are to paint that world with the broad strokes of a Creator all the way to the exacting Pointillism that shows the holy in the mundane—the nouns our hands touch.  It takes heart-in-the-hand-self-aware-guts to go at this thing called the Writing Life.  And once we have all of this in its right place…we can start to know what Picasso meant when he said, “If they took away my paints I’d use pastels.  If they took away my pastels I’d use crayons. If they took away my crayons I’d use pencils. If they stripped me naked and threw me in prison I’d spit on my finger and paint on the walls.”  Or what Michelangelo meant when he said that the sculpture was in the stone; it was his job to release it.

Once we are in that free place of creation, we begin to hunger for our voices.  Why?  Because we are in a natural flow.  Once we are in that flow, it even gets easy.  We’re no longer in our way.  We understand that with every single thing we write, there is an inherent problem.  Of course there is.  Our job is to find the problem and solve it.  The Inner Critter can’t scare us with this challenge any more.  We understand that with every story and every character, real or imagined, there is conflict, and that conflict is blessed terrain.  It’s where all the good questions and good answers live.  Once we have solved a few of these writerly “problems” and rolled around in the conflict that they embody…what was once scary now becomes our guide into the great wilderness of the world we are drawing with our words.  Then we are ready to give and receive feedback for our work.   Then we can get into the elements of style like plot arc, characterization, narrative drive.  Then we can get into the scenes and breathe our characters alive.  Then we can allow their minds to be in the clouds, and their feet to be on the ground.  Then we can show exactly who they are in the way they make a bed.  We don’t need to tell a thing.  It’s all shown.  It’s all there.  We’ve released the sculpture from the stone.  And the heart of the world we’ve created…beats all on its own.

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Create Community– You Don’t Have to Do it Alone!

Montana February Haven Retreat, 2015 "I write in a solitude born out of community." -Terry Tempest Williams

Montana February Haven Retreat, 2015

as seen on Women Writers, Women’s Books

“I write in a solitude born out of community”—Terry Tempest Williams

I am home from leading a five day writing retreat in the woods of Montana where hundreds of people have come in the last three years to dig deeper into their creative self-expression on the page. That is my invitation to them. That is my only promise: we will dig deeply and I will keep it a loving, safe, and nurturing community. My call: Find your voice. Set it free. You do not have to be a writer to come to a Haven Retreat. Only a seeker. Come.

Look into these faces, these eyes, these smiles. These were strangers on a Wednesday, who journeyed to Montana from hundreds…thousands of miles in every direction.

This photograph was taken on Saturday night, three days later. This is what can happen when people gather to create in community, held safely by someone who knows what it is to use writing as a practice, a prayer, a meditation, a way of life, and sometimes a way to life.

I will keep doing this work until I answer the question I have asked my entire adult life: Do I have to do this alone? Is there anyone out there who cares? Is there anyone out there who can help me?

Be careful if you want to go on a writing retreat. I designed the retreat that I would want to go on, so Haven offers no “easy” way to get published, no bullet points to follow for success, no slick method to find your voice, no guru to worship. No gift shop, no 5-step DVD.

LMWritingHaven

Haven offers community, support, inspiration, and a place to take yourself apart a bit and weave yourself back together, new…through heart language. It is the most important work, outside of what I have birthed in my children and my own written stories, that I have ever done.

I didn’t know about writing retreats when I claimed my life as a writer in 1988, fresh out of college. I thought I had to do it alone. I didn’t trust community to understand my yearning, my craving, to make sense of this beautiful and heartbreaking thing called life. I didn’t trust community to give me permission to look into the dark corners and shine a light on an otherwise dim place.

My writing was for me. Alone. And I couldn’t understand why the product wasn’t landing in people’s hearts. I longed to be published and to every sinking sun I begged: Please let me be published to wide acclaim.

And then one day, after years of struggle, writing book after book, story after story, essay after essay, and always a journal nearby, I asked myself why. Why? Why this pain from something I was devoting my life to? At that time, I had learned my craft well enough to land an excellent New York agent who had gained the attention of some major publishing houses. There was hope that my words would land in readers’ laps to a significant degree. But things kept breaking down in the end, and I was bereft.

So I looked into a blank page, as was my practice, my most safe and dangerous place, and asked m

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yself: Why do I write? This is what came out:I write to shine a light on a dim or otherwise pitch black corner to provide relief for myself and others. It floored me. Relief? Service? Not just Sense? That changed everything.

If I was writing to help, I needed a new perspective. And that perspective felt spacious. Expansive. Full of possibility. I had already cultivated a hunger for my seeking spirit on the page. In-so-doing, maybe it was possible to help others do the same just by relating with my raw real journey. And THAT’S when I got published. Well-published.

New York Times best-selling author published. Suddenly I was on major media, driving around in limos, going to the book signings of my dreams. It was powerful, but nothing in comparison to the act of creating. And I got it: What we must long for…is our voice. Our craft. Our way of seeing…and what our stories want to say. It was the best news I could imagine because we can control that! I couldn’t wait to get back home and back to my writing.

The poet Rilke says, “Go to the limits of your longing.” That longing, for me, is in the creation, not the product. It’s in the process. The work. We can control the work. That’s it. Success and failure are myths. That is the greatest relief I’ve known and why it occurred to me one day to lead writing retreats. If I am an authority on anything, it’s how to do the work. How to cultivate your own unique voice and become hungry for it.

To show up for it every day and find out what it has to say. We are so caught up in the supposed-to-be and the should and the perfection of it all that we forget what this writing thing is all about: it’s in the ability to give ourselves permission to put our hearts in our hands. To see where we are in our own way, and truly feel our flow. To go where it’s natural, not forced. To have it be easy. How about that? Easy? Breathe into the groundlessness of that and live there for a moment. Feels good, doesn’t it.

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A woman on my last retreat took that breath one morning, sun streaming in through the Montana winter skies, and said it so perfectly: “There is a way to use my head if I let it follow my heart.” She looked around the room and smiled at each of us. Born out of community, yes. And held by sacred solitude.

Please, if you hunger for your voice, if you need permission to speak it, if you value the transformational tool that is the written word, consider giving yourself the unstoppable experience of writing in community.

The next Haven Retreat is at the incredible Ranch at Rock Creek

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April 29th-May 3rd

For more info, email:  Laura@lauramunsonauthor.com


 

 

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