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Retreat. Re-invent. One woman’s story.

Come on a Haven Retreat in Montana!   (ranked in the top five writing retreats in the US!)

Just a few spots left for:

September 10-14
September 24-28
October 8-12
October 22-26

Latonia-18-copy-400x250

For whatever reason– call it the Leo/Virgo cusp which says, “The great strength of Leo/Virgos is in their creativity and attention to detail, and their desire to be of service,” or chalk it up to a lifetime of creative self-expression on the page and a deep yearning to help people know what I know:  writing is a therapeutic tool that should be up there with diet and exercise in the way of preventative wellness. It doesn’t really matter. I am simply fiercely hungry to create, and fiercely driven to help. So when I got an email from one of my Haven Retreat alums last week, I wept with joy and I called my kids into my office: “THIS is why Mommy leads retreats. THIS.” Then I told them about Latonia. She says it in her own words best:

“I saw Laura at a women’s conference in Boston where she spoke about getting unstuck by getting out of your own way and self-expression.  At this event, I learned of the Haven Writing Retreat. Hearing Laura speak was eye opening for me at a time when I was soul searching for joy in my life. Even though I had a month old baby and finances were a challenge, I took a big risk and attended the retreat. What Haven provided was an outlet of dedicated time for me to reconnect with my own self-expression through writing. Laura’s passion for writing and the love for her work made me feel comfortable amongst a diverse group—some professional writers, some just starting out, some with project ideas, and others who had only written in personal journals, like me. Haven made me realize the power of my words and how my journaling has made a meaningful difference in my life over the years. My experience left such a lasting impression on me I was inspired to share my joy for journaling with the world and started a new career through a business called Let’s Write Life. When I signed up, I was told that Haven would change my life…and it truly did!”

–Latonia Francois, MA – Owner of Let’s Write Life

1491465_10151726883476266_817774411_oI contacted Latonia immediately and asked her if she’d do this Question and Answer in hopes that it might inspire people out there to tune in to what they love, take a strong, brave stand for it, especially in the field of writing. I believe that writing heals, and so does Latonia. Here is our conversation:

Question and Answer with Latonia Francois (Haven Retreat Alum)

What role has writing played in your life?

I never considered myself to be writer, but journaling is something I have always done from early in my childhood. It’s always been a lifeline that has brought light to every situation.

How specifically has the process of journaling helped you?

When I journal, I escape the “process” of life. All the routines that make up our days, occupy our time, spend our money, give us joy, cause us stress, or even make us feel our best…I escape it through journaling and arrive to a place that only involves…me.

I gain clarity through my journaling, peace of mind, and joy through my own self-expression. When I am down, I release stress through the “power of the pen,” lol.

What made you take the leap and come on a Haven Writing Retreat?

I was at place in my life where I was resisting a change I felt I needed and really wanted the space and time to soul search. When I learned about Haven, I was at a Woman’s Conference expecting the best out of it and that’s when I sat in your (Laura’s) workshop and was really taking in everything you were saying about “Being Stuck and Getting Out of Your Own Way.” I was so inspired from the workshop and the questions of self-reflection that you shared, I said I needed more of this and took a flyer for Haven Retreat that just so happened to be starting the very next day. I went home and the workshop stayed on my mind so much, I had to make attending the retreat happen, and now the rest is history.Journal-_Fotor-400x250

What were some of your obstacles in taking that stand for yourself?

Attending the retreat was certainly unexpected for me. I had just had a baby. She was only 3 weeks old at the time. I hadn’t even been away from her at all up until the women’s conference, so this was a hard decision in itself to leave my husband, my toddler, and the new baby for the duration of the retreat. In my mind I knew I wanted to give myself the space to mentally move forward in my life in a joy filled way, but I wasn’t allowing myself to do that while at home meeting the demands of my family and household responsibilities.

How did your “yes” voice win out?

Honestly, with the unconditional support of my husband, my “yes” voice won! We both agreed my well-being was most important for me, my family, and my next phase of life. The last year leading up to the retreat was pretty difficult and I needed time to de-stress, reflect, restore, and work on me. I needed “me-time.”

How did your experience at Haven inspire you to create Let’s Write Life?

I was soul searching for joy in my life and took a leap of faith to attend. While on the retreat, I journaled making every effort to bring what was inside my heart out on paper. The exercises and activities were structured in a way that allowed me to not only write, but to HEAR the words on heart. Attending Haven made me realized the power of my words and how much journaling has ALWAYS made a difference in my life. Haven left such a lasting impression on me, I was inspired to share my joy for journaling with the world and started a new career through Let’s Write Life. Relationships I built with others in the group was also inspiring and it was comforting to know we were all there discovering something new about ourselves. When I signed up, I was told Haven would change my life…and it did!

What do you hope people will gain from working with you?

I hope that people would hear my life story and be empowered by it. I believe that your best story is your life story. That’s my inspirational message I share with everyone because there were times in my life I thought I wasn’t going to make it or ever achieve the level of happiness that I desired, but those dark times are the very moments that have empowered me. Many times people get stuck because life challenges prevent them from taking leaps of faith to move forward or to let go and discover what they are truly capable of.

Tell us some details about the Let’s Write Life method?

Through Let’s Write Life I share a self-empowering journey through a specific and unique journaling technique that brings healing through writing.
As journaling has played a pretty meaningful role in my life, what you’ll find with me is that journaling is at the heart of everything I do personally so it only makes sense to bring that into each Let’s Write Life experience. My life story is the guiding force behind all the topics I cover from self-empowerment, overcoming depression, healing from family hurt, business tragedy, and coping with the transitions of life. From my own journaling, I have developed some pretty awesome journaling techniques that allowed me to overcome life challenges and achieve happiness, so Let’s Write Life allows anyone to explore the possibilities of journaling.

Who would greatly benefit from your work?

I am empowering youths, parents, individuals, business owners, elderly, veterans and anyone that needs encouragement, wants to begin a self-empowering life journey to discover true joy, or just loves to journal or wants to explore the possibilities of journaling. My hope is to bring my workshops into education programs, wellness and family centers, and other places that support personal development.

What advice would you give to people who have a dream?

When I think about a dream I’m reminded of this quote I really love, which I found online that says, “Dreams are illustrations from the book your soul is writing about you.” Dreams are apart of life. Everyone has them. The decision to achieve them is up to YOU. Let Your Dreams Empower You.

What’s Your Story?
Your best story is your life story.
Start Writing Yours.

Let’s Write Life
Learn more about Latonia’s personal story of healing to happiness through speaking engagements, workshops, and one-on-one sessions.

Learn More: http://letswritelife.com/lets-write/
Work With Me: http://letswritelife.com/work-with-me/

Latonia Francois
www.LetsWriteLife.com
FACEBOOK: https://www.facebook.com/letswritelife
WomanLeadership1

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Retreat Season: A Time to be Mindful

As featured on the front page of Huffington Post 50
dock_2Mindfulness is on the map.  Time Magazine ran it on its cover last January:  “The Mindful Revolution.”  The Chicago Tribune headlined it:  Use mindfulness to pull yourself out of a funk.  An article in The New York Times urges us to use mindfulness and meditation as a powerful resource in healthy living.  The Washington Post challenges us to be mindful at work.  The Huffington Post offers 5 mindful things to do every day.  And Forbes touts mindfulness as a tool for Success.  (And we all know what Forbes means when they talk about $success$.)  It’s like a miracle or something.  Mindfulness has been my dearest pursuit for as long as I can remember.  I just didn’t know what word to attach to it.  And maybe that was because I was fairly positive that mainstream society wouldn’t support it.  I’ve never been very good at being called names.  So in an effort to lessen the offense, I decided to call myself a Writer.  And I moved to Montana where nobody seemed to care one way or another.

I have spent the last 25 years living in Montana, writing with all my mindful might.  The natural world is the perfect stage to develop this practice, this prayer, this meditation, this way of life, and sometimes this way to life.  I fiercely believe that creative self-expression on the page should be up there with diet and exercise as a therapeutic tool in the realm of preventative wellness…whether or not it adds up to a published work.  Writing is the best way I know to process this beautiful and heartbreaking thing called life.  And nature has been my best writing (mindfulness) teacher, calling me to retreat into my most sacred, quiet, deliberate place and find the wilderness of my words.

This time of year is a loyal reminder of the power of retreating into that still place.   As summer winds down, my muse steps out of the huckleberry bushes and mountain lakes, stretches and notices the trajectory of things.  Like dragonflies on screens.  And Monarchs on Echinacea.  And bats hanging in eaves.  This is the time of year when I stop the flurry of my summer check list, and start to imagine the world white again.  Dormant.  Where I get still, the world sleeps, the woodstove teases ideas into words which turn into stories, and most important, morph into understanding.

Late summer’s corner into autumn is the perfect time to abide with the rhythms of the natural world.  To pay attention to how it prepares slowly, methodically, mindfully, for that dormancy.  Nothing is an accident.  Every winged thing knows that everything counts, especially the ones who stay.  Every hibernating creature is taking stock, making sure it has just the right kind of burrow with the right kind of egress.  I follow their lead, preparing for a winter of words.

It’s the same every year.  After months of ignoring the stacks in my house, the clutter in my closets, the flung grenades in my garage, I find myself hungry to clean it all out.  I go through my pantry, making sure I have the basics:  flour, sugar, clean Mason jars for the jam and canned tomatoes I’ll put up in a few weeks.  I gather the gardening tools which have been too long leaning against fences, hose them down, return them to their home in the shed.  And my office—I divide the things that I thought would matter from the things that do matter—trash the former, file the latter.  In other words, I throw away a lot.

All of this is in anticipation of autumnal work which I have learned is essential to my winter work.  Autumn is the time to prime the pump of my creative flow.  Prime it so that it will flow through deep freeze.  Autumn is the time for mindfulness at its best:  It’s the time for retreat.

With the first hint of chill, I know that it’s time to retreat into that free zone which summer has procured.  I sleep with my windows wide open to let the night air roll over me, hoping that it will filter into my dreams and fuel my muse.  I keep my journal close to my bed, and I wake up early and open it, feeling my words sift through my mind’s fingers like the larch needles that will fall in early October.  I let them come.  I don’t think about how they might stack up.  I don’t need them to add up to anything other than freedom.  Permission.  Hunger.  Need.  The work will come in winter.  For now it’s time to stretch my mind, loosen what has lodged there in the summer months, let it flow.

Where do we get this free zone in life?  Where is pure expression without scrutiny ever exercised in our lives?  When I am in this corner season, I am less interested in the words, and more interested in where they come from.  It’s like a portal place.  An opening deep in the forest where I used to imagine the animals and fairies and teddy bears went in the nighttime to dance around bonfires.  I believed in that place as a little girl.  When I am finding and releasing words in this way, I am that little girl again.  We all need to be that child.  Children know that freedom is more than a high concept or a goal or that it comes with a cost.  They know that it is a place inside us and they know they have to access it in order to do everything else that constitutes living.

That’s what writing is for me.  That free zone.  That place behind the words and stories.  And that’s what I want other people to know.  It’s not unlike the birds and chipmunks preparing for winter.  It’s taking stock.  It’s finding the basics.  It’s procuring survival.  It is a retreat into self.  I believe in retreats as a vital way to tap into that creative self-expression on the page.  I know I need them and I believe other people do too.  So in the spirit of what I have been practicing for many years, mindful writing, I started Haven Retreats.

This fall, forty brave “grown-ups” will come to Montana to dig deeply into that wilderness that lives in them.  Some will call themselves “writers.”  Some will not.  Some will have stories they want to write.  Some will simply hope for words to come and to meet them on the page like new friends.  It’s my job to lead them to their words by inspiring them to go places they would not likely go on their own.  To facilitate an experience for them that they can walk away with and weave into their daily lives.  When people do this sort of work, they become aware of who they are; that portal place in the woods where they dance around bon-fires, unabashed.

The act of going on a retreat is not woo woo.  Leaving our daily lives behind and retreating into our primal rhythms, our purest flow, has been done since the beginning of time.  The Native Americans went on Vision Quests.  Jesus went to the desert.  Buddha went to the Bo tree.   Muhamad went to a cave.  From those retreats came stories and words.  Wise words that have lasted ages and profoundly informed how our civilization endures.  Mindfulness, especially on a retreat, is ancient practice.  It’s no small surprise then, that our country’s major publications consider this important “news.”  With the stresses of our current world, people are understanding the value of what we have lost and what nature does intuitively.   Mindfully.  Deliberately.  Creating ourselves over and over again.  And that, indeed, is miraculous.

 

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Haven Retreats in the top five! Come explore your unique voice with me in Montana!

2014 Haven Writing Retreats in gorgeous Whitefish, Montana
September 10-14 (one spot left)
September 24-28 (FULL)
October 8-12 (limited space)
October 22-26 (limited space)

email Laura for more info: laura@lauramunsonauthor.com

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Testimonial: Haven was more than I expected. I knew I’d get so much out of it. I got that and more. My intention in attending Haven was to free myself as a writer. Wow did it loosen the chains! I’m working on a book and am experiencing all the attendant self-doubt and stymie, having never written one before. I’d never even shared my writing before Haven. I’ve never in fact admitted to myself I am a writer. Through Haven I have a confidence I’ve never had, and renewed motivation, not to mention some insightful technical and industry guidance. I can now say with assurance, I am a writer, no matter if I’m published or if I just write for enjoyment. Above all, the one-on-one time with Laura was priceless. To have someone of Laura’s accomplishment and talent read my work and offer feedback was a rare and invaluable opportunity. It is a ‘must-do’ if you attend Haven. From structure, to voice, to engaging the reader, Laura helped me find my way. The insight she offered informs and energizes my writing even after Haven. The class exercises helped free my writing and encouraged me to actually share it with others. What a fantastic way to help you get out of your own way. Those group exercises were a safe and free zone to just play, as were the evening readings. Not everyone at Haven considers his or herself a writer, so there was a wonderful diversity of work and commentary in our group sessions. The different intentions, perspectives, and life experiences made the time together that much more powerful. Everyone brought and left with something different. As Laura once said to me, “Haven meets you where you need to be met.” She couldn’t have been more right. I don’t know how long Laura will continue to offer Haven and especially the one-on-one time, but I count myself lucky to have benefited from her total generosity of spirit, talent, counsel and passion. Thank you Laura! Thank you Haven!– Heidi Knippa, Austin, TX

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Haven– Los Cabos– one “E” away from Heaven

bruno_3We hear the phrase “if you build it, they will come.” I take that to heart. I’ve built a lot of things in my life from scratch. Sometimes the soufflé doesn’t rise and the cookies burn. But sometimes my raw efforts meld into a delicious concoction, and last week in Los Cabos, Mexico, I swallowed it whole at the Hotel El Ganzo.

This hotel is dedicated to promoting the arts and artists, offering residencies, as well as being a fabulous boutique hotel gem in the more quiet part of San Jose del Cabo. (about 40 minutes from Cabo San Lucas)

I came early to have a personal writing retreat after a long Montana winter, and then lead a Haven retreat there with an intimate group of inspiring retreaters who swallowed the experience whole too. Ocean breezes coming through our modern, clean-lined classroom, lunches at the beach club and Container café with complimentary boat shuttle across the marina, a roof-deck infinity pool and bar, and our opening and closing ceremonies in a state-of-the art recording studio in the womb-like basement of the hotel.

It is rare to meet people who can combine top quality service with a commitment to promoting the Arts without it being underground/indie or exclusive, and El Ganzo delivered in spades. I’ve been leading retreats in all sorts of places in the last few years, mostly in Montana where I live. This was a truly rare Haven locale and whether or not you are interested in attending one of my retreats, I encourage you to build what your dreams want to build. And to believe that if you build “it,” “they” will indeed come.

Here’s a Q & A which might inspire you, replete with local, off-the-beaten-path info for your next trip to Baja:

Q: Welcome to El Ganzo, Laura! We are honored that you chose to lead your esteemed Haven Writing Retreats with us. Tell us how you found us.
A: I have been leading my Haven Retreats in the US, mostly in Montana where I live, and after working with hundreds of people in the rugged wilderness of the mountains, I wanted to take Haven to the ocean. And I wanted to do it at a place that would offer comfort as well as inspiration for people who are doing this powerful work. A local friend told me that El Ganzo offers a truly unique boutique hotel experience, and immediately in my research, I knew that with El Ganzo’s commitment to supporting the arts and artists, this would be the perfect place for Haven Mexico. I also was looking for a place that was relatively easy to get to, and even from my remote part of Montana, I still got here faster than it takes to get to New York!
Q: Tell us about the Haven Retreat experience.
A: Haven retreats are NOT for writers specifically. They are for anyone who wants to dig deeper into their creative self-expression. We have four intensive days of class, workshops, and activities that encourage people to go places they might never go in the realm of expression on the page. This sort of work causes deep personal transformation. I’ve seen Haven change lives over and over again!


Q: How has El Ganzo and this part of Cabo inspired you so far?
A: I’ve been to San Jose del Cabo before, and I love its vibe with its historical village, art galleries, great restaurants— from a small taco stand to fine dining, organic Farmer’s Market, Thursday night Art Walk, fishing culture, beautiful beaches. I like to stay off the tourist track and find more local things to do. In just the first few days here I’ve found deep inspiration both personally, and for my Haven retreats:
• I took a bike ride from El Ganzo to an incredible Sculpture Garden which inspired me to create a writing prompt to use on the Haven Retreat inspired by the surrealist Leonora Carrington.
• Went to the beach-front fishing pavilion where fishermen were bringing in the catch of the day, so fresh that the color of the Dorado still had some of its vibrant blue and yellow. I’ve always thought it such a powerful metaphor that as the Dorado is hunting, and/or fighting for its life, its color becomes more vibrant—almost electric, and then as it dies, it loses its color. To see the fish in the midst of this process inspired another writing prompt to use at Haven.
• Spent the morning at the local organic Farmer’s Market, reveling in the color of the produce—the tomatoes, squash blossoms, radishes, zucchini… We don’t have a lot of color in Montana in the winter, and this was a techno-color feast my eyes dearly needed. Sipping on Mango juice felt about as decadent as anything I can remember in recent history!
• Bought two pieces of art: one at the Farmer’s Market, a print of a 57 pound Dorado on a long swath of muslin, created by local artist Lyle Brunson …which seemed almost like a totem experience after my time at the fishing pier. (we will also use this fish print at Haven!) And at the Art Walk in San Jose, a painting of a woman surrounded by vines with a feather nest crowning her head. She is painted over the text from an ornithology book. It looks so much like my logo and what it feels to be a retreat facilitator, creating and holding the space for people to gain greater self-awareness by digging deeply into their self-expression on the page…that I’m calling her our Haven Patron Saint, Sister in Words. She will sit on our Haven classroom table for inspiration from now on.
• Enjoyed the velvety voice and soothing guitar of the local singer/song-writer Jaimie Martinez at the INCREDIBLE El Ganzo Sunday brunch! I bought all three of his CD’s and have been writing with his beautiful songs in the background. He’s like the Mexican Cat Stevens. Hung out in the El Ganzo basement state-of-the-art recording studio with its creator and curator, the musician Mark Rudin. We shared notes about how to ride the wave of creativity—they might take you places you never dreamed. Mark, a classically trained musician from California, and me, a writer from Montana…both of us, in addition to doing our own work, find ourselves in the powerful position of shepherding other people’s voices and styles. It’s work we both hold dear. You can enjoy this talented musician at El Ganzo on Thursday nights.  And met with the talented film-maker, Bruno Lopez Bancalari Regueiro from Mexico city who kindly shot a Haven video on premise.  (to be shared soon!)


Q: What you are doing is very unique, especially for a New York Times best-selling author. Tell us more about what it’s like to lead your Haven retreats, as a writer.
A: The writing life can be very insular. Writers, as with all artists, deal with a lot of rejection and it can be gut-wrenching. I’ve been writing for my entire adult life and I have lived in the trenches of “failure” and the altitude of “success” and I have learned that it’s all myth. The only real thing is the work. I know how to do my work. I like to say that writing is my practice, my prayer, my meditation, my way of life and sometimes my way to life. I think that creative self-expression should be up there with diet and exercise as far as lifelines go…and I want to help other people find this lifeline. I’m on a mission to help shift the tortured artist paradigm, to the empowered creative person’s reality!
Q: We are looking forward to hosting your Haven retreats. They are perfect match for the El Ganzo mission. Thank you for finding us!
A: I couldn’t be more thrilled. The staff here is so generous, kind, present—all the things people on retreat need to nurture them as they embark on this intense journey of self. The work we do at Haven requires courage, vulnerability, honesty, open-heartedness and much more. It is sacred ground when a group of people who might never meet each other in their regular lives, gather to take this stand for themselves through their creativity. I am careful with this sacred ground, making sure it will provide the nurturing and inspiring climate for my retreat attendees. El Ganzo and the people who breathe it alive are perfect for Haven. Dare I say, one “E” away from heaven!
Q: How can people learn more about your writing, speaking, and retreats and specifically who are they for?
A: Go to my website: www.lauramunson.com! I’ll see you there!

Testimonial:
Haven was more than I expected. I knew I’d get so much out of it. I got that and more.

My intention in attending Haven was to free myself as a writer. Wow did it loosen the chains! I’m working on a book and am experiencing all the attendant self-doubt and stymie, having never written one before. I’d never even shared my writing before Haven. I’ve never in fact admitted to myself I am a writer. Through Haven I have a confidence I’ve never had, and renewed motivation, not to mention some insightful technical and industry guidance. I can now say with assurance, I am a writer, no matter if I’m published or if I just write for enjoyment.

Above all, the one-on-one time with Laura was priceless. To have someone of Laura’s accomplishment and talent read my work and offer feedback was a rare and invaluable opportunity. It is a ‘must-do’ if you attend Haven. From structure, to voice, to engaging the reader, Laura helped me find my way. The insight she offered informs and energizes my writing even after Haven.

The class exercises helped free my writing and encouraged me to actually share it with others. What a fantastic way to help you get out of your own way. Those group exercises were a safe and free zone to just play, as were the evening readings. Not everyone at Haven considers his or herself a writer, so there was a wonderful diversity of work and commentary in our group sessions. The different intentions, perspectives, and life experiences made the time together that much more powerful. Everyone brought and left with something different. As Laura once said to me, “Haven meets you where you need to be met.” She couldn’t have been more right.

I don’t know how long Laura will continue to offer Haven and especially the one-on-one time, but I count myself lucky to have benefited from her total generosity of spirit, talent, counsel and passion. Thank you Laura! Thank you Haven!– Heidi Knippa, Austin, TXIMG_0995

Top photo credit:  Bruno Lopez Bancalari Regueiro

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Haven Blog Series Winner

Thanks to all of you who have taken a stand for your creative self-expression on the page and come to Haven, whether in Montana or other inspiring places like our upcoming Cabo Haven in April!  And there’s still room on our fall retreats, but they are filling fast…

Thank you also to those of you who wrote about your Haven experience in my Winter Haven Blog series while I worked on my novel.  Haven was so honored to host your heart language.   Hopefully your words inspired others to take the brave step that you did and come to Haven!

The votes are in and the winner is:

Maria Rodgers O’Rourke.  May we always use the “pretty pages” whatever “pretty” is to us.  One thing I know for sure:  whenever and wherever we put pen to page…it is sacred ground.  Here is a re-post of her lovely piece:

Haven by Maria Rodgers O’Rourke

Here’s the story of when I lugged a stack of notebooks across the country in the dead of winter, headed to Whitefish, Montana and the Haven Retreat.

I brought two of them (black and white composition books) to our first writing session. Like a kid at a new school, I hugged them tightly and tried to look confident. I left a Smash journal, filled with artsy-decorated blank pages, in my room. The cheap notebooks were for my first drafts, I thought: I’ll transfer my edited versions to the Smash later.

In our writing sessions, Laura welcomed us and our stories with open arms. My body relaxed into the daily writing routine, healthy meals, comfortable rooms, and the snow-covered grounds. My creative self snuggled into this haven space and took some risks. One afternoon, our yoga teacher asked, “So how’s it going?” and patiently waited for our response. The room held a small group of us, strangers just days before, and I felt safe. My heart in my throat, I blurted out that my golden retriever was dying, and sobbed. We cried and shared our stories of loss, lifting the grief that I dragged from home like so many notebooks.

With such healing going on, by the third day my writing sessions were producing real gems. Rough and honest, the drafts revealed my voice, stretching out like a bird opening its wings. That day I added the as-yet-unused Smash journal to my stack. After breakfast, we settled into our meeting room, which was awash in Montana winter sunshine, each window a postcard of evergreens on snowy hillsides. Sipping her tea, a fellow Haven-er noticed my notebooks. I explained about drafts and revisions and critiques, but my words trailed off as these once-hidden thoughts came into the light. I felt silly, but she smiled and said, “So, your first drafts aren’t worthy of the pretty pages?”

She nailed it. Turns out I only needed one notebook. The first draft is where the inner critic succeeds in dismissing a clever idea, or discouraging the hopeful writer, or quieting a fledging voice. To get out of our own way and get that first draft on paper is a victory. And they are worthy of pretty pages. All my Haven Retreat first drafts, clippings, and photos are secure in the Smash journal. When my creative self needs it, I flip through the pages and feel Laura’s embrace. At Haven, every first draft is beautiful.

–Maria Rodgers O’Rourke is an author, blogger, and speaker, who is the voice of the Everyday Inspired podcast and a blogger for the Huffington Post.

If you want to come to a Haven Retreat but are feeling not-so-brave…you are NOT alone.  Most people who come struggle with taking this stand for themselves.  This honest testimonial from a recent retreater says it all…

“When I first heard Laura Munson speak about Haven on Hay House Radio I was immediately intrigued although hesitant. Was I good enough to attend such a retreat? Was my writing far enough along? Would I embarrass myself? After speaking with Laura on the phone, I made a commitment to attend, initially for the fall of 2013. I waffled with that date with my own insecurities and re-booked for February 2014. I do not think it humanly possible for someone to go back and forth as much as I did, “Should I go?” “Yes, let’s challenge myself.” “No, don’t go.”  Over and over.

Laura was incredibly patient and supportive especially after learning some of my personal challenges at home pulling me away from Haven.  My husband was very ill with dementia and to attend Haven was a big step and one way outside my comfort zone as a total introvert. My husband’s disease was killing me too and I knew I needed to take a giant step for my health. I wrote my way through our hardships as a tool for healing.

After reading Laura’s book and embracing her amazing ongoing support, I decided to attend– although I have to admit I left the house thinking I can always return home if I feel uncomfortable. How could I possibly be with 10 other people I did not know for 4 days?

I LOVED the Haven experience and can honestly say it was life-altering in a positive and amazing way. For all of us to be tucked way out on the incredible ranch, in very comfortable rooms and delicious and nourishing food, was beyond expectations. Social hour in front of the roaring fire with snow falling outdoors made for an intimate setting. The writing exercises and support were way beyond my wildest expectations.

Laura is an amazing writer, teacher, and facilitator. My 1:1 with her gave me clarity on structure and content for my book. Our group immediately formed a trusted and risk taking approach with Laura’s guidance.  I encourage everyone to attend Haven. The experience will be with me for a long time and I dream of attending another session.”

–Katherine Stevenson, Mayne Island, British Columbia, Canada

 

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Amtrak Ode– The Train to Haven

1947-empire-builder

Haven Writing Retreats 2016

June 22-26 (full)
September 7-11
September 21-25
October 5-9
October 19-23

Now Booking 2017

February 22-26
June 7-11
June 21-25
September 6-10
September 20-24
October 4-8
October 18-22

Every-so-often, there is a perfect confluence in life—even in the life of a writer. When childhood romanticism meets adult sentimentalism, when whimsy and bravery stand side-by-side, when the world of possibility opens and you can see clearly through a widened “peephole,” as Vonnegut calls our limited perception of the world. That happened this weekend when I learned that Amtrak is offering free “residencies” aboard their trains for writers. Woah. Instant tears flowed fast.

You see, I come from Chicago train people. And I live in a small mountain train town where the train is the one solid thing that connects my life here to whence I came. I’ve been here for twenty years, have built my home and raised children and written and basked in the beauty of all that northwest Montana gifts us season after season…but Chicago will always be my starting point.

When I told my father I was moving to Whitefish, Montana, he got tears in his eyes (it runs in the family). “What a beautiful part of the world. I used to take the Empire Builder there when I was a young man in the 1940s, calling on railroad customers. I loved watching the city turn to farmland, and the Great Plains, and then the Badlands, and then the Rockies. I used to look out the window and just dream.”
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Whenever I’m having a hard day, I go to the Whitefish Depot, like a Chicagoan goes to Lake Michigan, and watch the freight trains change tracks with names I grew up knowing thanks to my father: GATX, Santa Fe, Burlington Northern. From my childhood bedroom in suburban Chicago, I used to listen to the gentle chugging of the Milwaukee Railroad, comforted that there was someone else awake in the middle of the night. Sometimes when I see the gleaming silver Amtrak waiting at the station, I think: “I could hop on and go home.” It brings me that same comfort to know that I am still connected to “home” in this small town in the shadow of the great peaks of Glacier National Park.images

The last time I took my kids back to Chicago, we went to the Museum of Science and Industry. “I want to show you something,” I told them, ushering them to one of my childhood treasures. “It’s the train room! It’s a model of the route of the Empire Builder from here all the way to the west coast. My dad used to take me here. It’s the coolest model train ever built!” I said, remembering how I’d hold his hand as he traced the lights of Chicago across the country all the way to the ports of Seattle, marveling at all his days riding those rails as a businessman and journeyer.

“Mom, why are you crying?” they both said.

“It’s all just so beautiful. Taking your time. Going slow. Watching our wonderful world go by from the safety and comfort of a train car. Meeting people in the dining car, chatting about life, comparing notes about places to see. I love trains. This used to be the way everybody travelled. They would dress up for meals. They would socialize and revel in the landscape. I trust trains much more than I do airplanes. I always feel so grounded and happy when I pull into a train station after a long ride. When I land at airports, I feel disoriented. Sometimes speed and convenience are way over-rated!”

“Look, Mom,” my twelve year old squealed. “It’s our train station!”amtrak

And sure enough, there was a little model of the Whitefish depot. I’d spent hours in this room, gazing at the Empire Builder line with my father, but I didn’t remember that building. Surely I’d watched my father point his way through the Rocky Mountains to this tiny depot, built in the design of the great lodges of Glacier National Park by the visionary train baron, Louis W. Hill who brought the east to the Rockies in comfort and style. Surely I’d looked at that little depot and wondered what the wilds of a place like Montana would be like. Talk about full circle, watching my son stand there with his eyes blazing, feeling so proud of his home. Like a game of tag from my original home to his…all connected by the Empire Builder.
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A few years ago, I started leading retreats in our stunning part of the world. I realized that after leading the writing life with all my heart for almost three decades, my muse basking in the mountains of Montana, that it made good sense to share it with other kindred seekers. So I founded Haven Retreats. Hundreds of people have come to Montana to dig deeper into their creative self-expression on the page, in search of greater self-awareness, whether or not they call themselves “writers.” Some do. Some don’t. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that opened “peephole,” and Montana knows how to inspire that in spades.

Yes, people come to Haven by plane, car, bus. But they also come by Amtrak’s Empire Builder. Louis W. Hill would be proud of these stalwart travelers who have been known to ride thirty hours here and thirty hours back post-retreat. And every time, those who ride the train rave about how the rhythm of the tracks and the views from the window put them in the perfect mind-frame to engage fully in our intensive four days together, tucked into the woods of Montana, and process their experience as they make their way back into their lives, re-fueled, inspired, empowered.

I can think of no better way to come to a Haven Retreat than through that little Whitefish train depot. With this new amazing offer from Amtrak for writers to ride for FREE, it truly is the perfect confluence: experience a personal writing “residency” on the train, enjoy a Haven Retreat in our beautiful part of the world just a matter of miles from the train station, and write your way back home!
I hope that if you are considering a Montana Haven Retreat, that you will also consider this golden offer from Amtrak!

A special thanks to Alexander Chee for stating his love for writing on trains and inspiring this incredible offer! And to Jessica Gross for making a “trial run!”
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From my father’s obit in the Chicago Tribune: 260060_10150205192746266_3265283_n

John C. Munson made a run at retiring when he turned 65. It lasted three days.

“He hated retirement,” said his wife of 48 years, Virginia. “His great passion was work, and ever since he was a little boy playing with his trains he has loved the railroad industry.”

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Writing Retreat Permission

Tuck into the snowy world of Montana…and WRITE!

What would it be to take a stand for yourself?  And what would that look like on the page?  You know.  Here is something that might help you feel embraced:

Whether you have decided to join me for one of my upcoming writing retreats in Montana, are on the fence, or have decided that this is not the right year or season for you…I wanted to share this letter I wrote to a young writer this morning who is considering attending my retreat.  But she is scared.  Perhaps it’s about being vulnerable in a group of people, scared of the remoteness of Montana, scared to face herself on the page, even though writing is something that is dear to her and has been since she was a little girl.  In an effort to catapult her past her fears, I told her that it was when I started doing writing retreats that my entire writing life changed.  She asked me why.  Here is part of my answer.  I hope it speaks to you. 

First a word from a former retreater:

“My time in Montana was the most empowering and uplifting experience of my life and has helped my writing in ways awesome and profound.  Laura is a master at bringing out your voice, and the sisterhood that is created in the process is incomparable. GO! GO! If you have any inkling that this might be what you need, you are correct– it is JUST what you need…”

Here’s the letter:

So…why did retreats change my life as a writer…  Well, I was in my twenties, living a life that was so different from the one in which I’d been raised.  I was out of my comfort zone, on purpose.  I’d left the east coast where most of my friends were climbing the corporate ladder.  I’d turned down a job opportunity at a major advertising agency in Chicago.  I’d even deferred from a creative writing program in SF where I had been planning to get my MFA.  I was living in Seattle where I knew no one.  I was waitressing.  I was a nanny.  I was living in a tiny house on an alley.  My parents were concerned.  My friends were confused.  I didn’t have a car—rode my bike everywhere.  And I wrote.  Writing had always been my lifeline.  But it had always been quite private—lonely even.  Those early novels I wrote were not just exercises in learning—they were how I processed who I was becoming.  The problem was, I wanted to be a published author more than anything in the world and it wasn’t happening.

Flathead Valley from Whitefish Mountain Resort

I had read Natalie Goldberg’s book “Writing Down the Bones” when I lived in Boston, and happened to see that she was speaking in Seattle.  That book had been so helpful to me, and I longed to have writer kindreds and to share in her methods which involved group work.  So I went to see her and that night joined a writing group of total strangers that still exists to this day.  They are my writer sisters, even though we live very different lives in very different parts of the US.  We so loved the power of a group of writers that we started doing weekend retreats together which still occur annually.  The writing life, plainly put, is deeply solitary.  It doesn’t have to be.  It can be shared, and that’s what retreats do.  It is so important to be witnessed in what you do on the page, in a safe and nurturing environment.  That is what I provide on my retreats.

I have designed a three day workshop which helps people go places they might not go on their own in their writing, and find out where their blocks are, hopefully causing breakthroughs.  These exercises work no matter where you are in your writing journey.  Some women who come on my retreats have finished books.  Some have only written their Christmas letter.  Some have never written anything since school days.  It doesn’t matter.  You can engage in these writing exercises within the context of a work-in-progress, or simply as inspiring ways for self-expression.  And I promise to keep things safe and nurturing, while still offering opportunities for helpful feedback.

Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park

One of the things I care most about is helping to shift the tortured artist paradigm, to the empowered artist.  To that end, I’ve shaped the retreat days so that we have an intensive morning class, then free time for a few hours after lunch to be in our bodies in beautiful Montana (yoga, guided outdoor snow-shoeing hikes, and equine therapy).  People can choose to sign up for these activities, which are meant to mirror the writing work we did that morning, or spend that time writing or relaxing.  Our evenings begin with a social hour that I host, move into dinner, and then to the fireplace in the lodge where we share readings.  Some people bring work that they’ve written previously.  Other people read from something they’ve written that day.  And others might share writing that they love from other authors.  This is your chance to get feedback on your terms, while the morning classes are structured for expression without as much feedback (part of what frees the muse and keeps you feeling safe to just go where you need to go on the page).

It is such an honor to guide these retreats and to watch people bloom, get unstuck, move through blocks, have breakthroughs, and mostly to see what happens when a group of women take a stand for their self-expression in the woods of Montana.  The experience is profound.  I would love to see you here in February.

Here is a blog post I wrote about it with photos:

http://lauramunson.com/retreats.php

If you are interested, email me at Laura@lauramunsonauthor.com.  There is still space available but it’s filling up fast…

Whitefish Mountain Resort

FYI:  Whitefish Mountain Resort is a world class mountain, and Glacier National Park is just 20 miles away so consider taking a  vacation afterward…

yrs.

Laura

 

 

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Haven August 2013

portrait

2014 (Now Booking!)

February 26- March 2
June 18-22
September 10-14
September 24-28
October 8-12
October 22-26

When this Haven group left, there were tears, new friendships; there was transformation, fierce self-expression, and most of all community.  We need community, especially in our creative pursuits.  I want you to look at these pictures.  I want you to imagine giving yourself your dreams, despite what your inner critic says, or your friends and family for that matter.  Take a stand for what you believe in.  What you want.  What you want to create!  And if that sparks a desire to come to Haven…DO IT FOR YOURSELF!  In the minute of the spark…is the flame.  Come burn.  yrs. Laura

Here’s what a few of my last retreaters wrote about their Haven experience.

Click here  and here and here.

Yes

It could happen any time, tornado, earthquake, Armageddon. It could happen. Or sunshine, love, salvation.

It could you know. That’s why we wake and look out–no guarantees in this life.

But some bonuses, like morning, like right now, like noon, like evening.

–William Stafford

(with thanks to Lorrie…and all the  Haven brave and beautiful souls.  Thank you for your enormous YES!)  This is for you.

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Montana Haven

Montana has been my home, my muse, my inspiration, my teacher, my challenger, my haven for over twenty years this month.  Here is my tribute to this Last Best Place under the Big Sky.

Come with me on an adventure of a lifetime!

Haven Retreats in Montana: email me:  laura@lauramunsonauthor.com

August 7th-11th (full)

September 4th-8th (full with a wait list)

September 18th-22nd (full with wait list) 

 

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Inspiration Ain’t for Sissies!

Come with me on an adventure of a lifetime!

Haven Retreats in Montana: email me:  laura@lauramunsonauthor.com
August 7th-11th (just a few spots left)
September 4th-8th (now booking)
September 18th-22nd (now booking)

What inspires you?  I bet you can make a long list.  I know I can.  At the top I’d put things like:  My kids, Montana, horses, really great writing, people who sing and play music, people who can speak more than one language, really great home-made bread.  Try it.  It’s a nice exercise, much like keeping a gratitude journal.  I have a friend who daily keeps a gratitude journal.  Just lists the things she’s grateful for—no qualifying or comparing or justifying.  Just wide-open THANKS!  In fact, add her to the list of things that inspire me:  people who keep gratitude journals.

But what most of us don’t think about or even realize…is that we actually, quite possibly, have inspired someone elseNah…we scoff and sniff.  Me?  Inspire somebody?  That’s the way I fly, at least— in a pinch, I go into self-degradation.  Even when someone tells me flat out that I have inspired them, my brain resists it.  It’s something I wrote that inspired them.  It’s my Haven retreats that inspired them.  Not me.  It’s like when people compliment me on my kids’ achievements.  “It’s not me,” I always say.  “It’s them!”  But I’d like to give you a personal challenge here.  Think of the things that you have created in your life.  I’m not asking your ego to explode, I’m merely trying to help you claim what is yours so you can make more of it to spread around.  Think of the traditions you have started or carried on.  The things that you have started from scratch, whatever they might be:  cookies, a fund drive, chicken soup, a letter to a loved one, a thoughtful gift, a verbal vote of confidence to someone you believe in, the way you put flowers in the windowsill or the fact that you picked up trash on the street when no one was looking.  Well, take heart.  People notice your good efforts and are, indeed, inspired by them, whether or not you meant them to be inspiring.  You are not invisible.  Your heart language speaks fluently in the country of humanity. 

There is a writer named Bill Kenower who I met through the labyrinth of the writing life.  He is a brother in words and heart and has compiled a collection of essays about writing that yes, INSPIRE me.  Here’s his story.  As you read it, I encourage you to ask yourself, “What can I create that will inspire others?”  Because just by doing what you are already doing, just by being who you are already being…you are helping to make the world a better place.  So take in a deep breath, and give yourself permission to be inspiring.

Yrs.

Laura

Share Alike, by Bill Kenower

I have just published a collection of short essays called Write Within Yourself: An Author’s Companion, and you could say the book might not exist were it not for Laura Munson. The story of how Laura and I met is a story of social media. There I was on Facebook one afternoon when I noticed someone had posted a piece from the New York Times. I rarely read such things when they’re shared on Facebook, but for some reason I decided to read this one.

When I finished this essay about a woman in Montana who used her years of accumulated wisdom from the experience of writing and being rejected and writing and being rejected to weather a marital storm, I thought, “She’s one of my people.” I am editor-in-chief of Author, an online magazine that focuses on the intersection of creativity and spirituality. One of my primary functions is to conduct video and audio interviews with authors, and I knew immediately I should interview Laura.

It was a great interview, and Laura and I stayed on the phone after I had stopped recording and continued talking about suffering and happiness and doing the things you love. Yes, I thought again, she’s one of my people. Another of my functions at Author is to write a daily column – a blog if you must – which Laura stumbled on shortly after our conversation. I soon received an email from her that began with this sentence: “You inspire me!”

I did not understand until that moment that this was all I wanted to do in the world – inspire people. It was all I wanted because it was all I was searching for in the world itself, those songs, books, movies, stories, and people that inspired me, that turned my attention toward a steady voice that, despite any evidence to the contrary, forever said, “Do what you love. You cannot fail.” It was this voice that had guided me to Laura, the same as it had guided my to E. E. Cummings and Bob Dylan and Beethoven and the woman I married.

Laura and her story are inspiring, but there is something holy about being inspired that can compel one to deify those who do the inspiring. Growing up, I had no church or temple to attend, and so my sermons were stories, poems, and songs. It was there that I was reminded again and again why life was worth living, and why meaning always lay patiently beneath the noise of suffering. This seemed like a sacred job—reminding people why life was worth living—a job for which one must be anointed.

Which is exactly what Laura did, though accidentally. It’s silly, I know, but because she had inspired so many people, because her piece in the New York Times and her book had reached and helped so many souls, and because I had apparently inspired her—if only long enough to write that one sentence—and since she was one of my people and so not a deity, this job now seemed entirely doable.

A year later Laura was in Seattle and we met face-to-face for the first time. It was a bit like meeting a sister from which I had become separated at birth. She was full of excitement for writing and traveling and living, and over a bottle wine she told me, “Bill, you have to get paid for these essays.”

“But how?” I asked.

She laughed. “By publishing them in a book!”

“Oh, right,” I said.

So now they’re a book. Of course there were other people who helped as well, who said, “Bill, you really ought to collect these into a book,” which to me is the story of the inherent generosity of writing, writers, and life itself. Here is Laura now sharing this space with me, as she has shared it with you, her readers, these past months while she toils on her new novel. True generosity always teaches us the lie of sacrifice. If you share what you love and what you value – like a story, or wisdom, or a joke, or a kiss – nothing is sacrificed. Rather, you have increased the value of the world, which is only measurable in love. So share and share alike, you readers, you writers, you lovers. Share everything you wish there was more of, and as fast as you can say, “Thank you” there will be.

William Kenower is the author of Write Within Yourself: An Author’s Companion, and is the Editor-in-Chief of Author magazine, an online magazine for writers and dedicated readers. He writes a popular daily blog for the magazine about the intersection of writing and our daily lives, and has interviewed hundreds of writers of every genre. He also hosts the online radio program Author2Author where every week he and a different guest discuss the books we write and the lives we lead. To learn more about William, go to williamkenower.com.

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