Tag Archives: safety

Creativity: The great fear-buster


Now Booking my Fall Haven Writing Retreats in Montana… 

September 18-22 ( one spot left)

September 25-29 (a few spots left)

You do not have to be a writer to come…just someone who is deeply longing to find your voice and set it free.

Click here for more info and to contact me to set up a call… Running specials through 7.31!

I wanted to name a child Haven. But when I met my children in the flesh, it never quite felt like the right fit. I’ve always been attracted to the word Haven: the concept. The practice. To me the idea of Haven comes from a knowing that scary things happen. Big brothers lurk under canopy beds and grab your feet—make shadow hands on the wall until you wet your bed. Grandmother caretakers who are from “good, strong farm stock” fall when your parents are out of town– and you can’t pick them up—and you see what it is to have paramedics in your kitchen for the first time who tell you that everything’s going to be okay.  But you know it’s not. Your best friend’s angel-of-a sister dies of brain cancer when you are six; the last time you see her, she’s bald and you’re afraid of her and you know you shouldn’t be, but you are, and you feel deep dark shame. It doesn’t take long for the average human to understand early on that happiness can turn to heartbreak fast. Things happen. And that’s why your mother cries in church. And why she hugs you extra hard on your way to the bus. And why your father looks so pained by the fact that you’re too heavy to carry up the stairs any more for bedtime. The bigger you get, the scarier life gets. There’s no amount of money or luck or good works that can change that.

But even so, and maybe especially so, we can still create the feeling (never mind illusion) of safety. Of haven.  It can come in a knowing glance from someone you love. Or a familiar smell that radiates from your kitchen most Sundays. Or the feeling of a cool sheet on a hot summer night. I have always slept with at least a sheet over me, even on the most humid mid-western nights. I don’t feel safe without it. It’s silly, I know. But I like the feeling of this kind of safety in small things.

I’ve settled upon that belief along the way: safety best comes in the smallest things. Less to lose. More to believe in. I think that’s why so many little girls love Anne Frank. She found safety during horror, hiding in a small space, writing. Yes, she was hiding. But she was also creating. She could control at least that. When I think of all the places in which my friends and I used to seek refuge…it was always a closet, an eave, a secret trap door that led somewhere—a root cellar, a crawl space. Or a tree house. A play house. Always small, simple places that felt like uncharted territory. We’d put a poster on a wall. Bring in a candle (kids, don’t try this at home). Bring in pillows and blankets. Flashlights and books and magazines. And we’d sit there in uncomfortable positions, practicing refuge. And for most of us, not much had happened yet in the way of scary things.  Still we sought haven.

By the time we become adults, things have happened for sure. No one can escape the “scary” things. No one. So what do we do with that? Hide? Probably not. We have bills to pay, and people who need us to stand there in the kitchen playing short-order-cook with a smile on our face. They look to us for that glimpse that says, everythdahlia_2ing’s going to be okay. And we give it our best shot. Sometimes we pull it off. Sometimes we make dessert instead and that does the trick. Or not.

It occurred to me about ten years ago, after a tri-fecta personal-life sucker-punch to the girl-balls, that life was scary—really scary…and there wasn’t a whole lot I could do about it. So I decided to change my relationship with fear. The first thing that went out the window was the notion that there was such a thing as complete safety in the first place. Ahhhhhh. That was a weight-of-the-world purge that brought with it instant liberation. Because if there was no such thing as safety, then maybe there was no such thing as danger. Not as I had known it. The world was as dangerous as it was safe, so why not play with danger? Why not disarm danger? Why not find safety inside of danger?

Rather than waiting for the big brother monster under my bed, I decided instead to claim my safety wherever I am. I didn’t want to be run by fear. I wanted happiness to reign in my self-created kingdom. Joy. Peace. I wanted to understand what Grace was. So I re-trained my mind. When I started to feel that ol’ bastard Fear…I flipped my thoughts into Creation mode. What can I create right now in this moment? What can I be responsible for that would bring me the feeling of safety even in the line of fire? What can I claim for myself in the way of inner peace? It felt a lot like the little girl I once was, bringing pillows into her closet with a flashlight and a good book. I was going to create my own yes, Haven, in my mind. Breath by breath. Heart beat by heart beat. And it worked.

It’s not that I didn’t look down the dark alleys of life any more. Quite the opposite. It was that I didn’t see them as dark. I saw them as chances to find some sort of haven in the midst of the darkness. And the one place I could control that haven, was in the way I thought. I started working with creating that pillow-bedecked closet in my mind. The more pillows and flashlights and cool sheets and good books…the better. I pictured it.  I took solace in it.  I believed in it.  And sooner than later, I found that I could breathe my way into that feeling of haven whether I was on a really bumpy flight over the mountains, or in a hard conversation with a family member, or in a daunting business meeting. I got good at it. Maybe a little addicted to it, in fact. Because it’s absolutely exhilarating to have the opposite emotional reaction to the things that people say and do to you than what society says is the norm. It’s like watching a storm come in hard and fast over the prairie, and get suddenly blown off in another direction. And quite when you least expected it…you’re in rainbow weather. That’s what I want.  Rainbow weather.


So I didn’t name a child Haven. I took my new way of looking at the world and created retreats for adults who likely are looking for the same sort of way to process the “scary” bits of life. My way has been through writing and reading and so that is what I’ve created in Haven Writing Retreats. If I could build a series of tree houses and pillow forts and call it Haven Writing Retreats, I would. Instead, at Haven, we go to the tree houses and pillow forts of our minds, digging deeper into our creative self-expression on the page, in a nurturing group setting…that helps us know that yes, life is full of challenges. But we don’t have to look at them as scary. We can use those challenges. We can breathe into the groundlessness of them. We can take five days to practice this together on retreat, away from the stresses of life. And then we can bring Haven home to our daily lives wherever we are…in the safety of our minds and the words we choose to create in that sacred space.

I wish sacred safety for you, wherever you are. Find a pen and some paper. Write a new script. Find your haven. I’d love to help you.



Email: laura@lauramunson.com for more info and to arrange a Haven Writing Retreat call…

Haven Writing Retreats 2020 schedule:

February 5-9
May 6-10
June 10-17
June 17-21
September 16-20
September 23-27
October 28-November 1

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Fierce at 50


Now booking 2017 Haven Writing Retreats!

February 22-26 (full with wait list)
June 7-11
June 21-25
September 6-10
September 20-24
 October 4-8
October 18-22

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

I’m taking a break in the Haven Winter Blog series today to reflect on passion, power, age, and to shine a light on a new friend…

Today is the launch of #TheFierce50, a movement dedicated to women 50 and over who are thriving, creating and celebrating where they are in life.  I was selected along with a fierce group of women including Lee WoodruffKathy Kahler and Denise Austin to be among #TheFierce50. We each were paired with a fellow #Fierce50 blogger and given the honor to write about her. I was thrilled to be paired with Katheen Baty, one seriously fierce woman.  After we got off the phone (3 hours!), I wrote this piece.  Click here to read more about The Fierce50 Movement.

I turned fifty last year.  Some people say fifty is the new thirty.  What I know about being fifty, is that I have accumulated enough life experience to know some things, and to learn from them, and to find my true purpose because of them.  Unfortunately, most of the things that have brought me to this confluence of self, had to do with pain.  Is pain really gain?  Is it true that what doesn’t kill you actually makes you stronger?  I would like to think that we’d be stronger from a long walk in the woods, or lunch with a good friend, or floating on our back in the Caribbean.  But while those moments help me to be present, or to process the past and imagine the future…they’re not what has helped me find my way.  It’s the hard stuff that has.  It’s standing in the places where I feel recycled and spat out and spent, and sometimes bashed bloody from hitting walls I somehow haven’t learned don’t have doorways, that have shaken me awake to the basics of self-sustainability.

Is there a cure for this?  Maybe.  Maybe it’s passion.  Maybe it’s knowing what you love and what brings you into true delight and thirst for life…and mining that no matter what’s going on in your life.  For me, that passion has been writing.  It is what holds me together and always has.  I have said many times, “Don’t wait for the rug to get ripped out from underneath you to find your passions.  When I went through re-invention 101, I’m glad that my passions were in a row, even if my ducks weren’t.”  That’s when I wrote my way through a brutal time of my life and my career as a published author took flight, and that’s when I started my Haven Writing Retreats.  At Haven, I teach people to find their voice, their passion, their sustainability through writing, in whatever form they choose—journals, essays, books etc.  But there are other ways.

A woman who knows perhaps more about this than any of us want to, is the remarkable Kathleen Baty who for eight years underwent brutal stalking until she was finally kidnapped at gunpoint.  Did she let it take her down?  No way.  Instead she learned every possible aspect of personal safety to stay alive, worked with Law Enforcement because there were no laws at that time making stalking a crime, and eventually testified at the state and federal level to pass the Anti Stalking Laws.  Talk about turning pain into passion!

But she didn’t stop there.  She started her company, SafetyChick Enterprises, LLC in order to  change the way personal safety and crime prevention was embraced by women. Instead of marketing to fear, the SafetyChick Brand promotes strength, courage and common sense. She wants women to CARE about their safety, not run from it. She wrote two books, “A girls gotta do what a girls gotta do” (Rodale) and “College Safety 101″ (Chronicle Books)  and believes that  “Caring about your personal safety is the GREATEST Gift you can give yourself. IT is NOT about being paranoid.  It’s about being SMART and making SMART personal safety choices.  Personal Safety is Personal.  It’s what makes YOU feel comfortable at the time.  Making the decision to CARE about your personal safety translates into every aspect of your life. It makes you a better mother, friend, coworker, whatever, because you are living with purpose.”

What if, then, as young women and men, we fastened this lesson to our hearts:  Being passionate for our safety first is our bottom line non-negotiable.  Maybe then, pain wouldn’t have to be gain.  And walls would become doors, and pain would become passion and possibility.  And I’d like to think that a little writing along the way helps…




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Mother’s Nature.

Two people died on our ski mountain last week in tree wells. One was 16, the other was 29. If you’re not familiar with the definition of a tree well, here’s a visual:

The long and short of it is this: evergreens, especially those with low hanging branches, can prohibit snow from filling in and consolidating at the base of the tree. Skiers and snowboarders can catch an edge, not seeing the hole, and catapult head first into these wells, being swallowed in the snow and then buried by snow from the overhead branches. There is little hope for survival, even if you have been responsible enough to partner up and watch as each of you takes the run. It’s a fast and furious death; like drowning.

Your best hope is to ski without your pole straps so that you can potentially have free hands to dig breathing space around your mouth and nose. And then you’re supposed to gently rock, creating more space. And you’re not supposed to panic or struggle, a lot like being caught in a rip tide. Except you’re stuck. Nothing is flowing but hope that your partner is not down at the lift line wondering where you are and remembering, oh yeah, he/she was supposed to be watching you, and oh yeah, skiing and snowboarding, as fun as they are, are sports that can kill.

I wonder about this, after seventeen years of living in a ski town. I wonder about this as a mother of two kids who live to ski and their friends do too. I wonder about this as someone who loves adventure and risk-taking and the abandon found in that adrenaline high. And I also I wonder about this in the field of fear and then in the field of education and then ultimately in the loveliest field I know: surrender.

This morning at the breakfast table, I asked my children how they felt about these recent deaths which have shaken our community in not just grief, but the fresh Bandaid-ripped sting of “this could happen to you.” For these are the sorts of tragedies which happen in my children’s back yard. Not that they should get used to them—as if it would even be possible. But they need to both know how to process them and to know how to prevent them.

Most everybody skis trees here.

It’s part of the our local vernacular. That kind of heart throbbing, lung burning, stomach-butterflied rush is what keeps many of us living here, whether we’re sliding down the mountain, or hiking up a ridge, or galloping through a field on a horse. We are “getting after it,” as the local saying goes. But as a mother, I needed to check in, even if it made me unpopular. They don’t need to know about city streets for now as much as the power of snow. The snow they’ve known best makes snowmen and snow cones and sledding hills.

So this morning I asked my children what the “it” was in “getting after it.” They both said, “What you love.” I could see the snowflakes dancing in their eyes. Every winter morning they run to the computer to check the ski report. Oh for the love of fresh powder. You’d think they’d been given free lifetime passes to Disneyland on those days.

My question begat a sudden discussion about how much “vertical” each of them had gotten this winter, bemoaning the insult that it was raining in mid-January on a Saturday.

Sticking to my mother guns, I gingerly asked them if they were upset about the recent tree well deaths. They both nodded. “Everyone’s talking about it at school.” Then I asked them if they understood just what happens in a tree well and how to avoid it and what to do if they were ever, God forbid, in that brutal situation.

I assumed they knew it by rote; that with all the ski lessons they’ve had and all the lectures my husband and I have given them, they’d recite it like they did the National Anthem. But it turned out: they kind of knew. But they didn’t really know. They had been seeing snowflakes during the “scary” conversations and warnings, turns out. I was horrified.

My kids ski in the trees every weekend from Thanksgiving to Easter. And here is the crux of what every mother knows well– that daring walk on the tightrope between scaring your children out of their gourd, and empowering them with knowledge. And what every child knows better: the line between being cocky pre-teen/teens, and notably shaken. Upside down suffocation? That hadn’t landed on their snowflaky radar.

I felt a rant coming. I tried to take pause. To no avail. I began with: “There’s an expression: All the avalanche experts are dead.” I paused for them to chew on it. Suddenly they weren’t so keen on chewing on their eggs and toast.

I wanted to full-on lecture them then, out of motherly fear. How was it possible that they hadn’t learned all about the full array of dangers on our ski mountain…maybe I had left something out in the long list of things to teach my children…had I remembered Hospital Corners, and not tree wells??? But I tried not to get dramatic—tried to keep it direct.

In so many words I explained that when you make decisions in the back country based on ego, you get into trouble. And then I wanted to twist the knife a bit in their hearts. Because maybe it’s the hurt that makes the mind listen and remember and maybe two deaths are not enough in the minds of children.

“Being in nature is a privilege and one that should never be taken lightly.” I explained that sometimes we forget that privilege when a machine like a chair lift zooms us up to a place that normally would take all day to ascend, and that for people who hike up the mountain rather than take the lift…for just that one…run…down, there is the grace of gratitude. We need to remember gratitude.

They looked unimpressed. Hiking up? All that work and only one run?

So I started twisting that knife harder and I knew not to but I couldn’t stop. Call it fear. Call it shock value. This was my motherhood talking now. “You need to respect the mountain. It’s not a ride at Six Flags. People who hike up the mountain for that one glide down…they know all about gratitude, but they also know about respect. They leave their egos down in the parking lot, along with their credit cards and the heat button. Their power is in paying attention, and knowing the real power, and that’s Mother Nature. They are as vulnerable as can be, save for their fiberglass skies and their Gortex. And that’s the way they want it. They have checked the avalanche report, the snow conditions. They have their partners and their plan.”

Now my kids looked like they wanted to cry. But I couldn‘t stop. Maybe you know this feeling. It’s called Running Scared.

“But when technology makes it so that you can cram in 15 of those runs in a day, tuning out the ascent with your iPod-bedecked helmet, telling jokes about the skiers below…then I just wonder about that descent and where the ego is.”

I had them with iPod.

“I’m not saying that it’s ego that had those people end up in tree wells. It happens to back country skiers too. I just wonder about intention and humility and lessons learned in a second flat, and then lost to suffocation.”

And then I lost them. Too many big words. It was probably better that way. They went back to breakfast. “So what time are we leaving for the mountain,” one of them asked their father, who had been staying out of this. Probably wisely so. Probably because he could have covered this ground in a four minute speech in the car on the way up the ski hill. Mothers.

The local papers haven’t reported whether or not those snow boarders were riding alone when they fell into those tree wells, and frankly it’s none of my business. I just think that for all the young people who go up to “shred” in the fresh “pow pow” after a few days of “dumpage and puking and pissing” snow…who smoke a few bowls and blare agro head banging hard driving music in their helmets, getting after “it”…or even the blithe skiers and snowboarders who are just in it for the innocent fun it is and the french fry breaks and the chance to play in the snow with friends and family and slide down a hill and gain some speed and take in some views…maybe there can be a moment of pause this January in Montana in our little town. Maybe those deaths can be a reminder that Mother Nature is more powerful than human nature will ever be.

For an expansive education about skiing and snowboarding near tree wells, go to this site which was created by a collaboration of the NW Avalanche Institute, Mt. Baker Ski Area, Crystal Mountain and Dr. Robert Cadman.


Filed under Little Hymns to Montana, Motherhood, My Posts

Morning Light

You know when the cloud lifts and the light comes in? When things are vivid and asking you to smile and go easy and say thank you? Annie Lamott says these are her two favorite prayers, “Help me help me help me,” and “Thank you thank you thank you.” I’m not sure how it is that we shift from the first to the second, but this morning, after a month of Help me’s, there it was: Thank you.

I’ve spent the last 20 years when I’m not working or being a mother, escaping to my office to write novels. And as of a year ago yesterday, when my New York Times piece got published in Modern Love, my life utterly changed. Suddenly I have a product which brings in a pay check and pays for my kid’s soccer cleats and organic strawberry splurges, (but not quite health insurance)…and in order to perpetuate this, I don’t have time for those novels. Not now.

This blog brings me joy because in it I get to share my little moments. I get to hear from readers and know that my writing has helped them somehow and respond to them. But for the last month, as I tread through the strange new waters of social media, Twittering and Facebooking, and investigating the amazingly powerful communities like Good Reads and She Writes and Blogher, and Huffington Post, and and and…I just started to want out of those waters altogether. I wanted to make some tea and sit here and do what I know how to do and that’s write books.

It seems like a LOT of writers feel this way. Especially those of us who didn’t come up in the age of the internet. Especially those of us who are used to long moments of focusing on one thing and making it as good as we can. Widening the third eye takes focus and solitude. Sometimes social media feels like there’s a swarm of mosquitoes in my office biting at me and I can’t find that focus. It’s maniac. I complained about it all month to cherished author friends. Sort of guiltily, because there’s so much to LOVE about the opportunity social media affords the writer. It means you can reach your audience without the publishing world. That is fantastic news! It’s just a new paradigm, and it has turned my writing life as I’ve known if for half my life up…side…down.

One author friend shared this quote with me:
I start a book as a poet-warrior armed with the noblest intentions, but by the end of the publishing process, I feel like a door-to-door
.” — James Sturm.

Do you think that when Longfellow wrote these sagacious words:
The heights by great men reached and kept, were not obtained by sudden flight. But they, while their companions slept, were toiling upward in the night,” he meant that we should fragment our energy into piggybacking on other people’s dreams and successes, obsessively, from our dark room by computer screen glow? Or that he meant that we should be using those upward toiling nights to mine our lives, widening that third eye until it’s sharp and keen like a hawk, putting our hearts and minds to a focus, not a series of shoulder taps.

Don’t get me wrong, I am thank you thank you thank you (and a bit of help me help me help me) in regard to social media. But this morning, I vowed that I would do like I used to. Wake up early, make some tea, and sit down to work on a new novel. And with a fresh new document that one day will become 300 or 400 pages…when the teapot screamed, I went into the kitchen and saw the cinnamon buns I’d lain on a plate for the kids, wrapped in morning light. Beautiful and basking.

There is freedom in creature comfort.


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