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You do not have to be a writer to come…just someone who is deeply longing to find your voice and set it free.
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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, everything’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: firstname.lastname@example.org for more info and to arrange a Haven Writing Retreat call…
Haven Writing Retreats 2020 schedule:
October 28-November 1