Tag Archives: transformation

Personal Winter Retreat


Happy 2014, everyone! 

I hope your holidays were full of comfort and joy.  And even if they weren’t, I’m glad to find you over here in 2014– in the world of possibility and personal transformation!  To that end, every year at this time, I take the months of January and February to focus on my writing, and I give my blog to writers in hopes to shine a light on their words and wisdom.  Because I have worked with over one hundred people now at Haven Retreats, I have met some remarkable human beings, and this year, I have decided to run a series in honor of them and their rich experiences on retreat.  I hope that their stories will inspire you to take a stand for your creative self-expression, no matter where you are in your journey.  You do NOT have to be a writer to come to Haven.  Just a seeker, with an open heart, a willingness to be vulnerable and step outside your comfort zone, and a commitment to dig deeper into your self-awareness.   There is still room for 2014 at Montana Haven, as well as Telluride and Cabo.  Here’s the link with dates and more info!

In the next weeks, you will have the pleasure of reading about just what might happen for YOU if you gave yourself the gift of a Haven retreat. I hope you enjoy these transformative stories. I’ll be holing up in my Montana home, working on my novel. Sending Big Sky inspiration to you all for a bounteous 2014!



Filed under Contests! Win a signed hardcover of THIS IS NOT THE STORY YOU THINK IT IS!, My Posts

Maybe I Understand Grace Now

Now Booking the fall Haven Writing Retreats in Montana:

September 18-22(a few spots left)

September 25-29 (a few spots left)

Come find your voice in the woods of Montana…and return home new.

Go here for more info, and to set up a call with Laura to learn more: https://www.lauramunsonauthor.com/retreats/


Well, another Haven retreat has passed and I am in that zone again. It’s somewhere between having watched a miracle and wanting more. It’s the place where lofty words like grace and awe and wonder and purity come from. We played. We became more aware of our best selves. And maybe our worst selves. We honored and supported each other. We broke through. We belly-laughed. We are home now. Me included.
Back to bills and emails and kids not really caring that we just found transformation because they need new shoes, and bosses who are kinda like: yeah…great. Did you join a cult or something? You have a look in your eye that I’m not exactly sure will go over well at our next annual meeting. Whatever.

After breakfast on the last day, we say goodbye to people that just four days ago were total strangers, and Them, and Better than, or Afraid of, or Worse than…and are now family. It happens every time. We become community. We have been through something together and we are better for it. Maybe healed. Definitely inspired. Braver for sure.


And after everybody leaves, I lie on my stomach on the dock and swirl my finger in the water, sending out ripples for each person, naming them, one by one, sending them off to their lives from the ranch in Montana to wherever they will land. Watching as the ripples go out and out until they become lake and settle into the world of nature, purpose, intention, mindfulness, reverberation of heart language.

This time, I told the group that I would be doing this ritual on their behalf. And I got a note the last morning from one of the retreaters. She said, “Read this before you go to the dock.” And I did. They all went off and I heaved a deep breath, fighting tears, feeling joy…and read her note. It thanked me and Haven and Montana and the ranch and the group. And it gave me this challenge: when I swirled out my God-speed, I was to feel it coming back to me. I wondered if I would be able to do that. I readied myself, and I went to the dock. Lay on my stomach. Put my finger in. Swirled and sent for each of these dear, brave, creative sisters.

And all of a sudden, out of nowhere, on an otherwise still day, a breeze came through, across the lake. And just as the first ripple touched the other side of the lake, launching…the ripples came back to me. Until they squalled over and disappeared. And a loon flew over. And I felt perhaps one of the most complete acts of love I’ve known. Thank you to you all. I love you.


Filed under Haven Newsletter, My Posts, Retreats

Writing Retreats: manna

For more writing retreat information click here:

When I first dreamed about leading writing retreats, I wasn’t sure exactly why I wanted that role. I’ve been a writer all my adult life and probably into my childhood and adolescence. Teaching wasn’t something that attracted me. Though, when I look at the trajectory of my life, I see now that I have consistently put myself in the position of wanting to share what I am working to understand. It’s not necessarily that I think I know something that others don’t. It’s that I think I know the way to some things, especially when it comes to the writing life. That’s what my writing retreats are all about.

Walking Lightly Ranch, Montana

Sitka Center for the Arts-- Oregon Coast

I’ve lead five now. People come from all over to take this stand for their writing, no matter where they are in their writing journey. Paris, Australia, Hawaii, Florida, New York, Boston, North Carolina, Washington, California, Chicago etc.  Some of them have books in progress.  Some of them have books in them that they are hungry to write.  Afraid to write.  Some have never written anything beyond their Christmas letter.  But all of them are in a place of wanting growth in their lives.

Walking Lightly Ranch-- Montana

I am not a life coach nor a therapist. My strength comes from years of trying to find the intersection of heart and mind and craft that is writing.  I have found how to get to that place, and re-visit it as my central practice.  My way of life.  And sometimes my way tolife.  I know how to keep it sacred.  I know how to get there even when my mind tells me it’s dangerous ground.

Tulum, Mexico-- Radiant Retreat

Workshop: "How to Get Out of Your Way on the Page"

Writing class-- Tulum, Mexico

I know how to stand there anyway. Kneel there if I have to.  Lie supine…prostrate if need be.  I also know how to jump up and down there in delight.

All that said…I care about being a guide for people.  To help them find their own intersection of heart and craft and mind that is writing. So, I have developed a three day retreat that brings you into the place of simultaneous inspiration…and discomfort…that we all feel when we are in the act of creating.  I have designed exercises that stretch the mind and challenge you to bare yourself to your greatest depths, both privately on the page, and witnessed by the group in support and safety.

Over the course of the retreat, there is plenty of laughter. And crying, too.  Breakthroughs happen just when people least expect them. At my last retreat, on the first day, one of the women announced, “I hate writing.”  By the end of the retreat, she had an idea for a book, the structure to expedite it, a title, a first sentence, and a glow in her eyes that I know means she will write it.

That’s what I’m there for. To help you put your finger on the pulse of what it is that you want to create on the page.  One of my retreaters arrived as a memoirist.  She left realizing she’s a poet.  Another had a well-developed manuscript that she’d been working on for years.  After reading aloud from the prompt I’d given her that day, experiencing the group’s glowing response to a new, vibrant, wildly alive voice…she took her manuscript, and threw it in the camp fire.  “That’s the voice we want in your book,” we told her.  And in that moment, she knew she had full possession of that voice. She was out of her way.

As the retreat progresses, each time I’ve seen an arc occur.  People start off high.  Then they free fall into their fears.  And then they land safely…and soar again to new heights.  One group is co-writing an anthology to publish.  Another has created an online writing group in which they give each other weekly prompts, based on the work we’ve done together.

Another has planned a reunion next fall and challenged themselves to spend the year working on their writing project, whether it’s a book, a collection of poems, essays, short stories. The writing life is solitary.  It can be lonely and it can be daunting.

The power of sharing your work with other people, in a safe setting, with a nurturing leader is vast.

On my last retreat, after everybody left, I lay on the dock at the Walking Lightly Ranch here in Montana. I put my finger in the lake and thought of each person I’ve worked with over the course of the last year—in Tulum, Mexico, the Oregon Coast, Montana…and I sent out a ripple for each one, watching as it moved in larger rings across the lake.  That is what I know happens when a person takes a stand for themselves: it ripples.  It can even change the world.

It is my deep and profound honor to be able to help facilitate this sort of experience for people. I will be leading these retreats throughout the year in Montana.  In addition to morning and evening writing class I offer one-on-one sessions with me, and a full edit of your pre-submitted work.  Then, to balance the creative process with your physical being, depending on the season, I offer guided hiking,cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and year-round equine therapy, as well as yoga.  All this is set deep in the woods of northwest Montana, on 400 acres, surrounded by state land, at the Walking Lightly Ranch which delivers food and spirit in a way that just plain stuns me.

I welcome and encourage you to take this stand for your writing, wherever you are on the page.  I will post my upcoming retreats on my website, and look forward to hearing from you at Laura@lauramunsonauthor.com.



Laura’s work changing the Suffering Artist paradigm into Empowered Artist is going to reshape the world. If she has to do it one writer at a time, she will.
–Cindy Webb Montana

Laura Munson was a master at bringing out my voice, and the voices of all my fellow writers. Her retreat was one of the most empowering experiences of my life. I learned about writing, but I also learned about myself in ways that were unexpected. In addition, we all formed an amazing bond with each other! The totality of the place, the people, the work and the food was priceless.
–Wendy Hill Westwood, MA

The retreat was a perfect balance of comfort and fear. Laura Munson creates a safe place for writers of every level to uncover their true voice, sometimes for the first time. Witnessing it was as close to a miracle as I’ve ever come.
–Lynn Trudell Ithaca, New York

Laura’s retreat re-ignited my creative spirit. Her intuitive guidance, along with imaginative writing exercises, group readings and individual feedback, helped me re-focus and re-energize. I am more committed than ever to my craft.
–Mary Novaria Los Angeles, CA

Laura Munson can help you breakthrough writing blocks, make your writing sing and pull those stories out of you and she does. I left Montana inspired and on fire to write.
–Erika Putnam Boise, Idaho

The universe is always sending out messages-songs and stories that need to be told and heard. A retreat with Laura Munson and the wonderful crew at the Walking Lightly Ranch tunes that channel in loud and clear. Run there with your heart wide open. Receive. Be forever blessed.
–Dixie B. Sarasota, FL

Laura Munson transformed my attitude toward writing – from thinking that no one would be interested in my story to feeling rejuvenated with confidence and desire to complete it. The peaceful setting of Walking Lightly Ranch and three days of sharing with the other incredibly different yet like-minded and funny women filled me with inspiration and motivation, and gifted me with 9 new friends of the heart and written word.
– Christie Boston, MA


they gathered needing
that thrill of discovery
eleven women strong
rule keepers, rule breakers
beautiful, courageous
adventurous women
then it begins to fall away

fears, anxieties surface
fooling with words
becomes painfully intense
the act of writing cathartic
and then it begins to make sense

eleven powerful women
broken open, sharing from their depths,
caring for each other
from their souls,
then they begin to return to wholeness

vulnerable, brave, wondrously made
women forming a community
of seekers
of writers
of poets
of companions on the journey
accepting their gifts
their communal connection,
with open hands and hearts
then and only then
does it all begin
to come together

Jan Myhre September 2012

Here’s a blog post about my Montana retreat


Filed under A Place For Writers To Share, My Posts

Are You Wanting to Start a Business? Here’s some inspiration…

When people advertise on my blog, I like to champion them, especially when they have created something powerful from pain.  I’d like to introduce you to Renee at Monogram Mama who will be advertising at These Here Hills.  Click on her great ad (right side bar) and go check her out.  What a great example of reinvention.  I am inspired.

I grew up terribly terribly preppy– pink monogrammed sweaters, monogrammed towels, gave monogrammed boxers to my high school boyfriend– heck my mother’s CAR is monogrammed…  And so Monogram Mama feels like an old friend.  Here’s to some shopping therapy.  To all of you who want to start a business but it seems too daunting…here’s her story.   May it inspire you to live your dreams and dream your life:


LM:  How did the idea for your business hatch?  What made you go from hatch to fledge?

MM: In the Summer of 2011 my husband decided he wanted a divorce.  I had not worked full time in 10 years because I have been raising four daughters.  Honestly, I was so frightened that I would not be able to support my children.  I read
your book and became inspired.  I took a hard look at my life and what dreams I had been pushing to the side.  One of those was to own a business and the other was to live at the beach.  But how was I going to do it?  For over four months I researched existing businesses to buy and I came upon a company that sold retail websites.   I had an idea to create my own and I hired them to create the site and teach me the ropes. I love monograms!  So, Monogram Mama was born and I am very proud of what I have created. And this month I am moving to the coast.  I finally can see the light at the end of the tunnel of my heart healing and my soul at peace.

LM:  What inspires you?

MM: Hands down my daughters are my inspiration every day.  There have been days that I have been crying so hard that I didn’t think I could take another breath but then I think of them and I push forward.  They look up to me and they believe in me.  All five of us realize that this is my time to soar and succeed.  I want to teach them to believe in their dreams and make them happen.

LM:  Did you experience any negative self-talk around creating your business? If so, how did you move through it?

MM: Every day!  In those first months after my husband left I didn’t think I was capable of even boiling water!  But I began to journal and I would print inspirational quotes and put them on the wall in front of my computer.  My girls also continued to
push me forward if I started doubting myself.  We are definitley a house full of strong women!

LM:  What is your vision for your business?

MM:  I want Monogram Mama to be one of the Top 3 monogramming sites in the country.  I plan for it to support me and my children and allow me to begin fulfilling my dreams of traveling to Africa and India.

LM:  Do you have a mission statement? If so, what is it? If not, what would it be?

MM:  I don’t have a mission statement.  What makes my site different from the others is the fact that it’s personal.  I want the customers to know “Mama”.  I hand pick each item on the site, I respond personally to any questions and I blog about other ways to bring a monogram into your life.  I don’t want to lose that personal touch.

LM:  What advice would you give other people who want to create something but are stuck?

MM:  The biggest thing I believe we all need to do in our lives is to listen to our inner voice. For years, I was ignoring mine and it was trying to tell me my life was out of balance.  It has not been easy to be still and listen.  Honestly, listening has changed my life.

LM:  What has been the best part of starting your own business?

MM: Meeting all of the amazing women! The company that built my site is owned by a woman who is not only smart but very strong.  She has built her company from the ground up, employs only incredible women and is a breast cancer survivor!  Also, the majority of the merchandise that I carry is created by women.  It has been a blessing getting to know them and their stories.  I appreciate each day being surrounded by them and learning from them.


Filed under My Posts

Breaking Point: #14

Today’s Breaking Point story is one of scope, perspective, reason, seasoned emotions, personal empowerment, grace.  I hope it helps people see that what hurts now…can free you.

First, here is a lovely poem from a reader that really spoke to me.  I love that she boxes up her memories rather than trying to erase them.  No one can steal our memories.  Or our joy.  yrs. Laura

Submitted by:  Renee Garner Williamson.

There was a promise made.  A vow taken.
And with a couple of words.  Broken.
I box up the memories.
And walk the halls of where daughters became women.
I close the door on a life of laughter.
And journey to a place where the waves whisper peace.
But in my heart there will always be him.

Submitted by: Stacia Duvall, who blogs here.

“Cashmere or Lace?”

What does one wear when she is off to meet the woman who wrecked her marriage?

Don’t get me wrong.  I am hardly fashion-conscious.  But when I think about being face-to-face with her for the first time, I am stymied.

We will meet at my grandson’s baptism.  She will be with him.  I will be with mine.  We will be cordial and we will be relieved to get it over with.

I will remember meeting her once in my husband’s office.  She was the technician behind the ultrasound machine when I was called back for a second look after a questionable mammogram.   I was vulnerable.

I will remember the slap of awareness when I noticed something amiss on the cell phone bill.  I will remember how calm I felt.  I will remember my mind breaking at the moment he responded to my question.  And I will remember thinking I had not prepped for this altered future.

She will seem young in comparison to me when we meet again.  I will be surrounded by my loved ones while she will have only him.  I will strive to make everyone comfortable and she will try her best to feel comfortable.

And we will move on to this new phase of life.  We will begin anew as a family redefined by infidelity and a 30-year marriage that faltered.

And as I dress for that day I will remember that I have come to know that I no longer blame him, or her, or even infidelity, for the breakup of my marriage. There were patterns developed very early on in a marriage of very young people.   I might have done it much differently if I had known what I know now.

I will remember good times, children, grandchildren, our shared history and what we still share today.

I will keep in mind that I have come to know that the total upheaval of my world turned out to be the best thing that could have ever happened. How the intense anguish steadily faded and how I started feeling stronger, sooner than I might have guessed.  And how free I felt.  Free from the grip of an emotional disconnect that marred an otherwise excellent life.  Free from a lingering unhappiness that hung on like the dull pain of a protracted headache.

I will remember how I never would have left him without stiff prompting because the known seemed far easier than the unknown.  I could envision my life 20 years down the road if I stayed. Without him, I didn’t see much past next Tuesday.

About the time she and I glance at each other from across the room, I will be thinking of how I have been able to forgive him, but not her.   As it is with friends and family known forever, I focus on his good qualities and not his serious faults.  I accept him for who he is because we have a common history and because I know him well.  I know the demons that haunt him and the goodness that is often buried.   I understand him as can only develop through years together.

I do not know her like I know him.  I know her from brief interactions when the marriage was failing.  I know how she looked when I ran into her after I found out.  She was at the video store with her husband and two small children and I was aware that her husband did not know yet.  I recall looking boldly into her eyes and willing her to think of her children and carry on as she should.  This is all that I really know of her.

Divorce is painful for most everyone, no matter the particulars.  What happens when it’s over and done has many versions.  With mine, I found a me that I never knew was there and a me that had long-since been forgotten.  I discovered strength, self-esteem and a person I liked better.  All from the unexpected window that popped open when a door slammed in front of me.

So while I may remain a bit apprehensive about getting over the hurdle of our first encounter, I am happy that my grandson will be surrounded that day with an extended family that still exists, if in different form and connection.   It is not today what I envisioned long ago it would be, but it is still a loving family.

I will wear whatever I feel like wearing that day and not dwell on it.

All I really need wear that day is a smile.


Filed under Breaking Point, My Posts

Breaking Point: #12

Today we have two teen Breaking Point stories– one of eating disorder and one of depression.  Perhaps you can relate personally or as a parent.  As I read these entries every morning, I at first feel a resistance to the experience of empathy and pain.  Yet with each one, by the end, something is released.  I hope it is the same for you.  Submissions are closed, but I encourage you to write your own Breaking Point story as a healing exercise. 

yrs. Laura

Submitted by: Natasha Kasprzyk , who blogs here.

“When You Know That It’s Real”

There was only one good thing about going to St. Juliana’s: Noon release on Fridays.

Early release from being teased at recess while the slap of jump ropes smacked on the blacktop, the stares of indignation when I, the Jew, dared to ask a question in Mrs. Lidgus’s Religion class; the hiding between the toilet and the back left corner of the bathroom stall, focusing my tear-filled eyes on the spit wads clinging to the ceiling, while Chris Flosi told Mary Fahey what an ugly fat slob I was.

In other words, release from (insert sign of the cross here) Hell.

Of course, early release meant trekking over to my mother’s office for the afternoon, because god forbid I actually get four hours of peace and be by myself in my own house…well, my mother’s house, that is. It wasn’t mine, I was reminded on a regular basis.

My one saving grace, one area of neutral territory between this version of jail and that, one place where I could seek solace was watched over by a benevolent little girl, face doused with freckles and topped with vibrant red, braided hair.


Every Friday, I stood in the winding line, waiting to approach the counter where I could spend MY money on MY lunch, as if the grease and cheese and starch and carbonation could transport me into a world without judgment, if only for a few, high-calorie minutes.

Kathy always worked the register on Fridays. Tightly cropped curls framed her face, and at the time I thought she wore an expression of focus, but now I wonder if it was resignation at what her career had become. She smiled when she saw me in line, as if I were an old friend who had come to break up the monotony of her day.

One afternoon, I knew I needed to make a change. This lunch just wasn’t doing it for me anymore. Whether I ordered my burger with extra ketchup or lettuce-free, it no longer brought me the pleasure it once had. Something was missing. And I decided that something was a second hamburger patty.

I finally arrived at the front of the line, ready to give Kathy my order, and in return, she would validate my existence for the week.

“Welcome to Wendy’s. How may I help you?”

Oh, Kathy, I thought. Enough with the pretenses…you could drop the formalities with me!

I smiled, cleared my throat, and said, “I’d like a combo meal, please…with a double cheeseburger.”

The corners of Kathy’s smile fell into a thin line, her lips held together tight until the right words were ready to come out. She looked left, checking to see if anyone would notice she was about to break character, leaned forward, and said, “Honey…do you really think you need that much food?”

Did she really just say that? Kathy, my one oasis in the middle of Hell?

I looked down to hide tears of embarrassment, put my money in my pocket, set my straw, two napkins, and four ketchup packets on the counter, and slipped out the side door.

I wasn’t hungry anymore.


Submitted by:  Mary Novaria

Her blog, A Work in Progress, is found here

Also on Facebook — www.facebook.com/mimsy811

A call from the school is rarely a good thing. When my phone rings and I see the caller ID, I resist the urge to let it go to voicemail, my thoughts wavering between now what? and impending doom.

“I have Hannah in my office,” says Mrs. K, the school psychologist. “She’s in a pretty dark place. Can you come to school so we can talk?”

“Of course,” I whisper calmly, although I am not calm.

Senior year. Until now, Hannah has attended school in our neighborhood. Less than a block away, I can see it from my kitchen window. It ‘s quicker to walk there than to drive and find parking. Wanting a fresh start, Hannah has transferred to a new school ten miles away.

I breathlessly sign in at the front office, a security measure that annoys me since I am in a mad dash to get to my daughter who doesn’t say much, but lets me hug her. We follow Mrs. K into a classroom and sit around a table with Hannah’s guidance counselor, assistant principal and gifted education teacher. They are concerned and sympathetic. Hannah looks small and pale. She’s huddled in a jacket with a sweatshirt pulled over her head, a state her dad calls being “hooded.” Hannah’s ever-present hoodie has become a security blanket, although it seems to make her more separate than secure. A symbol of retreat, the hoodie is a silent decree: Leave Me Alone. But a mother just can’t leave a troubled kid alone and neither can these educators who, although they’ve only known my daughter and our family for a few months, really seem to care.

“We are worried that Hannah isn’t safe, that she’s going to hurt herself.”

No one uses the word “suicide” or the phrase “kill herself” but we all know that’s what we’re talking about. The room begins to close in on me yet, somehow, also seems too cavernous for such an intimate discussion. High ceilings, fluorescent lights, institutional furniture… an assistant principal with tears in her eyes.

“I just want to get out of here.” It’s the only thing Hannah says.

“Before you can go,” Mrs. K says, “We need to be sure you’re not going to harm yourself, Hannah. Can you tell us you won’t?”

She can’t. Or she won’t. One thing I know about my daughter is she detests being on the spot. If she is backed into a corner she will dig in her heels and there will be an epic standoff. For the next hour, each of us tries to get a guarantee from Hannah that she’s not going to carry out some dark and deathly plan. I am grateful this isn’t my battle alone. Hannah knows exactly what she needs to do to escape this intervention and she won’t do it. It is a quiet and indirect cry for help.

“Hannah, I’m going to ask your mother to take you to the hospital…” Turning to me, Mrs. K asks, “Will you do that, Mom?”

“Yes. I will,” I say, aching from my tensed, furrowed brow to the knotted pit in my gut.

“No! I won’t go!” Hannah says defiantly.

“Then tell us you’re going to be safe,” someone pleads.


We’re not making progress. The adolescent psych hospital is not far away.

“They won’t admit you unless they feel it’s necessary,” I tell Hannah.

I am glad someone else can decide. This is the fifth time in the last year Hannah has had a hospital assessment related to her severe anxiety and depression. The first resulted in a week-long day program. The most recent was a six-week inpatient treatment center 2,000 miles away. Now this.

At the hospital, Hannah still won’t articulate a safety plan and is thought to be a danger to herself. She is admitted. She is furious. I want to take her home but I am too scared. She was gone over Thanksgiving. And Christmas. Then, finally, home for New Year’s. We had a fresh start, a new beginning, a healthy girl, hope.

That was three weeks ago.



Filed under Breaking Point, My Posts

Breaking Point: #9

A word from Laura:  I want to thank everybody for their vulnerability—my favorite quality.  Your Breaking Point stories are stunning.  Since this series ends on the first day of Spring, I am closing submissions.  But I encourage all of you to consider doing this exercise for your own personal growth.  The people who have shared their breaking point stories at These Here Hills tell me that it was a powerful and healing experience going back to a time that was so painful, and seeing how out of it…they grew into the people they are.  That is good news.  It means that we use pain.  It’s not wasted.  So wherever you are in your life, remember that.  Fasten it to your heart in those early morning hours as you lie awake worrying about the future, feeling shameful about the past, feeling that fight or flight buzz in your stomach that just won’t quit.  You are not alone.  Know that life is ever-changing.  That you can count on.  Have a great weekend!  I will continue to post the already submitted Breaking Point stories until March 20th, so stay tuned for more.  I hope they are helping you. 

Yrs. Laura

Submitted by: Sue Engle, who blogs here.

I turned my back on a 30-year career in Information Technology last year, after yet another “good job” disappeared. I’ve been struggling with this for a long time.  I have a degree in Writing and Editing, and I used it to make my living through business analysis and technical writing, moving my prose from my right brain to my left – from creativity to technology. But it was never the way I actually thought and approached life. It became more and more a struggle to force myself to think logically rather than intuitively. I was fighting myself every day I showed up at work.

The places I looked for a different path during this 30 years were concentrated on the spiritual and psychological – graduate school in counseling, seminary, religious education, developing a web site to provide a life planning service, extensive reading in psychology and spirituality, and active prayer and mediation practice. All of these brought me closer, but none of them completely filled the hole, the drive.

The whole process of learning I had finally left technology took longer than I thought… nearly six months. It was a hard mindset to leave behind. For a few months, I kept thinking I could go back part-time, or do certain tasks that didn’t trigger complete revulsion. Some position that I could use to fund my next life, fill the chinks in the budget that was being destroyed by living on unemployment. What triggered the switch was an interview where I didn’t get the IT job…actually, both the manager and I agreed I wasn’t the right fit. But he was impressed enough by my resume and attitude that he wanted to try to find a spot for me. I thanked him and came home to begin eating my way through the house, even though I’d finally been able to bring my appetite down over the last couple of months and had lost about five pounds. I realized that I was in the middle of a panic attack over the thought of going back to technology, and I knew I was done.

So what could I do? I’d been playing around with the idea of life coaching for a while. For years, co-workers had teased me about the “couch” installed in my office, where there was usually someone parked a couple times a week telling me about their problems. Not exactly a service most technical staff listed on their resumes, but definitely a hallmark of mine. This is what led me into a year of grad school in counseling, but I realized that I didn’t want to spend years letting people chew on their histories – I was far too results-oriented to give that much time to it. I worked too hard on understanding and getting beyond my own past to live in someone else’s story.

Thus the appeal of life coaching, once I found out about it. At one point a friend and I started talking about writing a book together one day, which morphed to developing a series of workshops, then a web site to offer a life planning service. We knew we needed content for the site and as the writer, that became my arena. I began writing from my right brain again on life transitions, and discovered pure joy and the more I wrote, the wiser I became. My own “aha!” moments led to insight I could communicate to all. Once this business was put aside, I knew this was content I could mine for my own site.

But it was so hard to get started.  I was unemployed, and I wasn’t bringing in enough income to cover the bills. At times I was absolutely paralyzed with fear over my prospects. I knew I was following my calling, but how was I going to manage it on no money?  And what should I do first? I couldn’t get past the starting gate.

Then I won a three-month membership in a group for prospective coaches, which included free coaching.  The encouragement inched me a little further forward. I worked out a deal with a friend to do some mutual coaching. A neighbor needed some coaching. But money still wasn’t coming in and I wasn’t writing, either. I worked a part-time temp job to help out a little, but it fell through just before the holidays. Bills were piling up, but somehow I was getting by.

I had a friend come over for the weekend to give both of us some distraction. I moaned for an hour, then she’d had enough. She set my woes to a cheesy C&W tune and through laughter, convinced me that I was born to do this work. Then we brainstormed names, taglines, and themes the rest of the night. The next day, she papered my house in encouraging sticky notes while I was away. I just found another one yesterday!

Later in the week, I was past due on the car and the rent, too. I was panicky again, looking around at my furniture to see what I could sell. Then I realized I had $25 on a credit card I’d forgotten. I could spend it on food, a bill, or I could get started on my life. I got busy, centered myself, and quit panicking.

Nine hours later, I had settled on a domain name, set up a basic web site, ordered cards, set up my blog, written the first blog post, and updated my online profiles. I started putting out blog posts three times weekly. Then the miracles started pouring in. I won marketing tools, more free coaching, and even was published online within two weeks of starting my blog! Money started trickling in; still not enough to pay all the outstanding debt, but enough to keep me going.

Two months later, I’m still seeing serendipity every time I move further forward on my path. If I veer, possibilities dry up and fall away. It’s still chancy… I don’t know anymore where I’ll be in a month and what I’ll have, but I know beyond any doubt I will have what I am building and more. I am flying further every day, soaring on miracles.



Filed under Breaking Point, My Posts

The Radiant Retreat– March 24-31– Join me in yoga and writing on a white sand beach…

So….you know when you have this idea? And it flashes in your mind and your rib cage flickers with heat. And you catch yourself smiling because you can see the whole thing play out in your mind like it’s being projected on the inside of your forehead? There you ARE! On a BEACH! With one of your best friends and a group of fellow journeyers, sharing and playing and doing yoga and writing. And there’s no judgement or meanness. You are free. For the first time in a long time you feel absolutely free.

And then in come the police. NO no no. You can’t go to that beach. Who do you think you are? You can’t afford to give yourself that gift. You’re supposed to be saving for your kid’s college fund. You’re supposed to be at your office on your computer not missing one deal, never mind one text or Tweet or Facebook update or email. You’re supposed to be RESPONSIBLE.

Well what if you can call a week in Tulum, Mexico with one of the best yoga instructors in the country and a New York Times bestselling author, and a group of kindred spirits…all coming together to inspire your body/mind to nourish itself…the ULTIMATE in responsibility? What is more responsible than taking a stand for your health–mind, body, soul? What is more powerful than making a deliberate move toward awareness and healing? Being blithe? Heck, maybe you’ll do a cartwheel on the beach.

It was the idea of that cartwheel (and no don’t hold me to it!) that got me thinking that I would make this investment in my well-being. My dear friend Jennifer Schelter, yoga goddess and so much more (read below), invited me to be the writing leader on this amazing retreat she’s been holding for the last five years. I saw the mental movie. Then I felt the police putting out that fire in my rib cage. And then I asked this powerful question:

What makes me most happy? Kind people. Writing. Beaches. Helping people to wake up to their creative selves. Moving my body around in nature.

And so after I told her the list of reasons why I couldn’t join her in Tulum…I interrupted myself and said, “Actually…I’m in. Count on it.”

We’ll spend our mornings in yoga practice.  And our afternoons at the intersection of heart and mind and craft that is writing.  We’ll find where we are stuck on the page and maybe even where we’re stuck in life.  We’ll do exercises that nimble the muse and tap into our creative voices.  We’ll breathe our writing ALIVE on a white sand BEACH!  I positively cannot wait.

Here is the info. There’s still space. Come give yourself this gift! Cartwheel not required.

The cabanas

The restaurant

Jennifer Schelter-- Yoga goddess and dear friend

Retreat led by: Jennifer C. Schelter

A leading expert on the mind-body connection, well-being and creativity, Jennifer Schelter was called “One of The Most Inspiring Philadelphians” by US Airways Magazine 2009, a “Real Goddess” in the “People Who Make the News” by The Philadelphia Inquirer, and “Best Yoga Instructor of 2007″ by PhillyFit Magazine. Her innovative work champions mind-body awareness and the integration of the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual needs for optimal health, performance, and focus. Her clients include Fortune 400 companies, Wharton Business School Advanced Management Program, and Authentic Leadership Training.

In addition to teaching Vinyasa yoga and meditation, she’s a life coach, playwright, author, actress, and entrepreneur.

Jennifer is the founder of Yoga Schelter; the premier yoga studio in the East Falls sections of Philadelphia and Yoga Unites®, a non-profit whose mission is to inspire individuals and engage communities in yoga, meditation, journaling, and dialoguing as tools for health and transformation. She leads over 1,200 people annually at Yoga On The Steps for Living Beyond Breast Cancer on the Philadelphia Art Museum steps and Freedom Plaza, Washington D.C. contributing to the success in raising over $300,000 in donations. In 2004, Living Beyond Breast Cancer Organization, presented her with the Community Vision Volunteer Award for “taking yoga off the mat” by envisioning and creating a one-of-a-kind event “Yoga Unites.” “Through her generous spirit, Jennifer inspires all women affected by breast cancer to breathe, stretch and move towards wellness.”

She is the producer of “am awake,” an audio yoga CD and DVD, “The Art of Vinyasa Yoga”, and is the founder of The Radiant Retreat at Maya Tulum, internationally recognized as one of the finest wellness destinations.

Amnesty International produced her one-woman-show “Love Lessons from Abu Ghraib” in 2009 at the Capital Hill Arts Center in Washington, D.C., the Regional Conference in Harpers Ferry, VA. and Haverford College. The show, recently produced by InterAct Theatre, received rave reviews on Radio Times, NPR in February 2011.

She loves her cat Shumba, and is currently writing a memoir based on her global adventures.

Writing Led by: Laura Munson, the author of the New York Times and international bestselling memoir This Is Not The Story You Think It Is: A Season of Unlikely Happiness (Amy Einhorn/Putnam 2010) which Book of the Month Club named one of the best books of the year. It has been published in nine countries and has been featured and reviewed in Vanity Fair, Elle, Redbook, Time, Newsweek, Washington Post, Publisher’s Weekly and many other newspapers, magazines, and online venues across the globe. Laura speaks and teaches on the subjects of empowerment, personal responsibility, and emotional freedom at conventions, universities and schools, writing retreats/workshops, and wellness centers. Her work has been published in the New York Times, the New York Times Magazine, O. Magazine, The Week, Huffington Post, Redbook, Woman’s Day, Good Housekeeping, Ladies Home Journal, More Magazine, The Sun, The Shambhala Sun, Big Sky Journal and others. She has appeared on Good Morning America, The Early Show, WGN, many NPR stations, Hay House radio, as well as other media including London’s This Morning and Australia’s Sunrise. She lives in Montana with her family and horses.

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A Lifeline for Writers

If you want to skip my rant below, just go here for the LIFELINE!  http://everythingyoushouldknow.com


Platform?  Say What?

For all you writers out there, here’s the deal– with a golden solution at the end:

(The news as it was delivered in June, 2009…and what happened when I paid attention)

“What’s that you said?  Platform?  I’m sorry, I don’t think I heard you right.  Must be the truck that just ran me over.  Could you come again?  I think what you said is that it’s practically impossible to get my books published in today’s market without a Platform.  Is that correct?”

Big-time New York publishing-world person responds.

Turns out I heard right.

“I need to sit down.  I think I’m going to throw up.”

Big-time New York publishing-world person says something about it being good news.  That I don’t have to throw up.  That social media is the new frontier and it’s full of Platforms.  Exclamation point.  Smiley face.  Like she’s just come back from a blogger’s convention or took a hit of Ecstasy or something.

“Good news?  It’s just that…well…I was under the impression, nay delusion, all these years that if you want to write books…uh…you write books.  In the wee hours while the children sleep.  During your break at the restaurant on the back of bar tabs.  On your hand in the car.  In hiding over Christmas break in your childhood closet.  And if you’re lucky, at a proper desk with inspirational quotes around you and a dog at your feet.  Sometimes for eight hours straight forsaking all others, even your sick mother.  And at least for what it takes to get you five pages.  Double-spaced.  Times New Roman.  12pt.  Every day, no matter what, for years and years.  And years.  What a fool am I.”

Daunting list is delivered in what sounds like a cross between Pig Latin and Sanskrit.

Shallow, rattled, authorly breath.  “Huh?  Blog?  Social media?  Brand development?  Promotion?  These words aren’t even in my dictionary.  I’ve been neck deep in narrative drive.  Plot points.  Characterization.  Dramatic tension.   Empathy.  I need an aspirin.”  I hang up less politely than I’d like.

I take to my bed with the covers up to my chin and stare at the ceiling for a good long time watching my future flicker past in Blue Ray, and of course, I don’t know how to turn it off because of course, I’m a techno peasant, as my friend Lee Woodruff likes to say.  But I don’t know her yet.  I don’t know that I’m going to be published in a few years and meet fabulous people like Lee Woodruff.  All I know is this:  It’s true—I’m never going to get published.

Then I call big-time New York publishing-world person back.  She answers; uses a tone I strike with my children when they’ve had a nightmare.  She is kindly prodding me to join the world of the living breathing adult 21st century writer.  But I’m not exactly there yet.

“What do you mean no one will publish my books and short stories and essays and poems because, wait say it again—I just need to make sure I heard you right:  I don’t have a Platform?  Like a train platform, where lovers leave and re-join each other in tears and blowing hooded capes?  Where soldiers return from war and businessmen and women go to and fro with briefcases and cell phones, tipping hats, politely nodding?  Or like platform shoes?  Tall and ankle-breaking and sure to go out of style?  Or like platform tennis—a cage with hard paddles and balls that don’t bounce?”

Her voice is the voice of the adults in Peanuts holiday TV specials.  Suddenly I want a Dolly Madison doughnut.   Instead, I sit up and try to become mature.

“Okay.  Platform,“ I say like I’m swallowing that aspirin, not that Ecstasy.  “Could you please tell me just what the F*** you mean by a Platform?  In the nicest sense of the word F***.”

And I learn.  I learn fast.  Because this is like an intervention and I realize I’m going to have to go to writing rehab and I know that if I don’t go, this writing dream might die.  Here’s what I learn:
If I want to get my books published…it would behoove me to build a brand.  To be an expert at something.  To get on the speaking circuit.  To have a website and to have something to sell there like a course on something.  I have to blog.  I have to Tweet.  I have to Facebook.  And I’m not gonna matter to anyone unless I have 20,000 followers who are waiting with baited breath for my monthly newsletter.  Among other things.  That’s what I hear for now.  Nowhere is there any mention of novel-writing.

“I miss my typewriter,” I say, pulling the covers back up to my chin, grieving all my book babies who will likely never see the light of day.  “What’s the world come to?  What would John Cheever and Raymond Carver and JD Salinger do?”

She plays hardball:  “Well you could try to send something to The New York Times.  Or The New Yorker,” knowing full well that the chances of that something getting published in those somethings is thin.  “But the social media Platform is easier to navigate.”

Good Lord.  Say it ain’t so.

But if there’s one thing I’m not, it’s a quitter.  I know I have to at least investigate this modern world that I inhabit.  In the traditional sense of the word, a platform is sturdy, if I think of it that way.  A launching pad.  A place for new beginnings.  A place where helicopters land and take off.  A place where triage happens.   And my books are in critical condition.

So I start a blog and I find I actually have something to say.  And a few people actually read it.  I actually even like writing those posts.  They’re short and great writing warm ups and usually have a photo in them.  I love photography and I’m very visual so this genre sings for me.  Not sure if anyone’s listening but at least I’m in control of getting my work out there wherever there is.  At least I’m on a Platform.  And I join Facebook and Twitter and I realize I’ve been really alone all these years in this office, writing books about made up people in made up lands.  Social media is so…well…social.  I actually like this Platform thing.  I write something and I put it out there and people read it.  Wow.  Wow wow wow.

All-too-quickly the honeymoon is over.  Because I learn that there is no Platform band wagon.  You have to build it brick by brick and it takes time.  Lots of time.  A lot like writing a novel.  But there isn’t really time to write a novel with all this finding friends on Facebook and Twitter, and blogging and newslettering…and why bother anyway, because apparently no one’s buying books by unknown authors and no one’s reading them.  Even though I read them.  But apparently I’m not “normal.”  I am beginning to build up a whopping dose of resentment.  Resentment is bad.  I take a pause and go back to a novel I was working on before the Social Media witch landed on my house.

And then it happens.  I get in some power tools and large machinery, and my platform is big and bright and shiny…because one afternoon, I decide to put my forehead on my writing desk and weep.  And in total surrender, I write the short version of a memoir I finished a few months prior…and send it, yes, to the New York Times.  The Modern Love column, to be exact.  And the next day, I get an email:  they want it.  They actually want it.

The morning that essay hits the newsstands, I have three hits on my blog.  By the end of the day I have 3,000.  Major national television calls my home phone.  I’m not even listed.  My agent goes out with the full length memoir.  In forty-eight hours I get a book deal at a major publishing house.  And my whole life as a writer changes.  The Platform works, turns out.

But remember, I’m an English major type with absolutely no business experience, never mind sense.  Two seconds ago I didn’t even know what a W-9 form was.  Or an LLC.  Or what the word fiduciary or even fiscal mean.  And here I am, me and my Platform, and just like I didn’t know how to build one in the first place, now that I have one, I have no idea what to do with it!  I learn the hard way.  I learn alone.  I hire my ex-nanny to be my assistant.  We limp along together in the world of Platform and heck—we do okay.

And then I meet a woman called Arielle Ford.  A writer.  A publicity whiz.  Here are a few of the people whose careers she has helped launch:  Deepak Chopra, Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, Neale Donald Walsch, Debbie Ford, Wayne Dyer, Gary Zukav, Dean Ornish, Joan Borysenko, Louise Hay, Jorge Cruise, and don Miguel Ruiz.

Arielle generously teaches me a thing or two and after a few years and a lot of hard work learning how to do triage on my Platform…I have the honor of participating in what I consider to be the singlemost helpful tool kit around when it comes to actually making sense of all this stuff writers are supposed to be doing when we’re not writing—pre-book and post-book.  This tool kit is Arielle’s way of shining light on what feels like utter darkness for most of us writers.  Oh how I wish I’d had what I am about to introduce to you years ago:

It’s called EVERYTHING YOU SHOULD KNOW and it’s an extensive course on the publishing world with pearls of wisdom from top-selling authors and speakers.  I am thrilled to be able to give you this lifeline and I am honored to be one of its interviewees.  Please…if you are in the dark, struggling and stubborn like yours truly.

Click here now:   http://everythingyoushouldknow.com/. 

It very well may be the best money you’ve spent on your writing career.  Conferences, retreats, lectures, how-to books all serve their purpose, but this is GOLDEN information that you won’t find anywhere else.  I am not a salesperson.  I get nervous laughter when I’m in that position.  But I am so blown away by the power of the tools in this marvelous tool box Arielle has created, that I am happy to be a megaphone for it.  CHECK IT OUT and tell all your writer friends that they don’t have to be in the dark!

Also, I’m GIVING AWAY two free tickets to Arielle Ford’s 21st Century Book Marketing live event in San Diego on October 14-16, just LEAVE A COMMENT BELOW on this blog post. This is a $994 value that I’m giving away for free! Two days of learning how to use everything she teaches you!

Go here to explore the video and EYSK.

Here’s to changing the tortured artist paradigm!  Here’s to empowerment…and light where there was darkness.



Filed under My Posts

NOT a Cancer Victim

As some of you may have noticed, I’ve recently welcomed advertisers onto my blog.  While it makes it possible for me to continue THESE HERE HILLS, it’s also a result of how so many of you have inspired ME with what you’ve created in your lives.  How you’ve turned your dreams into business realities.  I’d like to introduce you to Draper Therapies.  It’s a business that is particularly inspiring to me.  Their technology has created a textile which takes the body’s energy and re-oxygenates the blood,  thereby helping to alleviate pain.  I admit to being a bit of  a skeptic when it comes to heal-alls.  I’ve tried a whole range of ways to take away my back pain– acupuncture, chiropractic, magnets…and usually just end up popping the Advil in the end which seems to do the trick, although I don’t like taking pills.  The folks at Draper sent me a shirt and a pair of socks to see if I got results, and I must say…in the week that I’ve worn them…I haven’t been in pain.  I love that their products aren’t just for humans.  Horses and dogs too.  I’m honored to have them at THESE HERE HILLS, and to be speaking at their event in Wellington, Florida.

Here is Kat Wojtylak– one of Draper’s key employees, and dedicated to spreading the word about their great work in the field of  healing and wellness.  Kat knows all about healing– mind, body, soul.  Here is her story.

Getting Out of Your Own Way:  What It Means to Me. A guest post by Kat Wojtylak

The last three years of my life have been the happiest by far.  I’ve become a fundamental part of a company whose products are set to revolutionize the equine market. I’ve found an amazing man who has given me a foundation for an exciting and stable future.  And I’ve found a complete sense of happiness in myself (which borderlines on annoying to people who aren’t in a similar mindset, but oh well.)

This is not a post to share all my accomplishments at twenty-six, but to share my hardships and how they’ve become blessings.  They’ve given me the gifts I have today and made me into the woman I am by inspiring me to learn how to get out of my own way.

In 2006, my doctors started taking notice of a cyst in my neck.  I referred to it as my little Adam’s apple. Tests deducted that it was more of a blemish than anything else. I took medication to help make it shrink– but it didn’t.  It started to  grow and I got concerned. I decided to have it removed, even though my surgeon said it wasn’t necessary, given the normal test results and size.  But my nagging suspicion pushed me to take the next step.

A day before Thanksgiving, and two weeks before my twenty-third birthday, my family came to see me through the surgery. It was relatively uneventful and they left shortly after, once I was able to care for myself. A week later, everything changed.

My surgeon called.  My biopsy results had come in.  I had papillary and follicular thyroid cancer.

I had another surgery in February of 2007 to remove the rest of my thyroid and eventually went through radioactive iodine treatment just a few months later. As everything came to an end, I went into a depression and true to the saying “when it rains, it pours,” it started to pour.

The job that had secured the last year of my life was now gone, and even though I had just beat cancer, I played the poor me card.  The truth was that I just didn’t know what to do or who to turn to for help. I made the “simple” decision that I needed to be back in New England where I grew up– to be as far away from these wretched memories and start anew.  That I was in my own way, and needed to move out of it.  Emotionally, and physically.

In May of 2007, I moved to Massachusetts. It was my chance to start over.  Albeit rash, I’d finally taken a stand for myself. I needed to move outside of blame and take control of my life– to leave all the pettiness behind and start to focus on what I wanted and needed, in order to get better.  I needed to choose my health over everything else that I used to assign power.

And then I learned about Spencer Bell.  He was an artist I found in looking for a cancer support group. Spencer Bell is a phenomenal lyricist and musician that even after death brought so many people together in a place that is now a haven for many. Spencer died of adrenal cancer, a very rare and at the moment, incurable disease.  Because of the rarity of the cancer, it hardly ever shows up on the average person’s radar, but can wreak havoc on those families who sadly come into its path.   Through the efforts of his friends and family continuing his artistic legacy, I found support in a way I never thought possible.

These ties eventually brought me into the path of Dr. Gary Hammer who is the head of the University of Michigan’s Comprehensive Cancer Center Endocrine Oncology Program. Dr. Hammer is not only a wonderfully humble man, but his passion, combined with those in the Spencer Bell Memorial community, drove me to push past my inhibitions and make the conscious choice to give back. His enthusiasm for opportunities also introduced me to Laura Munson, whose sister-in-law died of adrenal cancer and had participated in his clinical trial.  Laura and I made an instant connection in our shared love for horses and our commitment to creating happiness in our lives…and forged yet another bond in an ever growing adventure of self responsibility.

Draper Therapies, the company I work for and love, recently launched a philanthropic project to give back to adrenal cancer research in the Spencer Bell Endowment Fund. The philanthropic efforts at our company, combined with a push for further education and our philosophy of health and wellness, stretches into giving everyone the tools to a better life, starting from the inside out.

My transformation came from the bottom up, and inside out. It all started from taking myself out of the toxic environment that had become my home and allowing myself the opportunity to really look at the person I had become. I slowly began to chip away at all the things I was unhappy with and eventually came to a point where I was content and accepting of the woman inside me. I learned that I  could face any situation with patience and love, even if I was smack dab in the middle of chaos.  It was a simple mind trick.

The greatest lesson I’ve learned is that we need to take care of ourselves, whether it’s our health, our mental status, or our souls. And if the going gets tough, don’t give your power away– gain control over who is in charge, so that you can combat even the greatest hardships in life with the greatest of ease. Practice makes perfect, but you’re definitely not human if you don’t make a few mistakes along the way.  Be kind to yourself.  Ask for help.  Find what inspires you.

Kat Wojtylak is Product Manager for Draper Therapies®, a growing therapeutic company using the technology Celliant®. Celliant is a revolutionary technology that harnesses the body’s natural energy through the use of minerals and fibers. The proprietary blend of microscopic optically responsive particles works with the energy released from the body and is designed to recycle energy back to the body to improve health and overall well-being of the wearer. Products containing Celliant have been clinically proven to increase blood flow and blood oxygen levels in the body and help balance body temperature. Increased blood oxygen levels have been clinically proven to relieve pain, promote quicker healing, improve sleep quality, heighten athletic performance and improve overall wellness. To learn more, visit http://www.drapertherapies.com or http://www.celliant.com .

Here is information on how to make a donation to Laura’s sister-in-law’s foundation:

The Sandra Kobelt Hau Memorial Foundation: Committed to enhancing the lives of others in the spirit of Sandy’s passion for youth sports, the arts and healthy living.

Contact: Timothy Gilmore tgilmore@bhfs.com


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