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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Top photo credit:  Bruno Lopez Bancalari Regueiro

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Haven Blog Series Winner

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

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

The votes are in and the winner is:

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

Haven by Maria Rodgers O’Rourke

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

–Katherine Stevenson, Mayne Island, British Columbia, Canada

 

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Amtrak Ode– The Train to Haven

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Heart Language

heart_houseHappy Valentines Day to you all from the heart of my home to yours.

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Conflict: A Love Story

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As featured on Huffington Post 50

As some of you know, I’m spending the winter working on a novel I’ve wanted to write for many years.  It’s a love story.  Usually I write the “one woman’s search for _________________” kind of book.  But this time there are two protagonists, a man and a woman, and the story spans over fifty years of their lives.  It’s a made-up jaunt in the fields of abundant love, and who wouldn’t want to play around in those fields?  The bummer is…turns out, a love story is hard to write.  Go figure.  I thought it would be a breeze.

Here’s why:  in the story of every important relationship, real or imagined…there is a conflict.  It’s not about avoiding the conflict, or denying it, or being afraid to meet it head on—it’s about accepting the conflict and learning how to navigate it with all your heart.  That’s not easy when you factor in the origin and foundation of each player’s sense of self, future, safety, risk.  A love story can be blood-sport, and it often is.  It’s how you play the game that matters.  (Not that it’s a game—I’m just using a metaphor.  At least I didn’t use “s***-storm.”)

Most of us do not want to accept this universal truth.  We want our relationships to come easily, without bumps and hiccoughs, never mind gutting pain or bottomless challenges or high-altitude hopelessness.

In fact, you may be one of the people out there who blithely claims that there is no conflict in your relationships.  But I’m not sure I would believe you.  I have a Golden Retriever, known to be one of the most docile, uncomplicated, forgiving, accepting creatures on earth.  And believe me, we are in conflict every single day, and for a large part of it.

It goes something like this:  “No, I can’t pet you—you rolled in deer guts in the woods and you reek and I don’t have time to give you a bath.  Don’t give me those eyes again.  I can’t handle the guilt!  I have a deadline and I’m late to pick up the kids!  And no you can’t come in the car because you rolled in deer guts in the woods!  That’s what you get for being a Montana dog!  Maybe you’d rather live in a three story walk up in lower Manhattan and regularly go to a dog groomer, and enjoy Chinese take-out at the dog park!  I apologize for your 20 acres!  I know—I’m a horrible horrible person.  All you want is a little love.  I love you.  Does that work?  Do you speak English?  Can I write you a love poem instead of touching you right now?  Ugh.  I promise, I’ll get one of the kids to wash you later today.  I just don’t have time right now!  At least I let you in the house with the deer guts all over you!  Can you throw me a bone here?  Ok, that’s twisted.  I know.  Especially when I haven’t given you a bone in a long long time.  It’s probably my fault that you went out foraging for animal bones.  You’re probably lacking in calcium or something.”

And that’s just my relationship with my Golden Retriever.  You should hear my conversations with my teens!

This afternoon it sounded something like:  “I’ll give you five bucks to give the dog a bath.”

“I’ve got homework.”

“I’ve got basketball practice.”

“How about ten?”

“Twenty.”

“Fifteen.  Do you want me to show you the C-section scar again???”

“Fine.  I’ll do it for fifteen.  But I’m still mad at you for not teaching me how to do a somersault.”

I offered my best glare.  I should never have taught them how to negotiate so well.  Mother of the Year.

And so the dog, the dog I love, does not get rubbed behind the ears for the better part of the day.  But at least he gets to stay in the house.  (I don’t profess to have the cleanest house.  We choose our battles.)  And the teens, they get their homework done, and the dog gets washed eventually, and we sit at the table on that rare night when everybody’s home and we talk.  What do we talk about usually?  Relationships.  About them being hard.  With teachers, and friends, and family members, and bosses.  That’s the stuff of life:  conflict.  Otherwise there’s no story.  Otherwise we talk about the things you talk about when you’re trying to help your kid not have nightmares.   And strawberry shortcake and fields of daisies only go so far.  Strawberries mold, and daisies wilt, and fields get hit by thunderstorms and blight.

Think about it.  Even jokes have conflict.  They wouldn’t be jokes without them.  Here’s our family favorite:  ”So  there’re two muffins in an oven.  One muffin says to the other:  It sure is hot in here.  And the other muffin says, Wow.  A talking muffin.”  Conflict:  Muffin vs.  Nature.  Muffin vs.  Muffin.   Muffin vs. Itself.

The fun of it all is in Conflict Resolution.  After the dog gets his bath and you are snuggling with him, rubbing him behind the ears and down his back, after the kids forgive you for not teaching them to do a somersault, fifteen dollars richer, after the house is quiet and the I love yous get whispered…that’s when I’m thankful for the love story and its inherent conflicts.

There is an arc to love.  It doesn’t just hatch and bloom and self-groom.  It comes, double-helix sometimes, like the Northern Lights.  But one thing is sure:  it comes.  Maybe not in the way you’d like to write it—as a beautiful, sweeping, epic love story.  Maybe it just wants you to scratch behind its ears.  And take it for a drive with the window down.

…Or maybe you want to love yourself, and give yourself a Haven Retreat!

The next Haven is from April 2-6 at the fab El Ganzo in Los Cabos, Mexico– considered one of the most romantic places in the world.  It all begins with self-love:

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Haven Winter Series # 5

What is inspiring you?  I hope that you can ask, in the dormancy of winter:  what would happen if I took a stand for myself?

This is the fifth in a series of guest posts:   For the last few winters, I’ve offered up my blog as a place for writers to share. I believe in generosity.  I also know how important it is for writers to write.  To that end, I’ve spent a few weeks posting the alive and brave words that people who have come to a Haven retreat are willing to share.  Read these words.  Consider this experience.  Play around in curiosity and wonder.  I hope that my blog will honor all of us who sit in the intersection of heart and mind and craft that is writing.

That’s what I’m doing.  Quietly.  For these weeks.  Please think about taking this time for your heart language.

While I’m focusing on my own writing…this year, I’ve asked Haven alums to write a short piece describing something they learned or a way they were transformed through Haven.  I’ll be sharing two pieces per post over the next couple of weeks.  With huge love to your muse–  Laura

Donna Bunten and Shannon McDonough.

Haven by Donna Bunten

River stands before me solid, unmoving.  My throat constricts as fear rises like a choking fog above a swamp on Halloween night.  Not from fear of the horse, a beautiful Arabian chestnut who stands 14.2 hands, a 1,000-pound animal able to stomp me to dust beneath his hooves.  No, fear of something much scarier—that River knows I have no will of my own, that I’m a chameleon, unable to be “real” because I don’t know who I am.  That I so desperately want him to like me and I’m afraid he’ll reject me because I’m not good enough.

“Donna,” Bobbi’s clear voice penetrates the fog.  “What’s happening, what are you feeling?”

“That I don’t really need to make him move around the arena, just for me, just to prove something,” I say out loud, my voice quivering.  The inner voice finishes the thought:  “You’re not worth it.  He doesn’t like you, what were you thinking, coming here?”  I want to cry.

Bobbi’s deep blue eyes meet mine, and quietly she says, “Well, someday you might really need to make someone move away from you.   You might have to take a stand for yourself.  Take a deep breath, center your intention towards River.  Now, try again.”

I inhale slowly, trying to breathe in strength and resolve, to shush the cacophony of voices in my head.  Then, in the growing stillness, I feel something stir in the core of my being.  Something warm, firm, solid.  Something dense, yet crystal clear.  Something that’s been there all along, even though I’ve forgotten.  I sense, rather than hear, the words, “You are enough, just as you are.”  I extend my arm and walk calmly towards River, holding his gaze.  “You need to move aside,” I tell him silently.

And he does.  Just like that.  “Horses aren’t comfortable around tentative people,” Bobbi tells me.  “Their survival depends on being able to sense danger, and to know their place within the herd.  You need to show the horse that you are in charge, that he can trust you to lead.  If you don’t know your own place, you just confuse them.”

Her words echo Laura’s from that morning’s writing session.  “Get clear with the voice telling your story.  The reader wants authority.  Hold the torch, show her you know where you’re taking her.  Stop camouflaging.  Take a stand for yourself.”

Back in my room at Haven, I sit weeping on the edge of my bed, doubled over as sobs bubble up and wash over me like a melting river escaping the icy grip of a very long winter.   The heavy energy of holding fear and shame begins to shift, to lighten, to dance.

River reflected back to me both my vulnerability and my strength.  Deep within my heart, the veil lifts, and I glimpse my true nature.   I see pain, fear, and doubt, but I also see courage and the infinite capacity for love.  It was enough for River, and it is enough for me.

I Am One of Them by Shannon McDonough

Why did I come here? I asked myself as soon as I got back to my room that first night of Laura Munson’s Haven Writing Retreat. I don’t fit in. This isn’t what I was expecting at all. I needed to breathe into a paper bag, but it turns out paper bags aren’t as easy to come by as you might think on a remote ranch in the woods of Montana. I felt like I could vomit. I wanted to leave.

The next morning I slogged through the group writing exercises, fighting back tears and the urge to run from the room. You’re doing this wrong played in my head like a skipping record. Again and again…that same tired old song I’d heard all my life. I was so trapped in my own mind the only thing I could write about was that I didn’t know what to write about. Brilliant.

When the morning session was finally over I let out a long, slow breath.  But before we broke for lunch, Laura asked who would like to read from their own work that evening. In a moment of what I can only describe as pure insanity, I raised my hand. I had known we would have this opportunity and I thought I was prepared to do it. But that was before I heard all these talented writers and flung myself headlong into a bout of compare and despair. Still, something deep inside me took over and I could only follow its lead.

That night we gathered on couches and chairs and beanbags in the cozy living room of the lodge overlooking the lake. With candles lit and cups of tea we settled in for the evening session. When it was my turn I took a deep breath and read my previously private work to these women who were strangers just a week before. And it was magic. Suddenly, in this safe and sacred space, enveloped in pure acceptance, I became a storyteller.

Later, as I looked around at these extraordinary women willing to bare their souls and share their stories, I understood why I had taken this journey to the woods of Montana. In this quiet place so far removed from the rest of the world, I came to know these beautiful souls who didn’t seem to see just how magnificent they are. That astounded me. Why can’t they see their own light? I wondered. And then I realized…I am one of them.

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Haven Winter Series # 4

This is the fourth in a series of guest posts, written by Carolyn Hopper and Eden Royce. For the last few winters, I’ve offered up my blog as a place for other writers to share. I’ve spent a few weeks posting their words while I’ve focused on my own writing. This year, I’ve asked Haven alum to write a short piece describing something they’ve learned or a way they’ve transformed through our writing retreats. I’ll be sharing two pieces per post over the next couple of weeks. 

Haven by Carolyn Hopper

“Go braless.”

I flick a glance at my chest. Up at her face.

“I can’t write about that.”

“Yes. You can.”

“My daughter might read it.”

One eyebrow arches. A conspiratorial smirk passes her lips. I trace circles with my toe in the breeze.

“I can’t write about my orgasm on top of a mountain during my Vision Quest. Not in the book I am writing about my mother and me.”

“Yes you can.”

I stop moving my toe.

Sitting beside Laura during my one-on-one session in the last time slot of the last day of the Haven Writing Retreat, I swat a mosquito, listen for cranes, inhale the  tang of rain-soaked pines.  Look her in the eye again. The gleam in her eye ignites mine.

“How?”

Laura holds her edited copy of the beginning of my story about my mother and me begun before she died—two months ago. I’d planned to use my time at the Writing Retreat to refocus on writing, take time for grieving, and relax.

“Just write it. The way you told me.”

“Sounds like porn?”

“Write it.”

Heat rises inside me at the memory of my Nature induced orgasm.

The next day I hear those words as if spoken while I stalk the lush, fertile plot of the Ranch garden with my camera. As I crouch beneath curlicues of squash vines, inhale the aroma of gleaming mahogany onion globes, finger puckered frills of kale.  Attempt to catch the perfect drop of rain in a photo for a magazine article about permaculture gardening and our chefs.

“Go Braless.” That was unexpected! Certainly not what I thought would be the outcome of any editing of the piece I’d sent in a month before the Retreat. Yet, it fit. Is this what happens when you leave home to spend a weekend with 11 other women at a writing retreat in the woods, eat Vegan food for four days, curl around a body pillow at night, give yourself to Place instead of Time? I know what was meant by those two words—be bold! Okay then, I will!

I began to digest that new recipe for stirring some spice into an otherwise straight forward story about two women and their connections or disconnections—my mother and I—one living and one dead, during my drive home.  And I thought of the message from hummingbird as he flew around me and in and out of my tent every day during my Vision Quest—love, joy, celebration.  Maybe he watched while I danced naked for the full moon.

Now, before I tackle the next chapter for my book, I’ll dig out my old CD and rock to “Celebration!” Uh huh! With my figure, however, I think I’ll wear a bra. Black lace.

 

A Not-so-Hasty Retreat by Eden Royce

In early 2013, I had a challenge with my writing. I not only felt uninspired, I felt that my vision exceeded my skill level. While a little of this is normal for a writer—or indeed any artist—it drained me. I was recovering from a health issue and I’d promised that I would charge forth once I was 100% again. But it didn’t happen.  I returned to normal life—slowly—but I didn’t create with the fury of a life restored. My typical inspirations didn’t work. My head wasn’t where it needed to be.

I needed to get away. Press reset on my writing. But the little negative voices chattered at me: You don’t have time. It costs too much. You’re still recovering, you need rest…

I ignored them.

A search of the Internet revealed there is no shortage of writer retreats. Some of them are minimalist. You get a room with a desk and three meals a day are left outside of your door. For others you are on your own in a new city and you have to shop, cook, create, and if you want to meet someone interesting, it’s upon you to start a conversation.

Neither of those was for me.

I must admit if I weren’t still on my I’m-so-glad-to-be alive high, I may not have booked the retreat. I may have let my chattering voices get in the way. But I didn’t. I made my way to Big Sky Country: Montana and the Walking Lightly Ranch.

During my Haven retreat I felt cared for. Not just physically, but emotionally and creatively.

Sitting on the edge of that lake I felt a connection with beauty of the land and a profound peace that meant acceptance of my new life. Something that I craved more than I thought.

Laura and my fellow retreaters were supportive and helped push me beyond my normal boundaries.  There was a part of me that I held away from my writing—a part too tender to be shared. Deep hurts and cherished memories that I feared would overwhelm me if I set them free. But these women—I call them my sisters now—allowed me to put down that burden I held so tightly.

I’ve never had a sister. As an only child I was denied that bond, that feeling of sisterhood that meant I could be as silly, shocking, or sad as I needed to be and it would be okay.

Haven gave me sisters. Sisters in writing. In life. It opened my heart to sharing and writing more powerfully as it brought bittersweet memories and tears of laughter. Most of all, it gave me the knowledge that there are people that want to hear my words and my voice.

 

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Haven Winter Series #3

For the last few winters, I’ve offered up my blog as a place for other writers to share. I’ve spent a few weeks posting their words while I’ve focused on my own writing. This year, I’ve asked Haven alum to write a short piece describing something they’ve learned or a way they’ve transformed through our writing retreats. I’ll be sharing two pieces per post over the next couple of weeks. This is the third post, written by Katie Crane and Sharley Bryce.

Haven by Katie Crane

As I remember it, Laura asked us to write two pieces, one fictionalized, one true, in the manner of diary entries written the day the events occurred. After reading our pieces aloud, the group would guess which story was real and which fabricated. At the retreat’s outset, I decided to use as many exercises as possible to write about my father, who had died five years earlier. I still harbor grief about his death, and I figured writing about him might help me process it. Of the two pieces I wrote for this exercise, the first could have occurred but did not. It involved my dad driving in a violent rainstorm trying to disguise his fear of the conditions by telling me a story about one of his life insurance clients who had undergone a sex change. My dad actually had such a client, and he actually did revise umpteen documents to note the change from Dale to Deborah. My dad also drove through his share of rainstorms, and when I was present, he always would try to mask his anxiety by acting calm and distracting us both with a story. But my dad didn’t tell me about Dale/Deborah while simultaneously driving through a rainstorm. Could have happened but didn’t.

My other piece—well, that’s a different matter entirely.

I wrote about my dad’s final night, as my older brother, his wife, my husband and I stood vigil in the hospital. That night was one of the most poignant experiences of my life; I remember it with unparalleled clarity. What struck me most was his sense of acceptance—of his life’s accomplishments or lack thereof, of life itself and thus the necessity of death. My dad always had feared his own mortality, so much so that he’d had a nervous breakdown five years prior at the prospect of radical surgery for his prostate cancer. Yet I believe my dad, by that final evening, had achieved a measure of peace with death. I like to imagine it was because he had two of his four children by his side and possessed a sense that his life, however it had turned out and regardless of his successes or failures, was enough. I will cherish that night for the rest of my days, because it allowed me to see a man formerly plagued by fear—a man I resemble in many respects—achieve peace. It showed me serenity is possible, and that is the greatest gift he ever gave me.

Everyone in the group guessed that the latter story was true.

I was able to realize the meaning of my father’s gift through writing about it at Haven. Haven allowed me to crystallize the experience and turn it into a narrative. Further, it highlighted that by learning to translate one’s experiences into authentic narratives, there is a way to achieve peace and freedom in this lifetime. That, dear Haven, was your gift to me.

Haven by Sharley Bryce

Circling memories come and go of times and places and companions.  One memorable experience came to me recently. To this day, I ponder just how it all got started.   After reading a book I couldn’t put down, but didn’t want to finish either; at the end, I held it in my hands in total reflection. The author, Laura Munson, was pictured, and my sense was that she was someone I already knew.  I think I emailed her to thank her. Some time passed. What stayed with me was how honest the book was. When I decided to attend her writing retreat in Montana, I was filled with the anticipation of meeting someone as honest as I think I am, and finding out how to put real life thoughts into words and down on paper.

Participants’ names and email addresses were sent to us, so, I picked one and wrote her to meet up and arrive together. At the airport, I heard my name and turned, and there was a younger woman with sparkly eyes so happy to meet me!  We went to the grocery store to select snack items.  I wondered if you can tell anything about a person by what snacks they enjoy.  Was I worried I wouldn’t relate to the people?  It wasn’t fear of the unknown as much as it was curiosity about just what the next four days were going to be like, and the reach for myself.

Once at the ranch, after getting settled, there was a unique mix of individuals watching and waiting.  The ambiance was comforting: wood paneled walls, a fireplace, comfortable chairs, a sun porch, and another long narrow room with a wall of windows looking out to a lake, and… a piano!  Amazing smells came out of the kitchen overlooking a tended garden of vegetables, herbs and flowers.  I was struck that my feelings were more of excited anticipation than of expectation.  This was going to be interesting!

The ensuing days were devoted to writing prompts that were timed, sharing around the circle reading aloud to one another what we wrote, and spending time outdoors.  Reading my most heartfelt piece, about loneliness, I looked up to find three women sitting on the floor just near me, quietly weeping.  Little did I know this kind of connection could happen because of something I wrote!

Growing up, I had done lots of horseback riding, but nothing and no one had prepared me for the special experience of being in a field surrounded by horses that had never been ridden.  Unafraid, they would approach and stand, majestic, seemingly grateful for the closeness.  My very first thought was, these are animals, but they are spirited just as we are, and capable of so much love and connection!  Unbridled, they were calm but totally aware of our presence.  Up close, their eyes looked human and their soft nostrils were like velvet!  With a wand in my hand, my chosen horse followed me!  For those amazing minutes we were in tandem, and all was right in our world. Parting with the horses that day was sweet sorrow….

The following day was the next to the last day. By now people knew each other. We would share stories, drink wine,  enjoy healthy food and stand around the piano together. That morning we all went outside to take group pictures.  The weather had turned misty and it seemed fitting for the mood of our departure from this magical place. We took our shoes off each time we came inside.  On the last morning, I went outside for one last look around.  There were all the shoes on the top step, nine pairs of them! Each was different, some of them boots, some of them running shoes, different colors and sizes.  They were just there the way they were left, some upright, some on their sides, still and quiet, waiting for the energy to fill them and move them on.  I was going to miss that energy, that relating to me in my life. And I was going to miss the hearts and souls of the women whose quiet trust and confidence had inspired me in ways I would continue to discover.  Their love of honest expression in words we shared in common, and we shared much more than that.

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Haven Holiday Giveaway

Giveaway Basket-December 2013

Announcing the winner of the Haven Holiday Giveaway!

I have never experienced more personal gratification in putting together a basket of love, spirit, and much good work– all from people who have touched my life.  Each of these people had an idea.  A far-fetched idea, some might say.  None of them let that get in their way.  What you see here is not just a bevy of incredible products, but hours of heart language, and miles of creative flow.  I want to thank all the  contributors.  Check out their information below and spend some time seeing what they do.  Maybe you have a “far-fetched” idea.  Maybe you long to bring it into reality.  These people hold the torch and say, “welcome.” 

Happy Holidays from Haven.  May you find haven during this magical time of the year. 

yrs. Laura

This gorgeous Giveaway basket includes:

A priceless collection of some of my very favorite things…to keep your heart hearth warm through the holidays and beyond…including a 10% discount on a Montana Haven Retreat in 2014!  Sign up here and win!

Welcome to some of the things I love!  I own all of these gorgeous creations and incorporate them into my life as often as I can.  They help me to focus, feel balanced, stay mindful, intentional, and grounded.  And they also feed my muse.  Each of these very special products has been birthed by powerful people who have come into my life and deeply inspired me.  I invite you to check out their web-sites and consider their creations in your holiday gift-giving.  And I encourage you to dig deep into your creative self-expression and follow your own passion wherever it leads you!

Giveaway Gift Basket:

A signed first edition hardback of my New York Times and international best-selling memoir:  This Is Not The Story You Think It Is:  A Season of Unlikely Happiness

2014 Montana Haven Retreat (selling out fast)!!!  10% off a retreat experience that will inspire your creative self-expression, nourish you, and re-charge your muse.

Great Northern Powder Guides:  10% off the cat ski adventure of your life in the stunning back-country of NW Montana.  A truly powerful Montana Moment!

Jessica Ricci Jewelry:  Silver Temet Nosce ring (Know Thyself)

BijaBody: BijaBody Nightly Beauty Tea, Deluxe Discovery Set with a sample of BijaBody’s protective Daily Body Serum and regenerative Anti-Aging Body Treatment, in a gorgeous, hand-make canvas bag

Clovis Jewelry:   Gold-filled Horseshoe Necklace

Glacier County Honey:  Two Montana-made large pine cone beeswax candles

Jennifer Schelter Yoga:  Inspirational Vinyasa Yoga DVD from one of the country’s best yogis.

JAMU Spa Products:  Ginger Spice Spa At Home (organic ginger massage and body oils and Balinese ‘boreh’ body scrub)

The Zen of Slow Cooking:  Organic whole and ground spice blends crafted for your slow cooker and designed to infuse a little zen into your kitchen.  Shopping list, recipe & zen reflection included.

And the randomly selected winner of the Haven Holiday Giveaway is: 

Heather Higinbotham who blogs at: http://justbegooddogood.blogspot.com/ and does wonderful work for Montana here!

Thanks to all of you who entered.  There are more giveaways to come in 2014 with more of my favorite things!

 

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To Teach

dove

bird on a wire in the desert

My next Haven Retreat is a rare event in Boston after the MA Conference for Women. If you seek a deeper relationship with your creative self-expression…come!  Here’s the info.

I had a personal day today. I wrote. I rode a bike around Tubac, Arizona where I just lead a Haven retreat. I took photographs. I looked at light and breathed deep. Here’s something that came in on the desert wind:

TO TEACH

To teach is to listen for heart language
And to let people know that they have a pulse.
Or to remind them.
Sometimes to convince them.

To teach is to aid and abet the vivid “yes”
And the vivid “no”
And to call the troops off the battlefield
At least for the observance of Sunday supper.

To teach is to see past windows of eyes
Into souls
And be a curator with hands behind you
Not touching the painting
But seeing its meaning
Feeling the waves of the oil-brushed tempest against the dinghy
Smelling the salt air
And the breath of the painter
Knowing, if you were to point,
Exactly where her tear dropped
Into that salt sea.

To teach is to push a cart up a steep hill.
And have a line of people who believe in your brawn and compass.
And feet’s familiarity with the ground.
And to have people fall out of line.
Stray.
Turn back.
Come in front of you and push against the cart.
Until you show them a better place to push.

You say, “Thank you.”  

You feel a wordless joy.

And you weep a little.
But only inside.

You have a cart to push.
And you are tired.
And your muscles are in question.
And your sense of direction.
And you can never remember on which hilltop stands:
The Bo Tree
Golgotha
That mount.

You are a student.
You know where it is.
You just need reminding.

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