Tag Archives: wellness

My Next Happy

772Here’s a good question for you:  What do I have of value that I can offer the world…which would earn me a consistent living?  Here’s an essay that will show you one woman’s answer.

Inspired by The Next Happy, by Tracey Cleantis.  A book (and author) I love…and that will help you deconstruct what it is to be happy and apply it to your life!

As seen on Tracey Cleantis’ Blog:

What if there’s a whole world out there waiting for you to step into, tapping its fingers and toes in anticipation?  What if it’s been beckoning you for a very long time, courting you in your dreams, teasing you in snippets of conversation with surprise strangers who say things like take care or have a great day or how are you and really mean it, when some of the main players in your lives don’t?  What if you are more powerful than you could ever imagine and your ability to be happy is just as vast?  What if the thing that is keeping you away from your happiness and your power is something you can shake off and leave in the dust like a broken flip flop, even though it feels more like a cement boot?  What happened to your dreams?  And why aren’t they coming true?  Why aren’t you happy?

Five years ago, my oldest dream came true.  After devoting decades to the writing life in a small mountain town in Montana, tending my little family, I finally had a book published.  It had a message that a lot of people wanted to hear, which grew out of my apparently-rare reaction to a marital crisis…and suddenly I had a career as a writer and a speaker, touring the country, doing big media, and speaking at large conventions.   I was scared and excited and deeply happy.  I believed in my message:  we can create a life that works no matter what hardships we face, by powerfully choosing our emotional reaction to our lives, truly embracing what it is to stay in the present moment, and taking responsibility for our own happiness.

In order to effectively be its messenger, though, I needed an affirmation to repeat in my mind and keep close to my heart.  I chose this:  I give myself permission to be exactly who I am and have it be easy.  For the most part, it worked.  Intentional words have a way of doing that.  In that season of my life, I was happier and more grounded than I’d ever been.  I was making a difference in the world doing what I loved, my marriage and my family were resuscitated, life was joyful.

A few years later, everything changed.  Sadly, my marriage needed to end, and this time even more was at stake:  my financial stability and that of my children, my family orientation, my career.  It was a mean season of post-divorce with all arrows pointing toward losing my house, public shame, and personal misery.  The rug everyone warned me about was indeed ripped out from under me and I spun in the wind of chaos and fear.  I give myself permission to be exactly who I am and have it be easy felt as far away as the rug which once supported me.  Who was I exactly without my family intact?  What was intact?  Where was my power?  Where was my joy?  My gut told me that more than any time in my entire life, if I was going to find happiness again, I needed to mine the gold inside me.  And my fear was quelled by the fact that I’d been such a “miner” for a long time.  If I hadn’t been, who knows what would have happened.

So I asked myself a powerful question:  What do I have of value that I can offer the world…which would earn me a consistent living?  Being a New York Times best-selling author doesn’t mean you are guaranteed financial stability.  Speaking gigs required me to leave my children and they needed me at home in that time of uncertainty.  It was time to get very very real.  Or lose so much of what I’d created for myself and my children.  What did I possess that people needed, in the same way they seemed to crave my book’s message and my speaking topics?

Hell-bent to find my gold, I deconstructed the questions from my speaking events and interviews.  And I realized that the number one question I was asked had nothing to do with marriage or crisis.  It had to do with Voice.  Story.  Self-acceptance.  I had written my way through a difficult time, and other people wanted to do the same.  There were people all over the globe dying to tell their stories, but they felt stuck and even desperate.

Over and over again I heard:  “Why does my story matter?  How do I find the words to tell it?  Or the time?  Is my voice even interesting or unique?  Who cares anyway…it’s all been told before.”grief

Over and over I said, “Yes, your voice is unique!  And so is your story!  No one has the same voice or the same story—it’s not possible.  And no one can tell it like you.  It matters to the world because it matters to you!”  But the lifeline that came so easily and naturally to me, was terrifying for most people to grasp…even though they wanted to, deeply.  I longed to swoop up all those seekers, bring them to Montana, and teach them what I’d been practicing for years with all my might.  To help them sit at that intuitive intersection of heart and mind and craft that is writing.  To help them know what I know:  The act of writing is a highly transformational and therapeutic tool, regardless if anyone even reads it!wf

In a moment of totally clarity I saw it:  There was a serious hole in our human existence…and I knew a way to fill it.  What if I actually did bring people to Montana, gave them the solace of the mountains, lakes, and rivers, communion with other seekers, and plugged them into a design that would have them find their voice, their stories, and set them free?  What if I led retreats?  Not just for writers, but for anyone who wants to dig deeper into their self-expression through the written word.  There’s not a soul who wouldn’t benefit from that!

And then the inner critic came in.  What cred did I have?  I’d never led a retreat.  I hadn’t really been on many retreats.  Montana was far away for most people.  Why would they bother? But as I’d instructed so many to do, I remembered that the inner critic is just a scared child who needs a nap, and I cleared my head and came to my senses:  I had something that the world needed.  And any life-changing service to humanity is worth something in the realm of financial security.  Maybe retreats could be my way to re-invention, to have time to write again, to be exactly who I was…and yes, have it be easy.847

So I opened up my computer (and my heart), and a design for a five day retreat gushed out of me, as if it had indeed been waiting for me, tapping its fingers and toes.  There was the gold!  I mined all the things that made my writing practice work.  There would be guided writing prompts that interrupted the inner critic and invited people to play like children in the themes and stories of their lives.  There would be one-on-one mentoring with me.  The chance to give and receive feedback on projects, at all levels and genres.  There would be delicious nourishing group meals, and opportunities to get out of your head and into your bodies—long walks, yoga, horses—my three lifelines outside of writing that kept it balanced.  There would be time to write in solitude.  And lasting community long after the retreat in various forums and consulting opportunities.  A workshop, retreat, and community all in one.  Heaven.  So I called it something very close:  Haven.  Haven Writing Retreats.

Before my inner critic could wake up from her nap and tell me how delusional I was, I put it on Facebook:  “Anyone want to come on a writing retreat with me in Montana?”  And in two hours, twenty-four people signed up.

I had no place to hold Haven, no price point, no experience, and no team.  Four months later, I was leading a writing retreat that would soon be ranked in the top three writing retreats in the country.  Four years later, I lead eight retreats a year, have worked with almost four hundred people, and been featured on many radio shows and media venues for this powerful retreat experience that has changed lives over and over again.  It has certainly changed mine.  My life is stable.  My children are thriving.  And in it all, I fell in love with someone who meets me in a way I never knew possible.  I am happy.

It came from asking myself a simple question:  How can I serve the world by being exactly who I am?  By mining what I have to offer?  And offering it in the way only I can?

So…if you are staring down the barrel of a major life shift and the inevitable re-invention that must come from it, why not have your re-invention reflect your deepest truth, and your biggest dreams?  Ask yourself:  What makes me happy?  How do I already show up for it in my life?  How can I share that with the world?  If you do…you just might find your way to a world of happiness…by being exactly who you are.  You might find your Next Happy.

Montana February Haven Retreat, 2015 "I write in a solitude born out of community." -Terry Tempest Williams

Haven Retreats Montana 2015 Schedule
September 9-13 (full)
September 23-27 (only a few spaces left)
October 7-11 (full)
October 21-25 (only a few spaces left)

Now Booking for 2016:

February 24-28

June 1-5

June 15-19





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Writing inspiration from Haven Retreats

Teachers say that they are always students.  I have the pleasure of working with writers almost every month in some form.  Here is some of the wisdom I’ve gleaned and put into my own words.  My daughter has a powerful and unique way of seeing the world.  These are her images.  There is simply nothing more delightful to me than co-creating with people I care about.

Ten more brave souls arrive in Montana on Wednesday from all over the country.  I simply cannot wait to teach…and learn.  Enjoy!




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Write to Live. Write in Community. Write Because You Can’t Not.

IMG_1507Previously published by Adam Wahlburg from Think Piece Press.

I have written my way through crisis many times in my life.  One of those times resulted in a best-selling book that was published in nine countries.  Most of the other stuff is in my journals.  I believe that writing is a deeply healing tool.  I recently had a conversation with a book editor who specializes in books written about crisis and healing.  I’d like to share it with you because he asked really great questions and got my brain digging deep.

If you are considering writing your way though a crisis in your life, not just for your journals, here are some things to consider:

TP: The book is so skillful about identifying what’s really going on underneath the words, which is so hard to do. How did you arrive at such insights?

LM: Years of therapy! (Laughs.) Seriously. It also came from dealing with years of rejection from publishers and editors. When you get a form letter from the publishing world, it often reads like this: “This does not meet our needs at this time.” Right? It’s just the life of the writer. But I would take that  personally. In two seconds you can take that form rejection letter to, I’m a bad writer, I have no talent, I’m never going to get published, I can’t believe she got published and I didn’t. All that junk. And all that does is bring one into an intense world of suffering, and I had gotten very tired of that suffering. I had to tell myself a new story. And with the help of a great therapist I learned to find a gap between the things that people say and do and my emotional reaction to it. Whether it’s a publisher or a husband!  We have choices emotionally, and that is new news to a lot of people. It was to me.  We don’t have to be emotional victims.

TP: You write so clearly about being aware of your negative self-talk, which is a battle in and of itself, for so many of us.

LM: It is. We all have one of those negative voices and he or she is loud. By the time you become middle-aged, the voice is usually saying really mean things, things you wouldn’t say to your worst enemy. Many of us aren’t even aware of the way we speak to ourselves in our own mind. When you start tuning in, it really helps you to understand how much of a corrosive climate we have in our own minds. We walk around saying such cruel things to ourselves and it becomes our normal. Finding the awareness of what goes on in our minds and seeing how we’re suffering and putting a stop to it is the practice. It’s not going to happen overnight. We have to be able to develop a payoff.

TP: What do you mean by that?

LM: Well, you’re not going to spend your whole life walking around saying, Oh I love myself! My life is great! That would be dandy, but for most of us that’s just not going to happen. When we can start accepting our whole selves including our shadow selves with our inner critic, and realize that the shadow self is a scared creature who lives inside of us, it gets easier to look for where the positive payoff is and to cultivate that. Once we start moving into that way of thinking it can inform our way of being.writing

TP: And writing for you is a part of that payoff?

LM: An essential part. And I think it can be for many people. I think writing should be considered as much a preventative wellness action as diet and exercise.

TP: I like that. When did you discover this for yourself?

LM: Pretty early. I was able to find it as a young woman, and that’s something I’m very grateful for. Writing wasn’t just a passion, it was a lifeline. It was the one place where the climate was a free zone, a place where I could always fit in, a place for my inconvenient truths and dirty secrets. That was the one place I knew I could go whenever I wanted and have it feel safe. Little by little it felt better and better to be in that place.

TP: What a gift.

LM: I’d spend hours and hours on a summer Saturday afternoon up in a treehouse writing and writing and writing. You’re just not born this way. At some point I figured out it feels good. It’s like people who are good at exercising and learn that it feels good to do it, so they go out for a jog. I never got that. (Laughs.) Writing is one thing I’ve been able to show up for in my life no matter what, whether I had three jobs or small children or was going through some sort of a crisis. I’ve always been able to tap into my writing.

TP: How does it feel to have a book take off in the way this one did, after so many years of writing?

LauraLM: I feel like my kids were a good age when this happened; they were in high school and middle school. So I got to model for them not just this woman who sits in this room in Montana and writes all day. (Laughs.) Now they can see that Mom sometimes speaks in front of large groups of people and has a web presence. They can now see me doing something other than just spending all those hours at the bottom of the stairs tapping away at the keyboard. And thank god I am the woman I am now, and the writer I am now, because I know myself now. If I had gotten all this in my twenties or my thirties or early forties it might have overwhelmed me. I know it wouldn’t have stopped my writing but it could have stopped my career. I’m glad for all those years of writing and sitting quietly and privately at that intersection of heart and craft and mind.

TP: How did you keep the faith with writing all those years, finding time to do it while holding jobs and raising children?

LM: You may not know at first why you’re doing it. It took me a long time before I sat down and wrote an author’s statement because at one point after a number of brutal rejections from books that I felt were really quite publishable I just sat myself down and said why? When I realized that this might not happen, this publishing dream of mine, I had to accept that I’m not going to stop because this is my practice, my meditation, my way of life, my way to life. So I wrote down one line that came out of my deepest well, and it said, “I write to shine a light on a dim or otherwise pitch-black corner to provide relief for myself and others.” And that’s when I realized I was writing from a place of service, both to myself and others, and that’s when I started getting published.

TP: And through your Haven writing retreats, you’re helping others integrate writing into their lives. How did you get started doing them?

LauraLM: When I suddenly was out there on the wellness circuit talking about personal responsibility and emotional freedom and all these lofty concepts, people would come up to me and say they’d love to write but they don’t feel like they have a unique voice. Or they’d say they don’t have the time or aren’t creative. Plenty of people would come up to me and say that everyone tells them they have an incredible story they need to write but don’t know how to get started. They couldn’t give themselves permission to do it. The one that I heard most was:  “You wrote your way through crisis.  I’m going through a crisis right now.  And I need some way to get through it.” And so it occurred to me one day: why don’t I develop a forum where people don’t have to do it alone? I just put it on Facebook one day. I said, Hey, anyone want to come on a writing retreat with me in Montana? Within two hours I had 24 people sign up. Quickly I figured out where to do it and what the design was going to be and the price point and I started leading retreats. That was four years ago.  And it’s not at all for people going through crisis.  It’s for anyone who wants to dig deeper into their creative self-expression on the page.  Anyone looking for their unique voice.  Anyone looking for permission to breathe it alive!

TP: And it’s growing and growing.

LM: It is. I’ve now worked with over 300 people. Open Road Media named Haven Retreats as one of the top five writing retreats in the country. I lead eight of them a year and we have an ongoing community of writers who continue to support one another. It’s not just a one-time deal. It’s a whole community of support and it’s designed based on what was lacking in my life.  Community.  Support.  Kindred spirits.  Mentorship.  You can come to Haven I and experience the five day immersion into your writing voice and your stories and themes.  Then you can come to Haven II if you are a Haven I alum and have a book in progress.  And then if you complete the Haven II program, you are eligible to work with me one-on-one on your book.  Not everyone who comes to Haven I is working on a book.  So you can come to Haven I and have a complete and powerful experience, or work the whole program from inception to book birth, if that is your goal.  Basically, I designed the retreat that I would want to go on, and the program I wish I’d had all along.  It’s incredible to see all these Haven alums interacting on our private Haven internet page.  So much support and kindness.  It blows me away.

Montana February Haven Retreat, 2015 "I write in a solitude born out of community." -Terry Tempest Williams

TP: You must meet so many interesting people.

LM: I do, and many don’t even consider themselves writers at all. They’re all over the place in their creative journey and I love that. We get people who have strong writing practices, publication credits, and we get people with works in progress, and we get people who are just starting and want to write in their journal or capture their grandmother’s homesteading story.  I love that.  We learn so much just by listening to each other and learning how each person’s voice is exceptional.

TP: Why is community so important?

LM: Just so you can be supported in your process. You can go to a cabin in the woods somewhere and be taken care of for food and things. Even if it’s just a small community that has meals together at the end of the day, I think that’s important. But a lot of people wouldn’t know what to do with the cabin in the words. The retreat is actually a retreat and a workshop in one. Each day you get major craft instruction through the morning class, which consists of writing prompts that I put together. But it’s very much through the back door. It’s play. We get outside of our comfort zone and people find their unique voice. And the evening class is a straight-up workshop, where writers get feedback for their work. You can consider the work that you do in the morning class compost at the end of the class.

TP: And it’s all done in a nurturing environment.

LM: It’s so important to have some kind of community, and to make sure that the people in that community know how to give good feedback. That’s rare, too, to find good readers. I’m trying to offer all of these things to people as I don’t want to perpetuate this tortured-artist paradigm. I want to empower people in their creative self-expression, wherever they are, and I know that’s possible. It doesn’t need to be a tortured way of life. And yet it’s a very rare person that wants to have writing in their life to this degree. I don’t want people walking around feeling alone and different and almost ashamed of that side of them. Haven sets you up emotionally and psychologically, whatever that means to you.

TP: You’re making me want to come to Montana.10482836_10152085778066266_8327595912032369678_n

LM: You have to come! I’m thrilled to share my Montana muse with other people. These people who come are really brave and a little scared but they’re taking a stand for their creative self-expression and it’s inspiring. Somehow they’ve gotten themselves out here to the woods of Montana to do this for five days and it’s wonderful.

TP: So do you still have time to write your own books? What’s next for you?

LM: I write several books at the same time and then I pick one to focus on. I just finished a memoir recently, and I finished a novel last winter that I have high hopes for. I’m also working on a book about the writing life and how to use writing in your life, much in the way that I’m talking about it with you. Oh, and a series of novellas. We’ll see which one gets fully birthed first. But ultimately if none of them gets published, I still feel complete. Writing is how I feel OK on this planet.

— This interview has been condensed and edited for publication.


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Create Community– You Don’t Have to Do it Alone!

Montana February Haven Retreat, 2015 "I write in a solitude born out of community." -Terry Tempest Williams

Montana February Haven Retreat, 2015

as seen on Women Writers, Women’s Books

“I write in a solitude born out of community”—Terry Tempest Williams

I am home from leading a five day writing retreat in the woods of Montana where hundreds of people have come in the last three years to dig deeper into their creative self-expression on the page. That is my invitation to them. That is my only promise: we will dig deeply and I will keep it a loving, safe, and nurturing community. My call: Find your voice. Set it free. You do not have to be a writer to come to a Haven Retreat. Only a seeker. Come.

Look into these faces, these eyes, these smiles. These were strangers on a Wednesday, who journeyed to Montana from hundreds…thousands of miles in every direction.

This photograph was taken on Saturday night, three days later. This is what can happen when people gather to create in community, held safely by someone who knows what it is to use writing as a practice, a prayer, a meditation, a way of life, and sometimes a way to life.

I will keep doing this work until I answer the question I have asked my entire adult life: Do I have to do this alone? Is there anyone out there who cares? Is there anyone out there who can help me?

Be careful if you want to go on a writing retreat. I designed the retreat that I would want to go on, so Haven offers no “easy” way to get published, no bullet points to follow for success, no slick method to find your voice, no guru to worship. No gift shop, no 5-step DVD.


Haven offers community, support, inspiration, and a place to take yourself apart a bit and weave yourself back together, new…through heart language. It is the most important work, outside of what I have birthed in my children and my own written stories, that I have ever done.

I didn’t know about writing retreats when I claimed my life as a writer in 1988, fresh out of college. I thought I had to do it alone. I didn’t trust community to understand my yearning, my craving, to make sense of this beautiful and heartbreaking thing called life. I didn’t trust community to give me permission to look into the dark corners and shine a light on an otherwise dim place.

My writing was for me. Alone. And I couldn’t understand why the product wasn’t landing in people’s hearts. I longed to be published and to every sinking sun I begged: Please let me be published to wide acclaim.

And then one day, after years of struggle, writing book after book, story after story, essay after essay, and always a journal nearby, I asked myself why. Why? Why this pain from something I was devoting my life to? At that time, I had learned my craft well enough to land an excellent New York agent who had gained the attention of some major publishing houses. There was hope that my words would land in readers’ laps to a significant degree. But things kept breaking down in the end, and I was bereft.

So I looked into a blank page, as was my practice, my most safe and dangerous place, and asked m


yself: Why do I write? This is what came out:I write to shine a light on a dim or otherwise pitch black corner to provide relief for myself and others. It floored me. Relief? Service? Not just Sense? That changed everything.

If I was writing to help, I needed a new perspective. And that perspective felt spacious. Expansive. Full of possibility. I had already cultivated a hunger for my seeking spirit on the page. In-so-doing, maybe it was possible to help others do the same just by relating with my raw real journey. And THAT’S when I got published. Well-published.

New York Times best-selling author published. Suddenly I was on major media, driving around in limos, going to the book signings of my dreams. It was powerful, but nothing in comparison to the act of creating. And I got it: What we must long for…is our voice. Our craft. Our way of seeing…and what our stories want to say. It was the best news I could imagine because we can control that! I couldn’t wait to get back home and back to my writing.

The poet Rilke says, “Go to the limits of your longing.” That longing, for me, is in the creation, not the product. It’s in the process. The work. We can control the work. That’s it. Success and failure are myths. That is the greatest relief I’ve known and why it occurred to me one day to lead writing retreats. If I am an authority on anything, it’s how to do the work. How to cultivate your own unique voice and become hungry for it.

To show up for it every day and find out what it has to say. We are so caught up in the supposed-to-be and the should and the perfection of it all that we forget what this writing thing is all about: it’s in the ability to give ourselves permission to put our hearts in our hands. To see where we are in our own way, and truly feel our flow. To go where it’s natural, not forced. To have it be easy. How about that? Easy? Breathe into the groundlessness of that and live there for a moment. Feels good, doesn’t it.


A woman on my last retreat took that breath one morning, sun streaming in through the Montana winter skies, and said it so perfectly: “There is a way to use my head if I let it follow my heart.” She looked around the room and smiled at each of us. Born out of community, yes. And held by sacred solitude.

Please, if you hunger for your voice, if you need permission to speak it, if you value the transformational tool that is the written word, consider giving yourself the unstoppable experience of writing in community.

The next Haven Retreat is at the incredible Ranch at Rock Creek


April 29th-May 3rd

For more info, email:  Laura@lauramunsonauthor.com




Filed under A Place For Writers To Share, My Posts, Retreats

Haven Winter Series #6

Screen Shot 2015-01-09 at 8.51.44 PMEvery winter I do a writing series where I open up my blog to other writers to explore a theme. This year I asked my Haven alums to consider submitting a piece about what it took to get themselves to the retreat, what their blocks were, and how it has informed future decision making when it comes to creating possibilities for themselves in the field of their dreams.

The theme is: I Gave Myself the Gift of a Haven Retreat. So Now What? 

If you’d like to come on a Haven Retreat, here’s our 2015 calendar:

February 25- March 1 (only a few spaces left)
June 3-7 (filling fast)
June 17-21 (filling fast)
September 9-13
September 23-27
October 7-11
October 21-25
April 29- May 3- Haven joins the fabulous luxury guest ranch Ranch at Rock Creek for an activity-based retreat that will blow your mind!

Click here for more info.  You do not have to be a writer to come.  Just a seeker…

by Sarah Hunter

My little suitcase yawned on the floor waiting to accept my dirty laundry.  I filled it, purposefully folding and placing each soiled garment, hoping that someone would knock on my door and say, “You don’t have to go!  You can stay . . . possibly forever!”  Despite my dawdling, this did not happen and I was borne away from Haven, my haven, in the white rental car of a former stranger who is now one of my tribe.

At Sea-Tac my patient and loving husband pulled up in our silver sport utility.  I threw my little suitcase into the back and jumped into the passenger seat.  He looked at me like someone peeking into a musty box from the attic – is there a big hairy spider in there? Will it jump on my face?

I blurted, “We need to spend more time in Montana.  In fact, months at a time.  I heard God.  I found people who are like me.  It was simply transformative.  It was the best experience of my life, well, except for when we got married and had the kids” I added lamely.  He stared but the corners of his eyes crinkled and his mouth twitched up into a smile.

“Ok,” he played along, “I can work from Montana.  Can we still spend some time in Seattle so I can get into the office now and again?”  He was clearly prepared to humor me for a bit.  “How was it, really?  Transformative is, well, a lot.”

But it was.  It was transformative.  Despite Laura’s admonishments to the contrary, I was ready to sell our house, move to Montana and live in a yurt with nothing but a desk, lamp, pen and paper.  I was ready to become, let me state this as humbly as possible, a great writer.  Not just good – epically magnificent.  I had complete confidence in my competence.  I commenced to prepare to write.  I set up my writing room with my writing desk with my writing lamp, my writing pens, and writing notebooks.  I ordered books on writing and organized a bookshelf for them.  Once the books arrived, I began feverishly reading them, carrying them around like sacred texts.  Interestingly, I did not put pen to paper and write.  I thought a lot about it, read a lot about it, but did not do it.

The afterglow lasted for a long time.  Right up to the point where I became utterly dismayed and desolated at my narcissistic depravity.   Who would want to read anything that I wrote?  I’ll tell you.  Nobody.  Why?  I had nothing moving, inspirational, transcendent or even vaguely interesting to say.  Nothing.  Not only did I have nothing vaguely interesting to say, I couldn’t put it down on paper anyway.  No skills.  None at all.  So, there you had it.  I avoided my writing room with all of its’ writing accoutrements.  I regretted the money I had wasted on my silly escapade.  I was embarrassed that I had made an ass of myself in front of Laura and my Haven tribe by making them read and listen to my schlock.  I almost wore sack cloth and ate ashes but I realized that might have been too much.

In the middle of this self-flagellating nighttime, creeping tendrils of an idea came to me like a clematis climbing a trellis to get closer to the sun.  Hubris and desolation – opposite points on a spectrum, right?  I had occupied both ends rather painfully for myself and for those around me.  What was in the middle?  Eventually I settled into travelling a wide place between the two ends where I am practicing being compassionately myself.  Having dreams, daytime or otherwise, witnessing truths in the world and witnessing truths in me.  Sometimes just making-believe.  And writing all that down.  For my own enjoyment.  Or, just because I have to.  Or, want to.  Because it’s fun and it’s for me.  It’s a practice I get to do, I get to make it a way of life, a vocation, a calling.  It’s what I do and now, thanks to Laura and Haven, I can claim it without reservation.  It is me.  I am a Writer.

I Gave Myself the Gift of a Haven Retreat, Now What?
by Sharley Bryce

I gave myself the gift of a Haven Retreat. Now what? In the fields of Montana, where the grasses blow softly and the dust settles on the tops of my riding boots, peace abounds. Whether I come there with a troubled heart or a full one, the experience brings me in touch with my true self. There simply is no denying it; and, the “now what?” is: “what a I going to do with me?” Somewhere there are footprints I left, in doubt, and many in faith and love. They are a part of me now. Like the “Now What?” poster of the baby chick hatched out of the egg. I am overwhelmed by all the possibilities for me now. Having touched the hearts and souls of others at the retreat, sharing and caring, it would be, quite simply, a waste to leave that experience behind and not put it to good use for my own future. Inspiration felt or learned must find its place in me and take flight onto the page.

Too late in life we regret things we didn’t do more than things we did do. We think life is what happens to us, but isn’t it also the other way around; we make our life happen out of all the opportunities we encounter and give to ourselves. The hard part is giving ourselves permission to use those opportunities for our own growth and development. It would be so nice to continue to stay at Haven and write as I am moved to do there, in the beauty of Montana, with all the time in the world, in a safe haven. To be true to myself, I must be willing to make time in my individual life. If I am the instrument through which my words are played and my gift of writing is shared, then I must give myself permission to take the time for writing no matter what. Thoughts and ideas can come in the shower, in the dark of night, or driving the car. I am scrambling to get them down on snippets of paper in my purse or running from the bathroom to the kitchen lest the magical words that sweep me away from the mundane to the real are gone. These same magical words on the page hold me in great anticipation of a finished work. I am moving forward from where I once was to where I am now and that is my truth. I dare not ask how far I have come since Haven because I am still pushing through my fear of being adequate enough to choose just the perfect words for the page. It doesn’t matter so much to me who reads these words as it matters that they are written. That is what I am doing with me now.

Often after I have been with a friend and seen their face light up, I have pictured them alone, serious and still. It reminds me that we all are alone and serious and still at times but we can put those times to good use. Haven is a gift I took with me. From time to time I unwrap it to see again what is inside and enjoy its mysteries. There is great freedom in that.

Sitting at a player piano pushing on the pedals and letting the music of those wonderful paper rolls sweep me away was the happiest of past times for me as a teenager. I thought I was a movie star somewhere in a life of fun and romance. It was one of the most comforting and cleansing of my soul things I could do during those years of searching for my true identity. Of course I didn’t compose those songs, yet they were favorites and still have the same effect on me today. Today, writing allows me to go to a place of peace and joy with my own words and “music” and be fully present. It beckons and I picture the sharing of it which I find exciting. The challenge is to move things around and give it a high priority in my life. Perhaps the real answer to “now what?” is figuring out how to doge and fake in the face of all the things that get in the way of writing. Many things are going to happen and, when they do, we say “now what?” as if we expect it and as if it is just one more thing on top of a lot of things. I am going to make it the important thing for me and let the rest happen as it will.

















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Haven Winter Writing Series

WinterWell, it’s time for the annual Haven Winter Writing Series again, and this year we have a theme that I hope will inspire you to do something you’ve been wanting to do for a long time, but haven’t quite had the guts or permission or stamina or time or money or support or inspiration or did I say guts, to give yourself. I know all about it. Every time I start a book, never mind an essay or a magazine article, or heck, even this blog post, my inner critic puts on boxing gloves and starts to swing: “Who do you think you are?” “You’re not good enough to pull this off.” “No one asked you to do this.” “People will judge you.” “This is what OTHER people do, not you.” “Go on Facebook and see what the COOL people are up to. You belong at the other table- the one with the theater geeks and the people who missed the memo on hygiene maintenance.” “Have you looked at yourself lately? You need to join the gym!” (not sure what that last one has to do with writing, but somehow it always sneaks its way in…) But for some reason, I keep writing things. Always have. Call it an obsession. Call it an addiction. Call it just plain stupid. I’ve just learned not to listen. I’ve learned to put that chatter in a box that is not quite cast off to sea, but nowhere close to my writing desk. I hope that someday I will once and for all give it a proper water burial. One step at a time. 

You can bet that voice was loud when I started leading writing retreats– all of that mean inner chatter about supposed-to-be and not-enough. Well for some reason I did it anyway. And now over 300 people have come to Haven and have had major breakthroughs in finding their unique voice through the transformative power of writing. AND Haven was ranked in the top five writing retreats in the US!  You do not have to be a writer to come to Haven. Just a seeker.

ForwardThis year I asked my Haven alums to consider submitting a piece about what it took to get themselves to the retreat, what their blocks were, and how it has informed future decision making when it comes to creating possibilities for themselves in the field of their dreams.

The theme is:
I Gave Myself the Gift of a Haven Retreat. So Now What?

We’ll be postings these essays written by Haven alums who will share their story twice a week through February, in hopes that you will take a brave stand for whatever it is that you dream about doing for yourself. If it’s a Haven retreat that you pine for, here is our 2015 schedule. I’d love to tell you more about the experience.

Here’s to a wondrous 2015! And may you grant yourself your wildest dreams!

February 25- March 1 (only a few spaces left)
June 3-7 (filling fast)
June 17-21 (filling fast)
September 9-13
September 23-27
October 7-11
October 21-25
April 29- May 3- Haven joins the fabulous luxury guest ranch Ranch at Rock Creek for an activity-based retreat that will blow your mind!

Please enjoy this poem by Josina Manu Maltzman, which was inspired by my one day Haven Workshop at The Loft in Minneapolis this December. The prompt was: Why is Writing Dangerous? I chose this prompt because anything worth diving into head-first is a little, if not a lot, dangerous. That’s what makes it powerful. Consider your dreams, how you deem them “dangerous,” and choose to tell yourself a new story. Making them come true just might change your life! I am living proof of that.


In honor of the writers killed in Paris this week

Writing is Dangerous

by Josina Manu Maltzman

is the space between cells that holds memories
atoms of information
the part of me that blends with you
the in-between that creates
the line
but also blurs it.

It is terrifying to write,
never knowing what may happen.
Words create worlds and we must follow them pulled to discover
what lies there.

Writing is both safe and safecracker
code breaker
myth weaver.

When you think you are alone but the words tell you:
You are not.

Writing is salve and salvation.
We need the words to heal,
mending collective trauma
where our humanity has been torn and ailed
for generations.

Trees need soil.
We need art.
There must be packed art around our roots
to push against
spread within
hold the water to us
and rest there,
waiting for us to sip and be nourished.

Writing is dangerous where there is power-over,
It is dangerous to write truth into a scene that is otherwise void of it.

Writing is dangerous
the way jazz is dangerous.
The way meeting in town squares
under the watchful gaze
of the master
is dangerous.

Even if (because)
it looks like revelry.

Writing is forbidden sex and Love

It is barriers destroyed and prison bars disappeared.

The undead coming alive
their voices rising together.

Words are
the testament of where we came from
proof of our pasts
claiming our futures.
On the page history
is told with our own words,
our lives
at once
have value.

Writing dangerously feeds hunger
when we are supposed to be starving.
Edwidge Danticat says,
“Create dangerously,
for people who read dangerously.”
Because some people
are killed for their words
and to read them
is also
sure death.

Some stories must be shared by candlelight,
behind drawn shades,
because the truth of what is said
is dangerous
to power.

Writing must be dangerous.
How else do we reflect
on the world we live in?
We must get dirty
fearlessly uncovering.

What is it to desire un-dangerous writing?

To write safely is Wednesday Night Sitcom
Disneyworld bench
sandbox playground.

We write dangerous
because our world is dangerous.
And as we chronicle our surroundings
we shatter glass ceilings
shards falling like pointed daggers
exposing an endless sky.

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Re-defining Family at Holiday Time

IMG_0007 (2)My friend and fellow seeker/Huffington Post Blogger Marina Illich and I like to untangle the hard stuff.  We call it Five Minute Manna.  This is what has our hearts and minds activated this holiday season:  Re-defining Family

Find Your People by Marina Illich

Holiday time is family time. But what exactly do we mean by family?  So many people live three times zones – or an ocean – away from their parents and siblings, turning travel “home” into a costly or time-sucking ordeal. Then there are the divorced parents left to create “family” plans on their own, while the kids spend their holidays with the ex. And elders? So many of them are repaired to an assisted living home far away, making it virtually impossible to get back to the ranch. 

Meanwhile, those who do get back to the ranch often wonder why they traveled the distance. We all know the uncanny way that holidays resurface old resentments, reactivate buried fault lines, and turn festivities of cheer into an endurance test of patience and poise.  Inside the dim welcome, one can almost hear singer/songwriter Damien Rice crooning those signature lines –  “Why do you sing hallelujah, if it means nothing to you? Why do you sing with me at all?”

Too many of us suffer enough from the predations of modernity – the divorces, job losses and job insecurity. The kids’ over scheduled lives and “underperforming” scores. The long commutes and dusty dreams. The loss of friendship and the loss of self. We don’t need the added pressure of enduring the holidays.

 So what’s the alternative? I suggest it’s time to update our idea of family. Let’s dispense with the imperatives to feel whole and happy inside a story of “family” that leaves us frail or frazzled. Let’s dislodge our commitments to stoicism and endurance that leave us walled inside towers of loneliness. And let’s disband our loyalty to conflicting demands that run us ragged when what we simply want is…to be received exactly as we are. 

Instead, let’s find our people. Let’s find those like-minded individuals who turn up in odd corners of our lives, who share some or none of our biography, who perhaps celebrate with fish when we celebrate with ham, or intone silent prayers when we devote ourselves to tracking the market or reading the Times. People who – for whatever logical or improbable reason – see, hear and feel our pulse with the gravity and gratitude that has us know we are at home. Let’s find those people and make those peoplethe family we arrive to in our stillness and frenzy, our hope and harry. And let’s make the gathering of that familythe ritual we behold – at whatever time of the year – to signal the holidays are here.

Let’s make thatfamily – geographically dispersed and culturally-spackled though it may be – the home inside which we eschew all the should’s and must’s we internalized along the way so that we can discover what we really are all about.

And let’s do all of this precisely so that when we do go back to our family with its far-flung network of third cousins, step-sisters, and in-laws, we behold them, once and for all – without indictment – exactly as they are.

Then, perhaps, we will find that whatever the season and whatever our destination, we are surrounded always and only by family – those relatives, friends, mentors, students, strangers and perhaps even adversaries – whom we recognize long, like us, for one simple thing: to be held and welcomed into our home exactly as they are.

 IMG_0002 (2)

A Family of One  by Laura Munson

It’s the holidays, and no matter what’s in that wisdom quiver of ours…things are likely fraught.  Why is that?  Well, once-upon-a-time, we believed in something that someone told us, or preached to us, or wrote about, or filmed about, or photographed… on the meaning of family.  And we bought it.  And there’s a good chance that “family” looks very different to us now.  There’s an even better chance, that with that difference, we find pain, disappointment, and even shame.  Especially during the holiday season.

I come from a long line of documentarians.  My mother lovingly made photo albums and home-movies, featuring every first day of school, play, dance, graduation, in addition to the annual Christmas card—all of us posed just-so, sent out to hundreds of people as proof that we were a family.  A solid family.  I loved all of it, especially our Christmas card, gazing at the ones we received from other families—a community, of sorts, to tout and hold dear.  It gave me an intense sense of belonging. 

So, as an adult, I took the photo-album-video-Christmas-card-baton, and raced to the finish every year with a family Best of book.  If the house was burning down, that’s what I would take—the Best of books.

It takes me hours to make these books, reveling in what we’ve created in the last year.  Making sure I have that perfect photo of every baseball and soccer game, every award ceremony and orchestra concert, every pinnacle moment, as, yes, proof of my amazing family, but also as proof of my motherhood.  And on Christmas morning, I love sitting with my family and flipping through its pages, ooing and ahhing over the past year’s achievements, high points, adventures, folly.

A few years ago, my family-of-four turned into a family-of-three.  My husband and I needed to end our marriage.  It was sad and shocking and deeply disorienting.  People told me that we were “still a family—just different.  A modern family.”  But I didn’t sign up for a “modern family.”  I signed up for a family with a mother and father as a united force.  It rocked me to the core.

I’m often asked if we’re okay, especially if the kids are okay.  I’m not sure what okay means.  We’re still feeling joy, inspiration, pride.  We’re still on adventures.  We’re still having pinnacle photo-worthy moments.  But during the holidays, in these post-divorce years, it’s all so difficult.  My gut says, Go slowly, keep it gentle, tuck in with your little family-of-three.  Time to re-boot your whole orientation of family.  So:  No Christmas card.  No Christmas party with the half-mile of luminaria and the carols around the piano.  And no Best of book.  Instead, I’ve focused on creating magic with my children, cozy around the fire, playing games, eating soup, pressure off.  This is living time, not documenting time.

But on those dreaded days when I can’t actively practice my motherhood, or “family-hood”—when my children are with their father and not in the other room, and I am alone….my productive (Best of) mind kicks in, almost breathless:  Go to a soup kitchen, visit a nursing home, find friends who are alone too– create a new tribe of “family.”  That’s usually the way I fly—carry on, hope-springs-eternal.  But for now, I’m listening to my gut instead, because I know that my new concept of family needs to find itself out of flow, not fear…and the truth is:  I’m very very afraid of who I am alone.  I can reason my way around this with great aplomb, but reason doesn’t help.  If I am going to move forward in a truly authentic way, I need to find refuge in myself.  And those alone Christmas moments are a good place to cut my teeth.

My gut says, Become your own family. Learn to take joy in the things your hands touch and deem holy, even if there’s no one there to witness it.  Smell the paper-whites in the window and have it be enough that it’s for your nose only.  Light the expensive candle and feel grateful for the way it focuses your gaze, fills the room with the scent of amber.  Put on special clothes and don’t care if you’re photographed in them or witnessed at all.  I trust my gut.  I have to find the light in my own eyes, alone.  I have to believe, once and for all, that I am okay, alone.  It all begins there.  And perhaps ends there too. 

So tonight, alone, in a cashmere robe, candle lit, I created a Best of book of these post-divorce years.  And something magical and Christmas-kissed happened.  Scrolling through my files of photos, I didn’t look for achievements and winning moments.  I looked for light in my children’s eyes, and mine too.  I looked for sacred.  If I saw it in a baseball championship or an Honor’s Society handshake, then I chose that photo.  But only if there was light in those eyes I love so much.  Including my own. 

Which means that as we leaf through this book Christmas morning, on top of all of my children’s radiant moments, there will be photos of me leading my Haven Writing Retreats, riding my horse, growing a life that is outside of the family I’ve fostered, and perhaps…in-so-doing, finding new “family.”  Maybe we can’t really move on…until I do.  Alone.  Maybe the definition of family is really a radical acceptance of self.  And once we accept that, both my mind and my gut tell me, we will find our family community thriving, even if it looks entirely different than we ever thought it would.


Marina Illich, Ph.D. is a Bay Area-based executive coach and leadership consultant and the co-founder and principal at Broad Ventures Leadership.  With a doctorate in Buddhist Studies, she  spent five years in Asia studying Tibetan Buddhist practices for developing self-awareness, focus and resilience. She was recently appointed to the California Commission on the Status of Women and Girls by Gov. Jerry Brown. Marina can be contacted at: marina.illich@gmail.com

Laura Munson is a New York Times best-selling author and founder of the critically acclaimed Haven Writing retreats.  She lives in Montana with her family of three (and one!).






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You Are Arriving

This is for all the brave people who have joined me at Haven Retreats, and for those who have yet to come.  The journey is everything.

There are a few poems that have kept me together in the last little while of my life as I’ve gone through the end of my marriage.  This one is at the top of the list.  Whatever end you might be coming to– the end of a relationship, the end of a job, the end of your family as you know it, empty nest…read this and know you are not alone.  The video is a wonder too.   yrs.  Laura

The Journey

Above the mountains
the geese turn into
the light again

Painting their
black silhouettes
on an open sky.

Sometimes everything
has to be
inscribed across
the heavens

so you can find
the one line
already written
inside you.

Sometimes it takes
a great sky
to find that

first, bright
and indescribable
wedge of freedom
in your own heart.

Sometimes with
the bones of the black
sticks left when the fire
has gone out

someone has written
something new
in the ashes of your life.

You are not leaving.
Even as the light fades quickly now,
you are arriving.

– by David Whyte



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Retreat Season: A Time to be Mindful

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

email Laura for more info: laura@lauramunsonauthor.com



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

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