A few weeks ago, I had the equivalent of a writer’s meltdown until I made two conclusions, one of which involved meeting a certain person by the name Lise Weil. (You can read about it here). After talking to her and learning about the writing retreat that she runs a few times a year, I decided I would attend the next one. It took place yesterday.
Now, what’s the difference between a workshop and a retreat? After attending both kinds of events, I can say this: A workshop is where you go to tune-up your writing skills while a retreat is where you go to tune-up your creative core (i.e. your Self).
I wasn’t sure what to expect. I arrived at the apartment at 11 AM, and not long afterwards, four other women arrived. With the exception of one (who is a member of my writing group), I didn’t know any of them. However, they were all warm and welcoming.
After some opening chit-chat, we began the day with dream work. We had all been asked to write down our dreams leading up to the event. Each person then shared their dream and then the others had a chance to comment. I am a big believer in the power and messages of dreams, so I was very interested to see where this led.
As expected, the activity gave way to some interesting insights and revelations. I had analyzed mine before attending the meeting, but it wasn’t until I listened to the others that I began to see the connection to writing. As my thoughts broke through the little box of interpretations I had built, I was now able to discern issues like, concerns about being a ‘legitimate’ writer and the validity of having a writing blog when I haven’t sold tons of books or ‘made it’. Basically, this dream opened the door to my darkest, deepest insecurities.
Another example: one woman shared her belief that her words and ideas had no value because they were fragments and not part of a whole, realized piece. In my opinion, her words were magic. Each phrase carried so much weight and beauty, and her expression was so pure and raw. And, when read together, the lines did read like a poem (a whole piece).
But my real point was this: Why weren’t the words themselves, or her visceral, honest expression, enough? (On the way home that night when I reflected on this conversation, I realized that this is a question that I should be asking myself). As you can see, things were already getting interesting.
The next activity was to write something inspired by a poem. Lise passed around a bag and we each blindly chose one. The underlying expectation was that each person would somehow choose the poem that was ‘right’ for them. I think, for the most part, we all did. Mine was a wonderful poem by Cynthia Rich called Buddahdarma. Lines like, ‘You are not the person that you knew before’, ‘Your being opens like an unseen door’ amongst others connected to my pit of insecurity.
In the writing exercise that followed, the poem inspired the creation of a complete, introspective narrative of 1000 words called A Mirror Tells No Lies. Writing on the fly like that, carried by the power of a few choice words, was revelatory. The resulting story was rife with concepts and metaphors that I must unpack, and Lise suggested I analyse the sections of the poem that triggered that creative burst as a means of better understanding why it connected. This was homework I actually looked forward to.
After that, we took a walk. It’s a deep freeze in Montreal right now, so going outside for an hour was no joke. But, after sitting for so long, I admit it was time to be active. So, I bundled up, grabbed my notebook (yes, we had an assignment to) and got walking. The assignment involved ‘being in the moment’, connecting with what’s happening around us and paying attention to ourselves. Once I got used to the cold, I realized how wonderful it was to connect with my body in motion.
One of the women attends an African dance school and she spoke of the importance of the body connecting with the mind. I was reminded that we interact with the world through our bodies which affects our mind and soul. In essence, it impacts our creativity. So I walked, and I sensed, and I experienced. Then I found a little café, enjoyed my unctuous peanut butter and chocolate chip cookie and double latte, and completed my assignment. It’s a free-writing piece, no editing, a journal entry of sorts discussing what the day meant to me. Here is a sample:
‘…I’ve been waiting for this retreat. I wasn’t sure what I would get from it or even what I wanted—I just knew I wanted the experience. It’s nice to be around others who don’t have it all together either—I feel normal. Rather than feeling ‘less than’ because one person has done this, or won this, or talks the good talk. I’m not competing—I’m being. I write and I feel excited. I listen and I feel moved. I share and I feel listened to. This is a unique and precious moment.
‘ I am trying to find my voice and my identity within myself and my writing. In the mess that is my life at the moment, it feels wonderful to be focused on 1 thing. There is no contingency planning, nor worrying; the stress of real life is ‘out there’ and I can concentrate on me. I can delve into understanding this thing I like to do, and that makes me feel grounded. Or it could, if only I could bring this ‘quiet’ back with me into the real world. And, I guess, that is the question for me: How to not lose this focus? How to quiet myself and listen to me when the winds around blow so hard and so fast? The winds of children, and husband, and work, and finding time to have a life outside—it’s a whirlwind spinning at breathtaking speed. Either way, however it ends, I’ve had today. And I am grateful for it.’
I now know that I went to the retreat to find my voice. Not only to find it, but to find value and purpose in that voice. And to learn to love it. Our voices are a reflection of our soul, who we are in the deep and shadowy places as much in the bright and sunny ones. That is the mystery behind the Mirror story that I was to analyse and the reason that poem struck a chord so hard that my fingers could do nothing but write a story to illustrate that awakening. I am my writing, and my writing is me. The good, the bad. The beauty, and the horror. And with that acceptance comes a measure of peace.
How about you? Can you relate to this experience? Have you attended a writing retreat and what did you get from the experience? I’d love to hear your thoughts. 🙂