The Morning a Writing Retreat Begins

There’s something special about the morning a writing retreat is about to begin. I woke up this morning with anticipation and focus, and everything on my future to-do list fell away. Sloughing off all the roles I play in life, the myriad ways my life splays out into the world, I am now focused on only one thing: holding space for deep transformation.

I love this sense of quiet and the steadiness rising through me. I’m entering sacred time. That’s a side benefit for me facilitating these writing retreats—the daily busy Laura steps away and I settle into a deeper, holding presence. There is only one thing I’ll be doing this week—and one thing only—and that’s rarely how my life is.

Today, there is just this retreat and the fourteen students who have chosen to take a week out of their lives to live in sacred community, to use writing to access their stories, their losses, their strengths, their grief, their laughter, their gratitude, and their inner resources. They have signed up for this retreat because they trust me and the process my co-teacher Evelyn Hall and I will be leading them through over the next seven days.

This retreat has a specific focus: “writing as a pathway through grief, loss, uncertainty and change.” As I sit here at my kitchen table before I get dressed and pick up Evelyn, before we drive out to Mount Madonna to meet the people we’ll have the honor of sheltering this week, I am already in awe of their courage. It takes a lot of bravery to sign up to face painful issues head on—to check a box that says, “Yes, I want to attend a grief retreat.” It takes courage for each and every participant to step out of their lives, to sink deep into their inner world, to process some of what they’re carrying.

Often people arrive at this retreat thinking they know what they’ll be focusing on during our week together, but often other issues arise as well. One of my favorite prompts at this retreat, after we’ve been writing together for a few days is, “Tell me about a lesser grief you’re carrying. Something you’ve lost that you haven’t been paying as much attention to.”

It’s amazing what comes up in response to that prompt.

You might assume that a grief retreat would be a week full of nothing but crying—and there certainly will be crying—but there will also be deep belly laughs, heartfelt connections, deep insights, and the blessed relief of not carrying life and its most challenging aspects alone.

As I write these words, a giant mug of steaming English Breakfast tea in front of me, my car sits packed in the driveway full of everything we need to create a sacred container for the work to come. Over the next seven days, I’ll lead the group through a process with words and writing and Evelyn will build a living altar to hold our grief. She’ll offer guided meditations, poetry, and embodiment practices. I love the way we work together—different energies, different styles, but always intuitive, always flowing, always in synch with each other and the needs arising from the group in the moment—holding body, mind, and heart.

After months of preparation, our retreat is about to begin.

I’ll be sending posts from our retreat this week so you can have a peek inside what a sacred container for writing can be. Of course, I won’t share anything about anyone attending without their permission—but I will share some of the poems I read, the prompts I give, reflections as a teacher holding space, as well as the immense beauty of our site: Mount Madonna in Watsonville, California.

One thing I love to do at this retreat is put a series of quotes up on the wall with giant post-its as the retreat progresses. I love finding quotes that meet the energy of each session, giving people a reflection of the work we’re doing together. Here are a couple that I’ve selected for this week:

“You lose contact with love if you push grief away.”

–Tara Brach

“Sorrow teaches us how to love.”

–Rita Mae Brown

It’s time to finish my last-minute packing and pick up Evelyn. More from me to come.

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