Wednesday, September 3, 2008
Going on a retreat is one of those things that I've both yearned to do and feared simultaneously. I know that by their very nature - no matter what kind of retreat it is - you'll come back changed. Like typical holidays, retreats offer escape from your daily routine, but unlike most holidays, there is a focus, and time, lots of time, to really delve into your relationship with that focus, usually with like-minded people. Retreats are journeys of self-discovery.
I have faced many personal challenges in the past year, so in that spirit I decided to take the plunge and face those fears of self-discovery. In the last week of August I travelled by road and on 3 ferries for a total of 8 hours to participate in a writing retreat. I knew to expect wonderful organic vegetarian food, most of which was grown right on the the property. I knew yoga and meditation was offered daily. But it was the unknown factors that I feared and which I shared with my travel companion on our journey there.
"I'm afraid the workshop leader will assign those basic writing exercises that I was doing years ago in creative writing classes," I fretted. "Like... choose a character and write everything you know about him. What colour are his socks? Is he right or left handed?" I knew that those kinds of exercises would have little value for me at this point in my writing career. I also worried that we'd all have to sit in the same room and write for long periods of time. For some reason I thought that all that confinement would stifle me.
On the night of our arrival our group met and the leader outlined what we'd be doing for the next 5 days. There would be writing exercises and writing - altogether- in the same room, she told us. My heart sank. I may have packed up and gone home except that I didn't want to abandon my friend who was in a different workshop.
So.... with reluctance, I attended the first morning of the writing retreat. At least the location was magnificently spiritual, I thought. We met in a tee-pee shaped wooden building with stunning floor to ceiling windows and skylights at the top. This unique structure (a yurt?) was tucked in the forest, far off the beaten track.
And then the instructor assigned the 1st writing exercise. My previous fears were instantly assuaged, but I now had to confront some new ones. We were asked to share, in writing, the most dramatic moments of our lives. I almost chickened out, choosing instead to write about something less significant, but at the last moment I decided to go for it. After writing for 10 minutes we shared our stories. The next two writing exercises were just as revealing. By the end of the morning I'd shared the lowest and highest moments of my life with 8 complete strangers. And I'd heard their stories. We'd each opened our hearts and placed our trust in the group. The leader had the amazing skills necessary to keep this from becoming a therapy session, and helped us take those emotions we'd unearthed and use them in our writing.
Wow. From then on the workshop galloped ahead. We'd learned that the most powerful writing comes when you dig deep. And writing, all at the same time in that sacred-feeling building felt wonderful.
So yes, it was scary. But it was also one of the most enriching weeks of my life.
Will the next retreat be any less scary? No. It will be all new people, a different focus, a different setting. Will I take the next retreat opportunity that comes my way?