A Vacation for My Soul

I’ve always believed that the universe sends gifts our way when we most need them. My most recent gift came via email from my friend Julie Compton. There was a spot available at a writers’ retreat at a rented beach house in Virginia Beach. Nine other women who had known each other for years had room for a tenth. Was I interested? I admit for a brief moment I was transported back to school yards of yore and uttered “that sounds like hell.” My friend laughed and reassured me, “not these women.” I decided to go for it because I was beginning to feel despair over the lack of writing momentum with my next novel.

I flew in on Saturday and shared a shuttle to the house with Geri and Cal. We chatted merrily, unaware that our driver was hopelessly lost. When we finally arrived at the house, Linda and Mary welcomed us with gift bags filled with writing goodies and showed us to our rooms, the doors of which had been decorated with name plaques and doorknob signs requesting privacy for the writer within. Within the hour, Terri-Lynne DeFino, author of the fantasy novel Finder (but playing the role of gourmet cook), arrived with Signa. Finally, Diana and Sara (the dessert diva) pulled up. Julie would arrive the following day.

The Doll Babies, as the group is called, range in age from mid-forties to eighty-something and comprise talents and successes too numerous to list. Each woman had something special that drew me in and made me want to know more. I was reminded that everyone we meet in life is a potential teacher. If you pay attention, you can learn some wonderful things (about yourself, even) from other people. There’s something magical about admiring traits in others and realizing you can adopt them for the betterment of your own life. What a gift. Needless to say, a week just wasn’t enough, especially since I sensed immediately that this writers’ retreat was going to be about a lot more than just writing.

There’s something about being out in nature that sets me right, reminds me of who I am from the top of my gooey grey matter to the tips of my toes, and airs out my mothball-scented spirit. The house was huge, and there were balconies attached to every room that provided an awe-inspiring view of the beach. Before long, the natural rhythms of the ocean infiltrated the beach house and my existence. There was no set schedule, but my days seemed to flow as follows:

  • Wake to the sound of waves breaking on the shore
  • Exercise – I finished another week of the C25K running program.
  • Have breakfast
  • Write – I completed several scenes and had a breakthrough on a part of the novel that had me stumped.
  • Break for chats about writing and publishing – Writing is a solitary existence and it’s nice to know you’re not alone.
  • Do crafts – There’s something therapeutic about this even though I’m not very good at it. Focusing my mind on stringing beads or pasting paper silences the mental hamsters.
  • Eat dinner (and dessert) – Guinness beef stew, wine, homemade chocolate cake. Yum!
  • Converse – Listen to the stories of 9 amazing women.
  • Fall into a peaceful slumber, waves still breaking on the shore.

As an unstructured person (who secretly wishes she was more structured), this routine soothed. Life is best lived when we enter into its rhythms. I think my cells mutated from the joy of it all. 🙂

As wonderful as it all sounds, there was more. A spontaneous trip to Edgar Cayce’s Association for Research and Enlightenment got my mind percolating about my purpose and how I can better integrate body, mind, and spirit. This was live-changing and it’s why it’s taken me so long to write this post. I needed to process it all. (Thank you to everyone who contacted me, wondering where the heck I’ve been. Who says you don’t make real friendships online? It’s nice to be missed. 🙂 )

What this experience taught me was even though I think I’ve carved out “me” time by working only 3 days per week, it isn’t the same as going on retreat minus all the distractions, personal and electronic. Sometimes we need to isolate ourselves from our routines and the roles that we play in our daily lives (not to mention the other people in our lives and the roles they play). We must fast from the things that keep us from going deeper, enter into a meditative space, ask the questions, and wait for the answers. Some questions in life are complex and it’s okay not to have all the answers. In fact it’s probably better to live a while without the answer than to rush into the wrong one. With all that said, I intend to make every effort to take a trip like this on an annual basis to share some one-on-one time with my soul. I hope you’ll consider doing the same. You deserve it.

Reading Old Journals…Yikes!

A few weeks ago I dragged a box of old journals from my closet. I started my first diary in elementary school. It had a padlock on it so nosy siblings couldn’t peek. They could have just ripped the binding off the darn thing, of course, but they never thought to do that. I don’t know what happened to that early diary. I wish I had it now to see what my 9-year-old self thought was important enough to record. I suspect it was stuff like “Michael W. stuck his tongue out at me today when Mrs. N. was writing on the blackboard,” or “That kid Joe R. seems really nice. I bet he’ll marry my little sister 20 years from now.”

The earliest journals in my possession are from the mid-1980s when I was in college. But I didn’t pick up steam until after I graduated in 1986. From then on my journals record things like:

  • The loneliness I felt after leaving all my friends behind and returning from the happy bubble of college life
  • My growing dissatisfaction in a 9-to-5 job that just wasn’t me
  • Countless dates with “bad boys” who weren’t interested in serious relationships. Duh!
  • My fickle nature
  • My dreams and wishes for the future
  • The plans to realize those dreams and wishes
  • The actual steps I took
  • The successes and setbacks I experienced

Some of the entries are truly heartbreaking. They transport me back to pain I don’t even remember. I may as well be reading a stranger’s journal because I don’t recognize the empty person behind the words. But then, with the flip of a page, the tone changes and I’m going on and on about becoming a rock star. Yeah right! That band I was in with John, Richie, and Vito in high school obviously went right to my head.

A few journals later and I feel exhausted after reading about the hard work it took to start my business. And then, there’s the ridiculous: I’ve obsessed over my weight my entire adult life, but with the exception of a short period of time leading up to my pregnancy and for a short time after giving birth, my weight has not varied by more than 5-10 pounds. How do I know this? Because I recorded it. I could have refrained from worrying and had the same result. The best part of reading my old journals is the exhilaration of seeing dreams and wishes from one year become reality in subsequent years. Progress.

I also love revisiting the quotes I captured from books I was reading at the time or other sources.

From one of my favorite books Always, Rachel: The Letters of Rachel Carson and Dorothy Freeman:

 “All I am certain of is this: that it is quite necessary for me to know that there is someone who is deeply devoted to me as a person, and who also has the capacity and the depth of understanding to share, vicariously, the sometimes crushing burden of creative effort.” Rachel Carson

From Dinah Mulock, “Friendship”:

“Oh, the comfort, the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person, having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words, but pouring them all right out, just as they are—chaff and grain together—certain that a faithful hand will take and sift them, keep what is worth keeping, and with the breath of kindness blow the rest away.”

From Alex Noble:

“Oh, the miraculous energy that flows between two people who care enough…to take the risks of…responding with the whole heart.”

My New Year’s Resolutions for 1996 were taken directly from Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe:

Health enough to make work a pleasure,
Wealth enough to support your needs,
Strength enough to battle with difficulties and overcome them,
Grace enough to toil until good is accomplished,
Charity enough to see good in your neighbor,
Love enough to move you to be useful and helpful to others,
Faith enough to make real the things of God,
Hope enough to remove all anxious fears concerning the future.

In 1997, I began my journal with “My Symphony of Life” by William Henry Channing:

To live content with small means; to seek elegance rather than luxury, and refinement rather than fashion.
To be worthy, not respectable, and wealthy not rich; to study hard, think quietly, talk gently, act frankly; to listen to stars and birds, to babes and sages, with open heart; to bear all cheerfully, do all bravely, await occasions, hurry never. In a word, to let the spiritual, unbidden and unconscious, grow up through the common. This will be my Symphony.

That same year, I was plagued by chronic back pain. The following passage by John Adams caught my eye. It was written three days before his death and reassured me that even as our physical bodies break down, our spirits can continue to thrive:

“The house in which John Adams lives is falling down. The roof leaks badly. The foundation is crumbling. The shingles are dropping like raindrops, and the windows let the frigid air through like screens. In spite of all this, however, John Adams is doing just fine, thank you.”

Reading old journals reminds me of who I was and who I wanted to become. Moment by moment, we make decisions that lead to changes that are sometimes barely perceptible in our lives. Yet years later, in hindsight, we realize how far we’ve come or how far we’ve veered off our intended course. Sometimes that’s a good thing. But when an alternate path does not result in fulfillment, it’s time to make adjustments and become aware of how we lost our way.

When I put the last journal back into the box and pushed it all back into the closet, I was feeling refreshed and ready to start daydreaming about what I want to do in the second half of my life.

Do any of you keep journals? What do you find most valuable about the practice? Do tell. 🙂

Manifesto

A talented artist I know, Jon L. Adams, includes a personal manifesto on his website. It got me thinking about what I believe and how I want to live. I’m sure I’ll be adding to this list, but for now, here it is:

Love is a renewable energy source. Keep giving it away. You’ll never run out.

Ask questions. People love to talk about themselves.

Listen like you don’t have another thing to do.

Words can be lethal weapons. Choose them wisely. Once spoken, they can never be taken back.

Give away the last dollar in your pocket. It will come back to you tenfold.

Protect those who can’t protect themselves.

Live, work, and love with passion.

If you hate your life, stop complaining and make a new one.

Unstick those tight muscles, work that jaw, and smile.

When you’re outside, really breathe.

Daydream often. What can be visualized can become reality.

Believe in a force greater than yourself. Call it what you will.

Find the gem in everyone you meet, even if you have to dig through a ton of coal.

Believe people when they tell you who they are. But then look beyond their faulty self-vision.

Never mistake a thin, sheetrock wall for an impenetrable fortress. If there’s a moat and the drawbridge isn’t lowered, swim across. Most people want to be found.

Watch a child sleep. There’s no greater peace.

When a friend can’t stand on his own, carry him on your back.

Giving is its own reward.

Show appreciation always.

Tell/show people you love them always.

Respect yourself and others.

Sit still in nature every day and appreciate the miracle around you.

Try new things and meet new people.

Read, read, read, and learn.

Write, write, write. There is nothing that can’t be worked through once it’s written on a piece of paper.

Fight injustice wherever it rears its ugly head.

Laugh.

Laugh some more.

Apologize sooner rather than later. Less time wasted.

Eat really good food and work those muscles.

Grow old gracefully.