I’ve been on retreat.
It is impossible to understand the privilege, gravity and enormity of those words until I have stepped away from the cocoon that was Aldermarsh on Whidbey Island.
When I got into my car to leave, I didn’t know the time or the date. I forgot it was Tuesday. I forgot it was October. I didn’t pull over to cry but I did pull over to reset “place” in my living narrative. Bringing my quiet self back into this noisy world wasn’t easy for me.
In fact, I pulled over a few times.
Lunch in La Conner for a grown-up grilled cheese and a latte.
A moment to marvel at a thousand snow geese in a field that seemed to go on forever.
I almost had to pull over for the vicious assault that traffic, inching through an urban center, can be … But then, another re-center of place. Mentally, I cannot do bumper to bumper traffic on 405 anymore, so I made my first deliberate retreat back to the House at Aldermarsh.
As my story outline had started taking shape I was beginning to see the heart of it emerge. My new soul-sister had suggested that physically going back and walking my route might help to reconnect me to the stories. Brilliant. I couldn’t do that yesterday (though I will soon) but what I could do in that moment, was my old familiar commute home.
In my last year at the post office I had abandoned the traditional freeway drive and happily traded 405 and 90 in favor of May Valley Rd and Maple Lane. My drive home became another slow re-set of spirit and the drive was pure bliss. The exclamation point was a call to Mom. It was all exactly as I remembered and exactly what I needed.
I arrived home to a loving, happy welcome. Kelly’s whole face lights up when she smiles and my sweet old dog was wiggling and waggling like a puppy. Before I even stepped inside the house, we headed out for a walk with Yoda to the park.
Another re-set of “place”.
At no time in my life do I recognize my own unnecessary excess and messiness more than when I step away from it. Even as I begin to unpack, both literally and figuratively, I see how much I brought with me on this trip. I see how I try to anticipate every need even as I have no basis for my expectation.
Cans of cold brew
And I needed none of that.
Here’s what I learned: Part One
Everything about the week felt safe. Our Covid protocols were strong and our storm preparations, deep. Rooted in safety, I spent the first three nights nestled well away from the main house in The Owl’s House cabin just off the meadow. Coyote song filled the night and the sound of goats from a nearby farm filled the day. Such a charming little nest in the woods.
The fourth night I moved into the main house out of an abundance of caution for the stormy arrival of wind and weather. How grateful I was for the shared space with a fellow writer. A true kindred spirit. We weathered the storm, hunkered down as branches snapped and wind howled. The world can be an invigorating place.
There was singing that night too. Curled up on the couches, beautiful voices and a Garden Song I catch myself humming this morning. Planted. It, too, now rooted in memory. Such a beautiful offering; a shelter in the storm.
While I won’t share about specifics, I can tell you this much: the circle felt like a bubble of support for all of our storytelling and the Marsh House felt like a nest. The ritual of these days was like a gentle return to center, time and time again. A walk back in …
I understand now about story and narrative arcs. I understand about metaphoric reality and about creative non-fiction. Reading aloud and sharing with others helped me to see that story is like a vapor over every moment and if we listen deeply enough we will hear our own stories inside of theirs. More nesting, more connection.
Sometimes all I need is another human being to hold the mirror. Sometimes I just need to let go for a moment so that I can engage a fuller, more complete perspective. I came to know a deep trust of what a sacred circle of compassionate souls can hold. It wasn’t that I gave anything up or was relieved of any burden. It was a holding.
And it was just so beautiful.
One of the things I brought to the circle was a deep and recent sadness. To sit with others and cry through the telling of that story gave to me a kind of healing I do not have words for. Deep listening did that. After, there was a different peace in my heart and the hard stuff felt weightless.
I was indulged these six days. I shared myself and my stories and listened as encouragement washed over me. I listened closely to others and felt pulled inside their stories of joy and deep feeling. I learned something about the generosity of grief that leaves me a changed and better human being for having touched it and held it in that circle.
Our guide for this journey, Christina Baldwin, is a soul as rare as I’ve ever known. I watched as she offered comfort, counsel and encouragement, over and over, by stepping right into those feelings with people. Literally. She met us where we were and stepped into the path of those feelings and held them like an anchor. To learn the ways of story from someone with such a deep emotional intelligence was the real gift. May she always live what she teaches and may she always teach what she lives.
“Learn to love the way you’re wired” -Christina Baldwin
Story feels alive today.
I am shuffling paper and running my hands over the artifacts of my life. The space I am giving myself to write is creating itself and I’m feeling incredibly lucky that the story that I want to tell is the same one tugging on my sleeve to get out.
More about Christina and Peerspirit, as well as information on the writing workshop I recently attended: The Self as the Source of the Story, can be found HERE.
There is another workshop scheduled for spring. For my writer friends, if you’re considering it, I say “dive in”. I promise you will leave confident and supported no matter where you are with your project.
I am centered
in the circle and
I am writing like heaven !
Lastly, a metaphor for the day:
Beautiful things arise from the broken. This entire post, tapped out on my recently shattered phone …
Below are a few more photos from this beautiful place called Aldermarsh. In deep gassho, I share.