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.
Sounds like it was exactly what you needed. It looks beautiful!
Thank you so much for being here. It was such a lovely time and I left, not only with a lovely sense of togetherness, but with momentum ! And yes, Aldermarsh was just beautiful in every way.
You didn’t pesent yourself initially as a Pristess–but you are. I am so respectful of your talents, your deep appreciation of what surrounds you, and best of all your soft warm smile.
I love you,
Cassandra, you are just pure light. A beautiful beam, perfect, exactly as you are. I love your spirit. Thank you for sharing your self so honestly. I am better for having met you 🧡
Such an eye for photos you have! And such an ability to capture the essence of a journey deeply taken. Thank you for sharing! And, I can testify that Christina lives what she teaches and teaches what she lives. Thank you for seeing her facilitation so deeply.
Thank you, Ann. It was such an honor to discover those things that you have long known. Such generosity. Attentiveness is one of those things that can only be taught by example. Christina is a master. I’m so lucky for these days. Thank you for writing. Deep Water Passage is up next .
This is marvellous, all of it: the cottage, and the colours, and the company. Happy for you!
Thank you Manja. It was really special time. I imagine you would love it !
What an artist you are, Bonnie Rae, thank you for these exquisite snapshots of the landscape of our psyches, marsh, forest and meadow – the pictures of our time together, walking that colorful carpet of autumn leaves. It was an honor to sit (slump, lie down, squirm 🙂 in the seat next to you this past week. Thank you so much for this!
Trudy, it was such an honor to share that space with you. It comes back to me in these beautiful waves … the music, the sharing, the light … the trees. Grateful to know you.
I am so happy to hear all of this and feel the bliss in your words. Sooo so happy…*
I want to hear MORE when you are ready… and I may just put this on my calendar!
Oh, Mare. You would love it. It’s a sacred place and you might move your project along with a different sense of purpose. I hope you do go. It might just transform your writing … and your life. Thanks for being here*
What a journey, both place and experience! Thank you so much for sharing the beauty and your time there. Writing like heaven is the way to go.
There is so much to have gratitude for. It is like nothing I have known and I look forward to sharing more with you about my experience. Thanks for being here.
Wonderful piece. Sounds like an amazing place, and your snow geese photo is perfect.
It was the kind of gift of togetherness that keeps giving. Thanks for being here.
It was a beautiful journey with you Bonnie Rae- you are a gift and I hope you keep writing!
It’s Cathy (NY) not meant to be anonymous!
Cathy in NY, you are anything but anonymous ! So deeply grateful to sit in circle with you. Thank you for all you brought in and for the many beautiful things you left us with.
Standing by with support for these upcoming stories! And the life journey wisdom you bring to the daily.
I’ll look forward to checking in-tapping into, that most profound experience that SAS was. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for illuminating the path forward.
Oh my dear, I’m so glad you got there—finally! Your post brings such sweet memories of my time there, a decision to go nine years ago was life-transforming. And the memoir I was just beginning will be published a year from now! Thank you for sharing your week; can’t wait to hear more when you are ready to share it.
Even days later I can tap into the stillness of it. Intense but never overwhelming. Looking forward to a visit with you to share experiences. Thank you for always being here.