Why attend a writing retreat, people ask me. Is it to finish writing pieces? For inspiration? To meet people?
I smile, and then try to find words. How do you explain that really my retreats are about deep creative and spiritual renewal? Anyone can sit down at home and write something. They have an idea, they sit, they write. If that’s all this retreat was… well, it would still be wonderful, but not transformative.
The best way that I can describe it comes not in MY words, but in the words of Candace Bixler, a woman who went on one of my retreats in 2013. She had no immediate writing goals in mind when she arrived, she just knew that she needed to be there. She knew it would be a place where she could do deep listening – the kind of listening that is hard to do in the midst of our busy daily lives. She knew she needed a 30,000 foot view of things, not the myopia that happens when we are too caught up in our lives to see our lives.
And so she came. Open, not knowing what to expect. She sat with us, laughing, sipping her tea. And as the day went on and we got below the surface, she went outside to sit and listen. The thing we didn’t know was that she was struggling with cancer. The listening she was doing was to see what she needed to hear for herself… and what she desired to share with others.
As she listened, she began to write. And what she wrote was, as she tells me today, a daily practice that has literally been lifesaving for her.
I can’t really capture it any better than this. When an environment is created — through powerful questions, poetry, nature, writing, and time to listen as well as to share – surprising things happen. Some find poems coming out of their pens, reconnecting to the creativity they haven’t fully experienced since they were a child. Others who have been tentative about writing find their confidence blooming as they fully express themselves, stepping into the identity of “writer.” And yet others, like Candace, hear things that are vital to their health and wellbeing — yet were invisible in the rush of day to day life.
When she shared with me the meditative walking process that she created on the retreat (and has been using almost every day since then) and how she is now not only surviving but thriving (she glows her life is so full), I felt her words deserved a wider audience. They are healing and powerful, and I’m honored to share them below…
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The Four Part Centering Meditative Walk
by Candace Bixler
Map out a route in a familiar setting, one that you can walk at a perky pace in about thirty minutes. Start with the intention that you will do this no matter what the weather brings — heat, cold, wind, rain — well maybe not those icy days. As you step out the door, give yourself time to adjust to the weather and your surroundings. Allow your joints to lubricate, your muscles to engage, and your breath to even out. You’ve done it! You are out the door and starting your day.
Part One. Give it to God/Spirit. Breathe in deeply and exhale fully. Let it go. Breathe out all of your worries. Yep, it is OK to focus on the negative and all that is troubling you. Does your body hurt? Feel it. Notice it. Give that pain to God/Spirit. What are you holding on to? Are you worried about finances? Children? Relationships? World issues? Upcoming events? Don’t try to solve those problems. Don’t dwell on each issue. Just exhale and give it to God/Spirit. Hand over those worries. It is not your job to worry. When first starting this practice, you may find yourself spending quite a bit of your walk in part one. There is so much to notice. So much to give away. Let it go!
Part Two. Gratitude. Breathe in again deeply and exhale. Give thanks for what is good in your life. The weather? A relationship? Your home? Your health? As time goes on you may notice that what was once worry has now becomes a focus of gratitude. A health concern has been resolved, a crucial conversation has created better communication, etc. It is entertaining to watch this movie of life. How will these worries you give to God/Spirit be resolved? Be careful. Gratitude has a tendency to grow. There will be days when you are so full of gratitude that you must nudge yourself to move into part three.
Part Three. Be with the world. Get out of your head. Let go of thinking. Just be with God/Spirit. Look around you. Breathe deeply again. Exhale fully. What do you notice? What do you hear, see, smell and feel? Do you hear the rustling of the leaves? Do you see the sun’s rays breaking through the clouds? Do you see children waiting for the school bus? Say hello to the woman working in her yard. Pick up the acorn. While you’re at it, pick up that discarded water bottle carelessly tossed to the curb. Pet the dog. Laugh at the squirrel. Check in with the world.
Part Four. Set your intentions for the day. Now is the time to create your list. What are all those things rattling around in your head that you need to get done today? Make a mental list. Want to get even more centered? As you make your list, ask yourself, “How do I want to be, do and have?” How do you intend to be this day? Joyful? Focused? Curious? Compassionate? What do you want to do this day? Pay bills? Contact clients? Write a chapter of your book? Read? And finally what do you want to have at the end of this day? A sense of productivity? A healthy meal? A successful conversation? Rest?
Congratulations. You have reached your front door and you are ready for a great day!