The Gifts of Staying

Walking Lightly Ranch

Walking Lightly Ranch

When I contacted author Laura Munson in July about her Haven Writing Retreats I wasn’t sure I really intended to go. I’m a toe-dipper, not a cannon-baller. I generally take my own sweet time gathering information in order to make a decision. It could take me months to decide what model cell phone or vacuum cleaner to buy, for God’s sake. But after talking with Laura on the phone, I knew. She felt like an old friend. The kind where no matter how long it’s been, you just pick up where you left off. She seemed to understand where I was at and I felt certain she could help me.

I was contemplating going in late September, but there was a cancellation for the August retreat, just over three weeks away. I made the call to confirm I could get my financing in order, and then hesitated. I knew once I told Laura I was coming there would be no turning back and I was scared. The next day I emailed her, “I am both excited and terrified. Looking forward to seeing you soon! I’ll be the one breathing into a paper bag.”

That’s when my old friend anxiety paid me a visit. For the next several nights I couldn’t sleep. I felt like I could vomit. The voice in my head was on a mission. “What have you done? You can’t afford to go to a retreat. What if you need that money later? Besides, you’re too sick. You won’t have enough energy to participate. The travel alone will be exhausting. You should just stay home.” This is not the voice of reason. This is the voice that tries to stop me from going after my dreams. So I listened instead to the voice of my heart.

That’s not to say my inner critic took a vacation. Oh no. That voice never really goes away. So when some of the writing exercises stretched me in ways that were uncomfortable, I breathed through it. When my “I’m not doing it right” story had me wanting to cry, quit, run, I stayed.

“Out beyond ideas of rightdoing and wrongdoing there is a field. I’ll meet you there.” ~Rumi

I stayed because there were ten other extraordinary women willing to bare their souls and share their stories. I stayed because Laura, our courageous leader, showed us by her own example how to ‘lay yourself bare on the page.’ Because I stayed, I walked away with renewed confidence in my writing, a more solid vision for the structure of my book, an author’s statement, and a clearer idea of my writing voice.

But it was so much more than that. I am amazed at how close I became to these women who were strangers just a week ago. We laughed. We cried. We got real. Because I stayed I met all these beautiful souls who don’t seem to realize just how magnificent they are. That astounds me. Until I also realize I am one of them.

This is my author’s statement, which is written on a brown paper bag: “I write to find my way–and to remind others they are not alone.”

So if you are looking for somewhere to explore your creativity on the page, I can think of no better, more nurturing place than Haven. Any time you step outside your comfort zone, it will be scary. It’s tempting to stay on the shore because that’s where it feels safe. But if you can just breathe and trust and stay, your dream will ripple out into the world in ways you never imagined.

Come on in…the water’s just fine.

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Saying No to Something Good

Recently I was given the opportunity to say no to something I really didn’t want to do. I know that seems like a no-brainer, but it was much more difficult than it sounds. The hardest part was in just being honest with myself. There are so many thoughts and beliefs about who I am that I attach to doing…or not doing something. Sometimes I say yes because I don’t have a reason to say no…even when it doesn’t feel right. I agree to things I’m not truly passionate about and I keep doing the same things over and over again. Turns out even good things aren’t good if you don’t really want to do them.

I have participated in the Breast Cancer 3-Day Walk for four years. I’m proud of that. It started as something I did one year to support one of my closest friends, Denita. For years she had wanted to so something to honor her mom who had lost her life to breast cancer when Denita was just a teenager. It is a great cause and an amazing, life-changing experience. If you have ever thought about participating, I encourage you to do so. Not only are you raising money and awareness for a great cause, you are also pushing yourself outside your comfort zone. It’s scary to think about the fundraising and the training. But I did it, and so can you. If it’s something you truly want to do.

Those three days were such an amazing experience that first year, I signed up for the next year on the spot. My other close friend Gina joined us, and the training and fundraising turned into something we all did together. It was a way to spend time together, doing something good for others. I’m not sure when things changed for me, but at some point during year three I felt like I was pushing myself to do something I didn’t want to do. I ignored those thoughts and feelings telling myself it would all be worth it during those three amazing days. And it was. There is nothing quite like that feeling of community…of being part of something bigger than yourself.

Year four was again a struggle as I continued to ignore that still, small voice within. I really didn’t want to do the walk, but I committed to it, so I pushed on. I’m sure you probably know there is nothing fun about forcing yourself to do something you really don’t want to do. No matter how great the cause. Year five I opted out. But it was easier to say no because I had a reason. I had decided to sell my house and move across the country. I didn’t even think I’d be living in Seattle when it came time for the walk. Not to mention my focus was on getting my house on the market, not training and fundraising. It felt okay to say no.

In September, when the love of my life walked away and all my plans for the future fell apart, I agreed to do the walk with my friends again. This time in San Diego. We had previously talked about doing the walk in DC after I was settled there, so going to another city, especially sunny San Diego, sounded like a good idea. But looking back, I think my reasons for saying yes had more to do with the pain I was going through and just wanting my life back, than truly wanting to do the walk. There was always that little voice whispering my ear. “I don’t want to do this”, it said. I continued to ignore it. I was grasping for something familiar, comfortable…something that would make me feel okay again. But nothing could take away the pain of a broken heart and I can’t go back to my life the way it was. It will never be the same again. I can only move forward.

Over the last few months, I kept telling myself this is a great cause…I should want to do it. And it has taken a lot of time and introspection to be honest with myself that I really don’t. The walk is in November and I still haven’t completed my personal webpage or sent out a single fundraising note. I was going through the motions of what I ‘should’ be doing, but I had no passion for it. I couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me…why didn’t I want to do this?

Last Sunday was the breaking point. I got a text from Denita asking me when I was getting my note out and could she hold me accountable? To say I was angry is an understatement…I was pissed! We had talked earlier in the weekend about how I was feeling overwhelmed with work and stuff at home…everything I wasn’t getting to. All I could hear in my head was “I DON’T WANT TO!” Definitely not a whisper this time and I couldn’t ignore it anymore.

I don’t want to do the walk. There, I said it. It was hard to admit, but it’s a relief to finally be honest with myself. It feels like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders…I can breath again. The hardest part was telling my friends, Denita and Gina. I felt like I had to follow through because I had given them my word. I pride myself in being the kind of person who does what they say they’ll do. And I believed I would be out of integrity if I changed my mind. But I have since realized I was being out of integrity for agreeing to do something I didn’t really want to do in the first place. I don’t want to let anyone down. But in not listening to my own heart, I was letting myself down.

The truth is, I just don’t feel connected to the 3-Day anymore. It’s a great cause, but it’s not MY cause. I still want to do good in this world and I will. But now I’ve realized I need to be more selective about what I choose to spend my time on. And not do something just because I’ve always done it. It’s okay to say no…even to something good. What’s really good for this world is for each of us to do what we’re passionate about. To choose love over obligation. To let go of the ‘shoulds’ in favor of the ‘hell yeahs’. When I find something that makes my heart sing… the thing I just can’t stop talking about…that’s the thing I’ll put my time and energy into. And that’s the thing that will really make a difference! The lesson here is…again and again…always, always, always be true to yourself!