Earlier this month, I had the privilege of attending Beth Bornstein Dunnington's Big Island Writers' Workshop on the actual Big Island of Hawaii. This is a shot of the path we walked each day to reach the pavilion where we met in community and wrote our truth. Isn’t it gorgeous? I know. I’m pretty damn lucky. And grateful.
I am often asked what I like best about Beth's retreats, what pulls me back to her time and again. There are many answers to this question, but in regard to the specific act of writing my most common answer is the format. Beth gives us a list of prompts and a pre-determined amount of time to write, usually 40 or 50 minutes. We break off, find a cozy spot to pour our words onto the page, and, when time is up, gather back together to briefly edit then read aloud what we just wrote. We listen, intently, but don’t critique each others' work, focusing instead on holding space, bearing witness, and accepting unconditionally.
What I love about the format of prompts and timed writing is having automatic places to start and duration parameters that force my over-thinking nature to release control. Unlike sitting at my desk at home, I can’t spend 50 minutes obsessing over one dang sentence!
The work I produce in Big Island settings often surprises me. Akin to what Anne Lamott calls the “shitty first draft,” I give myself permission to set aside fear and censorship and grasp whatever thoughts bubble up, without judgment. I scribe sentences as fast as they form to prevent my supergo from meddling in the process, and even catch myself thinking, Huh! about my own thoughts. Pretty cool. The combination of circumstances—environment, people, prompts, limitations—creates an alchemy I have tried and failed to recreate anywhere else.
For these short bursts of time it’s as if I’m able to shift my perspective, see people and events with a fresher, or maybe keener, eye. Or maybe a less keen eye. Is the work I produce publication ready? Not at all, and that’s okay. Publication isn’t the immediate point, at least not for me. Healing is.
I’ll be sharing more about my Big Island experience, but healing is what’s been on my mind since the end of the workshop and my return home. The power of the circle of women Beth brings together. What it means to me each time I participate. How I change and grow by the process. How I hope my words inspire others to heal.
To heal. It’s a loaded concept, isn’t it? Easy enough to understand, but less easy to achieve. One could argue, as Pema Chödrön did with the word “love” (read here), that the meaning of healing has become saturated to the point of obscurity. I went to Amazon and searched the word “healing.” The resulting 20 pages of products covered the gamut from healing music CDs to healing blankets to healing books to healing jewelry to healing candles to healing skin care to movies to essential oils to soap to crystals and more. And Google. Forget it. Pages and pages of websites, treatment centers, support groups, and miracle prayers. Phew!
All this healing begets many questions. What do we need to heal from? What is healing? What mechanisms help us heal? Must one work with a healing professional to actually heal? Is there an end to the healing process? How does one know if one has healed? How is a healed person different from a non-healed one? How much money are we spending to feel better? Does anything work? Does change last? I could go on, but I think you get the idea.
I’ve written here, often, about my family’s healing, my healing, my daughter’s healing. Each type the same, but also different. The posts I write, my self-care journey, and my continued learning, all of it, is either an explicit or implicit attempt to help me (and others) to heal, and I’ve come a long way. How much further is there to go? Pondering these questions has helped me realize that while I’ve been busy doing the important work of healing, there’s still more work to do because I need some answers.
Up next? Some answers. I hope.
Plus: 25 posts down, only 25 more to go. Yay!