There really are no words to describe the experience of last week’s writing retreat.
Okay, maybe there’s one: magic.
Of course, the writing was magic. When all responsibility and distraction are is stripped away, when the only decision to be made is do I want dessert, when all there is to do is sit down and write, well, you sit down and write.
That writing flowed because of two things: the support of the circle of women who comprised the retreat, and the one “rule” of the retreat: to ask ourselves, at any moment, “What do I want?” When the writing didn’t flow, there was nature or a quick chat or poetry to stir things up and unstick.
So, I could write here about the many thousands of words I wrote over the course of the week, or the fervent reshuffling of index cards on the second twin bed in my room as I outlined and played with the structure, or the experience of reading aloud pieces of my work and listening to other women do the same, with all their heart and soul, or even the palpable energy—magic—created by this group of women to create an almost sacred atmosphere.
What I want to write about this morning, is something I wrote in my nightly journal mid-week. At the end of the day, even though my hand was tired and my brain full, I tried to keep up my ritual of journaling to clear my head at the end of the day. I discovered a lot in that journaling, not least of which is I want a comfy chair in the bedroom to write in, rather than awkwardly on my lap adorned with pillows in bed.
After a few days of retreating, when parts of me had begun to be unlocked, when I was facing my inner critic and trying to tell her that I appreciate her protection but it’s okay that things don’t seem perfect or even knowable right now, I wrote in my journal, that I’m tired.
The past few years—even before Dad died but especially since Dad died—I have spent countless hours in therapy, on my own, in my journal, talking with friends, trying to understand why.
Why I have the thoughts and feelings I have, why I’m anxious one moment and then depressed (that word entered my lexicon in the past few years) the next, why it’s hard for me to be vulnerable and open.
I’m an analytical person, so I really do love the lightbulb moments, when a memory flits through my brain that “explains” why I’m a perfectionist, why I’m afraid of disappointing people, why I project judgement. Years ago, I found comfort in this, because I had never connected some of these dots, and it showed me that there was a reason, that I had real wounds and scars from the past that I needed to heal.
There is a lot of this in this blog, as well. Writing as a way to heal, to connect, to explain my life experience in the hope it resonates somewhere “out there,” not in an advice-y way, but in a “well, here’s me, maybe it means something to you, maybe it doesn’t” kind of way.
The thing is, what I wrote that night in my journal, is that I’m tired.
I’m tired because all this analysis happens in the past.
I’m tired because all this analysis is, by definition, focused on what’s “wrong.” The underlying implication is that, if I understand something, I can change it.
Ironically, having this realization is itself an analysis. Or could become one. I could very easily start ruminating on my tendency to look for the negative rather than the positive. On exploring why my brain is wired this way.
I think I need to stop myself. To reframe.
To become curious.
To see an emotion, a thought passing through me and instead of asking, “Why are you here, why am I like this?” instead saying, “Oh, hello. I know you. You, fear, are not me. Let’s see, maybe you’re trying to tell me something, but you are not me.What do I want here?”
What do I want here?
I want here to turn forward. To anchor myself in the present and gaze ahead rather than contorting myself to reach into the past.
I want to keep writing to heal, but in a way that projects forward rather than an analysis of the past. I even started writing in my journal differently, instead of focusing on a moment in which I was, say, uncomfortable and write about “oh, I was uncomfortable because I know I was scared about meeting these new people and fitting in and that’s because I have this underlying fear of not being perfect,” I can write something like, “I felt this discomfort at dinner, it’s hard for me to meet new people and it’s scary, and I acknowledged that fear and let it know that I was safe, and stayed in the moment and realized that when I listen to the women around me instead of to the fear, the connections slowly displaced the fear and I could relax.”
So I can still write about (and think about) the fear. It’s a reframing, a shift in focus to what’s “wrong with me” that I’m having the fear in the first place, to realizing that fear is always going to come through and it’s not because there’s something wrong with me but because my brain has been triggered and I need to acknowledge it and allow it to pass through.
It’s not reverting to what I used to do, covering up the fear or trying to avoid the fear (or insert Emotion X here). That’s where the initial analysis did serve its purpose, to help me even identify “oh, you’re fear.”
So, in addition to, and perhaps as important as, the writing part of the writing retreat, I also picture it as a bridge. I used to stand on the shore, looking behind me, trying to figure out all I’d been through, all through which I’d come, in order to arrive at that shore, that bridge. And I can’t see the other side of the bridge, so in a way it’s more comforting to look back, because I can see it, I know what it is.
This retreat helped me turn forward, take one shaky step and then a few more sure ones, onto the bridge.
I still don’t know where it leads, and that’s not the point. If I’m going to truly follow this metaphor, I’d say probably the other side is death and that it’s not about the destination, etc.
I do think the bridge leads to another shore, and then I’ll get off and hang out on that land for a while, where things will feel more solid and sure for a while, until I encounter another bridge. And then I’ll make another shaky journey across, not knowing what’s ahead, but trusting myself that I can get there.
So what do I want? I want to cross the bridge.