For the past decade, each year has not gone by without, what I call, a Writing Retreat. Destinations have varied from the jungles of Mexico, WWOOFing farms, psychiatric clinics, the quietude of Canberra at my Godfather’s home, suburban Bungalow summers, undercover journaling on Vipassana, out-welcomed stays with my father, and, just recently, the precious, bushy hideaway of my own abode. These solitary stints have ranged from ten days to six months and often require exchanging technology for writing, crafting, praying and dreaming.
Writing Retreats aren’t guaranteed to be peaceful; solitude awakens sleeping giants.
The only guarantee is that I will write and trust that my words will carry me where I need to go. In this speed-addicted world, this is the only way I know how to remember that I actually live and breath at my own pace, and was not born to keep up with the Gregorian calendar.
I am always struck by what births from these wordathons. An unfinished Trilogy, growing and morphing and unfinishing each year, prompts me to redefine the name of the retreat itself, because, inherent in this exercise of closing doors, unplugging phones and basking in my own company, of turning the clock back-to-front, freeze-framing friendships and postponing meetings to arm’s length, is a flourishing beyond the realm of writing that never fails to surprise me and always dares to evolve me.
I’ve grown to value this inaugural event so much, that it has qualities of a reverent nature, resurrecting inner glories that may never have been discovered if I did not explore time and space on my own terms. I have also found it quite uncanny that depression looms on the horizon, if a year goes by sans le Retraite d’Écriture.
It’s my opportunity to turn away from the world and turn within.
It’s also important to note that there are many ways that this unleashing of freedom can occur in our daily lives, for when extended periods are unfeasible. I call these Mini Treats or les Petite Festins, and I believe you can never have too many in one day. Personally, the most accessible Mini Treats are discovered through the inroads of the Creative, Embodiment and Sacred Arts. In their own beautifully human ways, they tend to slip under the radar of the mind’s fixations and societal obligations, so infinite wonders can be explored.
They reconcile our stresses by strengthening our connections with majesty beyond definition. They are the arts that embrace the innocence in and of us all.
When I life model for painters after a day in the office, I eavesdrop as they discuss yellow for an hour, pouring their souls into exacting impressions and digressions of nature. Together we meditate on simplicity, while collaboratively soar our imaginations.
In a similar vein, when I’m prayer-posed in awe of my yoga teacher, who quietly dispels the pressure of time by guiding me into the pleasures of space, I witness expansion and contraction in my body, thought-free, while awakening to the purity of existence beyond Facebook and finances, my follies and foibles.
And when I evoke the sacredness in life by striking up silent conversations with my cat, tuning into his feline features more Zen-like than a bonsai, we inevitably end up in a rough-and-tumble on the floor and nuzzle up for a brief catnap, ballooning with dreams.
It’s the escapee within me that longs to dismantle the prisons of our culture – of timeframes, work-frames, mind-games and no-games – that stalks these retreats like a hunter to its prey. It is paramount that I honour myself with the permission to indulge in both my imagination and my humanness.
Since a high percentage of my time on this planet has been spent in the low recesses of my mind, anxiously trawling existence to its end, I’d be lying if I portrayed these retreats as blissful vacations with enlightened outcomes. Some sleeping giants rise with grumpiness, others surface enraged. Many of my retreats have required prolonged admissions in psychiatric clinics, so that I could retrieve my well-being with support.
My three month admission in 2007, is the best example I can conjure, of a time when simply ‘being’ required a team of empathetic souls to hold my hand while I surfed the extremities of life. With full awareness, I walked through those corridors night into day, with the knowledge that my descent was being scientifically packaged as an illness. The package suited all my needs providing safety, time, space, attention and medicative tools to soften the edges. My diagnoses didn’t matter much to me. It was more important that I felt safe in the arms of humanity while I walked humbly to find where I had misplaced my Will to Live. Successive suicide attempts leave you with a measure of desperation that taints your world with such disillusionment, that makes every other living being a Superhuman, simply by being at ease with ‘alive’.
I wrote throughout all my hospital admissions and if I couldn’t write, I’d draw, and when I was keen to go out, I’d dance. I didn’t see an art therapist, I just invested my hope in the Creative Arts, that their muses would carry me out of this forsaken pit of despair to vistas of optimism and peace. And they did, in ways that only colour, words, movement and sound can divine.
The remedies of insight, catharsis and liberation from suffering that could not be unearthed through psychiatric treatments, were accessible through my art and vital to my well-being as a creative spirit. For it is our nature, to re-create our existence through the act of creation itself and the merits of the Creative Arts have served humanity since time immemorial. Every psychological conundrum can find relief through creative expression, where as relief cannot be found in every drug. Perhaps my decade of retreats is a testament to all the mental crossroads I have embarked upon, who knows, but I refuse to see that as valid reasoning to be ill. What I do know is that I continue to shine on because I have taken time to shine off.
Les Retraites d’Écriture and the secret sleepathons, self-pleasurings, spiritual awakenings and inspired writings that emerge from the spaciousness, are the becoming of the woman that I am. They are growth-spurts upon my evolutionary path and they render the many ‘mental illnesses’ I’ve been diagnosed with, as false portrayals of the idioscyncratic, elf-monk habits that simply come with being me – mercurial, slothful, analytical and prone to reverie. However, until the status of status-quo has been redefined by my own standards, I know I will always be subject to psychiatric diagnoses only if I chose to take on board that expertise. I do wonder, however, how could I not be subject to psychiatric diagnoses? There are now 404 mental conditions!
Three weeks of solitude has become an art that I continue to refine, particularly in aim of completing my Trilogy. It’s a pocket of time that five years ago I would never have considered, for back then it took three minutes for me to feel endangered by my own thoughts. I invite anyone who also struggles with the ferocity of the mind, to ponder the following truths I have discovered from facing my own demons. They are called The Seven Grand Tips of Evolution or les Sept Bouts Grandes d’Evolution, gleaned from my own book, which I believe naturally and lovingly sustain the process of human evolution, through its shadows, lights and many shades of grey.
The Seven Grand Tips of Evolution
les Sept Bouts Grandes d’Evolution
It’s the Dreamtime of down-time and a mysterious healing remedy.
Find more than one confidant, beyond your family, who you can share your vulnerability with.
Explore the Creative Arts as though your life depends on it – mine does.
Befriend an animal. They love us as much as we love them and have many languages for affection.
Experiment with meditation and yoga that focus on your heart. Build this miraculous muscle so that it can out-beat your mind.
Look to psychiatric and psychological assessments with the intention of taking a responsible step forward and not as a means to stay still in a diagnostic life-sentence.
Give yourself permission to share your experiences without shame. There are so many people wanting to help you and so many people who feel the same. There’s probably even a website created just for you 😉
And while it may not seem like a feat of evolution it is certainly another Tip: Write a letter to The Babyfacedassassin about your fears and concerns, with promise of a hand-written response in return.
For a story shared is a story compared and there is wisdom gained in the spirit of exchange that can illuminate higher learning. May we seek to better understand each other, mine for treasures when we suffer, each and every jour miraculeux!