I just returned from a 7-day writing retreat with 30 women from all over the country. Some fiction writers, poets, non-fiction writers, some published, some not.

I have written blogs for the past 20 years and loved writing as an English major in college – but have not identified myself as a writer.

Yet, when my long-time friend, Suzanne, invited me to go on a writing retreat, my head said NO and my heart said YES!

Inspiring Mission

The retreat was held at the Highlands Foundation in the Poconos. (Yes, it’s run by the family that still produces the Highland’s Children’s Magazine you read in the doctor’s office as a kid!) The founding family’s history and mission to inspire children is displayed all over the retreat center.

One cabin is dedicated to Jerry Weisman, the world-renowned illustrator whose work appeared in more than 500 issues. The retreat center is dedicated to future children’s book writers and all others who need respite from the world.

Rural and Spooky

Green pastures, distant small homes, a red horse barn, old farmhouse, wood cabins with modest porches, there were no sounds but birds singing and the rustling of squirrels and deer. It felt like a small town of long ago. A simply designed, high-ceilinged facility, where meals and group sessions were held, I had an eerie, twilight zone chill up my spine when I climbed up the stairs to a spacious, mysterious loft.

Slanted ceilings reminiscent of grandma’s attic, large windows with views of tall trees, sunlight beaming in, birds singing and cool breezes floated in. Comfortable couches, chairs, and pillows randomly filled the room, with stacks of books, writing materials and… a large square red leather chair and ottoman. A replica of my journaling, reading and prayer chair at home — it felt like an old friend waiting to welcome my arrival. Since 2003, it’s been my morning coffee spot, and also my refuge and comfort when the pressures of life blow in.

Nurturing Food

The food was healthy, delicious, locally sourced for the most part. Imagine meals prepared 3 times a day with the full spectrum of diet options beautifully displayed with cheerful, loving servers. Our chef Amanda greeted us before each dinner and told us a tale about what she chose to cook, where it ingredients came from (from the farm down the road or sometimes admittedly, Sysco) and what inspired her choice.

It made the experience of eating our dinner feel like a picnic when a blanket was spread out in a park, and a beautiful picnic basket appeared with fresh bread and a bottle of wine sticking out!

Radical Acceptance

There were writing prompts, and a wide variety of teaching sessions on such topics as setting place and the nuances of writing dialog. Each day we engaged in rituals of small group sharing, private writing, reading our writing to others — all while being seen and heard without judgment. No advice or editorial commentary was permitted.

The experience was one of acceptance, kindness, along with detailed care for all our needs. Our wise leader, Jennifer Louden, created a structure that balanced time alone to write with relational time to share with other aspiring writers.

Dance and Cry with Foolish Abandon

Another ritual was starting each day at the ancient, damp and dusty horse barn dancing to a wild mix of summer tunes, oldies, rap, heartbreak and soothing playlists at 7 am. A fellow writer confessed she saw us as a room full of Seinfeld’s beloved and ridiculous Elaines badly dancing our hearts out. We all had our own rhythm, pace and moves. Nobody cared.

More somber was when a fellow writer noticed a rope and a flag hanging from the barn ceiling that brought her back to her enslaved ancestors’ suffering. Horrified and perplexed by what it was doing there, the group took it down together. We cried at what it represented and how such atrocities are never really forgotten in the body or the psyche. We danced.

Breathe, Stretch and Strengthen

Each day we did yoga at 4 pm. I noticed how calming and natural it felt in my body and for my soul. I thought back to my routine at home. That’s the time of day when I am more likely to feel depleted, negative, discouraged or just plain worn out. It’s when I start to think about having a glass wine while making dinner or eating something sweet. I discovered how breathing, stretching and giving my body the rest it needed was restorative.

Emotional Clean Out

One day my writing took a turn away from the topic of my book to something emotional I felt led to write about. The prompt that day was, “What is in the way of your creative power being fully realized?” I didn’t want to go there. A naturopath had suggested something was blocking me that was related to my past, and was the source of persistent physical pain.

In the company of many vulnerable women, I sat in the loft on my red leather chair and wrote until I quietly sobbed. No one seemed to notice. I let it flow while I wrote, feeling my familiar red chair holding me. It was stronger and more gut-wrenching than I expected. I asked God to show me the way and I prayed for trust to help me accept God’s will and love for me. It was cleansing, healing, energizing and it turned out to be safe and secure. It was what I needed.

The Reckoning

Immediately following that I came to terms with the “shadow comforts” I had been using to turn away from the emotions I don’t particularly care for and things I don’t want to face. Aging, dying, memories of those I’ve lost.

I’ve studied healthy eating and mind/body connection research since my early college days. I know enough to make the best kinds of adjustments to my intake, yet a resistance always comes up. I don’t want to miss out on any of life’s pleasures. I admit to being a tiny bit entitled to having everything I desire, and if I’m really truthful, addicted to a special happiness and thrill that seems to come from a martini in a chilled glass with 3 olives, a warm crusty piece of good Italian bread, or a bowl of moose tracks ice cream with hot fudge.

In that moment it became clear… I’ve been dealing with all kinds of muscular and joint pain, soreness, digestive issues and a pervasive unexplained bladder ache, doctors couldn’t explain. I decided that the research I’d done was right. I have chronic inflammation and there are foods and drinks that make it worse.

So at that writers retreat, maybe more like summer camp, I decided that being pain-free with more energy was more important than indulging in what doesn’t really satisfy, and in fact causes pain. This concept may apply to more than what I put in my mouth. But that’s for another day. In the meantime, I am writing.

Elaine Morris
Executive coach and positive intelligence expert

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Elaine Morris is a master-level emotional intelligence and executive coach who brings more than 30 years of experience to upper level executives and their teams.

Elaine Morris