“I resent your existentialism!” she declares with a smile, bringing the room to a roar of laughter.
That’s J’s personality. But she’s made of more than laughs.
J’s brilliance is this way she can call bullshit on fluffy talk and over-simplified advice with earnest wit and a disarming sense of humor. She’s got the spunk to call it out before an entire room of head-nodding retreat-goers, too–and everyone is better for it in the end.
You can count on a girl like J to say what she feels called to say. I value that.
And that’s what Weekend in the Woods, my recent writing and yoga retreat, was really all about: saying what you feel called to say. That’s not always easy to do, so I designed our retreat to make self-expression flow. We gathered in a safe space with cool, encouraging, like-minded people for writing exercises, yoga sessions, an early morning meditation and much more–all to invite our truest selves to shine forth without apology.
I believe that creative self-expression puts the power in our hands to understand what we want, need and desire in our lives. It’s not magic. Sometimes, speaking it aloud is the only thing you need to realize what you’ve wanted all along.
Weekend in the Woods united twelve writer-yogis from Oregon, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Montana, Ontario, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island for a nourishing weekend intended to bridge personal philosophy and creative principles with the nose-in-the-dirt strategies on how to get more creative work done, and how to get it done better.
The creative journey is a teacher for how we wish to live and experience our lives’ journeys. This retreat was a reflection of my belief that you deserve to experience both of those journeys in perfect accord with everything that you wish, require and desire.
Some might call that a bit too fluffy. Self-helpy. Existential.
Maybe they wouldn’t be wrong.
Weekend in the Woods did enjoy it’s fair share of existential indulgence. This was a retreat centered in its own aura of magic.
Our mornings together dawned before sunrise.
We sat in a dimly lit room with bubbling rhythms of music. We shared stories and practiced sun salutations.We self-explored through self-expression. We tapped the values of our voices. We meditated an imaginary walk through the woods to discover our biggest priorities for the year ahead, all while listening to the chimes of a singing bowl.
We powwowed. Read Thoreau quotes. Dug deep into our habits, patterns and creative needs.
We developed plans of action to reshape our creative environments. We brainstormed healthy, manageable practices for our writing. We came up with Aha! after Aha! and belly laugh after belly laugh.
If Weekend in the Woods was an existential experience, it was by design.
This retreat was intended to coerce each attendee into a head-space that they’ve perhaps been avoiding, but now suddenly couldn’t escape.
And in this communal, supportive and creatively-indulgent environment, we could each confront “the essential facts of life,” as Thoreau says in Walden, so we can avoid reaching the end of our journeys only to realize that we “had not truly lived.”
I believe that something special happens when you give yourself the proper time and space to look within and fully examine your values, your beliefs and your creative desires. Within this small, designated time of freedom–one that inevitably ends when we return to reality–shreds of inescapable truth start to emerge.
No, you don’t just imagine things being different and, suddenly, your obligations disappear.
You don’t envision paying off your mortgage and, poof, it happens.
You don’t mind-map a book and suddenly it’s written.
Reshaping your reality takes a hell of a lot of fight.
You don’t just sit at a retreat in the woods and, poof, you return home and life is rainbows and sunshine. Maybe that’s what J was calling bullshit on. Shaping the life that you desire truly requires one million steps, one in front of the other. It takes hard-earned victories and little moments of clarity. It takes maneuvering through all the hardships that life throws at you.
Whether with writing or in life itself, this can be said for everything that matters.
Reshaping your reality takes evolution in action–scary moments, leaps, learning and growth. It takes hundreds and hundreds of self-reflections and earnest self-assessments–a delicate balance of paying attention to your wants and needs without over-thinking it all and swallowing yourself whole.
Is it “existential” to believe that you might know what you need the most–and can reshape your reality to support you, and those you love? Is it “magic” to fight to make a new reality from this current one–in joyful defiance of the odds?
Five years ago, I was depressed. It was my reality. It was a fact; a circumstance. But I chose to take ownership of it, and began to fight to change that circumstance. I quit my job. I flushed my meds. I sat down and started writing. I fought for more than a year to emerge from that dark head-space.
Five years later, I can talk of it in a way that might make it seem like magic. Decision, poof, cure.
It wasn’t magic.
It was one belief, “I deserve better than this,” which prompted one million choices. One million decisions. One million actions. One million inches, earned in a slow crawl.
But the sequence had to start with one choice: the choice to own it. And one inch after. One fight after another.
That’s the tricky thing about the fights we undertake. We have to choose them. Sometimes the fight finds us–we have to respond. But even then, the response to fight is a choice to fight. It’s a choice to believe.
The choice says we’re ready.
Sometimes “being ready” boils over without us even realizing it. Sometimes, we’re ready on a subconscious level and “being ready” only pops to consciousness with a witty quip, or a fist-in-the-table thud. When J declared with a smile, “I resent your existentialism!” maybe she was self-expressing her own readiness for a new choice to be made–for her fight for herself to go on for another round.
Maybe she didn’t realize it at the time. Maybe expressing it was the key to understanding it.
This past weekend, I started my 200-hour yoga teacher training. By Sunday afternoon–the 19th hour of training over the weekend–I hit a wall.
I reached a point of feeling completely sick of the philosophy. I was suddenly fed up with the “existential bullshit.” I was overloaded. Topped off. Cooked. Done. I sat there listening to quote after quote from Shiva Rae and B.K.S. Iyengar and Tirumalai Krishnamacharya, and all I wanted to do was close my eyes and just yell, “Stop it. Enough!”
Then I thought of J.
Is this what she felt?
Why was I suddenly feeling the same way?
I believe that J and I both reached a simple point where talk became that, just talk. We had had enough. Our bowls were filled to the brim with inspiration and pleasantries. Before we consciously realized that we were ready for something more, we suddenly were.
The bell had rung. It was now time to go another round–and being talked up by the trainer in our corner wouldn’t do a lick of good anymore. We wanted something more than quotes and nice-talk. We wanted something more tangible and real than existentialism and magic. We were ready to stand again.
Inevitably, we’ll all reach points like this in our lives, many times over. And whether we blurt it out with humor or hit a mental wall, I believe this breaking point is a point in which some part of our inner selves tells our thinking minds, “You’re more ready than you realize you are.”
And choosing to fight is how we finally realize that we’re ready.
A 7-Step Process for Reshaping Reality
So, how do we actually start to reshape reality as we see it? How do we blow past the existential fluffy-talk and get down in the dirt to “fight” for what we want, need and desire?
You can fight to reshape your reality with big swings and unbalanced lunges. But big swings leave you vulnerable. Unbalanced lunges mean you’ll miss, fall, or get knocked out.
There’s another way to reshape your reality.
Inch by inch. Jab by jab.
When you reshape your reality from little choice after little choice, you remold the path that you’re walking with artful precision. There are fewer mistakes. Less-painful falls. Not so much to regret. When you make changes in tiny shifts and microscopic moments of awareness, you grant yourself the crucial time and the space that you require to figure out where you’re going and how to wish to get there.
In an inch-by-inch crawl, you coerce the circumstances to move along with you.
Here’s a 7-step process to do exactly that:
- Understand what you want, need or desire. Don’t know what? It’s a common sticky point. Just start writing about it or talking about it with a friend. Keep pouring and pouring. Eventually, you’ll stumble upon some answers.
- Dig deeper–why do you want it? It’s not enough to want to write a book. What is the underlying desire? To help people? To feel a deeper sense of purpose in your life? To know that your story and experiences can serve someone else in a similar struggle?
- Now, really self-reflect: what does wanting this represent to you on a soul level? How does this need or desire serve your values–how you strive to live your life, every day? Don’t judge your desire as right or wrong, good or bad. Every heartfelt desire reflects an internal yearning on a soul-level that is inherently good. Deeply observe this undercurrent of belief to understand what your desire represents to you on your soul level.
- With that belief as your foundation, you can start making choices. Choose, choose, and choose some more. It’s not about being right or wrong. It’s about choosing, because choice is freedom in action.
- Commit to your choices. Own your responsibility to them. Try to see most through, if only for a while: it gives you the chance to learn, and you’ll develop some benchmarks and foundations for changing things up for next time.
- Self-assess along the way. What’s working? What’s not working?
- Scrap the commitments that aren’t helping you. Stick to the ones that are.
You don’t need to blow everything up to start over again. You don’t need to spite reality or ignore your responsibilities. You don’t need to be overly existential about it.
Reshaping your reality starts with finding some clarity on what you want, need or desire the most. Me, I use writing and self-expression as vehicles for these very kinds of revelations. Sometimes, for those like J and me, you need to blurt out what you want to realize what you want. And when you do, suddenly, you realize that you’ve long been ready for what comes next.
You make choice after choice. You commit and act responsibly. You take a huge dream and start an inch-by-inch crawl through the dirt to get there.
It won’t be instant, but before long, you will begin to realize that you are literally reshaping your reality as you journey forward.
Magic is made from simplicity in action: one belief that prompts one choice, and one choice that creates new decisions to be made, and from those decisions made, new commitments follow. Your journey changes.
Line up enough choices, non-choices, kept commitments and even abandoned ones, and before long you’re reshaping the very reality that you’re living.
You’re creating something that once never existed.
P.S. – Special thanks to J for inspiring this recap of our Weekend in the Woods experience. Thanks as well to Alex, Lindsey, Debbie, Coral, the staff at Whispering Pines and all of our Weekend in the Woods participants for what was a retreat that none of us will soon forget!
P.P.S. – If you’re interested in getting in on my next workshop or retreat experiences, you can subscribe to stay in-the-know or keep an eye on my Create With Me page for the latest event information, including new 3-hour writing workshops that will happening in Southern New England this March, April and May 2014.
“Weekend in the Woods brought me so much clarity on what it really means to have a writing practice. I was relieved to realize that, more than anything, it should be enjoyable and something that I anticipate doing. I’d been putting far too much pressure on myself to deliver specific results and, as with any art, the magic happens when you’re having fun. Weekend in the Woods brought the magic back to my writing.”Laura Jelinek, Writer & Relationship Coach