My favorite writing retreat

For the last twenty years I’ve booked myself into a writing or poetry workshop at a rustic Big Sur, CA retreat, Esalen Institute, and I let nothing get in the way of my going. It is my time away from family and friends – including my husband – alarm clocks, traffic, grocery shopping, cooking daily meals, telemarketer calls, daily newspapers, television, politics, cell phones, and if I choose, all internet connections. It’s a breath of fresh air. It’s my yearly chance to get away and unwind.

Buddha at my favorite meditation place – Esalen in Big Sur

As soon as I’ve packed up my car and gotten on the road, my special time begins. And once I’m out of the Los Angeles area and well on my way toward Santa Barbara, I begin to relax, sink deep into my driver’s seat, take some long deep breaths and watch the beauty of the world go by. The hills look like they are painted with sweeping brush strokes of mustard yellow, the rows of newly planted grape vines stand tall and proud, and the clear sky except for a few Georgia O’Keefe clouds beckon me up the coast.

It doesn’t matter that my favorite retreat spot is rather primitive. The rooms look like they’ve been transported from a 1950’s motel. There is no room service, all telephone calls have to be made on a pay phone, meals are served buffet style, and before shoving our dirty dishes into the kitchen area, we have to scrape any leftovers into the compost pot. But there is so much to like about the place. The hypnotic, pungent smells of fresh herbs and pine tickle the senses, the fertile ground that produces grapefruit size roses along side rows of emerald-green vegetables boggles the mind, and, the hot baths soothe not only the body, they heal the soul. It’s like nowhere else I’ve ever been.

Writing Retreat Benefits

So what’s in it for me? My Esalen writing retreat gives me a chance to pause and get a new prospective on life. It lets me be completely relaxed and at peace. It provides a time of rejuvenation, a time-out from my normal routine. Rather than a frivolous expense, I consider going on retreat an investment in my health and well-being. Every day, I eat healthy food fresh from the on site garden; I take a long walk to start each day in the company of the monarch butterflies and squawking blue jays, and I soak in the hot springs baths while hearing the sounds of the ocean as it laps against the rocks below. Once in a while I even splurge on a massage.

Then I get down to the business of learning more about the craft of writing complete with an undivided opportunity to work on it. But nothing is ever rushed, graded, or even mandatory. We are all there to detox and withdraw from our regular lives not to be pressured by deadlines.

My Writing Retreat Routine

Each morning after breakfast we hear a talk about some aspect of writing. Then we get a writing assignment. That takes about an hour; afterward we go off on our own to create a poem or prose writing piece for the day.

I usually write in the community dining room but always adhere to an important rule – if someone has their laptop open with fingers on the keyboard or has a pen in hand lifted over a page, don’t talk to or disturb that person. He/she is writing. There is plenty of time to talk if we want to – we usually sit together at long tables during mealtime and talk almost non-stop about writing and poetry. Many people like me return year after year. So mealtimes are a good chance to catch up. Then in the late afternoon, we share our writing in small groups of ten to twelve people and get gentle, positive critiques in return. And if we’re lucky we end up with a good first draft.

Slowly Ease Into Your Normal Life After Your Retreat

At the end of our workshop, one of the workshop leaders always gives us a warning to slowly ease back into our normal lives and to be forgiving of the folks we’re going back to. After all, since they unfortunately haven’t benefited from our retreat experience, they might want to rush us into doing things too quickly. And she is always right. For a couple of days after I get home, I just want to relax. I don’t want to stay focused enough on doing anything I normally do. The effects of the retreat are still with me, still inside me, and I’m not in a hurry to let it all go. But, I think that’s an added benefit – soon enough I’m back to normal and raring to get back to my daily writing routine.

My Esalen retreat has lasting benefits and long, lingering memories. So many that I can’t wait until it’s time to sign up to go again the following year.

It turns out I’ve already signed up for my next writing retreat. I’ll go in December. Want to join me?

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