Writing from the quiet space within: A first-person account
Ryan Summerlin December 16, 2005
I knew I had been avoiding my next level of writing as I walked into the funky mountain hideaway near Winter Park in September. And that’s exactly why I went to the Rocky Mountain Contemplative Writing Retreat, facilitated by jhana yogi and astrologer Michael Hawkins and writing professor David Hicks: to face the next step.I love the daily reporting I do, but it leaves little time for pause; I write an average of 10 newspaper stories a week, always on deadline. I yearn for unstructured time to dream, to explore my idea for a screenplay, or a nonfiction book, or at the very least, a longer nonfiction piece. Sometimes I even wish I were back in college, where professors insisted I write a poem or short story to workshop in class. And yet, I’m scared – scared that what’s in my head won’t flow out onto the page.
And so, at the retreat, I sat – sat in meditation three hours a day for three days straight. And I wrote. But not without some discomfort.The first full day, I decided to write a short story – something I hadn’t attempted for about a decade. Seven other women sat in the large, open living room, apparently mesmerized by the words magically spilling onto their laptop screens. I decided to write by hand that weekend, perhaps to break out of my habitual pattern of quickly typing 500 words on a page and moving on to the next story, or perhaps to get in touch with a more raw style. As I stared out of the sliding glass doors that overlooked an amazing mountain range – including ski runs at Winter Park – I knew I was stuck. I had an idea but didn’t know how to execute it. David looked up from his laptop and asked me, “Do you want to talk?”
I felt shy – here I was, unpracticed at short stories, not knowing how to start, and having no idea how to organize. We walked out onto the large deck, and he started asking me about the two main characters: What do they want? Why do they act the way they do? Suddenly, we were having a conversation, as if these two characters already had a story. He helped me realize that I was writing the last scene of the story, rather than the beginning. And so, I started at the beginning.And that’s what the retreat was about for me: Approaching myself with the curiosity of a beginner’s mind and seeing what wanted to unfold. And it wasn’t all pretty. In meditation, I sat through the anxiety of being a writer, and I breathed. I sat (or, rather lied down – Michael was extremely gentle with those of us who weren’t used to sitting in meditation for an hour) through the frustration. I breathed into the fear that I would never be able to say what I wanted to say. And then I came out of meditation and wrote more. The words flowed, and the hours flew by. I couldn’t think of anything I’d rather be doing. And my meditation sessions became easier, too.
And then, two days into the retreat, I got really mad. Michael gives an astrology reading to every participant, which seems to help writers delve into their essence. It just so happened that I wasn’t particularly thrilled to hear yet another person affirm that Scorpios live an intense life. It wasn’t Michael’s fault. He delivered the information in a skilled and loving way. I just didn’t want to hear it. And that’s where David came in again. David was just returning from a walk with another woman who had a minor meltdown, so I met them along the road, and we talked about the ups and downs of the writing life.
Both David and Michael are some of the most open-hearted, emotionally courageous men I’ve ever met. By honestly facing their own vulnerabilities as well as strengths, they create an opportunity for retreat participants to do the same. And we all shared our unique and beautiful voices, as well as our faults.By the end of the weekend, I felt truly transformed. Not like Super Writer, or anything – it was a quieter transformation – the kind that deepens into your spirit and swirls out at unexpected times, if you pay attention to what’s unfolding. I also found a new community of writers, whose support will always be with me, even if I never see them again. Of course, I plan on writing with them again, because the bond we formed through cooking meals together, sitting silently in meditation, sharing our newly written words and our deeply held emotions, and telling stories by a bonfire is the type of bond it takes some people years to create.