A Montana Retreat: Beauty, Inspiration and A Circle of Trust

June 15, 2015 in Inspirational Stuff

Ranch So, I have a “big” birthday coming up (yeah, you know, I’m turning 29 again – wink wink) and I wasn’t sure I wanted to have a party. For my 40th, I had rejected the party idea and chose a nice vacation instead. For this one, I knew I wanted to do something special, something I would remember forever, and something that would not be wildly expensive and over in 4 hours. The notion of a writing retreat has always intrigued me, but the ones I had heard about were either too extravagant, too yoga-ish, or too workshop-oriented. But then I discovered Haven writing retreat and I knew I had found my birthday present.

Initially, when I told friends I was going on a writing retreat in Montana, my reasons were simple: I need to start writing more, I’m creatively stuck and I need a kick in the arse. But, now that I’ve recently returned from my five day adventure at the Walking Lightly Ranch in Whitefish, I know my answer has expanded. I also know that this was an experience that is truly difficult to put into words – ironic (and frustrating!) for a writer.

I’m trying to wrap my head around what this retreat was all about. Of course, it was about writing and we did plenty of that. We were given writing prompts each day and from these exercises, we learned so much more about our craft. We also had an evening workshop when people could optionally share their writing and obtain feedback. Everyone was so generous with their thoughts that I think we would have stayed there all night if common sense for needing sleep didn’t dictate otherwise.

In addition to loving those writing sessions, I also know that the 11 women who traveled from all over the country (and one from Canada) to be at this beautiful and safe Haven all needed to be there. I think the common thread for all of us was that we needed a space away from something — from kids, from an ex, from a memory, from our present, or maybe just from our own heads.

I believe we all found that space in Montana with which we could breathe and confront what we possibly wanted to write about. For some of us, those topics were very painful and scary. For others, they found the comfort and confidence to experiment with a story or an idea. No matter what the reason, we were all seeking something and I believe we all found it.

I also believe we were surprised to experience such immediate and strong bonding. For me, the most fascinating part of the retreat was what happens when you put 11 people together who are strangers on Day 1 and by Day 2, are hugging, crying, supporting, and encouraging one another. I don’t have a strong psychology background, but I’d love to hear the analysis as to why something like that happens. We wondered if that happens with every group that comes on this retreat. And, I wondered if it had to do with our facilitator Laura, who has a true gift to lead, teach and simultaneously love her participants with a pure affection. I do know with great confidence that we all felt safe that we could open our hearts to each other. That kind of trust can only be fostered from someone who also shows her vulnerability. Thank you Laura!

I also came away with the affirmation that I was grateful to have participated in something like this. I feel like recommending it to every person I know, writer or not.

I was challenged to go beyond my comfort zone in so many ways:

Vegan food. I wasn’t sure how I’d do without regular servings of beef and chicken. And yet, for some reason the only thing I kept craving was a Diet Coke?

Talking in a group – not my favorite thing to do at all, but I pushed myself to speak up more.

Reading my writing out loud – scary, but then it ended up being so NOT scary when I did it.

Horses – I’m terrified of horses, but I hugged one on this retreat and I think he may have hugged me back. :)

One day during one of our writing sessions, one of my new writing friends outstretched her arms to all of us and said boldly (just kidding, no adverbs allowed):

“I love us!”

I think at that moment she realized that this was a special group of writers that were feeling privileged to be together. I also believe that every one of us realized the same thing as her, whether it was right at that moment or at some point during our retreat.

I love us, too.



If you want to experience the magic of a Haven writing retreat or to learn more, click HERE.

 NOTE: This was NOT a sponsored post. All opinions are my own!

{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

Margie Weschler June 15, 2015 at 8:53 pm

Happy Birthday!!!


ohboymom June 16, 2015 at 3:48 pm

Thanks Margie – it was definitely a unique gift to myself. :)


Janine Huldie June 15, 2015 at 9:41 pm

Happy Birthday to my fellow, June/Gemini friend. The writing retreat sounded amazing and so glad you were able to do this to celebrate this year. Oh and I have decided I am going to stay 29 forever LOL 😉
Janine Huldie recently posted…You Never Forget Your First Time – The Life Lessons of BaseballMy Profile


ohboymom June 16, 2015 at 3:49 pm

Thanks for the bday wishes Janine – I’m actually a July baby, so I’m not at that big birthday quite yet..:) And I like your idea of staying at the 29 mark forever – at least we can in spirit, right?


Cathy Chester June 16, 2015 at 7:42 am

What a wonderful way to spend your birthday, Emily. I wish I was as smart as you to think of celebrating my 40th that way (many moons ago.) Maybe for my 60th….(not yet!)

It sounds like an amazing and enlightening experience. Now that your writing juices are flowing again I look forward to reading what you’ll create!

Happy Birthday!
Cathy Chester recently posted…Napa In New York: Our Trip To The Wine CountryMy Profile


ohboymom June 16, 2015 at 3:51 pm

Thanks Cathy – it was a one-of-a-kind experience…I say you should consider it for your 60th or sooner…why wait?! :)


Jan Myhre June 16, 2015 at 4:10 pm

I wish Laura had started HAVEN way back when I wasn’t 60. I went for the first time at the age of 71 and the second time at 73 (slow learner). My life has been changed forever…found my voice, quieted my inner critic, learned to care for and love my 10 year old self again and found the courage to finish my memoir (love letter to my sons). Save your coin and GO. There will be no regrets.


ohboymom June 16, 2015 at 4:16 pm

Yes, I so agree – no regrets! And, how wonderful that HAVEN changed your life in so many ways. As a mom to all boys, I would love to read your memoir!


Julie June 16, 2015 at 2:26 pm

Fellow Havenite! I am so glad that you gifted Haven for yourself on this big birthday. I could hear your sweet New York lilt in every word of this post. There is goodness that emanates from the quiet among us, and your contributions to Haven made the retreat even richer. I cannot wait to witness the writing and experiences that come next for you. Sending much love from the Midwest!


ohboymom June 16, 2015 at 3:53 pm

I love how you describe my accent as a “sweet NY lilt.” I’m going to try to think of it that way from now on, rather than being self-conscious that I sound like Fran Drescher on “The Nanny.” :) I too am eager to see what writing comes out from all of us – can’t wait for your book! xoxo


Julie June 16, 2015 at 3:56 pm

I don’t hear Fran Drescher in your accent at all! Yours is softer, and so full of your lovely personality. I love it!
Julie recently posted…Haven Writing Retreat – First ReflectionMy Profile


ohboymom June 16, 2015 at 4:08 pm

Aww thanks…I appreciate that!


Laura June 16, 2015 at 3:14 pm

I attended Haven in February. Everything you said. Yes. And to give you my two cents about what else is happening there…it’s healing that’s happening. And it can only happen when your leader holds a special healing space of love for you to do it in. It’s a writing retreat alright, but Laura is helping us heal, whether she knows it or not…but I think she knows.


Laura June 16, 2015 at 3:15 pm

And BTW, I also went as a big fat birthday gift to ME!! :) Best Birthday ever!!!
Laura recently posted…The Grand-Daddy of All Spiritual Practices – Fear is Your TeacherMy Profile


ohboymom June 16, 2015 at 3:56 pm

So glad you did the same thing! – such a meaningful gift to ourselves!


ohboymom June 16, 2015 at 3:54 pm

Yes, I think she knows too. You are so right about the healing…I wasn’t sure if that applied to everyone, but I think that anyone who seeks that kind of experience may also be seeking healing, whether they realize it or not. Thanks so much for reading and commenting!


Pamela Price June 16, 2015 at 5:35 pm

What an amazing post. You nailed it. It was my utmost pleasure to meet you and have some amazing conversations. I love us too!


ohboymom June 16, 2015 at 9:02 pm

Thanks so much Pamela…I’m glad you think I nailed it – I know we’re all still processing the retreat and I think this post helped me do that. I miss seeing all of you!


Kristi Campbell June 17, 2015 at 1:22 am

Happy happy birthday, Emily. I remember when you booked this and being so intrigued by it all – I’m delighted to read that it was everything you thought it would be. There’s something about being with writerly people that you’ve never met that’s inspiring and magical and beyond empowering. I want to do this! Anyway, I’m so so glad that you did this and again HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!!
Kristi Campbell recently posted…Birthdays, Thankfulness, and SwimmingMy Profile


ohboymom June 17, 2015 at 2:16 pm

You should SO do this retreat Kristi. I’m serious. When i was there, I was thinking about the writers that I know who would love an experience like this, and you were definitely on the top of my list..:)


Kerri June 17, 2015 at 12:00 pm

Oh I am so happy to hear that your trip was a success. More than a success, but a revelation. Such a great experience that you will never forget. Happy Birthday!
Kerri recently posted…When being proved wrong is a rewardMy Profile


ohboymom June 17, 2015 at 2:15 pm

Thanks Kerri – and yes, there was definitely revelation in some form happening for all of us there. My only regret is I didn’t see enough of Montana – now I want to go back!


Julia June 17, 2015 at 12:22 pm

You did it! Happy birthday to you and thank you for writing this beautiful post!! I’m feeling a little verklemmt reading it and I’m inspired by how you rose to the challenge to grow personally and as a writer in so many ways.


ohboymom June 17, 2015 at 2:12 pm

Thanks Julia – I am planning to bring informational Haven postcards to our next writing group, if we ever get that date set! I do think that you especially would love an experience like this.


Sandra June 27, 2015 at 12:43 am

I’m glad you left the link for the retreat because it sounds amazing. I even got a little choked up there when I read about some of the painful writing some of you ladies were doing. I’m looking forward to reading more of your writing.
Sandra recently posted…Diary of a Bipolar BroadMy Profile


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