Writing Sesshin: a guided writing and meditation retreat @ Hollyhock

The word "sesshin" in Japanese means "touching the mind" or "touching the heart."  Sesshin is a special time in the Zen Buddhist calendar, when monastics step away from their everyday schedule and dedicate full days to meditation practice. As writers, we need these same periods of retreat and intensive practice to deepen and clarify our expression on the page. This sesshin will help participating writers touch the mind and heart of their writing practice. We will divide our time between guided meditation and writing exercises, discussions of craft, individual writing practice, supportive group work, and individual meetings with me about work-in-progress. Writers will leave with practices that will help sustain meditation and writing in everyday life. I've been wanting to do this kind of retreat for a long time, so I'm really looking forward to it.

Here's some information about Hollyhock:

An internationally renowned centre for learning and well-being, Hollyhock impacts personal, professional and social development through over 100 programs, and when space allows offers visitors a fantastic British Columbia island holiday, where you’ll enjoy wonderful Cortes Island accommodation.

Our spectacular natural setting on Cortes Island is an ideal backdrop for transformative experiences. We are linked intrinsically to our ecology, assisting us in providing a comfortable and safe environment where people can deeply connect with others, gain creative insights, and renew hope that a better world is possible.

Hollyhock is Canada’s leading educational retreat centre with over 28 years experience, but you can also think of us as a “refuge for your soul”, a place that allows you access to what matters, or simply time to rest, play and achieve wellness in BC.

For more information and to register, please check out the Hollyhock website.

Re-training the Writer's Mind @ Taos Writers Conference

This summer I'll be teaching Re-training the Writer's Mind at the Taos Writers Conference. I haven't visited Taos for many years, and I'm really looking forward to it! Here's a link to a version of the workshop that I taught at Hedgebrook. The content will be similar, a five-day workshop with a focus on developing meditation and writing practices that inspire and support us as writers. But the Taos workshop will be part of a conference, rather than a retreat, so participants will be able to engage in a wealth of other writerly activities, too, including roundtables, readings, workshops, as well networking and just hanging out. And I'm really happy because my dear friend, novelist, and editor, Carole DeSanti, will be there, too, and offering a weekend workshop of her own. (More on Carole's workshop and her new novel, The Unruly Passions of Eugenie R. to come!)

Re-Training the Writer's Mind - redux!

I'm delighted to say that I've been invited back to Hedgebrook to do another Master Class this summer! Here's the blurb:

A writer’s mind is her most important tool. We rely on our minds to be quick and associative, dogged and diligent, and above all to maintain the quiet, steady focus necessary to reach into the heart of our text. The mind’s enemy is skittery distraction in all its myriad forms, and in these days of email, Internet, and information overload, as writers, we are often fighting for our attention and our sanity. This workshop will offer practical training in re-focusing the mind through meditation, using contemplative exercises designed to deepen our expression and to allow us access to untapped areas of imagination and experience. We will look at aspects of the writing craft from a contemplative perspective, investigating ways of delving more deeply into point-of-view, metaphor, sensory imagery, characterization and plot. We will leave with writing and meditation practices to keep our most precious tool well-honed, focussed and responsive. Participants should come with writing projects in progress, or well-formed ideas for projects to start while in residency.

Here's the backstory:

Last February, I went to Hedgebrook for a residency to work on a stalled novel. In my cottage I had no access to the Internet. There was no wifi, no ethernet, and no way to get online while I was writing. It didn't take long before my mind started going through a withdrawal that was as intense and uncomfortable as the one I'd experienced when I quit smoking. The sensations, although mental, felt almost physical. I could feel my mind reaching outside itself, like a hand groping for a cigarette. I was shocked. As a writer and a longtime meditator, I'm accustomed to tracking the nuances and subtle movements of my mind, but I'd had no idea that my mind had morphed into such a cyborg. Unplugged, it felt bereft, incomplete, and horribly unsure of itself. And suddenly I realized this was why my novel had stalled. This is why I kept losing momentum and traction, and couldn't seem to finish. Somehow, my mind had lost faith in its ability to hold fast to the myriad complexities needed to conjure a fictional world. It had grown impatient and clumsy. It could no longer penetrate and go deep.

It took me a week or so to begin to settle down, and in that time, I rediscovered some of the patient focus and clarity of mind that I remember from my pre-wired days. This workshop is an outgrowth of that experience and incorporates some of the practices I've instituted in my own writing life to keep me connected but not overwhelmed. Many of these are writing and meditation techniques designed to nudge the mind from its habitual ruts and patterns of expression, and I thought it would be helpful to share them, since they seem to work. In the months since the retreat ended, I've finished a draft of the novel. It feels good to have my mind back.

This workshop is part of the Hedgebrook Women Writers Master Class Retreat Series. Hedgebrook is a retreat center for women writers, and all proceeds from these workshops go to subsidize the Writers in Residence Program. You can find information about registration at the Hedgebrook website, but here's the basic idea:

THE EXPERIENCE: 7 days at an idyllic world-renowned women writers retreat on Whidbey Island, and exceptional writing workshops with a celebrated writer. Each resident writer is housed in her own handcrafted cottage in the woods with a sleeping loft, work area and wood-burning stove. Meals are prepared by Hedgebrook’s in-house chef using fresh produce from our organic garden. The 48-acre retreat features forest walking paths, ponds and meadows, views of Puget Sound and Mount Rainier, and quiet areas for writing, reading and meditating. A beautiful beach and charming seaside village are nearby.

“Hedgebrook isn’t a retreat…it’s an advance.” - Gloria Steinem

A Way With Words: Writing & Meditation

My friend Kate McCandless and I will be giving another A Way with Words workshop at Hollyhock this summer, focusing once again on writing and meditation. Kate is a Zen priest, and poet, and a wonderful and compassionate teacher and friend. She be helping me lead the meditations, and Hollyhock is one of the loveliest spots on earth, so please join us if you can.The workshop runs for five days, from June 4 - 9, 2010. You can register by calling 800-933-6339, or by sending an email to registration@hollyhock.ca. You can also learn more about Hollyhock on the Hollyhock website. Here's a more detailed description of the workshop: Writing and meditation have much in common. As contemplative practices, they require a balance of relaxation and rigor, of mental focus and spaciousness of mind. As sitting practices, they train us to be with our stories, embody them, and let them go. And as transformative practices, they have the power to inspire and change the practitioner and the world.

In this workshop, we'll experience how attentive sitting can spark creativity and enrich our expression on the page. We'll work with our physical selves and senses to write in more fully embodied language, and we'll introduce guided meditations designed to support and enhance key elements of the writer’s craft, such as characterization, voice, plot, and point of view.

In a supportive and nonjudgmental environment, we'll have time to sit, and write, and read, and talk about our writing. We'll share work, receive feedback, and leave with foundational meditation and writing practices that we can take back to our everyday lives.

We'll make lots of time for being outdoors and writing in nature. Hollyhock, located on Cortes Island, B.C., is a stunningly beautiful educational and health retreat centre on the beach. There are opportunities for hiking, kayaking, and naturalist guided walks, as well as massage, yoga, hot tubs, and delicious vegetarian meals.

This workshop is open to writers, meditators, educators, and all who are interested in fiction, or non-fiction, or something in-between. All levels are welcome and no previous meditation experience is necessary.

A Way With Words - meditation & writing workshop

Last month's writing workshop was wonderful! We decided at the last minute to do it as a non-residential workshop and to hold it at the Whaletown Institute. We had a full house, and it was intensive, like a writers' boot camp. We focused on the foundations of story: what triggers a story, and how do we bring it to life on the page. We worked extensively with character, location, voice, point of view, and authorial stance--what John Gardiner calls "psychic distance," or the level of intimacy a writer maintains in relation to his or her characters. It was so much fun, in fact, that I've decided to do more workshops, and so the next one will be in Vancouver, on October 17 - 18, in association with the Hollyhock Foundation. The title of the workshop is "A Way With Words" and this one will focus on meditation and writing, and the ways these two contemplative practices enhance one another.

Fiction, but also literature in general, trains us in empathy by requiring us to inhabit another's experience. To read literature successfully, we have be willing to enter our characters' minds and skin, to see with their eyes and to feel with their hearts. This is the prerequisite of the writer's work, too, and I'm particularly interested in exploring how traditional Buddhist meditation practices can support our experiences as writers and readers.

You can read more about the workshop in the What's New section of this site, or at the Hollyhock website. To register, please contact Hollyhock at 800-933-6339, or send an email to registration@hollyhock.ca.

Here's a pdf poster of the event: WayWithWords

I hope you will come!