Radically Restored Writer – Costa Rica 2011

Morpho butterfl

Over the last 20 years I have been on many writing retreats. The gift of time away from everyday life to rest and reconnect with that inner creator is invaluable to any artist. However, particularly for someone who so relentlessly processes words, this quiet time is essential.

At this moment I sit in a building open on three sides to the densely textured green jungle. I sip my coffee and watch a Morpho butterfly dance an erratic jig across the green tapestry. I have always associated the name “Morpho” with Morpheus, the god of sleep and assumed that they were given the name because they look like something from a dream.

Every morning at about this hour one of these giant blue creatures (the size of a sandwich plate and the colour of the most perfect summer sky) has performed this dance and then floated away. It’s probably the same butterfly each day. Its appearance contributes to this ongoing feeling that three days ago when I got off the plane I emerged into another universe—a space with no deadlines, no snowflakes, and lots of space and time to simply be.

I had heard about the marvelous yoga trip that WCDR member Deepam Wadds did to Costa Rica in February of 2010. When she asked if I would consider coming the next time to lead the group in writing every day, it seemed too good to believe; but that didn’t stop me from saying yes. I was desperately tired—tired from working and teaching every waking hour (the life of a freelancer writer), exhausted from living through the very recent death of my best friend. The trip couldn’t have come at a better time.

09 Breakfast from the gardenNow I am sitting in the breakfast palapa at Alberge de Alma in Hatillo, Costa Rica. On the plate before me are chunks of banana (harvested right on this property), chunks of paypaya (ditto), pineapple (ditto); and whole grain toast with a variety of jams and spreads dotted around my plate like blobs of paint on a painter’s palette: mango jam, guava jelly and chocolate spread, all made from fruit grown right here. Oh yes—and there’s that fuel indispensible for most writers: coffee. In this case, locally grown and roasted Costa Rican coffee. With every bite, flavour explodes in my mouth – and I don’t know whether it’s because these foods have never been vibrated in a truck or whether it’s just that I’ve slowed down enough over the last few days to pay serious attention to the way things taste. I think it’s a bit of both.

I woke briefly at 4:30 this morning to the barking of a dog and the experimental err-err-ERRR! of a rooster warming up like a poultry Pavarotti, but the orchestra didn’t swing into the full morning overture for another hour. The air is full of sound all the time here. Nearby livestock is always commenting on life in Hatillo, squawking and barking, neighing and lowing. The buzz and rattle of insects rises throughout the morning to a steady sound like the ringing of a thousand sleighbells that makes my ears throb when I tune into it. The shrieks and caws of various birds embroider the soundscape. And all day and all night the distant steady boom of the Pacific surf pulses like a slow heartbeat under it all.

06 The practice beginsAt 7:00 a.m. we assemble quietly in the yoga palapa—an open-sided structure on the mountainside. Esana leads us in the most astounding yoga practice I have ever experienced, despite all my years of Iyengar and Flow yoga. Through an hour and a half of deep presence, she turns us ever inward—she talks about “sensation” rather than “pain” or “discomfort” and reminds us that we are the authorities in choosing what our bodies need. The practice is deeply compassionate and self-loving. It reminds me of the instruction I give writers, especially memoirists—the permission to decide for themselves how deeply they want to go into their stories, how closely they choose to look at their material.

At 8:30, newly grateful for this incarnation, we go for the aforementioned explosive breakfast. And at 9:30 we gather together to write to prompts I prepare in response to the yoga practice from that morning. There’s usually a short teaching component, but mostly the writing is a furthering of this process of slowing down, going inside, going back, and connecting with our deepest knowing. Esana teaches yoga the way I teach writing, and the combination of the two practices one after the other, day after day, leads each writer deeper and deeper into their authentic voice. The group bonds—fast—and a sacred space is created where it’s safe to say things, safe to experiment with voice and story.

By 11:00 the formal activites are over for the day. Like the Morpho, we have danced through our morning routine and now float into the exotic green spaces to explore our own rhythms. The afternoons are totally free to do whatever – laze in the salt water pool, write, read or nap in the privacy of our rooms, walk along the deserted Pacific shore a short drive from the estate, go ziplining through the jungle, kayaking in the mangrove swamp, or—for those who are suffering electronic withdrawal—go into the town of Dominical and log on at the Internet café.

22 A beautiful way to end the afternoonBy the end of our time here, one piece of inner knowing I have attained is that one week in this dreamtime space–especially when I have to stay tethered to the earth enough to teach well–is not enough. Next year we will come for two weeks.

When I get home I look up “Morpho” and discover it has nothing to do with Morpheus – it’s actually from an alternate name for the goddess of love, Aphrodite. Perhaps that makes even more sense. Through slowing down, through living in my body, and giving myself that time to write in the land of the Morpho, I have remembered how to love my life all over again.

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In the summer of 2013 I was invited to do a TEDtalk on “Shining the light on our Changing Communities”. I talked about the therapeutic writing program I do with incarcerated women. You can view the talk here.

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