Sunday, June 15, 2008

A Sample Day of the Five Day Virtual Writing Retreat

People are often asking me how the virtual retreats work. So I decided to post a sample day from an actual retreat.
First, the individual decides on a focus, which is always flexible, and simply provides a starting point.
In this sample day, "Malka" chose to focus on her ambivalent relationship with her daughter and her desire to increase the love between them.

What I Want to Focus on in the Retreat:

Dear Varda,
This time I want to focus on discovering the language of love - this is a new language for me, as yet unknown. It's a state of being that I am not familiar with.

Much pain in relation to my daughter. I find that when I go out of my way to help her become a mature person, afterwards I get very "stingy" and mean to her and I know it's a way of disconnecting from my storehouse of sadness on the neglect of my childhood in those same areas.

My main goal is to become more loving so I can patiently and lovingly help my daughter and improve our relationship. When it is good, it is very, very good and when it is bad - it is AWFUL

This time I want to focus on discovering the language of love - this is a new language for me, as yet unknown. it's a state of being that I am not familiar with.

Based on Malka's statement of focus, I gave her the following catalyst:

Catalyst for Day One

Close your eyes and breathe deeply. Imagine being with Leah and seeing her in front of you. Open your heart and feel the love. Express the love. Just as there are connoisseurs of diamonds who can appreciate every single facet of them, be a connoisseur of your daughter and observe her from every angle. Find the language of your love.

Now imagine yourself at her age. Sit yourself at her age next to Leah in your mind's eye and send love to yourself as well. Appreciate the young Malka. Minister to her wounds. Send her compassion and understanding. See Leah's light and beauty in you at her age. And then see yourself in her. Realize how you are being healed as you love and accept your daughter in all that she is.

You and your daughter are one. Loving her is loving yourself. Loving her is loving you. Can you feel it?

Malka's writing for day one took the form of letters written by various aspects of her inner world. She addresses her resistance to exploring the whole issue of love and then she proceeds to find her own creative ways of overcoming the blocks.

Dear Varda,

Thank you very much for your kindness in taking on this hard job of sending catalysts to match my very own issues. However, I didn’t make it clear from the start that this problem that I have with my daughter and finding ways to love her won’t be possible for me to fix. I let you know that this is my problem, however I should have specified from the start that I cannot find all that love in my heart for every facet of her person. I cannot sit myself next to her and find what to love in me either. There is ice-cold hardness at every turn, there is a problem I have every moment and that problem is this:

i hate myself. it’s the plain truth. I never talk about it or anything, but it’s true. so when you tell me to go ahead and nitpick to find every possible lovely thing about Leah I feel a block, a wall of stone in front of me. I can pretend and try that there is what to love, and I can even believe in my heart of hearts that there is what to love – but the actual action of reviewing all the lovely parts of her is going to be fake.

I know it. I know that I can sit her up and I can admire her. I know that I can scrutinize her and find what to love. There is a lot there. She is a special person. She cares, she wants, she is cute. But what I find such strong resistance to this work that I am inclined to toss this whole idea. I know that I can write and it will be a piece of art, but I don’t think it will work on my insides. I am very, very hardened at this point to this kind of intense, unconditional love. I don’t see what to love in myself, I don’t know what love is, I am not familiar with this word. I am just a foreigner. All I know is what I have lived through, I don’t know what is supposed to happen. I don’t know what there is to love. I just walk through and slip by. I am unnoticed and will never be noticed. I can’t find the love. I am too lazy to work on it. I am unhappy that I have to work so hard to talk about love. I am upset that it is so unnatural for me to love. I recoil when reading the catalyst because I feel I cannot pry open the doors of my heart to Leah’s or to anyone. To anyone I’ve hurt or who have hurt me.

I don’t want to find the love because I am afraid of the feeling. I think that true love is hurtful. I think that finding true love is painful because there is nothing to do with the intensity of the feelings. I am worried about facing a situation I never experienced. I know that I am capable of intense feelings but I am not sure if I ever loved anyone unconditionally and I am fearful about starting this now. I am afraid that if I start on this catalyst and start scrutinizing Leah as if she’s a diamond, I will miss half her goodness, I won’t be able to see her soul in the best possible light. My glasses will be tainted by my own anger and upset and it won’t be giving her the best possible examination. I don’t want to get involved in an art that I am not familiar with.

I don’t want to sit myself up there next to her and just love myself at the same time. I feel like I am a lost case. I tried loving me already and it never penetrated. I tried seeing myself in a sympathetic light and healing from this traumatic period of my life ,. and my whole traumatic life, but it doesn’t work. It doesn’t hit me in a way that really helps me. I feel so down. I am afraid nothing can help. Talking about love won’t work. I don’t know what real love is. I only see people with their deficiencies. I only see people with their faults and shortcomings. I don’t know how to look at people with a good eye. I am forever judging.

I never learned the language of love and I never will.

So says, Inner Coward Malka

To see to it that my wounds are properly bandaged and sacredly visited. To admire and to empathize. To allow for pain and hurt. To understand that healing takes time and only by finding the source of the infection, can it actually take place. By administering gentle doses of love. By affirming the importance of me and my needs. By waiting patiently for health. And by forgiveness. But most of all, by learning the definition of the word – love.

I can learn that. It will be like learning a new language. I love language. And I love the language of love.

Malka continues, now writing to her own inner coward.

Dear Inner Coward Malka,

You are very funny. Almost making me think that you are for real. Why scare me like that? I almost believed you, that you are giving up on yourself. Now, now. Come on, this is no time for joking. I understand that you feel a bit fearful about starting on this journey of feeling and healing and looking for love etc. But please – it’s not a time for such indecent jokes! Do you hear? Please don’t trick me like that again.

I can hold your hand as we go through this process. So Varda took you literally. So she really believed that you wanted to work on loving Leah and yourself. So she gave you a very precise catalyst with all the ways you can figure out how to love both of you. It doesn’t mean you actually have to go sit down and do it word for word. Let’s say you find it hard to love Leah now. Let’s say you don’t even feel like looking at her face right now. Let’s say she is so unappealing to you that you can’t look at her. So. So what will you do now?

Don’t write me a letter saying that this whole thing is impossible and you will never learn the language of love. You have to find your own way around this block. There has to be a way around it. If you truly want to work on it, as you wrote in the first place, you will have to be creative and find a way to do it.

Perhaps you can look at Leah when she was a tiny infant in your hands. Holding her and scrutinizing her when she was a few months old bringing joy and light into your household. Perhaps you can admire her when she was a toddler. Before the day of judgment came upon you, after giving birth to Ezra and becoming a scary Mommy.

Don’t run away or shirk your responsibilities. Don’t think that you can escape your work. You have to take the bull by the horns and take care of it. I am not saying that love is s/t a person neatly takes care of, but I also won’t advocate you loosely letting go and giving up on it entirely.

Malka, I believe in you. I have faith in you. You can do it if you truly want to. Tonight you don’t feel so loving, You are very tired now. Tonight you can dream about what you might find when you look at her w/o her glasses and w/o your glasses. But tomorrow, we’re back to business. No shirking.

Love, Me (Inner Strong Malka)

Another letter from Malka to one of her inner selves.

Hey, Strong Big Talker,

It’s nice of you and all to be so “loving” and “firm” at the same time but you don’t really understand what I am saying, I see. You think it will be so simple and you will just encourage me a little and I’ll go on my own and it will be all drama and fun. But you are in for a big surprise. I have grown old and stubborn. I have grown old and lost all my spontaneity. I have grown old and rusty; I creak at the hinges. I won’t buy your goodwill and nice talk. I am too busy for this. I have no time for niceties. Thank you very much, but you can try peddling your wares elsewhere. I am clear about myself and I am clear about what I can do. I will give it a shot tomorrow but don’t you DARE give me a hard time. I think you strong big talker are more of a judger than anything else. You masquerade as a strong, encouraging, and loving voice but no, you are not. You are still a judger who likes things to be good and right. You aren’t loving one drop.

And that tells me s/t about myself – the voice of love is so tiny, I don’t know if I can be quiet enough to ever hear it. I have a tremendous amount of visceral noise but the one lone tiny voice of love is threatened, deadened, and overpowered by all the inner noise. Especially the judging one. Argh. If to rid myself of Ms. Judge, your Honor, and get myself some love. If to rid myself of constant scrutiny and flattery and drown out the voice of nagging, berating. If only.

Thanks for your help, but no thanks.

From Inner Quiet Malka

Responding to Day One and Catalyst for Day Two

Try looking at this foreign country called "Love" from afar. I am not asking you to enter it by force or even to steal yourself across the border in the dead of night. Just climb a tower in your own territory where you feel "at home" and put on your binoculars and take a good long look, a scrutinizing look at this country called "Love" that doesn't give you entry. (And what happened when Ezra was born and you became a scary Mommy? How did that banish you from the Land of Love?)

What you "mustered together" for Day One, by the way, was brilliant. I always appreciate your honesty and feel dazzled by the power and rhythmn of your voice, and in this case, all your voices. When you wrote at the end about the need to get quiet in order to hear the tiny voice that is love, I felt the pang one feels when hearing Truth.

"Coincidentally," I've been working on getting quiet in myself lately and discovered that I could see the wind singing in the trees as their leaves tremble-- which could be a good metaphor for what love is. If you can't get quiet, it's hard to love yourself. If you can get quiet, then it's hard not to love yourself and everyone and everything around you. I wish I had the secret to getting quiet with yourself. It just seems to descend on me like a gift from Above, maybe in response to having dovened for it in some way. In the past it happened in only rare moments, but I'm hoping that it
will come more often.

I think it might have to do with letting go instead of pushing so hard, as in pushing to get ___________(fill in the blank, examples are: money, your child in a certain school, your husband to change a certain way) The trick is to let go but still keep living the life with your family and doing basically what you always do. It's fairly easy to let go when you're in some ashram meditating for half the day and eating raw food.

I hope I haven't digressed too much, but this is all in response to your beautiful comment about the lone tiny voice that is love.