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First published in “SURFACING” – the Arts magazine for Durham Region

When I was first hired to be the writing teacher for a combined yoga and writing retreat three years ago, (and every year since) it seemed like a dream come true. Go south for two weeks in the middle of winter to spend my time doing yoga, enjoying the southwestern coastal area of Costa Rica, and facilitating a writing group every day? Where do I sign up!

It proved to be far better even than I’d imagined. First of all, it turned out that the yoga teacher, Esana Lotfy, teaches yoga the same way I facilitate writing groups. For both of us, effective practice for all participants starts with loving kindness and compassion. It’s crucial that participants not “should” themselves in their process, whether it be beating up on themselves because they think they “should” be more flexible, or whether they think they “should” write differently, more grammatically or somehow just “better” than they do.

“Shoulding” all over oneself is the first step toward injury in yoga, or toward a really bad case of writer’s block.

So there we were, in a tropical paradise, spending half of every day in intimate conversation with our travel companions, but even more importantly, with ourselves.

The “intimate conversation with ourselves” is the first part of every day. We stay in silence from the time we wake up until writing class begins; all around the resort, people are writing quietly in their journals, enjoying coffee and bananas before yoga, or trying homemade chocolate spread from local cacao beans on our toast for breakfast. Gigantic sky-blue Morpho butterflies dance on the air. Brightly coloured Toucans squawk from the trees. When in our daily lives do we have time to just be present with ourselves and our surroundings?

Once we write and read together, we begin to speak, but this is still a deeply intimate conversation mostly with ourselves—the other writers just get to listen in on it, if we choose to share. And it is always a choice.

At 12:30 the scheduled part of the day is over; participants then choose how they want to spend the rest of the day: zip-lining in the jungle, kayaking through a mangrove swamp, playing in the powerful Pacific surf, wandering the spectacular beach nearby, or shopping in the nearby town of Dominical. Or maybe just enjoying a nap.

Because of the time spent in quiet presence with each other, and in listening to each other’s writing, strangers become warm friends almost instantly. As the 14 days unfolds, people’s shoulders drop, their eyes brighten, their skin loses its winter paleness, the dark rings under their eyes disappear, and they smile. They smile a lot.

And by the time they go home, their journals are full of writing. Some of it is very personal and private – for their eyes only. Some pieces are poems, or short stories, or even pieces of a novel.

This practice of getting away from our lives and allowing our inner artist to emerge in the quiet, safety and comfort of a supportive group of like-minded people—I haven’t encountered any practice more restorative than that. It’s not a holiday that an extreme sport extrovert would cherish, but for any writer or artist looking for a break that supports their inner artist as well as giving their body a restorative recharge, it’s the perfect prescription. Many of the participants have been coming every year since the retreats began. Some of them have already said they’re coming again next year to Costa Rica.

And some of them have decided that they’re going to join us on our new adventure in April of 2014, when we try the same magically restorative formula, but this time for 10 days in Italy.

 

By Susan Lynn Reynolds