Questions and Answers
Will we be spending lots of time free writing in our journals?
Some, yes, but not a ton. Instead of the kind of journaling you might normally do at home, Elephant Rock retreats seek to crack open new material, fresh insights, and deepened connections by exploring unique creative writing exercises. Some are undertaken collaboratively (with a partner or several others). Often constraints are introduced, such as a limited word list or specific form or structure. Many of the exercises are very playful and produce hilarious results. Often, out of nowhere (not really, but so it seems in the moment) profound and breathtaking surprises occur. Sometimes the restraints produce creative tension and a bit of artistic struggle (that may ultimately lead to a breakthrough). Either way, the idea is to experience anew the liveliness of language, especially its surprises, such as unconventional juxtapositions of words and ideas, and to open yourself to fresh creative insights or dormant memories. The writing exercises are not geared toward having you produce or complete a polished piece during the retreat. However, many of the exercises can plant seeds and give you tools for what could later be developed into a fuller work. The exercises can also help you break through blocks that are holding you back from completing an existing work for which you've lost inspiration or clarity. So ultimately, the retreat itself is not geared specifically toward journaling or free writing (though by all means bring your journal!). Rather, it is aimed at diving into the unfamiliar as a vehicle for discovery and newness and to give you an array of "starts, seeds, and tools" for revisiting long after the retreat ends.
What if I love the idea of a writing retreat but am deathly afraid of yoga?
Don't worry. I (Jeannine) was deathly afraid of yoga when I first started practicing in public, and I sometimes still am. It's normal. But remember, yoga is not a competitive sport. It is a spiritual practice, of which the asanas (physical poses) are just one element. Yoga is therefore available to everyone, and there is no such thing as being "good" or "bad" at yoga. You don't have to be super fit or an extra twisty bobcat pretzel or have any extraordinary skills to loosen your body and mind with some gentle yoga postures with meditation and chanting. You'll be in a mixed group of all levels, no one has to do anything she or he is not ready for. You can take as many breaks as you wish, and skip as many sessions as you wish, as well. Sit in nature and watch the waves if that's what feels right. As poet Mary Oliver would say, you only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves. This is your retreat. Just think of it as a chance to pamper your body, loosen your tight muscles, quiet your mind, and inspire your imagination.
What if I'm a super twisty bobcat pretzel yogi?
You will be encouraged to take poses to the maximum expression available to you.
I've never really thought of myself as a "writer" but I'm really drawn to a retreat. Will I fit in? What if I suck?
You won't suck, or you will, since in fact we all do. Isn't that the point of shitty first drafts (ala Anne Lamott?) And yes. You will fit in! The writing exercises rest on a foundation that is universal, which is our relationship to words, language, expression, the world, each other, and ourselves. That pretty much covers us all!
I'm a serious writer trying to make my living at this arduous and competitive craft. Will a retreat offer me anything in that regard?
Yes. First, the writing exercises are magic and will infuse your work with a fresh and unpredictable quality that can't be quantified but can certainly be felt. These exercises are unlike your typical writing workshop. They take you through the side door of the unexpected. They occupy your rational mind in order that your subconscious can guide you back to your own wildly beating heart. They crack you up and crack you open with raucous laughter and shimmering stillness. They sometimes make the hairs on your arms stand on end. In addition, Jeannine may offer individual support for writers who come with specific goals, manuscripts, projects, and who have hopes of earning a living with their love of language. Everyone has to pay the bills, and writing is a very fulfilling way to do that. Let Jeannine know in advance if you'd like specific writing advice, support, or critique.
I have a fat stack of deadlines on my desk. Will an Elephant Rock retreat be a good way for me to hunker down and plow through them?
While you could certainly get some work done, a fat stack of deadlines could be a challenge. Elephant Rock retreats are structured to spur creativity through guided creative writing workshops, yoga, meditation, and specially selected artistic work, plus of course lots of conversation with other participants. You'll have some free time between workshops and sessions, and you can definitely spend that time writing, but ideally you'd have the freedom to follow your muse a bit rather than having to apply yourself to an urgent stack of deadlines.
What about meditation? I want to be able to meditate, but whenever I try it just feels like obsessing with my eyes closed.
So you say you're human? Seriously, though, we're all finding our own way with this practice. The wonderful thing about retreat is having the opportunity to meditate in a group--both in silent stillness and as guided by a skillful voice.
More Questions Before You Leap Over the Edge of Doubt?