Can’t say how excited I am about The Great Gatsby-esque Cambridge Writers’ Workshop Newport, RI Writing and Yoga Retreat on April 2-5, 2015. Not able to make the whole weekend? Partial attendance is fine, too. Special tuition rates may also be available to students. Kathleen Spivack, Stephen Aubrey, Diana Norma Szokolyai, and Rita Banerjee will be teaching writing classes, and Elissa Lewis will be teaching yoga. I’ll be telling fortunes and offering energy healing (Reiki) sessions because that’s the kind of girl I am.
The deadline for admittance into this AMAZING retreat is February 20, 2015. There are limited seats, so apply early!
Robert Olen Butler, Pulitzer Prize winner and author of The Christopher Marlowe Cobb Thriller Series, argues that ritual is the key to creating art. In From Where You Dream: the process of writing fiction, he explains that you must prepare for writing by entering a trance and focusing on the breath in a quiet space, much like the centering meditation of a yoga class. Once you’re there and centered, you must stay present with sensation and allow yourself to create directly and organically from that “dream space.” Like in yoga, you set an intention to stay open to all experience and at the same time, remain unattached to ideas, hence the popular mantra, “I am not my mind.” Butler writes that the best art comes from this “moment to moment sensual experience,” and “non-art” is full of summarized or intellectualized reported experience.
Those “moment to moment sensory experience[s]” are much more nuanced than you’d think—all the available senses are involved. In my Yoga Teacher Training at Kripalu, I learned that the body holds memories, a phenomenon addressed in the study of somatics, a branch of psychology that examines the mind-body connection. In certain poses, you may feel spontaneously happy, sad, angry, frightened, blissful—you may be flooded with memories, sensations, and epiphanies. You may weep or laugh without knowing why (or knowing all too well why). Stay with present if you can: breathe, relax, feel, watch, allow (or BRFWA). Your body is releasing trapped energy, memories, and emotions—parts of your past that you have been carrying unconsciously, perhaps as tension, shortness of breath, pain, or anxiety. What does the experience feel like, smell like, look like, sound like, and taste like? The information you need to have a cathartic experience is the same information you need to create one on the page. Butler argues that in order to make art, we have to dive into the unconscious mind, confront whatever pain dwells there, and use that intense awareness to write from the “white hot center.” This is just another way to access the unconscious.
The renovated stables
Jessica: What are some of your favorite yoga poses, breathing exercises, and/or meditations for stimulating (or sustaining) creativity?
Elissa: To increase creativity and flow, hip-openers like Pigeon pose and Lizard pose (Uttan Pristhasana) are my favorite. When you release tension in your hips, you also release the emotions that come bubbling up. The hips and pelvis are related to the Svadisthana chakra and the water element which governs the area of creation and creativity. These postures help clear writer’s block by encouraging creative energy to flow without over-efforting.
Also, Nadi Shodana pranayama (also called alternate nostril breathing) is a wonderful breathing technique to begin or complete your practice and is appropriate for anyone. It stimulates a daydream-like state, where our senses draw in (called pratyahara) and we can disengage from the external world. It helps us develop the focus and concentration needed in meditation. I think any meditation that works for you is excellent. Meditation is the key to open the mind to inspired creative thought. It brings you back to yourself, to moments of truth, without mind chatter, self-criticism and self-consciousness.
I’m enjoying yoga with Elissa
Jessica: How does community support your yoga practice and/or artistic practice?
Norma: The image of the solitary writer is deeply rooted in the romanticized myth of the lone, genius writer. In truth, most great writers were part of communities comprised of other writers, intellectuals, and artists that inspired each other. Many great literary movements and unforgettable manifestos came out of the collaboration of such communities of writers….In addition to encouragement, support, and critical feedback, I think one of the most powerful things a community can offer a writer is accountability. If you know that people are counting on you, then you are more likely to follow through. Whether your goals are short term or long term, a community can hold you to your word.
Of course, the same principles apply to a community supporting one’s yoga practice.
Surya Namaskar, The Sun Salutation, is a series or flow of asana (yoga poses) that energizes, builds strength, and increases flexibility. This flow is particularly good for the legs, back, and wrists–areas of the body that suffer from staying hunched over in the writing cave and feverishly typing. I also find that just five rounds or so of Surya Namaskar makes me feel like I’ve actually done something– I feel stretched and worked, and there’s a eat or energy that rises in my body from my feet to the crown of my head. The symbolic and literal salute to the sun feels like an ode to and a channel for solar energy, representing action, manifestation, and direction. That’s a nice way to shake off writer’s fatigue and shake-up your writerly, academic (sedentary) lifestyle.
Yoga teacher Elissa Joi Lewis practices a variation of Surya Namaskar in the video above, at The Cambridge Writer’s Workshop Yoga and Writing Retreat in Verderonne, France. Practicing yoga twice a day with Elissa blossomed my writing practice and my yoga practice– by using the ritual of meditation, pranayama (breathing exercises), and asana, artists can approach their art with the same yogic reverence and mindfulness. And Elissa knows so much about meditation, breathwork, Sanskrit, and the physiological, energetic, and emotional benefits from the postures that we all ended up asking her for personal yoga-advice which she very generously gave. This year I’ll be teaching a Fiction workshop at the retreat (here’s the back-story plus pictures of last year’s retreat!). If you find that your yoga and writing practices support each other and you want to go deeper in the gorgeous French countryside, apply here. The deadline is May 15th.
All hail “The Bammer” and her seraphic entourage of pugs, maker of dreams and angel of satire!
Saint Bamford & pug seraphs
If you remember my post back in December in which I made my first invocation of Saint Maria “The Bammer” Bamford and asked her to grant my manifest destiny magic wish to return to Europe and research my novel some more this summer, then congratulations and thank you, you’re one of 5 or so people who reads this and gives a flying bat shit about what I write here. (5 might even be too optimistic.) If you don’t remember but you’re still reading anyway, thank you too! Miracles do happen.
I’ve been waiting to write this so that I could figure out what I want to say, how can I eloquently thank the All Mighty Bammer for her inspiring and guiding light that has led me to my destiny, but I’ve delayed long enough and I’m not any wittier than before so I’m just going for it. You see, after I posted my tongue-in-cheek shameless begging for someone out there to help me get to Europe, it happened. Last year I wet on a fantastic Yoga & Writing Retreat in Verderonne, France, led by The Cambridge Writers Workshop, and it was art-changing. I learned so much, I wrote so much, I was in France, my novel is set in France, I swam in a moat, I did yoga in a garden on the chateau grounds… it was a good thing. I also spent all my money going there so it was a once-in-a-decade-or-two opportunity. But little did I know that the directors were reading my plaintive wails! They got in touch and were like, “Yo girl, you want to teach Fiction on the next retreat? Would that help?” And I was like, “Um. Yes. That’s helps a lot.” Except I was jumping up and down and screaming.
So now, all I want is for wonderful people to come and do this with us. I’ll be teaching a workshop on novel-writing, the fabulous Elissa will be teaching yoga twice a day as well as an art workshop (she’s a marvelous artist too), and the fantastic Cambridge Writers Workshop co-founders and co-directors Rita Banerjee and Diana Norma Szokolyai are both wonderful poets, scholars, and fiction writers, will be teaching workshops on their specialties. It’s going to be magnificent.
Getting some writing done in our private courtyard. Photo by Rita
Getting some writing done in Paris– I was doing a character exercise on the lady behind me. Photo by Rita
There are optional field trips to Paris, Chantilly, and Versailles as well, so there’s time for work and time for adventures. In Paris, we’ll probably stop in at Spoken Word Paris for a reading.
Spoken Word Paris, photo by Rita Banerjee
There will also be quite a bit of eating homemade delicious French food, and even though I was raw vegan at the time (I fell off the wagon since, getting back on the wagon, slowly) the spectacular chef Joelle not only accommodated me but ended up trying it herself! She is so kind, and much of the food is organically grown right there on the grounds. She even makes her own yogurt!
With a gorgeous salad. Photo by Rita
The dinner table. Photo by Rita
Joelle feeding chickens. Photo by Rita
Here are the details:
Location: Château de Verderonne,
Picardy, France Dates: August 7, 2014 – August 20, 2014 Application Deadline: May 15, 2014 Apply: cww.submittable.com
The Cambridge Writers’ Workshop Annual Yoga & Writing Retreat will be held from August 7 -20, 2014 at the Château de Verderonne in Picardy, France, located approximately 50 miles north of Paris. The conference features workshops in poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction, as well as craft of writing seminars, art classes, free time to write, and daily yoga and meditation classes. Writers of all genres and levels are welcome. Yoga practitioners of all levels are also welcomed (we have experience adapting the yoga sequences to meet the level of beginner-advanced participants). Participants are encouraged, but not required, to bring their own long-term projects to work on. Whether writers are beginners or advanced, CWW workshops have a history of success in generating new writing.
Optional excursions to Paris and Chantilly are also available to participants. The faculty includes Rita Banerjee, Diana Norma Szokolyai, Jessica Reidy, and Elissa Lewis. The cost of the conference is $3,200, which includes lodging, meals, writing workshops, yoga classes and transportation to and from the airport.