It was just one year ago that I opened my property as a retreat center. The idea came in a burst of new energy after caring for my elderly parents for seven years. In the beginning, I was quite concerned about putting myself on the internet and inviting strangers onto my property. In my fear, I planned to put a door in my entryway so that I could lock the downstairs of my house while guests stayed upstairs. But the door I wanted to install was an odd size and not easily found, so I abandoned that plan and just dove, head first, into my new venture. As this one year anniversary comes round I find myself remembering back to that very first night.
Five days after placing my ad on the internet, I had guests registered for upstairs and in my yurt. The guests had been in touch with me as their day evolved, but darkness fell that evening before either of them arrived. I began to wonder about the wisdom of my plan. "So you put yourself on the internet and invite strangers onto your property. You have only dealt with the men in these couples and now they are arriving after dark! Maybe not such a good plan." I said to myself. A friend called, "If anything seems weird or uncomfortable in any way, come sleep at my house," she offered.
It was nearly ten o'clock when the first guest arrived. He was a very kind man. I invited him in and we introduced ourselves. Then he noticed the stair lift that I had installed on the stairway for my mother, and he commented on it. I explained that I had cared for my elderly parents in my home for seven years. There was a moment of silence and then he offered that he was here in Mendocino because he was caring for his elderly father, who was in his 90's and had dementia. In that single moment, all my concern vanished. Over the last seven years I had sought refuge from the demands of care giving many times and here now, my very first guest was in a situation I knew from the inside out. This moment seemed to me, one of those little miracles that life scatters along the way for us to discover. Recognizing it made me feel like I was indeed on the right path, and heading in the right direction.
About fifteen minutes later my yurt guests arrived. Peering through the darkness, it was clear to me, from the very first moment, that these were fine folks. Upon learning that they had quite a bit of luggage, I offered my golf cart to carry us all out to the yurt. We piled the suitcases on the back. I hopped into the drivers seat, the wife jumped in next to me and the husband got on the back with the suitcases. My lighted path to the yurt is narrow so we headed off on a wider path, used during construction of the yurt, but I had forgotten that it hadn't been trimmed in a long time. The little light on the golf cart tried to penetrate the darkness as we made our way through the woods. The low hanging branches of the trees whipped against the golf cart as we bumped along. "Are you all right back there?" I yelled to the man on the back. I heard a somewhat hesitant "yes" from behind me and we all laughed our way to the yurt. What a wild beginning! For both of us, I am sure!
The next morning I had a very heart felt conversation with the man upstairs about caring for our elderly parents and the folks in the yurt changed their two day stay into five, when in a spontaneous flurry they decided to explore Northern California instead of going south and they even stopped for yet another nights stay on their way back home.
So that door I wanted to lock became symbolic and the wild ride through the darkness, the unexpected brushing up against us as we made our way, symbolic as well. I can see now how they were portents of what was to come. After a year, I can say that I love the "open door" that opening my house has provided. I have enjoyed meeting all the folks who have passed through. Each new guest is an "unexpected surprise" and in getting acquainted, my heart opens with new delight. Like waves lapping onto the shore, the guests flow into my life and then disappear back to where they came from. I'm touched by each one. I hope my guests return home, touched by something they experienced here, in this forest, in the beauty of where I live.
Expressive Arts Experience
There is a certain freedom in stepping towards the unknown. As terrifying as it may be, it is the place from which all creation springs. It is the "friend" we live with each day though we spend much of our life determined not to acknowledge it. We prefer to think we direct our lives and we do but....the unknown is always there beside us and can wreck havoc with our "best laid plans" on a moments notice. Seems like a relationship worth exploring. Take a moment to contemplate your relationship with the unknown. Make a drawing that expresses something about that. Afterwards, have a conversation in your journal between you and "the unknown."
I'm thinking of my father this morning because today is his birthday. This third weekend in June always belonged to him with birthday and Father's Day all falling together about the same time. He died a little over a year ago at the age of 93. He caught a cold and five days later, he didn't wake up in the morning. I will be forever grateful for his peaceful passing, but still, I miss him.
My parents lived with me for the last seven years of my dad's life. When they were still able, we went for daily walks on the Mendocino headlands. My mom couldn't walk very far so I stayed with her while my father went on ahead. He found a big old driftwood log further out the trail and he would sit on that log and rest for a bit while he gathered up the energy to walk back.
My father was a quiet man and kept very much to himself. I used to watch him out there, sitting on that log in his red windbreaker, his walking stick in hand, knowing he was enjoying that bit of time to himself. He would sit there for quite some time watching the ocean. Then I would see him rise. His crooked, bent body would press into the wind, and posting with his walking stick, he would make his way back to join my mother and I.
That image stays with me as it took on a mythic quality. He looked like the "eternal traveler" facing into the elements, his tall, strong body now bent and worn by the journey, but none the less, he was traveling on. Its an image fitting for the old ones among us. And they do travel on, until they stop. Then those of us who remain remember them, learn from their journey and from what they left behind.
Since he died I have been very grateful for those last years we had together. And I'm grateful to live where I have so many memories of his presence. I find the places where we spent time together very comforting. But especially comforting are the places that belonged to him, like that old driftwood log on the headlands. I go there now and sit. I talk with him, sometimes ask for his help, something I rarely did when he was alive, and I thank him again and again for everything he gave to me.
Expressive Arts Experience
If you could sit on this bench and have a conversation with someone you love who is no longer here, who would it be? What would you want to talk to them about? Write an imaginary conversation between the two of you in your journal. Ask them for advice about something important to you, and thank them for their contribution to your life.
Welcome to my new blog. This is the place where I'll be sharing thoughts and reflections about art and life. It is also where I will be posting new expressive arts therapies experiences for you to try on your own.
This blog will be all about encouraging a new way of looking at the purpose of the arts in our lives. While we can all appreciate the artists who make the art we see in art galleries, the musicians who perform in our concert halls, and the writers of great literature, it is good to remember that expressing ourselves through the arts belongs to all of us. It is part of being human.
The old saying, "A picture is worth a thousand words" is a shorthand way to get the idea of how it works to use the arts for self discovery. In just an instant, a picture, a piece of music, or a poem can take us out of the stories we tell about ourselves and into our direct experience of what we absolutely know is true. Like a compass directing us to true north, we can instantly orient our selves toward home. There we find the "still small voice within" waiting for us to listen.
I hope you will come along on this exploration. In honor of new beginnings, for me this blog and for you, whatever is new in your life, here is a little piece of expressive arts therapy to try out on your own. Let me hear what happens. All my best to you, Marilyn
When we hold a new baby in our arms, we hold a great promise. What will become of this new life? That question and the great potential of this new beginning explodes inside of us as we stare down into the face of the miracle of life. And so with our own new beginnings.
Our creative spark lights up the darkness in a new land pointing the way towards something that wants to become real. How do you honor the creative spark in your life when it flashes. Is it met with love and gentle nurture? Do you hold it as you would this newborn baby?
Imagine for a moment cradling a newborn baby in your arms. Actually let your arms hold this “imaginary baby” that is a new something that you would like to make real. Write in your journal reflecting on your experience.
This blog is dedicated to the healing power of nature and the arts. It encourages a different way of looking at the purpose of the arts in our lives. While we can all appreciate well known artists, musicians and writers, it is good to remember that expressing ourselves through the arts belongs to all of us. It is part of being human. The arts and time in nature take us out of our small selves into something so much bigger. We need this larger perspective to guide our daily lives. I have a Masters Degree in Psychology, am a Registered Expressive Arts Therapist and am owner and founder of For The Joy Of It! Creative Retreat in Mendocino CA.