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I had not expected to want to write here while I was at Squam, but the words keep bubbling through my mind and they need to be placed somewhere, even if I can’t do so coherently.  This Fall session of Squam is a continuation of the cracking open that started for me when I was here in June, but also finds me feeling even more introspective and contemplative than I thought possible.  It is a strange contrast – unfurling my heart while simultaneously turning inwards.  I spend the evenings processing the photos I have shot that day, or scribbling in my journal or writing here.  I watch the people in my cabin talking and I join in when I’m moved to do so.  I know I belong at the centre of this place, and that we are all at its axis.  Today I have had women come over to me purely to take me into their arms and hold me.  Last night I had women share their energy with me simply because I asked.  Gentle touches, smiles and wet eyes are integral to this magic and all these elements blend together to create this earthly heaven into which I can breathe my trust and know that it is safe to do so.

I find that my thoughts chase each other, and in Camille’s beautiful writing class today I experienced a stream of consciousness that was overwhelming with its speed and truth.  The prompt to which I was writing had nothing to do with Squam but, in the end, I realised that what I had written was precisely my reality here: the stream of consciousness – the dream of consciousness – the awakening that we find here thanks to Elizabeth’s vision and her open, open heart.

“It is music and words and my pen moving across the page.  It is the light on the water and having the eyes to see it.  It is my camera in my hands and my fingers adjusting the dials, and the dock on the lake, and the loon on the water.  It is the want and the heart and the love and the fear – my god, the fear – and the lady skunk in the woods and the spirit moving through the trees on the breeze.  It is the cliche at my lips and the knowledge in my heart and the rhythm of the words and the flow of the ink.  It is the blood in my veins and the water in my womb, and the movement of my thoughts and the poetry of this moment.  It is the struggle of the mind and the longing of my soul and the desire to be moved and the creative path which I seek.”

Saying yes

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I’m sitting in a cottage in the woods of New Hampshire, surrounded by women who are knitting and talking and getting to know each other.  We’ve just returned from listening to Elizabeth speak at her opening ceremony for this Fall session of Squam Art Workshops.  I am one of the lucky ones because I arrived at Lake Squam yesterday before everyone else arrived this afternoon.  I’ve had an extra 24 hours to sink into this place, and to allow myself to feel all the emotions that it triggers in me.  As I drove to pick up Camille from Londonderry, New Hampshire, I was conscious that my throat was already tightening with suppressed tears, and I knew that it would only become more intense the closer I came to Squam.  This place, which seemed like a dream before I first came here in June, only becomes more perfect and myth-like the more time I spend here.  In a way, it is confronting because my emotions are so close to the surface all the time that I am here, but I know that it is important that I let those feelings flow through me and emerge in whatever form they chose to do so – usually tears (happy, fearful, joyful, regretful, tender, intensely personal and always poignant).  I am so, so grateful to Elizabeth for creating this space where I know – I know – that not only is it safe for me to feel and cry and laugh, but that I am with my people who will support me and love me as I do so.  In the past day, I have been recognised as a soul sister, and I have met a true kindred spirit.  Even though the workshops haven’t officially started yet, I feel as though I have already found everything I could possibly have wanted from this experience.

Elizabeth’s hope for us as we embark on this Fall session is that we allow ourselves to be open, and alive and awake.  She blessed the session by reading from her journal her hopes for the magic we will find here, and by imploring us to open all the doors to possibility and to the present moment.  To say yes to what it is that we need from this place and this time, and to say no to self-judgment and whatever it is that doesn’t give us ease and peace and love.  I cried as her words touched that deep and secret part of me yet again, and I fell further in love with this place and these people.  I was cracked open by my time here in June, and now in September I feel myself closer again to my surface and yet so much further inward simultaneously.

I am here.  This is only the beginning.  I am saying yes.

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When you open your heart to unicorns and dragons and magic, you leave yourself vulnerable and exposed. This means that you are in a perfect place to experience the extraordinary beauty of this life, but also to suffer the exquisiteness of its pain as well.

You can’t have one without the other, it seems. Two sides of the one coin. To move through both beauty and pain can be as excruciating in their own ways as the other. The thing is to draw upon the internal resources that we squirrel away for the good and the bad times, to allow the emotions to flow through us and to retain our sense of self at all cost.

Even though it might seem like the hardest thing in the world.

Full hearts and true

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I’m sitting on the train and it is pulling out of South Station in Boston, taking me to the heaving metropolis that is New York City. The contrast between the last five days that I’ve spent at a lakeside idyll in New Hampshire and NYC couldn’t be more stark.

I’ve read about Squam Art Workshops for a few years now after I first became aware of the event via Susannah Conway’s stint there several years ago. The idea of secluding myself in the woods of New Hampshire for five days with like minded people sounded so blissful, but I honestly wasn’t ready to participate in Squam at that time. I was at the beginning of all the changes I’ve been through in the last few years, and not nearly far enough down that path to be able to truly appreciate what Squam could really mean.

By late last year, I knew that I needed to be at Squam in the northern spring of 2014, even if I wasn’t sure if I was ready. I wanted to find out for myself whether the magic that everyone wrote about truly existed – whether Squam involved as many unicorns as it seemed.

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I arrived at Rockywold Deephaven Camps after a somewhat hair raising drive up from Boston determined to hold my mind and heart wide open to whatever the weekend may bring. In so many ways I didn’t know what to expect, but I knew that some part of me was coming home. My first glimpse of the lake confirmed this as strongly as if it was tattooed on me.

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After I threw my stuff down in my room in Maple Shade cabin, I opened the love letter that Elizabeth had written to all of the Squamees.

Now you are a blank slate – open and ready for this experience.

Whether this is your first trip to Squam or your sixth – you still need to breathe into THIS moment.

…And then? Follow your heart. Let it lead…. follow it wherever it wants to go. Do what feels good, what feels fun, what is exactly what you most want to do in this moment.

I wept. It was as if Elizabeth had looked into my depths and pulled out exactly what it was I needed to hear.

The next five days were a blur of tiny moments, revelations and soaring hearts. So much laughter, many tears, much love. I was touched and humbled by Narrative Truth, the photography class run by the stunning Amy Gretchen, and broken open and vulnerable by David Anthony Durham’s Story in a Day. The words “privileged” and “grateful” were my constant companions, creativity and inspiration whispering to my spirit all day and late into the night.

Despite the admonition from Elizabeth at the opening ceremony that we shouldn’t be expecting to find unicorns at Squam, in truth I was met by unicorns at every turn. Not the least of these were my beautiful cabin mates – Unicorn Cheryl, Unicorn Jen, Unicorn Christine, and Unicorn Ivy – and Unicorns Sera and Lauren. Late nights, in jokes, knitting and spinning (not me though!) were our cosy cabin evenings, as were constant calls of “No, we’re not going to talk about leaving …!”

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Of course, the time came to depart. Following breakfast I introduced myself to Elizabeth so that I could thank her and say farewell. Odd, I know, but my timing was never the best. She stunned me by recognising my Instagram handle and she instantly could see how much my Squam experience had meant to me. That moment of recognising a kindred spirit is a profound one indeed.

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Those brief moments with Elizabeth encapsulated Squam so precisely – connection, recognition, acknowledgment, and instant love. I drove away with yet more tears in my eyes, but also with a deep knowing that this was only the end of the beginning. Squam isn’t just a beautiful lake, nor is it merely an event or a gathering. It is a feeling and a spirit that we all bring with us to that magic place, and we take it back with us to illuminate our lives until it is time again to gather on those New Hampshire shores.

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Until next year, Squam.

Sunday reflection #78

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Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.

Brene Brown

Sunday reflections #77

And now we welcome the new year, full of things that have never been.

Rainer Maria Rilke

Sunday reflections #76

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hark, now hear the sailors cry,
smell the sea, and feel the sky
let your soul & spirit fly, into the mystic…

Van Morrisson

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