At the end of the month I spent in Perth as Writer in Residence, we had a writers’ retreat at Milmeray, near Gidgegannup in the Perth hills. This beautiful, peaceful place inspired each of us to write in ways we hadn’t written before. On the first evening there, I talked a little about finding one’s muse, and suggested that each of us, when we went to bed, identify our muse, real or imaginary, and write a letter saying what we hoped for from this weekend, and what our vision was for our writing. The next day, after a bush walk and breakfast, we met and talked about wildernesses that had inspired us, and then separated to write about a wilderness that we had lived in or visited. In the afternoon, we wrote another piece inspired by the surroundings. In the evening, we wrote a dialogue with a painting that hung in the living room.
Each of us had a different interpretation of this moody painting of a naked woman holding a baby, surrounded by the Australian bush. This is mine:
Dialogue with the woman in the painting
What is it that you hold in your arms, oh woman? Slender woman, stained with leaves, bleached by the rain, folded by the silver-grey, green and rusty brown tears of the earth in a watery burial place. You hold a child’s head, small and brown, its tiny body hidden by your arms. No tears fall from your face, which is smooth and featureless.
Universal woman, your pale flesh marks you as separate from the bush that enfolds you and weeps you into the ground, dissolving your flesh, washing you away. The bush has no name, no race, no politics. It weeps for you, your child, for all women, all children, for your desire to be separate and have a life of your own. You are one of us, it says, you will become earth, become one. You will decay and from your bones, new life will spring, silver grey cones of spirit light, a new life that is not of the earth, of water, of anything that is trodden, but of the sky, the limitless sphere where ethereal beings move in silver blue robes of light.
Next morning, after another walk and breakfast, we came together to reflect on the weekend, what we had shared and separately experienced, and after a brief meditation, each wrote about our weekend. I had to leave to catch a plane, so was not able to hear what others had written, or share mine with them, but this is an ongoing process. Here is my reflection:
I have been led to this place, in unexpected ways and new and surprising connections. This is the first writers’ retreat I have been on, and it is doubly surprising to me that I am leading it. I have never thought of myself as a leader. As the youngest child in a big family, born when my mother was in the second half of her life, with brothers who bossed and sometimes bullied me, a mother who dominated me and a father who abandoned me, I became used to hiding, to appearing to be good, to having a secret life. Marriages continued this pattern. One morning, before I came on this retreat, I woke with these words going through my mind:
and bankrupted you
with the currency of truth.
These words came from a part of my self that was not conscious. They are the kernel of truth within the fruit of my embodied self.
When I entered the last third of my life, and began to write, I was mostly a solitary writer. But I learned to unlock my heart and find my voice, to plumb the depths of my anger and grief. As my family responsibilities became less, I learned to talk to others more, to share my inner self, to reach out and find kindred spirits.
In this last month, I have connected with many writers, and had the privilege of reading and commenting on their writing. I have heard each person’s unique voice, and have listened to their stories.
On this weekend retreat, I have put aside that voice that questions my role as group leader, and set aside the need to structure the flow of energy, and as each of us has spoken and read our stories, I have been awed and delighted by the depths and diversity of the visions.
And I? I have learned that being a leader means offering oneself with love and honesty, listening, and letting the energy flow in its natural, unforced rhythms. Milmeray has given me peace, beauty, birdsong, clean air, flowers, shrubs, native trees, water, willie wagtails nesting, space and healing, and above all, it has connected me with other wonderful writers.