The Restorative Power of Retreats

What a difference a year makes! I recently returned from Lucky Star Art Camp, and while I was there I reflected on how much I’ve changed since I first attended in November, 2016. I have stretched myself way beyond my comfort zone, beginning with going to Lucky Star last year completely alone and not knowing a soul in advance. I was scared, but proud of myself for doing it anyway. I also had been feeling a deep yearning to be creative, but had no idea how and zero confidence in my ability. And, I felt silly, selfish, and irresponsible to be spending time and money on something that was not “productive” or “purposeful.”

Then I took my first class, began to loosen up, and gradually learned to let go and enjoy the process for what it was giving me rather than focusing on what I created. I also discovered how friendly, open, and supportive everyone was, and how delightful it feels to be surrounded by kindred spirits united in a common goal of creating and connecting.

This year, I felt way more comfortable from the beginning, and I was much more relaxed in my approach to the classes. (At least I had gotten better at stemming the rising tide of performance anxiety and ignoring that critical voice in my head.) I’ve been channeling my creativity into my book project over the last six months, but had been missing the hands-on fun of making art. It felt so blissful to dive in to each of my classes and be fully present in the moment.

 I made beaded necklaces, learned watercolor and whimsical lettering techniques, and played around with acrylic paint while sitting by the river. I did acquire some skills, but I also practiced letting go of my expectations, which was way more valuable.  I was even able to display some of my creations during “show and tell” the last evening of camp. They weren’t perfect or professional, but I was still proud—and putting my imperfect art out for all to see was quite an accomplishment for me.

What makes Lucky Star so special? Certainly the people are a huge factor—from creator Lisa Hamlyn Field and the team of family and friends helping her, whose enthusiasm and energy are contagious, to the gracious and generous staff of Camp Waldemar, to the inspiring creative souls who teach the classes, to the fun and supportive women who attend—everyone contributes to making the experience unforgettable. Sitting around the campfire at night, telling jokes, sharing, and singing along as the resident singer/songwriter Mandy Rowden plays her guitar—you feel like part of a vibrant sisterhood. That sort of connection with other women can be lacking in our hectic lives, and it’s so vital.

Also, the setting is spectacular. Waldemar is a restorative, spiritual spot. You feel it the minute you turn into the drive: the peace, the beauty, the history, the magic. On the last afternoon I lay for hours next to the river, listening to the waterfall downstream and watching the breeze blow through the cypress trees. Horses came down to drink and splash around. Small groups of women were gathered at different spots, talking and making art. It was a powerful tonic. I am so envious of the girls who get to spend months there in the summer.

And then there’s the food! I’ve never had such nourishing, delicious meals in all my life. The staff prepares everything with tons of love, and it shows. They make every dish so tasty and appealing, I find myself eating way more than I usually do at home! But as another camper noted, mysteriously, we don’t gain weight while we’re there. Despite eating three large meals a day for nearly four days (and dessert! at lunch AND dinner!), I’m not any heavier when I come home. We theorized that it’s because the food is prepared both healthily and lovingly, and that our creative exertions burn a lot more calories than you’d imagine!

I had thought that perhaps I’d built up last year’s experience in my mind, making it seem much more wonderful than it really was—but no, it was just as incredible as I’d remembered. I’m so glad I went back and immersed myself in that magic once again. I feel creatively recharged and personally restored. I remember now that retreats like this do have a purpose—they renew our spirits so that we can return to our lives with fresh energy and enthusiasm. It’s not irresponsible or silly. It may be selfish, but in the best sort of way—taking care of oneself is necessary for a good life. I talked with one camper who said her husband was so struck by how happy she was after coming home from camp her first year that he insisted she go every year. It makes a real difference in the quality of our lives—and our loved ones’ lives—when we are happy, and activities like this fill us up. I can’t wait for next year!

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Making Bad Art Is Good for You!

Tomorrow I leave for Lucky Star Art Camp! I’m so excited to be giving myself this gift for the second year in a row. Last year, I was nervous—I didn’t know anyone else and wasn’t sure what to expect. But I quickly discovered a wonderful group of kindred spirits—women of all ages coming together to feast on creativity (and some really excellent food)! And the setting was magical—a working girls’ summer camp on the banks of the Guadaloupe River, complete with campfires and horseback riding! I left camp last year rejuvenated, with a new awareness of just how much joy making art gives me.

Last year, before I found out about Lucky Star, I kept feeling a pull to paint. I was tired of working with words all the time and wanted to make something with my hands. I wanted a creative experience that allowed my mind to relax, to find that feeling of flow. I began messing around with acrylics and watercolors, and had fun even as I cringed at my lack of ability.

When I found out about Lucky Star and signed up for it, I thought I’d get some guidance there on how to make better art so I could stop feeling embarrassed about my creations. But what I actually learned was infinitely more powerful and useful.  I learned how to give myself permission to make bad art—to just create for the sake of creating, regardless of the results. We were shown how to do the crafts in the various classes, but the emphasis was on enjoying ourselves while we were learning, as opposed to trying to “get it right.” The point was to feel that thrill of making something, not to judge what we made.

While I was initially intimidated because of my lack of art experience, this relaxed approach helped me open up and begin playing around.  I discovered that the process of creating was what really made me happy: process, not product. And isn’t that what life is really about? How many times have we heard, “it’s the journey, not the destination”?  When I finally let go of self-judgment and anxiety about how I was doing, it was amazing. While I was making art, I felt full of joy. I was calm and centered. It was pure pleasure for pleasure’s sake, which feels decadent when you’re a goals-driven adult!

It was exhilarating to not worry about being productive. In regular life, I tend to pack as much as possible into each day, and I feel like I’m slacking if I relax or do something just for fun during the “work” day. But I know that it’s actually essential to take that time for myself. All work and no play makes me not only dull, but also impatient, resentful, and tired. After I came back from camp last year, I made the commitment to spend some time creating each week—and I actually managed to do it for most of the year!

But the past few months have been incredibly busy, and I haven’t done any art in a long time. I miss it, and I’m craving that bliss again. I’m also craving the freedom of four days away from responsibility, with all meals provided! That will be sweet indeed. I’m so grateful to Lisa Hamlyn Field for dreaming up this amazing camp. After I return, I’m sure I will have a whole fresh set of insights to share!

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