Since the early days of motherhood I have yearned for a writing retreat: somewhere I could get away from the distractions of the day to day and give space to the words bubbling up inside me. I envisaged one where I could bring my children – where their needs would be met alongside mine, and where I would not have to hold the anxiety of them being cared for elsewhere.
Time passed, and needs evolved. I had not managed to escape for a whole retreat, but I had enjoyed sinking into workshops (in person and online) with Mothers Who Make where I could be present for my children as well as for my writing.
Until, that is, last weekend.
In recent years a thread of activism has woven itself into the words I want to write and share, and with that has come a burgeoning sense of my own life purpose, my own life’s work. And so when Max Hope and Sophie Christophy – independently and together huge sources of inspiration for me – offered up the Soul Fire Retreat to the world I knew I had to be a part of it.
As the weekend approached, I found myself thinking back to my last (and only!) experience of a writing retreat. I had been there as a teacher, in loco parentis for a group of teenagers from the school I worked for in East London. The desire to write for myself was already strong at this point, so I leant into it alongside the brilliant young women in my care. It was there that my first novel was born – it’s still sitting on my hard drive, but it taught me so much about the craft of writing and who I am as a writer.
There was something deliciously indulgent though about the thought of a whole weekend where I only had to focus on me and my work. It was particularly exciting to be stepping into a place where my writing and my activism would be equally valued: it took me several years (and many tens of thousands of words) for me to comfortably inhabit the role of ‘writer’, and to imagine myself as ‘changemaker’ still felt uneasy. It’s ironic really, given that I have been pushing back against the status quo in a myriad of ways for as long as I can remember. I just have such high regard for the women I see doing powerful and important changemaking work that I couldn’t quite wrestle my self esteem into a place where I was standing alongside them.
Sitting around the circle last Friday evening that feeling was still there, but something was starting to shift. These women I was with were incredible: authentic and accomplished and intelligent, and all making change happen through their words and their work. And then there was me. And I was there too.
As the weekend unfolded it became increasingly clear that we all hold these insecurities somewhere within. And that the roots of that are not our inadequacy but rather the patriarchal system that tells us again and again that we are not enough, that refuses to value the wholeness and integrity that we are all striving for.
I know this stuff, intellectually. I write about it and strive to infuse it it my relationship with my children. But it’s rare to have the space to really focus on how it shows up in myself, to delve into the niggles and hunches and give myself permission to grieve and grow.
Over two days and nights together, under the expert care and guidance of Max and Sophie, holding space for us so beautifully as they channelled the wisdom of bell hooks, we all grew as a community and as women stepping into our power.
It was a gift in and of itself, but it was also the start of something – for each of us as individuals, but also for us as a group. I’m excited to see where that leads, and to move forwards with this furnace of inspiration behind me. I also want to take a moment to cement something here – a manifesto of sorts – to root that inspiration and learning deeper into my soul.
For the last writing session we shared together we were invited to explore our ideas around what we can – and what we will – do if we feel grounded in our power. I danced around my thoughts about what the weekend had opened up for me, what was beginning to feel more possible. And then I decided to distil it into a document I can use to easily look back on, to hold myself accountable as I move back out into the world.
And here it is.
There is much more yet to emerge from this wonderful weekend, so look out for that here and on social media! If you are a changemaker who writes (or would like to) then I would urge you to check out Write On Changemakers, and if you’re looking for somewhere to create community around an event centred on social change, climate emergency or democratic economy then I would wholeheartedly recommend Selgars Mill, the beautiful venue that played a big part in holding and nourishing us all. I can feel the stirrings of a convergence of parents and children in the spirit of that retreat I used to yearn for and am curious to see where that will go…
I am also bringing into being my next newsletter, where I’m going to share one of the poems that I wrote last weekend, so make sure you’re signed up to my mailing list if you’re interested in that. And I will be sharing another poem from the retreat at a Mothers on the Mic event as part of Herstory Exeter. You can find out more about that and book your free ticket here!