A Participant Perspective: Our Writing Retreat
The following article was sent to us by L.S., a participant on our recent family/solo writing tour to Costa Rica. She attended the retreat with her teenage daughters, who had previously also attended our arts programs at Centauri Summer Camp.
A fortuitous conversation four years ago my daughters at a uniquely special camp called Centauri. The positive impact of Centauri has been vastly disproportionate to the time they’ve spent there which speaks volumes to its ability to affect young people. How two short weeks within an entire year can hold so much meaning is quite remarkable. I’ve never asked what the word Centauri means, allowing me to create my own encompassing definition: A place where kids can find their own rhythm, their own voice, a place to fit in without compromising self; a place to feel curious, challenged, inspired, safe, free to learn, create and grow.
Throughout the past four years and without her awareness or permission, I designated Julie, the camp’s director, to be part of my village in raising my kids. The girls regularly recount their experiences of her with affection and admiration whether touting her unrivaled problem solving ways, gentle but effective leadership skills or her inimitable way of telling a story.
Adventure. A word as foreign to me as a Costa Rican Rainforest with no spice plants or cocoa beans. I can now make this comparison because of a bold and whimsical risk I took months ago. Adventure has always been wrought with anxiety; if it is unknown, it may not be safe, if not in my comfort zone, surely it will be uncomfortable. I haven’t lived a life entirely without exploration, but what has been missing is genuine surrender; the complete connection to living in the moment, a mantra I have overused without ever actually realizing.
I’m not entirely sure how the stars aligned to send the girls and me to Costa Rica to participate in a creative writing retreat organized by Julie, or how it happened that my Mom and Mother in Law would agree without persuasion to join us on our adventure, but somehow it happened.
I had little expectation of my week in Central America and from the moment I arrived at the airport in Toronto, a calm surrender took over.
The plane’s landing was unusually uneven as a result of the tremendous wind in San Jose that afternoon. I felt pangs of motion discomfort which would prove to be foreshadowing to my experience of the minibus ride from San Jose to our retreat. The taxi was moving in every which way. It was a dramatic beginning to what would become the most peaceful and grounding week of my life.
The feeling at Finca Luna Nueva offered an immediate sense of peace and pleasure as if curiously coming home to a place I’d never been. Being a person who craves familiarity, this was an unusual experience. I’ve spent the past fifteen years moving toward an organic and simple lifestyle and have a tremendous appreciation for the natural gifts that earth can offer, providing that it is cared for with the respect it deserves.
Within moments, it was obvious that Luna Nueva captured so much of what is important to me; from the natural and protected environment, the community of people who share a common commitment to preserving the sanctity of the soil and its sustainability, a sense of teamwork amongst the staff who seem to work equally if not more so with mother nature as their boss than their actual human manager.
There is an unrivalled sense of calm here allowing me to connect with the rhythmic heartbeat of nature and I’d fall asleep to its hypnotic sounds.
I’m an introvert by nature but easily warmed up to the experience of getting to know the other wonderful people who signed on to this adventure. This week has become my experience of camp and I now understand how spending quality time with a group of people can create a community feeling in such a short period in spite of having such varied backgrounds and stories. It has been gratifying to watch walls come down, to feel others and myself taking risks to share details of life more freely as each day passed.
Our days started with a traditional breakfast offering of fresh eggs, rice and beans, various breads, granola, local coffee, farm fruit and more. I brought smoothie powders from home for lunches which we supplemented with small snacks such as blended veggie soups or an appetizer from the lodge kitchen. It is so rewarding to have salads made of bok choy from the garden and dressings made from scratch, spiced with turmeric or ginger native to the lodge. Seeing bananas growing on the trees one day and then finding them on the morning breakfast platter the next was my greatest thrill along with being served kimchi and other fermented side dishes, also flavoured with traditional healing herbs and roots that grew only footsteps away.
The girls, both of whom have experienced writing courses with Julie at Centauri, eagerly participated in a morning one hour writing ritual. They were encouraged to think and create and to see inspiration bubbling in their young minds is a thrill.
The girls insisted I step outside my comfort zone and participate in the adult writing course in spite of my initial apprehension. The extent of my previous writing has been limited to requisite English classes at school, birthday cards, emails, texts and the odd celebration speech.
The adults, except for Mom, congregated from ten until noon to get our dose of the workshop. Julie’s palpable appreciation for writing initiated my inspiration. I’ve enjoyed challenging myself to write more broadly and have discovered how much detail and careful consideration goes into creating dynamic pieces. Spontaneous conversations emerged naturally, often triggered by a group member’s willingness to share their writing. Julie gently guided us through deviation and focus to find balance and be productive.
I am leaving with a new appreciation for books and their authors. As well, a curious awareness that a story’s effect can be greatly impacted based on the lilt and intonation of the reader. I will play with different voices, melodies and accents in my mind when I read my next book.
Along with writing, we experienced a farm tour led by Ishmael, a gentle and humble spirit with a vastly sophisticated awareness of the land, its vulnerability and its power to nurture and heal. I have new reverence for the cocoa bean and for well-made chocolate and will continue eating it daily.
My daughter and I woke early one morning to find monkeys in the Kabalonga Trail which is located on the property. Although there were no monkeys along our path that morning, we did see an army of leaf cutter ants marching along a perceivably important mission, a sloth curled up on a high branch, some interesting birds and insects. We felt proud to have scaled the terrain without a guide.
Our group journeyed through a two plus hour hike of the rainforest by night which was exhilarating. It made me appreciate the value of daylight to move around confidently but also offered an appreciation of listening to animal and insect sounds in the mysterious stillness of the night.
The girls and I zip lined across waterfalls and forests, met an indigenous man in his traditional hut home and tried his native fermented juice.
We visited the hot springs and I marveled at its natural beauty which was built into elaborate stone pools, creating water falls that retained the integrity of the landscape. We enjoyed a delicious buffet meal while we visited and drank juice that tasted sweet as liquid candy.
I deeply appreciated not hearing the shrill of my cell phone ringing and the constant pull toward work and household chores, melting effortlessly into the simplicity of this existence.
To have the opportunity to share this experience as three generations of women in my family has been profoundly special. I feel blessed and grateful and will cherish this one week as a memory that will be forever etched as a success on so many levels. I now understand and can share with the girls how a snapshot of time within a busy year can be deeply impactful, just as their Centauri camp time proves for them.
Thank you to my girls for being curious about life, for being open to growth and for recognizing the truth about genuine richness, thank you to all the other participants, who layered this experience with friendliness, openness and comraderie, thank you to all the staff, who work tirelessly to protect the sanctity of our earth, and a special thank you to Julie for being a role model to me and my girls. This experience is a proven example that risks are worth taking. Con Mucho Gusto Finca Luna Nueva. Until next time!