If I don’t seem to you like the monastic type, you have me pegged correctly. While I have my own spiritual practice, and I respect the practices of others regardless of the path they choose, I’m highly sensitive to any perceived attempt to convert me into anything. It took assurances there would be no hidden agenda before I was willing to even consider it. How the heck did I end up falling in love with this place then? Through the same attributes that keep me a happy traveler; flexibility, an open mind, and love of a good bargain.
I’ve been at home working on my book for a while now. I am fortunate to have a quiet house (well, mostly) and dedicated office space, and I thought that was all I would need to get to work and bang out a book within a couple of months. In hindsight, that was a laughable idea. First, it took me a while to wrap my head around what it is, precisely, that I am trying to say. Then I discovered my house is full of interesting things to do that are a lot easier than writing, which at this point includes a full kitchen remodel; so that says something about how good at am at creating massive distractions for myself. This past summer, my intentions were good. I hired a contractor to manage the remodeling and I made plans to convert my camper into a writing studio for the summer while all of that was going on, but then the generators stopped working correctly, the temperatures soared, and the camper turned into a giant easy bake oven. I wrote, but no where near often enough to make the progress I had anticipated.
Finally, I realized that writing a blog (like I have for the past two years) is different from writing financial reports (which I did for the previous thirty), and both of those are different from the fiction writing I did earlier in my twenties and ALL of it is COMPLETELY different from trying to write a memoir. Oof. It turns out, when it comes to shaping my story into something that might be interesting for others to read, I needed help.
Luckily, there are resources everywhere these days and while researching my options, I stumbled across an offering for a writers workshop to be held at the Holy Cross Monastery. The instructor would be Beverly Donofrio, an accomplished author whose writing I admire, and whose feedback is both direct and compassionate, which is exactly what I needed. Unlike a lot of workshops I found, this one was also quite affordable, and fairly close to my home. Signing up for this has been one of the most productive decisions I’ve made over the past year.
The monastery is located in upstate New York, and has been at this location looking out over the Hudson River since 1902. The old buildings have gone through various upgrades over the years, but the guest rooms are generally modestly sized and simply furnished. It is an Anglican Benedictine community of men (in other words, Episcopal, and not Catholic). To me, the place has a highly gendered (male) feel to it, but I’ve informally polled other visitors and found this is not something everyone notices. First time visitors are given a tour of the buildings right away, along with an overview of the schedule for meals, worship services and quiet hours.
Three daily meals are included in the price of lodging, and there are snacks and a coffee/tea stations open throughout the day with a small basket for donations. The food is excellent, with gluten free and vegetarian options offered at each meal. Dessert is not typically offered unless it is a special feast day, so if you have a sweet tooth you can head over to the guest shop for chocolate or bring along a snack to store in the fridge or pantry space offered. Food is not allowed in the guest rooms.
There are five worship services daily, and while plenty of people join in for these, there is absolutely no requirement to do so. I curiously attended a Friday evening vespers, which was described to me as a service of prayer and chanting of Psalms. It was the first time I have heard live chanting and I found it to have a beautiful, meditative quality to it. Chanting and singing are not the same, so guests who participate in the service are encouraged to sing as softly as possible so as not to throw off the vibe of the chanting. The services also make use of incense, which I found too intense for my asthma sensitive lungs, even though the fragrance was lovely. Their custom made incense is offered for sale in the gift shop.
The entire facility has a serene, quiet feel to it. Breakfast is in silence, and quiet hours begin at 8 pm nightly. Meals and calls to worship are announced by the ringing of bells, but the overall commitment to quiet here gives the space a very intentional feel. It is the perfect combination of quiet, solitary space to work, and gorgeous grounds to walk in order to clear my mind. I was most surprised at how removing the burden of planning and preparing meals, which on the surface seemed like a small thing, ended up having a profound impact on the amount of mental energy that was freed up to write.
The help I needed was also waiting there for me. I was able to join with other writers to share my work, get much needed feedback, and hear what others were working on. There was not a single session where I didn’t hear stories profoundly worthy of being heard, and my hope for all of my fellow writers is that we can find whatever support we need to release our stories into the world.
After just a few days, I left with new tools for crafting my story and renewed confidence in my writing abilities overall. It was the push I needed to get back on track, and I finished the first draft of my first book by the end of 2018, which was my goal for the year. I am certain I wouldn’t have done that without the help of this workshop and the peace of this place to help.
There is an abundant offering of upcoming workshops scheduled here for 2019. Many are obviously focused on spiritual growth and practices, but there are also plenty which center around creative pursuits; this is a place that clearly recognizes those as spiritual practices as well. Workshop prices are all inclusive, incorporating instruction along with lodging and meals, which makes the price of any of them very budget friendly. If the workshops are not what you’re looking for, or if you just want time to eliminate the distractions of daily life for your own period of reflection, you can book an individual retreat as well.
In the end, I encourage everyone to consider taking time to periodically step away and reflect in whatever form works for you. I honestly felt a bit hesitant to sign up at first because it felt indulgent, but ultimately the time away ended up making me much more productive overall.
Costs: Workshop costs vary, but a weekend writers workshop that is similar to the ones I have attended are scheduled for 2019 at a cost of $395. Midweek workshops tend to be a little less expensive, and an individual stay would only include the costs of lodging and meals.