I spent several days last week surrounded by writers, artists, musicians and poets. It was the Writer’s Retreat at Laity Lodge, in Texas, my second year attending.
This is a stark contrast from my routine as a business executive. I am usually immersed in the business of running things, of analysis and decisions. But at Laity Lodge, there was no talk of strategy or finances or how to engage employees. In fact, for three solid days, I don’t think I heard one person say, “Let’s put a pencil to it,” or “Let’s break down the cash flow model,” or “How will that impact Q4 earnings?”
Instead, these generous, creative people were only concerned with beauty and art and The Sacredness of Everything.
The conversations went more like, “Tell me, Brad, how did you start writing?” and, “What kind of creative projects are you working on?” and, “I can’t believe how many stars there are in the sky tonight.”
I love these people.
This was such a far cry from my every day work identity; it actually caught me off guard a bit. I had to tamp down that badgering little voice in my head, screaming, “What are you doing here? Get back in your box, pronto! You are not one of them.”
Why do we deprive ourselves from the things we love?
I like my job and the identity I have formed around it, but clearly I resist allowing myself to fulfill and nurture and delight my soul in other ways. I had to shake it down, to shake it off, and with a stern tone, I gave myself permission to be there – to really be there – to make room,
to let loose,
to dive in,
to relish in the joy of the place.
And so that’s what I did. I gave up. I surrendered, completely and fully to the non-linear, right-brained, creative, non-judgmental part of me who is validated within this flow.
An artist there told me of a retreat she helped lead a couple weeks ago for a bunch of high-octane Fortune 500 executives. The leader of the retreat forced these execs to spend the weekend writing poetry and creating art. Nothing to do with business. She said how resistant they were at first, arms crossed and sour expressions on their faces. “But by the end of the second day they were sitting in a circle, sobbing as they read their poems,” she said with a soft smile, thinking back with wonder.
It was ironic, then, that when I returned to work on Monday, my business mind was sharper than it’s been for a long time. It was like my brain was switched up a gear with some edgy new energy, like someone had focused the lens in my head a couple of notches. I was pinging with new ideas, clarity and enthusiasm. I told my boss how odd that was.
“Of course,” he said. “Sometimes you need to remove yourself from your familiar environment in order to resurface with greater vision.”
The next day I was driving to a meeting with all the windows open, listening to Mumford and Sons’ “Awake My Soul.” I lifted my voice as loud as I could, against the wind and the hum of the tires on the highway, and sang over and over with the last part of the tune, “Awake my soul…
Awake my soul,
You were made to meet your maker.”
Without warning, tears started forming in my eyes, and I couldn’t ’t sing any more because there is a lump in my throat. I wasn’t sure if it is a longing for something I lost, or the recognition of something coming to the surface.
Maybe I had simply forgotten where part of my soul had gone, and I was welcoming it back.