Last week, I spent a magical week with Natalie Goldberg, author of (among other books) Writing Down the Bones, at Villa Lina in Italy, an 84 acre estate filled with fig trees, olive groves, vineyards, and hazelnut trees. Each morning, participants gathered in the Zendo — a large white room filled with colorful mats and rugs — around a bouquet of seasonal flowers and meditated for a half hour with Wendy Johnson, author of Gardening at the Dragon’s Gate. After meditation, we gathered for breakfast, followed by a class with Natalie on writing practice, a method of writing that involved following the path of your mind as you responded to various ‘prompts’, such as “I remember…” or “I don’t remember” or “Jello.” In the afternoons, we broke into small groups to respond to these prompts for ten minutes at a time, then read our writing to our groups, who sat in silence, listening to what we wrote.
I had come to the retreat with my natural skepticism intact; I had never meditated before and didn’t quite understand how writing practice worked. As a long time freelancer, the idea of finding a new way of writing seemed doubtful at best; I wasn’t in search of a guru. But whether it was the sheer beauty of the several houses located on the Villa Lina property, or the peacocks seated on the roofs, or the stone fountains bubbling throughout the property or the three swimming pools, or the refreshing sound of silence from ten at night to ten in the morning when we were not supposed to talk, the retreat worked it’s magic on me, and I came back more relaxed than I have been in years. Eating an all organic almost all vegetarian diet and walking through the tall linden trees and umbrella pines didn’t hurt either — I dropped those pesky five pounds that I’ve been fighting for years and my sugars stabilized without worrying about the occasional hazelnut cookie or slice of liqueur soaked cake. All in all a once in a lifetime experience, for which I am profoundly grateful. A week with my own thoughts, good company, and good sugars — what more could I want?