I returned from the 11th annual Texas Yoga and Writing Retreat with new scenes for Viral Times, new writing on subjects close to my heart, and limbered-up posture from several days of yoga. It’s a combination I found even more enchanting at the retreat’s setting, the Margaret Austin Center outside Chappell Hill, Texas.
Chappell Hill is an unremarkable wide spot in US 290 most of the time, but not in early April. The fields to the right and left of the highway in Washington County were alive with wildflowers, including the beloved bluebonnets. They are so protected it’s a state crime to pick them, which deters few citizens but keeps the flower at the top of the flora chain of the state.
The retreat center, nearly two miles down a dirt road off the highway, was quiet, oh so, a quality that sparked some fine writing by the 14 members on the retreat. We broke off into two response groups after the longer, 30-minute exercises. I got to lead one group for several mornings, a pleasant surprise that enriched my retreat. Leading a response group involves subtle moderation and the chance to pass along related pointers on craft. I listened with a pen in hand, to jot down what’s memorable, alive and authentic in the writing. There was a lot to laud.
The weekend’s writing was led by Patricia Lee Lewis, who first started this yoga-writing combo with Charles MacInerney, an Austin yoga teacher of more than 20 years. Patricia has been leading workshops for more than 15 years. The coupling of so much experience gave me a comfortable weekend of rich fields for my writing.
We also ate well, courtesy of Michel Laib, a master chef who cooked for us before he opens up his Tranquility Mediterranean Dinner Club in Houston this coming weekend. Dessert was Pear Belle Hellene, pears cooked in red wine and covered with chocolate. Dinner one night was Filet of Salmon Mediterranean, grilled with Champagne Creme sauce.
The yoga was as gentle or as challenging as you wanted, depending on experience. We worked on movement and group exercises, too, like two lines of five people facing each other with a tent pole balanced on their index fingers, trying to lower the pole as a group. Fierce concentration, Charles was teaching us. We juggled tiny balls from Guatemala in groups of four, trying to keep five or more balls tossed to one another at once. More concentration.
One of my favorite exercises was outdoors on the lawns of the retreat center. We turned around three times with eyes closed, then stopped. Whatever direction we faced, we then walked, noticing as many things or actions as we could in our field of vision. Those were our words. I came back with anthill, pine cone, periwinkle, post and rail, cow path, bluebonnet and bat house. I poured those into a scene that tries to show why Viral Times‘ most dangerous character seems to have no remorse about anything he destroys.
A retreat using the AWA method plus yoga is a bonding experience unlike any other writer’s gathering I’ve attended. We came to know one another’s voice, trusted the muse, saw each other take more risks with our writing. We take several weeks to build up to this level in our Writer’s Workshop groups. I was happy to fill up my cup of possibility from the weekend’s beautiful flow in a flowering Texas landscape. I hope to carry some bouquets back to Austin.
The bonfire and dancing were fun, too. It was encouraging and casual all weekend. When your writing leader is on hands and knees on the group table to light a candle, you can be pretty sure the attitude for the retreat won’t include any posing. Posing has no part in real writing, either, the kind that tries its best to be true.