Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Entering Retreat

Self Portrait, markers, Jude Spacks 2012
(See younger self-portraits and reflections on arting about less-than-sunny stuff here).

This year for my birthday I gave myself a big present: a 10 day creative retreat at home.

I've taken other open-calendar periods like this in the last few years, and I'm starting to get the hang of what kind of structure supports me in risking unpremeditated new work (or just a humble return to any art practice when rusty).

This time, as my own private retreat leader, I wanted to take more conscious care with entry and exit practices.

I remembered a moving story from The Art of Possibility by Rosamund and Benjamin Zander. At a competitive university, students in a music performance class were given only one requirement to get an 'A'. They had to write a letter at the beginning of the course, pretending to look back on the experience from the perspective of themselves at the end of the class, explaining why they deserved their excellent grade.

Something about that appealed to me. The students' letters are full of authentic discovery of their own passionate commitment to their craft. But my own commitment, my own edge, has to do with retreating from the incessant habit of anxious self-evaluation which asks, "Am I doing the right thing? In the right way? How about now?" So projecting why I might "deserve" any evaluation, even a positive one, at the end of the retreat seemed a little off.

On the first day I brainstormed a list of things I might want to work on, and decided on a very attainable minimum to ask of myself daily. Then I found myself writing a love letter to my embarking self as if from myself on the final day. It felt like a great way to get oriented. It surprised me. Here's what came out:

Dearest JudeNow StartingRetreat

Thank you for being so honest about what you want. Thank you for your courage to take a retreat without really knowing what it would be about. Thank you for risking that I would be somehow disappointed or feel let down by you and do the sigh of Not Enough.

I'm so sorry for all the times I've done that. Of course it makes it so confusing how much to "take charge" and how to find the privacy of really resting into I Don't Know.

I am so grateful for this time we had together, Precious. It was so grace-filled, so full, so beyond enough! I love your willingness to keep experimenting with what structure helps us know freedom, and when resisting can be bondage.

I love how spacious this time was. I love how refreshed and sparkly-alive I feel. Thank you for this gift, Beloved!

FutureJude of Post-Retreat

It all came true!

Today, post-retreat, I wrote this report:

Was SO happy with the Conditions of Enoughness (Jen Louden's term) I'd set up for retreat. As so often, the main challenge was to wholeheartedly agree to the 'enough' part. And even partial-heartedly cooperating was actually enough in itself, too.

I don't need "Not Enough!" to vanish quicker or never appear again. I just want to hypnotize myself less often into identifying with it. As long as I don't turn that crank, the NotEnough pattern is harmless (actually, it's an artifact of early adaptation that is simply a form of love). I am not a victim of this habit of anxious attention. I am not the long-suffering roommate of inner havoc-wreakers and meanies. I'm the space, honest to god. Just the space, the alive holy space of it all....

What would be in your love letter from a future to a current self on the borders of beginning and ending something?


  1. I wrote the letter as you suggested. I was surprised to read this clarity of mind and compassion.... love. I was expecting not really a failing grade but not a high score..... I believe now that my SELF gave my self a true love letter.

    Thank you Jude for your wonderful work!
    OOOXOXOX Susan

  2. Dear Jude,
    I love your self portrait on this page, and I also loved the earlier self portraits on the page you linked to at the top of this post. What an amazing range of feeling moves through your work. Thanks so much for the honesty and power of your self portraiture. I am inspired to want to be more honest with myself and others about what's happening in me.

  3. Like Anonymous (the 2nd Anonymous) said (above): " I love your self portrait..." - the eyes! And done with marker!!

    I also love how loving you are to yourself - how you share your lessons in being accepting and open-hearted. Those are things our culture NEEDS! Thanks for this, Jude!

  4. well, if this isn't the best idea i've heard since sliced bread. sugar, you've inspired me. i took 3 sick days this week (and OF COURSE my sinuses flared up in their best self-fulfilling prophecy mode), and i've been wondering why on earth i didn't just own up and say ENOUGH, i'm on vacation for 2 weeks. now, i think i will.

    and i love that book, too, the art of possibility. thanks for reminding me about the letter. i'll copy you there, too, and write a letter at the beginning of my cave days.

    and one last thing before i go: love the self portrait, too.