A Vacation for My Soul

I’ve always believed that the universe sends gifts our way when we most need them. My most recent gift came via email from my friend Julie Compton. There was a spot available at a writers’ retreat at a rented beach house in Virginia Beach. Nine other women who had known each other for years had room for a tenth. Was I interested? I admit for a brief moment I was transported back to school yards of yore and uttered “that sounds like hell.” My friend laughed and reassured me, “not these women.” I decided to go for it because I was beginning to feel despair over the lack of writing momentum with my next novel.

I flew in on Saturday and shared a shuttle to the house with Geri and Cal. We chatted merrily, unaware that our driver was hopelessly lost. When we finally arrived at the house, Linda and Mary welcomed us with gift bags filled with writing goodies and showed us to our rooms, the doors of which had been decorated with name plaques and doorknob signs requesting privacy for the writer within. Within the hour, Terri-Lynne DeFino, author of the fantasy novel Finder (but playing the role of gourmet cook), arrived with Signa. Finally, Diana and Sara (the dessert diva) pulled up. Julie would arrive the following day.

The Doll Babies, as the group is called, range in age from mid-forties to eighty-something and comprise talents and successes too numerous to list. Each woman had something special that drew me in and made me want to know more. I was reminded that everyone we meet in life is a potential teacher. If you pay attention, you can learn some wonderful things (about yourself, even) from other people. There’s something magical about admiring traits in others and realizing you can adopt them for the betterment of your own life. What a gift. Needless to say, a week just wasn’t enough, especially since I sensed immediately that this writers’ retreat was going to be about a lot more than just writing.

There’s something about being out in nature that sets me right, reminds me of who I am from the top of my gooey grey matter to the tips of my toes, and airs out my mothball-scented spirit. The house was huge, and there were balconies attached to every room that provided an awe-inspiring view of the beach. Before long, the natural rhythms of the ocean infiltrated the beach house and my existence. There was no set schedule, but my days seemed to flow as follows:

  • Wake to the sound of waves breaking on the shore
  • Exercise – I finished another week of the C25K running program.
  • Have breakfast
  • Write – I completed several scenes and had a breakthrough on a part of the novel that had me stumped.
  • Break for chats about writing and publishing – Writing is a solitary existence and it’s nice to know you’re not alone.
  • Do crafts – There’s something therapeutic about this even though I’m not very good at it. Focusing my mind on stringing beads or pasting paper silences the mental hamsters.
  • Eat dinner (and dessert) – Guinness beef stew, wine, homemade chocolate cake. Yum!
  • Converse – Listen to the stories of 9 amazing women.
  • Fall into a peaceful slumber, waves still breaking on the shore.

As an unstructured person (who secretly wishes she was more structured), this routine soothed. Life is best lived when we enter into its rhythms. I think my cells mutated from the joy of it all. 🙂

As wonderful as it all sounds, there was more. A spontaneous trip to Edgar Cayce’s Association for Research and Enlightenment got my mind percolating about my purpose and how I can better integrate body, mind, and spirit. This was live-changing and it’s why it’s taken me so long to write this post. I needed to process it all. (Thank you to everyone who contacted me, wondering where the heck I’ve been. Who says you don’t make real friendships online? It’s nice to be missed. 🙂 )

What this experience taught me was even though I think I’ve carved out “me” time by working only 3 days per week, it isn’t the same as going on retreat minus all the distractions, personal and electronic. Sometimes we need to isolate ourselves from our routines and the roles that we play in our daily lives (not to mention the other people in our lives and the roles they play). We must fast from the things that keep us from going deeper, enter into a meditative space, ask the questions, and wait for the answers. Some questions in life are complex and it’s okay not to have all the answers. In fact it’s probably better to live a while without the answer than to rush into the wrong one. With all that said, I intend to make every effort to take a trip like this on an annual basis to share some one-on-one time with my soul. I hope you’ll consider doing the same. You deserve it.

50 comments on “A Vacation for My Soul

  1. Richard on

    Good to see you blogging again, Maggie. You have been missed. 🙂

    Although the thought of spending a week in a house with 9 women is rather intimidating, it does sound like a great place. There’s nothing like waking up to the sound of the ocean, right? I love that. Always have.

    Great post, as ever. Welcome back. 🙂

  2. Julie Compton on

    I’m so glad you came, Marg! It’s one of my favorite weeks of the year, and the last paragraph of your post says it all. The time away to contemplate and to think without all the distractions of modern life is so important, for us writerly types surely, but for everyone. We’re very fortunate to be able to do this.

    • Margaret Reyes Dempsey on

      It came at a great time. It got me thinking about Life – Part 2 and it really helped to be surrounded by women who were all engaged in life. The 80-something year old is my idol. What energy and what amazing stories.

  3. suzicate on

    And here I am living right here at the beach ready to leave next week to go to the mountains/river side to get my week long soul rejuvenation (and maybe a bit of writing, who knows?). glad you had a wonderful experience and got to visit A.R.E.

  4. Melinda on

    I felt more relaxed just reading that. What a wonderful experience. I can’t imagine anything more fascinating than sitting around 9 women writers telling stories being that’s your gift. There is something about the beach and sound of waves that’s made for that inner reflection. I just got Julie’s book on your recommendation and can’t wait to steal a chance to read. Glad you’ve returned!

  5. Susan Santilli on


    It is good to hear from you. I am glad you had such a good experience. Sometimes we get so involved in life that it takes an experience like that to make us re-think where we are at. Even though it may be very simple, it leaves us refreshed and free to be creative again. I hope you get off to a new and satisfying direction. I look forward to your next endeavor!


    • Margaret Reyes Dempsey on

      Thanks, Lenore. Great things have come to me by being open to experiences, so when I get that “sounds like hell” feeling, I analyze it to see which buttons of mine are being pressed and whether it’s a valid response or just a bit of paranoia. 😉

  6. rebecca @ altared spaces on

    ” Some questions in life are complex and it’s okay not to have all the answers. In fact it’s probably better to live a while without the answer than to rush into the wrong one”
    -wise words indeed.

    When I was 30 I gave myself the present of a group of women who met monthly. My thought was that these women would take me to my 40th birthday. We celebrated babies, cooked, crafted and scheemed. Girlfriend energy is, for me, like the waves at the ocean: burnishing stones.

  7. Linsey on

    Good for you!!! I love time to disconnect, ponder and refresh. Such a gift.

    Thank you for your kind words related to my grandmother and hospitals. We’re hopeful that she’ll be out soon.


  8. Jess Witkins on

    I’ll have to consider this for next year. I know I wanted to do another conference, but a writing retreat would be a growing opportunity and give the time and space necessary to get some real writing work done. I’m so glad you shared about your experience and met some wonderful women to bond with. Glad you had a writing breakthrough too!

    That being said, Madge, your absence has left numerous pots and pans left unwashed, there are bologna skin peels on the carpeting, and I haven’t changed my clothes since you left. Someone’s going to have to answer to this!

  9. Linda Lewis on

    I’m so glad to finally hear about your experience as I have been wondering how it went and whether you found your writing groove. What you say about time out is so true. Leaving responsibility behind and communing with self is good for all parts of you. That is why i spend time alone in Maine each year. I’ve also done a week of silence and yoga which was amazing. Quiet! Glad you’re back. Like others I’ve missed you.

  10. Brenda on

    I a beach lover so I know exactly how you feel/felt. Sometimes, more times that we give to our souls, a break away from all the white noise in our lives is a must. Sounds like bliss. Glad to see you back.

  11. bronxboy55 on

    I don’t know if the gift came from the universe or your friend Julie (or if it was a collaborative effort), but you clearly made the right decision to go. What an exhilarating experience you had, and your description of it is perfect. Days filled with new friends, good food, writing, and the beach. I hope you can hold onto those feelings until the next retreat.

  12. huffygirl on

    Sounds wonderful. How brave you were to sign up with a bunch of people you didn’t know, and glad it turned out so well.

    Someday I hope to be enough of a writer that I could actually attend a writer’s workshop and be able to produce something wonderful, or at least in the process of becoming wonderful.

  13. Girlboxing on

    What a wonderful experience and gift to yourself and how terrific that you are finding your way towards a writing practice that make sense for you. I also agree that by going on a retreat we are able to reset ourselves so that we can begin refreshed and ready for action again! Brava, I can’t wait to read the results!!!

  14. Roberto on

    What a great post…

    You have inspired me to ponder going away with nine women for a one week retreat –
    (I’ll run this by my wife after I stop typing…)

    Every once in a while, it’s good to re-center oneself…
    and to do that within the context in which you did sounds even more wonderful!

    I’m sure all present benefited in some way from the varied gifts that each brought to the experience…

    It’s great when one finds those rare times when there is a balance between solitude and community… it sounds like you did!

    Now – to go tell my wife of my new goal…

    P.S. If you don’t hear from me anymore – it was nice knowing you.

    • Margaret Reyes Dempsey on

      I knew you would totally “get” this experience. Remember our PFI retreats? That was a perfect balance of solitude and community. (Well, except for when I let out the blood curdling scream in the middle of the night at the overly heated convent, while wearing pajamas made from wet paper towels. 😉 ) A true dark night of the soul if ever I had one.

  15. missnanse on

    Nice cuz. Happy you are refreshed and ready to write again. I wish I could get my head into finishing my first. So busy writing about soaps I just keep putting it off. Not ready for rejection again. You have inspired me though so hi ho, back to it I go. Love Ya.

  16. Cynthia on

    Your 6 July comment about the blood curdling scream and the wet paper pjs sounds like a good opening for your next novel… I also was waiting for this post, am so happy for you it was a good experience, the silence made me worry it had not been. Reading this and the comments it occurred to me I have the flip problem – way too much solitude and introspection, so for me the challenge is to get out the door and refresh myself with the company of others. I have joined a knitting group here which I think is going to be perfect, just came back from a meeting, bubbling with ideas (for writing, for knitting, for all kinds of things…) and happy.

    • Margaret Reyes Dempsey on

      Hmmmm, you’ve awakened my creative hamsters.

      It’s no surprise that you have the opposite problem, considering you moved abroad and are probably still in the getting-to-know-people stage. Good idea to join a knitting group. Maybe you can knit wine-bottle sweaters with gift tags that display your blog. 😉

      Glad you’re happy! 🙂

  17. Ray Colon on

    Hi Margaret,

    I read this earlier on my iPad, and had to come back to comment. Your description of this retreat drew me right in. What a great way to create, unwind, and connect with people who share a love of writing. That those people are accomplished in the field is a plus.

    I’ve never attended a retreat, but I once had the opportunity to attend a five-day seminar on the Covey’s seven habits. Being away from the office and joining together with a group of people for that period of time with a single focus was a beneficial experience for me. I carry some of the lessons learned there with me still.

    Your plan to make this an annual event makes perfect sense since you seem to have gotten so much out of this first experience.



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