Learning How to Ask (and receive)
What happens when we devote our lives to service.
You hear this message in different word arrangements from different wisdom spinners, including your grandmother: what goes around comes around, succor life and it will succor you, practice right action, be of service. I come from Midwestern farm stock and I’ve been grandmothered into this message from the beginning, as stalwart and straight forward as a row of corn. I watched my mother and father live by it, and I paid attention. But it wasn’t until my fourth decade that I realized that it was actually driving the essence of who I am.
It happened one day, a very bad day, when my world was being met with rejection on every front — marriage, career, teens… And I sat in my office staring at a blank screen, thinking, Why do I do this writing thing with such devotion and fervor, and for so many years? Nobody asked me to do it. It’s financially counter-intuitive. And it’s damn hard! And out of my fingers poured these words: “I write to shine a light on a dim or otherwise pitch black corner to provide relief for myself and others.” There it was: Service. Service to others. And service to myself. Huh. My career started approximately 24 hours later.
You see, that one line was the defining moment when I held the mirror up to my heart, my intention, my intuition, my passion — everything that drove me…and staked my claim on it all. This is what I’m made of, and why I can continue my writing life, regardless of promises. That was my service to self: getting perfectly clear about what makes me tick. And so it makes sense that in only five years, I was not just writing out of service from my little office in Montana, but actually sharing what had held my muse with hundreds of people in my neck of the woods. People from all over the world, coming here, to work with me, and be of service to their muses. And yes, consequently, to others, in community, and with all laud and honor to the written word. The ripples of have been the most life-affirming endeavor I’ve known outside of motherhood. And this branch of my career has stabilized my life and brought with it great richness, and opportunities. But there were a few missing pieces in my business that required help. Big help. Help I had no idea how to ask for. So I didn’t.
One thing that my grandmother would never have said to me, or modeled, or urged me to sew into my modus operandi, was ask and you shall receive. That one was skipped over. You didn’t ask. You served. And you didn’t serve to get anything back. You served because that was the right thing to do. Period. Sure, giving the shirt off your back had its perks. Someone might do something nice for you, and you’d receive that gracefully and with the appropriate card stock and your best cursive. But ask? Uh-uh.
So here’s what happened: Anyone who has a business these days knows they should have a website, and what’s the most powerful tool on that website? A really great professional video that nails what your business is all about. Fawning, swooning, oozing testimonials don’t hurt. But it’s the moving, speaking, feeling humans that tell the story of what it is that you do…that really seals the deal. Everyone told me: “You need a video. A really good one. Professional. With drones and stuff.” The problem was: I lead very intimate, private, gatherings of seekers who do my retreats and workshops to leave the world of moving and shaking and being on the hot seat or in the fish bowl, very deliberately behind. And bringing a videographer into the equation felt incongruent with the safe haven I promise. In fact, it’s called Haven Writing Retreats. I try to be only of service to my clients. To ask nothing of them other than to put their hearts in their hands, check whatever currency they possess outside of their ability to be honest, kind, supportive, and wildly creative…at the door. I don’t ask them to fill out evaluations at the end. There’s no gift shop. No T-shirt. No mug. No incentivized marketing scheme. If anything, I’m chasing them out the door with writing prompts! But man…it was true…a video would really help me get the word out, both as a service to those whose lives could be changed by this experience, and to me too, as a business woman. It’s a lot of work to find the right 100 people a year to come to Montana for this deep, reflective experience, and I knew that a powerful video would be a great tool to build those bridges. But ethically…I just couldn’t bring myself to do it.
And then something happened that has changed my faith in the world. I was sitting at the dinner table with my February 2017 Haven group. It was my advanced Haven II program for alums of the retreat, (for which you don’t have to be a writer to attend), who are now dedicated to finishing books, soon, and with the support of my Haven method and the group. It was the last night. We’d dug deep, we were all as tired as we were alive with new breath and new beating hearts. They were talking so eloquently about their experience, and about the future, a reunion, how they were going to fight for it all, especially each other’s books. And they were saying things like “How can we help you, Laura?”
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Even though I fought it, tears broke from my eyes and slid down my cheeks, and I hoped they wouldn’t see it in the candlelight. But they did. I confessed. But I did not ask. I spoke to my needs. “I need Haven. For my own writing. And I can’t find anything like it anywhere.” And then these words slipped out: “And I need a way for people to know just what this program is all about.”
The next day, there came a surprise. The women had talked. “We’ve all agreed that you need a professional video. We’re filming it tomorrow morning instead of you taking us out for breakfast. We’ll eat before. We’re giving testimonials. You’re getting interviewed. It’s our gift.”
Everything in me wanted to say no. I can’t. Thank you…but…
“And we also want you to come to our reunion. Not as the teacher. But as one of us. We’ll teach each other using the Haven method. And you’ll get to receive what you’ve created!”
I looked into each of their eyes to see if there was any reserve from any of them. They were all beaming and nodding. And suddenly I was too.
In a symphony I could never have orchestrated, one of the attendees made a phone call, and the next morning she showed up with two videographers who’d driven two and a half hours in a snowstorm. They set up professional lights and cameras on tripods. All I had to do was straighten a few pillows and put a little make up on. And the rest of them arrived, smiling and beaming. I could go on and on about the blessing of that day. The gratitude circle that one of them suggested — the way each of them honored each other, one by one, sharing words of thanks. How they each offered testimonials and discussed what makes Haven so special. I have never been more speechless, more touched, more grateful.
Thanks to these loving women!
And here’s the thing: I didn’t have to ask. Instead, I watched service whip around the woods of Montana and land in the palms of my grateful hands. Thank you to everyone who has shared their Haven experience over the years with others, and especially to these incredible angels at my table. Ripple on!
Please watch the video at the top of this post, and if you like what you see, please share with anyone you know who is looking for their voice, loves the written word, who has a book project in them, or simply needs to reclaim the heart of who they are…in the woods of Montana. Sometimes…you do need to ask. I’m trying to learn how.
Now Booking 2017 Haven Writing Retreats
June 7–11 (a few spots left)
June 21–25 (one spot left)
Film credits to Thomas Kurdy and his Ndigena video production
Originally published at blog.lauramunson.com on April 27, 2017.